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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Guide to Reference Material Waite-Trinick Tarot

The Cloud upon the Sanctuary by Karl von Eckartshausen (28 June 1752–12 May 1803) was a German Catholic philosophical mystic best known in English for this work, given a high status in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, particularly by Arthur Edward Waite. It attracted Aleister Crowley, the founder of Thelema, to the GD.

Eckartshausen joined the order of the Illuminati founded by Adam Weishaupt, but "withdrew his membership soon after discovering that this order only recognized enlightenment through human reason" Eckartshausen experimented with magic lanterns (an early form of phantasmagoria) to create "ghost projections" in front of an audience of four or five people.

The Hermetic and Rosicrucian Mystery by Arthur Edward Waite Scanned from the original publication, the periodical "Occult Review", vol. 8, no. 4, Oct. 1908. Formatted and corrected by hand, Sept. 2002.
This article will offer important clues to the Rosicrucian symbolism in Waite-Trinick Tarot.
Translating the Latin:
Vel sanctum invenit, vel sanctvm facit; The Holy makes as the Holy acts.
Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus; That always true, that everywhere, that from all.
Credo in unum Deum; I believe in one God.
unam sanctum catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam; one holy catholic and apostolic church.
panis quotidianis; of daily bread; panis virus et vitalis; and the salty Bread of Life; lusus puerorum; child's play; facilis ascensus superno, an easy supernatural ascent.
lapis qui non lapis, lapis tingens, lapis angularis, lapis qui multiplicetur, lapis per quem justus aedificabit domum Domini, et jam valde aedificatur et terram possidebit, per omnia etc. the stone which was not a stone, a stone contingent, the corner-stone, the stone which was multiplied, just build a stone house of the Lord by whom, and now very built up and possess the land, in all things.
Est in Mercurio quicquid quaerunt sapientes; There is in Mercury whatever wise men seek.
Laborare ese orare: prayer is work
Et antiquum documentum Novo cedat ritui:Praestet fides supplementum Sensuum defectui. Ancient document New rite yields: Afford to reinforce the faith of Where the feeble senses fail.
Est una sola res; There is only one thing.

The Way of Divine Union by Arthur Edward Waite
This is a central source for guessing what Waite's system of the illuminative might be about. I suggest also consulting Evelyn Underhill two works also for same issues.

A.E.Waite: Magician of Many Parts by R.A. Gilbert
This version of the Waite biography is still under copyright so this version was found through an on line library.

The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal by Arthur Edward Waite [1909] Though we are not discussing in any depth the Grail symbolism in the W-T Images. This study by Waite is worth a close read on its own because it was completed at the same times as the RWS deck was done: “He examines and dismisses 19th century theories which linked the Grail to the Templars, or Masons, as well as the unorthodox Cathars, Albigensians and Waldensians of Southern France. His conclusion is that there is an 'inner church' in Christianity: not a conspiracy or a subterranean sect, but a mystical core. Instead, Waite's concept of the hidden church is based on a deep comprehension of the sacrament of communion, and the Holy Grail is symbolic of this. Waite published this magnum opus about the time that he (with Pamela Smith) was putting the finishing touches on his Tarot deck. A close read of this book will illuminate much of the Waite Tarot deck symbolism.”

The Golden Dawn Tarot: Some essays by A.E. Waite on his tarot collected by Darcy Kuntz (Holmes Publishing 1996)

In April 1987, R.A. Gilbert introduced Roger Parisious, at the Golden Dawn conference as the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society of Ireland and the archivist of the manuscripts of W.B. Yeats,  At this conference Mr. Parisious gave a monumental lecture entitled Figures in a Dance: W.B. Yeats and The Waite-Rider Tarot. It was at this lecture  that Kuntz the editor of this compendium of Waite’s writings on tarot,  first learned of A.E. Waite's system of the Golden Dawn Tarot, which Kuntz’s has termed The Great Dance of the Royal Figures. The ideas that are presented in this book are based upon Mr. Parisious’s lecture. This book should be considered as introductory and further research will be required by the student. The bibliography contains the important sources for that research.

Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness by Evelyn Underhill
The 1900s great introduction to mysticism. Underhill was familiar with GD members and addressing issues of the differences between magic and mysticism.

Practical Mysticism Evelyn Underhill
Written with a goal of being more a guide to the mystical life as possible for us you can see that Underhill moves with more humbles motivations.

The Graces of Interior Prayer (Des Grâces D’oraison) A Treatise on Mystical Theology by A. Poulain, S.J. An important attempt to provide a scientific account of the interior life. Important for its historic interest.

Life and Career of Père Augustin Francois Poulain

The 32 Paths of Wisdom by Rawn Clark, Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No. 3, Vol 1. Autumnal Equinox 2002
At the heart of the Western understanding of the Tree of Life, is the little document titled "The 32 Paths of Wisdom". Usually, this document accompanies the English editions of the "Sepher Yetzirah" and is seen as an explanation or clarification of the S.Y. However, the concept of 32 Paths of Wisdom stems, not from the S.Y., but from the Torah, Genesis, Chapter One. Furthermore, the document "32 Paths of Wisdom" comes to us from the late 13th Century, C.E. - centuries before the advent of the Western image of the Tree.

The Tree of Life: Filing Cabinet of the Western Mystery Tradition and Methods to Recall the Information by Samuel Scarborough, Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No. 3, Vol 1. Autumnal Equinox 2002

The Tree of Life, one of the most recognized symbols of the Western Mystery Tradition is more than just a symbol or graph to understand the Divine Emanations that created the universe in Kabbalistic thought. The Tree is used as a means to place the various Divine Names, planets, Archangels, Angels, and metals in a logical order so that we as magicians can understand the universe around us. Most of us have looked at the information that is ascribed to each of the sephiroth of the Tree of Life and thought what a daunting task it is to learn all that information, and many of the beginning magicians are frustrated with trying to remember which of the sephiroth relates to the Archangel Raphael lapr and which relates to the Sun.

Montague Summers: The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism with Especial Reference to the Stigmata, Divine and Diabolic. 1947

The Spiritual Guide Which Disentangles the Soul, And Brings it by the Inward Way To the Getting of Perfect Contemplation And the Rich Treasure of Internal Peace by Miguel de Molinos, Priest With a short Treatise concerning Daily Communion, by the same Author 1685
This is a classic guide to interior prayer provided for historic interest. The spelling was followed - for example, vertue instead of virtue, toyl instead of toil, knowledg instead of knowledge. Several parenthetical remarks, possibly inserted surreptitiously by an unsympathetic typesetter, have been retained; the reader is referred to pages 107, 136, 138, and 174, as well as the preface beginning on page 147.
For the fascinating history of this book—its initial, widespread acceptance; its subsequent condemnation by the Catholic Church and centuries of suppression; its relevance to contemplation and a deeper walk with God—See wiki

How to Experience God: A Handbook for Evangelical Mystics by John Boruff is an example of a biblically-based, anti-new age approach to the contemplative life. Provided for  balance and amusement only.

The 32 Paths of Wisdom - Rawn Clark was compiled from the internet and first appeared Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition No. 3, Vol 1. Autumnal Equinox 2002  Internet Link. If you need a refresher on the 32 paths this may be useful. However I have not closely compared to see if Clark follows the GD attributions.

Genre as Argument in the Sefer Yetsirah: A New Look at Its Literary Structure by Marla Segol  from Journal of the American Academy of Religion, December 2011, Vol. 79, No. 4, pp. 961–990;  © The Author 2011. The Sefer Yetsirah, the Book of Creation, is a cosmogonic work, narrating the creation of the world with the ten sefirot and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The text is semantically difficult, its reception is varied, and its structure is poorly understood. Various commentators have made competing claims about the nature of the Sefer Yetsirah. Some say it is practical, or theosophical, while others believe it to be a work of philosophy. I propose that there is a discernible pattern in its organization which is key to understanding its meaning and function. This pattern is a ring composition, a form commonly used in the Hebrew Bible and in late antique and early medieval works. The ring-composition form highlights passages that emphasize the practical application of the Sefer Yetsirah. Its generic form is just as important as its words in conveying meaning. With the aid of formal analysis, it is possible to better understand the meaning and function of the text, as well as the history of its reception.

Plotinus' On Intellectual Beauty is an excerpt of both tandard English translations. Important description of Plotinus's own experience and nature of images in Egyptian temples.

Ancient Mysticism: Greek and Christian Mysticism with some comparisons to Buddhism by Raul Mortley
This pamphlet offers a brisk but authoritative historical survey of critical aspects of Jewish Pagan and Christian characteristics of mysticism with a nod or two to Buddhist parallels all in less than 15 pages!

Raul Mortley's full two volume account of the history of Greek philosophically inspired mysticism as it developed in both the Eastern and Western Christian churches. His survey is still solid.
Volume one From Word to Silence a guide to Logos theologies and the contemplative way of Greek and Christian thought.
"The ideas outlined thus far establish the setting in which the via negativa of late Greek thought was able to flourish. Logos begins as a type of rational account, a canon of material about the world which exists, myth-like, independently of the individual thinker and philosopher. It was a touchstone, an instrument of checking and measuring the validity of the sense-data and notions generated in the human mind. It denoted the language of science, as against the language of common-sense, in much the same way as we might distinguish between the scientist's account of things, and that given in popular lore. Logos exercised a strong fascination over the Greek, in this early period of blooming confidence in the power of rational investigation, and within a short time it came to be seen as having an existence in itself. The Greek tendency is to objectify, to give reality to concepts, thereby creating the material of ontology and metaphysics. The word logos, once isolated as a concept, could not fail to fall prey to this reifying tendency, with the result that even as early as Aristotle, there are signs of logos becoming an originating principle, an arche like that sought by the Presocratic seekers after a single essential substance. The tendency issues most clearly in the creation of a new verb in late Greek, to "enreason" (logoo). This linguistic fact is a most important datum in the history of ideas, since it shows that a new aspect of the word logos was endeavouring to assert itself. Logos becomes a Force, or principle of rationality at work in reality. It becomes an existent."
Volume two From word to Silence a guide to the history of the negative (without form or word) way Greek and Christian thought. [See this 4 page excerpt that makes some important  historic and conceptual points about apophasis.] The invention of reason, and scepticism about it; the hypostatization of reason; word as mask; the desire for knowledge; names and nature; Augustine and the vindication of language; the via negativa; silence and the via negativa.

Francis Yates Llull & Bruno: “The Emblematic Conceit in Giordano Bruno’s De Gli Eroici Furori and the Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences, pp 180‐209. (excerpts)
I had hoped to spend more time relating this literary and imaginal use of picture and verbal pictures in poetry as a key to approaching these images but then thought better of it. These excerpts may be by themselves a bit bewildering as reproduced here. if they wet your appetite, I suggest you consult the full essay in the volume: Llull & Bruno.

GIORDANO BRUNO AND THE HERMETIC TRADITION by FRANCES A. YATES 1964 A wonderful, readable classic, still one of the best introductions to magic in the Renaissance
This book emphasises the primary importance of Hermetism in Renaissance thought. The Hermetic treatises were believed to be by an ancient Egyptian, prophet of Christianity; these associations strengthened their enormous impact on Ficino and the Neoplatonic movement.

Pico ella Mirandola yoked Hermetism with Cabalism and the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition continued as an "occult philosophy" both magical and mystical.

Giordano Bruno is here for the first time placed within the context of this tradition of which he represents an original variation. He emerges as a Hermetic philosopher and magician with an unorthodox religious message. Even his support of Copernican heliocentricity is associated with Ficino's solar magic. This revolutionary reinterpretation profoundly affects our understanding of Bruno and of his death at the stake.

The Hermetic tradition is followed beyond the death of Bruno into the seventeenth century, particularly in Campanella. The correct dating in 1614 of the Hermetic treatises marked the end of the dominance of Hermetism though it continued to exert a hidden influence.

The controversies of Fludd with Mersenne and Kepler are seen as a conflict between a late revival of the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition and the seventeenth-century scientific movement.

RRenaissance Hermetism stimulated new attitudes towards the cosmos and towards operating with cosmic forces. It affected the religious issues, making towards toleration; Bruno's message on its religious side was a variant of the religious Hermetism widespread in the sixteenth century. His use of magically significant imagery and language raises the question of his influence on the poets of the English Renaissance


“Few people know that the Greeks, who invented many arts, invented an art of memory which, like their other arts, was passed on to Rome whence it descended in the European tradition. This art seeks to memorise through a technique of impressing 'places' and 'images' on memory. It has usually been classed as 'mnemotechnics', which in modern times seems a rather unimportant branch of human activity. But in the ages before printing a trained memory was vitally important; and the manipulation of images in memory must always to some extent involve the psyche as a whole. Moreover an art which uses contemporary architecture for its memory places and contemporary imagery for its images will have its classical, Gothic, and Renaissance periods, like the other arts. Though the mnemotechnical side of the art is always present, both in antiquity and thereafter, and forms the factual basis for its investigation, the exploration of it must include more than the history of its techniques. Mnemosyne, said the Greeks, is the mother of the Muses; the history of the training of this most fundamental and elusive of human powers will plunge us into deep waters.”

Mouni Sadhu: The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultlsm
"As a basis for the lectures, I used, apart from the works of other competent exponents, the unique book by Prof. Gregory ssipowitch Mebes, a leading authority on Hermetism in Russia prior to 1917. Actually, it was not even a proper book, but rather a series of lectures duplicated on very large sheets of thick paper (about 12" x 15"), with all the diagrams made by the author's own experienced hand. It was never for sale on the open market as a book and only a few initiated circles of students were lucky enough to get a copy. We bought ours from a Russian refugee who brought the book with him in 1919, when fleeing from his country which had just fallen into Communist hands.
"Gradually, as our knowledge grew in the course of seven years spent on intensive study, I began to write my own work, which was intended to be a synthesis and condensation of all that we were able to learn about the Tarot and its practical use. Under this use, I understand the application of ideas expressed in the Major Arcana (these are given under three 'veils', according to the three worlds recognized in the Tarot's sister system-the Kabbalah) as being, a guide to creative thinking; for the development of the ability of concentrated, deliberate thinking; for the direction of thoughts and feelings into channels as indicated in the Arcana, and finally, as an approach to the ultimate mystery of the Tarot-Kabbalah-Magic unity, the Unmailifested Spirit, the Ain-Soph, the Unknowable."

Plotinus on Intellectual Beauty. Plotinus Ennead 5 On the Intellectual Beauty Stephen MacKenna and A.H. Armstrong translations of Ennead 5.8.1‐8

Mystical Discernment in Christianity: Ancient Ways of Knowing Within Christian Practice by Dena DeCastro
Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been practical discernment of mystical prophecy as such, and reading the signs of omens, and the interpretation of dreams. While such practices seem at odds with Christianity today, there is historical evidence that the Christian Church celebrated the old ways of the past often within the new. This essay explores the ways it is possible for a  more friendly exchange between Christianity and the old ways of knowing. Some evidence is provided, through scriptural exegesis and a review of theological literature, for the acceptance of these practical methods of discernment of mystical and divination generally.

Mystical Experience, Metaphysics and Ritual in Plotinus by Zeke Mazur
This paper is less a formal argument towards a conclusion than a meditation on a problem that has arisen during research for my dissertation on the relation between Plotinus’ mysticism and contemporaneous currents of Sethian Gnosticism. I would like to begin from the relatively noncontroversial notion that Plotinus’ evocative accounts of union with the One give the impression that he has had some kind of exceptional experience. And yet, despite the substantial quantity of scholarship on Plotinian mysticism, this aspect of his thought remains deeply troublesome for interpreters. Indeed, the fundamental question, as obvious as it would seem, has rarely been asked in a sufficiently blunt manner, and it has never been satisfactorily answered: namely, how are we to understand Plotinus’ mysticism in practice?


Related Pages

Classes Completed

Week 1 Notes,

Audio W-T Tarot Week One

(please download file rather than try to listen to it as streaming)

Week 2 Notes,

Audio W-T Tarot Week Two

Week 3 Notes,

Audio W-T Tarot Week Three

Week 4 Notes,

Audio W-T Tarot Week Four

Week 5 Notes,

Audio W-T Tarot Week Five


See digital images of the Waite-Trinick Tarot from the British Museum Research website where one can download for one's own personal study all 43 images.

For access to study material see annotated study Guide


Christian Symbols

Liturgical Vestments

Golden Dawn Major Arcana as Drawn by Wang under the direction of Regardie