Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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On the Divide Between Astrology and the Divinatory Arts

On the Divide Between Astrology and the Divinatory Arts

Jean-Marc Lepers
Excerpt from the preface to Le Livre Blanc de l’Astrologie by J. Halbronn.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

I know the Tarot fairly well – 22 cards and that is all. […] But even if the Tarot is an esoteric system, we may still hope, by means of patience, of trial and error, of rearrangements, to obtain an idea of the way in which this system is arranged. This is what was stressed by Robert Jaulin, in his work on the geomantic system*, a system of divination is a “complete system” – that is to say that, by its very structure, no possible event is supposed to escape its description. […]

Knowing the Tarot fairly well, I have been interested, of course, in its correspondences with Astrology. It is true that they have apparently common symbols. But absolutely nothing proves that this correspondence is not due to the effect of a relative chance: in what we may call the general library of symbols, which is a relatively limited set, it is not very surprising that some have been used just as well in Astrology as in the Tarot. Nonetheless, they are never exactly the same. Is it, individually, the symbol and its declensions that matter, or the place within which it is situated in a structure? For the structures of the Tarot and of Astrology are highly different, and are not superimposable. Astrology operates on a base of 12, that is, three times four elements. The Tarot, on a base of 7, three times seven cards – plus one card denoted zero, of which there is no equivalent in Astrology, nor in any other divinatory system, to the best of my knowledge. If it is the set of the structure that has significance, that is, the relative positions of the various elements, the two systems have practically nothing comparable, apart from the fact that they both use a mathematical-geometric system.

* Robert Jaulin, La géomancie, analyse formelle, Mouton, 1966.

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An Interpretation of the System of Correspondences of the Divinatory Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

The author of the following piece has written what is perhaps one of the most accessible overviews of the structure – or one of the structures – of the Tarot, one that is as clear as it is concise and comprehensive. The Tarot is examined in the optic of the familiar model of the threefold septenary, and although the supposedly traditional divinatory and symbolic meanings attached to the cards are sometimes mentioned, the rigorously mathematical logic employed eschews any concession to unsubstantiated and wholly arbitrary speculation.

The formulation of the pairs of opposing cards is grounded on this logic, and, to a lesser extent, on the visual symbolism presented by the cards themselves. This twin approach to the study of the Tarot is thereby doubly interesting, insofar as it attempts a total, to use the word, interpretation using all the elements provided. In this way, the Tarot is approached on its own terms, as a complete system, with its own rules of organisation.

The value of such a study is that it forces one to confront the fact that, if the Tarot forms a coherent and harmonious whole, then it behoves us to consider its constituent elements – the cards – not only taken in isolation, as most authors do, but in relation to the whole, and especially in relation to other cards, relations from which a meaningful significance can be derived. This, in turn, enriches one’s understanding of the cards taken singly, as well as of the Tarot itself as an organic whole, unveiling the potential for complexity in an apparently “naïve” system.

With respect to the notion of the ‘Three Worlds’, it should be noted that the first corresponds to the elemental world, the second to the world of incarnation, and the third to the metaphysical world of the spirit; three domains in which Energy, Matter, and the Spirit predominate respectively.

Finally, it must be noted that the implicit influence for this exercise in formal logic (the notion of the “complete system”) is to be found in the work of the French ethnologist Robert Jaulin on Geomancy (1), as is, less evidently, the concluding section on totalitarianism (2), according to the special meaning the latter author gave to the term. The former concept is to be put in relation with that of “local rationalities” developed by the anthropologist Yves Lecerf.

Jean-Marc Lepers is a theoretician of rationality in the systems of hypertextuality of digital databases. A doctor and director of theses in Economics, Information & Communication Science, and Anthropology, he lectured in the University of Paris.

This article was first published in 1995, and later expanded and rewritten in English by the author in 2007. The second version, while as yet unpublished, provides a number of further useful indications and it is to be hoped that it will eventually be published.


1. Robert Jaulin, La géomancie, analyse formelle, Mouton, 1966, repub. Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1995.
2. Robert Jaulin, L’Univers des totalitarismes, Essai d’ethnologie du “non être”, Éditions Loris Talmart, 1995.

It will be noted, from the details provided, that the Tarot deck referred to is the Ancient Tarot de Marseille, designed by Paul Marteau and published by Grimaud.

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An Interpretation of the System of Correspondences of the Divinatory Tarot

Jean-Marc Lepers

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.


The divinatory Tarot is constituted of a set of 78 cards, of which 22 are called “majors,” and 56 are called “minors.” The minor cards are arranged in four suits (Staffs, Cups, Coins, Swords) of 14 cards; 4 “court” cards (King, Queen, Knight, Valet), and 10 cards numbered 1–10. The minor cards more or less resemble the playing cards currently used for gaming. The suits have well-established meanings (Staffs: energy, fertility, enterprise; Cups: love; Coins: money; Swords: conflict), but the meaning of the numbered cards varies enormously according to the interpreters and the systems of numerology involved. It is very difficult to connect this meaning to an esoteric tradition, since most traditions operate on a mathematical logic of base-12 (12 being a multiple of 2, 3, 4, we may assign particular meanings to the relations of opposition, the triangle, the square, which is a common and well-established practice in astrology). The minor cards thus do not seem to be the bearers of an established traditional meaning, without referencing them to an external, base-10, interpretive system. This is not the case for the 22 majors.

The 22 major cards are composed of a number (from 1–21, one card, the Fool, not being numbered), of a symbolic figure presenting one or more characters in various situations, depicted with a limited number of colours (flesh, red, blue, sometimes some green), and finally, of a name affixed to the card (except for card 13, representing Death, sometimes called “the card without a name”). The numbering of the cards, their name, and the set of the symbols present, provide a great number of elements to consult, which allows us to understand the combinatoric and esoteric system of the Tarot.

There is no traditional text that describes the internal organisation of the Tarot. On the other hand, in the same way as with the planets, the signs of the zodiac, or the houses in astrology, the interpretation of the major cards taken one by one is globally the same for all interpreters. The methods of drawing the cards or the interpretations of the reading may, on the other hand, be rather variable.

How to Interpret a Non-Rational System?

The 22 cards present a relatively balanced distribution of masculine and feminine figures, and, at first sight, a set of symbols corresponding to everyday life (love, death, accidents, men and women in various situations). They do not, at first glance, give the impression of referring to a complex esoteric system. A child, or an illiterate person could, without great difficulty, understand the global meaning of a card; it would suffice to show them the card and explain its meaning. We may deduce that the Tarot is a naïve and not very mathematical system, unlike geomancy, Kabbalah or the I Ching. The medium itself may cause a problem to an occultist believing in ancient and secret knowledge: it involves cards, and thus a medium which cannot be all that ancient, and which is also a medium for gaming (in general, strongly linked to chance). This function of game of chance cannot be entirely dissociated from the Tarot. Most traditional societies, in particular in the eastern Mediterranean, were passionately given to gambling, often wagering large sums of money in the process. As though Chance were the only true sign of election, superior to all others. As with the divinatory function, the card may also possess that of distributing fortune.

But the very particular charm of the Tarot lies in the constant disjunctions between the name, the number and the symbolism depicted on the cards. The Tarot is not explained by a rigid combinatoric or arrangement, like geomancy or Kabbalah; on the contrary, it is a system that appears to be deliberately ambiguous. For example, card 16, the God-House, represents a catastrophe; but it is a strange name for a catastrophe. Yet, card 5, the Pope, represents spiritual power, which seems fairly normal. But the aforementioned Pope is paired to a Popess (card 2), which is not really part of the figures common to the Christian religious space. Or again, the One, which generally plays the role of the Unity of the divine in most systems, is, in the Tarot, a “mountebank,” which is not exactly serious for the creative and organising power of the world. Similarly, in the ordinary playing cards, the “jokers” or the “fools” are the strongest cards. Yet again, the Lover (card 6), which could express enthusiasm if it were interpreted in the ordinary sense, expresses precisely the opposite: doubts, uncertainties.

The organisation of the Tarot, insofar as it exists, is no doubt not reducible to a simple schema. One must be able to place names, numbers, symbols and an interpretive system into correspondence, all at the same time. Numbers, names, symbols, seem to correspond only by chance. The hypothesis according to which the set of the interpretive system of the Tarot, as widespread and as commonly used as it is, would be only an incoherent collage of disparate elements, would obviously be tempting if we were to consider that the expressions of human thought must necessarily take the form of transparent and well-arranged schemas. This temptation of a so-called rational schematism is particularly strong in academic circles, and it is not surprising that, incidentally, what have been defined as the “occult sciences” have been condemned just as much by monotheistic religions as by the academic totalitarianisms that have followed them.

A number of interpretive traditions connect the cards of the Tarot to the “Tree of Life” of the system of the Kabbalah. The Tree of Life and the Kabbalah form a complete and well-documented system of interpretation, one which is already accessible; other traditions connect the Tarot to an astrological interpretation, this too is well-documented. In a very general way, the common tendency of the human mind is to integrate any information into pre-existing interpretive systems. Incidentally, nothing proves that there is any connection between the Tarot, Kabbalah, and Astrology (the latter having but very distant connections between each other). We thus prefer to consider the Tarot as a raw document, including one or more specific structural forms which we shall attempt to shed some light on.

Names, Numbers and Icons

The numbering of the cards already provides a simple clue. Numbered from 1 to 21, they are only divisible by the two prime numbers 3 and 7. This numbering suggests either a division into three sets of seven elements, or seven sets of three. 3 and 7 are numbers that are systematically present in the traditional descriptions of the Western world: the division between a material, human or “incarnated” world, a spiritual world of the “soul,” and a cosmic or “divine” world, is a general structure on which the traditions and religions which originated in the Egyptian or Middle Eastern spaces have been elaborated, regardless of their particular formulations. The number 7 is also often found in the Hebrew space, and quite probably in many others too. In general, the six-pointed star plus one central point, or the seven-day week, express the idea of a cycle. The rhythm of lunations allows us to divide them more or less into four sets of seven days, and would have supposed that we divide the year into thirteen months of twenty-eight days. Yet it was a division into four seasons of three months, regulated on the solstices and equinoxes, which was adopted. The division into four sets of three is essential in Astrology; on the other hand, it would seem that the division into three sets of seven is the basis of the system of the Tarot. It seems difficult, under the circumstances, to connect these two spaces, the bases of whose calculations are completely incompatible.

Let us consider the first seven cards of the Tarot. The One, or “Juggler” depicts a young man wearing clothes the colours of which seem organised according to a principle of opposition of red and blue (one red shoe, one blue, etc.), holding a small, straight stick, and a small circle, in front of a table on which are the various objects of the illusionist. It signifies a principal of creation and of potentialities: we may easily assimilate him to the creator God, the Demiurge, the One. The Two, the Popess, depicts a woman wearing a tiara, holding a flesh-coloured book on her knees, wearing a red robe covered by a blue cloak. She generally represents the fertile principle, the flesh, the womb, matter. She is quite evidently to be opposed to the Pope, the Five, also bearing a tiara, holding an episcopal crook with three branches in his left hand, blessing with his right hand, and wearing a blue robe and a red cloak. The Pope and the Popess obviously form a pair of oppositions; the meaning of the Pope of the Tarot, spiritual power, opposed to the Popess, carnal realisation, corresponds exactly to the function of the real Pope. We will also note that the sum of the pair of oppositions, Pope and Popess, gives Seven.

The same applies to a second pair, the Emperor and the Empress. The Three, the Empress, and the Four, the Emperor, obey the same dress code and colour scheme as the Pope and Popess. In her left hand, the Empress holds a sceptre bearing a globe divided in three and topped with a cross, and in her right hand, a shield bearing an eagle. The Emperor has the same shield to his left, and holds the same sceptre with his right hand. The Empress signifies the Spirit (the Eagle), movement, thought, writing, conception. Conversely, the Emperor signifies practical realisation, stability. With respect to the Pope-Popess pair, each bearing a different symbol, we may note in the Emperor-Empress pair two identical symbols in reverse order. Whereas, in the Pope-Popess pair, the opposition of Spirit and Matter is total, in the Emperor-Empress pair, the one relies on the other, Spirit or Matter, on the left-hand side, in order to express the other on the right-hand side.

The pair of oppositions being based on the sum of Seven, the opposite of the One in this structure is the Six, the Lover. The Lover depicts a young man in a striped red, blue and yellow tunic, placed between an older dark-haired woman dressed in a red robe with blue sleeves, and a young girl covered by a blue dress and a blue cloak with red trimming. Above this trio, a Cupid surrounded by red, blue and yellow rays sends his arrow between the young man and the young girl. This card, opposed to the Juggler, generally expresses hesitation, the necessity of choice, or yet again, the inevitability of fate opposed to creative liberty.

Let None But Geometers Enter Here!

The set of these oppositions may be geometrically represented by placing the six cards at the points of a “star of David,” in the following manner:

Figure 1. Representation of the first 7 cards of the Tarot in the “star of David.”

A more sophisticated structure, in three dimensions, of the same structure, is also possible:

Figure 2. Pyramidal representation of the first 7 cards of the Tarot.

This regular octahedral structure represents a double pyramid, or two pyramids joined together by their bases. This structure evidently has a host of interesting properties: all the triangles are equilateral, and all the diametrical planes are squares. It offers an image of perfection to which mathematician-initiates are obviously susceptible (“Let None But Geometers Enter Here,” according to the Pythagoreans), and also offers a combination of triangles and squares (eight external triangles, three diametrical squares) which cannot help but seduce those minds used to pondering numbers on a duodecimal base.

It is not only possible but probable that a particular meaning was assigned to each of the triangles, squares or portions of space. For example, the pairs of the Pope-Popess and the Emperor-Empress all find themselves on the horizontal diametrical square. The Popess and the Empress, thus the two feminine figures, are at the two points of the line opposed to the Emperor and the Pope on this square. The Popess and the Emperor, material figures, are at the two points of the line opposed to the Pope and the Empress, spiritual figures.

The Seven, the Chariot, in the centre of the octahedron, depicts a royal figure on a chariot driven by two horses, one blue, on the left, the other red, on the right. The Chariot represents a victory, the equilibrium of forces and the passage to a superior level, possibly a voyage. All the multiples of Seven, like the Fourteen (Temperance) and the Twenty-One (the World), are cards of equilibrium and of success. This leads one to think that the structure of the first seven cards is to be repeated for the following two sets of seven.

The Three Worlds

The organisation of the correspondences becomes somewhat complicated due to the fact that one may think that the cards of the second group of seven are not entirely independent of those of the first group.

Imagine a simple structural analogy: the Eight corresponds to the One, the Nine to the Two, etc. However, the resulting pairs do not seem to be bearers of a meaningful opposition: what, for instance, might be the significance of the opposition of the Nine, the Hermit, to the Twelve, the Hanged Man? The relationship is no clearer for the other potential pairs. Neither the names, nor the symbolism, offer us any correspondences.

On the other hand, the pairs of oppositions resulting in a sum of fourteen seem to present a significance. Thus, the opposition of the One with the Thirteen (Death), of the Two (the Popess) with the Twelve (the Hanged Man). The opposition of the Three (the Empress) with the Eleven (Force) is undoubtedly less obvious. In consequence, we may imagine that the system of arrangement is perhaps more complex.

Interpretation must undoubtedly refer to the system of the three worlds, common to the majority of esotericisms, or to the Christian theology of the Holy Trinity, which is no longer familiar to modern thought, more used to the dialectic formalisation inherited from the Greek space. Nonetheless, a supposedly logical formalisation, but one which does not radically distinguish itself from the Trinitarian vision, may be found in the classic thesis-antithesis-synthesis formalisation, or in the affirmation-negation-negation of negation formalisation (the Hegelian Aufhebung). It always involves positing a “contradiction” between two supposedly antithetical terms (Spirit and Matter, Capital and Labour, Man and Woman, etc.) and to propose a resolution by the invention of an imaginary third term.

In this perspective, I must specify the signification of the three groups of seven cards, since it seems that the significance of the cards cannot be understood merely by the internal relations of each group, except for the first. The second and the third groups are probably generated not by internal association, or by the simple reproduction of the model of the first group, but in relation to the preceding groups.

By referring to my own cultural space, proper to the domain, I propose a connection between the three groups and the classic Trinitarian vision, the first group being that of the creative forces, “the Father,” the second being that of the human, the incarnate, “the Son,” and the third being that of the cosmic forces, “the Holy Spirit.” Other, more precise, vocabularies are employed by the occultists, who, for example, define an “astral plane.” The question is evidently not of knowing to what degree of reality these different discourses might be assigned. We may simply remark that the Trinitarian representation of the world is a constant, regardless of the argumentation over the attribution of such and such a characteristic to such and such a group.

What is certain in any case, is that all these representations of the world are, in their context, operative. The Trinitarian and geometric division of the world has provided the Western space with a valid representation of the world, in the same way that, in a different context, the binary representation, such as it is expressed in Taoist symbolism or in the I Ching, has provided the Chinese space with a valid and operative model. There is no doubt that these representations work, nor that they are constitutive of a culture. Ethnologists know from experience that multitudes of representations of the world and of different cultures can thus be created. Each representation is entirely valid in the context of the culture in which it is used.

In passing, let us note that our Trinitarian representation of the world, including at the same time the idea of a Heaven, of an End of the World, and that of an Apocalypse, does not cease to create problems. The binary Chinese representation instead privileges the balance of opposites and the cycle of transformations repeated infinitely. In order to avoid any possible confusion, I must specify that Chinese thought (Taoism, I Ching) can in no way be conflated with Buddhism, which is of Indian origin, and which, in many respects, may be considered as a hybrid system. As simple and as reductionist as this idea may seem, it appears that the fundamental difference between the Western and Chinese systems is in the difference of the basis for calculation which the space of the representations is founded on.

The Second World

We have stopped at the Seven, the Chariot, centre and equilibrium of the first world, meaning both a resolution, a passage, a mediation towards the second world, the properly human or “incarnate” world. The second world is a consequence of the first, and is not analogous to it. The cards of the second world do not provide any definite opposition, like the Pope-Popess or Emperor-Empress. However, we possess a clue, the property according to which all the pairs of opposed cards have the same sum.

We may thus think that the cards will be organised according to the card of equilibrium of the second world, the Fourteen, Temperance. Temperance depicts a winged, angelic, feminine figure, holding two urns, one red, in the right hand, the other blue, in the left, between which flows a fluid. Like the Chariot, this card signifies the equilibrium of opposites, this time in the incarnate world, and the passage to a superior, winged world, which is that of the Spirit.

This arrangement of the numbers, according to the Fourteen taken as centre, also makes Seven the median number of the opposed numbers. For example, the Eight will be opposed to the Six, total, Fourteen, median, Seven. The same goes for the Nine and the Five, etc.

In this system of calculation, the Eight, Justice, is opposed to the Six, the Lover. Justice is a feminine figure, doted with the traditional attributes, the sword and scales. Opposed to the Lover, meaning indecision, the difficulty of choice, she clearly signifies the choices, the decision, the completion of an order, the solution of a conflict. The Lover can be considered as an impasse of the Will, or more precisely, the necessity in which it finds itself obliged to incarnate itself, in which it is opposed to the Juggler. It is opposed to a feminine card, Justice, the first card of the incarnate world. Compared to the Juggler, Justice symbolises the completion of a human order, whereas the Juggler signifies the multiplicity of the possible.

The Nine, the Hermit, is opposed to the Five, the Pope. Whereas the Pope suggests a spiritual power of connection (the Pope has the power to “bind” and “unbind”), the Hermit suggests the solitary quest and secrecy. The occultists and initiates often see this as a representation of themselves. The Hermit supports himself with a staff held in his left hand, and holds a lantern, half-hidden in the folds of his cloak, in his right hand. This cloak is blue, like those of the feminine representations (Popess, Empress) of the first world, and unlike those of the Pope and the Emperor. Indeed, the Hermit corresponds to the Popess: she holds an open book on her knees, and the Hermit signifies seeking and study.

The Ten, the Wheel of Fortune, is opposed to the Four, the Emperor. We see a crowned animal figure holding a sword at the top of a spinning wheel on which some figures are ascending and others are descending. The meaning of the card is clear enough: it emphasises the fragility of human constructions; Fortune, feminine, is here opposed to the Emperor. His correspondence with the Empress is based on the idea of mobility; the Empress symbolises thought, movement, whereas the Emperor signifies stability. Let us bear in mind that the Emperor is depicted supporting himself on a shield representing the Eagle, the Spirit.

The Eleven, Force, depicts a young woman holding the jaws of an animal open. She is opposed to the Three, the Empress. We find here more or less the same relationship as the one between the Pope and the Hermit: Force, feminine figure, is covered with a red cape, masculine attribute. Force signifies the capacity of mastery over events; contrary to the Empress, she is oriented towards corporal realisations; she represents a mastery of the Lion, the animal symbolising the human, between the flesh of the Ox and the Angel representing the individual soul.

The Twelve, the Hanged Man, depicts a man suspended by the left foot. This card means a halt, a blockage, sacrifice. It is opposed to the Two, the Popess. We can read therein the limitation of incarnation, or the limitations of matter. The occultists connect this card to the sacrifice of Christ, meaning the limits of the Flesh or of Matter. It evidently corresponds to the Pope.

The Thirteen, Death, is opposed to the One, the Juggler. Death is obviously the end of the cycle of incarnation, the end of the cycle of realisations. It clearly signifies destruction, but also profound, intimate transformation.

We have each card in relation with its complement to Fourteen, considered as centre of the second world. Each card can also be considered in relation to the Seven, as the mediator between the first two worlds. We are in the presence of an additive structure: the Eight in the second world corresponds to the One in the first, the Nine to the Two, etc. Each card of the second world can be put in relation with two cards from the first, in a relation of opposition and in a relation of correspondence. Passing from one world to another, and onto higher numbers which can be put into relation in multiple ways with the preceding numbers by means of additive or subtractive methods, the cards become more complex, more ambiguous or ambivalent. It is quite probable that the set of relations of a card must be used if we wish to understand its meanings.

Understanding the system is only possible through the comprehension of the exact role of the centres of equilibrium and of passage, defined as the multiples of Seven. The meaning of the three cards which are multiples of Seven, at the same time equilibrium of the forces of a given plane, and passage to a “higher plane,” even if it is generally accepted by the occultists, accustomed to a rhetoric of the initiatory passage, may pose a problem to those who refer to a scientific culture. In scientific culture, the notion of resolution does not exist. We could even say that, given the methods which we apply to the description of the world, the idea of resolution, applied to sets which we see grow in complexity, would find no field to be applied to. Of course, there are important masses of dialectic hanging around in the so-called humanities, just as in the literary and political worlds. The vision of the Tarot is explicitly totalitarian: it elaborates a set of symbols going from the One (the Juggler) to the World (Twenty-One), to Totality, through a route that involves a number of resolutions. The occultisms, which all propose visions of liberation, of resolution, and the pinnacle, under various forms, of a new World, are necessarily totalitarian, but no more and no less than the adepts of the “resolution of contradictions,” of the “final solution,” or, more recently, of “unity through diversity,” of the “global village,” and of communicational paradises.

This notion of “resolution” must be fully understood, as obscure as it is for those who are not adept, and as evident as it is for those who are. Or, instead of understanding it, since it essentially involves an act of faith, to clearly grasp its structure and function. It is always difficult, obviously, to describe one’s own culture, since it does include the tools of its own description. The notion of resolution, for example, is totally implicit; no one has ever proved that there exists any resolution of anything at all whatsoever; yet the notion is commonly admitted, and used by most individuals, and in particular by non-scientific academics, in their daily activities.

We have no other alternative than to accept this notion as a commonly-used tool within the space of our culture, and not in others, and thus as a medium, a tool with its own significance, indefinable, incomprehensible and yet spontaneously understood by all the members of the culture throughout all the pre-conscious organisations they make of the world.

If I refer to my own experience as a reader of cards, I consider the description of the world and the meaning of the cards as valid and operative within the context of the reading, even though, in the context of scientific analysis, I can consider them as a totalitarian description (among many others, it is true). Even if I do not consider the division of the world into Mental, Physical and Astral, or others, as particularly valid, and even if, as is the case, I feel the greatest difficulties to picture what it involves, I am nevertheless able to make it work locally within particular experiences, and I can even do it with ease in quasi-reflex or spontaneous activities. Spontaneity, incidentally, is not the sign of some truth; it is the sign of the appropriateness of behaviour to a culture.

The Fourteen, Temperance, the Angel, thus means the passage to a higher level, that of the astral plane or of the cosmic forces. We obviously find metaphysical symbols there; Devil, God-House, Sun, Moon, Star, Judgment. We shall adopt the method used for the preceding level, that is, the study of the relations of each card with its complement with respect to the central card, Twenty-One.

The Third World: The Cosmos

The Fifteen, the Devil, is the first card of the metaphysical world. It depicts a horned, winged being with both penis and breasts as visible sexual attributes, and at whose feet we find two naked beings, also horned, doted with tails and animal ears, chained and whose hands are tied behind their back. The Devil holds what may be a sort of sword in the left hand. It means bonds, connections, and especially, all that is considered to be attachment to matter, and particularly the flesh, in the representations of the religious world. The Fifteen is the complement of the Six to give Twenty-One. The cards representing a number of figures, and generally, a type of connection between the figures and the symbols, are fairly specific. The Six, the Lover, depicts a man hesitating between two women. The Fifteen depicts a powerful bond. It is curious to follow the evolution of the One, the Juggler, in his passage through the three worlds. If the One represents a free and creative energy, a potentiality, the Eight (One plus Seven), Justice, represents at the same time the energy of the sword, and the equilibrium of the scales; as to the Fifteen, One plus Fourteen, or Eight plus Seven, it represents enchainment.

The Sixteen, the God-House, depicts a tower struck by lightning, from which men are falling. It is opposed to the Pope, to the Five. It signifies catastrophes, and principally, the destruction of hopes and illusions. More generally, in correspondence with the religious themes, it signifies the fragility of human constructions. We may note, here too, the evolutions of the Two, the Popess, matter, incarnation, in the three worlds: we pass from a representation of the matter as book, to read and to write, to that of study and seeking (the Hermit), to arrive at the destruction of matter (the God-House).

The Seventeen, the Star, depicts a naked young girl, pouring a blue stream from two red urns. She signifies hope, birth, rebirth. She is opposed to the Emperor. The Empress signified the Spirit, the Eagle, as the generative power of things. In the second world, she becomes the Wheel of Fortune, the incessant modification of the human world. In the third, she becomes a spring. In the religious conception, the spirit or the Holy Spirit that the initiate receives through the rite of baptism, is not conflated with the Creator. In some extremist traditions, the Demiurge may even be considered as an evil being, a power of enchainment such as is expressed by the Devil, put in the original place of the third world. It should be noted that, unlike Temperance, balancing the fluids of the two urns of different colours, the Star indicates the direction of the movement of the direction of the fluid. All the religious traditions originating in the eastern Mediterranean, of which we are the inheritors, had to propose an answer to the dialectic division between the Spirit and Matter, between Good and Evil, God and Man, etc. The traditional answer is the positing of a third term, of resolution, which the Christian tradition calls the “Holy Spirit” or the “Spirit of Love,” to distinguish it from the Spirit proper, of which we may never truly say whether it is divine or Luciferian, luminous or chthonic.

The Eighteen, the Moon, is opposed to the Empress, the Spirit. The Moon depicts two dogs howling next to a pond in which there is a sort of crayfish. Blue almost exclusively dominates the card. The Moon represents conflicts, dreams, hidden things, what we now call the unconscious. Obviously, the existence of dreams and the unconscious may pose a problem to the realisation of Universal Love. The occultists could not occult this problem. They would resolve it, as usual, with the notion of a resolution, of a passage represented by the World, or even by the Fool. The Four, the Emperor, represented the order of incarnate things. The Eleven represented Force, mastery over impulses. In the metaphysical plane of the third world, these impulses are evidently not “pure;” they are opposed to Universal Love.

The Nineteen, the Sun, represents, on the contrary, the Love that unites people. It is not, of course, love in the physical sense, but the principal of solar and divine love, considered as a link between humans in the Christian tradition. It is opposed to the Two, the Popess, incarnated matter. The Five, the Pope, signified the spiritual power, the power of liaison. In the physical and human world of incarnation, it is represented by the Twelve, the Hanged Man, the sacrificed one. In the Christian tradition, the sacrifice of Christ is the act of supreme love; it symbolises the total renunciation giving access too the disincarnate universal love.

The Twenty, the Judgment, represents the Last Judgment. A luminous angel bearing a trumpet makes humans rise, hands joined together, from their tombs. This card is opposed to the One, the Juggler; it symbolises the end of the cycle which leads to the last card, the World, or paradise. The Six, the Lover, signified the passage to concrete realisation, and its difficulties; the Thirteen, Death, signified the limit and the end of the terrestrial cycle; the Twenty signifies the end of the cosmic cycle and the final victory of the Spirit of Love.

The World depicts a naked young woman standing on the right foot, surrounded by the symbols of the four fundamental symbols of the tradition: the Ox, symbolising the Flesh, or matter, to the bottom left (we find more or less the same symbolism in the Taoist Ox, but without the relatively pejorative sense it has in the Christian tradition); the Lion, symbolising the Human, mixture of flesh and spirit (we find this symbol in the Eleven, Force), to the bottom right; the Angel, representing the individual human soul, to the top left; and the Eagle, representing the cosmic Spirit, to the top right. The World represents the union of all contraries, universal harmony, the resurrected flesh, cleansed of all sins and spiritualised, universal Peace and Love, the Philosopher’s Gold, the Great Work, Paradise, the realisation of all resolutions, the final synthesis.

Out of Play: The Fool

We reach the only non-numbered card, thus out of play, the Fool. It depicts a vagabond holding a staff in the right hand, his knapsack on his shoulder with his left hand, chased by a dog who has torn his trousers, his eyes raised up to heaven. It is the only card for which the interpretations diverge radically. The most common interpretation makes of him a fool, a wanderer, a card of vagabondage and of distress. But some occultists, on the contrary, see it as the access to a world beyond the world, a rebirth, or even the symbol of the authentic initiate, who has access to a world inaccessible to mere mortals.

The very existence of the Fool card necessitates some thought. First of all, the totalitarian enterprise of the world, in order to be totally coherent, must reserve a particular place for exclusion. Even were we to enlarge the field of application of inclusion (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God,” “the last shall be first, and the first last,” according to Christ), we cannot completely avoid having the “irrecoverable” somewhere. Even if the “lost sheep,” to use the Christian parable, occupies, by its very exclusion, and by the problem it poses to the totalitarian space, an enormous place in the “rescue” mechanism, nothing can prevent leaks which can “pose a problem” to the idealised order of the representation of the world. Most systems have set up a place specifically for the fool and the wanderer; from the place of the lost sheep, excluded or marginalised, the object of all charitable attention and social assistance, to the psychiatric hospital, the concentration camp or the gulag; but equally, in the Aztec astrological system, there exists a specific place, called that of the “game,” a place in which nothing can be decided. The wanderer or the fool, the one out of play, the Joker, is the object of particular attention in the totalitarian system: he is either the object of extravagant attention aiming to “reinsert” or to “include” him, to make him “participate,” or he is purely and simply eliminated. The system aims to have it so that no individuals it defines as “excluded” from its universalist vision of the world might exist. Inside the totalitarian system, whose vocation is to resolve all contradictions, there is no other; there is only Universal Love, or universal Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. According to the case, those included within the system shall be deemed guilty of not being able to apply it universally, which is why further sacrifices are always demanded of them, or, those excluded, guilty of being unable or unwilling to integrate, which is why they are to be eliminated. In this ferocious struggle between the forms of totalitarianism which has characterised the twentieth century, national-socialism, communism, and universalists of Christian inspiration, to which we may add Islamic totalitarianism, whose violent resurgence is probably due to its direct confrontation with the expansion of other totalitarianisms, Christian universalism appears to be triumphant today, under its generalised, supposedly “secular” form, and the – evidently universal – declaration of the “Rights of Man.” Its triumph, obviously accompanied by a demonisation of all other competing systems, all qualified as totalitarian, must not allow us to forget that, if it can pretend to universality, it is due to better management of the totalitarian idea, supported by a millennial tradition on which neither national-socialism nor communism, avowedly “revolutionary” systems, could base themselves on.

This ambivalence of the position of the system with respect to the excluded or those out of play explains the variability of the interpretations of the Fool card. The tradition implies that the most destitute, the most excluded, the most foolish, may be the image of God. Similarly, Karl Marx, grand master of the application of dialectic to the economy, demonstrated, in an unlikely number of tomes, how the working class was going to impoverish itself, and how it would be increasingly alienated, and thus, as if this were self-evident, being completely alienated by a bloodthirsty capitalism, could create a classless society, the communist paradise. Similarly, Hitler thought that the national and socialist revolution of the German people, enslaved and humiliated by the “international Jewish plutocracy,” particular image of Evil, would finally recover its natural pre-eminence, for the establishment of a new world order. We cannot underestimate, within our system of thought, the pervasiveness of these hallucinatory formulations, who see in the excluded the future of the world, who see in the slave God’s chosen one, or in the product of suburban sub-culture a cultural revolution. They are but the last expressions of a collective totalitarian madness which we have been replicating for the past few millennia.

To have done with the Judgment of God, the Fool turns his gaze away from the world, he escapes from the cycle of transcendence. Without law nor faith, he is simply out of play; he is not liberated, he does not manifest a resolution, he no longer participates. The Fool manifests that there is no other discourse than that of transcendence, in the entire space which has constituted itself around this discourse. The Fool expresses either the absolute silence of what can no longer function according to the common order of representations, or the derision and detachment that were the privilege of the Fools in traditional society, before the extension of totalitarianism decided to lock them up, to treat them, or to eliminate them. The Fool is the only ambiguous card of the Tarot, it manifests the existence of this vertiginous anxiety of the totalitarian world confronted with the existence of an elsewhere. This elsewhere, this radical strangeness, has no place in the order of representations, and the system would not be complete, and thereby absolutely totalitarian, if it did not invent a null space, incomprehensible and insane, a space devoid of sense. The institution of this null space is essential to the universalist totalitarian plenitude; the notion of Zero is indissociable to that of Infinity. Non-universalist, or non-civilised societies, do not know either of these notions, nor anything which might resemble the Fool, to which civilisation will reply that, for example, there are psychotics everywhere, but these become shamans in those societies which have not invented psychiatry. The confounding silliness of these statements, taken from among an infinity of statements of the same stripe, enlightens us on two points: the first, that the universalist pretence attacks all objects which fall within its view, even from far away and without knowing them, and elaborates in their regard theories validated within the system to the extent that these theories are universalist; the second, that the elaboration of the universalist discourse and theories equally has the function of permanently masking their very operation, by instituting an “it’s everywhere the same,” taking as a general rule what is but the expression of a particular representation of the world, dominant and in expansion, it is true, but alas for Paradise, not yet unique. The Fool reflects the place of the divine, or of the divinatory: he is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.

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Read the original French here.

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