[Editor’s Note: This material has been significantly revised (at least twice!) since it was last updated, below. The most recent version (3.2) is available in PDF format (Download PDF). More recently, however, it taken on another form: Neoplatonic Symbolism in the Tarot Suits.]
Please note that, while the Anonymous Author of Meditations on the Tarot cannot necessarily be appealed to as the authority for (or even the primary inspiration behind) this approach to the tarot suits, it is nonetheless generally consistent with his work— see, for example, the beginning of Letter II, “The High Priestess”, pages 29-31 —and also this brief discussion in Letter XXII:
“Concerning the four “suits”—pentacles, swords, cups and wands —they correspond exactly to the structure of the sacred name YHVH and, consequently, to the four elements. Wands represent the emanating principle, the YOD of the divine name; cups represent the conceiving principle, the first HE of the divine name; swords represent the formative principle,the VAU of the divine name; and pentacles symbolise the principle of form, the second HE of the divine name” (Letter XXII, “The World”, page 654; cf. “Figure 1 below).
It is also worth noting that this is a work in progress which has been kept intentionally brief (and very dense) for ease of printing in these few, short pages. Additional clarification and elaboration is definitely in order. In the meantime, suffice it to say that the activity of Spirit cannot be grasped conceptually and cannot be used as a means to some merely personal/egoic end. It is nevertheless the case that the realization of Spirit does indeed constitute the true meaning and purpose of our lives and that such realization does have a practical impact on the apparent world. Moreover, we become more attuned to Spirit, 1) as we learn to distinguish between “awareness”, as such, and the incessant “mental chatter” which tends to accompany most of our perceptions (i.e. the habitual, usually unconscious “self-talk” which continuously expresses and reinforces our personal fears, desires, judgments); 2) as we begin to practice breath awareness and inner-body awareness as an aid to meditation; and 3) as we begin to anchor lives in “aware presence” or “alert stillness” — the pristine, lucid Way of Truth and Life which leaves unnecessary mental commentary and distracted, ineffective action beneath itself. Honest and sustained self-observation is essential to this work—discursive thought or dialectic is merely preparatory (see the discussion of “concentration without effort” in Letter I of Meditations on the Tarot, page 8).
A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits (excerpted from version 1.63)
(Tarot images from cbdtarot.com ~ CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov)
Wands/Batons Element = Fire Symbolizes: Spirit (Creative Mind)
- Spirit (pneuma) / Divine Intelligence (cf. Nous or Logos) / Our Real Will / God’s Will / Truth & Being / Authentic Life / Pure Activity / Divine Presence / True Nature
- Spirit is our Transcendent Aspect / Our Eternal Life / The Source of Meaning and Purpose; Authentic Inspiration; and True Vocation / The Dynamic Ground of Creative Manifestation
- Spirit is reflected in and through the medium of the material world (including our apparent bodies and our material circumstances and resources).
Cups/Chalices Element = Water Symbolizes: Heart
- Heart / Openness / Receptivity / Attunement / Intuition / Contemplation
- The Heart is our Transcending Aspect — the organ through which we become attuned to and are able to contemplate Spirit – i.e. our authentic life — and share it with the world at large.
- As our hearts open (in contemplation) we naturally turn away from a life of self-indulgent consumerism and towards our true vocation (whether that appears to be the life of a hermit or a healer; that of a poet, artist, or craftsman; or even that of a scientist, a priest, or a politician).
Swords/Blades Element = Air Symbolizes: (Discursive) Mind
- Mind (psyche) / Ego / Analysis / Calculation / Instrumental Reasoning / Conceptual Frameworks (including the “ideas”, “beliefs” and “worldviews” that constitutes us as “separate selves”).
- Mind can be a hindrance or a help– an adversary or an ally –in our efforts to realize Spirit.
- On the one hand, “mind” is that aspect of ourselves that must be Transcended – that is, we must transcend the mind-made sense of self (i.e. the “arbitrary personality” or “separate individual”) which seems to obstruct the intuition of our unity with or connection to God, Nature, or Humanity as a whole.
- On the other hand, the practical operations of our mind begins to function better than ever once we realize that we are not what we think–once our egoic mind surrenders to the life of the Spirit . . . (the egoic/analytic mind makes “a wonderful servant, but a terrible master”, as is sometimes said).
- Transcending the ego does not mean fleeing our material existence–rather, from this point forward, we begin to relate properly to the material world for the very first time.
Coins/Pentacles Element = Earth Symbolizes: The Material World
- Matter / Body / Material Resources / Circumstance / Medium of Manifestation / Creation / Incarnation
- For the “separate self”— i.e. the egocentric “consumer” mentality —the material world is understood primarily in terms of desire (a kind of self-indulgent “playground” for our appetites and inclinations as we continue to play the wheel of fortune).
- But for Spirit [and for the person/mind/psyche that is surrendered to Spirit] matter is a magical medium of artistic, poetic, religious, and political expression as we participate in “the respiration of eternity” — i.e. the One life, Divine.
–> Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of Marseille
The Tarot images on the outside margins of this graphic are from the CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov. The images on the inside are from the “Pocket Edition” of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck by US Games Systems, Inc.