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« World Servers' Spread -- A 3-Card Reading for the Now | Main | November 1, 2005 -- New Moon Tarot ArkLetter Now Online »



Thanks for the feedback, FreeStoring!

And if you like this one, you probably will love the ArkLetter we just posted, #33. That features a treatment of the Essential Dignities of Astrology within the Pips pack, which I am calling the Stoicheion-Somata Tarot.

hope you like it!


Let me also mention this: I recently picked up David Ulansey's book _The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology & Salvation in the Ancient World_. In many of the portrayals of the Sacrifice that Ulansey has collected, there's often a perfect Page of Wands figure (club facing towards the Earth) at the butt end of the Bull. This is a symbol of the agricultural season of Autumn or Fall (the dousing of the Solar Light for half the year). There's another Page, shown at the head of the bull, who faces his torch upwards, meaning "spring, the increase of Solar Light". Both Pages together define the horizon of the year astronomically.

Sometimes the young men aren't shown at all, just the torch leaned up against two trees located at either side of the image, with the torch being either upright or reversed. This figure showing up in Tarot makes an obvious reference to the Mithraic paradigm, or a borrowing therefrom at very least. If nothing else, we can reliably figure that the Page of Wands' reversed club is another reminder that the Pages represent heralds of the changing of the seasons.


Glad you like it, musfeatte!

You might also enjoy reading the chapter over at
This was originally written in 1997 for my book The Underground Stream, but most of the chapters were then put online when the TarotMagic CD (which contained them in an archive) was transferred to the Web.

There's not enough information out about the Suit cards, so that's one of the topics I like to revisit regularly.

Merry Xmas all!


The tarot really does not have its own unique suit system. The suits of what the metaphysical users of tarot call the "minor arcana" are the same ones as Spanish and Italian playing cards. This was the standard suit system of playing cards at the time of tarots creation. If the early tarot is esoteric than all the early European playing cards are esoteric! There are also more modern tarot or tarock decks used for playing the French and Austrian tarot card games and they use the same French suits as the modern American poker deck.


Hi Joe --

Great post. You raise a lot of points in a small space!

First of all, if this is the only article of mine that you have read, then you might not realize that I see the {22+(10x4)+16} structure of the Tarot as the actual esoteric key. It's the structure of the deck, rather than the content of the images that allows for the esotericism. Just from traditional number theory alone, the number of Trumps (22), the number of pips per suit (10), the number of suits and of Royals per suit (4) -- all of these things make esoteric references.

The Mamluk pack, from which the playing card deck is derived, is actually a map of the "4 corners of the Earth and the people thereof". The link between 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 classes of people and 4 elements is as old as Western Civilization, and it takes in the Zodiac as well (4 quarters to the chart). 10 would have registered as the Pythagorean Tetractys and the Kabbalah tree for the magical Christians of the 13-1400's. The invention of the Trumps anchors another set of signs, planets and elements (via their number of 22, which directly references the Hebrew alphabet), adding up to a "heaven and earth" model containing everything necessary for a magical tool, if so desired. If those references are not desired, then no matter. It's 'just a game'!

Once that esoterically-keyed structure is employed, (22 Trumps, 4 suits of 4 royals and 10 pips per suit), then the suggestion is made, even if one then chooses to put funny animals on the Trumps and mythical beasts on the Aces and whatever-odd else one might think of for fun and games. One is not ~forced~ to see the Tarot as esoteric, it's just there inherently, as a design feature.

Similarly, just because the Spanish and Italian playing cards use the same suit symbols as Tarot cards doesn't mean those symbols can't carry esoteric associations for some people who use them! Suit symbols are just that -- symbols. For one person they stand for something, for another they don't. That's been the nature of the Tarot all along -- people can see what they are looking for in skillfully rendered cards, because the esoterism designed into the structure allows for the user to attribute relevance for themselves, at will. Just like those flames around the Ace of Wands, or the alchemical vessel on the 2 of Cups, it's up to you what they mean. That's their beauty. You, the user, bring the depth. Or not, as the case may be!

But look at this issue the opposite way -- do you really believe that it is accidental, totally random, that so many different esoteric traditions can find themselves so comfortably ensconced in the cards? Exactly how many early Renaissance artifacts can you name that are ideally structured to interlock astrological, numerological, and Kabalistic correspondences simultaneously without doing serious damage to one or more of those paradigms? I can't name any others than the Tarot, and I've been looking for over 30 years!

I take the position that when the Mamluk cards came to Europe and were taken in hand by gamers and artists and Art of Memory practitioners, some of those people saw the built-in potential for deeper meanings and ran with it. Just like nowdays we see marketers making Tarot cards out of Lord of the Rings scenes and manga stories, we would conversely see cardmakers of the 1400's producing packs that make references beyond what's necessary for playing the game. With such a versitile and well-designed set of cards, some people might find other uses for the associations they could make....

We moderns want to think of ourselves as having a franchise on sophisticated, multidimensional thought. We think everybody who came before us was living in flatland, in black and white, in some kind of intellect-free bubble where there was only superstition and the Church to inform them. It is too easily forgotten that the folks who built the Tarot inherited the legacy left by the builders of the Gothic Cathedrals. Our Renaissance magi were reading Plato in Greek, they had the Chaldean Oracles, they had the Old Testament in Hebrew! They couldn't help noting all the astro-mathematical references in the Divine Names, it's right there blatantly hanging out for those who know what they are looking at. We now know what was on their library shelves; every year brings fresh translations of the topics and studies this generation were writing about among themselves. There is absolutely nothing to prevent an educated person from "seeing" the Tarot for what it is. And the others? Who cares? Its 'just a game'!

Also remember, we have on record esoteric scholars of the day specifically telling their compatriots and students not to "reveal our Arcana for profane eyes". I'm talking about Trithemius, Agrippa, and Paracelsus, at a bare minimum. You may or may not think that the word Arcana was being used in reference to the Trumps, but at least you can see from this that folks who were active in the esoteric milieu at the cusp of the 1500's had things they were not talking about "in public", in print, or in manuscripts, for good and sufficient reasons. My feeling is that the esotericism of the Tarot is one of those things.

Thanks for chipping in.


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