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 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)
- Decker, Ronald; Thierry Depaulis; Michael Dummett. A Wicked Pack of Cards. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996, page 25.
- Ibid., page 41.
- Ibid., page 43.
- Ibid., page 62.
- Ibid., page 70.
- Lévi, Éliphas. Transcendental Magic. New York: Weiser, 1979, page 386.
- Christian, Paul. The History and Practice of Magic. New York: Citadel Press, 1963, page 110.
- Papus. Tarot of the Bohemians. New York: US Games, 1978, page 184.
- Waite. A. E. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. New York: Weiser, 1980, page 29.
- Westcott, W. Wynn. Sepher Yetzirah. New York: Weiser, 1980, page 23.
- Ibid., page 22.
- Crowley, Aleister. Book of the Law. Quebec: 93 Publishing, page 26.
- Crowley, Aleister. Book of Thoth. New York: Weiser, 1974, pages 9-11.
- Ibid., page 278.
- 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.