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Wilhelm Hauschild-Lohengrincu01Santo Griaal-Rogelio Egusquiza 1893

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups image is not unique. A winged figure surmounts a fountain from which streams water in the Visconti-Sforza card. In the Marseille deck two of the aces (Wands and Swords) have a hand emerging from a cloud—a standard medieval device to indicate creation, miracles and gifts from a Divine source. We also find similarities in the pictures above. The first one is from Wilhelm Hauschild’s Temple of the Holy Grail (1878) and the third one is Santo Griaal by Rogelio Egusquiza (acquired by the British Museum in 1901). By the way, if you are Pagan, like me, I encourage you to look at the Christian references as psychological metaphors. Read Part 1 here.

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To display His divine nature, the hand of God is often depicted emerging from a cloud which hides his body, veiling us from his power as no person could see Him and live. As it is the right hand, it is actively giving the viewer one of the four sacred treasures found in the myths of many cultures. In the Talmud the Cup of Blessing is held on five fingers of the right hand representing the five leaves that protect a rose from its thorns. This image signifies a divine gift in the form of a supernatural vision (the cloud) that is often the starting point for a spiritual quest.

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Waite has a lot to say about the dove, describing it as the invocation and descent of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to renew the virtue of the Grail and to consecrate the elements.

“In England during the Middle Ages . . . the Eucharist was reserved in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. It recalls some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods and the descent of a dove on the Graal.” …
“There is the flight of the mystical dove from the casement to inmost Shrine, as if the bird went to renew the virtues of the Holy Graal.” …
“The Dove descends from Heaven carrying the Arch Natural Host to renew the virtues of the Stone [the form the Grail takes in some of the stories].” …
“O central point and sacred meeting-place of all the sacraments, there falls the Bread,  broken within the Wine-Cup, and from both issues one living Spirit of Life Divine.” …
“On Good Friday, by the descent of a dove from heaven, carrying a sacred Host . . . the crown of all earthly riches were renewed.”

The Holy Spirit represents the life-giving spirit of air, and it was present at the baptism by water of Jesus, the awakening into a new life:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

Additionally, the Dove maintains its pagan association with Goddess Venus/Aphrodite and with Love (Waite includes the ancient pagan mysteries in the Secret Tradition). The Dove blesses with supernatural gifts, like the gift of tongues (pictured as Yods, see below), and so it can be associated with the ancient “language of the birds” or gift of divination and with miracles. Waite favors the idea of Grace: “it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man.” Grace, equated with the Hebrew word Chesed, is a blessing that gives guidance and protects us from the dangers of earthly power and adversity.

So, the Dove can be seen as the descent of Spirit into flesh, of the supernatural into the natural, a theme repeated by the cross on the Host composed of the vertical axis of spirit and the horizontal of matter. (The cross, which represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross, becomes a blessing.)

I should note that Waite was known to have a prodigious and exacting memory. He was extremely precise in his use of language, so when an odd phrase appears it is usually a sign that he is quoting a source to further elucidate his meaning. The internet has made it possible to find a good number of these allusions.

For instance, for Waite the Host is the panis quotidianus that has been changed into the panis vivus et vitalis”: that is the everyday bread is transformed into a living and vital bread.  This quote from Waite refers to a popular hymn by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1264) called the Lauda Sion Salvatorem. It speaks of the Eucharist and presents the transformation of bread and wine ending with a familiar maxim “as above, so below”:

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see. . . .

Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace. . . .

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Spiritual nourishment, the Host, is sent by the Holy Ghost; in many of the Grail stories it is found to heal all wounds.

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Cup, Grail and Fountain of Living Waters

This is the signature image of this card and is filled with meaning on so many levels. We will touch on only a few. As container, it is a major symbol of the receptive feminine and, in Christianity, the womb of the Virgin Mary, the seat of creation and manifestation of Love, esoterically seen as “the Bride”. It is a vessel in which things are “cooked,” making raw materials capable of providing rich nourishment and even, in alchemy, changing lead into gold. It is the cup of transformation containing the waters of life in which water is changed into wine and then into blood. It is the cauldron of Dagda in Celtic myth from which no company ever left unsatisfied. 

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

Both cup and water represent the soul.

The Practicus Ritual in Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross initiates one through an encounter with the Living Waters. First we are informed that Water symbolizes the emotions, desires, and psychic nature of earthly man. But this is not the Water one is to encounter in the ritual, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above. . . . May the peace of their Union be upon us; be we dissolved therein.”

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters, and the Spirit of the Most High God shall move upon the Waters of the Soul. . . . The stilled waters of the soul receive the Spirit of God moving upon the face of its waters. . . . Open thy heart, O Brother of the Rosy Cross, and receive the Water of Life.” 

“Fountain of fountains, and of all fountains. Chalice of saving rain. Grace on the soul descending, as rain on the dry grass. Life-giving Rain of Doctrine. Mystical Fruit of the Doctrine. Dew of Divine Speech, falling in stillness on the heart, filling the soul with Knowledge. Enter into the heart and purify; come into the soul and consecrate.”

The image is one of both the Baptismal font and the Eucharist. “A Eucharistic allegory concerns [the dissolution] of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting an end to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses” and to the suffering on the cross (mentioned earlier).

This leads us directly to the five streams coming out of the cup.

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Why five streams of water and not the four that Waite specifies in Pictorial Key to the Tarot? Furthermore, Bible readers all know that there are four streams that come out of Eden. This could be an error either on the part of Waite or Pamela Colman Smith. Or, it could veil a secret: These five streams might, after all, represent the five senses (see the quote immediately above), or the five ways of salvation and five gates of grace (from Masonic ritual), or the five wounds of Christ, the five points of the Pentagram, the five petals of the rose that rest on five leaves (the fingers), or the four elements plus aether—the quintessence. In terms of the symbolism, five yields far more relevance according to Waite himself:

“In the Longer Prose Perceval we have seen that there is an account of five changes in the Graal which took place at the altar, being five transfigurations, the last of which assumed the seeming of a chalice, but at the same time, instead of a chalice, was some undeclared mystery: so the general as well as the particular elements of the legend in its highest form offer a mystery the nature of which is recognised by the mystic through certain signs which it carries on its person; yet it is declared in part only and what remains, which is the greater part, is not more than suggested. It is that, I believe, which was seen by the maimed King when he looked into the Sacred Cup and beheld the secret of all things, the beginning even and the end. In this sense the five changes of the Graal are analogous to the five natures of man, as these in their turn correspond to the four aspects of the Cosmos and that which rules all things within and from without the Cosmos.”

I believe that despite their blue color, the five streams best represent blood, for as Marie-Louise von Franz tells us, “Grace was depicted as a fountain of Blood from the five holy wounds of Christ,” The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb-GhentBut it is in Evelyn Underhill, Anglo-Catholic author of a well-known book on mysticism, who perhaps reveals the deepest mystery. Underhill was a student or acolyte of Waite, having joined his branch of the Golden Dawn in 1904 and achieving at least four initiations. She wrote for Waite’s Horlick’s Magazine and  published a novel in 1909 featuring the effects of the Holy Grail on a woman who came into its possession. In an article titled “The Fountain of Life” in the Burlington Magazine (1910) Underhill examined the fountains of water and of blood depicted on several religious works of art including the famous Ghent Altarpiece (right). She notes that baptism and penance which ‘renews the grace of baptism,’ are still spoken of by Catholic theologians as ‘effusions of the Precious Blood,’ i.e., of grace. She went on to describe:

“, , , a fountain which is filled by the Blood flowing from the Five Wounds. The Soul, or ‘Bride,’ holds out her heart, and the blood from the wounded side of Christ falls upon it, causing flowers to spring up from the place which has been touched by the vivifying stream. The Precious Blood then . . . stands not merely for an emblem of the Passion, Redemption, or the Eucharist, though it includes all these manifestations of Grace, but for the medium of communication of the Divine Life . . . since for ancient and mediaeval thought the spirit of life resided in the blood.”

Given that the Aces are also seen by Waite as the four Celtic treasures, I’d be remiss in not presenting this option from Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod:

“In Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac has a vision of the sacred center of the Otherworld where he saw a shining fountain with five streams flowing out of it. He is told that it is the Fountain of Knowledge [others call it the Well of Wisdom], and the five streams are the five senses through which knowledge is obtained.”

Drops of Dew or YodsFullSizeRender (5)

These drops, in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod are found on many of the Tarot cards, generally signifying divine Grace. Shaped like a flame a Yod is the divine spark of creation that is the foundation of all the other letters and is the first letter in the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God. There are 26 yods and Eoin Keith Boyle notes in the comments that this is the sum of the 4-lettered name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Kabbalistic gematria. They are also the shape of the tongues of fire at Pentecost:

“They saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3-4.

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The alchemist Thomas Vaughn, in a compendium by Waite, calls it the divine spark or star-fire that is sympathetically attracted to its origin in God. It is spirit fructifying the soul.

These drops can also be seen as alchemical dew. Thomas Vaughn again explains that divine dew penetrates and transforms all that is physical. Waite claims that for the Rosicrucians “dew is light, coagulated and rendered corporeal. . . . When digested in its own vessel it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers.”

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[In the beginning]the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2.

It is the soul that desires union with the spirit, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above.”

This is also the generative water of renewal and rebirth. It also represents the emotions which here have become serene and calm, being fed by the waters of the Holy Spirit. In the parlance of Carl Jung it is the rich and fertile pool of the unconscious psyche—the soul. And Evelyn Underhill already explained that the blood from Christ’s wounds causes flowers to spring up—in this case water-lilies that grow only in sweet waters, reaching up from the mud toward the light. Regarding sweet waters, in Waite’s book of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, we find: “The Cup of bitterness ceases to exist for him who has drunk from the chalice of immortality”.

 W or M ?

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Finally we come to the major controversy associated with this card—What is the significance of the letter on the cup? The fact is that we will never know, but we do have some very likely possibilities, and knowing Waite, all of them may have been what was intended, for Waite saw all symbols as multi-valenced. 

IMG_2891MacGregor Mathers, in his 1888 book Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading the Cards claims that an inverted M on the front of the Spanish Ace of Cups represented the waters of creation in Genesis and all that remains of an Egyptian motif of twin serpents (as per this 19th century deck reproduced in the Cagliostro Tarot by Modiano of Italy). The Golden Dawn paper on the Tarot, “Book T,” says, “The great Letter of the Supernal Mother is traced in the spray of the Fountain.”

First it is note-worthy that the letter is shaped exactly like Pamela Colman Smith’s MsAr01 and not like her WsWaPg.

The main contenders for W are:
Waite (see the monogram on the Ten of Pentacles)
Water (“the implicit is that the Sign of the Cups naturally refers to water” PKT.)
Womb
Wisdom (more specifically, Well of Wisdom)

The main contenders for M are:
Mystery (“For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: the Mystery of Faith”).
Mem (or Maim, Hebrew for “water”)
Mary (or Mara, which also means “bitter sea”)
Mother (Matter. As Supernal Mother she is associated with Binah on the Tree of Life and the 2nd letter of the Tetragrammaton, He.)

Mercury (an alchemical maxim: “What wise men seek in Mercury is found”)

I believe that the letter is M and that it stands for Mystery, as viewed from above by the Holy Spirit. It is probably the word Waite uses most in his books where it is usually capitalized. To support this I have found almost this identical summary statement in several of Waite’s books:

“[In conclusion] the maxim which might and would be inscribed over the one Temple of the truly Catholic Religion when the faiths of this western world have been united in the higher consciousness–that is assuredly ‘Mysterium Fidei’–the mystery which endures for ever and for ever passes into experience.” HCHG, p. 469

We might also view the letters like this:

Waite – Mystery
Water – Mem
Womb – Mary/Mother
Wisdom – Mercury 

An Act of Imagination

I suggest one final way of getting at the deeper meaning of this card.

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chalice and, perhaps, the liquid in the chalice. Picture yourself reaching up for the host held in the beak of the dove. You might see yourself as a baby bird stretching up to be fed by a parent. Can you experience the yearning? Or you may be a font of water that wells up from a deep source. Feel the draw from above and your yearning toward the source of that draw. Become aware of the wounds gathered through your earthly experience. The water (or blood) within you could begin to spill over, rising up and falling out in a continuous stream. Can you let yourself go, surrender to the movement, and then to gravity so that you fall into the pool beneath? What happens when you spill into that pond? Where do you go? How do you reflect back what is above?

One final characteristic of Cups, which Waite mentions over and over again through his discussion of the suit, is fantasy—the ability to imagine super-sensible things and have experiences of what he calls the Arch-Natural world. While there are dangers in doing so (the Seven of Cups), it is in through mystical experience, first accessed through the door of the imagination, that we are ultimately able to commune with Spirit. I hope to speak more about this in a third post on a Jungian interpretation of this image.

See also: Part 1-Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups, despite its seeming simplicity, is a very complex card with deep allusions that are central to Waite’s “Secret Tradition”—his mystical philosophy. This post explores Waite’s own very conscious and specific intention for this card.

As an Ace in tarot readings it generally represents an opening of the heart, new love and relationships, the emergence of psychic abilities, dreams and imagination, spiritual nourishment and the gift of grace. It is the root of empathy.

In Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Waite explains that the Ace of Cups “is an intimation of that which may lie behind the Lesser Arcana.” In other words, it is key to the whole Minor Arcana. His declaration is not really surprising as 1909 saw not only the first publication of the tarot deck but also of Waite’s book The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal (HCHG), which in over 700 pages analyzed all that was known of the Grail and its myths. Most of the quotes below are from this book unless otherwise noted. As Waite’s sentences are quite obtuse and complex, I’ve simplified where necessary.

Waite completely ignores the Greater Arcana of the Tarot in HCHG but focuses a chapter on the Lesser Arcana suits. He saw them as a reflection of the four Grail Hallows and the four treasures of Celtic lore (an idea that Yeats later passed on to Jessie Weston; see From Ritual to Romance).

“The four Hallows are therefore the Cup, the Lance, the Sword and the Dish, Paten or Patella–these four, and the greatest of these is the Cup. As regards this Hallow-in-chief, of two things one: either the Graal Vessel contained the most sacred of all relics in Christendom, or it contained the Secret Mystery of the Eucharist.”

Waite wrote regarding these Lesser Hallows,

“The Lance renewed the Graal in some of the legends [comparing Galahad, Perceval, Lancelot, Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Glastonbury and so on] but the places of the Hallows are in certain symbolical worlds which are known to the Secret Tradition. The Dish, which, as I have said, signifies little in the romances, has, for the above reason, aspects of importance in the Tarot.” [I assume here that he equates the symbology of the Dish with the tarot suit of Pentacles/Disks.]

If we need further proof, Waite’s divinatory meanings for the Ace of Cups are: “House of the true heart, joy, content, abode, nourishment, abundance, fertility; Holy Table, felicity hereof.”

He uses the term ‘Holy Table’ once in HCHG regarding an early Grail myth, describing “the graces and favors of the Holy Table” upon which the Grail appears and feeds the faithful, bringing them joy and contentment. Waite also includes this phrase in his digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi, The Mysteries of Magic, where Lévi explains that primitive Christians gathered around the Holy Table to communicate with God and behold his face.

Although often couched in the terminology of the Catholic Church, Waite did not believe in the efficacy of instituted religions nor their requirements for ordination:

“The Mystic Quest is the highest of all adventures. . . . It exhibits the priesthood which comes rather by inward grace than by apostolical succession.”

“The Mass of the Graal . . . is celebrated only in the Secret Church and that Church is within. When the priest enters the Sanctuary he returns into himself by contemplation and approaches the altar which is within. . . . The Lord Christ comes down and communicates to him in the heart.”

When “grace and power fills them, permeates and overflows in the recipient’s heart . . . the Mystic Marriage by a Eucharistic rite” can take place—a theme central to most of Waite’s books. At heart this is a sexual mystery of Spirit and Nature, a “polarization of elements,” through which “Divine Life assumed the veils of flesh and blood” and through which flesh returns to Spirit.

This is the essence of Waite’s Secret Tradition that he wrote about in more than a hundred books and articles. He called the communication (or communion) the Eucharist, which is epitomized by the mystery of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:16

Here he speaks more of the Eucharist, first as a higher kind of love, symbolized by the Grail, and then of the loss of “Mystery” to the world:

“The Eucharist is a mystery of the soul’s love. . . . The sense is that love is set free from the impetuosity and violence of passion and has become a constant and incorruptible flame.”

“The Holy Graal . . . is a mystery of the Eucharist in its essence. . . . It is an inward mystery [not found in the official Church]. It died, however, in the consciousness except of a few faithful witnesses, . . . [because when Christ] incarnated, a manifestation of the God within was intended but it did not take place because the world was not worthy, the Graal was said to be removed.”

As Waite saw it, our ability to directly commune with the Divine has been lost. All the official sanctuaries “are in widowhood and desolation,” even though they are “filled with meaning and intimations of meaning.” That is, they give intimations or hints of the mystical journey, which is not available in institutions as it can only be experienced within each individual. The four suits of the Lesser Arcana tell four stories of this loss.

“It must be admitted that the Lesser Chronicles are in some sense a failure; they seem to hold up only an imperfect and partial glass of vision. But they are full testimony to the secrecy of the whole experiment; they are also the most wonderful cycle by way of intimation. Their especial key-phrase is my oft-quoted exeunt in mysterium [“they exit into mystery”].”

“The sources all say the same things differently: “The Holy Sepulcher is empty; the Tomb of C.R.C. [Christian Rosy Cross] in the House of the Holy Spirit is sealed up; the Word of Masonry is lost; the Zelator of alchemy now looks in vain for a Master. The traditional book of the Graal . . . [is] lost, . . . [as is the book] which was eaten by St. John (i.e., The Book of Revelations).”

It is left to the Greater Arcana to chart the soul’s journey along the path of restitution. But that is a separate tale.

Waite claims he wrote The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail as a text-book of a Great Initiation in that there is a secret meaning hidden in these tales of loss.

“So came into being [the Graal stories]. Whether in the normal consciousness I know not or in the subconsciousness I know not . . . that dream of theirs was of the super-concealed sanctuary behind the known and visible altar.”

They point to something that can now only be experienced by the individual in the inner sanctuary of his or her own heart. “Their maxim is that God is within.”

“The history of the Holy Graal becomes the soul’s history, moving through a profound symbolism of inward being, wherein we follow as we can, but the vistas are prolonged for ever, and it well seems that there is neither a beginning to the story nor a descried ending.”

Part 2 explores Waite’s clearly intended and most likely meanings for the specific symbols in the Ace of Cups.

 

Tarot of the Magicians cover

Best Book 2012

I’m proud to announce that The Tarot of the Magicians by Oswald Wirth (RedWheel/Weiser), with an extensive introduction by me, won the Award for the Best Book of 2012 from TarotProfessionals. This is a classic work by one of the great French occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century that should be read and re-read by all serious Tarot students. The book also contains the first reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Tarot (only 350 produced), on fine card stock—ready to be cut out and used. If you get only one tarot book in 2013, it should be this. Please share your impressions of this outstanding book.

Update: Ordering information here for the 250 copy limited edition.

The following announcement by Tali Goodwin and Marcus Katz has stirred quite a controversy. At the end of this announcement you’ll find a link to an article by Tabatha Cicero that adds much to an understanding of issues involved in the publication of these images.

Tali Goodwin of Tarot Professionals and the blog Tarot Speakeasy, through extensive research, has discovered the ORIGINAL Waite-Trinick images that comprised a tarot deck conceptualized by A.E. Waite for the private use of members of his Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. Tali tracked the family of stained glass artist, J. B. Trinick, who had lived in Kendal, England, and found the original color paintings!

Late last year Marcus Katz stumbled across an ebay sale for a set of worn and damaged images that he immediately recognized as part of a mysterious second Waite deck. It had been brought to the attention of tarotists in Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett’s book A History of the Occult Tarot. The illustrations here are from that book. The new discovery was part of a series of several major synchronicities in the story of this rare deck that have taken place over the last two years.

Tali and Marcus were able to view and photograph the beautiful and enigmatic original paintings and have agreed with the owners to bring out a book (in color and b&w) of the major twenty-two images with full commentary prior to Christmas 2011.

The commentary will be based on Waite’s unpublished and extensive commentary on the images, which has led to a complete mapping of Waite’s “secret” correspondences to the Tree of Life. Marcus says that this set of correspondences is so blindingly obvious and “makes sense,” such that he believes we will be astounded. It will be interesting to see if the mapping corresponds with the revised Tree of Life described in Decker and Dummett’s book. Also, this clears up a long-running controversy about whether the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was designed with Golden Dawn Tree of Life Associations in mind. My feeling is that it was, as Waite clearly uses these associations in some of his Order papers, but it’s also clear that he wasn’t really satisfied with them.

Tarot Professionals are hosting a funding drive—live on Indigogo (now available) to ask for assistance towards publication. As they want to make these remarkable images—and the biggest discovery in Tarot this century—available to everyone. I’ll post the information as soon as I get it.

For additional information and another perspective, read Tabatha Cicero on “The Great Symbols of the Paths” at The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn blog.

About John Trinick

About John Trinick

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Several years ago, Cerulean, on Aeclectic’s tarot forum, posted this information about Trinick:

John Trinick was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 17 August 1890, sailing to England with his parents in 1893 before returning to Australia in 1907. He studied in the art school of the National Gallery of Victoria between 1910 and 1915 and then returned to England in 1919 to continue his studies at the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole school of Art.

Trinick began to specialise in glass in 1921 when he joined the studios of William Morris Merton and ten years later he opened his own studio in Upper Norwood, London. He rapidly became famous for the quality of his work, exhibiting widely at The Royal Academy, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and in Vitoria, Spain, in addition to providing stained glass windows for several churches, including a complete set of chapel windows for St. Michael’s in 1951. Among his other work was a panel, Opus Sectile, depicting Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral; 11 windows for St. Pius X, London and the entire chapel scheme for Salmerston Grange, Margate.

He was also an accomplished illustrator in watercolour, pencil, pastel and crayon, a collection of Trinick’s watercolour copies of European stained glass windows ws purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it forms part of the V and A archives.

Although the majority of Trinick’s work involved ecclesiastical commissions, he did not limit his exploration of spirituality to Christianity. He actively explored many modes of thinking throughout his life, including Rosicruianism and Freemasonry. He had a strong interest in alchemy and other forms of ancient spirituality. In 1922 he published a book of poetry entitled Dead Sanctuary and, in 1967, at the age of 84, he published a philosophical volume, The Fire Tried Stone, an appraisal of the work of Carl Jung.

John Trinick died in 1974, many of his designs returning to Australia.

This color design for five stained glass windows is in the University of Melbourne Art Collection.

Here’s his St. Theresa Window from Our Lady of Dolours, Hendon.

After exploring five hundred years of the moralization of playing cards in Part 1 and Part 2, we finally get to playing cards and, eventually, tarot, as a book of wisdom. I included this section under the theme of “moralization” because it shows a development of this theme into social-spiritual-political reform and a shift from an orthodox Christianity to a Humanism that arose in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. We see here that playing cards (and/or tarot) have been viewed, on occasion, as a book of the wise, teaching a timeless philosophy leading to the betterment of humankind. I’d like to preface this section with a reminder of the origins of the occult tarot.

Radical Social Reform and the Hieroglyphs of the Wise

In 1781 Antoine Court de Gébelin (actually Antoine Court, from Gébelin), son of a famous Huguenot pastor, published an essay in his encyclopedic work, Le Monde Primitif, in which he declared the tarot came from Egypt and was related to the Hebrew letters. The text of Court’s essay and an accompanying one by Le Comte de M[ellet] has elements that suggest that these ideas about tarot did not originate with them, but were possibly based on materials available in French Masonic lodges (to which Etteilla also belonged). The early-19th century magician Eliphas Lévi hints at this:

“The true initiates, contemporaries of Etteilla, the Rosicrucians, for example, and the Martinists, who were in possession of the real Tarot . . . were far from protesting against the errors of Etteilla, and left him to re-veil, not reveal, the arcanum of the veritable claviculae of Solomon.” (Lévi, Mysteries of Magic, p. 270)

The fact that Egypt is given as the source of the tarot was not unexpected, because Court’s encyclopedia was an allegorical examination of ancient mythologies (which he believed began in agriculture). This led to a search for the origin of language and the remnants of original hieroglyphs that he saw as containing the symbolic and mystical knowledge of the wise. He attempted to catalog the universal mother tongue and grammar by deciphering all traces of the primal language still extant in the modern world. The tarot was, to his mind, one of these hieroglyphic languages. A powerful advocate of radical social reform, including freedom of religion and of independence in America, Court believed that reconstructing this proto-language would bring about social-regeneration through “a single grammar of physics and morality,” allowing “modern men nothing less than a chance to uncover the timeless, natural laws governing human happiness, and thereby to restore peace and prosperity on earth” (see Rosenfeld). In addition to the Masonic lodge of Les Neuf Sœurs (“Nine Sisters”), which he co-founded, Court was a prominent member of the Order of Philalethes (founded 1773), who, as scholarly ‘Searchers of Truth,’ were on a mission to track down everything that could be found on the occult sciences in Freemasonry. Another member was Cagliostro, famous for his institution of an Egyptian Rite in French Freemasonry. I’ve not found any written reference to Cagliostro and tarot, but he gained his reputation, in part, as a successful fortune-teller and was depicted in the following illustration as a cartomancer. Antoine Court de Gébelin was not the first to envision such a socio-political regeneration in which the tarot cards would play at least an oblique part.

The Italian Connection & The New-Found Politicke

In 1612, an Italian who reported on (and satirized) the political, moral and literary issues of the day and advocated religious tolerance, Trajano Boccalini (1556 –1613) published in Milan,  I Raggvagli di Parnasso (“Advertisements from Parnassus;” also De Ragguagli di Parnaso, see article by Andrea Vitali, in which he asserts that the game played was probably with ordinary playing cards, not tarot). Parnassus was the mountain of poets, an equivalent to the Olympus of the gods. First printed in Milan, the work was frequently translated and republished—first in England by John Florio and others who called it The New-Found Politicke (1626). It contained a chapter on cards, possibly tarot, although Vitali (above) identifies them as regular playing cards.

John Florio was born in England to an Italian father who had fled the persecution of the Waldenses in Florence. Florio was raised in both cultures, translating Italian ideas for English usage. Shakespeare’s reference to the card game of Triumph in Antony and Cleopatra is believed to have been inspired by Florio’s Second Frutes of 1591, whose Italian proverbs and figures of speech had a great influence on the literature of the period (or Shakespeare may even have been Florio, according to Jorge Louis Borges).

“Wrap Excellencie up never so much,
In Hierogliphicques, Ciphers, Caracters,
And let her speake never so strange a speech,
Her Genius yet findes apt discipherers.”

It was in Florio’s Italian-English dictionary of 1598 that the English learned that Tarocchi are “a kind of playing cards used in Italy, called terrestrial triumphs” and that taroccare means “to play at Tarocchi”; also “to play the froward gull or peevish ninnie” (that is, “to play the contrary fool or whining simpleton”). Frances Yates theorized in her book John Florio: the Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England (1934) that Florio acted as intermediary between Shakespeare and Giordano Bruno with his neoplatonic hermeticism. Florio worked under the patronage of the Earl of Southampton who was also Shakespeare’s patron and was under the patronage of both Archbishop Cranmer and Sir William Cecil—in whose house he lived for some time. These were both close friends of Hugh Latimer (see Part 1)—small world!

Getting back to Boccalini’s I Raggvagli di Parnasso (from the translation by Henry Cary, 1669): We find in the “2nd Advertisement” a short text from the start of a large work that might be thought to contain material that will inform the whole. It follows the same initial plot as the “Soldier’s Prayerbook” (see Part II) in which a young rapscallion is discovered with cards, taken before an authority to explain himself, at which time the deep mysteries of the cards are revealed, although in this case, it is the authority, Apollo, who discerns them. He explains that the game of Trumps (see Part 1) teaches hidden secrets and ‘a science necessary for all men to learn,’ a ‘true Court-Philosophy’ in that even the most worthless trump takes all the ‘beautiful figures.’ Later we will see that, to the masses, even the least-of-trifles trumps all the great wisdom of the sages. It is a satiric commentary that masks a deeper philosophy, just as to more modern tarot commentators, the triviality of tarot as a gambling game was believed to hide its higher truths.

The usual Guard of Parnassus having taken a Poetaster*, who had been banished [from] Parnassus, upon pain of death, found a paire of cards in his pocket; which when Apollo saw, he gave order that he should read the Game of Trump in the publick Schools [my italics].
*Poetaster, like rhymester or versifier, is a contemptuous name often applied to bad or inferior poets. Specifically, poetaster has implications of unwarranted pretentions to artistic value.

[The text concludes with:] Apollo asked this man, what game he used to play most at? Who answering, Trump, Apollo commanded him to play at it; which when he had done, Apollo penetrating into the deep mysteries thereof, cryed out, that the Game of Trump, was the true Court-Philosophy; a science necessary for all men to learn, who would not live blockishly. And appearing much displeased at the affront done this man, he first honoured him with the name of Vertuoso; and then causing him to be set at liberty, he commanded the Beadles, that the next morning a particular College should be opened, where with the salary of 500 crowns a year, for the general good, this rare man might read the most excellent Game of Trump; and commanded upon great penalty, that the Platonicks, Peripateticks, and all other the Moral Philosophers, and Vertuosi of Parnassus, should learn so requisite a science; and that they might not forget it, he ordered them to study that game one hour every day; and thought the more learned sort thought it very strange that is should be possible to gather anything that was advantagous for the life of man, from a base game, used only in ale-houses; yet knowing that his Majesty did never command anything which made not for the bettering of his Vertuosi, they so willingly obeyed him, as that school was much frequented. But when the Learned found out the deep mysteries, the hidden secrets, and the admirable cunning of the excellent Game of Trump, they extolled his Majestie’s judgement, even to the eighth heaven, celebrating and magnifying everywhere, that neither Philosophy, nor Poetry, nor Astrologie, nor any of the other most esteemed sciences, but only the miraculous Game of Trump, did teach (and more particularly, such as had business in Court) the most important secret, that even the least Trump, did take all the best Coat-Cards” [“che ogni cartaccia di Trionfo piglia tutte le più belle figure”].

The Rosicrucians and a Universal Reformation of the World

Meanwhile, in Kassel, Germany a revolutionary paper with far-reaching consequences was being written by a young Johann Valentin Andreae and friends who were part of a utopian brotherhood. The supposedly anonymous Fama Fraternitatis or Rosicrucian Manifesto was published in 1614 and had an impact that no one could have imagined. It tells the story of Christian Rosenkreutz who traveled to the Middle East where he met sages and mystics, learning from them esoteric wisdom and knowledge before returning to Europe where he founded the secret Brotherhood of the Rose Cross (the Rosicrucians). This secret order consists of men, dedicated to the well-being of humankind, who travel the world healing and teaching. It gives an account of their discovery of the hidden tomb of Rosenkreutz, whose body lies, in centre of the vault, perfectly preserved after the passing of over a century.

The Fama first appeared with a preface: “Advertisement 77” of Boccalini’s just published I Raggvagli di Parnasso that called for a “Universal Reformation of the World.” Although it doesn’t mention cards directly, we saw that an earlier chapter did. Its purpose regarding the Fama has been much debated because the follies of these reformers of the world are openly ridiculed. “Advertisement 77” depicts a fraternity of the world’s wisest men who debate many ideas about how to resolve the world’s conflicts. Despite their belief in the high principles of love and caritas, they conclude that the masses will always prefer relief of their immediate problems over the true reform of society. And so they lower the prices of essential foods—to great rejoicing—rather than enacting the lofty reforms they had just discussed. Boccalini despairs, not believing that intellectual enlightenment will prevail. As A. E. Waite describes it:

“They fixt the prices of sprats, cabbages, and pumpkins . . . for the rabble are satisfied with trifles, while men of judgment know that—as long as there be men there will be vices—that men live on earth not indeed well, but as little ill as they may, and that the height of human wisdom lies in the discretion to be content with leaving the world as they found it.” (Waite, The Real History of the Rosicrucians, 1887.)

One modern Freemason believes that Boccalini’s satire was making it “clear that the first step for the reformation of the world must necessarily be the reformation of the spirit.” Frances Yates suggests that the inclusion of Boccalini may, in part, have been an oblique reference to Giordano Bruno and certain “secret mystical, philosophical, and anti-Hapsburg currents of Italian origin.” She explains,

“Giordano Bruno as he wandered through Europe had preached an approaching general reformation of the world, based on return to the ‘Egyptian’ religion taught in the Hermetic treatises, a religion which was to transcend religious differences through love and magic, which was to be based on a new vision of nature achieved through Hermetic contemplative exercises.” [Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, p. 136.]

Others claim there is an alchemical interpretation for the text. Manly Palmer Hall attributes Boccalini’s chapter to Lord Verulam, Francis Bacon, known as ‘the Chancellor of Parnassus’ (his wife was a huge Bacon fan).

The Wise Men of Fez

Now, Paul Foster Case (who created the BOTA tarot) was well aware of the first edition of the Fama Fraternitatis, having written his own book on the Rosicrucian Manifesto. I also believe he was familiar with the whole Ragguagli as he seems to have blended Advertisements 2 and 77 into his tale of the origin of the tarot. According to Rosicrucian legend, Christian Rosenkreutz studied in Egypt and at length arrived in Fez, the holy city of Morocco that was, during the Middle Ages, one of the most famous centers of the alchemical arts. In The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order, Case sets his own mythical origin of the tarot in Fez and places the wisdom of all the gathered sages into a deck of cards, whose pictures speak a thousand words, equally in all languages. He clearly wants his readers to believe that the tarot was one of the “many books and pictures sent forth” by the Rosicrucian Fraternity that could speak in many languages of their treasures: the secrets of spiritual alchemy that could bring about “general reformation both of divine and human things.” And, as Waite commented above, “as long as there be men there will be vices,” so that wisdom imparted through a tool of gambling would never be lost.

The Rosicrucians Come to France

Let us return now to France, where some believe that (in contrast to other European nations) Rosicrucianism failed to take hold. But, several scholars have noted that in 1623 a mysterious placard was affixed to the walls of Paris:

“We, the deputies of our chief college of the Brethren of the Rosy Cross, now sojourning, visible and invisible, in this town, do teach, in the name of the Most High, towards whom the hearts of the Sages turn, every science, without either books, symbols, or signs, and we speak the language of the country in which we tarry, that we may extricate our fellow-men from error and destruction.”

On the 23rd June 1623, “A general assembly of Rosicrucians was reported to have been held in Lyons” (G. Naudé, Instruction à la France sur la verité de l’histoire des Freres de la Roze-Croix, 1623, p. 31). A Rosicrucian lodge of Aureae Crucis Fraternitatis was founded in 1624. (Jean-Pascal Ruggiu, Rosicrucian Alchemy and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). By the late l8th century, the Order of Philalethes and some other Masonic lodges had instituted Rosicrucian grades.

Pure Speculation

There are few factual historical connections among all this material. Yet there seems to be a functional connection in which the deck of cards serves as a hidden reminder, manifesting through time in a variety of forms, of moral truths and spiritual teachings. Could explorations of the sources of the Rosicrucian Manifesto by the Order of Philalethes have turned up Boccalini’s entire Raggvagli with its chapter on the Trumps? Might the Italian Cagliostro have included tarot when he was teaching his Egyptian Rite to French Masons? Hopefully, this new information should excite speculation, perhaps bring to light some overlooked facts, and encourage us to explore questions about the role of cards as carriers of ideas in human culture and philosophy.

Le Grandprêtre Tarot

Were these cards created to illustrate the text of Antoine Court de Gébelin or did they inspire his text?

The cards in this deck, from the John Omwake Playing Card Collection, have many of the same titles that appear in Le Monde Primitif. They were attributed by Catherine Hargrave in A History of Playing Cards (1930) to early 18th century France. Stuart Kaplan in his Encyclopedia of Tarot, V.1 dates them 1720, but in V.2 he changes that to late 18th century, post-Le Monde Primitif (p. 336-7). Other than this deck, the first use of the terms High Priest and High Priestess (Grandprêtre and Grandprêtresse) instead of the Pope and Popess are in LMP.

The cards are 1-7/8″x3-3/8″ and were, according to Hargrave, made from copper plates and then hand-colored, so they must have had some distribution. There is no separate Fool card, but he appears in place of the Devil on card XV.

If influenced by Antoine Court why aren’t his card descriptions followed more closely? Could the originally estimated date possibly be correct?

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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