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The Tarot And Secret Tradition
By TarotReadingSecrets Admin | Published 10/22/2005 | The Tarot And Secret Tradition |
The Tarot And Secret Tradition

The theory is that this dectrine has always existed-that is
to say, has been excogitated in the consciousness of an
elect minority; that it has been perpetuated in secrecy from
one to another and has been recorded in secret literatures,
like those of Alchemy and Kabalism; that it is contained
also in those Instituted Mysteries of which Rosicrucianism
offers an example near to our hand in the past, and Craft
Masonry a living summary, of general memorial, for those who
can interpret its real meaning.

Behind the Secret Doctrine it is held that there is an
experience or practice by which the Doctrine is justified.
It is obvious that in a handbook like the present I can do
little more than state the, claims, which, however, have
been discussed at length in several of my other writings,
while it is designed to treat two of its more important
phases in books devoted to the Secret Tradition in
Freemasonry and in Hermetic literature.

As regards Tarot claims, it should be remembered that some
considerable part of the imputed Secret Doctrine has been
presented in the pictorial emblems of Alchemy, so that the
imputed Book Of Thoth is in no sense a solitary device of
this emblematic kind. Now, Alchemy had two branches, as I
have explained fully elsewhere, and the pictorial emblems
which I have mentioned are common to both divisions.

Its material side is represented in the strange symbolism
of  the  Mutus  Libex,  printed   in  the  great   folios
of Mangetus. There the process for the performance of the
great work of transmutation is depicted in fourteen copper-
plate engravings, which exhibit the different stages of the
matter in the various chemical vessels. Above these vessels
there are mythological, planetary, solar and lunar symbols,
as if the powers and virtues which-according to Hermetic
teaching-preside over the development and perfection of the
metallic kingdom were intervening actively to assist the two
operators who are toiling below. The operators-curiously
enough-are male and female. The spiritual side of Alchemy is
set forth in the much stranger emblems of the Book Of
Lambspring, and of this I have already given a preliminary
interpretation, to which the reader may be referred.* The
tract contains the mystery of what is called the mystical or
arch-natural elixir, being the marriage of the soul and the
spirit in the body of the adept philosopher and the
transmutation of the body as the physical result of this
marriage. I have never met with more curious intimations
than in this one little work. It may be mentioned as a point
of fact that both tracts are very much later in time than
the latest date that could be assigned to the general
distribution of Tarot cards in Europe by the most drastic
form of criticism. They belong respectively to the end of
the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries. As I am not drawing
here on the font of imagination to refresh that of fact and
experience, I do not suggest that the Tarot set the example
of expressing Secret Doctrine in pictures and that it was
followed by Hermetic writers; but it is noticeable that it
is perhaps the earliest example of this art. It is also the
most catholic, because it is not, by attribution or
otherwise, a derivative of any one school or literature of
occultism; it is not of Alchemy or Kabalism or Astrology or
Ceremonial Magic; but, as I have said, it is the
presentation of universal ideas by means of universal types,
and it is in the combination of these types-if anywhere-that
it presents Secret Doctrine.

That combination may, ex hypothesi, reside in the numbered
sequence of its series or in their fortuitous assemblage by
shuffling, cutting and dealing, as in ordinary games of
chance played with cards. Two writers have adopted the first
view without prejudice to the second, and I shall do well,
perhaps, to dispose at once of what they have said. Mr.
MacGregor Mathers, who once published a pamphlet on the
Tarot, which was in the main devoted to fortune-telling,
suggested that the twenty-two Trumps Major could be
constructed, following their numerical order, into what he
called a "connected sentence." It was, in fact, the heads of
a moral thesis on the human will, its enlightenment by
science, represented by the Magician, its manifestation by
action-a significance attributed to the High Priestess-its
realization (the Empress) in deeds of mercy and beneficence,
which qualities were allocated to the Emperor. He spoke also
in the familiar conventional manner of prudence, fortitude,
sacrifice, hope and ultimate happiness. But if this were the
message of the cards, it is certain that there would be no
excuse for publishing them at this day or taking the pains
to elucidate them at some length.

In his Tarot Of The Bohemians, a work written with zeal and
enthusiasm, sparing no pains of thought or research, within
its particular lines-but unfortunately without real insight-
Dr. Papus has given a singularly elaborate scheme of the
Trumps Major. It depends, like that of Mr. Mathers, from
their numerical sequence, but exhibits their interrelation
in the Divine World, the Macrocosm and Microcosm. In this
manner we get, as it were, a spiritual history of man, or of
the soul coming out from the Eternal, passing into the
darkness of the material body, and returning to the height.
I think that the author is here within a measurable distance
of the right track, and his views are to this extent
informing, but his method-in some respects-confuses the
issues and the modes and planes of being. The Trumps Major
have also been treated in the alternative method which I
have mentioned, and Grand Orient, in his Manual Of
Cartomancy, under the guise of a mode of transcendental
divination, has really offered the result of certain
illustrative readings of the cards when arranged as the
result of a fortuitous combination by means of shuffling and
dealing. The use of divinatory methods, with whatsoever
intention and for whatever purpose, carries with it two
suggestions. It may be thought that the deeper meanings are
imputed rather than real, but this is disposed of by the
fact of certain cards, like the Magician, the High
Priestess, the Wheel of Fortune, the Hanged Man, the Tower
or Maison Dieu, qnd several others, which do not correspond
to Conditions of Life, Arts, Sciences, Virtues, or the other
subjects contained in the denaries of the Baldini emblematic

They are also proof positive that obvious and natural
moralities cannot explain the sequence. Such cards testify
concerning themselves after another manner; and although the
state in which I have left the Tarot in respect of its
historical side is so much the more difficult as it is so
much the more open, they indicate the real subject matter
with which we are concerned.    The methods show also that
the Trumps Major at least have been adapted to fortune-
telling rather than belong thereto. The common divinatory
meanings which will be given in the third part are largely
arbitrary attributions, or the product of secondary and
uninstructed intuition; or, at the very most, they belong to
the subject on a lower plane, apart from the original
intention. If the Tarot were of fortune-telling in the root-
matter thereof, we should have to look in very strange
places for the motive which devised it-to Witchcraft and the
Black Sabbath, rather than any Secret Doctrine

The two classes of significance which are attached to the
Tarot in the superior and inferior worlds, and the fact that
no occult or other writer has attempted to assign anything
but a divinatory meaning to the Minor Arcana, justify in yet
another manner the hypothesis that the two series do not
belong to one another. It is possible that their marriage
was effected first in the Tarot of Bologna by that Prince of
Pisa whom I have mentioned in the first part. It is said
that his device obtained for him public recognition and
reward from the city of his adoption, which would scarcely
have been possible, even in those fantastic days, for the
production of a Tarot which only omitted a few of the small
cards; but as we are dealing with a question of fact which
has to be accounted for somehow, it is conceivable that a
sensation might have been created by a combination of the
minor and gambling cards with the philosophical set, and by
the adaptation of both to a game of chance. Afterwards it
would have been further adapted to that other game of chance
which is called fortune-telling. It should be understood
here that I am not denying the possibility of divination,
but I take exception as a mystic to the dedications which
bring people into these paths, as if they had any relation
to the Mystic Quest.

The Tarot cards which are issued with the small edition of
the present work, that is to say, with the Key To The Tarot,
have been drawn and colored by Miss Pamela Colman Smith, and
will, I think, be regarded as very striking and beautiful,
in their design alike and execution. They are reproduced in
the present enlarged edition of the Key as a means of
reference to the text.

They differ in many important respects from the conventional
archaisms of the past and from the wretched products of
colpor-tage which now reach us from Italy, and it remains
for me to justify their variations so far as the symbolism
is concerned. That for once in modern times I present a pack
which is the work of an artist does not, I presume, call for
apology, even to the people-if any remain among us-who used
to be described and to call themselves "very occult."   If
any one will look at the gorgeous Tarot valet or knave who
is emblazoned on one of the page plates of Chatto's Facts
And Speculations Concerning The History Of Playing Cards, he
will know that Italy in the old days produced some splendid
packs. I could only wish that it had been possible to issue
the restored and rectified cards in the same style and size;
such a course would have done fuller justice to the designs,
but the result would have proved unmanageable for those
practical purposes which are connected with cards, and for
which allowance must be made, whatever my views thereon. For
the variations in the symbolism by which the designs have
been affected, I alone am responsible. In respect of the
Major Arcana, they are sure to occasion criticism among
students, actual and imputed. I wish therefore to say,
within the reserves of courtesy and la haute convenance
belonging to the fellowship of research, that I care nothing
utterly for any view that may find expression. There is a
Secret Tradition concerning the Tarot, as well as a Secret
Doctrine contained therein; I have followed some part of it
without exceeding the limits which are drawn about matters
of this kind and belong to the laws of honor.

This tradition has two parts, and as one of them has passed
into writing it seems to follow that it may be betrayed at
any moment, which will not signify, because the second, as I
have intimated, has not so passed at present and is held by
very few indeed. The purveyors of spurious copy and the
traffickers in stolen goods may take note of this point, if
they please. I ask, moreover, to be distinguished from two
or three writers in recent times who have thought fit to
hint that they could say a good deal more if they liked, for
we do not speak the same language; but, also from any one
who, now or hereafter, may say that she or he will tell all,
because they have only the accidents and not the essentials
necessary for such disclosure. If I have followed on my part
the counsel of Robert Burns, by keeping something to myself
which I "scarcely tell to any," I have still said as much as
I can; it is the truth after its own manner, and as much as
may be expected or required in those outer circles where the
qualifications of special research cannot be expected.

In regard to the Minor Arcana, they are the first in modern
but not in all times to be accompanied by pictures, in
addition to what is called the "pips"-that is to say, the
devices belonging to the numbers of the various suits. These
pictures respond to the divinatory meanings, which have been
drawn from many sources. To sum up, therefore, the present
division of this key is devoted to the Trumps Major; it
elucidates their symbols in respect of the higher intention
and with reference to the designs in the pack. The third
division will give the divinatory significance in respect of
the seventy-eight Tarot cards, and with particular reference
to the designs of the Minor Arcana. It will give, in fine,
some modes of use for those who require them, and in the
sense of the reason which I have already explained in the
preface. That which hereinafter follows should be taken, for
the purposes of comparison, in connection with the general
description of the old Tarot Trumps in the first part. There
it will be seen that the zero card of the Fool is allocated,
as it always is, to the place which makes it equivalent to
the number twenty-one. The arrangement is ridiculous on the
surface, which does not much signify, but it is also wrong
on the symbolism, nor does this fare better when it is made
to replace the twenty-second point of the sequence. Etteiila
recognized the difficulties of both attributions, but he
only made bad worse by allocating the Fool to the place
which is usually occupied by the Ace of Pentacles as the
last of the whole Tarot series.

This rearrangement has been followed by Papus recently in Le
Tarot Divinatoire, where the confusion is of no consequence,
as the findings of fortune-telling depend upon fortuitous
positions and not upon essential place in the general
sequence of cards. I have seen yet another allocation of the
zero symbol, which no doubt obtains in certain cases, but it
fails on the highest planes and for our present requirements
it would be idle to carry the examination further.