The Six of Swords – A One Page Guide

It is no doubt a startlingly long leap from Charon, the ferryman of Hades who’ll leave your spirit wandering on the shore of the river Styx for one hundred years if you don’t have the penny for his fare, to a positive affirmation of life and continuity that foresees safe journey through the person of your child. It is odder still, in my opinion, to see A.E. Waite, in the Six of Swords, not only make that leap but also get away with it! We shall see that an unusual word—commissionary, a Christian qabalistic take on Tiphareth, and perhaps a bit of “soloing” by Colman Smith while Waite wasn’t looking are the clues by which we arrive at this serrendipity for what otherwise might be a dreary card.

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The Three of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

I had previously looked at the Three of Pentacles as a fairly prosaic card… just a day at work. Ho hum. But it’s actually about the nobility of creation and creativity. The card is at once obvious and subtle. Why does Waite specify that the workplace is a monastery? After all, the monastery’s functions include far more than just work. And why does Waite specifically say that the worker of the Three of Pentacles is the same person who we see in the Eight of Pentacles? There’s a trail we can follow via the major arcana associated with the planetary influence (the World): a reference to Genesis, no less! The answer is that the Three of Pentacles is not just about work… it’s about ennobled work. If we put aside Waite’s mystical Christianity, and think about his message in terms of today, we might see that when this card is drawn by a querent with questions about their job, for example, perhaps it is to suggest that one should consider whether that job is spiritually rewarding. This is a card that says “Quit the stock brokership, move to Hooterville and grow vegetables!”

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The Ten of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Ten of Wands, like Maynard G. Krebs’ favorite movie, “The Monster Who Devoured Cleveland” is about ends. The Ends of Ages. People’s ends (bodily ends, that is, not the ends of lives). It is, figuratively speaking, the ass-end of the RWS tarot deck. Seriously. Waite, faced with the conflicting natures in the very mixed astrological, alchemical and qabalist influences, seemingly threw his hands up in the air, and complained that it “cannot be harmonized.” Colman Smith’s illustration is unrelenting. It’s not exactly my favorite card, either. If we start by recognizing that a serf who works on the farm has more to do with Pentacles, the suit of Earth, than with Wands, the suit of Fire, we just might find the key to understanding this oppressive card. And if you never look at this card in quite the same way again, my apologies.

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The Two of Swords – A One Page Guide

The blindfolded swordswoman of the Two of Swords can only be a metaphor, but for what? Why is she blindfolded? Why two swords? Why is the composition symmetrical except for the Moon? I believe that Waite wishes us to perceive the message of the RWS Two of Swords as that the balance of two types of justice, divine and human, manifests itself in peace and harmony, even though both types of justice can countenance cruelty. But if inside oneself and one’s circle of friends we maintain balance and harmony, such a balance can be a “beneficent force.”

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The Six of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

That one of the strengths of tarot is its strong storytelling ability may have something to do with a foundation in mankind’s oldest and most important myths and stories. In the Six of Pentacles it appears as if the rich man weighs the worthiness of the beggars before giving them charity. A century after the publication of the RWS deck, we as viewers may interpret this as an act of a very ill-natured type of charity. But the incorporation of the scales may have a different purpose. Taurus represents the Vernal equinox, the beginning of the life cycle in the agrarian age. Libra was the other end: the Autumnal equinox. This is why Venus is sometimes represented alongside both the bull and scales. The generosity of the Earth and agriculture then should be the main theme; but does our merchant portray that? We can trace the words of the divinatory meanings to their influences, but it is not certain that the message is entirely satisfactory today.

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The Eight of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Eight of Cups is one of those cards in which Waite has only slight differences in divinatory meanings versus the Golden Dawn. The differences are in the illustration. Instead of Pisces and Jupiter, the main element is instead the full Moon eclipsing the Sun. The Romans, in their panoply of gods, assigned Diana three aspects, goddess of the Moon, the huntress, and the queen of the underworld. They nicknamed her “trivia” or “three roads.” She was the goddess of forks-in-the-road! Waite and Colman Smith use this as a metaphor to portray the action of the divinatory meaning. The character deserts the cups of an enterprise or previous concern; i.e., he came to a fork in the road, and after, no longer travels the original road. The card is full of “dualities”—harvest and planting, death and rebirth, male and female, Sun and Moon, old path and new path—which seem to mimic the dual nature of the divinatory meanings. Thus, the Eight of Cups is a collection of reflected images, none exactly the same as the original. It occurs to me that if we understand the illustration correctly, the proper reading of this card is more than “the decline of a matter” in importance, as Waite put it. It is actually advice to avoid the consequences of whatever the “decline” was. The occurrence may be infrequent but not rare (as suggested by the solar eclipse). And the advice is that the best path to be on during or after that decline is “the road less traveled.”

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The Three of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Three of Wands is not just a nice card, it’s a good, understated design. It is a marvelous representation of the divinatory meanings and has just the right touch of transparency that reveals the story and influences that Waite and Colman Smith chose as a setting. As to the divinatory meanings, focusing on the question of the differences between Waite’s and the GD’s, one can ask a further question: are Colman Smith’s ships coming or going? It seems likely that on the one hand, Waite means to convey that when the Three of Wands is upright the ships are going… outbound to Colchis, adventure, and the golden fleece, or in an alternative reading, to the east to bring back exotic cargo. On the other hand, when the card is reversed, that the ship is returning, with the fleece or exotic goods.

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