The Lost Language of Symbolism

I’m trying to absorb as much as I can about the language of Symbolism to aid in my understanding of the Tarot.

Although etymologists are agreed that language is fossil poetry and that the creation of every word was originally a poem embodying a bold metaphor or a bright conception, it is quite unrealised how close and intimate relation exists between symbolism and philology.

Harold Bayley

Divinatory Mechanism

The mechanism of the Tarot like that of other divinatory or prophetic techniques, “is a universal phenomenon, for such techniques are based upon the higher activity of the unconscious in response to certain stimuli, and upon the automatic acquisition of unconscious stores of knowledge remaining unperceived until ‘read’ in accordance with the principles of numbers, orientation, form and space.”

A Dictionary of Symbols

Man, it has been said, its a symbolizing animal; it is evident that at no stage in the development of civilization has man been able to dispense with symbols. Science and technology have not freed man from his dependence on symbols: indeed, it may be argued that they have increased his need for them. In any case, symbology itself is now a science, and this volume is a necessary instrument in its study.

Herbert Read

Mystical Tarot

Once we step outside the box of gathered expectations stemming from superstitious gypsy tales, exploitation movies, and carnie psychic fairs, we realize is that Tarot is more than just another fortune-telling device. There’s something alluring, mysterious about this pack of 78 cards. We need to access their wisdom carefully, allow the cards to speak to us and connect to soul. Every single card in Tarot can act as a gate for us to discover a hidden part of our own self. But this is a process that requires time, patience, and humility.

We live in an ever-increasing complex world. Yeah, our ability to understand the world around us depends on how we understand ourselves. Self-awareness leads to self knowledge. Self knowledge helps us understand others better. We are all in this together.

Serious academic study of Tarot is just beginning and it is revealing to us the influence exerted by a hieroglyphic, emblematic and miniature art; the role played by Cabala, the Art of Memory, and the Picaresque novel, Troubadours and Chansons de Geste, to name just a few. Literature begets literature, art begets art; and human consciousness expands and adapts and adopts accordingly. Nothing is ever forgotten, it is all in the reservoir of the collective unconscious.

Yolonda M. Robinson

Medieval Number Symbolism

I got this book to help me better understand number symbolism – the philosophy and relationship of numbers to themselves and to the cosmos – to apply this knowledge to the use of Tarot.

… medieval number philosophy, which often appears as sheer nonsense or at best as the product of extraordinarily confused thinking, is explicable only by reference to its origins. … It is the purpose of this study to reveal how deeply rooted in medieval thought was the conciousness of numbers, not as mathematical tools, nor yet as the counters in a game, but as fundamental realities, alive with memories and eloquent with meaning. … An important result of these studies has been to reveal in the medieval mind a web like structure of abstract ideas and concrete realities so closely interwoven and interdependent that no serious gap was felt to exist between them.

Vincent Hopper

Essence of Tarot

The tarot embodies symbolical presentations of universal ideas, behind which lie all the implicits of the human mind, and it is in this sense that they contain secret Doctrine, which is the realization by the few of the truths embedded in the consciousness of all.

The true Tarot is symbolism; it speaks no other language and offers no other signs. Given the inword meaning of its emblems, they do become a kind of alphabet, which is capable of indefinite combinations and makes true sense in all.

A. E. Waite

More than a Gateway to the West.

The Arch lays the fertile ground – or foundation – to St.Louis and gives birth to the rest of the nation, symbolized by the symbols of fertility on the Arch grounds.

The Sphinx alludes towards the mind ascending to take dominion over the processes of life, disorder, and destruction being overcome. It represents equilibrium or the balance of all forces of nature, it also intimates illusion and like the Sphinx of Oedipus sits ready to destroy all incapable of answering it’s riddle. The whole sphere of Nature as man knows it is but a shadow of reality. The Sphinx is the keeper of the gates of mystery, illusion itself is the keeper of reality and illusion destroys itself when we give the right answer to life’s riddles. Though there is only one, the Sphinx of Egypt guarding the Giza complex, looking East, watching the sunrise, these two sphinxes sit back to back watching the sunrise and sunset as if they’re the keepers of this illusion we call reality (crowning the Wheel of Fortune). These sit just like the Sphinx on the Wheel of Fortune card in Tarot crowning the wheel declaring the entire wheel itself is an illusion.

Credit for the large majority of the interpretation goes to Yolanda M. Robinson and Manly P. Hall

Lovers Card Origins

A motif similar to the Lovers can be seen and the frontispiece for the Triompho di Fortuna by Fanti, a fortune book published in Venice in 1527. In this allegorical illustration, we find a large figure of Atlas supporting a globe that is actually an elaborate wheel of Fortune with a belt displaying the signs of the zodiac surrounding it and crank handles extending from the central axes. On our left, there is an angel, representing Good Fortune, turning the handle clockwise. On right, there is a devil, representing Bad Fortune, also turning the handle. At the top of this wheel and globe, sits a pope. As in the Tarot, he represents the highest temporal ruler – he is literally on top of the world. On either side of him, sits one of two women with their names written in latin next to their heads. On the left is Virtus (virtue) and on the right, the same side as the devil, sits Voluptas (sensuality). The Pope’s fate hangs on his choice of a mate.

Robert M. Place

Renaissance Homage

Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites believed that art was a spiritual or magical endeavor and toward this end they formed a mystical brotherhood of English artist dedicated to recapturing the sincerity of the art of the early Renaissance – the same period that gave us the Tarot.

Burne-Jones based his tall female “stunners” and melancholy heroes on the paintings of Botticelli and Michelangelo, two artists, whose works are considered primary examples of Renaissance neoplatonism. His work expresses the Renaissance idea that physical beauty and spiritual beauty are linked and in one continuum that can lead to the mystical experience of beauty itself, as a timeless, underlying reality – Plato’s “true food of the soul.”

In the Renaissance, artists, like Botticelli, symbolized this spiritual essence as an ideal female nude and this ideal allowed early Tarot artist to place a nude on the World card as a symbol of the primary beauty and allowed alchemists to use the nude as a symbol for the Anima Mundi.

Robert M. Place