The Sweat Lodge: Ancient Shamanism in the Modern Age

The Sweat Lodge: Ancient Shamanism in the Modern Age

Not long ago I had the chance to participate in my first sweat lodge. I thought it might be useful to set down my impressions of the experience, for others who have never undergone it but who are curious as to what is involved, or may be thinking about undertaking the ordeal for themselves.

The sweat lodge is an ancient part of shamanism that is widespread around the world in various forms. It was the ritualized spiritual custom for many of the native peoples of North America. A modern secular derivative of the practice is the Scandinavian sauna. In the sweat lodge the body is subjected to prolonged exposure to high-temperature steam. This causes abundant perspiration, hence the name.

The lodge in which I participated was overseen by a group of shamans in my part of Eastern Canada, among them some of the Mi’kmaq tribe, which is the Indian tribe native to the province of Nova Scotia, and to other areas of the north-eastern part of North America, such as New Brunswick and northern Maine.


Prior to undergoing the sweat lodge, I had no first-hand knowledge of what it would involve, and did not know what to bring with me. I wondered if I would have to be naked in the lodge during the ceremony. Not to worry, everyone wore clothing of some sort. I was told that an old pair of jeans would be fine, but that I should bring along a change of clothing, since whatever I wore during the ceremony would get wringing wet. I wondered if I should wear shorts instead of long pants but was told by one of the people who planned to participate that, no, jeans would be fine. Mistake — but not a fatal one. Shorts are the clothing of choice for the sweat lodge.

The men generally wear loose shorts, and undergo the experience naked from the waist up. The women wear loose dresses or light tops, and skirts or shorts. In the sweat lodge ceremony I attended, the women were not naked from the waist up, which hardly seemed fair to me. Why should the men get to strip off their tops, but not the women? None the less, that’s the way it was. There is a general custom of modesty in the sweat lodges that are held across North America. However, everyone goes barefoot inside the lodge. No exceptions to this rule.

We were asked to arrive at the sweat lodge an hour before the beginning of the ceremony, which took place in a small clearing in a wooded valley at the end of a long private road, far from any human habitation. The result was complete privacy for the ceremony. Two lodges were being run simultaneously — one for men only in the smaller of the two sweat lodges, and another larger mixed group of men and woman in the bigger lodge. The men’s group consisted of about half a dozen men and the shaman who led the ceremony. I attended the mixed group, which had around eighteen or so participants, plus the person leading the ritual activities.

When I got to the clearing, a huge bonfire was blazing over a pile of stones. It was a nice, mild pre-spring day in Nova Scotia. Most of the snow was gone from the open patches of ground but the winter-browned grass and the sod were still frozen solid. The breeze was fitful and tossed the rising smoke of the fire in all directions, so that it was impossible to avoid it no matter where I stood or sat. Benches had been arranged around the fire, but the smoke was so capricious, no one could use them. We stood around talking while the stones got hot.

One of the organizers of the sweat lodge took me aside and gave me the low-down on what was expected. She told me that I would have to take off my boots and socks to enter the lodge, that it was necessary to crawl through the door and that I should not stand up while inside the lodge. All movement in the circular lodge was sunwise around the central fire pit. She warned that I should take off any jewellery as people had sometimes found that wearing jewellery during a lodge could result in burns on the skin when the metal of the jewellery became hot. She also told me to remove my contact lenses.

The larger lodge was a round, hut-shaped structure about twelve feet across and six feet or so tall. It was made of a frame of slender poles bent together, and was covered in fabric similar to blanket material. It had no windows of any kind, and a single door in the north side facing the fire, so low that it could only be entered by getting on hands and knees. This doorway was closed by a flap of fabric. Inside, the floor was bare turf. I noticed a small vent at the very top of the hemispherical lodge, which I presumed was there for ventilation, to prevent us all from suffocating.

I have to admit, after the recent disaster in the autumn of 2009 concerning a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona, in which three participants were killed and 21 others sickened, being able to get enough fresh air was a concern in my mind. I was glad to see this vent, small though it seemed to be. It was baffled to prevent the entry of any light.

In the center of the floor there was a circular pit around three feet in diameter and about a foot deep. I knew in a vague sort of way what the pit was for, but did not have a clear idea of how it would work during the ceremony itself.

All these features of the inside of the sweat lodge I learned only when I crawled inside for the first time. Before that happened, we performed a brief ceremony while standing in a circle around the bonfire. Each of the six directions of space, and the center, was acknowledged successively in prayer. This was done in an interesting way. Volunteers were asked to speak for the directions. Those who volunteered did not recite a prepared script, but spoke spontaneously from their hearts as the impulse arose within them at that moment. This resulted in uneven prayers, some better than others, but it had a spontaneity that I liked.

When we addressed the east, we all turned to face the east; when we addressed the west, we turned to the west. When we gave thanks and acknowledgment to the earth, the downward direction, many of those present knelt and touched the ground, although this must have been voluntary since many remained standing. I chose to crouch as a mark of respect.

A little mix-up occurred in the sequence of prayers. It was supposed to be the gods of the center that were acknowledged last, but the person speaking for the center jumped in too early, and we ended up praying to the sky last. The leader of the ceremony joked that she was sure the gods would understand, and would not be angry.

Inside the Lodge

We all took off our shoes, lined up on the frozen grass, and crawled into the sweat lodge. The men took up positions on the right side, and the women on the left side, from the viewpoint of the door facing inward. There was enough space to crawl around the lodge sunwise between the seated participants, who had their backs to the wall of the lodge, and the central fire pit.

It was pretty cramped in there, and uncomfortable. The ground was cold and hard, and more than a little damp. The wall of the lodge was uneven. I found that I could not lean back against it without having a ridge of wood dig into my spine. There was very little room to put our legs. I tried sitting cross-legged for a while, but in the end extended my feet toward the fire pit. That seemed the most comfortable position. Nobody wanted to press against those beside them, so everyone was trying to avoid contact by scrunching up, but there was so little room in the lodge, contact was unavoidable. This may have been deliberate on the part of the leaders of the lodge. We were told that the sweat lodge is an ordeal, and that it is supposed to be uncomfortable.

It was time for more warnings. If anyone could not stand the heat a moment longer, they were to call out in a loud voice “open the door! open the door!” which was the signal for the door to be opened. It would have to be called out loudly because there was going to be a lot of noise during the ceremony. Anyone who could not take the heat would be allowed to leave the lodge, but we were all asked not to give in to the heat unless we absolutely thought we were about to die, because it was very disruptive to have to open the door in the middle of the ceremony. We were also cautioned not to crawl into the fire pit in the darkness of the lodge by mistake, because the stones in the pit would be very hot. Well, duh.

I sat there a little nervously, trying to adjust my legs to a comfortable position, but found that there was no comfortable position. I tried to keep the sharp edge of wood on the side of the lodge from digging into my back, but every time my shoulders slumped, there it was again. Even so, I was glad I was sitting on the outside rim of the lodge — some people were sitting in a second circular row in front of me close to the fire pit. I was glad for the coolness of the side of the lodge at my back, and for the coolness of the earth under me. I wondered if I would be the first one to crack from the heat and call out “open the door!” That would be embarrassing.

I wore a T-shirt and jeans. Most other men were naked to the waist and wore shorts. I wondered if my extra clothing would make the ordeal more difficult for me. The person beside me told me that I could strip down to my underwear – nobody would mind – but I kept my clothes on. I wondered if the wedding ring on my finger would burn my skin, or if my metal belt buckle would burn through my jeans. We had been told to drink plenty of water, but I had only swallowed a single mouthful.

Part of the spiritual energy stimulated during a sweat lodge comes from this uncertainty as to what is going to take place. It is strongest the first time, when the person undergoing the lodge ceremony has no idea of what is about to happen. I was primed for a peak spiritual experience. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to come out of the lodge alive.

How the Sweat Lodge Works

The way a sweat lodge works is this — stones from the fire that are called “stone people” are carried into the lodge and placed one by one into the fire pit in the center of the floor. About eight stones are used, and each is around ten to twenty pounds in weight. They are so hot from the bonfire, that when they enter the dimness of the lodge, they glow red in their centers, and you can feel the heat radiating from them even from a long distance.

Since I’d never undergone a sweat lodge before, I had assumed that the heat came from the rocks directly, by radiation. Not so. The heat is in the form of steam, which is generated by pouring water from a bucket over the hot rocks using a ladle. The rocks are so hot, that when the water touches them it is instantly converted to steam. I was afraid the boiling water might splash over my feet, which were close to the pit, so I covered them with a towel, but I did not need to worry. The rocks are so hot, the water does not boil or splash, it is all turned to steam instantly. The water comes from a large bucket that holds around four gallons, which is set beside the fire pit next to the person in charge of the ritual. That person controls the steam.

There are three levels of heat in a sweat lodge, as I soon learned. There is the first level, when a stone is being lifted through the open door on the tines of a pitchfork to the warning call of “rock!” and then blessed with a scattering of herbs, which burst into little sparks of fire and smoke the instant they touch its glowing surface. All the rocks together radiate a large amount of heat that can be felt on the face and skin like the heat from a blazing fireplace.

The second level of heat is when the first ladle of water is poured over the rocks in the pit, and a cloud of white steam rushes upward with a great hiss like that of a giant serpent. It is many times hotter than the heat from the rocks alone. The steam rises upward to the roof of the lodge, and then rolls around and down the sides in a moving curtain, so that it first touches the participants on the head and the back of the neck. It is easy to feel on the exposed tips of the ears.

The final and most intense level of heat is when the door flap is sealed tightly so that no trace of light or air can enter, and the inside of the lodge is plunged into absolute darkness. The ventilation from the open door prevents the full effects of the steam from being felt, but when the door flap is shut, there is nothing to cool the inside of the lodge. The level of heat is magnified several times over. It is most intense a few seconds after the water is applied to the rocks, when the curtain of steam has had time to fly up to the roof and roll its way down the walls.

Each ordeal lasts as long as the water in the bucket. The faster the water is applied to the rocks, the hotter it gets. I half-expected the rocks to explode and scatter hot fragments over all of those sitting around the pit when they were hit with splashes of icy water, but was told that the rocks were basalt and very old, excellent for holding the heat without breaking down. And indeed, none of the rocks cracked.

We did not just sit there in the dark and suffer the heat. All the while the door was shut and the water was being applied to the rocks, the air was filled with the sound of a rattle being shaken and often with the rhythmic pounding of a flat shamanic drum. The leaders of the lodge chanted and sang songs, some with words that were recognizable, and others native songs that seemed to have no words, or only a few words repeated over and over. Everyone was encouraged to join in. Many people began their own chants and songs when the initial song was dying down, so that a continuous noise of singing and chanting was achieved. In part, I think this chanting was designed to distract the mind away from the ordeal of the heat, but in part it was an invocation to the spirits of nature that were being honoured by the ceremony.

Four Sessions

We did four sessions in the lodge that afternoon — by that I mean four times when the door was sealed shut and the bucket of water ladled over the hot rocks. New rocks were placed into the pit for each session, so that they would be hot enough to turn the water to instant steam. The first session was devoted to honouring the Mother Earth and women’s mysteries. The last was free-form, during which we were invited to pray and speak as the impulse arose within us. Each session lasted around half an hour, and we opened the flap of the lodge and exited to cool off between sessions, and to drink water.

In the middle of the second session, the leader threw ladles full of icy water over the people inside the lodge. I think it was designed to shock us into a more intense self-awareness of the time and place. We didn’t know it was coming because of the pitch darkness. The first ladle-full caught me square in the face. It was quite a surprise. I suspect the leader of the session aimed it at me, because the experience was completely new to me, and I would have no idea it was coming, but how he managed to hit my face so accurately with the first shot in total darkness, I don’t know.

During the hottest part of the sweat lodge experience, it is difficult to breath easily. The steam is so hot and dense that it burns the insides of your nose, and if you try to breathe through your mouth, it burns your lips and tongue. We were told to breath through out bared teeth at those times. I found that this did not help much. It made my teeth too hot. The best approach, for me, was to breath very, very shallowly through the nose, and very slowly so that the steam was drawn in gradually, not fast enough to burn. The steam in the air can become quite dense. When the door-flap is first opened after a session, admitting light, the steam is so thick in the air inside the lodge that you can barely see across to the other side.

Needless to say, I got soaked to the skin at each session. Standing outside in front of the smoking bonfire served to half dry me off, but I was never completely dry before we crawled in for the next session. My bare feet on the frozen ground had the hardest time. They became numb but I was able to warm them by holding them up close to the bonfire, and that prevented them from being frozen too badly.

I learned that many of my fears had been groundless. My wedding ring did not burn my skin. Maybe this was because I took care to shield my ring from the direct contact of the new steam as it rolled around the lodge. I could probably have worn my contact lenses, because I kept my eyes closed most of the time inside the lodge. Since the darkness was total, there was not much point in keeping them open.

The herbs that were mixed with the water poured over the stones left a curious taste at the back of my throat for a time, but no ill effects. Apparently, it is possible to modify the effects of the steam by putting various herbs in the water. Each shaman has his or her own recipes of herbs to use with the water.

The Peace Pipe

After the four sessions in the lodge, participants were invited to sit around the fire pit inside the lodge with the door-flap left open, and share a peace pipe. Many chose not to do so, including myself, because they did not smoke and did not wish to expose their lungs to tobacco smoke, and this was fine with the leaders of the lodge. No aspersions were cast on those who stayed outside during the pipe ceremony.

The general mood inside the sweat lodge throughout all four sessions was one of joyful exuberance. Everyone was encouraged to sing, chant, and release their emotions, and everyone seemed to do just that. There was nothing heavy or forbidding in the ceremonies — it was all child-like happiness that comes from living in the moment. Prayers were given, spirits were seen by many of those who participated, and prayers were answered. A good time truly was had by all.

©2010 by Donald Tyson.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

The Black Book

The Black Book

At this witching time of year, in the chill of lonesome October when the leaves turn brown and pile in drifts, and the frosted pumpkins begin to rot in the fields, we turn our minds to elongated shadows and gloomy pits, deep willow woods and gaping cavern mouths, secret places that elude the sun, chill haunts where spring the roots of black magic. It has always been a part of the Western esoteric tradition, but it is something that is seldom talked about in polite circles. It carries a taint of decay, a discoloration of disease, and most practitioners of the arts are leery of contracting its infection by casual contact.

Central to the black arts is the fabled Black Book that was referred to in hushed and horrified tones by the Christian demonologists of the Renaissance period such as Boden and Remy. It went under various names according to various learned authorities, but its qualities were always the same. It was a book of damnation that taught occult practices for the spreading of evil abroad across the land. Inspired by the Devil himself, it had but one purpose, to corrupt and destroy all those who fell under its influence or used its methods. Even to open the Black Book, or to hold it in the hands, or touch its binding of human skin, was to become a lost soul forever barred from entry into heaven, forever damned to hell.

The reason the book had many names is because it never actually existed in a material form. Various real grimoires, having titles well known but which few men had actually read, were chosen by the Christian demonologists to represent it. Works of dire reputation such as the Grand Grimoire, the Goetia, the Picatrix, the Key of Solomon, were vilified in harsh terms as corrupting tomes to be strenuously avoided, lest those whose idle curiosity led them to read within should be forever lost in the coils of the Evil One, he who is called the prince of shadows and deceiver of the flesh.

The Victorian occultist Arthur Edward Waite studied these books and many others of a similar foul reputation during his researches in the British Museum Library, and he observed rather dryly that when the grimoires were actually read, it turned out that their contents were not nearly so damnable as the references of the demonologists would lead one to suppose. Indeed, the common effect of reading them was more apt to be tedium than damnation. Waite was not the first to condemn and dismiss the supposed black grimoires — the student of Cornelius Agrippa, Johannes Wier, had done much the same two centuries earlier in the course of defending the reputation of his former master.

But these men had actually read the grimoires — it seemed that those most apt to condemn such infamous occult books as soul-searing one-way tickets to hell were those least likely to have actually studied them — the learned divines and inquisitors of the Catholic Church. The fabled black book of the Devil had the uncanny property of becoming smaller and less significant the closer one examined it. The reality was just not up to the task of sustaining the mythology.

Even so, the myth of the Black Book persisted down to modern times. The celebrated writer of horror stories, H. P. Lovecraft, created it anew in the early part of the 20th century in the form of his Necronomicon — which is perhaps the most well-known of its incarnations. In part, Lovecraft’s imaginary black book of evil was based on the equally imaginary book The King In Yellow, invented by the writer Robert W. Chambers and used in several of his supernatural stories. We may have left the era of the quill pen and the ox cart behind us, but the fable of Satan’s Black Book has followed us. Yet always it remains an illusion that vanishes like a mirage when it is approached and investigated.

Even those modern writers who have attempted to actually create the Black Book must be judged to have failed in their purpose. The self-proclaimed Satanist of San Francisco, Anton Szandor LaVey, made such an attempt in his The Satanic Bible, published in 1969, but it was weak plant that bore scant fruit. Several intrepid writers, myself among them, have written versions of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, but no actual book can begin to approach the mystery or power of the original that existed in the imagination of Lovecraft alone — and perhaps, also in the akashic records of the great library of the astral world.

The Black Book does not yet exist in a cohesive, tangible form despite these attempts, and has never existed intact and entire in our material world. It is an enduring myth that from time to time has been associated with an actual but poorly known text, or a lost text, or even an imaginary text, and that is all. But in this gloaming of the year, when we hang suspended between summer and winter, when the dead are said to leave their graves and walk among us, unseen but not unfelt, we will imagine what the Black Book would contain in its pages, if there actually were such a book.

It is supposed to have been inspired or actually written by the Devil, who is reputed in Christian theology to be the father of all lies. Therefore it must be designed to deceive and mislead those who read it. The grand promises it makes of wealth and power and beauty and eternal life should all be presumed to be untrue. Yet they will be phrased in such a seductive manner that the susceptible reader will find himself unable to resist their siren allure. They will be designed to play upon the weaknesses and impulses of certain human beings who are open to deception and to spiritual corruption, by triggering character flaws in their natures such as greed, lust, envy and hatred.

If these sound familiar, they should — in past centuries they were known as deadly sins — deadly to the soul, not the body — an archaic term we distance ourselves from today. Who talks about sins anymore? Almost nobody, not even the priests and ministers. Yet these weaknesses of human nature still exist and are just as apt to cause the downfall of human hopes as they were when clouds of dark smoke arose from the blackened, crackling flesh of burning women in public squares.

In exchange for the offer of power, wealth and other things desired by the impressionable reader of the Black Book, the crafty author will demand a pledge of obedience and loyalty. In the lore of European witchcraft, as assembled from the confessions under torture of women accused of the black arts, this pledge took place at the sabbat gathering of witches, when the Devil presented his Black Book and demanded the neophyte of witchcraft to impress the print of his thumb in blood beneath the oath. This is all very fanciful, of course, but if the Black Book actually existed, the confirmation of the pledge would take a different form — it would be the requirement that the reader commit some initial act of unspeakable evil and perversity, as a confirmation of his sincerity in his oath, and to forever bind him to evil and prevent him from turning back to the light.

We see something similar among modern street gangs, where the new member of the gang is required to commit a crime, such as a random murder, in order to confirm his sincerity. This may be largely an urban legend, but it illustrates the necessary initiatory act that would be near the beginning of the black book.

The instructions of the text would teach practical methods of black magic, but woven among its rituals and techniques would be a path leading the reader progressively further along in his descent into hell, which in not a locality of space but a state of mind. The reader would be induced by the text to deliberately break all bonds of love and friendship with other human beings by betraying and injuring those he loved. In order to weaken his conscience, he would be encouraged to take “strong drugs” that would open his mind to illegal and immoral acts.

Drugs were used in this manner by Charles Manson to shape the members of his Family, prior to the murders he induced them to commit. Drugs were used in a similar way by Aleister Crowley to weaken the resistance of his followers to sexual acts considered sinful or perverse by society as a whole. Crowley used drugs to aid in destroying his own sense of conventional morality — although he needed little enough help in this effort.

Sexual perversion would play a crucial role in the working of the Black Book. Sex has a powerful hold over most human beings. By inducing its reader to break his sexual taboos, even the strongest taboos among them, the book would addict the reader to such sexual acts, since normal sex seems tame by comparison. When the sexual taboos are broken, it is easier to break other taboos, such as the one against murder.

One of the texts that exists in the real world, and which comes nearest to being a genuine Black Book, is the 18th century work 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. This book is a catalogue of all the sexual perversions of mankind, arranged in an intensifying level of severity. De Sade was guided in his ordering of the perversions by his own sexual desire over the course of his life. When a perversion ceased to arouse him, he moved on to a stronger perversion, and in this way the catalogue of human depravity was graded from mild to unspeakably vile.

De Sade was a very clever man. He arranged his detailed descriptions of his sexual perversions so that in between each set was a moral diatribe designed to weaken some scruple or moral principle in his reader. Thus, he first sexually aroused his reader, then taught a lesson mocking virtue and faith. In this way he established a conditioned reflex similar to that of Ivan Pavlov’s famous salivating dog, which salivated at the ringing of a bell, because it had been trained to associate the sound of the bell with food. De Sade trained his readers to associate sexual pleasure with mockery and indifference to accepted moral standards. His intentional purpose was to deprave the sexual appetites of his readers and to use that depravity to turn them away from religion.

The final perversions in The 120 Days of Sodom are all descriptions of sexual pleasure derived from torturing, mutilating and slowly murdering innocent victims. This is the final state De Sade hoped and intended his reader to achieve — the state of morals, or lack of morals, that he himself had attained after a long life of debauchery and crime.

The central ritual of the Black Book would also be one of violation, mutilation, and murder. This would be its Great Rite, so to speak, the final and absolute confirmation in evil that is the underlying purpose of the Black Book, its very reason to exist, in comparison with which all its promises of power and wealth, all its teachings of practical magic, are insignificant. The true Black Book is first and last a book of damnation — the damnation of the self, and the spreading of damnation among others by lies and evil acts.

We see an allusion to this Great Rite of damnation in the mythology of the child sacrifice at the witches’ sabbat, where gathered witches were supposed by their Catholic inquisitors, and by the demonologists who wrote about witchcraft, to have sacrificed a baby in order to drink its blood and to harvest its fat for their flying ointments. The French novelist of the 19th century, Joris-Karl Huysmans, described a somewhat similar scene in the climax of his novel Là-Bas (usually translated into English as Down There), which details the descent of a curious man into the depraved practices of Satanists.

As the Devil is the spirit of lies, the promises of the book are all lies, but by the time the reader discovers this to be so, he is already damned in a very real sense — cut off from normal human feelings and normal social interaction by his perversions and crimes. His perverse desires act as an addiction holding him down and preventing the arousal of spiritual feelings or impulses. By his graded initiation into evil, the voice of his good angel is rendered mute to his ears.

As you can see, were the true Black Book to exist, it would be a very wicked text indeed. It is perhaps just as well that it exists only in fable, or at most, only in various detached fragments scattered far and wide, each of them possessing a limited power to do evil. Let us hope it always remains so, and that no individual possessed of sufficient creative ability, and having open communications with the spirit world, ever decided to bring this myth of the true Black Book of the Devil into our world.

©2009 by Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

Veiled Issues – Atheism, the Real Enemy

Veiled Issues - Atheism, the Real Enemy

Veiled Issues - Editorials, Opinion, and Debate

For decades witches and other modern pagans have been in a war of words, which sometimes escalates to a war of fists, with the Christian churches. Christians are berated in the most uncivil language on New Age Web sites and in Wicca zines for being malicious fools incapable of thinking for themselves, who allow their pastors, priests, and other Christian spokespersons to tell them what to think about the practice of magic and the worship of pagan gods.

The most withering contempt is always saved for the Fundamentalists, who are taught by their charismatic preachers that all forms of magic, and all worship other than their own beliefs, will result in damnation. Pagans regard Fundies, as they are derisively called, with loathing and view them as their greatest enemies. But is this really so?

There is another enemy, common to both Christians and pagans, that has been quietly gathering strength over the past few years. Its presence on the Internet has expanded exponentially, so that whereas not long ago it was almost impossible to locate, today it is equally impossible to avoid. It is a militant movement with its own dogma and it will tolerate no discussion or debate, except under its own terms – and those terms make true debate impossible.

The new enemy is atheism. It is the belief – the unfaith – that there are no gods, no spirits, no angels or devils, no paranormal abilities, and no magic of any kind.

There is nothing particularly wrong with individuals holding such a view. Everyone should be free to believe what they wish. It becomes a problem for Christians and pagans alike when atheists begin to promote their agenda as a movement with militant insistence, and with intolerance toward other beliefs. They are not content to allow others to believe what they wish, but must seek to convert them.

Atheists don’t regard their opinions as beliefs, of course, but rather look upon them as reality. That this same opinion has been maintained by every fanatical and exclusionary religious cult that has ever existed down through the centuries seems to escape them. All fanatical movements proclaim themselves possessors of the only truth, and are aggressively intolerant toward other beliefs – so it is with atheism, which is really a kind of fanatical cult of science that worships godlessness.

For a couple of decades, atheism has attacked the New Age movement under a different guise, that of scientific skepticism. The Committee that was started by prominent skeptics such as the Amazing Randi has systematically assaulted those who practice magic, or who believe in psychic abilities, and has called its campaign of harassment and intolerance “debunking.” Its more famous members have generally avoiding attacks on mainstream religion, although they target charismatic Fundamentalist preachers who employ magic (under another name, that of miracles) for healing purposes. Nor have all of them overtly proclaimed themselves to be atheists, but the writing is on the wall.

Their creed is unbelief, or rather a fanatical belief in the unreality of all spiritual things. They maintain that there is no magic in the world, of any kind – no spirits, no angels, no miracles. The universe they believe in with such fanatical and absolute certainty has no room for the occult or the paranormal.

The debunkers are only the leading edge of the growing atheist movement. The ultimate goal of atheism is to destroy all forms of religion, and this includes both Christianity in its many varieties, and all types of New Age beliefs that worship pagan gods or use magic, such as modern Wicca and Druidism, and even occult movements that arise from traditional Christianity, such as Spiritualism.

This essay is a plea for tolerance and unity. Pagans should reflect that in spite of their long history of conflict with Christianity, it is still a supernatural belief system that acknowledges magic, even though it refuses to call it by its true name. Christian miracles are a form of magic. The healing done by Jesus was done with magic. The exorcism rite still used by Catholic priests to drive out demons is a form of magic rite. Pagans know this even if Christians do not.

The differences between pagans and Christians are not really so deep as they appear. Both believe in higher supernatural beings. Both groups believe that such beings have servants or messengers who mediate between these beings and humanity. Both recognize that such beings can initiate or enable acts that seem to transcend the normal laws of nature. Both are focused upon spiritual discovery, spiritual evolution, and spiritual perfection as the highest goals in life.

It is unfortunate that Christians have been taught for so many centuries to hate and despise pagans, because at root, both movements are engaged in the same kinds of activities, and hold similar views concerning the survival of consciousness after death, the importance of intangibles such as the soul and non-physical realms of experience, and the possibility of intervention by benevolent higher powers in our lives, who act to guide and protect us.

By contrast, atheists reject God and the gods alike. They reject angels, the existence of the soul, life after death, supernatural intervention, ghosts, poltergeists, channeling, possession, divination, miracles, the paranormal, nature spirits, and any higher morality or code of conduct that is communicated to mankind by wise teachers not of the flesh.

What the atheist faithful worship – and make no mistake about it, worship is the only word for their fanatical and intolerant devotion – is the Void. It must be capitalized because the Void is their anti-god. They worship a lifeless mechanism, a cosmic clockwork with no Maker, a world devoid of hope or inspiration, a world purged of all traces of magic both Christian and pagan.

With every day that passes there seems to be more evidence that atheism is a growing movement. You probably remember the campaign of bus signs proclaiming that God does not exist. Such campaigns cost money. Somebody organizes them, and somebody funds them. Make no mistake, atheism is more than simply a collection of skeptical individuals – it is a cohesive unfaith that has as its ultimate purpose, not only the eradication of all religious beliefs and practices, but the destruction of all forms of magic and the supernatural.

Atheism has the potential to become a much greater threat to witchcraft, paganism, and New Age practices than Christianity ever was, even in its darkest and most intolerant days, because even then, when witches were being burned at the stake throughout most of Europe, both pagans and Christians shared a belief in higher spiritual powers and in supernatural agencies.

Atheism is a kind of many-tentacled monster of the Void that will eventually devour all forms of faith other than its own merciless, unforgiving worship of what is dead and empty. If allowed to grow unchecked, it will do immense harm to the human race, by cutting off avenues of communication between human beings and spiritual beings. As we all know, belief creates reality in the astral realms, and the fanatical belief of atheism is in sterility and non-existence.

Not all Christians are Fundies. Many are open to belief in various forms of magic. It is time to stop indiscriminately attacking Christians, and to attempt to find a common ground with them against the growing threat of the atheist movement. It is no longer a case of which god we worship, yours or mine, but whether we are allowed to worship the gods at all, or are forced to abandon them through a misguided ignorance that masquerades under the guise of scientific rationalism.

Science was never designed to deal with spiritual issues, and it is no more capable of commenting on things of the spirit today than it was five centuries ago. Yet atheists have seized on the jargon of science to promote their fanatical unfaith in the Void, and their increasingly militant movement of anti-spirit.

Once atheism is recognized as a threat to spiritual belief as a whole, a threat to all faiths and creeds and practices both Christian and pagan, it can be effectively countered, because at root atheism has nothing to offer – nothing but nothingness, not hope but hopelessness, and as we have all come to understand in our lives, there is more to the universe than the empty worship of the Void, the anti-god of the atheists.

Veiled Issues is a semi-regular column featuring opinion and debate topics. If you’d like to write a rebuttal for this article, send your proposal to and if accepted, we’ll feature your opposing article in the next issue of Rending the Veil.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

©2009 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle

Purpose of Circles In Magic

There are two opinions about the purpose for the circle in ritual magic — the first view is that it is to keep something out, and the second view is that it is to keep something in. Both are correct, and although they may seem contradictory, both views are based on the same principle — the circle is a barrier that divides inside from outside.

Take a pencil and a sheet of paper. Draw a line segment on the paper. The line seems to divide one side of the paper from the other, but it has end points, and it is possible to go around those ends — the line segment is not a true divider. However long you imagine the line to be, it is possible to imagine the paper it is on to be larger, so that the line never truly divides the plane.

Draw a circle on the sheet of paper. You will see that the division made by the circle between inside and outside is absolute. Enlarge the circle, shrink it, distort it, and it makes no difference — as long as the circle is unbroken, it creates a perfect barrier. There is no way around it.

You might argue that in our first example, we could limit the size of the imagined sheet of paper, and then it would be possible to draw a line completely across it, and divide it in an absolute sense. Yes, but to limit the size of the paper we must first draw a mental circle around it, that defines its edge. The actual physical sheet of paper is limited in just this way — its edge is its boundary circle.

What can we say about the nature of a circle, based on this little thought experiment? We can say that a circle surrounds, encloses, contains, and excludes. It defines the edge of something, and by doing so, it gives what it defines a shape. Everything we see has a circle around it. If this were not so, we would not be able to distinguish one thing from another — they would all run together and merge in our minds.

That brings up another aspect of the circle — it exists in the mind. We draw a mental circle around any thing we chose to separate from all other things. When we look at an apple tree and consider the tree as a whole, we draw a circle around the tree that divides that tree from all other trees, from the sky, the earth, from all other things that are not the tree itself; but if we choose to narrow our attention and focus it on a single apple hanging on a branch of that tree, we mentally draw a circle around that single apple.

All circles are by their inherent nature magical. They define order from chaos. There is no separation in the natural world, there are only the separations we choose to impose upon our perception of the natural world. We construct our reality piece by piece when we draw circles of identity around objects and concepts.

If you have followed this line of reasoning, you will understand that names are magic circles. This is the fabled occult power of names. When we name a thing, we separate it from everything else. It comes into discrete existence in our mind at that moment. Everything we perceive has been divided in our mind from chaos by an enclosing circle, and that circle defines the name of the thing enclosed. The subsequent process of assigning an arbitrary word sound to the thing is secondary. We have already named it the instant we recognize its existence. That recognition makes the thing real for us — brings the thing forth into our personal reality. This is a magical act, even though it is seldom recognized as such, because it is so basic to the way our minds work.

The magic circle is usually understood in a narrower sense, as a circle drawn for the purpose of working ceremonial magic. It defines a space within which magic is facilitated. Exactly how the circle aids the working of magic has been a matter for debate.

In traditional Western spirit evocation, the circle was used to guard the magician from the malicious actions of evil spirits, who were excluded from the circle while the magician remained safe within its boundary. In modern Wicca the belief is that the circle retains and concentrates magical energy raised by ritual work, making it easier for the leader of the ritual to direct and release that energy for a specific desired use.

If you consider what was written above about the nature of circles in general, you can see that these two views are not incompatible. A barrier can simultaneously hold one thing out while holding another thing in. A fence around your back yard will keep your dog inside the yard, but at the same time it keeps other dogs out of the yard. The key point is that it cannot be crossed so long as it remains undivided.

The magicians of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were mostly concerned with calling up demons and spirits of a mixed type, for the performance of tasks that would have been beneath the dignity of angels, and unsuited to their natures. These tasks included such work as the finding of treasure, the harming of enemies, inducing love or lust in other persons, gaining social position or power, inducing a glamour of false appearance, and so on.

By their very nature these kinds of low spirits are not inclined to help or obey human beings. Yet they are more suited for selfish tasks than the benevolent angels. The magician got around this awkwardness by calling demons and spirits of a mixed type up outside the bounds of the magic circle, while he commanded them from the safety of the space inside the circle. This protective use of the circle is unnecessary when dealing with angels of a more spiritual nature, since they never seek to do harm.

Even so, the circle was drawn for other purposes than the evocation of low spirits. Wiccans employ it to contain and concentrate the power they raise by their changing and dancing. When the occult energy within the circle has filled the circle to such a degree that it can be felt on the surface of the skin as a kind of heat or electricity, the leader of the ritual releases it like an arrow from a bow toward its intended function.

You may ask how energy can be released from the circle, when the circle by its very nature is an unbroken barrier. This is an occult secret that until fairly recently was never explicitly revealed. I wrote about it in my first book The New Magus, which was published by Llewellyn Publications in 1987, and that may have been the first time this secret was clearly explained to a large number of magicians.

The circle by its nature cannot be broken and remain a circle. No point on the circumference of a circle can be singled out as an aperture without destroying the integrity of the circle, since all points must remain undifferentiated and undivided if the circle is to stay whole. The only way in or out of a circle is through the point at its center, which by the nature of a circle is defined. Yet all points within the area of a circle are the same – one mathematical point does not differ from another mathematical point by its nature, but only by its position.

The center is relative. Any point in space that the human mind chooses to make its viewpoint becomes the center of the universe for that consciousness. We think of ourselves as looking outward through our eyes from some point within our skulls, but this is arbitrary. We can just as easily regard the world from the tip of our right index finger, or from the cat lying on the fireplace hearth across the room.

The practical consequence from a magical standpoint, with regard to the circle, is that any point within the circumference (but not on the circumference) of a circle can be regarded by the magician as its center point, and used as an aperture in or out of that circle.

When the high priestess of a Wiccan coven releases from the circle the accumulated occult energy of a ritual to the fulfillment, she does so by opening the point doorway at the center of the circle. This happens even if she is unaware of what she is doing. There is only one way in or out of the circle, so to release the pent-up energy, the high priestess must open the center — that point within the circle that she chooses, by the focus of her will, to represent the center-point of the circle.

Points are opened by expanding them. The expansion of a point is accomplished by means of a spiral. Only spiral energy can move through a point. Wiccans raise what is known as a cone of power within the circle. The cone has a spiral energy and it focuses upon a point, which is the center point of the circle. It is through this expanded point that the concentrated energy of the ritual is released, to fly like an arrow to its target, where it accomplishes its purpose.

Necromancers working with demons from within a protective magic circle sometimes pierce the circle with a sword to manipulate objects, or to compel obedience from the demons they have evoked outside the circle. They seem to pierce the side of the circle with the blade of the sword. Probably they themselves believed that they were piercing the side of the circle when they extended the steel blade beyond its boundary.

This is not the case. As pointed out, a circle only remains a circle for so long as it is unbroken, and were it broken even for an instant, its protective power would cease. No, the blade of the sword actually extends through the point chosen by the necromancer as the center of the circle. This occurs on the subconscious level. By choosing a place from which to project the sword blade, the necromancer defines the center point, distinguishing it from all other points within the circle, and by projecting the blade he opens that point with spiral energy.

Circles of Stone and Dancing Rings

Mention magic circles to the average person and the first thing he will think of is Stonehenge. The sheer beauty and mystery of that ancient ring of standing stones on the Salisbury Plain has so captured the modern mind that it has become iconic. Yet it is far from unique. Similar stone rings of widely varying sizes and degrees of sophistication are to be found not only across England, or even across Europe, but throughout the entire world. The most ancient that has been discovered to date are probably the rings of curious T-shaped standing stones that have recently been unearthed in Turkey.

The place is called Gobekli Tepe. It is near the city of Sanliurfa, which lies around ten miles to the southwest. The unique T-stones were discovered in 1994 by a Kurdish shepherd, who happened to notice some curiously regular stone blocks poking up from the ground while tending his flock. What he discovered has been called the greatest archaeology find in history.

The stone circles excavated from under their covering of earth turned out to be over 12,000 years old — 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. There are an estimated twenty rings of stones, although only four have been completely excavated to date. Most of the stones are about eight feet tall, but one has been found in a nearby quarry that was 28 feet long, so much larger stones may wait to be uncovered.

The discovery at Gobekli Tepe shows that human beings were building elaborate complexes of stone circles even before they began to settle in villages and farm the land. That is how important the making of circles was to these early cultures. Undoubtedly they were used for religious rituals, but for ancient man there was no clear separation between religion and magic. Shamanism is an almost perfect blending of the two. The shaman is both priest and magician.

Some researches have contended that these stone circles were built to mark the windings of the stars and planets in the heavens — as a sort of elaborate form of sundial. But if this were their only function, or even their primary function, it could have been accomplished just as well with much less massive or elaborate constructions. Imagine how much labor went into the construction of Stonehenge, or Gobekli Tepe.

No, the circles of stones served a magical purpose that was of the highest possible significance. They defined a sacred space, concentrated ritual energies within that space, and protected it from defilement by disharmonious forces. The maintenance of these sacred spaces must have been more important to the peoples who built these great stone rings than any other purpose in their lives. They devoted generations of their lives to building them. The only comparable act of devotion in historical times is the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe.

A ring of standing stones defines a permanent circle to sanctify and empower a specific spot on the surface of the earth, but magic rings of an impermanent kind were also constructed for ritual purposes. The most ephemeral form of magic circle was that formed by the bodies of dancing witches, or the seated ring of chanting shamans. This sort of magic circle could be formed anywhere a nomadic tribe stopped for the night, and although its locality was always different, its manner of formation was always the same, and leant the ritual practice a continuity that persisted in spite of the ceaselessly changing landscape.

We can catch a faint echo of this kind of nomadic ritual practice in the books of the Old Testament that describe the early Hebrews wandering in the desert. Each night they erected a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant. The walls of the tent became the magic circle that contained the occult power of the Ark, and also excluded those who were considered unfit to approach the Ark.

Still more primitive nomadic peoples could accomplish the same ends without a tent, by defining the magic circle with their own tribesmen gathered into a ring. At its center a fire was probably maintained, and around this fire a shaman danced and sang to raise occult power. By dancing around the fire, the center point of the circle was opened, and the energy released to fulfill its function.

European witchcraft descended from shamanism. This is self-evident — there are too many parallels between shamanism and witchcraft to reach any other conclusion. Although we can only conjecture as to how primitive nomadic tribes must have formed their magic circles, we have a much clearer idea how the witches of the Middle Ages went about it. The practices of witches are described in the transcripts of the European witch trials.

These court records are to be viewed with the utmost skepticism. The confessions of witches were extracted under torture, or the threat of torture, and accused individuals tried to tell their captors exactly what they wanted to hear. Even so, the general consistency in the descriptions suggests that they are based upon some collective cultic activity — that there were indeed witches, and that they did indeed gather for the practice of magic and for worship.

This was the conclusion of Margaret A. Murray in her highly controversial yet influential book The Witch-Cult In Western Europe. Murray’s findings have been dismissed by most mainstream anthropologists yet her central contention, that the mythology of witchcraft represents an echo of a surviving pagan religion, or at least a kind of cultic set of magical practices with religious elements, cannot easily be dismissed.

We read in the testimony of accused witches that they gathered at their sabbats to perform works of magic and worship. Those recording these matters were Christian priests, so naturally in the transcripts of the witch trials, the works of magic are invariably supposed to have been evil, and the worship always to have been devil worship. Yet we have only the assertions of the Christian priests that this was the case. It seems more likely that the magic worked by witches at their gatherings was of a mixed nature.

Witches danced in a circle at their gatherings. This was known as the round dance or ring dance. Margaret A. Murray wrote in her 1931 book The God of the Witches:1

The ring dance was specially connected with the fairies, who were reported to move in a ring holding hands. It is the earliest known dance, for there is a representation of one at Cogul in north-eastern Spain (Catalonia), which dates to the Late Palaeolithic or Capsian period. The dancers are all women, and their peaked hoods, long breasts, and elf-locks should be noted and compared with the pictures and descriptions of elves and fairies. They are apparently dancing round a small male figure who stands in the middle. A similar dance was performed and represented several thousand years later, with Robin Goodfellow in the centre of the ring and his worshippers forming a moving circle round him.

(Murray, God of the Witches, pp. 109-10)

Concerning the ring dance of witches, J. M. McPherson wrote in his 1929 book Primitive Beliefs In the North-east of Scotland:2

The ring dance usually took place round some object. Thomas Leyis with a great number of other witches “came to the Market and Fish Cross of Aberdeen, under the conduct and guidance of the devil present with you, all in company, playing before you on his kind of instruments, ye all danced about the said Cross, the said Thomas was foremost and led the ring.” These danced round the Cross. Margaret Og was charged with going to Craigleauch “on Halloween last, and there accompanied by thy own two daughters and certain others, ye all danced together about a great stone under the conduct of Satan, your master, a long space.” Here the stone was the centre round which they danced.

(McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs, p. 169)

Discounting the slanders of the Church Inquisitors concerning the presence of Satan in the gatherings of witches, we can see in these ring dances the formation of a kind of dynamic, movable magic circle. As is the case with modern witchcraft covens when they form a circle for ritual purposes, the center of the ring had a focus for its concentrated energies. Usually this was the leader of the ritual, but the dances might also take place around a standing stone, altar or other object of power. The rotation of the dancers provided the spiral energy needed to focus upon the center of the circle.

The close correspondence between the ring dance of witches and the ring dance of fairies is part of the whole complex of strong ties that exist between the lore of witches and the lore of fairies. Fairy rings, naturally occurring circles that appeared in the grass of meadows and in woods, are the result of the growth of fungus under the surface of the ground, but they were thought to be made by fairies dancing with their hands joined. Other names for these circular phenomena were sorcerers’ rings (French: ronds de sorciers) or witches’ rings (German: hexenringe). By some rural folk they were thought to be formed when witches gathered at their sabbats to dance.

European witches met out of doors, under the moon and stars, and gathered in grassy meadows on in clearings in the forest. They danced on the ground, which was unmarked with symbolic patterns, forming the patterns of their rituals with their own bodies and with their movements. It shows how important the circle is for magical practice, that even under these conditions witches felt a need to define a circle with their dance.

Magic Circles in the Grimoires

The round dance of witches is perhaps the purest form of magic circle. European magicians did not have the option of using a dozen human beings with linked hands to form a circle. They worked alone, or with one or two assistants, and usually performed their rituals beneath a roof on a floor of stone or wood. It was the usual practice to draw or inscribe a magic circle on the floor of the chamber of practice prior to beginning the ritual, using charcoal or chalk. There were other methods for defining the circle – it could be laid down in the form of joined strips of fur or skin, or defined by a rope laid out on the floor, or even painted upon a canvas or rug that was unfolded across the floor – but the usual way was to draw or inscribe the circle.

The term “circle” is used here in its occult, not its mathematical sense. Ritual circles were seldom perfectly circular, or simple in nature. They consisted of concentric circles within a square, or multiple circles, or more involved geometric patterns such as pentagrams, hexagrams or octagrams. These complex patterns on the floor of the ritual chamber are still magic circles, in that they were used to divide inside from outside with a continuous and unbroken line, or set of lines.

One of the oldest of the grimoires, and the most authoritative, The Key of Solomon the King, describes the making of a complex circle. It is evident from its size and manner of formation that this circle is to be made out of doors on the ground.

The magician takes a cord nine feet in length and uses a sword to fix one end to the center of the working space. With the cord pulled taunt, he uses the other end to inscribe with a knife the line of a circle on the ground that is eighteen feet in diameter. A cross is drawn through the center of the circle to divide it into four quadrants – east, west, south and north. Into each quadrant is placed the symbol of that direction of space.

This is the actual magic circle — the magical barrier that protects the magician. Beyond this initial circle, which is called the Circle of Art, other elaborations are to be inscribed which are part of the compound magic circle but not its essential core. Three more concentric circles are to be drawn, each one foot larger in radius than the initial circle, so that three bands are formed by the four circles. Within the outermost of these circular bands, pentagrams are to be inscribed, along with the names and symbols of God.

A square is drawn outside these three bands, or four circles, and outside the square a larger square, so that the corners of the smaller square touch the midpoints of the sides of the larger square. The squares are to be oriented so that the corners of the larger square point in the four directions – east and west, north and south.

It should be noted that the illustration in S. L. MacGregor Mathers’ edition of the Key of Solomon (figure 81) does not match the description of how to make the circle (bk. 2, ch. 9). The confusion arises with regard to the concentric circles — how many there are to be, and what is to be put in them, and where it is to be put. The illustration in Mathers’ book shows only three circles, not the four described. I will quote the relevant passage of text from Mathers’ edition, then explain where the confusion arises. The numbering within the square brackets is mine, and has been used for the sake of clarity.3

Then within the Circle mark our four regions, namely, towards the East, West, South, and North, wherein place Symbols; and beyond the limits of this Circle [1] describe with the Consecrated Knife or Sword another Circle [2], but leaving an open space therein towards the North whereby thou mayest enter and depart beyond the Circle of Art. Beyond this again thou shalt describe another Circle [3] at a foot distance with the aforesaid Instrument, yet ever leaving therein an open space for entrance and egress corresponding to the open space already left in the other. Beyond this again make another Circle [4] at another foot distance, and beyond these two Circles [2 and 3], which are beyond the Circle of Art [1] yet upon the same Centre, thou shalt describe Pentagrams with the Symbols and Names of the Creator therein so that they may surround the Circle already described.

(Mathers. Key of Solomon, p. 99)

The first circle with a radius of nine feet is the Circle of Art. The second concentric circle has a radius of ten feet, the third concentric circle a radius of eleven feet, and the fourth concentric circle a radius of twelve feet. A gap is left in the north of each circle for the entrance of the magician after he has finished completing the drawing of the pattern. The magician closes the gap once he stands inside. This gap is not mentioned explicitly for the innermost and outermost circles, but it is implied. In some of the older illustrations of magic circles this gap in the north appears to be a permanent part of the circle — a kind of corridor for entry and exist (see Skinner & Rankine, The Veritable Key of Solomon, p. 70).4

The text seems to indicate that the pentagrams are to be drawn within the outermost of the three bands, between circles 3 and 4. It is not specified how many pentagrams are to be used, but Mathers’ diagram shows four. However, in the diagram they are located upon the square that surround the four circles, not within the outermost band of those circles. Based on the text, these pentagrams should be placed between circles 3 and 4, along with divine names, so that the band of pentagrams and divine names surrounds the inner circles. The text seems to imply that the divine names should be written within the pentagrams, but I believe this is misleading – the names should probably be written within the outermost band of the circles, between circles 3 and 4, beside the pentagrams. A pentagram should be located between each divine name. The symbols of the Creator may be the four Hebrew letters of Tetragrammaton, IHVH.

There is no indication in the text what names are to be written within the bands of the circles, apart from the outermost which does not even appear on Mathers’ diagram. The diagram shows in the innermost band the Hebrew divine names (which I have transcribed into Latin characters) AVIAL, ADNI, IHVH and TzBAVTh. The second band contains the words MI KMKH BALIM IHVH. These are the only Hebrew words shown on Mathers’ diagram.

The vast size alone of this complex magic circle would make it all but unusable. The smallest part of it, the Circle of Art, is a full 18 feet in diameter. The size of the larger square outside the concentric circles is around twice that width. To draw this circle indoors would require a room some 32 feet across, at least, in its smallest dimension. Many modern houses are not this wide.

Fortunately for magicians, the circle in the Key of Solomon is only one such design that may be used. At the opposite size extreme, some older woodcuts show the magician working within a circle so tiny, it is barely large enough to contain him. A few of these older illustrations even show the demons evoked into the circle while the magician stands outside it unprotected, but this is contrary to the usual use of the circle and should probably be considered an error. Malicious spirits are evoked outside the Circle of Art, usually into a triangle, but sometimes within a smaller circle with the magician safely within the larger circle. As is stated in the Key of Solomon, those who work within the Circle of Art “shall be at safety as within a fortified Castle, and nothing shall be able to harm him” (Mathers, p. 100).

Drawing the Physical Circle

Do not be alarmed if you cannot make out the letters of all the obscure names in the magic circles of the grimoires. Some illustrations of these circles are so corrupt, it would take a Solomon risen from the grave to decipher them. The Hebrew and Greek characters have devolved into nothing more than meaningless squiggles. Happily for the modern magician, there are an infinite number of possible patterns for the magic circle, and all of them will work effectively provided the magician who creates them follows a few basic principles, which I propose to give you. A circle you design yourself, if it is rightly designed, will always be more effective than a circle you copy out of an old book.

The first consideration of a magic circle is that it must be an unbroken line the end of which joins up with its beginning. It does not necessarily need to be perfectly circular in shape, although rightly made circles will usually contain at their root a single unbroken circle, beneath whatever elaborations have been added. Bear this in mind — base your magic circle on a simple, unbroken ring, and it will serve you well. It should be made as large as necessary so that you can work comfortably within it. A traditional size is nine feet in diameter, but for a single person working without an altar, a circle as small as six feet across will be fine. If you can make the circle nine feet across, you will be able to set an altar at its center, and you will have enough room to move around it.

The world is usually divided into four directions or quarters. The magic circle is similarly divided into four quadrants — north, east, south and west. It is not essential to physically mark these quarters of the circle, but you should be aware of this division, which is the most fundamental division of the magic circle. The magic altar is often placed at the center of the circle, and the altar has a square top with four sides. Each of its four sides should face one of the four directions. The room in which the magic circle will usually be constructed will likely have four walls. Again, these walls may be referred to the four directions and four quarters of the world. The wall that is closest to the east can be used for the direction of east, the wall closest to the south can be used for the direction of south, and so on. Align the sides of your altar with the walls of the room.

The divine names that are generally used to act as guardians of the circle are four in number, one name for each quarter of space. It does not matter which specific divine names you choose. The grimoires generally use Hebrew names of God culled from the Bible, either written out in Hebrew characters, or in Greek or Latin characters. IHVH, Adonai, Eheieh and Elohim are serviceable. You do not need to use divine names from the Bible if you have an aversion to conventional religions. Pagan divine names will serve equally well, provided that they are names or titles of the supreme god of the pagan pantheon with which you are working. If you were to use classical Greek mythology for your pantheon, you would choose four names for Zeus. If you were to use the Nordic pantheon, you would choose four names for Odin, or Woden. You will find that supreme gods always have a multitude of names and titles from which to choose.

These four divine names are applied to your inner circle, the root of your magic circle, which is called in the Key of Solomon the Circle of Art. Draw a second circle outside the first, so that there is from six inches to a foot of distance between them, and mark the names in this ring. They are your strongest final line of defense, your ultimate authority by which you command spirits of a malicious or mixed nature. Like the greatest artillery, they are powerful but not versatile.

Outside this first ring you should construct a second ring by drawing a third, larger circle, in which you should place the names of four lesser gods, or if you are working with the Jewish or Christian systems, the names of the four archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel. Each lesser god, or archangel, should be chosen to serve as the active arm of the divine name to which it corresponds. The archangel executes the will of God that is defined by the divine name of that quarter. It is the extension or projection of that power.

All the names should be written to be read from outside the circle, not from inside. This important detail is usually overlooked in the grimoires. It is the spirits beyond the boundary of the circle who will be barred from entry by the power of the names, so the names are written for their benefit.

A third line of defense should consist of a third ring, defined by a fourth larger circle, in which are inscribed four names of lesser or earthly spirits that are under the authority of the archangels or lesser gods of the second circle. These earthly spirits will execute minor and mundane tasks assigned to them by the archangels of the four quarters. In traditional Western Judeo-Christian magic, there are four elemental kings that may be used for this purpose, Djin, Nichsa, Paralda and Ghob. Sometimes the nature of the archangels is too elevated to effectively deal with material concerns, and when this is the case these earthly spirits act as their arms, just as the archangels act as the arms of the divine names.

If you have followed this division, you will now have three rings defined by four circles, each ring with four names written in it, one name for each quarter of the world. You may place whatever elaborations you will outside these circles, but the basic circle has already been made, and will serve any purpose to which it is put.

I’ll give the Golden Dawn arrangement for the four sets of divine, archangelic, and kingly names on the quarters, just as a reference. Other names may be used with equally good results.

  • East: IHVH — Raphael — Paralda
  • South: Adonai — Michael — Djin
  • West: Eheieh — Gabriel — Nichsa
  • North: AGLA — Uriel — Ghob

An attractive elaboration you can use, if you have sufficient space, is to draw a heptagram outside the outermost circle so that the circles fit within its open center. The form of the heptagram that has a line which reflects from every second point has a large space at its center. The names of the seven planetary angels can them be written at the bases of each of the seven triangles that form the points of this heptagram. This circle is excellent for planetary magic.

The question of what to use to mark the magic circle on the floor always arises. In past centuries a piece of charcoal from the fire was used, or sometimes a piece of chalk. Floors were usually rough boards in those times, or flagstones. Charcoal or chalk do not work well on a modern carpet, or even on polished hardwood.

A popular method is to lay out the circle with colored tape. This can be bought at any craft store. You can be conservative and use white tape for the entire circle, or if you wish, you can differentiate the fourfold division of the circle by using tapes that are colored the four elemental colors. The Golden Dawn correspondence of colors for the four directions would be: east — yellow, south — red, west — blue, north — black (or green).

Projecting the Astral Circle

Now I must tell you the most important part of casting a magic circle. What you have just made on the floor of your ritual chamber, this elaborate construction of three rings with its divine, angelic, and elemental kingly names, is not a magic circle. It is only the physical husk or shell of a magic circle. It has no life, no reality on the astral level, until you infuse life into it, and make it real.

It is for this reason — because the circle you have drawn or laid out on your floor is a dead thing — that I have not written about making a gap in the north to enter the circle. The circle does not exist until you empower it, so making a gap in the north is not necessary. You may just step across the edge of the physical circle to enter it.

To empower and bring the circle to life, it must be projected or cast on the astral level. This is done in the imagination, by a process of successive visualization, at the start of your rituals. The circle you envision on the astral plane will not correspond in every respect to the circle you have drawn on the floor, any more than the astral temple you have erected in your mind will match exactly your physical workspace.

To cast the circle on the astral level, you stand within the physical circle, visualizing yourself standing in the astral temple you have built up in your imagination, and then mentally walk around the inner edge of the physical circle, projecting the astral circle above it with astral fire so that it floats in the air at the level of your heart. If your physical circle is small, it is sufficient to turn on your own axis while projecting the astral circle in the air at heart level.

After you have projected the astral circle, you must sustain it in your imagination for the remainder of the ritual. It is not an empty exercise — when you make the astral circle, it remains in existence in your mind. The more clearly you can visualize it, the more potent its working. Never step through the astral circle once it has been projected.

The astral circle is projected from the right hand, the side of the body that projects. The right side is projective, the left side receptive. You can use an instrument such as a wand to project the circle, or your right index finger. If you use your finger, it is good to have a magic ring on that finger, the better to channel your energies. The astral fire of the circle is drawn out of your heart center and ejected from your wand, or index finger, in a continuous stream, as though it were a stream of burning liquid.

You can visualize this fire to be of any color, but a glowing yellow-white flame is neutral in a magical sense, and will serve for most ritual purposes.

I have developed a very specific way of projecting occult energies. I lay my left palm flat over my heart center at a comfortable angle, as though taking a pledge, and extend my right index finger. I then visualize astral fire shining from my heart-center the way light shines from a flame. I draw this fire out of my heart-center through the palm of my left hand, up my left arm, across my shoulders, and then project it strongly down my right arm and out through my right index finger. The astral fire traces an expanding spiral course through my body.

After projecting the magic circle on the astral level, you should invoke the names of the gods, archangels and kings by turning to face their directions successively, or by walking around the circle to stand in their quarters successively. Start in the east and turn sunwise. Call forth the power of IHVH in the east, then Adonai in the south, Eheieh in the west, and AGLA in the north. Return to the east and invoke the archangel of the east, Raphael, then go to the south and invoke Michael, then Gabriel in the west, and Uriel in the north. Return east and invoke the king Paralda, then the king Djin in the south, the king Nichsa in the west, and the king Ghob in the north. Return to your starting place in the east, or face east if you are turning on your own axis within a small circle.

In this way you will have gone around the circle three times, once for the names of God, once for the names of the archangels, and once for the names of the kings. This turning creates a whirl or tourbillion — a kind of occult vortex — that draws down magical power into the circle and fills it with astral light. If you have done the invocation rightly you will see this light strongly glowing in your visualized astral circle, and you may even see it in the physical circle, glowing on the air with a soft radiance.

You have in this way cast the circle and energized it. You are ready for whatever ritual work you intend to perform.

Breaking the Circle

When that work is finished, you must deliberately break the ring of the astral circle before you leave the physical circle. I say again, do not walk through the astral circle. Nothing so terrible will happen if you do, but by walking through it you demonstrate that it lacks substance. This is not a good practice. You want to make the astral circle so real, to tangible that it would be physically impossible for you to walk through it without breaking it.

Before breaking the astral circle, banish the four regions of space that lie beyond its barrier. By the authority of the God names of those quarters, command any spirits who may be lingering there to depart in peace. Do this in a quiet but resolute voice, or if you are performing a silent mental ritual, with firmly focused thoughts that are sub-vocalized in your throat. Pay attention to how the air of the ritual chamber feels after you banish the quarters. Does it feel calm and empty? Or does it have a waiting, watchful feeling? If it does not feel empty, perform the banishing a second time, or even a third time, with greater emphasis.

After the four quarters have been banished, it is safe to break the astral circle. When you have divided the circle you may draw it back into your heart center by reversing the steps with which you projected it. Break it in the east (that is the usual starting point used by most magicians, although I start my rituals in the south). Draw it into yourself by walking around it widdershins if it is a large circle, or by turning widdershins if it is a small circle. Draw it back into your heart through your extended left index finger, the side of reception.

Ring, Sash and Circlet

Various articles are worn by the ceremonial magician that are in themselves magic circles that enclose and protect the body, by which different forms of occult force may be concentrated or projected.

The magic ring is a standard article for traditional Western magicians. It is customary for a familiar spirit to be bound to the ring, so that the spirit lends its power to the ring, and may be called forth from the ring at need to perform services for the magician. A magic ring is described in the Key of Solomon, showing how ancient this instrument must have been. The Greek writer Philostratus described magic rings worn by the sage and magician Apollonius of Tyana, who lived around the time of Jesus, and the use of magic rings must have been old even in the time of Apollonius. Cornelius Agrippa was supposed to have worn such a ring.

In addition to serving as the receptacle for a familiar spirit, the ring is used to project power through the finger on which it is worn. Usually this is the right index finger, the most willful and potent finger for projection. As energy runs around the circle of the ring, forming a vortex of power, it is directed out through the point gateway at the center of the magic circle defined by the ring, and channeled along the axis defined by the extended finger.

Another magic circle worn on the body is the sash. This is usually wrapped three times around the waist of the magician and tied, although sometimes the sash is closed by a fastener in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, so that the sash forms a symbolic ouroboros. The sash is sometimes made from seven bands of colored fabric or ribbon that are the seven colors of the rainbow and correspond with the seven planets of traditional magic. The sash I use is made of seven braided cords, each cord died one of the rainbow colors.

The function of the sash is manifold, but one purpose is to contain and concentrate vitality within the center of the magician’s body. It also offers protection against possession attempts, or other intrusions into the body by spirits. Different sashes sometimes form marks of rank within occult orders, just as different colored belts are ranks in the martial arts.

The third magic circle often worn on the body by Western magicians is the circlet, a band of metal worn around the head. Mine is in the shape of a serpent swallowing its tail, and is fashioned from copper. Silver and gold will also serve for making the circlet.

The circlet concentrates occult energy in the head, the seat of the will and the reason. It has the function of strengthening and focusing the mind. Its physical pressure on the forehead helps to awaken and open the ajna chakra, the third eye which is located between the eyebrows. The circlet is helpful during scrying for this reason.


There is no aspect of ritual occultism more ancient or more essential than the magic circle. Indeed, it is difficult to find systems of magic that do not use the circle in some form, and when they are found, they seem incomplete and naked. The magic circle is older than Solomon, older than Moses, and occurs throughout the world in all religions and systems of witchcraft and thaumaturgy. It divides, excludes, protects, attracts, focuses, and concentrates, as these functions are needed by the magician. It is used not merely for evocations, but for invocations, for charging of talismans, for scrying, for projecting accumulated occult energy, and even for meditation. A correct understanding of the circle, not only how to project it, but what it signifies symbolically, is the most basic knowledge any magician can possess, and no magician can be said to know anything of importance about magic who has not mastered the use of the circle.


  1. Murray, Margaret A. The God Of The Witches [1931]. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
  2. McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs in the North East of Scotland (International Folklore) [1929]. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929.
  3. Mathers, S. Liddell MacGregor. The Key of Solomon The King: (Clavicula Salomonis) [1888]. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc., 1989.
  4. Skinner, Stephen & David Rankine. Veritable Key of Solomon (Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic Series). Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2008.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

©2009 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

The Fairy Godmother

December 30, 2008 by  
Filed under culture, popular culture

The Fairy Godmother

A recurring fixture in the folklore of northern Europe is the fairy godmother. This mysterious woman appears by magic to attend the birth or Christening of an infant, often a child who is seemingly of no special importance. She may be alone, or accompanied by other women. She comes uninvited either to bless or curse the child, displays various magical abilities, and then just as mysteriously departs, perhaps to reappear at some distant future date, or perhaps never to be seen again. This quaint figure of children’s fairy tales has more importance in the history of Western magic than most people realize. Let us take a look at some of her folk characteristics, and then consider her true identity and significance in the context of the Western esoteric tradition.

The first thing that must be observed about fairy godmothers is that they are not nearly so common in ancient folklore as might be supposed, given their modern popularity. They appear in two of the most beloved fairy stories — Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella — both of which were turned into animated films by the Disney Studios. This cinematic treatment helped spread the fable of the fairy godmother far and wide in the 20th century.

Sleeping Beauty

In Sleeping Beauty, the fairy godmother first appears in the version by Charles Perrault (1628 – 1703), published in 1697 in France in his hugely popular Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose). In the portion of the tale that concerns us, seven fairies are invited to the Christening of a newborn princess by her loving parents, in the hope that they will confer magical gifts upon the child and act as her godmothers. To honor them, the king orders seven plates of gold to be made for them to use at the Christening feast. However, an eighth fairy who is older and unattractive decides to come to the Christening, and when she sees that no gold plate has been made for her, she feels that her dignity has been slighted.

Six of the fairy godmothers bless the infant girl with various life gifts. The crone is the seventh to approach the child, and she curses the baby with the curse that when she touches a spindle, she will prick her finger and immediately fall dead. One of the fairies had observed the crone and has hung back to go last, and although she cannot undo the curse of the evil fairy, she renders it less severe, proclaiming that the girl will not drop dead but will fall asleep for one hundred years, whereupon she will be awakened by the kiss of a prince.

Perrault’s version was based on an older story by the Italian Giambattista Basile (?1566 – 1632), published posthumously by his sister in 1634 under the title Sol, Luna e Talia (Sun, Moon and Talia), in which there is no fairy godmother. In this earlier tale, the name of the baby princess is Talia. At her birth, astrologers cast her horoscope, and predict that she will come to harm from a tiny splinter of flax. Her father, the king, takes every precaution to keep her away from flax, but one day the girl sees an old woman spinning flax on a spindle, and out of curiosity decides to try it. A splinter of flax gets embedded beneath her fingernail, and she falls down in what appears to be death. The king cannot bring himself to bury his beautiful and beloved child, so he lays her safely to rest on one of his country estates.

After some time has passed, another king who is hunting in the forest comes upon the girl and is so enamored with her apparently lifeless form that he has sex with her, then goes away. Still deep asleep, the girl gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl who are named Sun and Moon. One day, when the boy is unable to find the breast of his unconscious mother to suckle, his pangs of hunger cause him to suckle her finger, and he draws out the splinter of flax. She immediately awakes.

The earliest version of the story, Perceforest, published in France in 1528, has goddesses in place of fairy godmothers. In this version, three goddesses visit a female child named Zellandine at her birth celebration. They are obviously intended to bring to mind the three Fates of Greek mythology, although their names are different. The first, Lucinda, confers the gift of health on the infant, but the second goddess, Themis, curses the child because the goddess took the absence of a knife beside her plate at the feast as a personal slight. Her curse is that Zellandine will one day impale her finger on the point of a distaff, and sleep until it is removed. The third goddess, Venus, cannot undo the curse placed on the head of the baby but mitigates it by prophesying that one day the distaff will be removed and the curse lifted.

In the popular version of Sleeping Beauty recorded by the Brothers Grimm, titled Briar Rose and published in 1812, the fairy godmothers number thirteen, twelve who give gifts to the infant princess, and one who curses the child out of spite. The gift of the final good fairy softens the curse of the twelfth. Much was made of this number of fairy godmothers, but since they were only eight in number in Perrault’s older version of the story, the importance of the number thirteen may be exaggerated.


The story of Cinderella goes back as far as the ancient Greek historian Strabo (64BC – c. 24AD), who wrote in his Geographica about an Egyptian girl named Rhodopis who was forced to wash clothes in a stream while the other servants attended a celebration sponsored by the Pharaoh, Amasis. While she was working, an eagle snatched away her rose-gilded sandal and carried it to Memphis, then dropped it at the feet of Amasis. The Pharaoh was enraptured by the fineness and smallness of the sandal, and asked all the women of Egypt to try it on, so that he could locate its owner. When Rhodopis was able to put on the sandal, Amasis married her and made her his queen.

Nothing here about a fairy godmother. This magical figure does not appear in the Cinderella story until the 1697 version of Charles Perrault. In his tale, a widower takes in marriage a proud and cruel woman with two grown daughters. His meek and modest daughter by his first marriage is forced by her step-mother to do all the housework, which she performs without complaint. It is her habit to sit amid the cinders, hence her name Cinderella (Cendrillon, in French). One day the prince of the land decides to host a ball for the purpose of choosing a wife. The stepsisters go, but Cinderella has no dress that is suitable for so grand an occasion.

As she weeps in sorrow, her fairy godmother appears, and tells the girl that she will be attending the ball after all. The fairy turns a pumpkin into a coach, mice into its team of horses, a rat into the coachman and lizards into footmen. She creates for Cinderella a gown and a pair of glass slippers, but warns the girl to be home before midnight, since that is when the spell will be broken. Everything goes well and Cinderella is the belle of the ball, but the next night when a second ball is held, she becomes careless of time and departs in haste just before midnight, leaving behind her one of her glass slippers. The prince searches the kingdom, seeking the girl whose foot fits the slipper. When Cinderella tries on the shoe, he knows he has found her, and this is confirmed when she brings forth the other glass slipper, which has not vanished away along with the coach and her gown.

In the version of Cinderella (Aschenputtel in German) published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, there is no fairy godmother. Instead, Cinderella is helped by the ghost of her dead mother, represented by a pair of birds that perch in a tree growing above her mother’s grave. Thus the supernatural element is still present, but it is ancestral spirit in nature rather than fairy.

Role of the Fairy Godmother

These examples should be sufficient to give some notion of the stereotypical role of the fairy godmother in fairy tales, particularly the literary tales written by French writers in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy (1650-1705). These were not true folk tales, but imitations of folk tales, or composed stories based in part on genuine folk tales. In these stories the fairy godmother makes more frequent appearances than she does in true folk tales.

It is the usual role of a human godmother to give a Christening gift, and to watch over the spiritual education of the child. The fairy godmother takes on the same obligations as a mortal godmother, though the reason these obligations are assumed is not always clear. Sometimes it is done as a fair exchange, as when the seven fairies were invited to the feast by the king, and given golden plates as gifts; other times, it seems motivated by some unseen occult requirement. The child is destined from birth by the Fates to receive the gift of its fairy godmother, who is merely an instrument of destiny. Indeed, the Fates of Greek mythology are probably the prototypes of the fairy godmothers of later children’s fiction, as suggested by their thinly veiled appearance in the 1528 French version of Sleeping Beauty, described above.

In mythology, the gifts of the gods can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the circumstances under which they are received, and the uses to which they are put. Fairy tales simplify this dichotomy by making the gifts of good fairies always good, and the gifts of evil fairies always evil. In life, what seems good may prove to be a curse, and what seems a burden may in the end be revealed as a blessing. Even in fairy tales, good may come of evil, and the curse of the evil fairy godmother results in great happiness in the end, when all problems have been resolved.

An important factor to consider about the role of a godmother is her accepted obligation to watch over the spiritual development and well-being of the child. In Christianity this often takes the symbolic form of the gift of a new Bible to the baby. Spirituality is broader than any particular religion, and if we consider the obligation of the godmother in these terms, she is charged with the general spiritual health of the child. In fairy tales this is symbolized by the various physical and moral virtues that are given to the child as gifts, such as beauty and wisdom.

Nature of the Fairy Godmother

The fairy godmother is a spirit, not a being of flesh and blood. This is seldom made clear in the fairy tales, where she is given a physical body and is made to dine at the Christening feast. In ancient folklore and mythology, spiritual beings often received physical bodies. For example, the angels in the Old Testament were described as being like men in every respect. They eat, drink, sleep, and have material bodies. Similarly, the witch’s familiar was usually described in physical terms, and malicious spirits such as incubi and vampires were credited with physical forms.

The archetype of the evil fairy godmother is Grandmother Lilith, a female demon of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians who made her way into Hebrew folklore via the Babylonian Captivity of the 6th century BC, during which the Jews were taken as slaves from the Kingdom of Judah to Babylonia. During their stay in Babylonia, they picked up much of the mythology of the Babylonians, including the myth of Lilith, who was fabled to be a horrible old crone with unkempt long gray hair and long, dirty fingernails, yellowed teeth and glaring red eyes, who visited the cribs of newborn infants. Sometimes Lilith merely played with the infant, but at other times, seemingly on a capricious inclination, she would kill the baby by stealing away its breath.

Lilith is not often regarded as a fairy. She is more likely to be classed among the demons of hell, but this is an arbitrary classification, since she is Sumerian in origin and predates the Christian concept of hell, with its orderly demonic hierarchies.

Fairies are indigenous to Celtic lands, although similar nature spirits exist around the world. Perhaps more than any other spirit, they are apt to be regarded as physical by those who believe in them. They live in a kind of parallel universe that has portals into our reality under certain hills recognized as fairy mounds. The doorways to these fairy realms materialize from nowhere to allow the fairies to enter or leave, and just as swiftly vanish, leaving no trace. This transition from the fairy realm to the human realm happens most often at twilight, in the gloaming when the world is caught in a timeless moment between day and night. They are also more frequent at the equinoxes, when the seasons are in balance.

Transitional periods of the day or year facilitate the transition between fairy reality and human reality. A portal of any kind is a transition between one place and another. In the gloaming, fairies become visible to the eyes of those psychic enough to see them, but at other times of the day they are more difficult to see, unless they wish to be seen. The birth of an infant is a kind of life transition, from the spiritual reality into the physical reality, so it is natural that fairies would appear at this time.

It is a mystery as to why fairies should wish to associate with humanity, yet this has always been the case throughout their history. They are known to appear to men, woman and children, and to abduct them into their fairy realm, where they may keep them forever, or may release them after a prolonged time has passed. The fairy practice of kidnapping children, and leaving a fairy child in their place, is frequently mentioned in the literature about these strange and somewhat frightening spirits.

As usual, these events are described as completely material in the accounts of them that have come down to us, but it is more probable that they are spiritual events. A man is not physical taken to fairyland, he falls into a trance or coma, and is taken there on an astral level of reality. There are records of those who, when they lay down and went to sleep on fairy mounds, fell into a coma, or even died. I say that it is “probable” that these are merely spiritual events, not certain, because accounts exist of those who simply disappeared for days or years, and who when they suddenly reappeared, told tales of having lived among the fairies in their world.

The parallels with alien abductions are obvious. But whether these parallels suggest that aliens are fairies, or that fairies are aliens, or that both are something else that has yet to be accurately described, I leave to your conjecture. It seems fairly certain that there is a some underlying connection between fairy abductions and alien abductions.

Can the fairy godmother of folklore be an alien being who confers upon a newborn child certain superhuman abilities? Is this the root of this persistent motif? Children abducted by aliens are sometimes said to be altered or enhanced in various ways — to possess psychic abilities that they did not have before the abduction. There is also the belief that aliens are breeding a race of hybrid children, half-human and half-alien, who possess more than human abilities. Again, this has parallels in the ancient belief that spirits could interbreed with human women and engender offspring. Jesus is one such being, according to this view — half human and half something else.

Tutelary Spirits

A tutelary spirit is a spirit that teaches, guides, and protects a human being. The idea that certain spirits watch over and protect human beings with whom they are in some way linked is universal. This belief has taken many forms, as different human cultures try to come to terms with it. Often it is looked upon as protection by dead ancestors of their descendants. Whole religions exist based on this belief, that the dead watch over their children and children’s children. It is a reasonable explanation as to why a spiritual being would bother to protect a living person, or even take an interest in that individual.

Sometimes, spirits associated with certain places develop links with the people who live there, and come to watch over and guide them. For example, a nature spirit dwelling in a spring might form an attachment to a man who owned the land occupied by the spring; or a house spirit might become fond of a person living in the same house. A fairy associated with a certain thorn bush in a farmer’s field could form some sort of personal interaction with the farmer — although in the case of fairies, that interaction is just as likely to be harmful as helpful. But fairies are capable of affection, and even love, for human beings. Their affection is capricious, and easily turns into jealousy or malice.

The ancient Greeks believed that certain special men, who were by their nature semi-divine, had daemons — tutelary spirits — joined to their lives. The most famous man who was guided by such a daemon was the philosopher Socrates, whose daemon was well known to his contemporaries. Socrates made no secret of the fact that his tutelary spirit often intervened in his life when he was about to make a mistake, to warn him not to do it. The day Socrates drank the hemlock that killed him, he told his friends that he knew it was the right thing to do, because his spirit had not warned him against drinking it.

Some men were even believed to be favored by the gods. Often they were men who were hybrids, half mortal and half divine by nature. The god who was one parent of such a man would continue to watch over him throughout life. These demigods were the heroes of ancient Greek mythology, such as Hercules and Achilles. The belief that one of their parents was divine was just a way of trying to explain why they were favored by spirits in their lives. Some Greek writers held the view that Socrates was semi-divine, as was Aristotle, and Alexander the Great, just because of the great works they accomplished during their lifetimes, which seemed to their biographers to be beyond unaided human abilities. A man capable of miraculous works must have superhuman aid — such was the common opinion among the Greeks.

A more plebian notion arose among the Greeks that every man received at birth both a good daemon and an evil daemon. These two tutelary spirits were at constant war with each other, which canceled out most of their effects on the life of the person to whom they were attached. The good daemon whispered sound and helpful advice, while the evil daemon suggested actions that were worthless or harmful. This idea carried over into Christianity in the form of the good angel that is supposed to sit on the right shoulder of every person, and the evil angel that sits on the left shoulder.

The good daemon and evil daemon take the forms in the fairy tales of the good fairy godmother and the evil fairy godmother, whose efforts to some extent cancel each other out. The good daemon cannot simply banish the evil daemon, but it can to some degree moderate the mischief the evil daemon is able to cause.

Familiar Spirits

Most people recognize the term “familiar” in connection with witches, who were supposed by the demonologists of the Inquisition during the Renaissance to have demons that served their needs and desires. However, the concept of a familiar spirit is much broader than that. A familiar is any spirit that is attached to a human being.

Familiars perform various functions. They teach, guide, protect and also serve. Some were considered to be low spirits, in the nature of servants, while others are looked upon as more sophisticated and powerful. The Church regarded all familiars as subservient demons, who pretended to serve the witch while really working to corrupt the witch’s soul. This is a narrow and simplistic view, dictated by the religious dogma of those who held it. However, familiars do appear to be of varying degrees of power and sophistication. Some are simple beings that fulfill well defined and limited functions. Others are complex and act more as partners in the lives of those human beings to whom they are linked.

Shamans would sometimes take to wife familiar spirits who were, in many respects, their superiors on both power and wisdom. They would also have mortal wives upon whom they engendered children. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the spirit wife of a shaman would confer various benefits and gifts on the head of the newborn child of the shaman by his mortal wife.

Some spirits are associated with entire bloodlines. The best known is the water spirit Melusina, one of the dames blances (white ladies) who watched over the descendants of Raymond of Poitou. The white ladies were considered to be fairies. Raymond married Melusina and had children by her. Even after Melusina abandoned him because he broke his vow to her that he should never look upon her on a Saturday, she continued to watch over their descendants, and would appear wailing with sorrow when some great catastrophe was about to befall the bloodline.


So what exactly is a fairy godmother? She is a spiritual being who either blesses or curses the life of a newborn child. Because she is a spirit with the power of working magic, her blessing or curse has practical consequences. The curse of one spirit may be countered, at least in part, by the blessing of another spirit. These spirits are linked with the lives of the infants they visit, but the exact nature of that connection remains unclear. It may be based on a blood relationship. The infants may be spirit-human hybrids, or descendants of such hybrids; or it may be that the fairy godmother is a dead ancestor of the infant, and is not really a fairy at all.

Most people will dismiss the whole notion of fairy godmothers as absurd. However, it is undeniable that some human beings appear to be born with gifts and abilities that are so far above those of humanity in general that they are looked upon as supernatural. The myth of the fairy godmother is one attempt to explain where such extraordinary gifts come from. It is somewhat simplistic, as are most mythic explanations, but like most myths, it has a seed of truth at its heart that is worth considering.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

©2008 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

The Order of the Tarot Trumps

June 21, 2007 by  
Filed under divination, qabalah, tarot

The Order of the Tarot Trumps

Origins of the Tarot

The Tarot has been a central part of the Western esoteric tradition since 1781, when Antoine Court de Gébelin (1728-1784) made it a topic of interest by including two analytical essays on the subject in Volume 8 of his nine volume encyclopedia, Monde primitif, the separate volumes of which were published between the years 1773 and 1782. One of the essays was written by de Gébelin himself, and the other by Louis-Raphaël-Lucréce de Fayolle, comte de Mellet (1727-1804). My English translation of both essays was published in an earlier edition of Rending the Veil.

Court de Gébelin believed that the Tarot was Egyptian in its origins, that its 22 picture cards, known as the trumps, were based on the 22 letters of an Egyptian alphabet related to the Hebrew alphabet, and that it had been spread throughout the world by gypsies, who were thought by many scholars at the time to have come from Egypt. In all of these particulars he was quite wrong. Even so, his essay exerted a profound influence over the esoteric interpretation of the Tarot in France during the following century, through the writings of such occultists as Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875), who wrote under the pen name Éliphas Lévi, and Gérard Encausse (1865-1916), who was known as Papus. From France this bias made its way into the beliefs and practices of various esoteric schools, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in England, and the Builders of the Adytum in America.

The true origins of the Tarot are, on the surface at least, quite mundane. They are known in a general way, although no one can say exactly when the Tarot was invented, or by whom. It first appeared in northern Italy around 1425 as a card game for bored and wealthy Italian aristocrats. The game was called the game of Tarot, and was a trick-taking game somewhat similar to bridge. It is still played today, and it is why the picture cards of the Tarot are known as trumps. The inspiration of its inventor was to add the 22 trumps to a set of 56 cards that was very similar to the common decks of playing cards in use in Europe at the time the game of Tarot was invented. More than one kind of Tarot deck came into being in the early decades of the 15th century, and the number of cards varied, but the Tarot quickly settled into its present pattern of 22 trumps and 56 minor cards in four suits.

Court de Gébelin may have been mistaken in his belief that the Tarot had an ancient and lofty origin among the priest class of Egypt, but he was not wrong to assign it a profound esoteric significance. Even today, the Tarot speaks to those who study it, using the language of symbolism. It became the central device for the system of occultism of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret Rosicrucian society established in London in 1888. The leaders of the Golden Dawn based much of their interpretations of the cards on the work of the French occultists of the 19th century. Through the teachings of the Golden Dawn, the Tarot correspondences used in that occult order were spread throughout the world, and are still the prevalent Tarot correspondences today.

Tarot Correspondences

Tarot correspondences are the sets of esoteric symbols associated with the Tarot. Each card is linked with symbols of occult forces, or names of spiritual beings, drawn from various sources such as alchemy, astrology, numerology, the Kabbalah, and geomancy. The links are more numerous in the case of the Tarot trumps, which bear images rich in meaning. For example, the trump the Magician is linked in the Golden Dawn system of magic with the Hebrew letter Beth, the number one, the astrological planet Mercury, the twelfth path on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and with the ox, a beast associated esoterically with the Hebrew letter of this trump. Correspondences provide bridges to other correspondences. Because the trump, the Magician, is associated with the planet Mercury, it is also linked with the angel of Mercury, Raphael, the Intelligence of Mercury, Tiriel, and the Spirit of Mercury, Taphthartharath.

Since the occult correspondences for each Tarot trump are connected by various associative bridges, to manipulate any of them is to gain a measure of control over all of them. This works on the basis of the same general magical principle that governs the well known magical law of contagion, which states that a thing that was once in physical contact with someone is still in touch with that person on some deep level, and therefore manipulating the object causes influence to be exerted on the person it formerly touched. The associations connecting the forces and beings that form the occult correspondences for a Tarot card are like links in a chain. Move one link, and they all rattle.

The Golden Dawn Tarot correspondences are rooted in Court de Gébelin’s casual observation that there are 22 trumps, and 22 Hebrew letters. The French occultists such as Éliphas Lévi had already placed the trumps on the Hebrew alphabet by the time the leader of the Golden Dawn, S. L. MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918), came to create its system of esoteric Tarot correspondences. Mathers did not adopt exactly the same relationship as that used by Lévi, and that difference and others like it are what this essay is all about, but he followed the same general principle. Each Hebrew letter has various esoteric associations. By linking the Hebrew letter to a Tarot trump, those associations can be transferred to the trump.

Since, in modern Western magic, the Tarot trumps derive their correspondences through the Hebrew letters, it is obviously a matter of great significance which Hebrew letter is linked to which trump. The ordering of the Hebrew letters is not open to reinterpretation, but has been established and accepted for thousands of years. However, the ordering of the Tarot trumps does not have such an ancient or well-established history. Indeed, the earliest Tarot decks were unnumbered. The sequence of the Tarot trumps was a matter of oral tradition. It was passed on between those who played the game of Tarot, and it appears that in the decades following the invention of the Tarot, there was more than one accepted ordering for the trumps.

But, when the pack was first standardised, the subjects of the trump cards were standardised, too; they were at first everywhere the same.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, they were not everywhere arranged in the same order. The variations in order were not a later development, but must have occurred from the earliest moment when Tarot cards were known in the principal original centres of their use — Milan, Ferrara, Bologna and Florence.1

Trump Sequence of the Marseilles Tarot

We need not go into the earliest sequences of the trumps, some of which are uncertain, but may begin with Court de Gébelin, since it is with his Tarot essay of 1781 that the esoteric history of the Tarot really begins, at least in a documented manner — for there was an esoteric tradition of the Tarot in use in France in the late 18th century, when de Gébelin published his essay, but exactly what it taught, we cannot be sure, other than that some of those teachings must be reflected in de Gébelin’s essay.

Court de Gébelin accepted the traditional ordering of the trumps of his day, as it was codified in the numbering of the French pack of Tarot cards known as the Tarot of Marseilles. As I mentioned, the earliest Italian Tarot decks were unnumbered, but as early as 1490 card makers in Ferrara, Italy, probably began to place Roman numerals on the trumps, fixing them into a specific sequence. This practice was carried on by the early French card makers. It is uncertain which of the Italian trump sequences was adopted in what came to be known as the Tarot of Marseilles, but it is speculated that it may have been the ordering used by the Tarot card makers of Milan.2 The Marseilles sequence of trumps, with its original French spellings as they appear on the 1761 pack designed by Nicolas Conver, is as follows:

I. Le Bateleur (The Juggler)
II. La Papesse (The Female Pope)
III. L´ Imperatrice (The Empress)
IIII. L´ Empereur (The Emperor)
V. Le Pape (The Pope)
VI. L´ Amovrevx (The Lover)
VII. Le Chariot (The Chariot)
VIII. La Justice (Justice)
VIIII. L´ Hermite (The Hermit)
X. La Rove De Fortvne (The Wheel of Fortune)
XI. La Force (Strength)
XII. Le Pendu (The Hanged Man)
XIII. — (Death)
XIIII. Temperance (Temperance)
XV. Le Diable (The Devil)
XVI. La Maison Diev (The House of God)
XVII. L´ Etoille (The Star)
XVIII. La Lune (The Moon)
XVIIII. Le Soleil (The Sun)
XX. Le Jugement (Judgement)
XXI. Le Monde (The World)
Le Mat (The Fool)

A few points are to be noticed. The method of writing Roman numerals is slightly different from the accepted manner of today. Instead of using IV to represent the number four, IIII was used. Sometimes the letter “v” was employed where we would put the letter “u” today. The trump L´ Amovrevx is usually called the Lovers, but the singular form, the Lover, may be more accurate. It is translated in this way on the trump in the well-known Grimaud Tarot. The trump Death did not have its name written on the face of the card at all, although the title of this card was known to everyone using the Tarot. This was in keeping with the popular superstition that to speak the name of Death was to invoke this dreaded dark angel. The trump the Fool did not bear a number of any kind.

Trump Sequence of Court de Gébelin

Court de Gébelin renamed some of the trumps to give them a more Egyptian flavor, but he retained their Marseilles sequence. It was the usual custom to place the only trump that remained unnumbered, the Fool, at the end of the sequence, following XXI the World. Court de Gébelin declared that it should be numbered zero, because like the zero of mathematics, it has no value of its own, but only acquires value when added to other cards. This statement exerted profound influence over later occultists who wrote about the Tarot.

Court de Gébelin believed that the trumps should be arranged from highest number to lowest number, in the belief that the Egyptians &”began counting from the highest number, going down to the lowest4.” To interpret the cards correctly, he asserted, they must be examined in this manner. It was on this basis that he felt free to rename the Marseilles trump Judgement, which from its name might be expected to come at the end of the sequence, as Creation, which might be expected to come at or near the beginning. Here are the changed titles that de Gébelin applied to the trumps in their reversed order, followed by their usual Marseilles titles in English.

XXI. Time (The World)
XX. Creation (Judgement)
XIX. The Sun (The Sun)
XVIII. The Nile (The Moon)
XVII. The Dog-Star (The Star)
XVI. Castle of Plutus (The House of God)
XV. Typhon (The Devil)
XIV. Temperance (Temperance)
XIII. Death (Death)
XII. Prudence (The Hanged Man)
XI. Fortitude (Strength)
X. Wheel of Fortune (Wheel of Fortune)
IX. The Sage (The Hermit)
VIII. Justice (Justice)
VII. Osiris Triumphant (The Chariot)
VI. Marriage (The Lovers)
V. Chief Hierophant (The Pope)
IV. The Emperor (The Emperor)
III. The Empress (The Empress)
II. The High Priestess (The Female Pope)
I. Lord of Chance (The Juggler)
0. The Fool (The Fool)

Trump Sequence of the comte de Mellet

What de Gébelin did not do was make a direct relationship between the trumps and the Hebrew letters. However, it is obvious what arrangement he intended, and indeed, his contributor the comte de Mellet supplied the explicit arrangement that must also have been in de Gébelin’s thoughts, and applied the inverted sequence of the trumps to the Hebrew alphabet, with the final numbered trump, XXI the World, on the first letter, Aleph, and the unnumbered trump the Fool, to which de Gébelin gave the zero, on the final letter, Tau.

De Mellet seems to have been the first person to explicitly define a relationship between the trumps and Hebrew letters. He called the Fool by the title Madness, and changed some of the other names of the trumps, although his interpretations are not always exactly like those of de Gébelin. It is evident from his descriptions of the Pope and Popess (Female Pope) that he used the Tarot of Besancon, rather than the standard Marseilles pack, where the Pope is replaced by Jupiter and the Popess by Juno.5

Here is his sequence of the trumps on the Hebrew letters, along with the interpretations he gave them, translated into English. The more conventional names for the trumps are placed in parentheses.

XXI. The Universe (The World) — Aleph
XX. Creation of Man (Judgement) — Beth
XIX. Creation of the Sun (The Sun) — Gimel
XVIII. Creation of the Moon (The Moon) — Daleth
XVII. Creation of the Stars (The Star) — He
XVI. House of God (House of God) — Vau
XV. Typhon (The Devil) — Zayin
XIV. Angel of Temperance (Temperance) — Cheth
XIII. Death (Death) — Teth
XII. Prudence (The Hanged Man) — Yod
XI. Strength (Strength) — Kaph
X. Goddess Fortune (Wheel of Fortune) — Lamed
IX. The Sage (The Hermit) — Mem
VIII. Justice (Justice) — Nun
VII. Chariot of War (The Chariot) — Samekh
VI. Choice Between Vice or Virtue (The Lovers) — Ayin
V. The God Jupiter (The Pope) — Pe
IV. The King (The Emperor) — Tzaddi
III. The Queen (The Empress) — Qoph
II. The Goddess Juno (The Female Pope) — Resh
I. The Juggler (The Juggler) — Shin
0. Madness (The Fool) — Tau

Trump Sequence of Éliphas Lévi

When Éliphas Lévi brought forth the second volume of his two-part Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, published in French in 1855-6), he applied the sequence of the Marseilles trumps to the Hebrew alphabet in its traditional order, but he placed the Fool just before the final numbered trump, on the second-last Hebrew letter. Either he did not understand Court de Gébelin’s intention to invert the sequence of trumps, or as seems more likely, he chose to ignore it. He was convinced that the posture of the upper body of the Juggler defined the shape of the first Hebrew letter, Aleph, writing “His body and arms constitute the letter Aleph6.” This cannot be denied, but since few, if any, of the other figures on the cards resemble Hebrew letters, its significance is questionable. Below are his titles for the picture cards of the Tarot, and his placement of the trumps on the Hebrew letters.

I. The Juggler — Aleph
II. The Female Pope — Beth
III. The Empress — Gimel
IV. The Emperor — Daleth
V. The Pope — He
VI. Vice and Virtue — Vau
VII. Cubic Chariot — Zayin
VIII. Justice — Cheth
IX. Prudence — Teth
X. Wheel of Fortune — Yod
XI. Strength — Kaph XII
The Hanged Man — Lamed
XIII. Death — Mem
XIV. Temperance — Nun
XV. The Devil — Samekh
XVI. Tower Struck By Lightning — Ayin
XVII. The Blazing Star — Pe
XVIII. The Moon — Tzaddi
XIX. The Sun — Qoph
XX. The Judgement — Resh
0. The Fool — Shin
XXI. Kether — Tau

The placement of the Fool second from the end of the trump sequence had considerable influence on later writers on the Tarot. It is difficult to know how to justify this location for the Fool, which appears to have been put at the end of the trumps in the earliest arrangements of the cards, and was placed at the end of the inverted trump sequence by Court de Gébelin. The French occultist Jean-Baptiste Pitois (1811-1877), known by his pen name Paul Christian, imitated Lévi in this quixotic location of the Fool second from the end of the trumps, when he published his monumental (in size if not in content) work, Histoire de la Magie in 1870.7 Papus also followed Lévi’s lead in his Tarot of the Bohemians, first published in 1889, by placing the Fool on the second-last Hebrew letter, Shin, just before the final trump, the World.8 Neither bothered to justify this location for the Fool.

A. E. Waite also followed Lévi’s example and put his Fool second from the end of the trump sequence in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, published in 1910, even though he held it to be incorrect. As a member of the Golden Dawn, Waite was bound by oath not to reveal the occult secrets of that Hermetic order, so he could not present the Golden Dawn sequence for the Tarot trumps, which he believed to be esoterically accurate. He deliberately presented what he knew to be a false arrangement of the trumps.

On the placement of the Fool, Waite wrote:

Court de Gébelin places it at the head of the whole series as the zero or negative which is presupposed by numeration, and as this is a simpler so also it is a better arrangement. It has been abandoned because in later times the cards have been attributed to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and there has been apparently some difficulty about allocating the zero symbol satisfactorily in a sequence of letters all of which signify numbers. In the present reference of the card to the letter Shin, which corresponds to 200, the difficulty or the unreason remains. The truth is that the real arrangement of the cards has never transpired.9

This quotation from Waite’s Pictorial Key is worth examining on several points. He was wrong to state that Court de Gébelin placed the Fool “at the head” of the trumps, since de Gé inverted the sequence, making trump XXI the head, and the zero card the Fool the tail. It is true that de Gébelin shifted the Fool from the end to the beginning of the sequence, but then he inverted the sequence, which put the Fool back on the end.

It is curious that Waite did not locate the Fool at the beginning of the trumps. This was the esoteric teaching of the Golden Dawn, so perhaps he felt honor-bound not to do so, lest it be construed as a betrayal of a secret. He felt that he knew the “real arrangement” of the trumps, but also felt that it must remain hidden from profane eyes. So he imitated Lévi, fully aware that Lévi’s placement of the Fool made no sense, and stating as much to his readers in his book.

In view of his reluctance to put the Fool at the head of the trumps, it is curious that Waite felt free to invert the places of VIII Justice and XI Strength. This inversion was based on the esoteric teaching of the Golden Dawn, and should have been just as taboo for Waite as the true location of the Fool. In his Pictorial Key he made this switch, but did not explain it or justify it to his readers.

Trump Sequence of the Golden Dawn

The location of the Fool at the head of the trumps, and the inversion in the places and numbers of Justice and Strength, are innovations of S. L. MacGregor Mathers, chief of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Around the time the Golden Dawn was establishing its first London temple, in 1888, Mathers and his wife were working on an esoteric Tarot deck. His wife Moïna, formerly Mina Bergson, sister of famous French philosopher, Henri Bergson, was an artist, and it was she who actually painted the designs for the new Tarot. Since she was a psychic who often helped her husband in receiving esoteric teachings from the spiritual leaders of the Golden Dawn, known as the Secret Chiefs, it is safe to assume that she was deeply involved not merely in the design, but also in the esoteric interpretation of the new Golden Dawn Tarot. Indeed, it is quite possible that the composition of the Golden Dawn Tarot owes more to Moïna Mathers than to Samuel Mathers.

The major innovation of the Golden Dawn was the absolute determination that the Fool be placed at the front of the Tarot trumps, before the Juggler, which in the Golden Dawn Tarot was called the Magician. This bumped all the trumps up one Hebrew letter. It created the awkward condition of having a card numbered zero falling on a Hebrew letter with a numerical value of one, and so for the rest of the trumps, each out by one number from its Hebrew letter — or at least, the first ten Hebrew letters, since after the letter Yod the number values of the Hebrew letters become non-consecutive, increasing by a factor of tens, and then hundreds.

This awkwardness becomes less distasteful, from an aesthetic point of view, when we realize that the numbers on the trumps are not in any way a part of the trumps. For example, the VII on the trump the Chariot is not attached in any way to this card — it merely indicates the location of this card in the trump sequence. How do we know this? Because originally no Tarot trump was numbered. The trumps are picture cards — their identities are in their pictures. The Roman numerals were applied to the trumps merely as an aid to memory, to insure that errors were not made in their sequence. The seven on the Seven of Wands is very much a part of that Tarot card — indeed, the greater portion of its identity — but the VII on the trump the Chariot is not a part of that trump, and may be removed without in any way diminishing the meaning of the trump.

The second innovation of the Golden Dawn, the inversion of the locations of Justice and Strength, was dictated by the way Mathers and his wife applied the trumps to the Hebrew letters. They used as their guide the most ancient of Kabbalistic texts, Sepher Yetzirah. In this texts, the 22 Hebrew letters are divided into three groups:

3 Mother letters: Aleph, Mem, Shin

7 Double letters: Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Pe, Resh, Tau

12 Simple letters: He, Vau, Zayin, Cheth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Tzaddi, Qoph.

The Mother letters are associated with three of the four philosophical elements, the Double letters with the seven planets of traditional astrology, and the Simple letters with the twelve signs of the zodiac. In the version of Sepher Yetzirah translated by W. Wynn Westcott, a leading member of the Golden Dawn, the placements of the elements and zodiac signs on the letters are explicit, but the placement of the planets is somewhat obscure, and open to various interpretations.

If the Tarot trumps were simply applied in order to the Hebrew letters, with the Fool on the first letter, then the trump VIII Justice would fall on the Simple letter Teth, and XI Strength would fall on the Simple letter Lamed. In the correspondence between the Simple letters and the zodiac signs that is given in Sepher Yetzirah, this would put the sign Leo on the trump Justice, and the sign Libra on the trump Strength.

But there is an obvious problem. Leo is the sign of the lion, a beast symbolic of virility and strength, and Libra is the sign of the scales, the primary symbol of justice. The trump Strength shows in its picture a lion, and the trump Justice shows in its picture a set of scales. It was obvious to Mathers, and indeed would be obvious to almost anyone, that it would be more appropriate to link the trump Justice with Libra, and the trump Strength with Leo. How could he do this? The Hebrew letters could not be inverted. The associations of the zodiac signs with the Simple letters could not be changed, since they are quite explicit in Sepher Yetzirah. The only thing to do was to invert the locations of trumps Justice and Strength, and this Mathers did. He renumbered Justice as XI and placed it after the Wheel of Fortune, and renumbered Strength as VIII and placed it after the Chariot. This corrected the obvious error in symbolism on these two trumps.

Here is the sequence of trumps used by the Golden Dawn, along with their Kabbalistic associations from Sepher Yetzirah. The names of some of the trumps were updated by Mathers, based primarily on suggestions in the writings of Court de Gébelin and Éliphas Lévi.

0. Fool — Aleph (Air)
I. Magician — Beth (Mercury)
II. High Priestess — Gimel (Moon)
III. Empress — Daleth (Venus)
IV. Emperor — He (Aries)
V. Hierophant — Vau (Taurus)
VI. Lovers — Zayin (Gemini)
VII. Chariot — Cheth (Cancer)
VIII. Fortitude — Teth (Leo)
IX. Hermit — Yod (Virgo)
X. Wheel of Fortune — Kaph (Jupiter)
XI. Justice — Lamed (Libra)
XII. Hanged Man — Mem (Water)
XIII. Death — Nun (Scorpio)
XIV. Temperance — Samekh (Sagittarius)
XV. Devil — Ayin (Capricorn)
XVI. Blasted Tower — Pe (Mars)
XVII. The Star — Tzaddi (Aquarius)
XVIII. The Moon — Qoph (Pisces)
XIX. The Sun — Resh (Sun)
XX. Judgement — Shin (Fire)
XXI. Universe — Tau (Saturn)

Mathers chose to call the Juggler the Magician. He changed the Female Pope to the High Priestess, and the Pope to the Hierophant. Strength was called by its common alternative, Fortitude. The World became the Universe.

As you can see by examining the Golden Dawn arrangement of the trumps, the zodiac signs that fall on the twelve Simple letters of the Hebrew alphabet are in their natural order beginning with Aries. This is in keeping with the information presented in Sepher Yetzirah. The three elements on the Mother letters cannot really be said to have any fixed order, but they also are placed according to Sepher Yetzirah. The planets, however, are a different matter. They do have a natural order, and it is not preserved in Sepher Yetzirah — indeed, in the Westcott edition of that Kabbalistic book, which was used as a source by Mathers, the way in which they are intended to be placed on the seven Double letters is not explicit, but is open to interpretation.

Order of the Planets in Sepher Yetzirah

The text in Sepher Yetzirah reads: “So now, behold the Stars of our World, the Planets which are Seven: the Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars10.” It is obvious that the planets cannot be applied to the Double letters in this order, since that would result in incompatible matches. It would place Mercury on the Empress, for example, and the Moon on the Wheel of Fortune, which would be symbolically incorrect.

Mathers chose to disregard both the order of the planets presented in the text of Sepher Yetzirah, and their natural order. The natural order of the planets is based on their apparent rapidity of motion, as view from the surface of the Earth. From slowest to fastest, their order is: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. But from fastest to slowest, their reverse order is: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. Mathers adopted neither ordering, but created his own for the Double letters and their associated Tarot trumps.

There are hints in Sepher Yetzirah as to how the author of that ancient text intended the planets to be applied to the Double letters. He gives sets of opposites for each of the letters, and it is possible to apply these sets to the seven planets, thus generating a list of the planets on the Double letters. Which planet matches which pair of opposite qualities is a matter of conjecture. Here is the relevant text, from the fourth chapter of Sepher Yetzirah.

The Seven double letters, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Peh, Resh, and Tau have each two sounds associated with them. They are referred to Life, Peace, Wisdom, Riches, Grace, Fertility and Power. The two sounds of each letter are the hard and the soft — the aspirated and the softened. They are called Double, because each letter presents a contrast or permutation; thus Life and Death; Peace and War; Wisdom and Folly; Riches and Poverty; Grace and Indignation; Fertility and Solitude; Power and Servitude.11

Matching up the qualities of the planets with these pairs of opposites, we might get the following list, which may be how the author of Sepher Yetzirah intended the planets to be assigned to the letters.

Beth — Life and Death — Sun
Gimel — Peace and War — Mars
Daleth — Wisdom and Folly — Saturn
Kaph — Riches and Poverty — Mercury
Pe — Grace and Indignation — Venus
Resh — Fertility and Solitude — Moon
Tau — Power and Servitude — Jupiter

This arrangement is only conjecture on my part. In any case, it does not match very well the nature of the Tarot trumps that fall on the seven Double letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It would place the planet Mars on the trump the High Priestess, which seems obviously wrong. Even had Mathers derived this list, he would not have used it. The key innovations of Mathers and the Golden Dawn with regard to the order of the trumps and their esoteric correspondences are thus the explicit numbering of the Fool as zero, and the placement of the Fool at the head of the trumps; the inversion of the locations and Roman numerals of Justice and Fortitude; and the unique assignment of the planets to the seven Double letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Trump Sequence of Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), who was a member of the Golden Dawn, and perhaps possessed the greatest esoteric knowledge of the Tarot of any man who has ever lived, made surprisingly few innovations in the order of the trumps. He regarded the Golden Dawn arrangement, which Mathers had received from the Secret Chiefs — they conveyed to him psychically the correct locations of the planets on the Double letters — as received sacred wisdom, and did not attempt on his own initiative to meddle with it. He may have had a low regard for Mathers after departing the Golden Dawn under a black cloud, but he always held the Secret Chiefs in the deepest respect.

It was only when Crowley’s guardian angel, Aiwass, came to him while Crowley was visiting Cairo, Egypt, in the year 1904, and dictated to Crowley a holy book titled Liber AL vel Legis, or the Book of the Law, that Crowley felt bold enough to modify the sequence of the Tarot trumps. In the received text of this book is written the statement, “All these old letters of my Book are aright; but [Tzaddi] is not the Star12.” The word “Tzaddi” was not written out, but was in the form of the Hebrew letter Tzaddi. The “old letters” obviously refer to the ancient Hebrew alphabet. The reference to “my book” is to the Book of Thoth, another name among occultists for the Tarot. The “Star” which is capitalized in Crowley’s received text, must refer to the Tarot trump the Star. In the Golden Dawn arrangement, XVII the Star is linked with the Hebrew letter Tzaddi, and the zodiac sign Aquarius.

For years Crowley puzzled about this cryptic message. If Tzaddi was not the Tarot trump the Star, to which trump should it be assigned? The solution reached by Crowley in his Book of Thoth is based on the inversion of the trumps Justice and Strength made by Mathers in the Golden Dawn Tarot. Crowley wrote the twelve signs of the zodiac in their natural order around the rim of a reclining oval, with Pisces on its left side and Virgo on its right side. When this is done, the inversion made by Mathers may be represented graphically by pinching the right end of the oval and giving it a twist to form a little loop, so that the signs of Leo and Libra exchange places around the pivot of Virgo. To balance this change, Crowley took the other end of the oval of the zodiac and gave it a similar twist around the pivot of Pisces to form a second loop, so that the signs Aquarius and Aries changes places. In this way, the model of the zodiac was balanced.13

By this trick, Crowley determined to his own satisfaction that Tzaddi was “not the Star” but was instead, the Emperor. The trump the Star receives Aquarius and the Hebrew letter Tzaddi in the Golden Dawn arrangement, and the trump the Emperor receives Aries and the Hebrew letter He. Crowley inverted this assignment. He did not make this change with the same degree of elegance as Mathers, however. Instead of giving the Emperor the Roman numeral XVII and the Star the Roman numeral IV, Crowley left them where they were in the sequence of the trumps, and broke the continuity of the Hebrew alphabet, inverting the two Hebrew letters, along with their linked esoteric correspondences.

This seems inconsistent on Crowley’s part. To exactly balance the change made by Mathers in the loop at the other end of the zodiac, Crowley should have exchanged the Roman numerals and the placements of the trumps the Emperor and the Star, but kept the integrity of the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet, which has been established for thousands of years. Mathers moved the trumps — he did not move the Hebrew letters. Crowley should have done the same, had he wished to mirror the change made by Mathers.

Instead, Crowley chose to return the Roman numeral VIII to Justice, and XI to Strength, which places them back in their original locations in the Marseilles sequence of the trumps, but he retained the Hebrew letters and zodiac signs given to these trumps by Mathers, thereby violating the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet a second time.

In the Tarot trumps of Crowley’s Thoth deck, the card of the Emperor bears the Hebrew letter Tzaddi, but still retains the zodiac sign Aries. Similarly, the card of the Star bears the Hebrew letter He, but retains the zodiac sign Aquarius. This appears to be an error, since it would be assumed that the zodiac signs should have been changed along with the Hebrew letters — indeed, this was done in the table of the trumps that appears near the end of Crowley’s Book of Thoth.14 Below is Crowley’s arrangement of the Tarot trumps, as it appears in that table. He has changed many of the names of the trumps, but not so radically that they cannot be recognized. Justice was called Adjustment, Strength became Lust, and Temperance was called by Crowley Art.

Trump Sequence of Donald Tyson

The Tarot has been central to my esoteric studies and practices for over thirty years. I have spent considerable time considering the arrangement of the trumps, and have come to some conclusions that I wish to offer here, for those who may be interested in my own sequence and occult correspondences for the trumps. This material previously appeared in the appendix to my book Portable Magic (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2006), which deals with the use of the Tarot for works of ritual magic. Since I believe it is important, I wish to make it as widely available as possible.

My own sense is that Crowley’s change is not valid. It does apply a kind of balance to the loop of the zodiac, and Crowley was obsessed with balance in magic — he believed that all true magicians have an innate sense of harmony and balance, and that they naturally abhor anything in their art that is lacking in symmetry. Well, maybe so, but I see no necessity to balance the inversion of Justice and Strength made by Mathers. The change has its own inherent balance, in that each trump replaces the other. I believe that the change made by Mathers is valid, and indeed inevitable, given the symbolism on the two cards and the zodiac signs involved. Leo must go with Strength, and Virgo must go with Justice.

My primary problem with the Golden Dawn sequence of the trumps lies in the Double letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are linked with the seven planets. In astrology and in magic, the planets have a very definite ordering, as I explained above. Since the zodiac signs are arranged on the twelve Simple letters in their natural order, it seems to me that it would make good sense to arrange the planets on the seven Double letters in their natural order as well. The reason Mathers did not do this is because it creates some problems. However, in my opinion these issues are not beyond solution, even though some of the changes I propose may seem fairly radical.

The placements of Mercury on the trump of the Magician by Mathers, through the mediation of the Double letter Beth, and the Moon on the High Priestess through the mediation of the Double letter Gimel, have a rightness that would be difficult to challenge. This suggests that if the planets are placed on the trumps in their natural astrological order, it will be an ascending order from quickest and nearest, to slowest and furthest removed. But there is a serious problem. The first planet in this ascending order is the Moon, not Mercury, which is the second planet. To simply apply the planets to the trumps of the Double letters would result in the Magician receiving the Moon, and the High Priestess receiving Mercury. This does not seem symbolically correct.

The solution is obvious, but daring — to invert the location and Roman numerals of trumps the Magician and the High Priestess, so that the High Priestess receives the Roman numeral I and is placed directly after the Fool, and the Magician receives the Roman numeral II and comes after the High Priestess. It is safe to say that this change is the most likely to arouse controversy, among those I have advocated. There is a natural prejudice that the male Magician should come before the female Priestess. However, when we consider why this should be so, it is not easy to come up with a reason. There is something to be said for the Priestess opening the sequence of the trumps — for the Fool, although he is nominally placed at the beginning, really has no place of his own, as his zero designation indicates, but moves where he wills, and relates to all the other trumps equally. The pillars of the Priestess are like an open doorway into the mysteries of the Tarot.

There is another change necessary to apply the planets in their natural ascending order on the seven Double letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and their corresponding trumps. In the Golden Dawn arrangement, Jupiter is placed on trump X the Wheel, and the planet the Sun is placed on trump XIX the Sun. I asked myself, if the planet the Moon is not located on trump XVIII the Moon in the Golden Dawn arrangement, who should it be necessary to locate the planet the Sun on the trump of the same name? It is not necessary, and indeed, not even desirable to do so. When the planets are applied to the trumps of the Double letters in their natural order, it is the Sun that falls on the Wheel, and Jupiter that falls on the trump the Sun.

This change works very well. The Sun is a great fiery wheel rolling across the heavens, and has been characterized in this way in stone age petroglyphs of shamans, and in numerous systems of mythology around the world. It is symbolically apt to link the astrological planet the Sun with the trump the Wheel of Fortune. As for the trump of the Sun — what could be more appropriate to represent it than the beaming countenance of the god Jupiter, as represented by his planet? Jupiter is the dispenser of benevolent laws, the patriarch of the heavens. The planets Jupiter and the Sun have always had harmonious natures in astrology.

It can be seen that by inverting the locations of the trumps the Magician and the High Priestess, all seven of the planets fall on highly appropriate trumps when applied to the sequence of the Double letters in their natural ascending order. The placement of the planet the Sun on the Wheel of Fortune is so right, it is difficult to imagine how Mathers could have avoided making it. Perhaps the designation of Jupiter as the “greater fortune” in astrology swayed his judgment. Even so, I cannot agree with his choice, and believe that the Sun should be on the Wheel, and Jupiter on the trump the Sun.

There are actually three fortunes in astrology, as Cornelius Agrippa pointed out in his Occult Philosophy: “There are three Fortunes amongst the planets15.” These are the Sun, Jupiter, and Venus. However, Jupiter is usually called the Greater Fortune and Venus the Lesser Fortune. I mention this merely to point out that the Sun has at least as much connection with the Wheel of Fortune, thematically, as Jupiter. Both Sun and Jupiter are astrological fortunes. It also shows the close tie between the planet Jupiter and the trump the Sun.

There is one more essential change in the sequence of the trumps that must be made before they can be considered perfected. It involves the inversion of trumps XIV Temperance and VII the Chariot. It has long been my conviction that the zodiac sign Cancer does not belong with the Chariot. In spite of the valiant attempts by Mathers and other occultists to justify its location on the Chariot, there is nothing warlike about the sign of Cancer. The characterization of the fierce Crab with her savage pincers raised for battle strikes me with amusement every time I encounter it. The sign of the Crab is not fierce — it is watery and feminine.

Similarly, I found nothing appropriate in linking the rather warlike zodiac sign of the Archer, Sagittarius, with the feminine and watery trump Temperance. Indeed, there seems no obvious symbolic harmony between the two. The bow and arrow is a weapon of war, and a weapon of the hunt. It is designed to deal death. But the waters poured between the two vessels on the trump Temperance are the waters of life.

I have no hesitation in advocating that these trumps be inverted, and their Roman numerals exchanged, so that Temperance is placed just after the Lovers, and receives the number VII, and the Chariot is placed just after Death, and receives the number XIV. Indeed, this change strikes me as the most obvious and inevitable of all the changes that I have made, and I am amazed that Mathers did not make it himself.

You will notice that this results in an series of violent or warlike cards: the Hanged Man, Death, the Chariot, the Devil, and the Tower. In the common sequence of the trumps, and the Golden Dawn sequence as well, the card Temperance breaks up this set. Equally, the older placement of the Chariot seems completely wrong — it comes in the midst of a peaceful series of trumps, after the Hierophant and the Lovers, and before Strength and the Hermit. Strength is not violent, but is the strength of self control and restraint. The overtly violent and warlike Chariot is completely wrong for this series.

Here, then, is my rectified sequence of the Tarot trumps, according to my best judgement. It is my experience that it lends itself very well to the paths on the Tree of Life — better than the Golden Dawn sequence. Of course those accustomed to using the Golden Dawn arrangement on the Tree will find it an effort to change mental gears, and try something new, but those who make the change will not want to go back.

0. Fool — Aleph (Air)
I. High Priestess — Beth (Moon)
II. Magician — Gimel (Mercury)
III. Empress — Daleth (Venus)
IV. Emperor — He (Aries)
V. Hierophant — Vau (Taurus)
VI. Lovers — Zayin (Gemini)
VII. Temperance — Cheth (Cancer)
VIII. Strength — Teth (Leo)
IX. Hermit — Yod (Virgo)
X. Wheel — Kaph (Sun)
XI. Justice — Lamed (Libra)
XII. Hanged Man — Mem (Water)
XIII. Death — Nun (Scorpio)
XIV. Chariot — Samekh (Sagittarius)
XV. Devil — Ayin (Capricorn)
XVI. Tower — Pe (Mars)
XVII. The Star — Tzaddi (Aquarius)
XVIII. The Moon — Qoph (Pisces)
XIX. The Sun — Resh (Jupiter)
XX. Judgement — Shin (Fire)
XXI. World — Tau (Saturn)


  1. Decker, Ronald; Thierry Depaulis; Michael Dummett. A Wicked Pack of Cards. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996, page 25.
  2. Ibid., page 41.
  3. Ibid., page 43.
  4. Ibid., page 62.
  5. Ibid., page 70.
  6. Lévi, Éliphas. Transcendental Magic. New York: Weiser, 1979, page 386.
  7. Christian, Paul. The History and Practice of Magic. New York: Citadel Press, 1963, page 110.
  8. Papus. Tarot of the Bohemians. New York: US Games, 1978, page 184.
  9. Waite. A. E. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. New York: Weiser, 1980, page 29.
  10. Westcott, W. Wynn. Sepher Yetzirah. New York: Weiser, 1980, page 23.
  11. Ibid., page 22.
  12. Crowley, Aleister. Book of the Law. Quebec: 93 Publishing, page 26.
  13. Crowley, Aleister. Book of Thoth. New York: Weiser, 1974, pages 9-11.
  14. Ibid., page 278.
  15. Agrippa, Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1993, page 250.

© 2008 by Donald Tyson.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

Necronomicon Magic

Necronomicon Magic

Modern occultists are working practical magic based on the fictional characters of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). This would have amused to no end the Old Man of Providence, as he preferred to be known among his circle of literary friends. He was always tickled when a reader asked him where he could buy a copy of the Necronomicon, a book originated by Lovecraft as background for his stories of cosmic horror. Lovecraft wrote primarily for the genre magazines known as the pulps between the years 1917 and 1937. Most notable among these publications was Weird Tales, which hosted the writings of many popular authors of the period working in horror, adventure, suspense and science fiction.

The stories of Lovecraft are loosely connected by certain themes and common elements that create a fictional world all their own. Central to this world is the Necronomicon, a dread book of black magic that is mentioned in many of the tales. Those who read the Necronomicon usually wish they had not done so, and often come to a horrifying end. Lovecraft created an entire history for this imaginary book. It was supposed by him to have been written by Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet of the Arabian kingdom of Yemen, during the early part of the 8th century. How Alhazred lost his reason was never revealed by Lovecraft, but he became privy while wandering the desert wastes to certain secrets concerning forbidden subjects such as the processes of necromancy and the ways of the dead, and also to a history of this world that long predates human history, and even the human species.

When Aliens Ruled the Earth

The Necronomicon describes the colonization of the Earth in its primordial beginning by a series of alien species. The first arrived before life had even appeared on land on in the seas. According to Lovecraft, we are the descendants of life forms created by that first race, which is called the Old Ones, or more commonly among students of Lovecraft, the Elder Things, to distinguish it from another race of aliens that came to this planet somewhat later, which were also known as the Old Ones. Lovecraft used the term “Old Ones” to describe several alien species inhabited this planet before the evolution of mankind.

Chief among the species mentioned by Alhazred in the Necronomicon, or described by Lovecraft elsewhere in his stories, were the already named race of crinoids known as the Elder Things or Elder Race; a race of creatures with heads somewhat resembling octopuses known as the spawn of Cthulhu; a blind race of gigantic invisible monsters larger than elephants to which the name Old Ones is usually applied; the Great Race of time travelers from the planet Yith which inhabits our past and our future but not our present; a race of highly intelligent fungous crustaceans from the planet Pluto, who came to our world to mine it for metals; and a race of immortal humanoids dwelling in the vast subterranean cavern of K’n-yan, deep below the plains of Oklahoma, who were carried to our world across the gulf of space by the spawn of Cthulhu.

According to the Necronomicon, these colonizing races have not so much disappeared from our world, but have simply withdrawn temporarily. In the case of the Old Ones and creatures of a related kind, they wait patiently in deep places beneath the earth or in the oceans, or in alien dimensions parallel to our own, until conditions in the heavens are more conducive to their nature, which is utterly unlike anything that has evolved on the surface of this planet. They wait for the stars to “come right” once again, as they were in primordial times. The patterns of the stars and planets are constantly changing. At present they are baneful to many of these unimaginably alien beings, whose bodies are not even composed of matter as we know it.

Lords of the Old Ones

The Old Ones have certain leaders or lords who are mentioned by name in the Necronomicon or in other ancient texts that are less well known. Azathoth, the blind idiot god of chaos, has only an indirect link with our world. He sits on his black throne at the center of chaos and pipes a music composed of the proportions and harmonies that sustain the universe, while great blind gods dance around him, mesmerized and compelled by the sounds. He is awkward, misshapen, covered in his own filth, yet he holds the power of creation and destruction in the form of the musical notes he pipes. As he plays, the elder gods who dance weave the fabric of the universe or unravel it. In them may be seen mythic echoes of Shiva, the dancing Hindu god whose dance creates or destroys the world, and also of the three Greek Fates who control the spun threads of life for all human beings.

The soul and messenger of the blinds gods who dance to the music of Azathoth is known as Nyarlathotep. He despises Azathoth, but he is bound by his nature to serve him, for Azathoth is merely a personification of the central vortex of chaos itself, and Nyarlathotep is a servant of chaos. Alone among the Old Ones he enjoys walking the surface of our world in the shape of a human being. He has many avatars or vessels that serve him as bodies, some not even remotely humanoid, but he prefers that of a deathless Egyptian pharaoh who is dark, tall, gaunt, with bony hands and eyes that gleam like stars. Sometimes he wears the face of a human being in this desert-robed form, but other times he goes faceless. He has a sardonic sense of humor. Our race, with its petty wars and desires, gives him amusement. He diverts himself by controlling, tormenting and killing men. Even so, he is the most human of all the Old Ones, the only one among them that it is even possible to communicate with in any familiar way. Nyarlathotep enjoys the company of humans in much the same way a malicious child enjoys tormenting a nest of ants.

The blind and invisible Old Ones, whose substance is so alien that we cannot even see it with our unaided eyes, move between worlds, and even between galaxies, by means of dimensional gateways. These are controlled by the sky dweller, Yog-Sothoth, who sometimes appears to human beings in the form of interlocking iridescent spheres when he opens one of his gates. In one of the longer passages from the Necronomicon quoted by Lovecraft in his story “The Dunwich Horror,” the relationship between Yog-Sothoth and the Old Ones is described:

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They had trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraver, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.

As the Necronomicon makes very clear, it would be wrong to think of Yog-Sothoth as a gatekeeper. He is not only the keeper of the gates, but the key that opens them, and indeed, he is the very gates themselves, or rather the very gate, since all gates are one in Yog-Sothoth – a single gate that he may open anywhere in any dimension of time or space. The Old Ones ruled by Yog-Sothoth dwell hidden in dimensions of the upper air, yet there are other invisible Old Ones who dwell in vast tombs deep beneath the sands of the Arabian desert, where they were banished in a great war with the time traveling race from Yith in our distant past.

Mighty Cthulhu

Cthulhu and his spawn lie sleeping in stone houses on the sunken island of R’lyeh, on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The spawn are smaller creatures similar in form to their great lord and high priest, mighty Cthulhu. They came to the Earth to conquer it, and for long millennia waged a series of wars against the first occupiers of the sea and land, the crinoid Elder Things. They were defeated by the Elder Things, and a truce was arranged wherein Cthulhu and his spawn were given certain newly-risen volcanic land masses in the Pacific Ocean. When the stars went wrong, Cthulhu and his people withdrew into stone crypts on their main island of R’lyeh. Cthulhu used his science, which to humanity has the appearance of a form of magic, to place himself and his people into a deep sleep that resembled death.

Cthulhu is said to be like a walking mountain. This is an exaggeration, but his body is more vast than any terrestrial organism, larger even than the blue whale, which is the largest creature of flesh and blood on this planet — the largest of which science is aware, at any rate. His body has two arms and two legs, but his hands and feet are clawed, and his great, soft mass of a head is covered over its lower face with tentacles or feelers that somewhat resemble the tentacles of an octopus or squid. He has six eyes, three on each side of his head arranged in a triangular pattern, and from his back spread membranous wings similar to those of a bat, that he uses to fly not only through the air but through airless space itself. In some manner that cannot be fathomed, he is able to use them to push against the very substance of space. His innumerable spawn, like smaller versions of himself, are similarly equipped.

For eons Cthulhu continued to control many of the creatures that remained free to wander the surface of our world by using his power of mental telepathy, in which he and his spawn excelled. Cthulhu lay sleeping in a death-like slumber, but in his dreams he ruled and instructed his worshippers, by communicating with them in their dreams. He projected into their minds strange and beautiful images of alien landscapes and architecture, and whispered commands below their conscious awareness that compelled them to actions he desired them to perform.

Then an unexpected disaster struck, and R’lyeh sank beneath the waves of the Pacific. This event Cthulhu had not foreseen. The vast body of water cut off his telepathic link with his servants on the surface, including the primitive tribes of human beings that had heard his siren call in their dreams, and had begun to worship him in Cthulhu cults around the world. So the situation remains today, according to Lovecraft. The human cults of Cthulhu sustain their faith, even though they have been cut off from mental communication with him for long ages. Cthulhu continues to dream on sunken R’lyeh, and bides his time until the stars come right, and R’lyeh rises.

Goat with a Thousand Young

Another of the named lords of the Old Ones is Shub-Niggurath, the Goat With a Thousand Young. She is said to resemble somewhat the occultist Eliphas Levi’s concept of Baphomet — a creature with the head of a goat, the torso and arms of a woman, and the hairy legs and cloven hooves of a goat. Her function is mother of monsters. It may be that Azathoth is her husband — this is an uncertain point, and various lords of the Old Ones have been named as her spouse. She is by nature promiscuous and has coupled with many to produce many strange and horrifying beings, some of whom continue to dwell deep in the intestines of this planet in dark and secret caverns. Shub-Niggurath may be hermaphroditic. She may even be capable of engendering children on herself. At times she is referred to as if she were male in Lovecraft’s works, and it is significant that the sexual parts are concealed by Levi in his illustration of Baphomet.

Distant Relations

There are other great lords in Lovecraft’s mythology who are not so closely tied to the Old Ones, and whose origins are not even know with certainty. They may be aliens to this planet and related in some way to the Old Ones, or they may have arisen after the crinoid race of Elder Things arrived in our sterile oceans and began their experiments in genetic manipulation. Humanity was one of their creations, brought forth as a kind of joke to amuse themselves. Who knows what else they created, and what evolutions took place in the darkness of lost ages among their more misshapen experiments?

Yig is known as the father of all serpents. It is my belief that he is of an alien race, but this is not stated by Lovecraft. He is worshipped as a god by many primitive cults in Lovecraft’s world, and has the power to curse with misfortune those who harm his sinuous children. As it true of the Old Ones, Yig has the ability to breed with mortal women, and to engender in their wombs monsters that are half human and half serpent. He sometimes comes with the body of a man and the head of a snake. The Plains Indians of North America propitiated his wrath by drumming and dancing for part of the year, and took great care never to harm a snake. His power was greatly feared. Yig is worshipped in the vast subterranean cavern of K’n-yan, along with Cthulhu, who carried the race dwelling in K’n-yan across space to the Earth.

Another ancient lord worshipped as a god is Dagon, whose size is almost as vast as that of mighty Cthulhu. He dwells deep in a rift in the Pacific Ocean. In overall shape he resembles the body of a man, but his fingers and toes are webbed for swimming, and his head is like that of a fish, and sits directly on his shoulders without a neck. His eyes are large and fish-like. Gills for breathing underwater open and shut on the sides of his head. Dagon is sometimes depicted with only a single eye, but this appears to be an error caused by Lovecraft’s use of the term “cyclopean” to describe him. By this term Lovecraft meant that Dagon is very large, but some artists have interpreted it to mean that Dagon, like the Cyclops, had only a single eye in his forehead. He appears in this striking manner in the trumps of my own Necronomicon Tarot (Llewellyn, 2007).

Just as Cthulhu has his spawn to serve him, Dagon has the race known as the Deep Ones, an amphibious race of humanoids with froglike heads and lungs for breathing the air of the surface world, along with gill slits for breathing the water of the deeps of the ocean. The Deep Ones intermarry and interbreed with human beings, to produce a race of hybrids who are human when they are born, but who gradually assume the aspect of the Deep Ones as they age. These hybrids are deathless unless killed by accident, disease, poison or some other mishap. They live their early lives among mankind, but around the age of seventy years they take to the water permanently, and seldom return to the surface world. According to Lovecraft, the Deep Ones are highly intelligent and are skilled artisans and engineers who could destroy the human race anytime they choose. They live in their millions in stone cities in deep fissures on the sea floor of the world’s oceans.

The Cthulhu Mythos

These are only some of the alien races and ruling lords who make up the mythology created by Lovecraft over the course of his writing career. It has come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a somewhat misleading title since Cthulhu, although important in the mythology, is not the god nor leader of all the other races, but merely one among many. Perhaps it would have been better to call it the Elder Mythos, but Lovecraft’s close friend near the end of Lovecraft’s life, the writer August Derleth, came up with the name Cthulhu Mythos and it was adopted by general consent.

Lovecraft himself never tried to put a name on his evolving mythology during his lifetime. Other writers who were his friends added to his mythological structure, and allowed Lovecraft to borrow the occasional piece from their stories. For example, the toad-god called Tsathoggua became a part of the mythos when Lovecraft incorporated this strange deity into his work from the stories of his friend Clark Ashton Smith. Similarly, the book known as the Black Book, or more commonly as Nameless Cults, was borrowed by Lovecraft from the writing of his friend Robert E. Howard, who created Conan the Barbarian. Lovecraft used it in much the same way as he used the Necronomicon, as a source that described forgotten or forbidden secrets.

In the decades after Lovecraft’s death in 1937, other writers continued to set their stories in the mythological world he created, until it grew into a universe of bewildering complexity. I make no attempt to examine the entire range of the mythos, but limit myself to investigating it as it existed when its creator died. It is not that I regard later evolutions of the mythos as illegitimate, but merely that it took off in so many different directions after Lovecraft’s death that it is almost impossible to reconcile all its offshoots. The Cthulhu Mythos continues to live today. New stories are constantly being written that are set within its framework. Like the Necronomicon itself, the mythos refuses to die.

Reading over this summary of some of the key players in the Cthulhu Mythos, it would be easy for a modern magician to dismiss it all as silly fantasy. There are several factors to consider before doing so. One is the sheer persistence of the Necronomicon and of the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. Why would something of no practical value be cherished and sustained and replenished with such devotion by so many writers and their fans? Clearly there are aspects of both the book and the mythos that resonate deep in the human psyche, an innate recognition of significant meaning below the level of articulation. The power of the Necronomicon and of the Old Ones is in part confirmed by their very continued existence.

Themes of the Mythos

A central theme of Lovecraft’s mythology is that the universe is inhabited and ruled by races of great beings who are largely indifferent to humanity. They are not malevolent in any human sense, but neither are they benevolent. They simply do not notice or care about us in any serious way. If, at times, our actions attracted their notice, they might kill us with the same casual ease with which we would swat a fly, but there would be no malice in the act. Humanity is not important enough to hate. None the less, it is possible to communicate with some of these lofty and indifferent beings, and through the use of magic alluded to in Lovecraft’s quotes from the Necronomicon, to manipulate their power for human ends.

Another theme that has a profound resonance for practitioners of Necronomicon magic is the assertion by Lovecraft that these beings are not on distant planets, but still walk among us under the cloak of darkness, or invisible to our sight. They dwell concealed in deep places beneath the ground, on under the water of wells, lakes and oceans, or in parallel dimensions just slightly out of phase with our own. Lovecraft’s world is filled with alien creatures who possess ancient wisdom that they can, if they wish, pass on to human beings. They are dangerous to deal with, but the potential rewards justify the risks in the minds of many magicians.

You may be saying to yourself, Lovecraft’s creations are only fictional characters, they have no reality. Well, maybe. Reality is a slippery concept for those of us who deal with ritual occultism. There is a form of reality that is not composed of material substance, yet it is no less potent for its lack of a body. It is known as the astral. Astral things are shaped in the mind from mind-stuff and have no tangible base, yet they sometimes exhibit a potency that extends beyond the imagination to resonate in the physical world. Many magicians regard astral beings and astral landscapes as real on a higher level of reality than the physical.

Lovecraft’s Strange Nightmares

Lovecraft was a very strange man. I do not mean merely that his personality was odd. This has been established by numerous aspects in his life, such as his love for sitting in old graveyards late at night, his obsession with anything English, his inability to part with the furniture or objects of his youth, his complete nervous breakdown in childhood, his determination to write in the style of two centuries before his birth, his determination not to earn a living because he considered it beneath the dignity of a gentleman, his precocious intellect, his conviction that he was so ugly as to be deformed, his period in early life of shunning the daylight and only venturing out at night.

All these things and countless more verify that Lovecraft was eccentric, but that was not the height of his strangeness. What made him weird, in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the word, were his dreams. From very early childhood to the day of his death, he was plagued or gifted by nightmares of uncommon force and clarity. Many of these nightmares repeated over and over for years. During his early life, Lovecraft lived in his dreams more than he lived in the waking world. He was fortunate enough to have a pair of aunts who indulged him. They took care of the running of the house, and cooked the meals, leaving him free to wake or sleep when he chose. He was not troubled by school, after withdrawing at a fairly early age. He was not troubled by work. He had no woman friend with whom to plan a future family, and few male friends. He lived in a waking dream, and when he slept his dreams were more real than waking reality.

Lovecraft began to write these dreams down. This is seldom adequately stressed by his biographers. He did not merely draw on the occasional dream for inspiration — much of his fiction is directly based on his repeating nightmares. Indeed, some of it is no more than a direct transcription of his nightmares. This is true of the early tale “Nyarlathotep” in which this great figure of the mythos is first described. It is important to understand this point, which is why I stress it — Lovecraft did not invent Nyarlathotep. The story was a verbatim copy of his repeating nightmare.

Similarly, Lovecraft did not invent the Necronomicon. He saw the book repeatedly in his dreams. One night in sleep, the name was given to him. He heard it in his dream, and knew it was the name of the book, but he had no idea what the name meant. Lovecraft’s use of the title Necronomicon marks its first appearance — it is totally original. Later he did some research and concluded from its Greek roots that it must mean “an image (or picture) of the law of the dead.” Others have questioned this translation, and the exact meaning of the name is open to debate, but not the name itself, which was delivered to Lovecraft’s sleeping mind from a higher source. Lovecraft’s most respected biographer, S. T. Josi, translated the title as “Book Concerning the Dead.” Assuming Josi’s interpretation to be valid, perhaps the simplest rendering would be “Book of the Dead.”

Astral Portals

Lovecraft’s fictional characters often undergo transitions from one world to another through the portal of dreams or daydreams. For example, in “Dreams In the Witch House,” the protagonist of the tale is taken to various alien settings when he falls asleep in a particular room that has strangely angled walls. He at first believes himself to have seen these places only in dreams, until physical evidence forces him to confront the fact that somehow he has actually gone to them bodily while still asleep.

This curious blurring of the boundary between waking and sleeping occurs in the practice known as astral projection. Those who project the astral body usually do so while lying with their eyes closed. The experience of astral projection is in many ways very similar to dreams. Indeed, it may be asserted that dreams are a form of spontaneous astral projection. Deliberate astral projection differs from dreams in that the traveler on the astral plane is conscious of what he does and can control his own actions, whereas in dreams the dreamer is usually unaware that he is dreaming. Yet there is a well-known phenomenon called lucid dreaming in which the dreamer is aware that he dreams. Lucid dreams differ in no significant way from astral projection.

It is my contention that Lovecraft was engaged in a form of astral projection when he experienced his vivid, repeating nightmares. A large portion of his mythology, perhaps the major part of it, was based on astral visions that he had himself experienced firsthand while asleep. This explains their uncommon clarity and intensity. Lovecraft did not merely make them up, but recorded what he experienced.

How much reality is granted to Lovecraft’s mythology depends in large part upon how seriously we take the astral realm. Even if the early history of the Earth as recorded in his short stories is not factually true, in a material sense, it may still be true on the astral level. The Old Ones may have inhabited, not the physical surface of the Earth itself, but its astral reflection. This would have allowed them to interact at times with human beings, when the barrier between the physical world and the astral world was thin. This sort of interaction takes place between fairies and humans in certain favorable locations at favorable times, such as early morning or twilight, or on certain days such as the equinoxes.

From a human viewpoint, the most important portal controlled by Yog-Sothoth is the portal between the ordinary waking world of human consciousness, and the astral world experienced during dreams. By passing through this portal, the Old Ones and their great lords can be confronted and perhaps bargained with. In the traditional Christian sense, such dealings would be considered black magic. It is no accident that in Lovecraft’s stories Shub-Niggurath is the same as the Black Goat of the sabbat, or that Nyarlathotep is the same as the Black Man who presided over the secret festivals of witches.

Necronomicon Is Chaos Magic

However, from a modern perspective the Old Ones should not be regarded as evil, but rather should be treated as agents of chaos. Necronomicon magic is chaos magic. We know that it must be, because mindless Azathoth who rules cunning Nyarlathotep has his throne at the center of the great central vortex of chaos, and indeed is himself that vortex. In Lovecraft’s mythology, Azathoth is at the center of all. Everything spirals out from him and eventually spirals back into him. The structure of the universe is composed of the music of his flute, as expressed through the dance of the blind gods. But it is not the music that is the foundation of creation, but the mathematical intervals and interrelations between the sounds and the silence. Creation is a mathematical formula that Azathoth ceaselessly works out on his flute.

Of all the lords of the Old Ones, the easiest to reach is probably Nyarlathotep. He is frequently to be found moving among men — or rather, moving through their dreams. He will heed a summons, but he is utterly lacking in human compassion and will destroy the person who summons him if it offers him a moment of amusement. To travel into the astral in a conscious way, it is necessary to make use of the gateway of Yog-Sothoth. All astral travelers do so, even though they never realize it. By summoning Yog-Sothoth and offering sacrifices of various kinds to his honor, the gateway may be approached more easily. Sacrifices to the Old Ones transfer esoteric energy to them, and for this reason are welcomed. They need not be sacrifices of blood, but may involve devotions in the form of chants and prayers, or offerings of various substances such as food, drink, incense, music, precious objects, or money. They may take the form of pledges of service, or physical austerities. All these activities can, if done well, transfer esoteric energy that astral beings are able to use as a kind of nourishment.

Cthulhu will be difficult to reach. He dreams at the bottom of the ocean, a way of symbolizing that he exists on a very deep astral level. An astral traveler venturing through the gate of Yog-Sothoth will have to dive very deeply indeed to reach Cthulhu. The same is true of Dagon, but Dagon is free to surface when he chooses, although he does this seldom. Dagon can come to the dreamer, but the dreamer must descend to Cthulhu.

Shub-Niggurath is much easier to reach, almost too easy. She is connected with Lilith worship, and all worship linked to great mother goddesses, particularly to their darker and wilder aspects. The way to Shub-Niggurath is through sex magic and sexual energies, which serve her for nourishment. By contrast, the way to Yig is through ritual austerities of the kind practiced by the shamans of the Indian tribes of North America. To contact Shub-Niggurath controlled indulgence under will is required, but to contact Yig, one must abandon the self to denial and endurance.

Power of the Old Ones

Even though the Old Ones have their existence on the astral levels, there is reason to believe that they can work physical effects when they wish to do so. The astral world and the physical world are so close together, they almost touch. At twilight in some locations on the Earth, and at other opportune moments under favorable circumstances, the separation drops to almost nothing, and it becomes possible to walk from one world to the other, and back again. The gate of Yog-Sothoth may be more easily opened at these times. It allows passage through in either direction. The Old Ones may be petitioned to act, and they may project their will on the Earth.

The greatest effects of the Old Ones are worked indirectly, through physical agents such as other human beings, which the Old Ones influence on the astral level, particularly during dreams. Even though the action may be indirect, it can be potent and achieve results that seem miraculous. When every person and condition is made to favor a certain outcome, that outcome becomes almost inevitable, even though the exact manner of its achievement remains undecided until the very last moment of realization.

Necronomicon magic is a dark form of occultism not to be engaged in without serious consideration. It remains largely unwritten. The book by Simon titled the Necronomicon that has been so popular contains little or nothing of practical value, in my opinion. It remains for a serious ritual magician, working in the Western tradition and familiar with its history and various currents, to compose a serious set of rituals upon which a viable cult of the Old Ones may be based and sustained. Such a cult is possible, and indeed inevitable, given the continuing popularity of the Necronomicon and of Lovecraft’s fiction.

©2007 Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

The Game of Tarots

February 13, 2007 by  
Filed under divination, tarot

The Game of Tarots

Antoine Court de Gébelin
translated from the French by Donald Tyson

Antoine Court de Gébelin: 1728-84

The following two essays appear in Volume 8, Book 1, pages 365-410 of the work Monde Primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (The Primitive World, analyzed and compared with the modern world). The nine volumes of this unfinished work were published in Paris over the period 1773-82. The eighth volume appeared in 1781.

The first essay, titled Du Jeu des Tarots, was written by Court de Gébelin himself; the author of the second, titled Recherches sur les Tarots, et sur la Divination par les Cartes des Tarots, par M. Le C. de M. (Study on the Tarots, and on Divination with Tarot cards, by M. the C. of M.), has been identified as Louis Raphaël Lucrèce de Fayolle, the Comte de Mellet (1727-1804).

It appears that Court de Gébelin had the essay by the Comte de Mellet in his possession when he wrote his own work on the Tarot, and was influenced by its contents. De Mellet probably composed his work independently, prior to reading Court de Gébelin’s essay, although he was aware of some of Court de Gébelin’s ideas about the Tarot.

Court de Gébelin’s essay is noteworthy for establishing the Tarot as a repository of esoteric wisdom, for placing its origins in ancient Egypt, for linking the dissemination of the Tarot throughout Europe with the Gypsies, for alluding to the connection between the 22 trumps and 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and for placing the Fool firmly at the head of the trumps, rather than at their end, its previous traditional location. His views exerted a profound influence on later writers on the Tarot, even though most of his assertions are incorrect. The Tarot was probably not deliberately designed as a book of esoteric wisdom; it did not originate in Egypt; it has no ancient connection with the Gypsies; the similarity in number between the trumps and the Hebrew letters may be accidental; there is no hard evidence supporting the location of the Fool at the head of the trumps.

The Comte de Mellet’s essay is significant for his inverted ordering of the trumps that begins with the World and ends with the Fool, for his explicit linking of the individual trumps with individual Hebrew letters, for his exposition of the method of Tarot divination in use in his day, and for his presentation of the esoteric names and meanings associated with many of the cards.

The present English translation of these seminal treatises in the history of the Tarot arose from my current work on the esoteric evolution of these cards. I needed a full knowledge of the material contained in Court de Gébelin’s book, and discovered to my surprise that these essays were not available for free in English on the Internet. Considering the importance of these works, their age, and their relative brevity, this was quite astonishing. As a consequence, I decided to translate them and put them on this Web site so that anyone else who might want to read what Court de Gébelin and the Comte de Mellet had to write about the Tarot would not be similarly disappointed.

These translations are quite rough — I would even go so far as to call them crude. They should not be relied upon where accurate quotations from the essays are needed. My skill in French is limited, and I am sure its limitations are evident in the translations. However, bearing this in mind, most of what these two pioneers of the esoteric Tarot had to communicate on the subject may be gathered from the English version that appears here.

All of the remarks in square brackets, with one possible exception, were apparently made by Court de Gébelin. I have not inserted any editorial comments. Originally in Court de Gébelin’s essay the trump Temperance was incorrectly numbered XIII, but a note repairs this mistake — it is not clear from the French HTML copy of the work that I used as my source whether this correction was made in the original book. In the future I may find time to provide a set of notes explaining some of the errors and obscurities in the text.

The drawings of the trumps that accompany the text were executed at Court de Gébelin’s instruction by the artist Mademoiselle Linote. Many of them were inverted left to right in the process of printing — I have presented them as they appear in Monde primitif, without correcting these inversions. In Court de Gébelin’s book the drawings were gathered together in several plates, but here they are inserted individually next to the passages describing them.

— Donald Tyson

The Game of Tarots

Where one deals with the origin, where one explains the allegories, and where one shows that it is the source of our modern playing cards, etc etc.


The surprise caused by the discovery of an Egyptian book.

If one proceeded to announce that there is still nowadays a work of the former Egyptians, one of their books that escaped the flames that devoured their superb libraries, and which contains their purest doctrines on interesting subjects, everyone who heard, undoubtedly, would hasten to study such an invaluable book, such a marvel. If one also said that this book is very widespread in most of Europe, that for a number of centuries it has been in the hands of everyone, the surprise would be certain to increase. Would it not reach its height, if one gave assurances that no one ever suspected that it was Egyptian; that those who possessed it did not value it, that nobody ever sought to decipher a sheet of it; that the fruit of an exquisite wisdom is regarded as a cluster of extravagant figures which do not mean anything by themselves? Would it not be thought that the speaker wanted to amuse himself, and played on the credulity of his listeners?


This Egyptian book exists.

This fact is certainly very true: this Egyptian book, the only survivor of their superb libraries, exists in our day: it is even so common, that no sage condescends to occupy himself with it; nobody before us has ever suspected its famous origin. This book is composed of 77 layers or tables, even of 78, divided into five classes, each of which offer subjects as varied as they are amusing and instructive. This book is in a word the game of Tarots, the playing of which is admittedly unknown in Paris, but very well known in Italy, in Germany, even in Provence, and also by the bizarre figures which each one of its cards offers, as well as by their multitude.

Event though the regions where it is in use are so extensive, none is more advanced than the others in understanding the value of the strange figures than it presents: and such is the antiquity of its origins, buried in the darkness of time, that no one knows either where or when it was invented, nor the reason why it is made up of so many extraordinary figures, of which so little is known that they offer collectively a single enigma that nobody has ever sought to solve.

This game even appeared so unworthy of attention, that it never came under the consideration of the eyes of those of our savants who dealt with the origins of cards: they only spoke of French cards, which are in use in Paris, whose origin is not very old; and after having proven the modern invention of them, they believed they had exhausted the matter. It is in this way indeed that one constantly confuses the establishment in a country of a certain practice with its primitive invention: it is what we already showed with regard to the compass: the Greeks and the Romans themselves confused only too thoroughly these objects, which deprived us of a multitude of interesting origins.

But the form, the disposition, the arrangement of this game, and the figures which it presents, are so obviously allegorical, and these allegories are so in conformity with the civil, philosophical and religious doctrines of the ancient Egyptians, that one cannot avoid recognizing the work of these sagacious people: they only could be its inventors, who rivaled in this respect the Indians who created the game of chess.


  • We will show the allegories which the various cards of this game offer.
  • The numerical formulas according to which it was made up.
  • How it was transmitted down to us.
  • Its relationship with a Chinese monument.
  • How the Spanish cards were born from it.
  • And correspondences of these last with the French cards.

This exercise will be followed by an essay where it is established how this game may be applied to the art of the divination; it is the work of a General Officer, the Governor of a province, who honors us with his benevolence, and who found in this game with a very clever sagacity the Egyptian principles on the art of prognosticating by cards, principles which distinguished the earliest bands of Egyptians, incorrectly named Bohemians, who spread themselves throughout Europe; and there still remain some vestiges in our card decks, which lend themselves to divination infinitely less by their monotony and small number of their figures.

The Egyptian game, on the contrary, is suited admirably for this effect, encompassing in a way the whole universe, and all the various conditions of the life of man. Such was the wisdom of this singular people, that they imprinted on the least of their works the seal of immortality, so that others to some extent seem hardly able to walk in their footsteps.


Allegories presented by the cards of the game of Tarots.

If this game which always remained obscure to all those which knew of it, stood revealed to our eyes, it was not the effect of some deep meditation, nor of the desire to clear up its chaos: we did not spend an instant thinking about it. Invited as a guest a few years ago to meet with a lady of our acquaintance, Madam la C. d’H., who had arrived from Germany or Switzerland, we found her occupied playing this game with some other people. We played a game which you surely do not know. . . That may be; which is it?. . . the game of Tarots. . . I had occasion to see it when I was extremely young, but I did not have any knowledge of it. . . it is a rhapsody of the most bizarre figures, the most extravagant: and here is one, for example; one has care to choose a card filled with figures, bearing no relationship to its name, it is the World: I there cast my eyes, and at once I recognize the allegory: everyone leaves off their game and comes to see this marvelous card in which I apprehend what they have never perceived: each one asks me to expound another of the cards: in one quarter of an hour the cards were comprehended, explained, declared Egyptian: and since it was not the play of our imaginations, but the effect of the deliberate and significant connections of this game with all that is known of Egyptian ideas, we promised ourselves to share the knowledge some day with the public; persuaded that it would take pleasure in the discovery of a gift of this nature, an Egyptian book that had escaped barbarity, the devastations of time, fires accidental and deliberate, and the even greater disaster of ignorance.

A necessary consequence of the frivolous and light form of this book, which made it capable of triumphing over all the ages and of passing down to us with a rare fidelity: the ignorance which until now even we have been in concerning what it represented, was a happy safe conduct that allowed it to cross every century quietly without anyone thinking of doing it harm.

It is time to recover the allegories that it had been intended to preserve, and to show that to the wisest of all peoples, everything including games was founded on allegory, and that these wise savants converted into a recreation the most useful knowledge, and made of it just a game.

We said it, the game of Tarots is composed of 77 cards, even of a 78th, divided into atouts and four suits. So that our readers can follow us, we made engravings of the atouts; and the Ace of each suit, which we call after the Spaniards, Spadille, Baste, and Ponte.


The atouts number 22, and in general represent the temporal and spiritual leaders of society, the physical leaders of agriculture, the cardinal virtues, marriage, death and resurrection or creation; the various plays of fortune, the sage and the fool, time which consumes all, etc. One understands thus in advance that all these cards are as many allegorical pictures relating to the whole of life, and susceptible to an infinitude of combinations. We will examine them one by one, and will try to decipher the particular allegory or enigma that each one of them contains.

Number 0, Zero

The Fool.

Trump 0

One cannot fail to recognize the Fool in this card, with his crazed look, and his apparel furnished with shells and bells: he goes very quickly, as mad as he is, bearing behind him his small pack, and thinking to escape thereby from a tiger which bites him on the haunch: as for the pack, it is the emblem of his faults that he wishes not to see; and this tiger, those of his regrets which follow it eagerly, and which jump in to bite behind him.

This beautiful idea that Horace framed so well in golden words, would thus never have been invented by him, had it not escaped destruction with the Egyptians: it would have been a vulgar idea, a commonplace; but captured in the eternal truth of Nature, and presented with all the graces of which he was capable, this pleasant and wise poet seemed to have drawn it from his own deep judgement.

As for this atout, we number it zero, though it is placed it in the order of cards after the twenty-first, because it does not count when it is alone, and possesses only the value that it gives to the others, precisely like our zero: showing thus that nothing exists without its folly.

Number I

The Game of Cups, or the Juggler.

Trump 1

We start with number I and proceed to XXI, because the current practice is to start with the least number and continue on to the highest: it was however that of the Egyptians to began to count with the higher, continuing down to the lower. Thus they sang the octave while going down, and not while going up like us. In the essay which follows this one, the writer follows the practice of the Egyptians, and makes the best account of it. There are thus here two approaches: ours more convenient when one wants to consider these cards only in themselves: and that other, useful in better conceiving the whole set and their relationships.

The first of all atouts while counting up, or the last while counting down, is a player at cups; this is evident by his table covered with dice, goblets, knives, balls, etc., by his staff of Jacob or rod of the Magi, by the ball which he holds between two fingers and which he will cause to disappear.

It is called the Juggler in the titles of the cards: this is the vulgar name given to it by people of this condition: is it necessary to say that the name derives from baste, stick?

At the head of all the trumps, it indicates that all of life is only a dream that vanishes away: that it is like a perpetual game of chance or the shock of a thousand circumstances which are never dependent on us, and which inevitably exerts a great influence on any general administration.

But between the Fool and Juggler, man is not well.

Numbers II, III, IV, V

Leaders of Society.

Numbers II and III represent two women: numbers IV and V, their husbands: they are the temporal and spiritual leaders of society.

King and Queen.

Trump 4

Number IV represents the King, and III the Queen. They have both for symbols the eagle on a shield, and a scepter surmounted by a sphere crowned with a cross, called a Tau, the sign of excellence.

Trump 3

The King is seen in profile, the Queen facing. They are both seated on thrones. The Queen wears a long dress, the back of her throne is high: the King is in a chair shaped like a gondola or shell, his legs crossed. His semicircular crown is surmounted by a pearl with a cross. That of the Queen terminates in a peak. The King carries an order of knighthood.

High Priest and High Priestess.

Number V represents the leader of the hierophants or the High Priest: Number II the High Priestess or his wife: it is known that among Egyptians, the leaders of the priesthood were married. If these cards were of modern invention, one would not see one titled the High Priestess, much less still bearing the name of Papesse, as the German card makers ridiculously titled this one.

Trump 2

The High Priestess sits in an armchair: she wears a long dress with a type of veil behind her head which descends to cross over her breast: she has a double crown with two horns like that of Isis: she holds a book open on her knees; two scarves furnished with crosses cross on her abdomen and form an X there.

Trump 5

The High Priest wears a long habit with a great coat which serve as his vestments: on his head is the triple crown: one hand holds a scepter with a triple cross, and the other gives the blessing with two fingers extended toward two individuals at his knees.

Italian card makers or Germans who brought back this game to their buyers, made these two characters into what the ancients called the Father and Mother, like our names Abbot and Abbess, Oriental words meaning the same thing; they called them, I say, Pope and Popess.

As for the scepter with the triple cross, it is a symbol absolutely Egyptian: one sees it on the Table of Isis, under Letter TT; an invaluable monument which we have already caused to be engraved in all its details in order to present it some day to the public. It is related to the triple Phallus that may be observed in the famous Feast of Pamylies where one rejoices to have found Osiris, and where it represents the symbol of the regeneration of plants and all of Nature.

Number VII

Osiris Triumphant.

Trump 7

Osiris advances; he comes in the form of a king triumphing, his scepter in hand, his crown on his head: he is in the chariot of a warrior, drawn by two white horses. Nobody is unaware that Osiris was the primary god of the Egyptians, the same one as that of all the Sabaean people, or that he is the physical sun symbol of a supreme invisible divinity, but who appears in this masterpiece of Nature. He was lost during the winter: he reappeared in springtime with a new radiance, having triumphed over all against whom he made war.

Number VI

The Marriage.

Trump 6

A young man and a young woman pledge themselves their mutual faith: a priest blesses them, an expression of love on his features. Card makers call this card, the Lovers. They seem also to have added themselves the figure of Love with his bow and its arrows, to make this card more eloquent in their view.

One sees in the Antiquities of Boissard [T. III. Pl. XXXVI.], a monument of the same nature, representing the marital union; but it is made up only of three figures.

The lover and his mistress who give themselves their faith: the figure of Love between the two takes the place of the witness and the priest.

This image is entitled Fidei Simulacrum, Tableau of Marital Faith: the characters in it are designated by these beautiful names, Truth, Honor and Love. It is unnecessary to say that truth designates the woman here rather than the man, not only because this word is of female gender, but because constant fidelity is more essential in a woman. This invaluable monument was raised by one named T. Fundanius Eromenus or the Pleasant One, with his very dear wife Poppée Demetrie, and with their cherished daughter Manilia Eromenis.

Numbers VIII, XI, XII, XIV

Four Cardinal Virtues.

The Figures which we have joined together in this plate, relate to the four cardinal virtues.

Number XI.

Trump 11

This one represents Fortitude. It is a woman who is the mistress of a lion, and who opens its mouth with the same facility as she would open that of her small spaniel; she has on her head the cap of a shepherdess.

Number XIV.

Trump 14

Temperance [recte: XIV]. This shows a woman who pours the water of one vase into another, to temper the liquor which it contains.

Number VIII.

Trump 8

Justice. It is a queen, it is Astraea sitting on her throne, holding with one hand a dagger; with the other, a balance.

Number XII.

Trump 12

Prudence is numbered among the four cardinal virtues: could the Egyptians forget it in this painting of human life? However, one does not find it in this game. One sees in its place under number XII, between Fortitude and Temperance, a man hanging by the feet: but why is he hung like this? It is the work of a bad and presumptuous card maker who, not understanding the beauty of the allegory contained upon this card, took on himself to correct it, and thereby has entirely disfigured it.

Prudence can only be represented in a way sensible to the eyes by a man upright, who having one foot set, advances the other, and holds it suspended while looking for the place where he will be able to safely place it. The title of this card was thus the Man with A Raised Foot, or the Suspended Foot: the card maker, not knowing what this signified, made of it a man hung by the feet.

Then one asked, why a hanged man in this game? and another did not fail to say, it is a fit punishment for the inventor of the game, to have represented a female pope.

But placed between Fortitude, Temperance and the Justice, who does not see that it is Prudence that is lacking and that must have been originally represented?

Numbers IX

The Sage, or the Seeker of Truth and Justice.

Trump 9

Number IX represents a worthy philosopher in a long coat, a hood on his shoulders: he goes bent on his stick, bearing a lantern in his left hand. It is the Sage who seeks justice and virtue.

One thus imagines, based on this Egyptian painting, the story of Diogenes who with lantern in hand seeks a man in full midday. The witty remarks, know-all epigrams, are of any century: and Diogenes was the man who enacted this scene.

Card makers made of this a wise hermit. It is rather well conceived: philosophers live in voluntary retirement from those who are not cleansed from the frivolity of the times. Heraclitus passed for insane in the eyes of his dear Concitoyens: in the East, moreover, to deliver oneself to speculative or hermetic sciences, is almost the only option. The Egyptian hermits cannot approach in this respect those of the Indians, and in temples of Siam: they all were or are like as many Druids.

Number XIX


Trump 19

We joined together under this plate all the cards relating to the light: thus after the cloaked lantern of the Hermit, we will review the Sun, the Moon and brilliant Sirius or glittering Dog Star, all figures in this game, with various symbols.

The Sun is represented here like the physical father of man and of Nature entire: it illuminates men in society, it regulates their cities: of its rays are distilled gold tears and pearls: thus one marks out the happy influences of this star.

The game of Tarots is perfectly in conformity here with the doctrines of the Egyptians, as we shall examine in more detail in the following article.

Number XVIII

The Moon.

Trump 18

Thus the Moon which goes following the Sun is also accompanied by tears of gold and pearls, to also mark what it contributes in its part to the advantages of the ground.

Pausanias teaches us in his description of Phocide, that according to the Egyptians, it was the tears of Isis which flooded each year the waters of the Nile and which thus rendered fertile the fields of Egypt. The historians of that country also speak about a drop or tear, which falls from the Moon at the time when the water of the Nile must grow bigger.

At the bottom of this card, one sees a crayfish or Cancer, either to mark the retrograde functioning of the Moon, or to indicate that it is at the time when the Sun and the Moon leave the sign of Cancer at which the flood caused by their tears arrives, at the rising of the Dog Star that one sees in the following card.

It may even be that the two reasons are joined together: is it not very common to be persuaded by a crowd of consequences which form a mass one feels too embarrassed to disentangle?

The middle of the card is occupied by two towers, one on each side to indicate the two famous Pillars of Hercules, beyond which these two large luminaries never pass.

Between the two columns are two dogs which seem to bark against the Moon and to guard it: perfectly Egyptian ideas. These people, unique for their allegories, compared the Tropics with two palaces, each one guarded by a dog, which, similar to faithful gatekeepers, held back these stars in the middle region of the skies without allowing them to slip towards one or the other Pole.

These are not fantasies of commentators on customs. Clement, himself Egyptian, since he was of Alexandria, and who consequently knew what he was talking about, assures us in his Tapestries [or Stromates, Liv. V.] that the Egyptians represented the Tropics under the figure of two dogs, which, similar to gatekeepers or faithful guards, kept the Sun and the Moon from going to the Poles.

Number XVII

The Dog Star.

Trump 17

Here we have under our gaze a card not allegorical, and absolutely Egyptian; it is entitled the Star. One may see there, indeed, a brilliant star, about which are seven different smaller stars. The bottom of the card is occupied by a washer woman on a knee which holds two vases, from which run two streams. Near this woman is a butterfly on a flower.

It is purely Egyptian.

This Star, preeminently, is the Dog Star or Sirius: a star which rises when the Sun leaves the sign of Cancer, in which ends the preceding card, and which this Star immediately follows.

The seven stars that are around it, and seem like courtiers, are the planets: it is to some extent their queen, since it fixes in this moment the beginning of the year; they seem to come to receive its commands in order to regulate their courses on it.

The lady which is below, and extremely attentive at this moment to spread the water of her vases, is the Queen of Heaven, Isis, to the benevolence of whom were attributed the floods of the Nile, which start with the rising of the Dog Star; thus this rising was the signal of the inundation. The reason the Dog Star was consecrated to Isis, is that it was her perfect symbol.

And as the year began simultaneously with the rising of this star, one of its names is Soth-Is, opening of the year; and it is under this name that it was devoted to Isis.

Lastly, the flower and the butterfly which it supports, represent the symbols of regeneration and resurrection: they signify at the same time the blessing of the benefits of Isis, and the rising of the Dog Star, when the lands of Egypt, which were absolutely naked, cover themselves with new crops.

Number XIII


Trump 13

Number XIII represents Death: it mows down humans, the kings and the queens, the great ones and the small ones; nothing can resist its murderous scythe.

It is not astonishing that it is placed under this number; the number thirteen was always looked upon as unhappy. It is likely that long ago some great misfortune arrived on a similar day, and that it influenced the memories of all the ancient nations. Can it have been by a continuation of this memory that the thirteen Hebrew tribes were never counted other than as twelve?

Let us add that it is not astonishing either that the Egyptians chose to insert Death into a game, which serves to awaken that pleasant idea: this game was a game of war, the dead thus must enter there: thus it is a game of failures finished by a stalemate, or better put, by a checkmate, the death of the king. Besides, we had occasion to recall in the calendar, that in the feasts, this wise and considered people introduced there a skeleton under the name of Màneros, undoubtedly in order to urge the guests not to commit suicide by greediness. Each one has his manner of seeing, and tastes never should be disputed.

Number XV


Trump 15

Number XV represents a famous Egyptian character, Typhon, brother of Osiris and Isis, the bad principle, the great demon of hell: he has the wings of a bat, the feet and hands of harpy; on his head, the villainous horns of a stag: he is also ugly, as devilish as one could be. At his feet are two small imps with long ears, with large tails, their lowered hands behind their backs: they themselves are bound by a cord which passes to their necks, and which is attached to the pedestal of Typhon: he never releases those that are with him; he likes those that are his own.

Number XVI

The House of God, or Castle of Plutus.

Trump 16

Here, we have a lesson against avarice. This card represents a tower, which one calls the House of God, that is, the highest house; it is a tower filled with gold, it is the castle of Plutus: it collapses in ruins, and its adorers fall crushed under its remains.

With this card, one can understand the history of this Egyptian prince about which Herodotus speaks, and which he calls Rhampsinitus, who, having made a large tower of stone to contain his treasures, and of which he only had the key, noticed however that they were diminishing under his very gaze, without anyone passing in any manner through the only door which existed in this building. To discover such skilful robbers, this prince proceeded to set traps around the vases which held his riches. The robbers were two sons of the architect who served Rhampsinitus: he had rigged a stone in such a manner, that it was possible to remove it and enter to steal at will without fear of capture. He taught its secret to his children who made use of it marvelously as one sees. They robbed the prince, and then they left the tower at the bottom: thus they are represented here. It is in truth the most beautiful part of the History; one will find in Herodotus the remainder of this clever tale: how one of the two brothers was taken in the nets: how he urged his brother to cut his head off: how their mother demanded that her son bring back the body of his brother: how he went with goatskin bottles loaded on an ass to steal the corpse from the guards at the palace: how, after they had taken his goatskin bottles in spite of his cunning tears, and had fallen asleep, he shaved off from all of them the right side of their beards, and he removed the body of his brother: how the king extremely astonished, urged his daughter to compel each of her lovers to reveal to her the cleverest trick which they had ever done: how this devious youth went near the beautiful one, told her all that he had done: how the beautiful one having wanted to detain him, had seized only one false arm: how, to complete this great adventure, and to lead it to a happy end, this king promised in marriage this same daughter to the clever young man who had played him so well, as the person worthiest of her; which was carried out to the great satisfaction of all.

I do not know if Herodotus took this tale for a real history; but people able to invent similar romances or Milesian Fables, could very easily invent any game.

This tale brings back another fact which proves what we said in the history of the calendar, that statues of giants that appear in various festivals, almost always designate the seasons. It says that Rhampsinitus, the same prince of which we came to speak, caused to be raised in the north and the south of the temple of Vulcan two statues of twenty-five cubits, one titled Summer and the other Winter: they adored the one, and sacrificed, on the contrary, to the other: it is thus like the savages who recognize the good principle and admire it, but who sacrifice only to the bad.

Number X

The Wheel of Fortune.

Trump 10

The last number of this plate is the Wheel of Fortune. Here human caricatures, in the form of monkeys, of dogs, of rabbits, etc. rise turn-with-turn on this wheel to which they are attached: it is said that it is a satire against fortune, and those which it elevates quickly, it lets fall down with the same speed.

Number XX

Card badly named the Last Judgement.

Trump 20

This card represents an angel sounding a trumpet: one sees immediately rising from the ground an old man, a woman, a naked child. Card makers who forgot the significance of these cards, and more still their numbers, saw here the Last Judgement; and to make it more obvious, they put into it something resembling tombs. Removing these tombs, this card is also used to indicate the creation, arrived in time, at the beginning of time, which number XXI indicates.

Number XXI

Time, badly named the World.

Trump 21

This card, which card makers called the World, because they regarded it as the origin of all, represents Time. One cannot be mistaken with this number. In the center is the goddess of Time, with her veil which flies, and which serves her as a belt or peplum, as the ancients called it. She is in a posture to run like time, and in a circle which represents the revolutions of time; as well as the egg where all exists in time. At the four corners of the card are the symbols of the four seasons, which form the revolutions of the year, the same which make up the four heads of the Kerubim.

These emblems are, The Eagle, the Lion, the Ox, and the Young Man:

The Eagle represents spring, when the birds return.
The Lion, the summer or burning of the Sun.
The Ox, the autumn when one plows and when one sows.
The Young Man, the winter, when one meets in company.



In addition to the atouts, this game is composed of four suits distinguished by their symbols: they are called Sword, Cup, Baton and Coin. One can see the Aces of these four suits in Plate VIII.

A represents the Ace of Swords, surmounted by a crown which surrounds the palms.

C, the Ace of Cups: it has the appearance of a castle; it is how one made in former times large money cups.

D, the Ace of Batons; it is truly a bludgeon.

B, the Ace of Coins, surrounded by garlands.

Each one of these suits is made up of fourteen cards, that is, of ten cards numbered I to X, and of four illustrated cards, which one calls the King, the Queen, the Knight or Horseman, and his Page or Servant. These four suits relate to the four classes between which the Egyptians were divided. The Sword designates the sovereign and the military or nobility. The Cup, the clergy or priesthood. The Baton, or bludgeon of Hercules, agriculture. The Coin, trade of which money is the sign.

This game is based on the number seven.

This game is absolutely founded on the sacred number of seven. Each suit is of twice seven cards. Atouts are three time seven; the total number of the cards is seventy-seven; the Fool being like 0. However, nobody is unaware of the role that this number played among the Egyptians, and that it became in their nation a formula with which they reconciled the elements of all sciences.

The sinister idea attached in this game to the number thirteen, recollects also extremely well this same beginning.

This game can thus have been invented only by the Egyptians, that has as a base the number seven; that is related to the division of the inhabitants of Egypt into four classes; that has the majority of its atouts related absolutely to Egypt, such as the two heads of hierophants, man and woman, Isis or the Dog Star, Typhon, Osiris, the House of God, the World, the dogs which indicate the Tropics, etc; that this game, entirely allegorical, could only be the work of the Egyptians.

Invented by a man of genius, before or after the game of chess, and joining together utility with delight, it has passed down to us through all the centuries; it has endured the utter ruin of Egypt and of the wise men which distinguished that nation; and while one may have no idea of the wisdom of the lessons only they could teach, one nevertheless enjoys playing with what they have invented.

It is easy besides to trace the road which it followed to arrive in our regions. In the first centuries of the Church, the Egyptians were very widespread in Rome; they carried there their ceremonies and the worship of Isis; consequently the game in question.

This game, interesting by itself, was limited to Italy until relations between the Germans with the Italians made it known to this second nation; and until the counts from Italy living in Provence, during the stay in Avignon of all the Court from Rome, naturalized it in Provence and in Avignon.

That it did not come to Paris, should be attributed to the strangeness of its figures and the number of its cards, which were not likely to appeal to the vivacity of the ladies of France. Also one was obliged, as it will soon be seen, to excessively reduce this game in their favor.

However that same Egypt does not enjoy the fruit of its invention: reduced to the most deplorable servitude, and the most profound ignorance, deprived of all arts, its inhabitants are scarcely in a position to manufacture a card game.

If our French cards, infinitely less complicated, require the constant work of a multitude of hands and the mingling of several arts, how were these unfortunate people to preserve their own? Such are the evils which befall a subjugated nation, even to the loss of the objects of its amusements: not having been able to preserve its most invaluable advantages, of which right pretends it to what was only a pleasant recreation?

Eastern names preserved in this game.

This game preserved some names which also would declare it to be an Oriental game if one had no other evidence.

These names are those of Taro, Mat and Pagad.

1. Tarots.

The name of this game is pure Egyptian: it is composed of the word Tar, which means way, path; and of the word Ro, Ros, Rog, which means king, royal. It is, literally, the Royal Path of Life.

It indeed refers to the entire life of citizens, since it is formed of the various classes between which they are divided, and follows them from their birth to death, showing all the virtues and all physical and moral guides to which they must abide, such as the king, the queen, heads of religion, the Sun, the Moon, etc.

It teaches them at the same time by the Player at Cups and the Wheel of Fortune, that nothing is more inconstant in this world than various states of man: that his only refuge is in virtue, which never fails when needed.

2. Mat.

The Mat, which is vulgarly named the Fool, and which remains in its Italian form, come from the Eastern word mat, struck, bruised, cracked. Fools were always represented as having a cracked brain.

3. Pagad.

The Player at Cups is called Pagad in the modern version of the game. This name which resembles nothing in our Western languages, is pure Oriental and very well chosen: pag means in the East chief, master, lord: and gad, fortune. Indeed, it is represented as showing Fate with its rod of Jacob or its rod of the Magi.

Article III

The way in which one plays Tarots.

1st. Manner of dealing the cards.

One of our friends, Mr. A. R., agreed to explain to us the way in which one plays it: it is he who will speak, if we have understood well.

This game is played by two, but one deals the cards as if there were three players: each player thus has only one third of the cards: thus during the combat there is always a third of the troops which rest; one calls this the body in reserve.

For this game is a game of war, and not a peaceful game as it has incorrectly been described: however in all armies there is a body in reserve. Moreover, this reserve makes the game more difficult, since one has much more trouble guessing the cards which his adversary may have.

One deals the cards by five, or by five and five.

Of the 78 cards, there thus remain three at the end of the deal; instead of sharing them between the players and the reserve or discarding them, the dealer keeps them; what gives him the advantage of three cards.

2nd. The manner of counting points during play.

The atouts do not have all the same value.

Those numbered 21, 20, 19, 18 and 17 are termed the five large atouts.

Those numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are called the five small ones.

If there are three of the large or three of the small, five points are counted: ten points, if there are four of them; and fifteen, if there are five of them.

This is also an Egyptian manner of counting: the dinaire or denier of Pythagoras being equal to the quaternary, since one, two, three and four added together make ten.

If there are ten atouts in this game, they are spread out, and they are worth ten more points; if there are thirteen of them, one also spreads them out, and they are worth fifteen points, independently of the other combinations.

Seven cards bear the name of Tarots especially: they are the privileged cards; and here again, the number seven. These cards are:

  • The World or atout 21.
  • The Fool or Madman 0.
  • The Juggler or atout 1.
  • (Atouts-Tarots)
  • And the four Kings.

If there are two of these atouts-Tarots, one asks the other whether or not he has it. If the other cannot answer by showing the third, he who asked the question marks 5 points: the other marks 15 of them if he has all three of them. Sequences or the four court figures of the same suit are worth 5 points.

3rd. Manner of playing the Cards.

The Fool takes anything, but nothing takes it: it forms an atout, and it is of any suit also.

If one plays a King, but does not have the Queen, one plays the Fool, which is called the Excuse.

The Fool with two Kings, counts 5 points: with three, 15.

A King cut, or killed, 5 points for that which delivers the blow.

If one takes the Juggler from his adversary, one marks 5 points.

Thus the game is to take from one’s adversary the figures which count the most points, and to make all efforts to form sequences: the adversary must do all he can to save his great figures: in consequence of seeing it coming, by sacrificing petty atouts, or petty cards of his suits.

He must always be willing to sacrifice, in order to save his strong cards while cutting those of his adversary.

4th. Variation for the one who deals.

The one who deals can draw aside neither atouts nor Kings; it is too beautiful a game, since it is savage without danger. All that is permitted him in favor of his primacy, it is to draw aside a sequence: because it counts, and it forces the other to give it up, it is a double advantage.

5th. Manner of counting the hands.

The division is into a hundred, as with Piquet, with this difference, that it is not the one who arrives the first at a hundred when the counting is started who gains, but he who then makes the most points; because it is necessary that all counting started continue until the end: it offers thus more resources than Piquet.

To count the points which one has in his hands, each of the seven cards called Tarots, with a card of a suit, is worth 5 points.

A Queen with a card, 4.

A Knight with a Card, 3.

A Page with a card, 2.

Two simple number cards, 1.

The surplus of the points is counted that one of the adversaries has over the other, and he marks them down: one continues the evening of play until one arrives at hundred.

Article IV

The Game of Tarots regarded as a game of political geography.

Someone showed to us in a catalogue of Italian books, the title of a work where the geography is interlaced with the Tarots: but we could not obtain this book containing it lessons of geography engraved on each card of this game: this is an application of this game to geography: the field of conjecture is without end, and perhaps by multiplying the combinations, we may steal away some of the images from this work. Without us being hindered by what may actually be written there, let us conjecture ourselves how the Egyptians would have been able to apply this game to political geography, such as it was known of in their times, three thousand years ago.

Time or the World, represents the moment when the earth left chaos, where matter took a form, being divided into lands and into seas, and where man was created to become its master, the king of this beautiful property.

The four cardinal virtues correspond to the four coasts of the world, east, west, north and south, these four points relating to man, by whom he is in the center of all; that one can call his right, his left, his front and his back, and from where his awareness extends in rays until the end of all, according to the extent of his physical eyes firstly, and then of his intellectual eyes by a different perception.

The four suits will be the four areas or parts of the world corresponding to the four cardinal points, Asia, Africa, Europe and Celto-Scythia or the frozen countries of North: a division which was increased by America since its discovery, when the polar grounds of the North and the South were substituted for the ancient region of Celto-Scythia.

The Sword represents Asia, nations of great monarchies, great conquests, great revolutions.

The Baton, Egypt, nourisher of humanity, and symbol of the South, the black peoples.

The Cup, the North, from which humanity descended, and from which came teaching and science.

The Coin, Europe or the West, rich in gold mines in the beginnings of the world that we so badly term the olden times or ancient times.

Each ten numbered cards of these four suits, will be one of the great regions of these four areas of the world.

The ten cards of Swords will represent: Arabia; Idumée, which rules over the seas of the South; Palestine populated by Egyptians; Phoenicia, mistress of the Mediterranean; Syria or Aramée; Mesopotamia or Chaldea, Média, Susiane, Persia and the Indies.

The ten numbered cards of Batons will represent the three great divisions of Egypt, Thébaide or Upper Egypt, the Delta or Lower Egypt, Heptanome or Middle Egypt divided into seven governments. Then Ethiopia, Cyrénaique, or in its place the land of Jupiter Ammon, Lybia or Carthage, the peaceful Telamones, the vagrant Numides, Maures pressed on the Atlantic Ocean; Gétules, which is placed in the south by the atlas, and spreads over those vast regions which we call today Nigeria and Guinea.

The ten cards of Coins will represent the Isle of Crete, monarchy of the famous Minos, Greece and its Isles, Italy, Sicily and its volcanoes, the Balearic Islands famous for the dress of their troops of the line, Bétique rich in herds, Celtibérie abundant in gold mines: Gadix or Cadir, Isle most closely associated with Hercules, most commercial of the universe; Lusitanie and the Fortunate Isles, or the Canaries.

The ten cards of Cups, Armenia and its Mount Ararat, Iberia, Scythes of Imaüs, Scythes of the Caucasus, Cimmerians of Palus-Méotides, Getes or Goths, the Daces, Hyperboreans so celebrated in high antiquity, the Celts wandering in their frozen forests, the Isle de Thulé at the ends of the world.

The four illustrated cards of each suit will stand for certain geographical details relative to each area.

The Kings, the state of the governments of each one, forces of the empires which compose them, and how they are more or less considerable according to whether agriculture is of use and in honor; this source of inexhaustible riches always reappearing.

The Queens, the development of their religions, their manners, their customs, especially of their opinions, opinion having always been regarded as Queen of the World. Happy he who is able to direct it; he will always be king of the universe, master of the same; he is an eloquent Hercules who leads men with a golden bridle.

The Knights, the exploits of the people, the history of their heroes or warriors; of their tournaments, of their games, their battles.

The Pages, the history of arts, their origin, their nature; all that looks at the industrious portion of each nation, that which produces machines, manufacturers, commerce which varies in one hundred ways the form of wealth without adding anything to the base, which causes to circulate in the universe these riches and the products of industry; which puts them at the use of farmers to create new riches while providing an efficient outlet for those to which they have already given birth, and how all are strangled as soon as this circulation does not play freely, since the goods are hoarded, and those who provide them discouraged.

The whole of the 21 or 22 atouts, the 22 letters of the Egyptian alphabet common to the Hebrews and to the East, and which were also used as numbers, are necessary to keep an account of so many regions.

Each one of these atouts will have had at the same time a particular use. Several will have related to the principal objects of celestial geography, if one can use such an expression. Hence:

The Sun, the Moon, Cancer, the Pillars of Hercules, the Tropics or their Dogs.

The Dog Star, this beautiful and brilliant portal of the heavens.

The Celestial Bear, on which all the stars lean by carrying out their revolutions around it, admirable constellation represented by the seven Tarots, and which seems to publish in characters of fire imprinted on our heads and in the firmament, that our solar system was founded like our sciences on the formula of seven, as was even the entire structure of the universe.

All the others can be considered relative to the political and moral geography, the true government of the states: and even with the government of each man in particular. The four atouts relating to civil and religious authority, make known the importance for a state of a united government, and of respect for the ancients.

The four cardinal virtues show that the social classes can be supported only by the kindness of government, by the excellence of instruction, by the practice of the virtues in those who control and who are controlled: Prudence to correct abuses, Fortitude to maintain peace and union, Temperance in the means, Justice towards all. How ignorance, pride, greed, stupidity in the one, generates in others a disastrous contempt: from which disorders result which shake even to their foundations the empires where justice is violated, where force is the only means, where one misuses his power, and where one lives without security. Disorders which destroyed so many families whose names had resounded so long a time across all the earth, and who ruled with such an amount of glory on the astonished nations.

These virtues are no less necessary to each individual. Temperance regulates one’s duties towards himself, especially towards his own body which he treats too often only like an unhappy slave, martyr of his disordered affections.

Justice which regulates one’s duties towards those nearest and the Divinity itself to which he owes all.

Fortitude with which he is supported in the midst of the ruins of the universe, in spite of the vain and foolish efforts of passions which unceasingly besiege him with their impetuous floods.

Lastly, Prudence with which he patiently awaits the success of his plans, equal to any event and similar to a fine player who never risks his game and can benefit from all circumstances.

The triumphing King then becomes the emblem of that man who by means of these virtues was wise towards himself, right towards others, extreme against passions, foresighted enough to pile up resources against the times of adversity.

Time who uses all with an inconceivable speed, Fortune who is played of all; the Juggler who conjures away all, the Fool who is of all, the Miser who loses all; the Devil who is inside all: Death who absorbs all, seven singular numbers who are of all countries, can give place to observations not less significant and not less varied.

Lastly, he who has very much to gain and nothing to lose, the true King triumphing, is the true Sage who lantern in hand is unceasingly careful where he steps, does not adopt any school, knows all that is good to enjoy, and recognizes all that is evil and to be avoided.

Such is sufficient concerning the geographical-political-moral explanation of this antique game: and such must be the end of all mankind, which would be happy, if all its games ended thus!

Article V.

Relationship of this game with a Chinese monument.

Mr. Bertin who returned so great a benefit to literature and the sciences, by the excellent Memoirs that he wrote and published concerning China, told us about a unique monument which was sent to him from this vast region, and which we assume dates from the first ages of this empire, since the Chinese on it looks like an inscription by Yao relating to the receding waters of the Flood.

It is composed of characters which form large compartments in quarter-length, all equal, and precisely the same size as the cards of the game of Tarots. These compartments are distributed in six perpendicular columns, of which the first five contain fourteen compartments each, while the sixth which is not completely filled contains only seven of them.

This monument is thus composed in this way of seventy-seven figures like the set of Tarots: and it is formed according to the same combination of the number seven, since each column is of fourteen figures, and the one which is not is that with half, containing seven of them.

Without that, one would have been able to arrange these seventy-seven compartments in a manner so as to make unnecessary this sixth column: one would have had only to make each column of thirteen compartments; and the sixth would have had twelve.

This Monument is thus perfectly similar, numerically, with the set of Tarots, if one withholds from them only one card: the four suits filling the first four columns with fourteen cards each: and the atouts that number twenty-one, filling the fifth column, and precisely half of the sixth.

It seems quite strange that so similar a relationship was the result of simple chance: it is thus very apparent that both of these monuments were formed according to the same theory, and on the connection with the sacred number seven; they both seem thus to be only different applications of a single formula, perhaps anterior to the existence of the Chinese and the Egyptians: perhaps one will even find something similar among the Indians or the people of Tibet who are located between these two ancient nations.

We were extremely tempted to also make an engraving of this Chinese monument; but feared it would appear badly when reduced to a size smaller than the original, and also the impossibility, given the means available to us to do all that was required for the perfecting of our work, prevented us.

Let us not omit that the Chinese figures are in white on a jet black background; what makes them very prominent.

Article VI.

Relationship of this game with squares or tournaments.

During a great number of centuries, the nobility mounted on horseback, and divided into colors or factions, exercised between them pretended combats or tournaments perfectly similar to that carried out in the games of cards, and especially in that of the Tarots, which was a military game just as that of chess, up until the time that it came to be considered a civil game, an aspect it has taken on presently.

In the beginning, the knights of the tournaments were divided into four, even into five bands relating to the four suits of the Tarots and with the set of atouts. The last entertainment of this kind which was seen in France, was given in 1662 by Louis XIV, between Tileries and the Louvre, in that great place where is preserved the name Carousel. It was composed of five squares. The King was the leader of the Romans: his brother, head of the House of Orleans, with the leader of the Persians: the Prince of Condé commanded the Turks: the Duke of Enguien his son, the Indians: the Duke de Guise, the Americans. Three queens were seated there on a platform: the Queen Mother, the reigning Queen, the widowed Queen of England of Charles II. The Count de Sault, son of the Duke of Lesdiguieres, placed the prizes for the matches into the hands of the Queen Mother.

The squares were usually made up of 8 or 12 knights for each color: which, to 4 colors by 8 squares, gives the number 32, which forms that of the cards for the game of Piquet: and to 5 colors, the number 40 which is that of the cards for the game of Quadrille.

Article VII

Spanish card decks.

When one examines the card decks in use among Spaniards, one cannot avoid noticing that they are a diminutive form of the Tarots.

Their most distinctive games are that of Hombre which is played by three: and Quadrille which is played by four and which is only a modification of the game of Hombre.

This name signifies the game of man, or human life; it thus has a name which corresponds perfectly to that name Tarot. It is divided into four suits which bear the same titles as in the Tarots, such as Spadille or Swords, Baste or Batons, which are the two black suits; Copa or Cups, and Dinero or Coins, which are both red suits.

Several of these names were carried into France with this game: thus the Ace of Spades is called Spadille or Swords; the Ace of Clubs, Baste, that is, Batons. The Ace of Hearts is named Ponte, from the Spanish punto, having a point.

Those atouts, which are the strongest, are called Matadors, or the Slaughtermen, the triumphant who destroyed their enemies.

This game is entirely formed on the tournaments; the proof is striking, since the suits collectively are called Palos or Pales, the lances, the pikes of the knights.

The cards themselves are called Naypes, from the Oriental word nap, which means to take, to hold: literally, the Keepers.

There are thus four or five squares of knights who fight in tournaments.

They are forty, called Naypes or Keepers.

Four suits called Palos or rows of pikes.

The trumps are called Matadors or Slaughtermen, those who came in the end to demolish their enemies.

Finally the names of the four suits, that even of the game, show that it was formed entirety on the game of Tarots; that the Spanish cards are only an imitation in miniature of the Egyptian game.

>Article VIII

French cards.

According to this information, no one will have difficulty perceiving that the French cards are themselves an imitation of the Spanish cards, and that they are thus the imitation of an imitation, and in consequence a well degenerated institution, far from being an original invention and first, as is incorrectly expressed in remarks our savants, who do not focus on points of comparison, but only seek to discover the causes and relationships of all.

It is usually supposed that the French cards were invented during the reign of Charles VI, in order to amuse this feeble and infirm prince: but what we believe ourselves is right to assert, is that they were not an imitation of the southernmost games.

Perhaps we may even be right to suppose that the French cards are older than Charles VI, since it is attributed in the dictionary of Ducange [With the word charta] to St. Bernard of Sienne, contemporary of Charles V, to have condemned to fire, not only masks and the game of dice, but even the triumphal cards, or of the game called Triumph.

One finds in this same Ducange the criminal statutes of a City called Saona, which defend the legality of card games.

It is necessary that these statutes are very old, since in this work one could not indicate the time of it: this city must be that of Savone.

No doubt it happens that these games are much older than St. Bernard of Sienne: why else would he confuse dice and masks with a game lately invented to amuse a great king?

Besides, our French cards present no vision, no ingenuity, no cohesion. If they were invented according to the tournament, why was the Knight removed, while his Page was retained? why allow at the time only thirteen cards instead of fourteen per suit?

The names of the suits have degenerated at this point and offer no consistency. If one can recognize the Swords in the Spades, how did the Batons become the Clubs? how do the Hearts and the Diamonds correspond with Cups and Coins; and what ideas are revealed by these suits?

Whose idea was it to introduce the names given to the four Kings? David, Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, do not correspond either to four famous monarchs of antiquity, nor with those of modern times. They are a monstrous composition.

It is the same for the names of the Queens: they are called Rachael, Judith, Pallas and Argine: it is true that one believed that they were allegorical names relating to the four ways in which a lady attracts to herself the attentions of men: that Rachael indicates beauty, Judith strength, Pallas wisdom, and Argine, where one only sees the anagram Regina, queen, birth.

But what relationships have these names with Charles VI or with France? What are these forced allegories?

It is true that among the names of Pages one finds that of Hire, which may refer to one of the French Generals of Charles VI; but is this solitary correspondence sufficient to scramble all the periods of history?

We were here when one spoke to us about a work of the Abbot Rive, which discusses the same subject: afterwards having sought it in vain at the greater number of our booksellers, M. de S. Paterne lent it to us.

This work is entitled:

Historical and critical notes of two Manuscripts of the Library of the Duke of Valliere, of which one has for its title Le Roman d’Artus, Comte de Bretaigne, and the other, Le Romant de Pertenay or de Lusignen, by M. l’Abbe Rive, etc. at Paris, 1779, in 4o. 36 pages.

On page 7, where the author starts to discuss the origin of the French cards; we saw with pleasure that it supports, (1) that these cards are older than Charles VI; (2) that they are an imitation of Spanish cards: now let us give a brief summary of his evidence.

“Cards,” he states, “date from at least the year 1330; and it is neither in France, nor in Italy, nor in Germany that they appeared for the first time. One sees them in Spain around this year, and it is a long time before one finds the least trace in any other nation.

“They were invented there, according to the Castillan Dictionary of 1734, by one named Nicolao Pepin. . .

“One finds them in Italy towards the end of this same century, under the name of Naibi, in the Chronicle of Giovan Morelli, which is of the year 1393.”

From this learned abbot we discover at the same time that the first Spanish work which attests the existence of cards is from approximately the year 1332.

“They are the Statutes of an order of knighthood established around this period in Spain, and founded by Alphonse XI, King de Castille. Those who were admitted swore an oath not to play cards.

“One then sees them in France under the reign of Charles V. Little Jean de Saintré was not honored with the favors of Charles V because he played neither with dice nor with cards, and this king proscribed them along with several others games, in his Edict of 1369. One sees them in various provinces of France; one gave to some of the figures on the cards names made to inspire horror. In Provence, one of the Knaves is named the Tuchim. The name signifies a race of robbers who, in 1361, caused in this country and that of Venaissin, a devastation so horrible, that the popes were obliged to preach a crusade to exterminate them. Cards were not introduced into the Court of France because under the successor of Charles V one feared even by their introduction, to wound the standard of morality, and consequently a pretext was conceived: it was said to be done to calm the melancholy of Charles VI. Under Charles VII the game of Piquet was invented. This game was the reason that cards spread, from France, into several other parts of Europe.”

These details are very interesting; their consequences are still more so. These cards that were condemned in the XIVth century, and proscribed by the orders of knighthood, are necessarily very old: they have been regarded as only shameful remainders of paganism: they thus must have been the cards of the Tarot; their strange figures, their odd names, such as House of God, the Devil, Popess, etc., their high antiquity which is lost in the night of time, their use in fortune telling, etc. all serve to make them look like a diabolic recreation, a work of the blackest magic, of a sorcery condemnable.

However the agony of not gaming! Thus were invented more human games, more purified, free from figures that were only good to frighten: the result, Spanish cards and French cards which were never prohibited like these bad cards that came out of Egypt, but which however lent themselves perfectly to these clever games.

Especially the game of Piquet, where two opponents play, where one draws aside, where one has sequences, where one goes in a hundred: where one counts the cards in hand, and the pickups, and where one finds a number of other correspondences too striking.


We thus dare to flatter ourselves that our readers will receive with pleasure these various opinions on so common a subject as cards, and that they will find them to perfectly rectify the vague and poorly reconciled ideas that have been available until now on this subject:

  • That no one can bring forth proof in support of these proposals.
  • That the cards have existed only since Charles VI.
  • That the Italians are the last people which adopted them.
  • That the figures of the game of Tarots are extravagant.
  • That it is ridiculous to seek the origin of the cards in the various states of civil life.
  • That this game of cards is patterned on peaceful life, while that of chess is patterned on war.
  • That the game of chess is older than that of cards.

Thus the absence of truth, in some manner or other, generates a crowd of errors of all kinds, which becomes more or less harmful, according to whether they unite with other truths, contrast with them or oppose them.

Application of this game to divination.

To finish this examination and these considerations on the Egyptian game, we will put under the eyes of the public the essay that we announced above, where it is proven how the Egyptians applied this game to the art of divination, and how this same use was transmitted down to our gaming cards, made in imitation of these former.

One will see there in particular what we already said in this volume, wherein is explained the relationship between the prophetic dreams in ancient times with the hieroglyphic and philosophical science of the sages, who sought to reduce by their science into a set of images the visions which the Divinity permitted them to receive; and that all this science declined over the course of time, but was wisely preserved, because it was reduced to vain and futile practices, which in the not very enlightened centuries that followed have managed to survive as the preoccupation of fools and the superstitious.

This judicious observer will provide us new evidence that the Spanish cards are an imitation of Egypt, since he teaches us that it is only with the game of Piquet that the fates are consulted, and that several names of these cards relate absolutely to Egyptian ideas.

  • The Three of Coins is called the Lord, or Osiris.
  • The three of Cups, the Sovereigness, or Isis.
  • The two of Cups, the Cow, or Apis.
  • The Nine of Coins, Mercury.
  • The Ace of Batons, the Snake, symbol of agriculture among Egyptians.
  • The Ace of Coins, the One-eyed, or Apollo.

This name of One-eyed, given to Apollo or the Sun as having only one eye, is an epithet taken from Nature that provides us a proof, along with several others, that the famous character of the Edda who lost one of his eyes in a famous allegorical fountain, is no other than the Sun, the One-eyed One or the preeminent single Eye.

This essay is so filled besides with matter, and so apt to give healthy ideas on the way in which the sages of Egypt consulted the book of destiny, that we do not doubt it will be well received by the public, until now deprived of similar research, because until now nobody has had the courage to deal with subjects which appeared lost forever in the deep night of time.


and on the Divination by the Cards of the Tarots,

by M. Le C. de M.***

I The Book of Thoth.

The desire to teach developed in the heart of man as his spirit acquired new knowledge: the need to preserve it, and eagerness to transmit it, made him imagine characters of which Thoth or Mercury was looked upon as the inventor. These characters were not, in the beginning, conventional signs, and did not express, like our current letters, the sound of the words; they were the same true images that make up the pictures on the cards, which presented to the eyes the things about which one wanted to speak.

It is natural that the inventor of these images was the first historian: indeed, Thoth is regarded as having painted the gods [the gods, in the writing and the hieroglyphic expression, are the eternal and the virtues, represented with one body], that is to say, acts of absolute power, or creation, to which he joined precepts or morals. This book was to be named A-Rosh; from A, doctrines, science; and from Rosch [Rosh is the Egyptian name of Mercury and of its festival which is celebrated the first day of the new year], Mercury, which, joined to the article T, means pictures of the doctrines of Mercury; but as Rosh also means commencement, this word Ta-Rosh was particularly devoted to his cosmogony; just as Ethotia, the History of Time, was the title of his astronomy; and perhaps that Athothes, which one took for King, son of Thoth, is only the child of his genius, and the History of the kings of Egypt.

This ancient cosmogony, this book of Ta-Rosh, except for some minor corruptions, has come down to us in the cards which still bear this name [twenty-two pictures form a book not very bulky; but if, as is quite probable, the first traditions were preserved in poems, a simple image which fixed the attention of the people, by which one illustrated the event, served to help them to retain them, as well as the verse which described them.], that is to say, greed has preserved for an idle amusement, or superstition has preserved from the injury of time, mysterious symbols which serve them, as formerly they served the Magi, to mislead credulity.

The Arabs communicated this book [We still name Livret aus Lansquenet, or Lands-Knecht, the series of cards that one gives with the deal.] or game to the Spaniards, and the soldiers of Charles V carried it into Germany. It is composed of three higher series, representing the first three ages, of gold, silver and bronze: each series is made up of seven cards [Three times seven, a mystical, famous number for Kabbalists, Pythagoreans, etc.].

But like the Egyptian writing which reads to the left or the right, the twenty-first card, which was not numbered with an Arabic numeral, is nonetheless also the first, and must be read in the same way in order to understand the history; as it is the first in the game of Tarots, and in the species of divination that one performs with these images.

Lastly, there is a twenty-second card without number as without power, but which increases the value of that which it precedes; it is the zero of magic calculations: it is called the Fool.

First Series.

Age of Gold.

The twenty-first, or first card, represents the Universe by the goddess Isis in an oval, or an egg, with the four seasons in the four corners: the Man or the Angel, the Eagle, the Ox, and the Lion.

Twentieth, this one is titled the Judgement: indeed, an angel sounding a trumpet, and the men leaving the ground, had to induce a painter, not very well versed in mythology, to see in this picture only the image of the Resurrection; but the ancients looked upon the men as children of the Earth [The teeth sown by Cadmus, etc.]; Thoth wanted to express the Creation of Man by painting Osiris, a generating god, with the speaking pipe or verb which orders matter, and by tongues of fire which escape from the cloud, the Spirit [Painted even in our sacred histories.] of God reviving this same matter; finally, by men leaving the ground in order to adore and admire the Absolute Power: the posture of these men does not announce culprits who go to appear in front of their Judge.

Nineteenth, the creation of the Sun which brightens the union of man and woman, expressed by a man and a woman who give to each other their hands: this sign became, after that of Gemini, androgynous: Duo in carne una.

Eighteenth, the creation of the Moon and the terrestrial animals, expressed by a wolf and a dog, to stand for domestic animals and wild: this emblem is well chosen, in as much as the dog and the wolf are the only beasts which howl at the appearance of this star, as though regretting the loss of the day. This card makes me believe that its picture once announced very great misfortunes to those who chose to consult the Fates, since it depicts the line of the Tropic, that is to say, of the departure and the return of the Sun, which leaves the comforting hope of a beautiful day and of a better fortune. Also, two fortresses which defend a path traced in blood, and a marsh which terminates the image, inevitably suggest difficulties without number that must be surmounted in order to banish so sinister a presage.

Seventeenth, the Creation of Stars and Fishes, represented by stars and Aquarius.

Sixteenth, the House of God overthrown, or the terrestrial Paradise from which man and woman are precipitated by the blazing tail of a comet or star, joined with a fall of hailstones.

Fifteenth, the Devil or Typhon, final card of the first series, come to disturb the innocence of man and to abolish the golden age. His tail, his horns and his long ears announce that he is a degraded being: his raised left arm and folded wing, forming N, symbol of produced beings, makes us think it signifies having been created; but the torch of Prometheus which he holds with his right hand, serves to complete the letter M, which expresses generation: indeed, the history of Typhon naturally persuades us to this explanation; because it shows that, by depriving Osiris of his virility, that Typhon desired to encroach on the rights of the producing Power; also he was the father of evils which were spread on the ground.

The two beings bound at his feet mark degraded and subjected human nature, as well as a new and perverse generation, whose hooked nails express cruelty; they miss only the wings (spiritual or angelic nature), to be very similar to the devil: one of these beings touches with its claw the thigh of Typhon; a symbol which in mythological writing was always that of carnal generation [the birth of Bacchus and of Minerva are the mythological images of two such generations.]: he touches it with his left claw to signify illegitimacy.

Typhon finally is often taken for the Winter, and this picture finishing the golden age announces the bad weather of the seasons, which will torment the man driven out of the Paradise thereafter.

Second Series.

Age of Silver.

Fourteenth, the Angel of Temperance comes to inform man, to make him avoid the death to which he is lately condemned: it is painted pouring water into wine [Perhaps its attitude is marked with the culture of the vine.], to show man the need for diluting this liquor, or for moderating his emotions.

Thirteenth; this number, always unhappy, is devoted to Death, who is represented mowing crowned heads and vulgar heads.

Twelfth, the accidents which afflict human life, represented by a man hanged by the foot; which wants also to say that, to avoid them, it is necessary in this world to go with prudence: Suspenso pede.

Eleventh, the Strength that is assisted by Prudence, and overcomes the lion, which was always the symbol of the ground uncultivated and wild.

Tenth, the Wheel of Fortune, at the top of which is a crowned monkey, teaches us that after the fall of man, it was no longer virtue which gave dignities: the rabbit that goes up and the man who is precipitated, express the injustices of the inconstant goddess: this wheel at the same time is an emblem of the wheel of Pythagoras, a way of drawing lots by numbers: this form of divination is called arithomancy.

Ninth, the Hermit or the Sage, lantern in hand, seeking justice on the earth.

Eighth, Justice.

Third Series.

Age of Iron.

Seventh, the Chariot of War in which is an armored king, armed with a javelin, expresses the dissensions, the murders, the combats of the age of bronze, and announces the crimes of the age of iron.

Sixth, the man depicted wavering between vice and virtue, is not led any more by reason: Love or Desire [concupiscence], with bandaged eyes, ready to release a dart, will make him lean to the right or to the left, whichever way he is guided by chance.

Fifth, Jupiter or the Eternal together with his eagle, lightning in hand, threatens the earth, and will visit it kings with his anger.

Fourth, the king armed with a bludgeon, which ignorance thereafter made an imperial globe [Osiris is often represented with a whip in his hand, with a sphere and a T: all these things united, have produced in the head of a German card maker an imperial globe]: his helmet is furnished behind with saw-like teeth, to make known that nothing serves to appease his insatiability [Or his revenge, if it has irritated Osiris.].

Third, the Queen, bludgeon in hand; her crown has the same ornaments as the helmet of the King.

Second, the pride of power, represented by the peacock, on which Junon pointing to the sky on the right side, and to the earth of the left, announces a terrestrial religion or idolatry.

First, the Juggler holding the rod of the Magi, making miracles and misleading the credulity of the people.

It is followed by a single card representing the Fool who carries his bag or his errors behind him, while a tiger or his regrets, devouring his haunch, delays his march towards crime [This card does not have a row: it completes the sacred alphabet, and answers to the Tau which expresses completion, perfection: perhaps it was intended to represent by this image the natural result of the actions of men.].

These twenty-two first cards are not only hieroglyphics, which when placed in their natural order recall the history of the earliest times, but they are also as many letters [the Hebrew alphabet is composed of 22 letters.] which when differently combined, can form as many sentences; also their name (A-tout) is only a literal translation of their general employment and property.


This game applied to divination.

When the Egyptians had forgotten the first interpretation of these images, and that they had been used as simple letters for their sacred writing, it was natural that such a superstitious people attached occult virtues to the characters, respected for their antiquity [Also the science of numbers and the value of letters was extremely renowned formerly.], and that the priests, who possessed the only knowledge of them, employed them solely for religious matters.

New characters were even invented, and we see in the holy writings that the Magi along with those who were initiated into their Mysteries, used a divination by cup [Cup of Joseph.].

That they worked wonders with their wand [The rod of Moses and of the magicians of Pharaoh.].

That they consulted talismans [The gods of Laban and the teraphim, Urim and Thummim.] or engraved stones.

That they divined future things by swords [They did more: they fixed the fate of battles; and if King Joas had struck the ground seven times, instead of three, it would have destroy Syria, II Kings, XIII, 19], by arrows, by axes, finally by weapons in general. These four signs were introduced among the religious images when the establishment of kings had brought different social classes into society.

The Sword marked royalty and power of the earth.

The priests made use of vessels for the sacrifices, and the Cup designated sacred.

The Coin, commerce.

The Baton, the Hoe, the Needle represent agriculture.

These four already mysterious characters, once joined together in the sacred pictures, gave hope of greater illuminations; and the fortuitous combination that one obtains by mixing these images forms the sentences that the Magi read or interpreted like statements of Destiny; which was to them all the easier since what is revealed by a pattern due to chance, naturally produces an obscurity sacred to the style of oracles.

Each social class thus had its symbol which characterized it; and among the different cards bearing this symbol, some were happy, others unhappy, and according to their position, the number of the symbols and their ornaments, they each served to announce happiness or misfortune.


Names of various cards, preserved by the Spaniards.

The names of several of these cards preserved by the Spaniards, we think very appropriate. These names are seven.

The Three of Coins, a mysterious number, called the Lord, the Master, devoted to supreme God, with Great Jove.

Three of Cups, called the Lady, devoted to the Queen of Heaven.

The One-eyed or the Ace of Coins, Phoebeoe lampadis instar., devoted to Apollo.

The Cow or Two of Cups, devoted to Apis or Isis.

The Grand Nine, the Nine of Cups; devoted to Destiny.

The Little Nine of Coins, devoted to Mercury.

The Serpent or the Ace of Batons (Ophion) a famous and sacred symbol among the Egyptians.


Mythological attributes of several others.

Several other pictures are accompanied by mythological attributes which were intended to impart to them a particular and secret virtue.

Such as the Two of Coins surrounded by the mystical Belt of Isis.

The Four of Coins, devoted to good Fortune, painted in the midst of the card, on the ball of her foot and her veil deployed.

The Queen of Batons devoted to Ceres; this Lady is crowned with spikes, and carries the skin of a lion in the same way as Hercules, the quintessential farmer.

The Page of Cups carrying his hat in his hand, and respectfully bearing a mysterious cup, covered with a veil; he seems by extending his arm, to push away from himself this cup, to teach us that one has to approach sacred things with fear, and not to seek to know those things which are hidden by discretion.

The Ace of Swords devoted to Mars. The sword is decorated with a crown, a palm and a branch of the olive tree with its bays, to signify victory and its fruits: it is not possible to have a happier card in this suit than this one. It is single, because there is only one way of making war well; that is to prevail in order to achieve peace. This sword is supported by a left arm extended from a cloud.

The card of Batons of the Serpent, about which we spoke above, is decorated with flowers and fruits just as is that of the victorious Sword; this mysterious wand is supported by a right arm extending from a cloud, but bright with rays. These two images seem to say that agriculture and the sword are the two arms of empire and the support of society.

The Cups in general announce happiness, and the Coins wealth.

The Batons are devoted to agriculture and prognosticate more or less abundant harvests, the things which are seen in the countryside or which pertain to it.

They stand for a mixture of good and evil: the four court figures have a green wand, similar to the wand of Fortune, but the other cards express, by compensating symbols, an indication neither good or bad: two only, whose wands are the color of blood, seems devoted to misfortune.

All the Swords predict only misfortunes, especially those marked with an odd number, that carry still a bloody sword. The only sign of victory, the crowned sword, is in this suit the one sign of a happy event.


Comparison between these attributes and the values that one assigns to the modern cards for divination.

Our fortune tellers, not knowing how to read hieroglyphics, withdrew all the trumps from them and changed the names of Cups, Batons, Coins and Swords, of which they knew neither the etymology, nor the expression; they substituted those of Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades.

But they retained certain turnings and several expressions the use of which lets us perceive the origin of their divination. According to them,

  • The Hearts, (Cups), announce happiness.
  • The Clubs, (Coins), fortune.
  • Spades, (Swords), misfortune.
  • Diamonds, (Batons), indifference and the countryside [It is to be noticed that in their symbolic writing system the Egyptians employed squares to express the countryside.].

The Nine of Spades is a disastrous card.

That of Hearts, the card of the Sun; it is easy to recognize the Greater Nine, that of the Cups: just as it is the Lesser Nine in the Nine of Clubs, which they also regard as a happy card.

The Aces announce letters, news: indeed who is more capable to bring news than the One-eyed, (Sun) which traverses, sees and lights all the universe?

The Ace of Spades and the Eight of Hearts predict victory; the Ace Crowned prognosticates in the same way, and all the more happily when it is accompanied by the Cups or the fortunate signs.

The Hearts and more particularly the Ten, reveal the news that must arrive at the city. Cup, symbol of the priesthood, seems intended to express Memphis and the stay of the Pontiffs.

The Ace of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds announce a happy and faithful tenderness. The Ace of Cups expresses a single happiness, that one possesses alone; the Queen of Diamonds indicates a woman who lives in the countryside, or partly in the countryside: and in which places can one aspire to more truth, of innocence, than in the villages?

The Nine of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts, mark jealousy. However, the Nine of Coins is a fortunate card, a great passion, even happiness; for a lady living in the great world, does not always leave her lover without concern, etc. etc. One finds an infinity of similar things into which it is futile to search, and here already are too many.


Way in which one proceeds to consult the Fates.

Now let us suppose that two men who want to consult the Fates, have, one the twenty-two letter cards, the other the four suits, and that after having shuffled the cards, and each having cut the cards of the other, they start to count together up to the number fourteen, holding the trumps and the lesser cards in their hands face down so that only their backs are visible; then if a suit card turns up in its natural place, that is, which bears the number named, it must be put aside with the number of the accompanying letter card at the same time, which will be placed above: the one who holds the trumps places this same letter there, so that the book of Destiny is always in its entirety, and there is, in no case, an incomplete sentence; then the cards are mixed again and again receive a cut. Finally the cards are run through to the end a third time with the same attentions; and when this operation is completed, it is a question of reading the numbers which express the accompanying letters. Whatever happiness or misfortune is predicted by each one of them, must be combined with what the card announces that corresponds to them, in the same way that their greater or lesser power is determined by the number of this same card, multiplied by that which characterizes the letter. And for this reason the Fool which does not produce anything, is without number; it is, as we have said, the zero of this calculation.


It made up a great portion of ancient wisdom.

But if the sages of Egypt made use of sacred pictures to predict the future, at the same time they spared no indication which could apprise them of future events, with the hope of encouraging their understanding when their search was preceded by dreams which served to help to develop the sentence produced by the images of the fates!

The priests of this ancient people formed in a good hour a learned society, charged to preserve and to extend human knowledge. The priesthood had its leaders, whose names were Jannes and Jambres, that Saint Paul preserved to us in his Second Epistle to Timothy, titles which characterize the august functions of the pontiffs. Jannes [Just as Pharaoh means the Sovereign without being the particular name of any prince who controlled Egypt.] means Explicator, and Jambres Permutater, he who makes wonders.

Jannes and Jambres wrote their interpretations, their discoveries, their miracles. The unbroken continuation of these memories [Pope Gelase I put the 491 books of Jannes and Jambres among the number of apocryphal books.] formed a body of science and doctrines, that showed their deep understanding of physics and morals: they observed, under the inspection of their leaders, the course of the stars, the floods of the Nile, the phenomena of meteorology, etc. The kings brought them together sometimes to make use of their consultings. We see that in the time of the Patriarch Joseph they were called by Pharaoh to interpret a dream; and if Joseph alone had glory to discover the sense of it, it none the less proves that one of the functions of the Magi was to explain dreams.

The Egyptians could not avoid falling into the errors of idolatry [Long still after this time the Magi recognized the finger of God in the Miracles of Moses.]; but back in those times God often moved men with an expression of his will, and if someone boldly questioned him on his eternal decrees, it was at least due to a forgivable desire to seek to penetrate them, when the Divinity seemed, not only to approve, but to even cause, by dreams, this curiosity: also their interpretation was a sublime art, a sacred science of which one made a particular study, reserved for the ministers of the altars: and when the officers of Pharaoh, prisoners with Joseph, grieved themselves not to have anybody to explain their dreams, it is not that they did not have companions in their misfortune; but it was that, locked up in prison by the leader of the militia, there remained nobody among the soldiers who could conduct the religious rituals associated with the sacred tables, let alone anyone having the knowledge to interpret them. The answer that the Patriarch spoke explains their thoughts: the interpretation, he said to them, does it not depend on the Lord? Tell me what you saw.

But to return to the functions of the priests, they began by writing in vulgar letters the dream of which they inquired, as in road divination where they make a positive request of which they proceed to seek the answer in the book of the fates, and after having mixed the sacred letters they drew the cards, with the attention of scrupulously placing under the one the words of the explanation for which they searched; the sentence formed by these cards was deciphered by Jannes.

Let us suppose, for example, that a Magus had wanted to interpret the dream of Pharaoh about which we will speak presently, as they tried to imitate the miracles of Moses, and that he had drawn the Fortunate Baton, preeminent symbol of agriculture, followed by the Knight and the King [the Page is worth 1, Knight 2, Queen 3, the King 4]; that he left at the same time from the book of destiny the cards the Sun, Fortune and the Fool, this will be the first member of the sentence which he seeks. If he draws the Two and the Five of Batons, whose symbol is marked with blood, and of the sacred trumps he draws Typhoon and Death, he has obtained a kind of interpretation of the dream of the king, which may be written thus in ordinary letters:

Seven fat cows and seven thin which devour them.

Batons The King The Knight 2 of Batons 5 of Batons
1 4 2
The Sun Fortune The Fool Typhon Death

Natural calculation which results from this arrangement.

  • The Ace of Batons is worth 1. The Sun announces happiness.
  • The King, 4. Fortune [Preceded by a happy card.] in the same way.
  • The Knight, 2. The Fool or zero puts the Sun to the hundreds.
    • Total 7.

The sign of agriculture gives seven.

One will thus read, seven years of a fortunate agriculture will give an abundance a hundred times larger than one will ever have experienced.

The second member of this sentence, closed by the Two and the Five of Batons, gives also the number of seven which, combined with Typhon and Death, announces seven years of food shortage, famine and the evils that it involves.

This explanation will prove even more natural if one pays attention to the direction and the value of the letters that these trumps represent.

The Sun answering to Gimel, signifies, in this context, remuneration, happiness.

Fortune or Lamed means rule, law, science.

The Fool does not express anything by itself, it corresponds with the Tau, it is simply a sign, a mark.

Typhon or Zain announces inconstancy, error, faith violated, crime.

Death or Teth indicates the action to reap: indeed, Death is a terrible reaper.

Teleuté, which in Greek means the end, seems to be, in this way, a derivative of Teth.

It is not difficult to find in Egyptian manners the origin of the greater part of our superstitions: for example, the practice of turning the sieve in order to discover a thief, owes its birth to the habit that these people had to mark robbers with a hot iron, of one . . . T, and of one . . . Samech [Tau, sign: Samech, adhesion], by putting these two characters, one on the other, to make a figure of it, signum adherens, which was used to announce that one should be wary of the person who bore it, by which one produces a figure which resembles a pair of scissors cutting in a circle, in a screen, which must be detached when the name of the robber is pronounced and will make it known.

Divination by the Bible, the Gospel and our Canonical Books, which is called the oracle of the saints, of which it is spoken in the 109th letter of Saint Augustine and in several Councils, among others that of Orleans; the fates of Saint Martin de Tours which were so famous, deserve to be considered an antidote to Egyptian divination by the book of destiny. It is these same presages that one drew from the Gospel, ad apperturam libri, when after the election of a bishop one sought to know which position he would control in the Episcopate.

But such is the fate of human things: of such a sublime science, which occupied powerful men, wise philosophers, the greatest saints, it remains among us only the practice of children to draw the beautiful letter.


Cards to which fortune tellers attach predictions.

It is like a game of Piquet where one shuffles and cuts for the interested person.

One draws a card which is named Ace, the second Seven, and thus while going up to the King: one puts aside all the cards which arrive in the order of calculation that one has just established: that is to say, if by naming Ace, Seven, or such, there is dealt an Ace, a Seven, or that which was named, it is that which it is necessary to put aside. One starts again, always until one has exhausted the cards; and if at the end there do not remain enough of cards to reach the King inclusively, one takes up the cards again, without mixing them nor cutting them, to complete the calculation to the King.

This operation of the whole deck is made three times in the same way. It is necessary to have the greatest care to arrange the cards which leave the deck, in the order which they arrive, and on the same line, which produces a hieroglyphic sentence; and here is the means of reading it.

All the picture or court cards represent the persons who may be concerned with the question; the first which arrives is always the one who it is all about.

The Kings represent sovereigns, parents, generals, magistrates, old men.

The Queens have the same character in their gender relative to the circumstances, that is to say in political matters, serious or merry: sometimes they are powerful, skilful, intriguing, faithful or fickle, are impassioned or indifferent, sometimes rivals, obliging, confidants, perfidious, etc. If there arrive two cards of same kind, it is the second which plays the supporting role.

The Pages are young people, warriors, those in love, dandies, those of the street, etc.

The Sevens and the Eights are young ladies of all kinds. The Nine of Hearts is named, preeminently, Card of the Sun, because it always announces brilliant things, pleasures, successes, especially if it is joined together with the Nine of Clubs, which is also a card of marvelous forecasts. The Nines of Diamonds indicates a delay in good or in evil.

The Nine of Spades is the worst card: it predicts only ruin, diseases, death.

The Ten of Hearts indicates the town; that of Diamonds, the countryside; Ten of Clubs, fortune, money; that of Spades, pains and sorrows.

The Aces announce letters, news.

If the four Queens arrive together, that means prattle, quarrels.

Several Pages together announce competition, argument and combats.

The Clubs in general, especially if they are drawn together, announce success, favors, fortune, money.

Diamonds, the countryside, indifference.

Hearts, satisfaction, happiness.

Spades, shortages, concern, sorrows, death.

It is necessary to have a care to arrange the cards in the same order that they are drawn, and on the same line, in order not to disturb the sentence, and to make interpretation easier.

The predicted events, in good or evil, can be more or less advantageous or unhappy, according to how the principal card which announces them is accompanied: Spades, for example, accompanied by Clubs, especially if they arrive between two Clubs, are less dangerous; similarly a Club between two Spades or coupled with a Spade, is less fortunate.

Sometimes the beginning announces disastrous accidents; but the end of the cards is favorable, if there are many Clubs; one regards the risks as reduced, more or less, according to the quantity: if they are followed by the Nine, by the Ace or the Ten, that proves that one ran great dangers, but that they passed, and that Fortune has had a change of face.

The Aces:

  • 1 of Diamonds, 8 of Hearts, good news.
  • 1 of Hearts, Queen of Spades, visit of a woman.
  • 1 of Hearts, Knave of Hearts, a victory.
  • 1, 9 and Page of Hearts, the happy lover.

  • 1, 10 and 8 of Spades, misfortune.
  • 1 of Spades, 8 of Hearts, a victory.

  • 1 of Clubs, Page of Spades, friendship.

The 7s:

  • 7 and 10 of Hearts, friendship of a young lady.
  • 7 of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds, friendship of a woman.
  • 7 of Diamonds, King of Hearts, delay.

The 9s:

  • Three Nines or three Tens, success.

The 10s:

  • 10 of Clubs, King of Spades, a present.
  • 10 of Clubs and Page of Clubs, a lover.
  • 10 of Spades, Page of Diamonds, somebody anxious.
  • 10 of Hearts, King of Clubs, sincere friendship.

©2010 by Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

Sensory Metaphors

Sensory Metaphors

When we are born, that part of our brain that holds our identity is a blank slate, waiting to be written on by the impressions of our physical senses. As we age, we acquire more and more experiences, and these are stored as memories. We are the sum of our memories. Take them away, as happens sometimes in severe stroke, and we cease to exist. Our body continues, but it is no more than a physical shell. It is not who we are. Who we are is undifferentiated super-consciousness, acting through the filter of our various levels of memory, which shape and define that consciousness, limiting it into what we know as our personal identity.

We can never conceive anything apart from the input of our senses. That is the tragedy of the human experience. Try to conceive of a thing that is not based on your prior sense impressions and you will see that it is so. You cannot do it. If you think of a monster that has never existed, you will see that it is built up of familiar parts that you have learned about through your senses — skin, teeth, legs, eyes, ears, a tail. It will be certain colors, will emit sounds, will have a distinctive smell, be rough or smooth to the touch. We simply cannot imagine anything other than sense impressions. Even when we try to imagine completely abstract things, we can only hold them in our minds by translating them into familiar sensory models. This is the reason we cannot picture higher dimensions of space, but must use three-dimensional models to suggest them. It is a fundamental, inherent limitation of human consciousness, part of the very nature of what we are.

Even more startling the first time it is understood is the realization that the entire universe that we know and everything it contains exists only in our mind. That is not to say that another level of the universe might not exist apart and independent of our awareness, but if so we can never know anything about it. That is the key insight. We are prisoners of our own perceptions. Our consciousness is based on perceptual information, and the universe for us exists only in our mind.

You may have heard about Plato’s cave. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote in his dialogue The Republic that human beings are like prisoners chained in a cave who sit with their backs to the fire and perceive nothing of what passes behind them apart from the shadows that play across the cave wall. The cave is human consciousness. The light from the fire is our senses. The shadows are the things we build up in our minds based on our sense impressions. All we know consciously are the shadows. The moving shadows on the wall constitute our reality.

However, the cave is not all we are. In our higher natures, we transcend its limits. Sometimes, beings from outside the cave of sense impressions interact with our awareness. We call them gods, angels, spirits, ghosts, fairies, demons, aliens, and countless other names that attempt to define them in a way that our mind can handle. These beings from outside our perceptual reality are faced with a quandary. They exist beyond our senses, and we can only understand things of our senses, so how are they to reach our awareness?

They do it by using a technique that I have named sensory metaphors. A sensory metaphor is nonsensory information that has been translated into sensory information. The mind is incredibly versatile, despite its inherent limitations. It is capable of translating one sensory input into another sensory input under extraordinary conditions such as illness or a head injury, or under the influence of mind-altering drugs such as LSD. We can, under certain conditions, hear colors, for example, or see sounds, or even taste concepts. One sensory input can substitute its information for another input from a different sense.

But the mind is even more versatile. It can process information that has no sensory base at all into sensory data, thus allowing us to become aware of its existence, and to consider it by analogy. That is to say, we can never consider the super-sensory data itself because it lies beyond the reach of our consciousness, but we can contemplate the sensory metaphors of that unreachable data, in the same way we can represent and manipulate the higher dimensions of space with three-dimensional models.

When an angel appears to a human being, it has no physical reality. It cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. You may object that reports of angels throughout human history record that they appeared as physical beings. Often angels are said to walk among us in the guise of ordinary human beings who can be touched. Women have even made love to angels.

True enough. It was not the angel that was perceived, but the sensory metaphor generated by the angel, which exists in a realty that lies beyond our capacity to comprehend. Only because the angel has generated a sensory metaphor of itself do we even know that an angel is present. If the angel wishes to communicate with us, it must express itself in a way we can hold in our thoughts and imprint on our memories. It must become sensory data in our minds, even though that data never passes through any of the physical avenues of our senses.

Unless a spirit generates a sensory metaphor of itself, we continue unaware of it even though it may be very near. It is sometimes said that the world throngs with spirits of all kinds, but that we remain unconscious of their existence. This is true. To become real to us, a spirit must engage our mind on our own level of understanding.

Sensory metaphors of a simple kind arise spontaneously under unusual conditions. When we see a ghost, we do not actually see anything at all — rather, we have the impression in our minds of seeing. The true nature of the ghost, which we cannot perceive directly because it lies beyond our senses, is translated into a sensory metaphor. Usually this takes the form of a visual image. It may be indistinct or translucent. Sometimes the ghost takes the sensory metaphor of a sound or series of sounds, sometimes an odor, sometimes a touch, and only very rarely it appears as a taste. Ghosts can simulate more than one sense at a time, and we may both hear and see a ghost, or feel the touch of a ghost and simultaneously smell a distinct odor such as cigar smoke or perfume.

Complex spirits, who have a more developed intelligence, seem able to at least in part control the sensory metaphors that we perceive, so that they can present themselves in whatever way they think is to their advantage in dealing with us, and if necessary, change their appearance. You have no doubt heard of demons summoned into the triangle of evocation by magicians who come first in a frightening and horrible form in an attempt to intimidate the magician, but when commanded by the authority of names of power, will put on more pleasing forms in order to converse with the magician.

Spirits are not in their essence the sensory metaphors that represent them. They become those forms in their dealings with us, in order to be able to make us aware of their existence and communicate with us, and to us they are those forms, just as to us a human being is the body that he or she inhabits. But apart from our consciousness the essence of the spirit is a thing we simply are not capable of comprehending. It is what lies outside Plato’s cave and we can never turn our head to look directly at it, because it is not within our capacity to do so.

The doctrine of sensory metaphors explains many mysteries about the nature of spirits. For example, why a spirit can seem completely and physically real to one individual, yet pass unperceived by another individual who is nearby. It explains why a spirit that can be touched cannot be photographed. Whether or not genuine spirit or ghost photographs exist is a matter for debate. My own belief is that such photographs do not exist. A being that cannot be perceived directly by human senses cannot register on photographic film, because in a strictly material sense, it is not there at all. Yet the sensory metaphor of that spirit can seem completely real and present to whomever it is presented.

All the tricks of capricious spirits become understandable. Fairies were noted for their fairy feasts, which would be there one moment and gone the next, and for their fairy gold, which after being given would turn to straw or vanish away completely. The doctrine of sensory metaphors explains the sudden appearance and vanishing of spiritual beings of various types, how they can seem material yet pass through solid walls or doors, how they can appear to turn to smoke or mist, how they can transmute themselves into the shapes of beasts.

Sensory metaphors should not be thought of as completely arbitrary and ephemeral. True, they are not real in the narrow sense that our sensory impressions of physical objects are real, yet they often express accurately the nature of the spirit that adopts them. When a spirit retains a sensory metaphor for long enough, it effectively becomes the spirit, just as we are our collection of thoughts and memories. A goddess conceived for thousands of years in a certain form, with specific characteristics, becomes that being permanently, in so far as anything in this ever-shifting universe can be said to have permanence. The name given to the goddess becomes the name of that spirit. Aphrodite is Aphrodite, she is not merely a spirit pretending to be Aphrodite.

A spirit that manifests over a long period as the sensory metaphor of Abraham Lincoln may truly believe itself to be the spirit of the dead president. And who is to say it is not correct? Its identity is based on the same motivations, the same beliefs, the same memory of experiences, that formed the personality of Lincoln. If it is not the actual spiritual essence of Lincoln’s soul, assuming such a separate and discrete essence to exist, then it is a clone of that essence. Perhaps the spirit is even able to tap into some higher aspect of Lincoln’s being, a kind of divine template of Lincoln that is stored in the Akashic records.

The control higher spirits have over sensory metaphors should cause us to be thankful most spirits are benevolent. The ability to control what we perceive through our physical senses gives these spirits the power of life and death over us. We have all had sensory tricks played on us by spiritual beings. We put down our car keys, turn round to do something, and when we turn back, the keys are gone. We search the table they were on, the room, the whole house without finding them, and the next day when we pass the table, there are the keys, sitting just where we left them in plain sight. This kind of thing happens so often, it scarcely causes us to think about it. However, if we considered the matter, we would realize that someone has been playing games with our perceptions. How else could we fail to see what was in plain sight the whole time we looked for it?

Poltergeists play with human perceptions all the time. This is the primary way they work their tricks. Usually this manipulation of the senses is coupled with the spirit possession of a human being, who unwittingly acts as their physical agent to move things or perform various physical tasks. Much of poltergeist phenomena is physical, but much of it only appears to be physical, but is actually composed of sensory metaphors. For example, everyone in the house may suddenly hear a deafening clap of thunder, yet no one in the neighboring houses will have heard a thing, because the thunder was not an actual sound, but merely the metaphor of thunder that existed only in the minds of those who heard it.

There seems to be some kind of natural law that prevents spirits from killing or injuring human beings in large numbers through the malicious manipulation of our senses. It does happen on rare occasions, but the demons who do it are outlaws or renegades who have stepped over the bounds of normal spirit behavior. Apparently there are no laws against playing with us, annoying us, or terrifying us, other than the general laws of good manners and good taste, and some spirits delight to do these things, though what their motives may be is a matter for conjecture. Maybe they are amusing themselves at out expense, or maybe they derive some personal benefit from generating strong emotions of anger, frustration or fear. Perhaps these strong emotions nourish lower spirits, and it is for this reason that they manipulate our senses in order to generate them.

The concept of sensory metaphors is essential to a useful understanding of human-spirit interaction in the twenty-first century. The old mechanical notions of spirit nature simply will not serve our purposes in this quantum age. We cannot weigh and photograph spiritual beings, and it is high time to get over this simplistic understanding of our reality. What we know is conditioned by our senses, but it is not limited to our senses. Our reality contains higher levels and higher dimensional beings with which we can interact, but only in a secondary way, by a process of translation that models the higher levels of reality in sensory forms that our mind is capable of handling. We should be thankful that our minds are so versatile, they allow this translation to occur, for without it we would know nothing of spirits, not even that they exist.

©2007 Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

Spirits’ Rights – A Manifesto

December 21, 2006 by  
Filed under invocation and spirit work, mysticism

Spirits’ Rights - A Manifesto

The Manifesto

Axiom 1

It is herein asserted as axiomatic, based on direct observation, that spirits who communicate and interact with human beings are self-aware and possess their own strong sense of independent identity.

Axiom 2

It is asserted as axiomatic, based on direct observation, that spirits who communicate and interact with human beings have a capacity for reasoned thought and for moral and ethical behavior of the highest order.

Axiom 3

It is asserted as axiomatic, based on direct observation, that spirits who communicate and interact with human beings experience both happiness and unhappiness, and furthermore, that they seek out and rejoice in pleasure, but shun and are tormented by pain.


The premise is offered that human beings in communication with spirits may by their emotions, thoughts and actions either increase the happiness of spirits or decrease it. Specifically, that humans have the ability through willful and deliberate actions to constrain spirits and to cause spirits to suffer.


An argument is made that as intelligent beings who are self-aware and who have the capacity to experience both pleasure and suffering, spirits are entitled to the same basic rights as humans — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one shall seek to deprive spirits of these rights, which have the same source as the rights of humans.

Life for a spirit consists of continued self-aware existence. Liberty consists of the freedom to travel and act without constraint. The pursuit of happiness consists of actions perceived by a spirit as essential to its fulfillment as a conscious, independent being.


The conclusion is reached that spirits, as intelligent and self-aware beings, possess the same inherent dignities as humans, and may demand the same level of civility and respect.


It may appear strange that I raise the matter of spirits’ rights, when so many in our Western societies stoutly deny the very existence of spiritual beings, but those of us who have interacted directly or indirectly with spirits have no doubt as to their existence, and it is to these more knowledgeable readers that my remarks are mainly directed. I have little hope of affecting the beliefs of those who, without any knowledge of spirits, scorn and dismiss them out of an impulse of sheer social prejudice.

The essential nature of spirits is open to debate. I do not presume to know with certainty what spirits are, where they come from, or what their ultimate purposes may be — however, my direct involvement with these beings has convinced me that they do exist, on some level other than the physical level. When you have conversed with a spirit, shared jokes with that being, listened to the spirit express its hopes and desires and intentions, it is difficult to assert that it does not exist. The question becomes — What is the nature of that existence?

Accepting that spirits exist, it may further be observed that many of them behave as intelligent, independent persons. They possess strong self-identities, have their own likes and dislikes, their individual goals, their own hopes and fears. They are capable of deriving enjoyment from their existence, and are equally subject to unhappiness and suffering when conditions are not to their liking. True, there are spiritual beings of a lower order who do not appear to be intelligent or capable of communication through the use of language, but this manifesto is concerned with those who do exhibit intelligent behavior, and who interact with human beings as intellectual equals.

These intelligent spirits may identify themselves as the souls or spirits of human beings who have died. Is this identification accurate? For the purposes of spirits’ rights, it does not matter. Other intelligent spirits identify themselves as completely non-human beings, and again, in the matter of spirits’ rights, it is beside the point how they may see themselves. What matters is how these spirits behave toward human beings. In my experience, most intelligent spirits behave in a civil and moral way. They are polite, compassionate, and loving. They are reasonable and can be reasoned with. It is possible to hold a conversation, and even a debate, with spiritual beings, and those spirits are no more apt to resort to irrational or emotional arguments than human beings.

Given this reasonable and ethical behavior of spirits, it seems to me deplorable that they are regarded in many quarters, even by those who habitually interact with them, as in some way inferior to human beings. The attempt is frequently made to coerce spirits into performing actions against their will. Examples of this behavior are rife throughout the history of Western ceremonial magic. Spirits are treated as servants, or even as slaves, by those who summon them, and are compelled to perform tasks as though they were incorporeal beasts of burden.

When spirits refuse the demands made upon them, they are often threatened with punishment, or even deliberately tormented by various magical means. It was common in centuries past to bind spirits into objects that might be subjected to heat or other unpleasant physical conditions, as a way of torturing the spirit into compliance. One torture was to set the object that served as a spirit’s prison above a fire to be roasted; another was to hang it from a tree so that it would sway and twist in the wind; yet another form of torture was to bury the object, so that the spirit was buried alive.

In modern times, few who converse with spirits are aware of these methods of coercion and torture, which evolved in the context of ceremonial magic, but they exhibit an equal disregard for the freedom or happiness of spirits. It is common for spirits to be automatically regarded as demons, even though they have committed no wrong. The immediate response of the average person to a spirit communication is terror. All the prejudices instilled since childhood come bubbling to the surface. They begin to curse the spirit, threaten it, abuse it, make prayers against it, and call in the exorcists. Little wonder the spirit usually withdraws in confusion and disgust.

Even when a continuing communication is sustained with a spirit, there may be a tendency to regard the spirit as a kind of astral pet, rather than as an intelligent equal with as much right to be treated with respect and dignity as any human. Old prejudices die hard. It is a tragedy that a spirit who comes to a human seeking friendship may find only contempt and abuse. Such spirits can scarcely be blamed if they respond with resentment, or even outright malice, and in this way the prejudices perpetuate themselves.

It has become common to talk about animal rights. The recognition is growing in our societies that living creatures who have feelings and the capacity to experience both pleasure and pain should be accorded a basic level of honor and dignity, as sensitive fellow creatures with whom we share a common origin.

The time has arrived to raise the bar of universal rights and freedoms to embrace no only sentient physical beings who are non-human, but those who are non-physical as well. Unlike animals, spirits can both feel and reason. In this capacity they are closer to our human nature than the beasts of the field. It is my contention, expressed by this manifesto of spirits’ rights, that the basic rights of spiritual beings must be recognized and respected. Spirits are no longer to be treated as slaves or pets, but are to be given all the honors of rational beings.

©2006 Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

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