10 of Swords A One Page Guide, Series 2

April is the cruelest month, but with ten swords stuck in your back, June may not be much fun, either. With the Sun in Gemini, sign of the similar yet dissimilar twins, one mortal, one immortal, and with Malkuth, the end of the cycle, we see the dividing line between an inseparable pair. Waite internalizes the “ruin” which the Order of the Golden Dawn assigned to the card. Pamela Coleman Smith serves up a masterpiece. She illustrates the moment at which Castor, the mortal twin has died, but Zeus has not yet placed the twins in the highest celestial sphere as Gemini (making them both immortal). Ten years after its publication, the greatest poet contemporary of Waite and Colman Smith memorialized the RWS deck in his greatest poem because he recognized a common theme: the agricultural cycle, the dying and reviving god, Pluto and Perephone… whatever you wish to call it. It is our feeling of anguish and despair at the nadir, the darkest hour before dawn. The sacricial god of fertility and life is dead, but shall be reborn. That we sometimes forget that is the central message of the Ten of Swords.

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4 of Pentacles A One Page Guide, Series 2

Capricorn has multiple origin myths. One of them is the story of Pricus, a sea-goat deity, goat above, fish below. Pricus may show us that in the Four of Pentacles, rather than representing wealth and greed, the illustration may portray the succession of generations. The core of the Pricus story is the heritage that parents pass onto children, and the search by the children for differentiation. Each generation modifies, adds and wields the transformed heritage as their Earthly dominion… until the next generation. The Order of the Golden Dawn called this card “Earthly Power.” The repudiation of the parents fuels the metaphor’s pathos. The story of Pricus, the time traveling goat, may provide us with an insight into Éliphas Lévi’s famously insightful quote about tarot, that “an imprisoned person with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge, and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequaled learning and inexhaustible eloquence.”

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9 of Pentacles A One Page Guide, Series 2

Venus and Virgo walk into a bar. The bartender, Dionysus, reminds us of somebody… oh, yeah, that funny shaped guy with the Popeye arms, from the Nine of Cups, that’s who. Well, Dionysus sees the big bull-headed guy, Yesod, walk over to the two dames, now seated at the bar. “Uh oh,” he sez to himself, “I seen this movie before. He who gets slapped…” We are in Venus in Virgo, and Waite makes a minor adjustment to the Order of the Golden Dawn’s assignments. He moves prudence from the Eight to the Nine of Pentacles. Yesod better watch out.

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4 of Wands A One Page Guide, Series 2

The stage cards of the RWS deck. One would be justified in wondering whether they’re an editorial comment—All the tarot’s a stage, And all the majors and minors merely players; They have their suits and their sephiroth; And Adam Kadmon in his time plays many parts. There is one minor arcanum, the Four of Wands, in which the stage lacks all players. If no actors are on stage, either the curtain has just risen, and we await their entrance; or they just exited, and the curtain is about to fall. Sometimes you just have to ask what’s missing. Then there’s the story of Venus, Aries, Pluto, Persephone and a boozy Celtic interloper. John Barleycorn must hide.

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5 of Wands A One Page Guide, Series 2

The RWS Five of Wands depicts five young men play-fighting or sparring. It may not be the most transparent of Colman Smith’s illustrations. Perhaps a more up-to-date version might show five suburban parents accosting a Little League umpire with baseball bats and murderous intent because their kids’ team lost. But Colman Smith’s illustration may tell us something about how she and Waite felt about the fives. Geburah, the emanation for the fives, was seen by Waite and his contemporaries as signifying a struggle against circumstance or an opposing force, at a time when the outcome is not certain. Yet Waite’s contemporaries were one-dimensional in their interpretations of the Five of Wands. Waite’s genius was to turn a monolithic interpretation into a complex one.

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8 of Cups: A One Page Guide, Series 2

With this article I begin a series of analyses of the inspired art with which Pamela Colman Smith illustrated the 36 cards of the decans. These posts will attempt to explain the illustrations by recounting the stories—mythic or otherwise—that contributed to the concepts with which she imbued her scenes. This in the hope that if we understand the stories that underlie them, we can not only better interpret but we can also better communicate a cohesive story out of several cards laid down in a spread. Indeed, these are stories that have fascinated humankind for millennia. We start with the Eight of Cups, attempting to explain its solitude, and exploring a component apparently unique to Waite and Colman Smith—the eclipse we see in the sky of the illustration. It would be just like Waite to bring in Good Friday, but we shall see that the Prodigal son was already there. Alas, Elvis has left the building.

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The Two of Cups – A One Page Guide

The youth and maiden of the Two of Cups seem such a nice couple. Then we notice how differently they dress, and how solemnly they look at each other. Still, there seems little doubt that Colman Smith’s illustration is generally appropriate for the divinatory meanings. Love is in the air. Along with a couple of unexpected symbols: the caduceus, and a lion’s head solar disk. With our tarot wheel as starting point, we find tension between Cancer, the sign, and Venus, the ruling planet. It is love vs. death, creation vs. destruction. An uneven match, given that Venus was amongst the most powerful of the gods… but you know what they say, "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." Venus being nice, however, negotiates. The caduceus was used as a symbol of diplomatic negotiation in Rome. As for the lion’s head solar disk, it leads us to Baphomet, who had a caduceus where his reproductive organs should have been, the Demiurge, the artisan who fabricated the universe but didn’t create it, and Ariel, a fallen angel. They help us identify Waite’s strange phrase at the end of his divinatory meanings as a rather progressive statement (for 1910, at least) about homosexuality: that though homosexuality may not be "natural," in that it does not have the power of re-generation, love as represented by Venus is yet able to sanctify it. But then, I already told you Venus is powerful.

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