Tarot Talk

The Magician


(The Magician Tarot Card from the artist Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/)**

This month, we will stay with the Major Arcana, and talk about The Magician, the masculine version of The High Priestess. Before we begin breaking down The Magician, let’s remind ourselves of some terms.

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, a personality, or a behavior. In the analysis of personality, the term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype” (a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; for instance, “girls make good cooks” is a stereotype), or an “epitome” (the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; for example, Venus is said to be the epitome of feminine beauty). Archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has personally experienced (or will experience) these archetypes.

Besides the symbolism in its traditional image, each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth.

The traditional image on The Magician is of a person, usually a mature man (although some images show a youth, perhaps a reminder of The Fool) dressed in white with a red robe, sometimes hooded, standing facing outward (toward us) with his right arm up (often holding a wand, also pointed up) and left arm down, often with the index finger pointing at the earth or the symbol of the element of Earth (representing the polarized nature of the elements, and the bridge between the spiritual and the physical, and suggesting that he is a conduit of unseen power). Usually the sky behind him is that of a clear mid-day, although a few images show roiling clouds and wind, and around him are green trees, often heavy with fruit, and red (nature, physical desires) and white (purity, spiritual unfoldment) flowers. Over his head or somewhere within the image is the infinity symbol (infinite circling of polarized energies of nature; cosmic lemniscates, harmonious interaction between conscious and subconscious, between life and feeling, desire and emotion, dominion over the material, eternal life) and before him is a table on which rest elemental symbols. One interesting card image I found shows all the traditional ingredients of The Magician, however the view is from behind him, facing his audience, men, women and children mesmerized by the show presented by The Magician.

The Magician card is numbered 1. The number One is about new beginnings, sowing seeds, potential, start of a cycle, and originality. All numbers are made by comparing with or interacting with the number One; it combines the opposites of odd and even. This number offers the concept of position, The Point. In the Minor Arcana, the Aces represent the purest essence of each corresponding element, the seed that will grow into the element. The Aces are called by some the “gift cards” for they represent the gift of the particular element being offered to the Seeker. The Magician can be seen as a Major Arcana version of the Aces, as he is tapping into his gifts and using the four elements (and their powers and effects) as tools. The number One is about confidence, originality and leadership, but it is also about stubbornness, pride, a quick temper and a tendency to resist authority.

The Magician represents the archetypes of the Active Male, and the Trickster. The Active Male (who does not need to be someone with a gender of male) focuses his abilities outward. He makes things happen, and he does this by learning about, understanding, and manipulating the laws of the Universe. He is determined to find win-win situations, and he is undeterred by ethics or the potential for creating negative consequences. The Trickster archetype represents someone who exhibits a great connection to his intellect, who has learned large amounts of secret knowledge, and who uses these things to play tricks or to disobey normal rules and conventional behavior. The weakness inherent in both of these archetypes is the tendency to disregard ethics and to become manipulative in order to attain desired goals.

The Magician corresponds with the element of Air, and thus the Minor Arcana suit of Swords, the playing cards suit of Spades, the direction of East, and the colors Yellow or Gold. Air is connected to the intellect, and to action, challenges, and a struggle that brings an outcome. This element represents the focused intent to bring forth manifestation, and many times it indicates a struggle as we bring an idea into reality. The element of Air can encourage a focus on truth and clarity, mental focus and spiritual guidance, and encourage a striving to achieve balance between the mind and the heart. The Sword that symbolizes Air within the Minors is usually a double-edged blade, and thus can represent attacking ~or~ defending. Air can represent logical and analytic thought patterns; it can also represent spite and aggression, or an inability to be assertive.

In astrology, The Magician represents the astrological sign of Mercury. Mercury is known as the messenger of the gods and is known for his ability to move fast. The planet Mercury echoes this, circling the Sun quickly, taking only 88 days to orbit the Sun, spending about 7.33 days in each sign of the zodiac. Mercury is so close to the Sun that it has no atmosphere of its own; it can only be seen in our skies with the naked eye right after the Sun has set. Astrologically, Mercury represents the principles of communication, mentality, thinking patterns, a focus on details, rationality, reasoning, adaptability and variability. Mercury is connected to schooling and education, research, moving over short distances, as well as email, telephone and snail mail. Mercury connects learning with communication by also being connected to newspapers, journalism and writing. In medicine, Mercury is associated with the nervous system, the brain, the respiratory system, the thyroid and the sense organs.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. These creative forces express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Magician corresponds with the Hebrew letter Beth, the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, representing the house or the builder. The house can be seen as the “dwelling of man” within the physical and non-physical world which offers support and shelter. A house is a “containing form” and regarding The Magician, it can be seen as that which contains Spirit. The builder has the knowledge, skill, and wisdom to construct the house so that it lasts and continues to offer stability and shelter.

On the Tree of Life, The Magician represents Path 12, running between Binah (female, receptive energy and the origin of form and structure) and Kether (the source, limitless possibility). The 12th Path connects Kether to the top of the Pillar of Form, the Pillar that teaches us about feminine energies. It seems strange at first glance that a masculine (energetic and outwardly-projecting) card would connect with a group of sephiroth that describe feminine energies, but upon further consideration, this makes perfect sense. The 12th Path activates situations that teach dexterity, knowledge, wisdom and truth, presenting us with all the tools we need to grow and evolve. This Path separates the physical from the spiritual in order that we might come to understand that they are actually not separate, that the spiritual and the physical are integrated and connected. These are indeed inner pursuits. Also, the power of The Magician comes from The High Priestess, the guardian of secret knowledge; The Magician cannot be effective without harnessing the powers of the Pillar of Force, for his power does not come from within him but rather, from Deity.

The Magician is a representation of true magick, but he is also a representation of slight-of-hand. In some decks, he is known as The Juggler or The Mountebank (a mountebank is a charlatan), and in some cases he can represent stage magic or illusion, rather than true magick, which creates a desired outcome through knowledge, skill and wisdom. But don’t forget, illusionists need to hone skills, too, and they spend hours practicing even a simple illusion so that it appears effortless, even magickal. The Magician works hard to perfect his abilities, to make use of those abilities in unexpected ways, and to focus and carry through to the end of a task (the end result is pretty important to him).

He also understands the eternal nature of his efforts, mainly because of the polarized nature of the elements with which he works. Indeed, in order to be effective The Magician must master each of the elements. His mastery over the element of Earth is symbolized by the pentacle on his table, his immersion into and understanding of emotions and visions is evidenced by the cup, through confronting and controlling Air, he is awarded the sword, and through being tested by Fire and achieving initiation he obtains the wand which points upward to the aether.

In the Tarot of the Magicians, Oswald Wirth shows us a Magus with the symbols of the elements and their energies and manifestations, standing before us, dazzling us with his skills. He even has a slight smile on his face, as if he is well aware of how he appears: mysterious, handsome, confident and dashing. Wirth feels that The Magician needs to be in the number One position in the Major Arcana because the operations of the universe are a mystery to us and we “are the dupe of appearance produced by forces at work which are unknown to us.” Wirth describes the infinity sign of The Magician as comparable to “the living sphere made by the living thoughts emanating from the intelligence.”

The image on Wild Unknown Magician is of a seated jaguar, a powerful predator who survives by using his own strength and his own intelligence. In front of the jaguar are the four symbols of the elements and the Minor Arcana; both of the jaguar’s front paws are resting on the symbol of Earth/Pentacles, and there is an omega sign on his chest or heart. The jaguar is alert, looking behind him with ears pricked, but he is also relaxed. His eyes are open, but they are relaxed (in that very cat-like fashion). Behind the jaguar is a brilliant sun. The energies of this card are confident, strong, and connected to the physical world, but all four elements (and their correspondences) are there, waiting for the jaguar to access them.

Aleister Crowley considered The Magus as representing the second highest level of spiritual illumination a human soul can attain. He saw The Magus as representing the alchemical element of mercury, and of action in all forms and phases. The Magus is a representation of The Will, and thus we are to “create freely; absorb joyously; divide intently; consolidate completely.”

In the Legacy of the Divine Tarot, Marchetti chose to use the image of “a man of learning, both a student and a teacher of the sciences and physical forces of the universe.” This Magician is surrounded by books and instruments and test tubes, and he is concentrating intensely on his current experiment, evidenced by the bolt of electricity connecting the instruments before him. Here we have a more modern Magician with knowledge of the past, the present, and the future at his fingertips. Marchetti created his Magician with a unique physical deformity: he has an extra finger on each hand, a symbol in some cultures of a gifted individual.

This card is personally significant to me; an understanding of the skills of The Magician was gifted to me after a particularly harrowing experience. Unlike the card itself, I was also gifted with The Magician’s ethical dilemma, the need to keep in mind that while I may be able to wield the powers of the elements, I need to be very aware of consequences.

My personal keywords for The Magician are action, self-empowerment, and purpose; three powerful concepts. Notice there is no mention of ethics; The Magician uses the tools that he owns in a manner that he deems appropriate. Power without compassion or mercy or empathy can be quite effective, but also quite devastating, and The Magician does not necessarily consider the impact of his actions on others.

In the end, while The Magician has the potential to be either good or evil, he reminds us that wielding power requires a lifetime of effort, and an awareness that once we impose our will, even good intentions can have unexpected consequences. Making the effort to learn and dedicating the time to practicing our skills are part of the recipe for success, but so is mindfulness. So is an awareness of the needs of all and the consequences of imposing change on the world.


**This year we will be featuring the art of Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/ as part of Tarot Talk.  You can view his work and Decks at http://www.ciromarchetti.com/.