The Hermit is the last Atu in the deck who is still entirely human in form, marking the last stage of Initiation in Assiah (the material world). His simple robe shows he needs no outward signs of attainment. His grey beard and long hair illustrate his progression and maturity. He is far from the fresh faced youth we saw in The Magician. His number is nine which corresponds to the Sephira Yesod, the Moon, but his lamp suggests Tiphareth, the Radiant power of the Sun. He has balanced the fecundity of the Goddess with the procreative power of Solar Logos. In the Thoth card his staff is transformed into male spermatozoa, The Hermit is therefore a symbol of creativity, sexual and magickal. He can manifest his Will through Ritual, but, as his power increases, he doesn’t waste his energy on ‘results magick’ but instead chooses to channel his ‘Sekh’ inwards raising his kundalini/consciousness to an exalted hight.
Although a Hermit and Holy Man, he has not retired from the world entirely. He wanders the globe bringing the Light of Knowledge to those in need. He also has the role of Psycho-pomp, mediating between the worlds, it is he, as Mercury, who descends to Hades to return Persephone from her winter sojourn in the Underworld.
Atu IX is a figure of tremendous wisdom and self control. He has freed himself from the petty ego and walks modestly along the Middle Path. His Lamp is Enlightenment, his Staff a Royal Sceptre disguised as a simple rod, the well worn sandals on his feet symbolize the Ankh of Eternal life. The archetypal Wizard, he is Hermes, Merlin and even Gandalf! He is the Zen Master and the Jedi Knight. Through praxis and immersion in occult study he is able to write his own myth, he is truly the architect of his own future but he has many trials and ordeals ahead which he will meet on his own terms.
The Neophyte has travelled a long way from the hapless youth in Atu I, and in the card Strength VIII has moved from a temporal to a liminal landscape. We see the transformation of the proud Charioteer to a young woman, her purity is symbolized by her white vestments, simple dress and her flower garlands suggest modesty and unity with the natural world. The lemniscate (symbol of infinity) is no longer merely a potential, as in The Magician’s hat, but is now incorporated into her very being, like the halo of Christian iconography. This Atu represents spiritual power, but it is not used for selfish ends. The Priestess shows compassion to the ‘King of the Beasts’ and reminds us of the tale of Andrlocles, who removes the thorn from the lions paw. The Magician now has real force, and has sublimated her Nesphesh (Kabbalistic animal soul) and Ruach (ego) to the service of the Neschamah (higher self). She shows in her fearlessness that she will use her Strength, not to take revenge on those who have wronged her, or abuse her new-found abilities to harm or punish but to protect herself from the attacks of others!
The number eight is an important number in Magick, it represents the Altar of the double cube and is ‘Hod’ on the Tree of Life, the Sephira of Mercury, Hermes and Tahuti, the Ibis headed God of the Mysteries. The path has taken the Aspirant to a crossroads and she has chosen service to others, she is transforming, from the naive magician of Atu I, through the proud and powerful warrior of the Charioteer VII to a disciplined and virtuous woman. She has forsaken Severity for Mercy. Her life is no longer preoccupied with fleeting transience and her past has been obliterated in the fire of Sekhmet, the combination of woman and lioness who exists in a realm inaccessible to all but the purest, most dedicated of seekers. The card Strength VIII marks a new stage in the development of The Magician. She has left all that no longer serves her Higher Self behind and begs the question, “If you are NOT your ego, who are you?”
The Magician is no longer a Neophyte. In the Chariot VII, he has become a Spiritual Warrior. His daily practice and intensive study has strengthened his subtle body so it appears as armour and his connection with Divinity is now tangible. He has ridden out beyond the city gates, representing his rejection of the mundane world and is armed and ready to travel the initiatory path as the master of his own destiny. In the Thoth image he holds a spinning Disk at his Solar Plexus, he has, through his praxis, created an engine of vital force. The revolving sphere is also the ultimate symbol of the Divine Feminine, The Grail, and, in the Rider-Waite card, he holds a sceptre in his right hand; the Lingam and the Yoni in perfect balance. He is indeed a questing Knight, prepared for the adventures and ordeals he knows he must face. The horses that pull The Chariot in medieval decks have become Sphinxes reminding the Aspirant of the Hermetic code: ‘To Know, To Dare, To Will and To Keep Silent’. The Therionthropic creatures also represent the ‘Kerubic’ signs, the Elements and the Elementals themselves: Lion- Leo, Fire- Salamanders, Eagle- Scorpio, Water- Undines, Man- Aquarius, Air- Sylphs and Ox- Taurus, Earth- Gnomes. There are also four columns supporting the azure canopy of The Chariot, the Charioteer himself forming the Fifth Element- Spirit.
It should also be observed that the vehicle itself is not moving, The Magician is perfectly poised, he has achieved balance. He looks directly out of the frame with the confidence of a future King. He has progressed greatly in his works, so much so that he doesn’t even need to hold the reins. He trusts in the process of Theurgy. Still far from being an Adept he nevertheless has the confidence to face his destiny with calm determination. “Fear is Failure” and the Chariot will eventually carry him over The Abyss. The seventh Atu could be described, therefore, as the calm before the storm!
By the time The Magician reaches this stage in his esoteric evolution he will have begun to immerse himself in she study and practice of Magick. Out of all the 22 Trumps this is one of the most difficult to decipher, and versions vary greatly. Indeed this is quite apt, for as the Neophyte begins the true work of the outer grades he will feel confusion and doubt. There will be days when, after hours of pouring over complex symbol systems, head reeling, he’ll stand in his circle and hear the strange ‘Barbarous names’ issuing from his own mouth and wonder if he has lost his mind! This, is progress! The central themes of this strange card are love, marriage, the duality of the sexes and, on a deeper level, Union with Godhead, the unity of opposites and even contact with non-human intelligences. The Lovers is the first card that shows two human figures, which reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ where the number 6 on his list talks of finding a friend who will help you in the work and trials of spiritual endeavour. He mentions that this companion may be ‘non-human’ and it is at this point in the Great Work where you may come into contact with guides ans allies on the inner planes. I am lucky enough to have both! I have a great platonic female friend who is also a gifted magickal partner and by combining our Male/female energies during ritual we create a third participant who is far greater than the sum of out parts!
Even at this early stage in his work the Neophyte will begin to notice changes in the person he thought he was. It is well known in occult circles that Initiation often precipitates major changes in every aspect of the ritualist’s life. some of these can appear calamitous but they are really just a way of burning away deadwood and dislodging the negative ego from his false position of dominance. Room must be cleared for the ‘Higher Self’ to manifest, preparing the ground for the subtler bodies which until now have been kept at bay by the over zealous ‘Psychic Censor’. So, to sum up the signpost The Lovers VI, the awakened soul, has glimpsed the beauty and power of the High Priestess and reclaimed sovereignty from family, church and state (The Empress and Emperor) and has began to walk the ‘Royal Road’ even though, at this point, he doesn’t know exactly where it will take him. “Many are called but few are chosen” but The Magician must take that chance…
So far we have followed The Magician through Awakening, Realization of Divinity and Rejection of Consensus Reality (Atus I to IV). The next stage in his Initiatory journey is The Hierophant V, as the occult pilgrim has already turned his back on family and religion, to interpret the Tarot Trump V as ‘The Pope’, a representative of Patriarchal ‘Faith’ does not fit this narrative. Instead, this card represents Arcane Knowledge and Tradition. The Neophyte will be faced with a bewildering volume of disparate systems and teachings, all of varying degrees of incomprehensibility. He* will, perhaps, flit from one spiritual practice to another, like a bee landing on one beautiful flower after another. This is natural but there must come a time when one system or school lights a fire in his soul and he dedicates himself to this one method of ‘attainment’. It is at this point where a Teacher or Mentor may present themselves, sometimes an experienced ‘Master’ will take the aspirant under his wing and pass on their knowledge. But most newcomers to the Mysteries must negotiate their own path. Some decide to join an established Order, (which, in my opinion has as many pitfalls as advantages) or more commonly, in these days of on-line communities and self-initiation manuals, will commit himself to a program of private study and practice. Nothing worthwhile comes easily and the Self-Initiated Occultist will find motivating himself to perform even half an hour of daily ritual incredibly difficult… at first. But as he works his way through the Rites of the Hermetic Tradition, using, for example, The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and The Middle Pillar (as well as reading proscribed texts, keeping a Magickal Diary, meditating and ‘undoing’ himself with various mental exercises), he will feel remarkable changes in himself and his environment in a very short time. The Hierophant then, represents the vast body of Hermetic Wisdom and Teachings. He marks the true beginning of The Magician’s road to Attainment, which, when begun cannot revoked…
*For the ease of writing I’ve used the masculine pronoun. This is not sexism but laziness, apologies to all female readers!
For the purposes of these posts, using the Tarot Atus as signposts on the way toward Adeptship I’m going to use The Empress III and Emperor IV as two sides of the same coin. So far the ‘traveller’ has been awakened to the world beyond the five senses and has glimpsed the otherworldly beauty of the numinal world. The Empress and Emperor are in this case exoteric authority figures who must be overthrown. Becoming a Magician is a hard and lonely path… the aspirant must separate himself from the ‘herd’, be that family, church or ‘boss’. The Empress is the universal Mother her positive aspects are unconditional love, self sacrifice and protection of her child at all costs but this love can become stifling and an unwillingness to let go. The Emperor is the Father, provider, role model and hero but can also represent intolerance of views which differ from his own and he can be be overly rigid and disciplinarian. The archetypes Demeter and Zeus are good examples of the positive and negative aspects of cards III & IV.
The early stages of Initiation are more marked by defining what one is not, it is a rebellion against convention and conservative morality, a rejection of ‘consensus reality’ and of taking total responsibility for your own actions. If you ever want to find your ‘true self’ you must no longer be limited by how others see you. This may be painful at first. Exile from family, church and society is a lonely path, filled with hardships and trials but through adversity comes strength. When you move beyond The Empress & Emperor ‘Severity’ and ‘Mercy’ you are free to walk the path of the Adept.
I’ve decided to use the 22 Major Arcana of the TAROT as a template for the initiatory journey we must all take to become, in Jungian terms, ‘individuated’.
The Magician I. represents the first step in this journey, his letter is Beth and his sign is Mercury. He is the Neophyte who has somehow been awakened to the ‘Mysteries’. How this happens varies greatly from individual to individual. Perhaps they found themselves attracted to Magick and ‘alternative spirituality’ by trying to make sense of an experience that was beyond ‘rational’ explanation. Often the door is opened by the use of marijuana or psychedelics. As we move from the Aeon of Osiris, symbolised by ideas of death and resurrection to the Age of Horus, the Child, spirituality is changing, the proliferation of ‘New Age’ and Magickal tropes and characters (Harry Potter, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight) in popular culture is a manifestation the The Magician. We no longer need commandments to control our behaviour or the priest to moderate between ‘the flock’ (an apt metaphor!) and Divinity. The Magician is often depicted as a beardless youth wearing an oversized hat, the brim forms the figure eight (which relates to Hod on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Sephirah of Mercury- Magick) and also the lemniscate, the mathematical figure of infinity. He holds a Wand- Fire, and stands behind a table on which are arranged the rest of the ‘elemental weapons’, the Pantacle- Earth, the Dagger- Air and the Cup- Water. like every Human Being he already possesses all that he needs to become an Adept, but he is far from mastering their use! As we work through the Atus we will see the Magician progress in knowledge and experience in much the same way as an Aspirant moves through the grades of an occult order. How far he goes is entirely up to him…