Found in Translation: The Dark Side of the Sun

I was doing a reading for someone yesterday with a deck (Lo Scarabeo) I’ve only begun to use recently. Up until yesterday, I had only used it to pull cards for myself. In the three or four weeks I have used it, I have come to think very highly of it. This reading was the first I’ve done for someone else using it.

I had always been taught that the reversed Sun card is still 100% positive, just less so. The reading brought to my attention a negative meaning for the Sun card, reversed, purely by accident. It is a meaning which can be applied just as well to RWS, and one which does not update RWS to modern times so much as it points back to Waite’s (and his predecessors’) writings. I would like to share the meaning I found.

Firstly, I was surprised to see the Lo Scarabeo deck’s “little white book” stated the divinatory meaning for its Sun card reversed was “giddiness.” It seemed unusual but acceptable. It’s not especially negative. Where it went off track was its translation to Spanish (we were doing the reading in Spanish). The translation was “mareo,” which more closely means “dizzy.” It’s a correct translation, as my big Oxford Spanish dictionary confirms. In fact, the translation makes literal sense… after all, the Sun can make you dizzy.

Within the context of the reading, it seemed to be completely out of place. But then, after asking a question or two we suddenly found that the meaning had revealed something important and confirmed the outcome. The Lo Scarabeo deck states it’s a blend of three sources: RWS, Thoth and Tarot de Marseilles. We’ll return to that deck and its “dizzy” meaning. But first, let’s examine the Waite Colman Smith card for the Sun. After all, the RWS deck is as much the center of the Universe of Tarot as the Sun is the center of the Universe! Just kidding. But I think most will agree RWS is a de facto standard. The inquiry using RWS may “shed some light” if you’ll excuse the expression, on this matter.

This post is part of the Waite’s Symbols series. We concentrate on the symbols of the RWS tarot deck as described by Waite in the Pictorial Key. We jump around a bit, and take them out of order, again. This time we’ll not stop at differences and similarities with Waite’s predecessors and contemporaries. As usual, we will try to look at the meanings from a modern reader’s point of view; and hopefully, find some small facet of a new point of view.

19: The Sun

ID symbol meaning
SUN rays Waite: “influence upon the Earth… the direct as the antithesis of the reflected light.” Here Waite distinguishes the quality of the Sun’s light from that of the Moon. In fact, Waite discusses light and rays of influence in a number of places in the Pictorial Key; we will refer to such influence below. We note also that the RWS Sun has both straight and wavy lines. One interpretation of this is that they’re supposed to reflect masculine and feminine aspects of the Sun’s energy. Masculine, in the power of the energy. Feminine, in that the Sun is the source of all life on Earth. The Book T states (when) “approached with humility and reverence, the Sun becomes the beneficent source of life.”
SUN wall Waite: “a walled garden.” To Mathers, the walled garden represents Earth. The Book T extends it to a spiritual point of view, that of the Pilgrim journeying through this world on his (or her) progress: “Protected by an enclosing wall, standing by the Waters of repentance, the Pilgrim may submit himself humbly but without fear to the searching Light and absorb warmth and vitality from it for the struggle before him.” We should note there that the sunflowers in this walled garden consume and store the energy of the Sun.
SUN horse Though not speaking directly of the horse, Waite states: “the transit from the manifest light of this world, represented by the glorious sun of earth, to the light of the world to come.” Waite therefore is in line with the Book T as far as the Sun goes: there is another world to journey to.
SUN child Waite: “the light of the world to come, which goes before aspiration and is typified by the heart of a child… a child in the sense of simplicity and innocence in the sense of wisdom.” So to Waite the child represents both ends of the journey, the beginning, by its youth, and the end, by its “wisdom”-like innocence.

In fact, in the Pictorial Key, Waite sums up the Sun as “the destiny of the Supernatural East and the great and holy light which goes before the endless procession of humanity, coming out from the walled garden of the sensitive life and passing on the journey home… consciousness in the spirit.” Not much negativity in that.

For Waite, the divinatory meanings of the card are “Material happiness, fortunate marriage, contentment. Reversed: The same in a lesser sense.” The Book T, however, provides for a negative meaning, “arrogance. Display, Vanity,” but the negative meaning is valid “only when with very evil cards.” The Crowley/Thoth reading took up the negative side of the Boot T, jettisoning the dependence on other “evil” cards.

So can we infer that the Lo Scarbeo meaning of “giddiness” stems from these sources? Perhaps. In fact, if we interpret the phrase “in a lesser sense” as having a lesser moral or spiritual sense rather than as a less amount, even RWS could accept that. An Internet search brings up giddiness as an infrequent, though more modern meaning for the Sun, reversed. A Google Books result finds it in a text sample from Bakara Wintner’s “WTF Is Tarot?” This was especially interesting to me because I recently purchased the Spanish version of that book for someone as a present! But the term is also found in web articles at other sites, in descriptions of more than one deck, one of which stated that it adheres more to the Golden Dawn interpretations than most decks.

There is an odd link with Waite and giddiness. Using his nom de plume “Grand Orient,” he wrote in Manual Of Cartomancy Fortune Telling And Occult Divination (1909) “The Sun governs the head.” He also wrote that it governs the element of Gold, highly relevant to this particular reading because the querent posed a question primarily concerning finance.

Let’s summarize that reading, now. The question regarded when the querent’s current state of depressed finances might improve. A number of optimistic cards came up in this respect, including in the outcome position (which also pointed to a time period). But there in the center (at the “that which crowns you or could come into being position) was the Sun, reversed. Referring to the meaning in the Little White Book, I asked whether dizziness or vertigo could have anything to do with the current situation. And indeed, there was something. Without citing specifics, it is only within the last year that the querent has left behind some negative habits and become sober, after a long period of not being sober. And in fact, the specific circumstances which led to the question concerned a financial opportunity that might put the querent back in a situation of being tempted to leave the hard won sobriety behind. So in this case, the LWB was exactly on the mark, in fact, much more so in Spanish than had we conducted the reading in English. I might not have gone from “giddiness” to “dizziness.” In our society the former is almost a positive condition. “Giddy” drunk is a “good” drunk. We say that “having a buzz on” is a pleasant thing.

So was it just a serendipitous oddity of translation? The further I researched it, it seemed not. There is a connection between the Sun reversed and negative aspects as seen in “very evil cards” as the Book T put it. It is connected with the “Christian” side of Waite’s interpretations, and evidenced in the writings of Eliphas Levi, who influcenced him. In The Mysteries of Magic (1886) which Waite translated and wrote an Introduction for, Levi wrote of the “Astral Light,” directly referencing the Sun:

it consists of a universal agent whose supreme law is equilibrium, and whose direction depends immediately on the Great Arcanum of transcendent magic… This agent, which barely manifests under the uncertainties of the art of Mesmer and his followers, is precisely what the medieval adepts called the first matter of the magnum opus. The Gnostics made it the burning body of the Holy Ghost, and this it was which was adored in the secret rites of the ‘Sabbath or the Temple under the symbolic figure of Baphomet, or of the Androgyne Goat of Mendes.

This ambiant and all-penetrating fluid, this ray detached from the sun’s splendour, and fixed by the weight of the atmosphere and by the power of central attraction, this body of the Holy Ghost, which we call the Astral Light and the Universal Agent, this electro-magnetic ether, this vital and luminous caloric is represented on ancient monuments by the girdle of Isis, which twines in a love-knot round two poles, by the bull-headed serpent, by the serpent with the head of a goat or dog, in the ancient theogonies, and by the serpent devouring its own tail, emblem of prudence and of Saturn. It is the winged dragon of Medea, the double serpent.

So we have a link between the Sun and the RWS Devil via the Goat of Mendes. The Devil, we recall, can sometimes have a meaning of addiction; moreover, the goat is an inverted pentagram, recalling that Pentacles is an important suit in this particular reading. We also have a link with the lemniscate of the Magician and Strength, and the ourobouros of the Magician. The lemniscate, we already have noted, was to Waite a symbol of the Holy Ghost, and the ourobouros, a symbol of the eternity of the spirit. Perhaps it even means that if the Sun is reversed, and your journey is away from it, you may become giddy, dizzy, and disoriented such that your journey takes you to the “bass ackwards” end of infinity… away from the Holy Ghost and towards the Devil. Note also the reference to “Androgyne Goat of Mendes,” too, in light of the male and female rays of the Sun.

Elsewhere in these posts I have shown the flexibility of Waite and Colman Smith’s symbols to adapt to newer, more modern meanings. Waite’s Christian and (nationalistic) Celtic embellishments skew his approach to the Tarot, and may have “crowded out” the negative context of his predecessors’ view of this particular divinatory meaning. But that is the genius of Tarot… it didn’t go away completely, and was there to be found when appropriate, albeit by accident.

Final note: Temperance was also in the spread. Sometimes the cards are not subtle. Note that Temperance has the Sun symbol (the circle) in her headband.

Below I’ve placed both the RWS Sun and the Lo Scarebeo Sun. Though I don’t care to invert either one, thank you!

The Sun RWS The Sun Lo Scarabeo


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John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot?