20. By the Numbers: the Wisdom of Tarot

The Fool BOTA color Image

The Western Mystery Tradition considers the Tarot its most visually compelling self-development practice, contrast Astrology, Kabbalah, Spiritual Alchemy, and Gematria.

Tarot may also be the most tactile of Western hermetic arts—the cards are literally touched (palpated) by the hands of the reader.  In certain instances the reader and the client shuffle or select the cards. If you are practicing a solitary tableau, where the reader and the “client’ are one–the act of touching the cards is no less present or important.

Select Tarot Card Image

The featured image of this post–The Fool is presented in outline.  A version of The Fool with color (above) opens today’s narrative.  Coloring the cards by hand is a long held legacy of  Golden Dawn and B.O.T.A. traditions.  The more personal the connection with the Tarot images the more powerful the connection with its capacity to give voice to Memory–“[our] children in the apple tree–not known because not looked for.”

Paul Foster Case

The Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn (a fusion of early Christianity and Egyptian mysteries), and the Builders of the Adytum (a conflation of Golden Dawn and the Masonic Blue Lodge system) claim, especially with regard to Tarot, the teaching guidance of Paul Foster Case.

Paul Foster Case enjoins the student: “[A] light-seeking impulse is the first requisite for success in the use of the Tarot”.

The light of the Tarot begins by learning its Major Arcana.


Arcana is the plural form of a Latin word: Arcanum, meaning, secrets or mysterious. The preoccupation with the mysterious is so central to the study of the hermetic arts the word itself is used to describe the tradition we attempt to share in these pages: viz., the Western Mystery Tradition.

Within the Tarot deck there are Major mysteries (Major Arcana) and Minor mysteries (Minor Arcana).  The Major Arcana are comprised of 22 cards or Keys.  [56 Minor Arcana join the Major Arcana to complete the deck; a discussion of the Minor Arcana will wait for another post].

The Tarot’s first secret is enumerated as Major Arcana Zero. The Zero Key is represented as The Fool and is associated with the Sun. The Zero Key is followed by the One Key, The Magician.  The One Key is associated with Mercury.  The One Key is followed by the Two Key, The High Priestess.  The Two Key is associated with the Moon.  Taken together, the first three Major mysteries form a “sacred ellipse”—another reference for Zero or, The Fool, (hermetically speaking).  The first three Major Arcana serve the Zero Key.

Elipse Foci Image
Source: Honolulu Hawaii.edu

What do we know about an ellipse?  While it is not a circle, it is circular in form–and, like Zero,  symbolizes “freedom from every limitation”. We attribute a single center point to a circle  (see the Sun symbol above).  The form of the ellipse  is defined by two differentiated points of focus and the ellipse itself.  Think: The Fool.  Think: The Magician and The High Priestess.

What makes the ellipse sacred? The inseparability of its two points of focus–Major Arcana 1 and 2.

In Astrology we know the Sun expresses itself as one of 12 different Zodiacal signs.  In an earlier post, “Post 9 Original Light, Created Light”we differentiate the “light” introduced on day one from the light that appears on day four of the Genesis story.  Day One: Original Light.  This is not the Sun of the Zodiac. Created Light holds the Zodiac, which arrives on Day Four with the stars and the Moon.  Think: Original v Created.

Child Drawing Image 1

Now look to the upper right corner of Major Arcanum Zero—a symbol for the Sun is depicted and it is white in color to indicate Original Light. The “big yellow” sun of a child’s drawing does not appear in waking awareness until day four.  The big yellow sun transits the Zodiac as “Created Light”.

The Fool is special. The Fool is a mystery unto itself as Zero. Paul Foster Case offers the following comments re The Fool. “Key Zero represents the manner in which the Absolute [Original Light] presents itself…to the wise.”  This manner of representation– what form does it take?

“…there is an instrument not made by man, which can adapt these higher vibrations, this radiant mental energy, in a manner truly wonderful.  That instrument is the human personality, and you are its possessor.  Its function is to give free expression to the LIFE POWER.” Source: “The Golden Dawn Tarot Series 1, (1931)”

Original light in the Western hermetic tradition is attributed to Day One of the Genesis story: “Let there be Light!”

The Personality is formed by “breathing in” Original light.  It is the great prize.  The Personality, the essence of being and becoming “Zero”—freedom from all limitation, implies a consciousness of Personality fully realized and not of this place.

William Blake’s stanza from “The Tyger” still resonates; he asks the right question:

“When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Original Light (the Sun of The Fool’s key)  has nothing to do with one’s “Sun sign”.  When we use the term Personality to describe “an instrument not made by man”—we are not talking about the ego or the capacity for self-fascination or hysteria.  These expressions of Created light (the Zodiac and sun signs) have given us Icarus, Narcissus and Sisyphus to ponder and to celebrate as they journey through twelve Astrological houses in this place.

Paul Foster Case is talking about Personality as an instrument of consciousness we could associate with Buddhist terms such as “realized”, “enlightened”, or “bodhisattva“.  Or Western Mystery terms, “adept”, “saint” or “adytum”.

If you choose to learn more about the Tarot, remain mindful the light you seek, may it be Original. Thus considered, a journey with Tarot in tow will reward you.Filigree Design Image v1

We mentioned at the opening how it is, the Tarot is a tactile pursuit.  Hands and fingers come into contact with the cards.  The student also takes time to personally color each card as part of the training.

The very term, “deck of cards” is suggested by a ship’s deck and its many layers.  The phrase “deck of cards”, and its association with ships at sea enters the English written record around 1590 CE. As we literally “reach” into a deck of Tarot, we figuratively enter a nautical, or watery space available to our non-waking awareness–the Moon. 

While manipulating a Tarot deck, our hands are able “to see” the cards “immersed” in the deck itself.  The fingers sense a vibration and grab a card at the appropriate moment–“before it gets away”.  It is a process of light-seeking visualization, operating at the level of one’s Memory (Moon) in service of the Personality (Sun) intermediated by Mercury–Major Keys Zero, One and Two (Fool, Magician, High Priestess).  Welcome to Tarot.Filigree Design Image v1

Would you be familiar with the term, “skin vision”?

Ever observe a raccoon fishing?  The raccoon keeps its head and eyes up while its “hands” are in the water sensing for the movement of a nearby fish hoping to grab it at just the right moment.

With hands in the water, a raccoon is vulnerable.  The “hands” of the raccoon (more correctly, the forefeet) are expected to “sense” the presence of a fish swimming nearby–while the eyes of the raccoon are saved for its own security.  But raccoons are very successful at fishing.  How?  Biologists are not sure—but they have coined the term “skin vision” to explain what is happening.  The forefeet of the raccoon, not the hind legs, have special nerve bundles allowing for extra sensitivity—including the vibration of nearby watery movements.

The reader of Tarot, with hands and fingers to select the cards is relying upon a means of detection, not unlike “skin vision”.  Another sensitivity or intelligence, Memory, is at work–and watery Neptune has a seat at the table.Filigree Design Image v1

Fog Image 1

And what, pray tell is Personality to Universe? 

Answer: A path to MEMORY.

Do we arrive with Memory?  We do.

Buckminster Fuller often marveled how it is–a little human being arrives aboard Spaceship Earth without an operating manual–yet within a short eighteen months (a single Mars cycle about the Sun) the little human becomes ambulatory, speaks a language, experiments with gravity (dropping a spoon from the high chair), learns  a home culture while making lots of new content for the Akashic record.

The tradition of Akashic records—because it is all about the mystery of Memory—it is closely allied with the Tarot’s purpose. The Akashic record, by tradition, holds all acts, thoughts, intents and questions of all people of all time: the sum total of individual human experience.   Bucky Fuller, reciting the Lord’s Prayer in July 1989, penned the following reflection:

“I define Universe as all of humanity’s
consciously apprehended
and communicated (to self or others)

“scientifically explainable answers
may and probably will
eventually be given
to all questions
as engendered in all human thoughts
by the sum total
of all human experiences;”


Long ago, searching to demonstrate the efficacy of the “soul”, research only proved bodies before and shortly after death weighed the same.  Summation: the soul is not physical–it has no detectable mass.  Inference: “the soul is not physical so–it may not exist“.  Nature,  to whom our bodies are obliged, may not have made provision for a soul. To the best of our knowledge, neither has Nature made provision for God.

Universe, on the other hand, did not get the memo.  The soul is not physical because it is metaphysical–like Love. And the Personality, working with Memory, is its instrument for improvement. So let it be.

On your way out–walk by the following shadow box of academic disciplines fully formed in the West.  We name four or five—there are many more.  They remind us—if we are not light-seeking creatures, we are very curious about first causes and ultimate meaning.

Paul Foster Case reminds us: “The Wisdom of God is foolishness with men.”  And, referring to Jesus, “Seek first into the Kingdom of God, which is within you.”  What is within us?  Memory.

Say What Baby Image

Epistemology is fascinated with helping us understand how opinion and belief are similar and very different.  Faith and Reason are in this club.

Ontology wants to know how we know: “The fact that something exists is independent of whether we know it exists.”  (Source: Wikipedia: ontology).

Teleology wants to explain phenomenon in terms of its purpose.

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretations.   Phenomenology pays attention to the subjective consciousness of direct experience, eschewing objectivity (show off).

All fascinating.  There is a center of academic gravity that holds them:  Memory.

We bid you peace,

Frater A


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Should you have time to consider a musical reflection to accompany this post, we refer you to Danlil Trifonov’s performance of Liszt’s “Transcendental Études” in Lyon France, 28 February 2017.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD4T-rNklsY  Key word:  Memory.  The recital is slightly more than an hour long.  Suggestion: Select any five minutes at random. Imagine committing the body of this work to memory and to the muscle memory of the hands.

A Reference of symbols, charts and definitions important to Western Mystery Tradition studies is listed as Post No. 900. Enter “900” in the Search box to be directed to this location.
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