Think of the keywords most often associated with The Magician: Power, talent and skill, resourcefulness, manipulative, opportunistic. Often when it appears in a tarot spread, it will be identified as a very powerful card of great importance.
If we look at a few generations of tarot, particularly once it became an instrument of the occult, we typically see a man standing before a table displaying the tools of his trade. Most often, he looks downward. Sometimes he is known as Le Jongleur (the juggler) or le Bateleur (slight of hand trickster), which betrays his identity as a common street performer. His diminutive stature is further betrayed by the rank of his card,which is number one in the tarot deck. In the game of tarocchi, before occult assignations to the trumps, the higher the number on the trump cards, the greater its significance in the game. Higher numbers had the greater value, and were much more significant to the game. His appearance in play was not particularly seen as an asset.
In current times, whenever The Magician appears in a spread or is discussed online, contemporary readers tend to give this card great importance. He's often referred to a master, with gestures that suggest, 'As above so below', to allude to his having divine powers that transcend the human condition to one of spiritual enlightenment.
So how did our little troubadour elevate his stature over the centuries?
I am not about to claim that I know the origin and secrets of the tarot. No one can claim that. But if we take a look at antiquity we will see strong parallels to each of the Major Arcana cards and how they may have contributed to tarot imagery. It also connects us to those who have gone before us, providing a bridge to the past, and continuity of time until we arrive full circle.
Many readers say they don't need to understand the history of tarot in order to read the cards and that the history of 200 BCE or longer ago, is no longer relevant to the meanings of the cards. After all, as do most things, the tarot deck has been evolving. Sometimes the titles have changed, and most obviously, the imagery has changed over the course of several hundred years. But the tarot deck has retained its essence: A seventy-eight card deck with twenty-two trumps, four suits, and a royal presence.
I'd like to argue that by understanding history and putting the cards in historical context, we achieve greater understanding of the cards which in turn gives our readings greater depth. This depth of understanding is also reflected in the art of the artist who created it, and if there is no understanding by the artist or its creator, then the reader at best gets a watered down interpretation, a superficial knowledge which is exactly what a reading is meant to avoid.
If we go back even before our first known tarot cards of 1400s Italy, we can trace the Magician's name to the Latin Magus, which itself refers to the more ancient origin of the word in the Persian cult of fire known as the Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda is considered the highest spiritual tier of worship. (Light and Wisdom)
So how in the millennium plus years between ancient Persia and the early Renaissance of Italy, did the significance of the 'Magician' flip flop?
We may need to take a look at Simon Magus for that explanation. He was a simple street magician of Samaria who rose in rank by tricking others into believing he had divine powers. He was eventually exposed as a false messiah, a fraud.
Skip a few hundred years or more to early Medieval Europe during the Albigensian Crusades. The highest ranking clergical position at the local level was that of Bishop, and Bishop Fulques was the Bishop at the epicenter of the Crusades. Fulques was a common man from Marseiiles, once a juggler and street performer who rose to the ranks of Bishop in Toulouse and who ultimately betrayed his people for his own gain. Once again a magician gave The Magician a bad name. Interestingly, from the Magician's appearance on the TdM decks, the Magician is seen standing on thorns or nettles. This would have clearly been recognized by the contemporary audience as a symbol of evil and wickedness growing within the subject who was standing on it. My guess is that the low esteem of the card in the tarot deck (its low ranking number) is courtesy of those historic personalities who abused power. (This is nothing that I have read before, but a connection that I have made while trying to understand the cards.)
The lesson of the low ranking stature of The Magician is the ego. The ego gets into trouble when it uses power for personal gain. Vanity and pride are the sins of The Magician who can only be saved by being reduced to nothing, total annihilation of his sense of self until within his journey he achieves an affinity with everything when he returns to the highest tier of reality, the Essence of the Universe. Hence the lemniscate, one without boundaries in relation to time or space. One is All. (Reminiscent of the Uroboros)
Man, existing on the lowest tier of reality, transcends the limitations of his ego by denying it, and eventually through his death, he ascends to once again be joined with the divine realm.
Understanding who The Magician could be, gives a reader greater depth of understanding when it appears in a reading. We shouldn't limit our readings to the coined keywords which may only give our readers a limited and superficial understanding of the card's meaning.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this post and I welcome comments.
Photo from top left: Tarot of Marseille Lo Scarabeo; Oswald Wirth Tarot US Games reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright ©(2011) by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited; Rider Waite Tarot reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright ©(1971) by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited; (Sacred Rose Tarot) reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright ©(1982) by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited; The Cosmic Tarot and the Anna.K Tarot; (Cosmic Tarot) reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright ©(1998) by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited; and the Anna.K Tarot Llewellyn 2013
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