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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The Four of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Four of Wands is pleasant but unfocused and visually empty. What is its most important part? This unusual lack of focus renders the festival distant and joyless. Fortunately, by studying Waite’s divinatory meanings (and a couple of online encyclopedias), we can discover the joy. This festival has an open bar. And what a bar! This is not just any country fête—it is one sacred to Venus. Using an odd device, Waite throws in a reference to “harvest-home,” a very English harvest festival, and by doing so, refers back to Venus. It is a festival of wine and fertility. The Romans called it “Vinalia urbana,” but we can simply enjoy it (accompanied by a glass of “sacramental” wine) as a celebration of sacred and profane love, and the fertility of the earth. It is the Primavera of Botticelli, as rendered by Colman Smith, and bottled by A.E. Waite.

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The Five of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Five of Wands is a depiction of youthful competition and the battle of life. Waite’s divinatory meanings have a major difference in tone, though not of substance, versus the Golden Dawn’s; imitation fighting and strife vs. real. Saturn and the Sun in combination are the explanation for the difference in tone. There was a belief dating back to Mesopotamia that the planet Saturn was pre-cursor of the Sun. Saturn the “Sun-Star” may be a fragment of the story of the Golden Age. Saturn was the grandfather god who may have required child sacrifice; he presided over a (literally) darker planet, though the Earth provided such abundance that work was unnecessary. It is Saturn vs. the Sun, a past “imitation,” lesser Sun vs. today’s real, greater Sun. We have hopefully thrown light upon the RWS Five of Wands, but found nothing that challenges its accepted meanings in any way.

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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 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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The Seven of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Seven of Wands is one of those cards in the Waite Colman Smith deck where the divinatory meanings are most visible on the surface. It represents a fight, pictured in much the way that Waite describes it in the Pictorial Key. There are clues in the astrological and qabalistic meanings that point to how the divinatory meanings came to be. These clues are not difficult to find. Given Leo, Strength and the Sun, subtlety is hardly obligatory. That Hercules subdued the Nemean lion with a club in the first of his labors complements the themes of Leo and Strength, indicates the endurance of Netzach, and, interestingly, is pretty much the only time the wand/staff is used as a weapon in a real fight.

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