Book Club Post

The Doctrine of High Magic: Chapter 1

With this post we continue a monthly chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, the book that launched the modern magical revival.  Here and in the months ahead we’re plunging into the white-hot fires of creation where modern magic was born. If you’re just joining us now, I recommend reading the earlier posts in this sequence first; you can find them here.  Either way, grab your tarot cards and hang on tight.

If you can read French, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Lévi’s book in the original and follow along with that; it’s readily available for sale in Francophone countries, and can also be downloaded from If not, the English translation by me and Mark Mikituk is recommended; A.E. Waite’s translation, unhelpfully retitled Transcendental Magic, is second-rate at best—riddled with errors and burdened with Waite’s seething intellectual jealousy of Lévi—though you can use it after a fashion if it’s what you can get. Also recommended is a tarot deck using the French pattern:  the Knapp-Hall deck (unfortunately now out of print), the Wirth deck, or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.


“Chapter 1: The Initiate” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 27-38).


In this first chapter, as elsewhere in our text, Lévi covers a great deal in a small number of pages and makes few allowances for those who like their instruction cut up into bite-sized pieces.  Let’s take it one step at at time.

To begin with, we encounter René Descartes’ famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am.”  That bit of prose has been misunderstood considerably in recent years, so it’s helptul to review its meaning here. Descartes in his philosophical reflections was trying to find something he could not doubt, which he could then use as a foundation for philosophy.  It occurred to him that the fact that he was doubting implied that there had to be a René Descartes to do the doubting, and so he had his foundation:  his own experience of himself as a conscious, reflecting, individual being.  That was the birth certificate of modern philosophy, and the entire trajectory of modern Western philosophical thought from Descartes to Deleuze traces out the way that this core idea was explored, developed, challenged, affirmed, rejected, reframed, and eventually reduced to self-negating gibberish.

Lévi chose a different approach.  The divine name that the God of Israel revealed to Moses in the Book of Exodus was אהיה אשר אהיה , Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, “I am that I am.” Lévi applies the same principle more generally:  being is being, what exists is what exists. More formally, what you experience exists as an experience, whatever other modes of existence may be hypothesized for it. The basic formula of existentialism—“existence precedes essence”—could almost be Lévi’s formula as well, though he refuses to predicate anything of experience besides the simple fact that it happens, and he doesn’t mope, as the existentialists did, because experience refuses to provide him with the certainties they pined for.

And thought, the form of experience that Descartes took as his standpoint?  Thought is the word, le verbe, which Mark and I agreed to translate as “the verb” to catch both the meanings of the French word. Less tersely, thought is speech, the net of language in which we try however clumsily to catch what exists. It is always secondary to, and dependent on, the primary reality of experience.  When Descartes used the net in an attempt to prove the existence of fish—well, the joke is inescapable:  he put Descartes before the horse.  The fact that there was definitely an experience being had didn’t prove that some essentially René Descartesish entity was having it, and it certainly didn’t justify the grandiose edifice he built atop that shaky foundation.

Like Descartes, you experience yourself as a center of will, thought, feeling, perception, and that experience exists, as an experience. That doesn’t prove that there’s a “you” separate from that experience, though of course it doesn’t disprove it either.  Drawing sweeping conclusions from that experience, of a kind that are not drawn from other experiences—as Descartes did, and as a great many modern Western philosophers did in his wake—is a dubious procedure at best, and its results were tolerably often just as dubious.  It took Nietzsche’s furious prose to bring philosophy back face to face with the raw data of experience.  The encounter was traumatic enough that a great many philosophers are still hiding in their closets waiting for the big bad universe to go away and leave them in peace.

Long before Nietzsche, however, Lévi was already proposing a reliance on experience as such as the philosophical basis for his system of magic. Why does magic need a philosophical basis?  Because magic is to philosophy what engineering is to science; it is applied or operative philosophy.  It works, as we’ll see, with the irrational aspects of the human mind primarily, but in what Lévi calls high magic those aspects are always guided and directed by a clear conscious understanding of principles. Folk magic, like folk crafts, uses traditional rules of thumb to guide practice; magic, like engineering, uses a conceptual understanding instead.

Experience, as we have noted, includes the experience of self—of yourself as a center of will, thought, feeling, and perception. All other experiences you have relate in one way or another to the collection of experiences that you sum up in the capacious word “me.”  What is this collection of experiences? That’s the next theme of this chapter.

Who are you?  If you take up magic you will have to confront that question over and over again. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your desires and aversions, your passions and prejudices is essential to the successful practice of magic.  To be a mage is to be a priest and a king, Lévi says, a priest invoking the astral light and a king over the realities that unfold from that light.  If you follow the path of magic you must be prepared to act as a priest and a king (or, we can add, as a priestess and a queen).  You will not be ruling over other people, by the way. Your first task is to rule over yourself; your second is to rule over the astral light, the great magical agent to which Lévi devotes many pages to come.

The great obstacle to that priesthood and kingship is slavery to passions and prejudices. By passions are meant instinctive drives, the whole range of cravings and aversions we inherit from the biological ancestors of our species, subject to modification by cultural and personal factors.  By prejudices are meant, as the word literally means, pre-judgments, fixed ideas borrowed from our cultures or created by ourselves. We all have passions and prejudices, and Lévi does not pretend that we can get rid of them.  It is simply a question of who will be the master.

Now of course this sort of thinking is unfashionable in some circles nowadays, just as they were unfashionable in some circles in Lévi’s time. Romanticism was a waning current by the time he wrote, but there were still plenty of people in Parisian literary and cultural circles who preached the doctrine of wallowing in passion, abandoning reflection, and casting off the oh-so-dreary burden of self-control and self-knowledge. Some of those people dabbled in magic—as of course some of their equivalents still do the same thing today.

Nowadays there are influential cultural trends and schools of thought, with their own ornate philosophical volumes to back them up, insisting that self-control is bad, self-mastery is bad, you should let go of all those bourgeois hangups and abandon yourself to the churning abyss of passion, and so on.  If you’re interested in looking, you can find entire volumes insisting that schizophrenia is good and sanity is bad, and this sort of thinking has its echoes in some corners of the magical scene. If your idea of the zenith of human potential involves rocking back and forth in a puddle of your own urine while babbling nonsense syllables, don’t let me stop you, but, er, that’s not what Eliphas Lévi is interested in teaching.

Lévi makes a strict distinction here, and it’s one worth making.  To attain conscious control over your passions and your prejudices is to be able to participate freely in the dance of magical forces.  To remain subject to your passions and your prejudices is to be a plaything of those forces, and they are careless of their toys. Those are your choices; take your pick.

Granting for a moment that you’ve chosen the path of high magic, what then?  Lévi offers you four disciplines, the four classic magical virtues:  to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent.  Aspirants to magical power must replace their ignorance with knowledge, their timidity with daring, their passivity with will, and their thoughtless chatter with silence:  not just once, in some formal or symbolic sense, but continually, whenever appropriate opportunities presents themselves. This is the most basic and most essential practice of magical training, and it can be carried out in every part of daily life.

As he presents this course of study, Lévi goes deeper into theory.  Magic, he says, is the traditional science of the secrets of nature which comes to us from the mages; that is to say, magic isn’t whatever you want it to be; it is a specific body of traditional knowledge that reached Lévi’s time from a specific source. (“Science,” remember, still meant any body of organized knowledge, not just modern science, when Lévi wrote.) The only doctrine of magic is that the visible is a manifestation of the invisible; that is to say, the traditions of magic hold that the world is not an illusion or a lie, that what we experience is in some sense analogous to underlying realities we do not experience. (Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, what exists is what exists.)

Thus our intellects and our wills are not left tumbling about in a void.  The discoveries of the mages of the past are a source of guidance here and now, and the experiences with which we interact are analogous to a deeper reality, unknowable but present. Furthermore, we have another power as potent as these two. That power received very little attention from the popular and educated cultures of Lévi’s time. It gets more lip service these days, but its power and potential are still generally neglected.  That power is the imagination, which Lévi also called the diaphane and the translucent.

The discovery of the imagination is one of the great achievements of the nineteenth century. Go looking in books on psychology older than that and you’ll find that the mind’s image-making power is usually neglected, or lumped in with one of the other mental functions.  The Romantic movement as the end of the eighteenth century opened the way to a recognition of imagination as a core power of the mind; by the middle of the nineteenth, writers such as Lévi embraced it; by the end of the century fantasy fiction, the great literary expression of imagination unbound, had been invented by William Morris, and the world began to change accordingly.  In Lévi’s time the imagination was still little regarded, and so he had to spend paragraphs explaining such basic points as the fact that the way you imagine yourself plays a potent role in shaping your experiences in life.

The words “diaphane” and “translucent,” by the way, both mean the same thing:  something through which light can pass.  In this turn of phrase is an essential key to Lévi’s approach, though this chapter does not yet present the lock that the key can open.  The imagination, rightly used, is the capacity to create forms through which the light of understanding can pass.  It is the third factor that resolves a binary that got a lot of attention in Lévi’s book, and at least as much attention in his time:  the binary between faith and reason.

Lévi’s approach to this binary, which we’ll be discussing repeatedly from different angles as these essays proceed, is as straightforward as it is practical. There are things that we are capable of knowing by applying reason to our experiences, he suggests, and there are things that we can’t know by that means.   Mages, like everyone else, deal with both kinds of things on a daily basis.  Being mages, they do so in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, and respond to each of these categories of things with a human capacity suited to it.  Those things that can be known are properly addressed through reason; those things that cannot be known are properly addressed through faith. Applying faith to the proper objects of reason, or reason to the proper objects of faith, is to Lévi the basic formula of human confusion.

It’s important in this context to understand what Lévi means by faith. He doesn’t mean belief in doctrines.  (This will become extremely clear as we proceed.) He means an attitude of trust in traditional practices and the myths that frame them. As a Catholic, Lévi attended Mass and accepted that there was a truth of some kind behind the mythic images and ritual practices of his religion.  That was enough for him, and from his point of view, it was a profound mistake for religious authorities to go beyond that and try to make dogmatic claims about what was and was not true about the universe. That was trying to apply faith to the proper objects of reason—trying to claim to know about things that human beings can’t know.

Equally, when rationalists denounced religion root and branch and insisted that traditional rituals and myths should be discarded because they weren’t rational, they were trying to apply reason to the proper objects of faith, an equally unhelpful act. To apply reason to the things we can know something about and faith to those things that are beyond the reach of the human mind:  that was his formula for a working reconciliation between science and religion, reason and faith.

Imagination is central to that reconciliation.  Myths and rituals are creations and vehicles of the human imagination, which enables us to approach in symbolic form those aspects of the cosmos we can’t understand in any other way.  As the diaphane, the imagination establishes forms through which light can pass.  How this is done will be made clearer as we proceed.

Notes for Study and Practice:

It’s quite possible to get a great deal out of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by the simple expedient of reading each chapter several times and thinking at length about the ideas and imagery that Lévi presents. For those who want to push things a little further, however, meditation is a classic tool for doing so.

The method of meditation I will be teaching as we read Lévi is one that is implicit in his text, and was developed in various ways by later occultists following in his footsteps.  It is a simple and very safe method, suitable for complete beginners but not without benefits for more experienced practitioners.  It will take you five minutes a day.  Its requirements are a comfortable chair, your copy of Lévi’s book, and a tarot deck of one of the varieties discussed earlier.

For your work on this chapter, take Trump I, Le Bateleur—this translates as “The Juggler” or “The Magician.” Your first task is to study it and get familiar with the imagery. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Spend five minutes doing this on the first day you devote to this practice.

Your second task is to associate a letter with it. Lévi gives you two options, the Hebrew letter א (Aleph) or the Latin letter A. Choose one alphabet and stick to it. The sound values aren’t of any importance here, nor is there a “right” choice. You’re choosing labels for a mental filing cabinet.  Most people can make the necessary association quite promptly, but spend a session exploring it. Sit down, get out the card, and study it.  Whichever letter you choose, how does it relate to the card?  Many decks make the figure on this cart stand in a posture representing Aleph, but don’t stop with that. See how many modes of Aleph-ness or A-ness you can find in your card.

The third, fourth, and fifth sessions are devoted to the three titles Lévi gives for the card: Disciplina, Ain Soph, Kether. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. How does discipline relate to the imagery on the card and the letter you’ve chosen?  That’s one session.  How about the Cabalistic concept of Ain Soph?  Or the concept of Kether the Crown, the first sphere of the Tree of Life?  Those are the next two.  (If you have no previous knowledge about the Cabala, do a little reading online; you just need to have a basic notion of what these terms mean.)

One of the great booby traps awaiting inexperienced occultists inevitably pops up at this point:  “But what if I get the wrong answer?”  There are no wrong answers in meditation.  Seriously, there are no wrong answers in meditation.  Your goal is to learn how to work with certain capacities of will and imagination most people never develop.  Stray thoughts, strange fancies, and whimsical notions do this as well as anything.

Sessions Six through the end of the month are done exactly the same way, except that you take the concepts from the chapter. Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Then open the book to Chapter I of the Doctrine and find something in it that interests you.  Spend five minutes figuring out how it relates to the imagery on the card, the letter, and the three titles. Do the same thing with a different passage the next day, and the day after, and so on.

Don’t worry about where this is going. Unless you’ve already done this kind of practice, the goal won’t make any kind of sense to you. Just do the practice.  You’ll find, if you stick with it, that over time the card you’re working on takes on a curious quality I can only call conceptual three-dimensionality:  a depth is present that was not there before, a depth of meaning and ideation.  It can be very subtle or very loud, or anything in between. Don’t sense it?  Don’t worry.  Sit down, get out the card, and study it. Do the practice and see where it takes you.

We’ll be going on to “Chapter 2:  The Columns of the Temple” on July 14, 2021. See you then!


  1. Hi JMG,

    Speaking of magic, I tried the thing where you open the door and meet somebody. It opened, but there was nobody there, just some nice scenery. Is that supposed to happen the first time, or did I mess up?

  2. Why does Levy recommend selecting the first letter of the alphabet as the label for a mental filing cabinet? Since the number 1 is already printed on the card, why would this not be used for this purpose?

    Antoinetta III

  3. JMG, sounds like you gave a big hint about creating mental bodies at the very end. Thanks for naming that.

    Commentariat, This chapter dropped some big hints to Lévi’s riddles in the intro.

  4. Hello John,
    I was only able to get the following tarot card deck: “The Hermetic Tarot” based on the esoteric workings of The secret Order of the Golden Dawn. By Godfrey Dowson. I compared the images on line with the Marseilles deck but I am not able to figure out what the differences in the images might mean and if that makes an impact on my understanding going forward. Shall I use them or continue my search for a Marseilles deck? Thanks in advance.

  5. ” As a Catholic, Lévi attended Mass and accepted that there was a truth of some kind behind the mythic images and ritual practices of his religion. That was enough for him, and from his point of view, it was a profound mistake for religious authorities to go beyond that and try to make dogmatic claims about what was and was not true about the universe. That was trying to apply faith to the proper objects of reason—trying to claim to know about things that human beings can’t know.”

    As a “unorthodox” Christian, I agree with Lévi in that point; faith is a too serious game to reduce it to dogmatism about everything in the universe…
    Narrow-minded racionalists make another mistake: they turn reason in a goddess. It’s an even more boring claim than Catholic orthodoxy.

  6. John–

    Two initial reactions to this chapter and commentary came up for me. First–and I’ll admit it has been a good while since I’ve read any of the philosophical works, so I’m going off of memory–if I recall correctly, Rand’s Objectivism began with a similar premise of “existence exists.” (Of course, how one proceeds from that foundation is another thing entirely.)

    Secondly, the point of “what we experience is in some sense analogous to underlying realities we do not experience” struck me as being similar though not identical to Plato’s analogy of the cave. If I’m understanding this properly, rather than unreal shadows of a “true” reality, what you and Levi are saying is that the things we experience are related to realities we do not (and cannot) experience, but also that that which we experience is in no way less real because of those connections.

    I’ll be going over this chapter several times. Much to chew on for the next month!

  7. This analysis resonates with me very powerfully, and expresses clearly thoughts and images I had long felt very important. Long, as in from my earliest conscious moments when I studied the emergence of thoughts from the undifferentiated, saw them covered with vague and then more vivid forms, and then being covered with words/concepts. I was maybe fourteen. No one I knew then thought this was either remarkable or important, and I lacked the background to go further.

    When I was studying Buddhism under Tibetan sages, we studies Madhyamaka, Yogacarya-madhyamaka, and after a great deal of preparation, finally engaged in attempts at “Mahamudra.” To my mind, these almost exactly parallel what we are covering here. Of course, your mileage may vary.

    Plenty of people got stuck at pure madhyamaka analysis (reasoning about reasoning to the point of destroying and disabling reason itself–which can be a valuable starting point but heaven help anyone who stops there) and they considered the yogacarya portion (where the yogi’s experience is considered valuable rather than something to disregard) to be more “primitive.” In the original meaning of the word, it is. But that is not what Asian or western critics of yogacarya meant.

    It’s wild to have gone through developing my innate predispositions and understandings with early study of the western mystery tradition and philosophy, then having studied a fully developed Asian esoteric system and to finally at a fairly great age (I’m 72) to come back to the beginning. However far one goes, no matter what one achieves, in at least one sense we are always beginners. Or to quote the great Buckaroo Banzai (who I believe was quoting one of the Tibetan greats, the 16th Karmapa): “Wherever you go, there you are.”

    I lacked the tools as a younger man (and colleagues also) to benefit from Levi, though I was aware of his work. I’m very grateful for this chance to refresh my soul and mind this way. Please let me know if I’m off base here. I’d hate to go further on a faulty foundation. Ain soph, indeed.

  8. Your Kittenship, sometimes that happens. The next time you do it, try calling out for someone to guide you.

    Antoinetta, because the numbers have other uses and meanings in Levi’s magical system.

    Youngelephant, good. Keep working on it.

    Daniel, there are scores of Marseilles decks, most of which can easily be ordered online. Please get one.

    Chuaquin, no argument there!

    David BTL, good! You can start with “existence exists” and head off in several different directions. You can go Rand’s way, which amounts to “existence exists (and my prejudices and value judgments about it are objectively true).” You can go Sartre’s way, which amounts to “existence exists (and my prejudices and value judgments about it are flailings in the void).” You can go Lévi’s way, which amounts to “existence exists (and my prejudices and value judgments about it are among the things that exist, full stop, end of sentence).” Doubtless there are other ways as well.

    As for Plato, excellent! In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche devotes a chapter to a brief but brilliant analysis of “how the ‘real world’ finally became a fable.” He’s taking apart the notion that the world we experience is somehow fake and the “real world” is something else apart from it — a notion that’s central to Plato, of course, and to a great many other philosophers as well. What Lévi is saying implies the same thing, though Nietzsche said it more crisply; the world consists of things we can experience and things we can’t, some of the former reflect some of the latter, but all belong to one world.

    Clarke, you’re not off base at all. It’s important to recognize the flaws and limitations of reason, but yeah, if you stop there you end up unable to wipe your own backside because you can’t postulate how. The movement from critical analysis of reason to reliance on experience is also something that Platonism went through, leading to Plotinus and the Neoplatonists more generally. I don’t know if this is generally true, but my experience has always been that every course of study worth the time ends up circling back around to its beginning. Eliot comes to mind:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”

  9. It sounds like quite a cluttered, busy place in the mind if you have all these influencing how you think and act:

    – Memories (personal prejudices)
    – Behavioural norms (cultural prejudices)
    – The archetypes (the manifestation of the instincts/passions)
    – And something else that seems to watch all of these other things, influence them, and be influenced by them

    And the imagination seems like a common thread through all of them, and can amplify or change all of them.

    I forgot, until your paragraph above, that the word imagination includes the word image, that is, the faculty to create images. If imagination is the thing linking us to the invisible reality, then no wonder mages use visual symbols.

  10. Hi JMG,
    Having spent a few sessions studying Le Batelevr I am a bit confused after seeing the image above. All five fingers and palm are in front of the wand in the image on the card from my deck. The wand appears to be suspended mid-air behind the hand of the Magician/Juggler. I suppose he may really be juggling.

    I haven’t found any other Marseille deck images online showing the same finger placement. Should I get another deck? I wonder what other differences I might stumble across?


  11. JMG,

    Once again, thank you so much for creating this space. I have read and will re-read the first chapter as I wait for my Marseille deck and begin the meditation practice.

    It seems his first question is, who are you that is embarking on this path? And Oedipus is the cautionary tale? I’ve always found the story fascinating and wondered about the layers of meaning in it. Now I still wonder about his knowing the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx without knowing the answer. Was it reason without experience and understanding?

  12. Jbucks, excellent. Can you imagine a sound? 😉

    Eric, there are scores of different Marseilles decks and every one of them has its own oddities. Don’t worry about the oddities of yours; see if you can include them as symbols. What do they represent to you?

    Tamar, keep asking those questions. They’ll take you far.

  13. Ha! You have a powerful silence, have you been told that before?

    I have not finished this chapter but of course I was going to get an answer to my recent experience about the automatic lemniscate drawing among Levi’s words and further instructions on what to make of it. Apparently I need to start thinking about crafting a comfortable meditation chair too.

  14. I guess I better get back there quick before some developer pounces and turns all that lovely scenery into a strip mall. 🙄. Thank you, JMG! That was not easy to do, I really had to concentrate!

  15. Know Thyself, n’est pas?

    Interesting that the first part of the discussion is a route Alan Watts would also tread in his works in the 20th Century (“On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” etc.) which although couched in apparently “Eastern” vesture betrays a certain Neoplatonic cut (as I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere)…


  16. Would you expand on Wm Morris as the “inventor” of literary imagination? I feel attracted to the Pre-Raphaelites, especially the socialist ones. But what about Bellamy?

    My first impression of this chapter: all the talk of the Thebaid, etc, is now absent. So I’m quite ready to suppose that here he is offering hints to solving the riddles that he highlighted in the introduction.

  17. I’ve studied the Smith-Waite deck but hadn’t examined the Marseilles very closely until this past month. The following thoughts are based on Yoav Ben-Dov’s CBD Tarot, a reproduction of the 1760 Nicholas Conver deck, which seems to be where you sourced the image at the head of this post.

    One train of thought I’d been playing with on and off with Smith-Waite was arranging the trumps as sets of paired binaries (the Emperor/Empress, Sun/Moon are obvious, but in Smith-Waite the Lovers and the Devil are also clearly made to resemble one another) and then re-titling the cards based on the traits these pairings bring out. For example, if you concentrate solely on the Lovers and the Devil, it’s easy to see how they could be re-named Freedom and Bondage. It’s a fun puzzle in part because it never quite works out perfectly, no matter how I arrange and re-arrange.

    The third or fourth time I laid out all my new Marseilles trumps for study, I noticed with glee that the pairing game is much easier with this deck- perhaps the more uniform colour scheme helps, but also the fact that many of the figures seem to lean and look beyond their frame, as if they were made to interact with each other.

    The pairings are different from Smith-Waith, too. Here, L’Amoureux resembles Le Jugement. L’Etoille seems more comfortable alongside La Lune and Le Soleil than Smith-Waite’s Star. La Force, La Justice, and Temperance emerge much more clearly as three of a kind. And Le Chariot and Le Pendu, which I had already ventured to pair in Smith-Waite, seem like much more natural partners here. (It’s the squared arch surmounting both). I would re-name these Triumph and Humiliation, or Motion and Immobility.

    This game has given me much enjoyable food for thought and I wanted to share it here. Maybe others have had similar reflections?

  18. Also, “Descartes before the horse” is priceless. Does credit for that redoubtable quip go to you, or did you encounter it somewhere else?

  19. Justin, that’s the plan.

    Augusto, or learn to get comfortable on the chair you have. 😉

    Your Kittenship, that’s one of the advantages of the practice.

    Fra’ Lupo, no surprises there. Watts had a solid background in the mystical end of the Anglican tradition, which is Neoplatonic through and through.

    Phutatorius, if you reread what I wrote, you’ll find that I named Morris as the inventor of fantasy fiction, not of the literary imagination in general. Last I checked, his novel The Wood Beyond the World is still considered the first work of modern fantasy fiction. As for the Thebaid, Lévi likes to come at the same questions from many different angles.

    Dylan, good! The pairings are of course quite deliberate in the Waite-Smith deck — the towers in the Moon are visible in the distance in Death, for example. Whether they’re intentional or synchronistic in the Marseilles decks is an interesting question, to which I don’t know the answer. As for Descartes and the horse, it’s not original to me — I’m not sure who coined it.

    Kimberly, in the oldest versions of the deck it’s an open satchel from which all the other things have been taken.

  20. Hi Dylan,

    Your game of pairing the cards and renaming them is a great idea. Thanks for sharing it!

    I played a sort of game too. I used the Knapp-Hall deck. I laid out the Major Arcana on my dining room table in a circle, starting with the Magician and going around clockwise. I put the Fool in the center. Then I walked clockwise around the table and spent a brief time looking at each card. When I got all the way around, I went back counterclockwise and studied them again.

    Some of the cards seemed to speak to me. The vivid colors of all the cards en masse created a distinct dramatic/emotional energy. I noticed how some of them seemed to mirror or echo each other, or shared certain elements. I noticed how some of them were indoors, and some were outdoors, and how that affected the energy transmitted by the card.

    I left them on the table overnight and when I returned in the morning, I had the impression that they’d spent the night communicating amongst themselves. (Kind of like in “Toy Story,” where the toys have a secret life of their own when the kid’s not around!)

    I imagined that they were a group of old friends gathered around my table, and that each of them would have a story to tell me as I got to know them.

    It was a nice departure from my usual dry, analytical approach to learning new things.

  21. “it was a profound mistake for religious authorities to go beyond that and try to make dogmatic claims about what was and was not true about the universe. That was trying to apply faith to the proper objects of reason—trying to claim to know about things that human beings can’t know.

    Equally, when rationalists denounced religion root and branch and insisted that traditional rituals and myths should be discarded because they weren’t rational, they were trying to apply reason to the proper objects of faith, an equally unhelpful act. To apply reason to the things we can know something about and faith to those things that are beyond the reach of the human mind: ”

    I thought that sounded familiar;

    “Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view, advocated by Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets” over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority”, and the two domains do not overlap.”

  22. This first chapter seems to have much in common with the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.

    “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
    The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
    Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
    Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
    These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
    Darkness within darkness.
    The gate to all mystery.”

  23. JMG,

    Knowing, understanding, and controlling myself was something I quickly realized was a major necessity of magic from the moment I started studying it – reading your books, and others. It’s helped me in profound ways over the years. 

    I take away from this chapter that message about how the past can still teach us things about today. How even though we aren’t living in a time period, there are still reflections of what is today. I also take away the power of the imagination. The power of visualization. The power of how you imagine yourself can change how you act and change you, or how you use your imagination to create say a story can impact the world and change it in profound ways, from the spiritual, to the mental, to the emotional, to the physical. It also reminds me of how people use imaginary numbers to make change in the real, too. There are many applications.

    (I’ll admit, I starting writing this part before I read your note about the exercises for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th sessions). I’m also thinking about how this chapter relates to the Tree of Life, as Ain Soph and Kether were noted on the title page. Kether is in Ain Soph, and Ain Soph is the divine nature of the Creator. Kether – the crown, just like on the tarot card and the note of the king in Levi, and the point of manifest and unmanifest, you have to be the master of yourself before anything else. Kether as nothing, the thing we cannot see, the imaginary, the hidden. Also, Kether as the Divine Will, and how that may relate to our own Will and taking the first steps in the work as initiates. Discipline, again, the crown and mastering yourself. Overcoming binaries, coming to peace with certain parts of your being so they don’t control you.

    I do also take away the power of symbolism. I know that will be very important, and the last exercise you set for us I already feel strongly. The ability to look at symbols, or one image, and see a sea of ideas, concepts, guiding principles inside it. To see what others don’t because they aren’t looking for it, they don’t know it.

    In the Manly P. Hall version of the tarot deck, the two serpents around the wand I know may represent Hermes Trismegistus, who Levi mentions, but it could also represent the creation of a tertiary. And the pointing up and the pointing down are evident as well. 

    Also, the statement “The scabbard is as deep as the sword is long” from Levi comes to mind when I see the dagger and sword on the table. The cup perhaps representing faith, maybe the wand/caduceus representing reason?

    The crown on the banner could represent being a king or striving to be, to be the master rather than be mastered, but the fact that they aren’t wearing the crown says something to me, too. Perhaps the image of the crown (that symbol) gives the magician that thing of which they work toward, that turning of imagination with reason into form and action. 

    The natural setting gives the reminder that magic is centered in nature, as well.

    I know I will re-read a few times to see things I didn’t see the first time. The sphinx keeps coming to mind.

    Glad to be reading with you all,

    – RMS

  24. Of course le Verbe promptly triggers in my mind: In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the Beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of Men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:1-5, KJV (more or less, I make no claims to inerrancy) for those who haven’t got bits of scripture stashed at the tips of the fingers of their minds. These verses, by the by, are a fine theme for meditation. Do reccomend. All of the books attributed to John are excellent material for meditation, if anyone is somehow lacking such.

    M. Levi would have been familiar with the Gospel of John, being a literate man of his time, so I assume his choice of terminology was deliberately chosen to bring to his readers’ minds that passage about creation and salvation.

  25. Oh interesting. The visible is a manifestation of the invisible. The visible tarot card provides a scene and set of symbols which can open doors to invisible realms of somethings our minds can not grasp by intellect.

    Hm. I see some parallels with magic and the occult in writing a story a scene at a time.

  26. Greetings and salutations, instructor of High Magic. In studying my “Bateleur” card I’m struck by the number and variety of detail differences between my card (from the 1930 Paul Marteau, de la famille Grimaud edition) and the card that leads this essay. Here’s a look at my card:

    The alternation (oh, an “A” word!) of colors, the pair of dice on the table, the lack of green as seen in your card: there are a LOT of differences! I suppose that’s one of many challenges: find connections that Levi, and you, are suggesting, even though my view of the world (my card, my sensorum) differs in many details. Wow, I can see I’ll have a lot to meditate on…

    Also fascinated in comparing Le Bateleur to The Magician in the Pixie Smith deck; Pixie’s rendition is much more detailed but at the same time strikes me as being a bit “hit you over the head” obvious; in both cases there are examples of the four “suites” but on the Marseilles card they’re less blatantly obvious. Hmmm. Much to ponder. Gratitude!

  27. Hi JMG. Thank you for this wonderful analysis. Quick question on associating each card with a letter. In my misspent youth following the GD system I built up a very close relationship with the tarot and Hebrew alphabet but based on the GD attributions which are of course different from Levi. This being the case should I use the Latin alphabet even though I am emotionally drawn to the Hebrew? Or will it matter if I build up another mental filing cabinet of the tarot based on the same code but with different attributions?

  28. Dear JMG and fellow practitioners

    So excited to be getting this focused practise under way!

    Love your and Mark’s book – what a splendid and succinct contribution to the Art – thank you. Levi’s introductory chapter is a revelation unto itself.

    I loved what you have said about faith and reason. Indeed. And imagination (intuition / development of inherent psychic abilities) forming that third element – the bridge between the two.

    I’m seeing how faith relates to the yin, latent, feminine, unknown, invisible, dark, mother, moon aspects. Astral Light. POWER.

    And reason the opposite yang, manifest, masculine, known, visible, light, father, sun qualities. Manifest Light. LOVE.

    Even though both pillars or aspects each contain love and power, I’ve “labelled” faith / yin as Power, because it’s this invisible Force or womb that drives or underlies Love… and it’s this Force that expresses visibly or manifests as Love / Creation.

    Unconditional / Universal Love = greater amounts of Power and vice versa.

    Infinitely interwoven and relying on each other to “play” their part – to BE. Two sides of the same coin.

    With imagination being the middle pillar (of the Tree of Life) – the fine line, representing WISDOM (perhaps even the Ouroborus that holds the two together); and that when brought into the equation, bring a balance between Love and Power.

    And from this vantage point, discernment can be made as to when appropriate amounts of Love and Power, or faith and reason, are to be applied in any given situation… using of course the principles “to Know, to Dare, to Will, to be Silent”… which also when practised and embodied lead to increasing levels of Wisdom.

    Love that infinite cycle. It’s only going to spiral deeper and deeper. Thank you!

    Down the rabbit hole we go…

    Yay! 😉

    ~ Tanya

  29. How does the idea of self-control mesh with what’s known about optimal human performance? For example an athlete performing at their best can’t be thinking about what they’re doing. In Streetlights and Shadows: Searhing for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, Gary Klein describes how experienced firefighters don’t go through a logical analysis of a fire. They take one look at it and know what to do. Forcing them into conscious thought processes would degrade their performance, and this is true in many fields. The best mental structure is a balance between pre-planning – like checklists in planes – but also the ability to improvise.

    The phrase that came to mind is ‘you only get one chance to be sponteneous’. Subconcious impulse can be so much more creative – don’t you risk losing that if you run everything through the filter of self-control? Since you say the best place is midpoint between two extremes, isn’t there a place for both?

  30. I’m really excited about this bookclub, and where it will take us.
    May I ask from those willing to say a prayer for my best friend, my dear girl Molly, one of my dogs. Molly had conjestive heart failure that came on suddenly in about July last year.
    Yesterday, June 9, I made the heartbreaking but necessary decision to give her a peaceful end before suffering overtook her.
    I’ve prayed continually for her dear soul’s safe journey and would ask the same from any of you willing to do so.
    I feel so sad and empty right now, it’s just me and Milo, so prayers for us would be appreciated too.
    The last three years have been exhausting, with mum, then Molly.
    This book club may be just what I need, and I hope you​r prayers will help me to find strength as I grieve my dearest girl.
    Helen in Oz

  31. May I ask about a specific of a universal wirth deck. If I am not the 999th person to ask such a stupid question.
    I noticed that, whereas the picture you posted on the top of the page has many items on the table, my magician only has a sword, a cup and a strange looking coin/medallion/compass on the table. Plus there is a flower growing under the table. On the other hand Levi even mentioned in this chapter, that there are some items placed openly on the table and some are hidden in the bag.
    There is no bag on the universal wirth magician, but also there seems to be no bag on the Knapp-Hall magician card.
    What I am asking is, is the image sufficient?

  32. @Dylan, on the Knapp-Hall deck (available here, they actually have ‘badges’ on the card that give insight to the pairings… for example, the Magician/Juggler has a crown; the High Priestess has two crowns (one above/one below). And then the Empress has a triangle on a light above/dark below background. The triangle has 3 dots in it, which (based on other readings) was how Pythagoras represented the number 3. And then the wheel has a triangle made of 10 dots (which is also significant in Pythagoras’ number theory). The Death card’s badge is a triangle sticking slightly above a square, and the picture is people with heads slightly above the ground. I read somewhere (I don’t have my notes with me right now) that a downward pointing triangle represents the Individuality and an upward pointing triangle represents the Personality, so the badge symbolizes (to me) the Personality being mostly buried in the Elements (or the material?). One pairing that I haven’t figured out yet is the Heirophant and the Hermit. They both have five-pointed stars as their badges. I used a lot of the pairings/dualities in my ‘final’ answer to the Sphinx’ (Sphinx’s?) riddle (“final” because as I learn more, my understanding grows, and I think I’ll find new answers). Thanks for sharing what you found. I’ve never wanted more than one Tarot deck before… but now I’m really curious to see other decks and if the illustrators want you to interpret their cards differently.

    @PhilAyliffe, thank you for the morning LOL.

    @Kimberly, one of the symbols associated with Hermes was a satchel. One place I read referred to it specifically as an Illustionist’s Satchel. I don’t have the same cards as you (and mind doesn’t have a satchel at all), so I don’t know if this is relevant for your card or not.

  33. @DanielKislinger,

    I bought a Marseilles deck, but decided the symbolism wasn’t obvious enough for me. I downloaded the images from They are sized PERFECTLY for a 4×6 photo print. I got the Major Arcana printed as photos, got some semi-rigid card protectors (sold at hobby stores and such), and have a nice sturdy deck to use for this study. An option to consider… 🙂

  34. Just started reading as parallel text. Interesting that the French for Initiate (to start) is Recipiendaire (The Recipient). Gives a very different emphasis.

  35. …Some thoughts on Squaring the Circle…

    As I pondered the introduction over the last month I had some thoughts about how the phrase “Squaring the Circle” might relate to the riddle of the sphinx. I’m not sure they are coherent thoughts per se.

    The symbol of the circle within the square within the triangle within the circle was in my mind. It came to me also while doing the SoP. I had previously had this insight when doing another 7-pointed ritual from another system (the seven points being the 4 quarters, spirit below and above and the seventh the divine spark within).

    Spirit below, above & within relate formed the triangle, and the four quarters the square within the circle.

    Somehow in my mind this all seemed related to the question in Levi’s text, “How does the quaternary become the duality, and how is it explained by the ternary?”

  36. Hi JMG and all. I must admit that I am not currently reading the book you are discussing here, but I would like some advice concerning the crazy day I had Saturday. I knew that Sat. was going to be a trial, for various reasons, so I looked myself in the mirror before I went out on my errands, and told myself that I was going to be “Her Serene Highness Dana” for that day. Well, the day turned into a madhouse, and I didn’t comport myself as well as I intended, though considering the crazy synchronic stuff that went on, I did pretty well. One of the weirder things that occurred was, I was in a local grocery store, buying a birthday card for my dad, and I passed a very old woman who was trying to take the plastic wrap off of a muffin, so she cold eat it. A bag boy helped her while I was shopping. While I was checking out with my purchase, the old woman was standing at the end of my lane, nearly blocking me, muttering to no one in particular – ” A person has to know their limitations…” Yikes! Shades of the CosDoc! So did I invite the crazy when I talked to my mirror? Anyway, I’ve been completely sober for four whole days now…

  37. Lady cutekitten, is the doorway exercise as simple as is sounding? Id like to learn more

  38. You are discussing self-control as if it was (only) a current application of conscious will, rather than being the result of countless acts of well-considered judgment and action (practice), such as an athlete performs. Conscious will applied in a moment. is a tiny part of the toolkit of self control. Necessary, but not always in evidence. Sometimes self control means to NOT apply self-will but to trust your prior training and the circumstances you find yourself in. That’s my take on it, of course, but your concern inspired me to essay an answer.

  39. Hello JMG. Feeling pretty good about grasping some of the interesting connections and hoping to add something insightful to the discussion when I realize there’s something wrong with my deck. I’m missing my donkey card.

  40. JMG, I got a copy of the Knapp/Hall Marseiles deck from the Philosophical Research Society and the Le Bateleur card in this deck doesn’t show the satchel that Kimberly asked about and that Levi mentions in chapter one. If you squint hard at the card I have, there is a indistinct form that lies under the sword and over the wand on the magicians table and I suppose that could be an empty satchel, but otherwise, no satchel. This seems like an important element to be missing. Do I need another deck?

  41. Thanks for doing this once again JMG. It’s an interesting experiencing incorporating the meditation into my practice. It’s a hell of a ride.

    I’m afraid my philosophical knowledge isn’t as good as it should be (that’s the Irish education system for you) but the idea that experience being a priori of essence is fascinating. If that’s the case then if I am layering a Trump with “meaning and imagery” is there a parallel process? Is a Tarot card a multilayered object of experiences then am I being layered with meanings too? If that makes sense?

    Thanks very much again,


  42. SiliconGuy, fascinating! I’ve read some of Gould’s work and enjoyed it a great deal, but I didn’t know he was a proponent of that bit of luminous common sense. Thank you — I’ll have to see what he has to say about it.

    Valenzuela, good. Wait ’til we get to chapter 2.

    RMS, a fine meditation!

    BoysMom, Lévi was not only a literate man of his time but a former clergyman and, in his own eccentric way, a Christian. You can bet that he had that passage in mind every time he spoke of “le Verbe.”

    Eric, why, yes, that’s occurred to me as well. 😉

    Bryan, the cards do indeed vary from deck to deck, and yes, meditating on those is a fine idea.

    Mr. O, I know people who’ve done it either way. I’m using the Latin letters, partly to avoid confusion, partly because the Lullian art (which this method riffs off, and which I’ve practiced) also uses letters, so it’s a bit more familiar.

    Tanya, another fine meditation! It’s good to see that this chapter is inspiring those.

    Yorkshire, that’s an overly narrow view of self-control. Having self-mastery means among other things that you can choose when to analyze things and when to go with the flow — you’re not stuck in either mode, nor do you flip from one to the other when it’s inappropriate.

    Helen, positive energy en route.

    Marko, don’t worry about it. When I said that any of the decks I listed was appropriate, I meant that — and yes, I’m aware of the difference in imagery. (I own the Knapp-Hall deck, one of the Wirth decks, and a Marseilles deck.)

    Mr. O, we wrestled with the translation of that for a while, because the French word and its exact English equivalent have rather different connotations.

    Justin, good. Very good. In the case of the SoP, at least, that’s quite deliberate.

    Danaone, have you considered meditating on it?

    Dennis, er, “donkey card”? I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Kay, when I said that any of the decks I listed was appropriate, I meant that — and yes, I’m aware of the difference in imagery. No, you don’t need a new deck — I really did mean what I said.

    Adrian, excellent! Yes, that’s exactly what you’re doing — but in this exercise you’re doing it consciously, so you can begin to get some insight into how it happens the rest of the time.

  43. About what some here have written about self-control: it occurred to me that the attitude of Lévy towards self-control was colored by attitudes of the epoch in which he lived. Nevertheless, it is probably the case that self-control can itself be overdone in the same way as debauchery.

  44. @Justin, @JMG:

    Your thought, Justin, made me resuscitate a draft of a comment I almost made on last month’s Levi post. I had said at the time there may have been a ‘geometrical’ answer to the riddle, and your thought as that related to the SOP just nailed together this draft comment and another discovery I made last year:

    – The draft comment: A quaternary is a map of 4 points made by perpendicular lines, but each axis isn’t just an opposite of two points, the axis itself is a continuum, so both apparently opposite things are actually the same thing. Levi hints fairly explicitly at this on the last page of the introduction. So 4 becomes 2.

    I’ve read here before that a binary can be resolved by a ternary. So perhaps what makes the axis seem to shift from being two distinct and opposite things is the perspective afforded by a third position in space, so 2 becomes 3.

    – The discovery (that arose from doodling): I can’t remember how it came about, it was an accident, but it arose because I was drawing the shape of the SOP on paper. What I mean is, I drew the 6 first elements as they are spaced out on their axes, but not (yet) with the lines connecting them.

    That involves drawing 6 points arranged in a circle. Then start connecting the dots to create the axes, and think about the result in 2D, but also in 3D. You’ll end up with the 6-pointed star in 2D, but also two inverted pyramids in 3D which are connected at their bases, if you imagine that you’re looking at them on an angle. It’s an optical illusion!

    (I haven’t pondered this further yet, but I remember Levi’s quote from the introduction about the ‘simple and powerful architecture of the pyramids’.)

    Now notice what interesting and very familiar magical symbol starts to appear within the shape (twice)… which is hidden in the SOP. And notice how some intersections create the 7th element (Spirit Within) right at the center (the balancing of the elements creates the lunar current). It’s very beautiful when it’s all drawn out, and full of layered complexity.

    Thanks for that comment, some things are clicking together even further now…

  45. JMG – I’ve been puzzling over the day, and decided to acquire your translation of “The Doctrine” so to follow along with this course. I probably need to work on my self control….

  46. OMG Helen – Yes to prayers. We let a 17 year old Shi Tzu go at home a couple of months ago and our 17 year old Yorkie hasn’t been the same. Those are both good runs for us. I hope yours was the same. I feel for you.

    This has always been a problem with Buddhism and other radical deconstructionist conclusions. I don’t want the flame extinquished. I want my loved ones again. I’m still very much attached to the wheel right now.

  47. Sorry for being obtuse. Page 33 Levi lays out common characteristics of the uninitiated that require correction. It occured to me that the Fool card doesn’t do me justice. I think I need a Donkey card!
    (“… donkey of Sterne or Apuleius:73…)

  48. This month’s chapter is personally very challenging. One of the central ideas to “Know Thyself” is uncomfortable. That’s why I know that continuing forward will be rewarding. In my life, there are countless things I’ve begun, made it a week, two weeks, sometimes a month, even a few months but ultimately have given up on. Training the will is going to be of utmost importance. That’s undoubtedly part of what the daily five minute meditation on the Tarot cards is about. It occurred to me that having a notebook to record meditations and ideas from them will be helpful, as well as trying to have as set a schedule as possible.

    The day before your post came out, I was listening to a Kabbalah related podcast called Spiritually Hungry, in which the subject of the importance of sleep was discussed. It was interesting how the Kabbalah practitioner there suggested that our daily life is an illusion, a lie, and that sleep was needed to reconnect with the source and truth. While some of that idea was useful in supporting the importance of sleep, I didn’t like it because it could easily suggest that sleep is the most important thing, more important than the reality of our everyday experiences. So I was glad the topic of our everyday experiences was brought up, and that it has been suggested that indeed, our everyday experiences are not a lie. Like knowing myself, recognizing what experiences are formed by personal biases and narratives will again be struggle to work through.

    There looks to be a lot of light on this path, but I anticipate some treacherous points as well.

  49. Rolling on the floor in urine is hilarious. You writing gets better and better,

  50. All literature depends on imagination. Homer needed it to depict gods and monsters, but imagination is equally needed to write a realistic novel, even if it is based on a true story.
    However, if modernity is an epoch of imagination (re)discovered and unbound, then this finds literary expression not only in fantasy but even more so in science fiction. In fact (in my opinion) SF is more imaginative then fantasy by an order of magnitude. This shows in extraliterary cultural influence. The power of imagination of SF is what helped establish so firmly, if you will, the mythology of progress or the secular religion of progress.
    This difference in power of imagination between fantasy and SF might seem peculiar and strange. It might be said that imagination in SF is limited a priori so that the world described must seem as if it might be true, under certain conditions. In fantasy there is a priori no limitations to the expression of imagination. So one might expect more powerfull results in fantasy literature. Perhaps the reason why it is the opposite is because the power of image created by the mind is measured by how much it approaches the detailed quality of an image produced by the senses (eyes). So the more realistic image imagined the more powerfull it is.

  51. Thanks JMG for your response. I will try and pay better attention to what you say. Also I will consider the advice you gave to Bryan and meditate on the variations.

  52. A basic procedural question, but how are others spacing out their reading in relation to the posts? I had been waiting to read the chapter until after the relevant blog post, but that seems to be putting me behind the comments section. Perhaps it’s better to do my first read through of the chapter in advance of the Wednesday post and then, throughout the month, do the meditations and the second and third reads? Anyone have a good system or suggestions?

  53. This is rather off topic but..
    On Kickstarter there is a project called MemoryOS. Basically a game to help you build a Memory Palace. Might even be useful – but initially only on a smartphone. Looks like they are implementing the kind of memory training from the renaissance.

    John – Coop Janitor

  54. In reading this chapter, I was struck by the many similarities to the philosophy of the Order of the Essenes. Even to the point of imagining Mr. Hamner plucking ‘thought gems’ out of the last few pages. Did this work influence the Essenes material either directly or indirectly?

  55. @Helen, you and Molly will be in my prayers.

    @JBucks, What you described is so cool! You might appreciate this: there is a type of jewelry pendant called a ‘merkaba’ (do an internet search for ‘amethyst merkaba necklace’ and you’ll see what it looks like). For the Introduction, I did some research on Ezekiel (since Levi said the biblical Sphinx was Ezekiel’s cherubim) and the cherubim were either the wheels of the chariot or were pulling the chariot. A few days ago, I was researching Cabala stuff and found a statement about Ezekiel’s ‘merkabah’, which is Hebrew for ‘chariot’! I was originally going to meditate on this, thinking the inverted pyramids were the inverted triangles of Individuality and Personality, but you’ve described a way that they are actually 3D, not 2D. I’ll be meditating on this for at least week. Thank you so much for sharing your doodles!!!

  56. The imagery I have found on The Magician (Knapp-Hall New Art Tarot):

    The Magician is clothed in the colors of the Elements: blue hat (lemniscate) for Water, red and yellow jacket for Fire and Air, green stockings for Earth.

    His sleeves and cuffs are edged in triangles. The upper sleeves have triangles pointing down (the Individuality); the cuffs have triangles pointing up (the Personality). Around his neck is a circlet (for Unity), above seven buttons representing the Planes. The placket for the buttons and circlet both appear gold, as is the caduceus held in his hand.

    The Magician’s left hand holds the caduceus, symbol of magic and the currents of power flowing between the planes. His right hand points downward. This posture implies his left-hand is invoking (from a higher plane) and his right-hand is evoking (to manifestation in this plane).

    The four-sided table represents the elements and holds representations of the elements (Cup, Sword, Wand, Pentacles (five coins)). The table was drawn so only three legs show, but could have been drawn so all four were visible, so the three legs represent a trinity. Faith, reason, and imagination result in magic; that trinity supports the tools of the Magician.

    The white cuffs and black shoes (above and below) might foreshadow the white and black background of the badge on the Empress. The Magician’s badge has right triangles in the upper left and right corner, resolved into an equilateral triangle in the top center of the badge. This is echoed in the finials of the crown (which rest on a circle).

  57. JMG – The Verb. The Word. God. Rational Intelligence as The Highest Principle.
    Do you remember Julian Jaynes in the 1970s with his theory of the origin of self reflective consciousness as the claiming and creating of our internal dialog as our own and not of a God or some tribal leader, alive or dead, as evidenced by his examination of the differences in the Iliad and Odyssey characters initial lack of and eventual self reflective actions. He also compared passages from different eras in the bible for the same. There was a Rabbi who passed recently and others keeping his ideas alive. This self awareness and claiming of the Word for ourselves arives around the Axial age. Was it Solomon who calls on 200 prophets for advice about attacking an enemy and they all offer conflicting Words From God they hear in their heads. By John the Baptist time Jewish leadership had had enough of irrationality and were advising fathers to kill or banish offspring who hear the Voice of God. Today we call it Schizophrenia. Or channeling.

    Intelligence and Will. We can see our intelligence and work with it. Will – the ability to do work, like energy – willpower. We can’t see it. Many Eastern traditions minimize or negate it. We do our work with it.

    The Initiate is assumed to exist. Not dwelled on into noexistance. The Eastern denial is only confirmed because the technique of not that, not this leads to it. Thoughts pass like clouds as one contemplates space leads to a unique expansive experience but doesn’t leave much left.

    Place’s “The Alchemical Tarot of Marseille” states it is, “an interpretation of the French Tarot that references Alchemy and Hermetic Texts”, strikes me as very well done with added symbolism.

    Taking a stab at the symolism my card character has a white and red shirt divided in half and meeting in the middle, joined in the middle. His cloak and hat are green. To me the wite and red, male and female, are ‘in’ creation. The green hat with white wings – creating also occurs in the head. In his hand is a cauceus with white and red snakes meeting in the middle of a green staff. The table has an interesting green and blue cloth, water and vegitation, depicting images of mixed plants, birds, animal legs, butterflys, embryos(?). On the table from right to left, 3 upside down cups. Cups hold water, fluids take the shape of there container. These cups are not ready to hold water are my first thoughts. Of course the bateleur may be hiding something under them is what I have read. 2 dice – did Einstein say God doesn’t play dice with the universe? Luck, odds, chance. Coins are next. Money is a store of our work value. The ability to purchase or do something. Power(?). Last in the table is 1 knife. I have seen 2 knives on other cards. Knife, sword, the ability to separate. A precursor to naming(?). Reason? The sword of wisdom comes to mind is a comon refrain.

    Something needling me is the table legs. For all the differences I’ve seen in the few decks I’ve seen, they all show the table with 3 legs. Does that symbolize creation stands on 3 legs?

    There is also a symbol on the side of a moon resting on a sun resting on a cross that is explained in the booklet. And a quote, “It must be that all the world which lies below has been set in order and filled with contents by the things which are placed above”.

    Great card! That’s it for these 2 fingers:)

  58. “Toutes les religions se résument dans l’unité d’un seul dogme, qui est l’affirmation de l’être et de son égalité à lui-même, qui constitue sa valeur mathématique.”

    I’m curious why the sudden reference to mathematical value.

  59. Hi JMG,
    I was taught to associate Aleph with the Fool and Beth with the Magician. I’m having trouble switching over. How do you account for the discrepancy?

  60. @JMG: You are right about William Morris. I had not realized the extent of his fiction writing.

  61. Augusto, would you mind sharing what you learned about your experience/the infinity symbol? I’ve had similar experiences in dreams and slightly less similar in waking life. Also, no worries if you don’t want to or can’t. I can do my next reread with it in the back of my mind.

  62. JMG, someone whose name I can’t find right now asked me about pathworking, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the one to ask, I didn’t do it right. Can you link to your instructions you provided, I can’t find them either. (All is lost!)

  63. @Goldenhawk, thanks for your story! I happen to have a round table of about the right size, and I think I might try that with my cards too.

  64. Booklover, of course. In Lévi’s time as in ours, however, the cultural pendulum was way over on the debauchery side, and so emphasizing self-control was (and is) a useful bit of balance.

    Jbucks, good heavens. This is fascinating — and yes, it might be part of what Lévi has in mind.

    Danaone, it’s a good idea for most of us.

    Dennis, it’s not you being obtuse, it’s me having Aspergers syndrome! Thank you for the clarification.

    Prizm, good. It’s when you feel challenged that you know the rubber is meeting the road and actual inner development is taking place.

    Aloysius, thank you. I didn’t actually mean it to be funny; back before I got into print, I worked in a lot of low-paid crap jobs, including stints at nursing homes, and I got to deal with schizophrenic patients up close. The people yammering about how schizophrenia is creative and liberating, blah blah blah, need to put in some time doing that; about the third time they have to wash off the feces that a patient has fingerpainted all over his body and the nearest wall, it might just start sinking in how clueless they’ve been.

    Goran, yes, I’m very familiar with those arguments. Science fiction fans like to trot them out whenever the subject comes up, but they don’t hold water. On the one hand, by the same argument you’ve used, realistic fiction ought to be much more powerful in imaginative terms than science fiction. On the other, your claim that in fantasy there is a priori no limitations to the expression of imagination is quite simply wrong. In fantasy the limits are subtler, but they’re there: the story still has to make sense to the reader and resonate in some way with his or her experience, and that imposes limitations within which the competent fantasy writer has to work.

    Kay, thank you. I’ve noticed that some issues seem to make people — not just you, a lot of people — so anxious that they lose track of what’s been said. That’s become much more common of late, and I’m wondering why that is.

    Ip, well, I read it before the blog post goes up, but I don’t know if that’s any help!

    Janitor, hmm. I’d rather encourage people to skip the smartphone and do it the old-fashioned way with their own minds.

    Paul, that’s a good question. Hamner didn’t say a lot about his sources, but Lévi’s ideas were to be found all through American alternative culture in Hamner’s time, so he probably would have picked them up by osmosis even if he didn’t read Lévi directly.

    Karma, good. You’re paying attention.

    Dennis, a fine meditation! Yes, all the French pattern cards I know of give the table three legs.

    Reader, why, to encourage you to meditateon it, of course. 😉

    Dragon, there are various ways to assign the Hebrew letters to the trumps. The way you’ve been taught is the Golden Dawn system or, more generally, the English system. The one Lévi uses is the French system. Is one right? Well, that four-legged animal barking at you — is it “a dog” or “un chien”?

    Phutatorius, William Morris had more creative talent than any thirty ordinary people. Having made his mark as a poet, printer, interior decorator, designer, stained glass artist, weaver, cabinetmaker, and I forget how many other things, he finally retired, got bored, and invented modern fantasy fiction just to give himself something to do. The man was a force of nature, larger than life in every dimension.

    Your Kittenship, you didn’t do anything wrong, as I said. You might want to direct your friend to any of my practical books on magic — they all give detailed instructions, though some use the term “scrying” instead of “pathworking.”

  65. I suspect this will do to my visual and symbolic imagination similar things that reading Dante and Milton aloud to myself as a way of improving my understanding of their poems has done with my verbal (the Verb!) facility. Before that, it was just smash here and smash there. 🙂

    Thanks for this space and these exercises, JMG!

  66. @jbucks #9 – “I forgot, until your paragraph above, that the word imagination includes the word image, that is, the faculty to create images. If imagination is the thing linking us to the invisible reality, then no wonder mages use visual symbols.”

    I forgot, until I read your comment that the word “image” contains the word “mage.” What to make of that?

    The “experience exists” baseline makes me think of the philosophy of phenomenology, which avoids those potentially unknowable ontological “is” questions in favor of the recognition that phenomena, appearances, experiences, “seem ” in some sense.

    Having lots of fun contemplating the visual and conceptual linkages of the card’s imagery to aleph:

    – the aleph shape resembles a percentage sign, and that makes me think of quantum mechanics and probability (someone else noted dice)

    – the aleph also reminds me of the Sanskrit letter AH written in the Tibetan Uchen script. As with aleph and A, AH is the first letter of its alphabet

    – as the first letter, it is a “seed syllable” – every other letter and every possible combinations of letters springs from it – is this also so with the le Bateleur?

    – the figure’s hat clearly forms an infinity sign on my card, which connects to that idea of the seed syllable containing everything

    – the three legs of that table include a fourth leg that is off screen, in the same way that the infinity sign in the hat is partially hidden by the front of the hat, and the right hand covers one quarter (the portion facing the Bateleur) of the “coin” on the table – perhaps this represents the invisible from which the visible arises, the silence that comprises the plenitude from which all sounds arise

    What will tomorrow’s five minutes bring? This is like Finnegans Wake, but I’m writing it…

  67. JMG, I didn’t directly know that Lévi’s time was one of debauchery, but I knew that it was before the Victorian era, and the attitudes of the French in matters of morality were surely not the same than those of the English. That said, there are quite a few things nowadays where the ability for more self-control would be good.

  68. It’s not the schizophrenic urine that is hilarious. That part is quite sad and as someone who has spent significant time with them (related to one who killed herself) and also had to clean up messes from a dementia patient I have a lot of sympathy for them as well as their caregivers. It was the absurdity of someone so clueless to aspire to that condition that had me laughing out loud. To find some levity in that darkness is a really good magic trick, even if it was unintentional.

  69. Hello JMG!

    I have ordered a Marseilles tarot in the hope of following along with this series but while browsing at Aeclectic Tarot’s website I see there is quite the smorgasbord of choices in tarot decks. The Hillbilly Tarot is just one example that caught my attention.

    Is it wiser to only have and use one deck or can a person have multiple decks? And if having multiple decks isn’t a bad decision, how does one go about selecting additional decks?


  70. Hi JMG, your second response definitely caused me to meditate on my on reasons for expressing my first question about the card. I can’t speak for everyone, but this is where reading your response took me.

    My first impulse that caused me to ask my original question was to make sure I was doing everything correctly so I wouldn’t risk being cast out of this group or appear to be stupid. Cast out? Stupid? That was a useless worry, why was I thinking of that? You said there was no right or wrong answers. Maybe I didn’t believe that or better still, I didn’t trust my own ideas about what I was seeing in the card. Ah, a distraction then, get lost in the details so you don’t have to work on the larger “self knowledge” questions.

    Well, one of the “self knowledge” questions that is paramount for me in this particular exchange is my longing to “belong” to a group. It has been a driving force in my adult life. I much prefer to do things with someone else rather then by myself. This drive hasn’t gotten me into dangerous groups, but sometimes the groups I joined took a really steep emotional price. I haven’t been cast out of any group I joined and I have always left voluntarily, if not necessarily happily. However, I have felt that joining the “wrong” group would have been really easy all through my young adult life and perhaps even now.

    Odd mix of fears here, being cast out or joining the “wrong” group and , of course, the distraction technique. All definitely worth a meditation. Thanks again.

  71. @RandomActsOfKarma:

    The shape of the merkaba necklace, and the thought about Ezekiel’s chariot having the same name as that type of necklace, is giving me even more to think about, thank you!

  72. @JMG: Thanks for the confirmation.
    @JBucks… That’s awesome. I was going to keep what I wrote to myself as well, but decided on sharing it, and I’m glad I did and am glad you shared your notes. I’m going to try and sketch out what you wrote in my notebook. This gives much fodder for meditation!

    Also in Levi’s list of powers attributed to the trumps / Hebrew letters… he says of Yod, “to know the laws of perpetual movement and to demonstrate them through the squaring of the circle.”

    @RMS: I believe the other thing on the table in the Knapp-Hall deck is not a dagger, but the swords scabbard. Scabbard’s also have their own power’s in magical lore. Your mileage may vary on that interpretation though.

  73. Regarding the portion of your comment, principally, where you said “By John the Baptist time Jewish leadership had had enough of irrationality and were advising fathers to kill or banish offspring who hear the Voice of God. Today we call it Schizophrenia. Or channeling.”

    There’s a great deal more to that issue than I discern in your words, there. In various meditative states, it is common to have verbal dealings with deities and non-physical beings of all sorts without one having to practice either channeling or undergo schizophrenia. Further, it happens that people do have a kind of relationship with their deity that involves verbal communication without, paradoxically, their “hearing” voices. Of course, you’d have to be there or experience it yourself to broaden your possibilities. Failing that, what your words express is the common understanding of our very psychologized age. Even Maimonides is more nuanced regarding this issue (e.g., what is required to constitute a “proper” prophet).

    By the Common Era rabbinic period, the rabbis realized their authority and definitively said their voice was more authoritative than the prophetic voice. I seem to remember the term “daughter of the ruach ha kodesh” or the word delivered to sages from some aspect of God being banished for most purposes. I could make a case fo that without invoking their being tired of irrationality. The requirements of a faith in any given era vary over time, and Judaism is a VERY old faith that has been through changes in era, certainly if you consider the astrological eras (e.g., of Leo, of Taurus, of Aries, of Pisces).

    The funny thing is, if you read the Talmud any at all, you soon discover that the rabbis authoritative voice is…authoritatively inconclusive on many points where you’d think they’d easily agree. The resulting decisions the community makes with that material can be tweaked or changed in many cases depending on circumstances. Which is why groups of Jewish communities have their rabbinic courts…

    So, in Jewish mysticism, which is to say in its theology (near enough the same thing), this issue, apparently so conclusively dispensed with, is, if I have understood anything of it, far from decided.

  74. @courtinthenorth – blast you! Now I’ve just carved $23 out of my book budget and put that deck in my Cart. The turning point was seeing “Ma” in the long green gown. Oh, to have such a Ma on my altar! The very essence of the Great Mother in human terms.

    Patricia (Shaw) Mathews, whose father came from Western Pennsylvania and never forgot it.

  75. @jbucks says:
    June 10, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    That involves drawing 6 points arranged in a circle. Then start connecting the dots to create the axes, and think about the result in 2D, but also in 3D. You’ll end up with the 6-pointed star in 2D, but also two inverted pyramids in 3D which are connected at their bases, if you imagine that you’re looking at them on an angle. It’s an optical illusion!

    (I haven’t pondered this further yet, but I remember Levi’s quote from the introduction about the ‘simple and powerful architecture of the pyramids’.)

    Now notice what interesting and very familiar magical symbol starts to appear within the shape (twice)… which is hidden in the SOP. And notice how some intersections create the 7th element (Spirit Within) right at the center (the balancing of the elements creates the lunar current). It’s very beautiful when it’s all drawn out, and full of layered complexity.


    You are dipping your toes into the yogic and tantric wisdom of Shri Yantra as well as other kinds of Yantras like the Shiva Yantra. Knowledge like what you self-discovered is used to create items for ceremonial rituals that have great power. Very specific and different kinds of power for many different purposes.

    If you are interested in further research into many of the various yantra shapes that can be discovered I highly recommend the following hardcover book (there is no paperback or ebook options, alas): The Yantras of Deities and their Numerological Foundations – An Iconographic Consideration [ISBN: 978-81-246-0174-7]

    It’s a very big and stunning book! One of my all-time faves I stumbled across. If JMG ever decides on writing a sacred geometry book I really think he would get a ton of new info from this book that would be useful for such a book.

    For a while there I was on a Shri Yantra and Shiva Yantra tear and was hoovering up as much info as I could on it. It was very well developed in India but is now in danger of being lost because the traditional means of passing on the knowledge is disappearing. Lineages that still preserve it say not only do the proportions matter but the particular materials used and in what way they are used matters (do use this next to that, don’t layer this material next to that, all 3 of these materials need to be used in exactly these proportions in this way or it won’t work even if everything else is right, etc, etc, etc.) In short it was as developed as any kind of engineering science the West came up with.

    Quote from book blurb:

    Literally meaning an ‘instrument’, ‘apparatus’ or a ‘talisman’, yantra is a kind of mystical diagram used, in tantra, for both meditation and invoking a divinity, and is believed to possess/arouse occult powers.

    Because Hinduism preserved this knowledge best it comes from that religion’s perspective but it gives a good idea of what things can be done. This is one reason why I always try to quietly (or admittedly sometimes not-so-quietly) support JMG’s efforts because he’s the only spiritual teacher I know of trying to recover and build this kind of information for spiritual-oriented people that have zero affinity for any of the Eastern spiritual traditions.

    So there is likely to be a lot of new insights Levi’s book will deliver – at least for me – when it comes to mystical shapes and diagrams. Some of the shapes in the tarot cards might have more power behind them than at first glance for all I know.

    Oh. Before I forget. According to Sadhguru there’s one big reason the Egyptian’s settled on the pyramids having certain dimensions for their tombs. It’s a shape that’s fantastic for collecting the chi responsible for preservation. Since the Egyptians wanted to slow or possibly even halt decay past a certain point they knew to use this (correctly proportioned) shape for their tombs. Once I discovered that I mused somebody could probably riff off that same idea by building home-made “pyramids” to store their fresh veggies longer.

    In fact, that’s exactly what Sadhguru said to skeptics. If you doubt it go get some fresh veg. Put one out in the open and an identical veg in the (correctly proportioned) pyramid. He says you’ll see the pyramid preserves the freshness of the veggies for far longer – up to many months at a time. Long after the open-air veg has rotted away the pyramid veggies will still be quite fresh and fine for eating.

    It’s a technology who’s time has come in my opinion because it needs no petroleum or petroleum refining and long supply chains for long term food preservation for householders. Just be sure you get the proportions right if you build one. Or I suppose you could discover the right proportions via trial and error. 🙂

  76. Ah. I see others have commented on the JBucks post. Yes, I think we are all circling around the same wisdom that can be expressed in different ways. As a Merkabah necklace (yantra for your neck!), a temple, a plowed field, an alter, a ceremonial implement, and when your attention is turned into yourself – you can discover the chi-yantra-ish flows in your own body that make up who you are for this incarnation (if you do the last you are beginning to walk the path of being a Kriya yogi/yogini).

    One interesting note I discovered not so long ago. Swadhistana is literally the “abode of the self” in yogic lore – a hint to the kinds of powers and talents its mastery can confer. Might be something for me to discover there, particularly in relation to new insights from Levi’s text. I am so excited about this book club.

    Oh, I wanted to apologize to JMG. I know you’ve already written on sacred geometry. I meant if you wanted to write a second or even third edition. The book I listed is filled with diagrams and highlights the various and stunning diversity of powers and numerology conferred by whatever shape is being made as well as the foundations behind it. It really is a stunning book! Just never had the opportunity to mention it until now. I can not stress how awesome a book it is. But that’s just me (ymmv).

  77. Monster, that’s the plan! Magic can also be described as the practical use of the imagination, and most people these days can really use some help learning how to imagine.

    Booklover, the Victorian era was a period of extreme hypocrisy, not of extreme morality. London had more prostitutes during the Victorian era than any other city in Europe, and the publication of what they called smut and we’d consider the softest of softcore erotica was a big and lucrative industry. In France, they were much less hypocritical about it. When Lévi published the book we’re reading, btw, Queen Victoria had been on the British throne for 18 years, so it’s very much a Victorian phenomenon!

    Aloysius, gotcha. I’m sorry to hear you got to share that kind of miserable experience.

    Court, you can have as many decks as you like. I own twenty or so; my wife Sara has many more. As for how to select them, why, if you’re not planning on using them for a specific course of study like this one, personal preference is as good as any. (The Hillbilly Tarot looks great, btw. Did you know there’s also a survivalist deck, the Omegaland Tarot? Here’s a sample…)

    Kay, thank you for this! I see you’ve taken Lévi’s discussion of self-knowledge seriously; that’s a very useful thing to do.

    Panda, I’ll consider it; thanks for the reference. There are of course varied traditions in sacred geometry, and the work I’ve done draws primarily on the Pythagorean tradition — rooted in Egypt, revived during the Renaissance, and central to Freemasonry among other things. But it might be interesting to study one of the other currents.

  78. JMG, obviously I confused morality with pretending to be moral – and I didn’t know that Queen Victoria already was on the throne in Lévis time. So, thanks for the clarification!

  79. When researching things for the Introduction, I found:

    • From Wikipedia’s “Azoth” entry: “That original spiritual fiery water comes through Edem (“vapor” in Hebrew) and pours itself into the four main rivers of the four Elements.” (Manly P. Hall)
    • From Chapter 1: “Moses symbolizes it [a formidable secret] as a tree which is at the center of the terrestrial Paradises, and which is near, which even embraces with its roots, the tree of life; the four mysterious rivers have their source at the foot of this tree, which is guarded by the sword of fire and by the four forms of the biblical sphinx, Ezekiel’s Cherubim.”
    • From Cosmic Doctrine: Cherubim contemplate god and, like prisms, refract the divine power down the planes, stepping it down so the lower choirs can work with it. (in my notes, but I don’t know if it is a direct quote or just a paraphase)

    So, Azoth comes through the Tree of Life, guarded by Cherubim (Sphinx), and comes out as the four elements. Then I had the idea that since Cherubim are prisms, the light flows through *them* and gets separated into the four elements. I didn’t have a metaphor to explain how that happened, though.

    Later, I read that the Cherubim are somehow associated with God’s chariot. Different sources described their location on the chariot slightly differently, but I didn’t think it was relevant to anything, so I didn’t worry about it.

    But then I read that Merkabah is the Hebrew word for God’s chariot and I knew about the merkaba pendant and I thought, hmm… a faceted rock could work as a prism, but how would a rock with that many different facets end up with four elements? (I thought perhaps each face had a different rock for a prism for their eyes and maybe it worked that way.)

    Then @JBucks posted his idea about drawing the square pyramids with bases to each other. That would end up with four faces on each end (so an element could flow out of each face) and I had seen a 2D image of that somewhere (the ‘picture’ page of Chapter 1!) and I thought perhaps the Cherubim, being so close to Divinity, don’t have their pyramids intersecting like a merkaba, but in the shape of an octohedron (like a standard D8 dice).

    I started researching Merkabah, stumbled into sacred geometry, and found this site Figure 5 shows the internal structure of the merkaba… an octohedron!

    So there must be a way to logically connect the Merkabah to an octohedron. There are 14 vertices, so I didn’t think each vertex represented a sefirot. But I didn’t know what else they could represent. I finally found They call the Cherubim “Chayot angels” (but they have four faces, so I’m pretty sure they are the same thing). In addition to four faces, they have four wings. Each angel uses two wings to connect to the wings of two other angels, so the four angels use their wings to create a ‘box’ “that formed the perimeter of the chariot”.

    Ding! Ten sefirot and four cherubim add up to 14 vertices! If you look at the merkaba/octohedron picture, you can imagine the structure at an angle so you have three layers… the top and bottom layer each have five vertices (one in the center, connected to four other vertices) and the center layer having four vertices (the corners of the square of the pyramid bases). If Tiphereth is the center vertex of the top layer, it connects to four other sefirot on the same layer and 4 more sefirot on the inner layer. Malkhut is the center vertex of the bottom layer and the 4 vertices around it can be the Cherubim.

    I started working on how to arrange the other sefirot, so they each connected to the ones they were supposed to based on the Yosher/upright configuration of the sefirot, but I discovered that there are different connecting lines, depending on if the Tree is emanating or not (sometimes Malkhut has one connecting line, sometimes three). I haven’t spent much time studying the sefirot and the Cabala, so I decided I would put that on hold until I learn more. (And even if humans get 22 paths to travel, maybe other Divine Sparks get other paths?)

    This is still very much a meditation-in-progress, but I wanted to share because I know there are people here who are more knowledgeable about the sefirot and maybe they could share some insights.

    Also, JMG, I am thinking there are more clues in the picture at the beginning of the chapter. Would you be willing to translate the Hebrew and other text?

  80. John—

    I’d originally thought to ask this in the upcoming MM, but given the discussion of imagination here in this chapter, perhaps the question is relevant here as well.

    How does one distinguish between visioning and fantasizing? Both are exercises of one’s imaginative faculty, but the first is useful (a means to an end, establishing a desired state of being to be attained) and the other is not. I guess I’m thinking of The Secret as a well-known example of the later.

    But in the nitty-gritty details, what differentiates one from the other? How can we tell if we are straying into the realm of the less-than-useful? You have used the example of making a million dollars in several podcasts—usually as an exercise of will, though imagination undoubtedly plays a role as well—and this certainly was an application of the techniques in the aforementioned beat-seller. In this context, how might one distinguish between functional and dysfunctional uses of the imagination?

  81. Last night when sitting down to start studying the card I spaced out for a bit and got an intuitive flash. All these associations came pouring in rapid fire like the “I know Kung Fu” scene from the Matrix, except I barely remembered one even a second later. It appears that these symbols were familiar from a past life, and now it is time to reclaim them. Also very excited to have an excuse to learn some Hebrew.

  82. @RandomActsOfKarma, thanks for the tips and the link! I’ll have to investigate the Knapp-Hall deck now.

    Curiously, the pairings you’ve named are not at all the ones I would have chosen based on my familiarity with Smith-Waite or CBD Marseilles. This gives further food for thought as to what is archetypal and ‘fixed’ about the trumps, and what is at play in the freedom of each deck’s creator. The only way to know, I guess, is to study a lot of decks! So I’m happy to be discovering the Marseilles during this course of study.

  83. Just want to drop a line in- things are very busy here on the farm, and I am already deep into a series of meditations, but I am enjoying tagging along and getting a deeper understanding of Levi.

    By the way, for those interested, I posted an interview with a mentor of mine recently, you can find it here:

    When asked “what do you know for sure?” He replies: “what I am.” That is something that I am not yet sure about, and something that Decarte seemed quite far from, but something perhaps Levi can help with. Thoughts happen, but what observes the thoughts?

  84. Booklover, you’re most welcome. I’ll be talking more about the complexities of Victorian sexuality in next week’s post.

    Karma, if it’s the picture with the hand raised in blessing that casts a shadow of the Devil’s head, the Hebrew letters are the name of God יהוה , YHVH, written right side up and then upside down. The full text, in Latin and Hebrew, says “By the benediction of YHVH, the malediction of (YHVH reversed) is shadowed forth.” The point Lévi is making is also made by the Yin-Yang symbol and the light and dark triangles in the upper left.

    David BTL, good. The imagination is a tool, and whether it functions or not depends on how it’s used rather than the tool itself. The problem with The Secret is not that it tries to use the imagination but that it does so incompetently, applying the tool in an inept way to do things it’s not well suited to do. Your imagination can change how you approach the world and interact with people, but it can’t make real estate markets keep on going up forever!

    Aloysius, a lot of people studied the tarot deck very intensely from the late 19th through the mid-20th century, so this doesn’t surprise me at all. Enjoy the adventure!

    Isaac, thanks for this.

  85. JMG, thank you for the translation of the picture. That is added to my list of things to meditate on. 🙂

    I had some more ideas about the Merkabah metaphor:

    · From, “The ‘Likeness of Man’ [God in the Chariot/Merkabah] sits on a throne of sapphire.”

    · From,
    “These [Platonic solids] are templates through which the foundation of life can be expressed. The Greek Mystery Schools 2,500 years ago taught that there were five perfect 3D forms – the tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron. These Platonic Solids are considered the foundation of everything in the physical world, revealing the unity in all things.” (One solid for each Element: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Ether (Akasha or Spirit or Cosmos)

    · From somewhere (didn’t save the link because it didn’t seem relevant yesterday), everything on our plane of existence was thought to be made of a compound of the five essential elements (represented by the Platonic Solids).

    This morning, I was trying to imagine how the light travelled through the Merkabah. The sapphire throne would focus the light into a precise beam. (The first laser used a ruby lens. Ruby and sapphire are both corundum, so they would behave the same, just with different colors.) The sefirot also function like lenses, refracting the light so it can travel to the next sefirot/lens. (And, since everything vibrates, they could shift their focus to direct it to a different sefirot/lens when they needed to.)

    Before the light gets to Malkhut, it gets to the realm of the Cherubim (the bottom half of the octohedron, where the four triangles meet at the vertex of Malkhut). Each triangle (which represent a face of the bottom pyramid) represents one of the four elements (not Ether).

    Levi says, “To know, to dare, to will, to be silent, those are the four verbs of the mage which are written in the four symbolic forms of the sphinx. These four verbs can be combined together in four ways and can be explained four times through the others.”

    Each face of the Cherubim represent a different verb (a different element) and the verbs can be explained four times through the others (because there are four Cherubim). So how the Cherubim are facing (pun slightly intended) determines what is being brought into manifestation in Malkhut. (For example, if all the eagle faces were in the same direction, that could manifest pure water. All lions would manifest fire. And different combinations of faces would create different things.)

    Since the Cherubim are changing the light, they are not just refracting it like lens. They are diffracting it (like prisms) into the components needed to manifest whatever they are trying to manifest, which is then directed to Malkhut.

  86. Dear Archdruid, I have always had some slight curiosity about learning about magic but I have always failed to convince the rather sizable cynical side of my brain that I will get something out of it. That made me think – what are the reasons people get involved in the study or practice of magic? I’m guessing an all-encompassing generalization is impossible, but I still would be interested to know what you think on this topic.

    As an optional side-question, what do you make of the type of thinking that is oriented towards self-benefit? Am I right to guess that while it is a human universal to some extent, the way it operates in the brains of most modern people is very particularly determined by the oddities of the modern era?

    Also, I apologize for asking something not related to the book chapter, I just figured a question about starting to learn magic somewhat fits into the broader topic of starting to learn magic from a particular large and aged grimoire.

  87. Karma, the bit about everything on the material plane being made from the five Platonic solids is, as it happens, from Plato — you’ll find it in his dialogue Timaeus, which discusses the creation of the cosmos. Your light metaphor is splendid — plenty to meditate on there.

    Sam, I can’t really speak to why other people take up magic. In my case, from early childhood I had a sense that there was something vast and secret that I wanted, needed, to know about. I spent a lot of my younger years looking into all kinds of odd places for it; I was an expert on werewolf trivia by age ten, for example. When I found my first instructional book on Hermetic magic — Techniques of High Magic by Francis King and Stephen Skinner — it was as though all of me, including parts that I wasn’t aware of, was saying “YES.” Looking back, I’m pretty sure I knew going into this life that magic was going to be the core of what I would be doing — not to mention the ticket out of the messed-up emotional state I got from a fairly miserable childhood.

    As for the kind of thinking that’s oriented toward self-benefit, I’m not quite sure I know what you’re asking here. We all have to think about benefiting ourselves to the extent of getting enough food to eat, shelter from the weather, companionship, a meaningful life, and so on; nor is there anything wrong with benefiting ourselves so long as we also make room for the reasonable needs and rights of others. Did you have this in mind, or something different?

  88. @Just Another Green Rage Monster:

    I looked for the history of the word ‘magic’ in an etymology dictionary, and traced it back Old Persian, where it may have meant ‘to be able, to have power’.

    And if I’m reading it right, the etymology of the word ‘image’ comes from Latin and means “copy, imitation, likeness; statue, picture”.

    So it may not be that the two words actually come from the same root, although it does appear both words did get ‘filtered’ through Old French. Interesting!


    Hm! Thanks also for the further meditation fodder about Levi’s list of powers and Yod!

    @Happy Panda:

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll see if my local library system has it or if I can get it from Abebooks. This whole exercise has indeed made me more interested in sacred geometry by showing that a lot of meaning can be packed in symbolic form into these abstract geometric forms.


    Thanks for the further meditations on the Merkabah and the octohedron, I’m following along with great interest! And I mixed up my earlier reply to you when I wrote ‘Ezekiel’s chariot’ when I believe it was God’s chariot that was named Merkabah. I’m still quite unfamiliar with the biblical stories, and it looks like I will need to do some reading.

  89. Dear Archdruid, thank you for the response. I indeed suspected you would respond in such a way to the first question, as a generalized answer to that question seemed to be difficult to formulate in a fair way. Out of curiousity, where do you think your sense/need for the vast and secret came from? I know you have spoken previously of your belief about reincarnation, I guess that could provide one possible explanation.

    As far as my question about self-benefit, I think the idea came to me after considering the radically different ways people orient themselves to the rest of the world. You have previously written how differently people in the modern world relate to the world and community at large when comparing modern culture to previous cultures. That got me thinking – is it that the previous cultures had the same idea of self benefit as ours, and simply negotiated the balance between self-benefit and the benefit of the rest of the community/world differently? Or is the difference between modern and previous cultures so large that even the concept of self-benefit would have been radically different in the minds of previous cultures – stemming from a radically different understanding of “self” and “benefit”?

  90. How does Eckart Tolle’s and other New Agey gurus concept of self compare to Levi’s? I think Levi’s is much more individuated.

  91. JMG – or anyone else able to help –

    Regarding the image on page 28 of the Greer/Mikituk edition – thoughts/suggestions on sources that might provide a guide on the symbolism or to help unpack the Latin/Hebrew and any historical context?

    Or should I wait a time with patience as we work through the books and check back on it later?



  92. JMG,

    1. I have added Timaeus to my “to read” list. 🙂
    2. I had some walking-behind-the-lawnmower meditation today (which is one of the best kinds for me). I think I figured something out, but I have decided I really need to learn more about the Cabala. What do you recommend as the best first Cabala book for someone to read?
    3. The Cabala question I have that would let me know if I figured something out or not… Is Malkhut where all humans are or is it like the first step on the Path?

    Thank you!
    (and @Jbucks, THANK YOU! I will never look at a D8 the same again…)

  93. What a sensible reconciliation between reason and faith, very similar to the terms in my own habits of thought. I was talking with a buddy at work about reincarnation, and observed that I wasn’t much committed to the factual accuracy of any detail of reincarnation as objective reality, but that there are a whole cluster of, let’s say, stories about reincarnation that have become extremely dear to my heart. There are some arguments of reason or evidence I might play with for or against reincarnation if I have cause to indulge in such play, but I frankly don’t have much invested in them. I simply value reincarnation stories as meaningful, and don’t make the habit of fussing about the precise nature of that meaning.

    An interesting series of synchronicity bear mentioning here I believe. First, slightly later in the above mentioned conversation the differences between Taoism and Buddhism was brought up by another harvester in the field. Various things were said, and I figured there wasn’t much I knew about the question that would be of much meaning in the context, still I recalled and told the Chuang Tzu stories of the butterfly dream and the happy fish, as those stories are delightful, and anyone who doesn’t know them is likely to find searching them out amusing and interesting. Those little stories are the most important linkage between the Taoist tradition and my habits of thought. The Butterfly story actually makes a good compliment to Ehyeh asher Ehyeh come to think of it. The synchronicity was that a friend I hadn’t talked to for months send me a message that afternoon asking for recommendations for a good translation of Taoist texts. Which was most interesting.

    So I was thinking of synchronicity, and that it might be a good time to make a reading of the tao again, its been a while. I seen you posted this here essay and I opened it, but wasn’t quite ready to start reading, for I had happened across a video essay on an old Anime cartoon I was rather fond of, and decided to give it a watch first. The Anime in question was Ghost in the Shell, a philosophical sci-fi that imagines a future of human cybernetic modification, and proceeds to explore all the ways that such a future would make incoherent the more mainstream notions of self from western culture. Hence the title Ghost in the Machine; with a literal science fiction cyborg machine, is there any room for a ghost of individuality. Good cartoon for people into stuff like that, but the video essay started talking about Descartes Cogito, and all the ways a science fiction world where a person’s memories could be hacked, intentionally edited, or even copied, puts a mess in sectors of the Cartesian world view. “Descartes crafted his maxim if all else is an illusion at least descartes could be certain that he existed because he could think. For hundreds of years and even arguably to this day this maxim is held to be self-evident to be the base of all philosophy.” I pause the video to have a think about Descartes, trying to be fair to the ol’ mercenary; and after having a think I have a whim to start on your essay. Descartes! Some where before I read your mention of Nietzsche I think “what a charming synchronicity with that silly video essay, oh heck lets go finish that first.” What do you know the guy starts on about Nietzsche, putting forward that Descartes notions don’t formally support the notion of a particular entity doing the thinking. The video essay goes on to show examples from the Anime where characters are forced to confront the uncomfortable implications of existing in a cyber-punk story written by a fellow who has a bone to pick with Descartes, not a pleasant proposition. I come back your essay having finished the video, and Nietzsche, covering about the same ground.

    Now I have to figure out what my faith concerning synchronicity comes to in practice.

  94. I’m using the Knapp-Hall deck and am intrigued by the table of all things. In both the Knapp-Hall and Marseilles deck, the table only has three legs showing. In the Rider-Waite deck that I use for divination, there are two. I thought for years that it was just an artistic effect, but now I don’t know. There’s plenty of room on all of these cards for all four legs.

    And the magician’s legs are noticeably apparent under the table on Knapp-Hall and Marseilles. So I asked, well, what supports the four elements? It must be the table.

    So, maybe, the ternary supports the quaternary and the quaternary somehow is manipulated by the binary, through human agency.

    I never would have thought this using just the Rider-Waite deck. This is going to be fun. Thanks, JMG 🙂

  95. Several comments have mentioned the Bateleur’s table having only three legs. The table’s placement and the viewer’s perspective are certainly decidedly important aspects of this trump, yet the triune nature of the table’s legs appears to be just one of their ever-so-many secrets. What has been occluded, and why? From whose perspective?

    Whenever I look at this card, I invariably see six legs. If I squint at it, I can even make out four, or two, or three legs…

    For a juggler (or a magician for that matter), he doesn’t yet seem to have mastered keeping all the tools in his wallet in play at the same time. He has already picked up his wand, but looks away from it. What has divided his will?

    There’s also a particularly vibrant growth, like a flame, centered directly under le Bateleur. What will happen as it grows and rises?

  96. I am titling this post “The Sharpie Heresy”

    JMG: I followed your advice and went and got a “Tarot of Marseilles” deck through the Philosophical Research Society that is numbered as Master Levi uses in his work. I wanted a Knapp-Hall deck because the artwork really appealed to me but I am making due with a Flipbook authored by Teresa Mayville that shows me the Knapp-Hall Deck in a book format. Not nearly as good as a deck, but it is workable.

    But at the risk of sounding like an art critic (which I decidedly am not!) the artwork on the Tarot of Marseilles deck is so bad that it actually kinda interferes with my attempts to create the symbol in my head. I realize that this sounds silly, but when I look at the artwork on the Marseilles deck, I just feel like I am being forced to revisit my children’s “art fairs” when they were in grade school and those just depressed me (this nonsense about the inner child’s latent artistic talent has never attended one of these torture sessions).

    So I made a decision. First I went back to the PRS website and asked to be put on the waiting list should they do a new printing of the Knapp-Hall (I did mention that I really liked those, didn’t I/) and second, I dug out my Rider deck and a couple of sharpies and started modifying the Rider deck’s numbering to match the Knapp-Hall/Marseilles deck’s system.

    A much more satisfactory approach to me. I am certain that there are issues with the symbolism, but as I work through the deck ( I am at the L’Imperatrice now) I am hand drawing in what I think are important “stuff” that appears on the other two decks (I bought a pack of different colored sharpies for this task).

    Not asking for an attaboy or anything, but I thought that I would pass this on to the other students…..Maybe it will work for them. Please tell me if I violated any serious rule that I didn’t know about.

    Thanks for doing this course. As a further aside, Dionne Fortune’s “The Mystical Qabalah” is a darn sight more approachable than “The Cosmic Doctrine”.


  97. Sam, yes, I figure it’s based on previous incarnations. As for self-benefit, oh, doubtless the latter — no two cultures have the same understanding of what the self is, and while there’s some overlap on ideas of benefit — especially where it impinges on the biological — it zooms off from there in many directions.

    Iuval, well, I don’t know Eckart Tolle’s ideas at all — New Age literature generally isn’t something I’ve studied — so I don’t know how they compare to Lévi’s ideas.

    Flagg707, I’ll quote my response above: “the Hebrew letters are the name of God יהוה , YHVH, written right side up and then upside down. The full text, in Latin and Hebrew, says ‘By the benediction of YHVH, the malediction of (YHVH reversed) is shadowed forth.’ The point Lévi is making is also made by the Yin-Yang symbol and the light and dark triangles in the upper left.”

    Karma, well, my book Paths of Wisdom was written precisely for that purpose, and a fair number of people seem to find it useful. As for Malkuth, it’s where all humans are at, and it’s also the first step on the Path. We’re all on the Path, knowingly or not.

    Ray, fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Jon, excellent! The table is as much a part of the image as anything else, and its numerical features won’t be accidental.

    Christophe, a fine beginning for a meditation or three.

    Degringolade, well, you can do as you like, of course, but it’s more than just the numbers. See some of the comments above.

  98. Isaac Salamander Hill wrote, “When asked ‘what do you know for sure?’ He replies: ‘what I am.’ That is something that I am not yet sure about, and something that Decarte seemed quite far from, but something perhaps Levi can help with.”

    Be very happy that you are not sure what you are, and pray that you will always remain so. The only people who trumpet about knowing what they are as being the one thing they know for sure are, unfortunately, not entirely human any longer. As long as we remain fully human, we will never know the full extent of what being human means. We are each a point that can dilate and radiate in an unlimited circle. When we were mollusks, we never knew the full extent of what being mollusk meant. Once we have graduated from humanity, we will never know the full extent of what being graduated from humanity means. It really is as unlimited as Lévi describes.

    When people don’t graduate, when they give up and become enticed by the Penumbra, something very non-human moves in to inhabit the vessel they leave behind. What that is believes itself to be as powerful as an angel or a god, to be able to fully pass for a human, and to be more unlimited than all the other points. As in, all points are created unlimited, but some are more unlimited than others! Where that craving for power leads to is not a place you want to visit.

    Be very careful around people like your mentor. I wasn’t about to listen to his (I’m quite certain) captivating voice, but I did look up some transcripts of his interviews. He described his transformation as, “I saw then that I was the featureless space upon which all objects occur,” a chilling quote if I ever read one. He continued, “the final nail was driven into the coffin of the ego in an intense (but effortless) period lasting a little over an hour. Strangely enough, my grief was not for Art T. but for the nice old nun who is in charge of hospitality at the monastery and the poignancy of her belief that she is alive and separate.”

    Anyone who describes their ego as being a “coffin” has developed an oddly adversarial relationship with an aspect of their Self. Anyone who would not feel the deepest grief for the death of their ego, that beloved friend who accompanied and guided us as long as it could, and then laid its own life down when it had become too restrictive to contain our growing Self, has clearly mistaken the incredible strength and love of self-sacrifice for a debilitating weakness.

    The poignancy of that nice old nun’s belief that she is alive and separate is what allows her to live as a saint, helping others. May we all live so blessed a life! Whatever your mentor felt for her sounds less like grief and more like contempt, disdain, or scorn. Humanity’s ability to be separate and deeply connected at the same time, our belief that worlds we cannot see are real and alive within us, and our gift of loving our imperfect, fragile Selves in all their broken facets, including our egos, is what allows us to be able to self-sacrifice and to feel real grief. Those utterly human qualities are infinitely stronger than any contempt and far more enticing than the Penumbra of featureless space. And yet, some still choose the void.

  99. Contemplating “the Verb” after having meditated on the image Le Bateleur brought my mind into some interesting places. My mind decided to contemplate what it was like before humans had developed recognized speech patterns. I realized then that when a sound became a symbol of some meaning, for instance “run”, that likely when someone uttered the word run, it had a lot of power, encouraging others who understood to run. This was definitely a form of magic, influencing others to run. As the symbols became more complex, naturally the power changed, yet even to this day, harnessing powerful symbols in just the right way still causes many to react. Trump and his use of Twitter and speech patterns was a great example. As is modern day advertising. This all made me aware of the power of our speech, the power of symbols, and why it is of great importance to be knowledgeable and wise before using this magic. Le Bateleur with his power of three, reminds that there is a connection between everything, With such a great power, naturally there is responsibility but especially because there often will be unanticipated reactions. The layers in symbolism are very complex, and the opposite of for example again, run, doesn’t haven’t to be walk if the connection is a stressor, which would make the opposite of run, or flight, to be to fight.

  100. I’m just catching up on Magic Monday and saw the post on hte lemniscate or infinity symbol. I noticed if you turn the infinity symbol 90 degrees it becomes an hourglass which has the opposite meaning.

  101. Hi John Michael,

    I quite enjoyed Lévi’s earthy take upon philosophy and can quite readily acknowledge such a pragmatic point of view: what exists is what exists. The thought appeals greatly to me.

    We’re in for an interesting ride, that’s for sure. I tend to believe that we are part of a greater whole, and thus the Golden rule has it’s basis, and also the ‘whatever is done to the least’ has force. How could it be otherwise? The details however are very complicated! 🙂

    The artists of the Romantic era were very good indeed, and their works hold great appeal. I have the suspicion that they said: This is what may have been, and this is what could be.



  102. From the beginning, the Knapp-Hall deck coaxed me out of one of of my Golden Dawn preconceptions. Instead of being called The Magician, Key 1 is titled Le Bateleur. The primary translation seems to be juggler, which I can certainly relate to – adding another ball (this four-year adventure in consciousness) to those already in the air is a sizable stretch! But some of the alternate translations are equally evocative: acrobat, tumbler, jester, and busker.
    An acrobat is someone who uses their physical body skillfully. One of the many ways to view the four elements, the four implements on Le Bateleur’s table, is to see them as representing sunlight, water, air, and food, all of which can be used with increasing levels of skill and awareness. A secondary definition of acrobat is “a person who readily changes viewpoints or opinions.” This is especially relevant, given Levi’s warning that “one who loves his ideas and is afraid to lose them… can close this book, which is useless and dangerous to him.” (p. 30)
    A tumbler, like a martial artist, needs to be able to take a hard fall, give way to it, roll with it, and then come back to his or her feet. Taking a fall now and then is inescapable. It’s what comes after the fall, so to speak, that counts.
    Jesters keep things light and entertaining, using jokes, witticisms, funny stories, and seemingly absurd non sequiturs. Yet as the old saying goes, many a truth is said in jest. Gifted comedians utilize this principle to probe, exploit, and potentially alleviate the gnarly subliminal impulses of their audience. So did medieval court jesters, whose amusing banter simultaneously entertained the crowd while covertly instructing and advising the king and queen.
    Finally, a busker is a street performer. As with acrobats, tumblers, and jesters, buskers perform in public. But Le Bateleur appears to be alone and somewhere out in the country, not on a street corner or on a stage. Maybe he’s performing for an audience of “one.” Or perhaps, like any artist, he needs to practice his craft in private. The word busker comes from a Spanish root word buscar, meaning to seek; which in turn comes from the Indo-European bhudh-sko, to win, to conquer.
    Now this juggler needs to attend to one of the other balls in the air and will return with some further associations with Key 1 once this particular ball is back in hand.

  103. @JBucks, I am by no means a biblical scholar, but I think when it is referred to “Ezekiel’s Chariot”, they are referring to the chariot that Ezekiel saw in his vision (and in his vision, he saw God’s Chariot). So there may be a fine distinction (are you referring to the metaphor or are you referring to the actual chariot), but I haven’t meditated on that at all and when I read your response, I was not confused by what you said. (Ha. I almost typed “I knew what you meant”, but after meditating on all the hidden meanings in things, I don’t know that I’ll ever be confident to use that phrase again.)

    I had another ah-ha moment, which I will write up in a separate post. 🙂

    @JMG, Paths of Wisdom has been ordered. Thank you for the answer regarding Malkuth. It being both where all humans are and the first step is the bestest answer possible for my metaphor. I’ll work on writing that up now and will get it posted.

  104. Re: dice on the table

    My Magician card does NOT have dice on the table, but I noticed some comments about it from other decks. I don’t know if this is relevant, since I don’t know what the rest of the cards in the other decks look like, but in my readings I learned that Apollo gave Hermes the gift of divination using dice.

  105. After reading Chapter 1 once, I can already tell I want a good quality hardback version of this book. Does it exist? Is it possible to get a limited print run of such a book produced? It would be worth the investment for me personally.

    The sentence that jumped out at me on first pass is “The world is a battlefield where liberty battles with the force of inertia by using the active force.” I have neighbors with millstones as yard decorations so shuddered with the visual of the follow-up sentence.

    I spent some time ruminating on the differences between liberty and freedom since they are not interchangeable although we act as if they are today. The idea that inertia has more of effect in the world than evil is quite a mind-tripping idea too. Although one look at at the garden beds and I can see how weeds just doing what weeds do and my lack of pulling them up has made quite and impact on the beauty and functionality of the garden.

    I appreciate how Levi labels inertia a force and not a state of being. It isn’t just laziness or apathy, an amorphous thing, but a defined side of the battle.

    I got the mini-size of the Marseille Tarot deck so my cards are the size of credit cards. I could carry them around in my pocket if I wish. This really appeals to me somehow!

  106. The two things which struck me the most about the Bateleur card is first, the infinity symbol on the hat passes in front and behind the head, only very slightly above the location of the third eye, placing the human brain (mind) at the middle where the two tear drops of the infinity symbol meets. For some reason, I get shivers thinking about this and can feel a physical a reaction in my own head when I meditate on this.

    The second is that if you place a piece of paper along the bottom of the caduceus, and trace a line past on both ends, it passes through the solar plexus and goes to the hand pointing downward, suggesting that the energies invoked from the higher planes pass through the solar plexus to become manifested. The angle seems very deliberate because the caduceus is not pointing directly up, as you would expect it “above”.

  107. When I figured out my first final answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, I didn’t post it because it was very specific to my circumstance and, while very helpful to me, probably wouldn’t be helpful to anyone else. And sometimes when I read someone else’s interpretation, it can make it harder for me to figure out my own. (And then there was that “to reveal it is death” comment by Levi, which a lot of people seemed to take to heart in the Introduction post.) I pondered whether or not to post my second final answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, but decided that I should, because if @JBucks had not posted his original comment about the octohedron, I would not have ended up where I am right now. I do not think this is the *final* final answer… I am starting to think I will end up with a new answer after every chapter. 🙂

    Figure 5 on this page shows a merkaba with an internal octohedron. My metaphor is based on that, so if you haven’t looked at the picture yet, go look at the picture.

    Yesterday morning, I woke up with the idea of the Merkabah as a collection of lenses, with prisms at the bottom. It was like I remembered seeing it, but I didn’t remember what I saw, so as I tried to build the metaphor, I knew there were things I was missing, but I wrote down what I could remember.

    Then, later in the day while cutting grass, a bird flew overhead and cast a huge shadow in front of me (and then on me). I looked up to see the bird (without considering the direction of the shadows) and ended up looking straight at the sun. My internal voice said ‘yeah, looking directly at the sun is NOT a good idea’ as I turned my head to try to see the bird. Didn’t see the bird, but noticed how brilliantly blue the sky was. And I thought, ‘ha, if the throne was ruby, the sky would be red.’

    And then things started clicking into place.

    We cannot look directly at the sun; we’d fry our retinas. We cannot look directly at the Solar Logos; we’d fry our brains.

    The Solar Logos sits on a sapphire throne, so the Solar light shining through the sapphire turns blue, so our sky is blue.

    But the sun isn’t *on* the sky, the sun is *in* the sky.
    The Solar Logos isn’t *on* a throne, he’s *in* a throne.
    The Solar Logos isn’t *on* a chariot, he’s *in* a chariot.
    So the Solar Logos isn’t *on* (or above) the Merkabah, he’s IN the Merkabah.

    But where IN the Merkabah would the Solar Logos be?
    The center.
    But there’s no vertex in the center. That would just be the plane between the two bases of the pyramids of the octohedron.

    But that’s like what @Jbucks described, only during the SOP.
    But in @Jbucks version, *I* am supposed to be in the plane with the elements.
    Ah, but the elements aren’t on the plane in the center of the Merkabah, they are on the bottom level.

    So the Solar Logos is in the center of his octohedron in the middle of the Merkabah. And I’m in the center of MY octohedron at the bottom of the Merkabah. The cherubim/sphinxes are the elements, my Spirit Above is the Solar Logos, and my Spirit Below is… Gaia, who isn’t part of the Merkabah proper, but whom I’m supposed to be attuning with. So there are two octohedrons, as above, so below.

    Then I wonder how this relates to the Magician card. He’s got his Elements ready on the table. He’s got his caduceus ready in his hand. He is ready to do whatever it is he’s going to do next. And that is Aleph, the connecting line from Malkuth to Yesod on the Cabala, being ready to do the next thing (I think. I haven’t read enough about the Cabala to know if that’s what it really means. And what is the next thing? I have no idea. But we’re only on Chapter One…)

    Then I wonder how this relates to the Sphinx’s riddle. The clues JMG gave in the introduction were the circle with the cross, the star of two triangles, and a circle. So my new interpretation of that is the circle with a cross is me at the intersection, with the elements/cherubims/sphinxes at the compass points; the star of two triangles is the Merkabah; the circle is unity (the Solar Logos or God). So once I understand the elements, I can use the Cabala (paths) to reach the Solar Logos.

    To use Levi’s clues (the quaternary to the duality to the ternary), the quaternary are the cherubim, the duality is the central octohedron of the merkaba, and the trinity is God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since he was Christian).

    And much later, the realization of what the SOP really is doing hit me. Or rather, what I am doing when I do the SOP. But again, all this might just be my interpretation for me and you might come up with something completely different. (And if you do, I hope you will post your version!)

  108. Hmmmm. OK, all three are laid out in front of me now and I am looking for similarities and differences. For the use of the course I will use the Knapp-Hall flipbook for meditation. But I will try to create a “composite” symbol in my head for when I work through the exercises.

    Maybe I am wrong (and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time) but from what I am reading, the symbol in your head is the important part. I am likening the learning of the Qabalah to the pain of the first time I learned analytic geometry (or for that matter calculus). You plow and plow for weeks and weeks, dispairing of ever getting “it”. Then all the sudden things fall together and you get this epiphany.

    But what I did remember is how many times I had to ask folks to “explain that again” and how one person’s approach seemed to work to get the point across. It might have been easier if it had been the same person each time, but the “seed crystal” came from every which way.

    I really do want to thank you again for the course, I really want to comprehend something that I feel that I missed in my first round of education. Seeing as the scientific/industrial worldview is looking decidedly threadbare, I figure that I should go back to the cleft point that happened in the Enlightenment/Scientific revolution(s) and trace the other route.

  109. I have a feeling that the folks “back then” were the same kind of folks that we have around now. Coming out of the world of “Trade Secrets” and “Do Not Compete” clauses and patents locking up ideas, one sees the same kind of behavior in the here and now.

    Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. The folks who hid things were born in the same era as the Papacy that didn’t allow the bible to be read by non-clergy.

    If the knowledge was freely available, my guess is that the desire for secrecy might be explained by a quote from Neal Stephenson’s “Quicksilver”.

    “Cromwell’s England was another matter. Since the Puritans had killed the king and taken the place over, Enoch didn’t go around that Commonwealth (as they styled it now) in a pointy hat with stars and moons. Not that Enoch the Red had ever been that kind of alchemist anyway. The old stars-and-moons act was a good way to farm the unduly trusting. But the need to raise money in the first place seemed to call into question one’s own ability to turn lead into gold.”

  110. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for this book club – tugging along as a complete novice. I’m not evensure what people here mean when they say “meditation”. I bet it’s something very different from what suburban moms do at yoga retreats. 😊 Anyway, I’ll take a stab at it.

    I imagine Le Bateleur as standing at a country fair and getting ready to perform. He is not nervous… too late to be nervous… there is a crowd gathering around him. He’s got his tools out. He is ready to perform his tricks… but he hasn’t begun yet.

    Disciplina… He’ll need a lot of it to succeed. School of hard knocks comes to mind. Once he starts performing the ego hits are gonna come and he has to withstand them.

    אין סוף… I’m interpreting סוף literally – end, like they used to write at the end of the movies. Something that has no end also has no beginning. Everything is possible… That’s because he hasn’t started at all. Once he starts he’s going to open some options… and eliminate others.

    כתר… Very far from realization, manifestation, and earthly reality… Le Bateleur has a long LONG way to go to mastery of his craft and himself. It’s up there… a vague thought, a distant possibility, an unrealized passion, a feeling too romantic to be true…

    Is any of the above something that can be said to be a meditation?

  111. Thank you for pointing this out. I never thought to count the legs of the table (BTW, the Rider Waite only shows one leg). What I found interesting was the way that the leg on the far left comes off at an angle in both the Knapp-Hall and the Marseilles decks. Does this imply some kind of instability?

    Pondering away

  112. On page 33 of our text: regarding “the Donkey of Sterne or Apuleius…” This passage, together with its footnote puzzles me because I don’t think a donkey plays any important role in “Tristram Shandy.” Sterne’s other novel, however, concerns the lusts and lechery of a consumptive, dying clergyman (which is Sterne himself thinly disguised). Sterne’s other novel is titled “A Sentimental Journey.” Somewhere I read a comment that said “sentimental” is being used in the sense of sensuous or lecherous, so the alternate title might be “A Lecherous Journey.” Make of that what you will, but it’s the nearest I’ve come to being able to understand Levi’s statement about the donkey of Sterne or Apuleius. I especially like a famous passage under “Paris” on pg 71 of my Penguin edition: the “running at the ring of pleasure” passage.

  113. i love what you’re doing with this book club thing Papa Greer. / it’s messing with my head and the innerwebs are too small, have made me crippled somehow over these past two decades, and this reading your book and thinking–no REMEMBERING– gives me ice cream headaches.

    this is all necessary. what you’re taking on is beautifully epic and optimistic. (smile)

    thank you. i bet there are many behind the posts we actually see here, loping behind and along in silence as i am.

    but most of all, thank you to those of you with the audacity to post your thoughts. that’s what it’s gonna take to help us in this mess. the fearless ones who raise hands first while the rest of us in back aren’t even sure what we’re looking at just yet.


  114. Another meaning of Bateleur is “mountebank,” “fraudster.”

    When I first looked at the image of the card, what I saw first of all was a man getting ready to fleece some marks on the street using the old three-shell game: Can you guess which of the three shells I have been moving around is the shell under which the pea is hidden? I will bet any m,oney that you cannot.”

    In truth, no matter which shell the mark picks, he will lose his bet. The Bateleur “palmed” the pea before he started moving the shells around.

    I have this unfashionable notion that (as a rule) the con-artist is also, in his own way, a mage and sometimes even a mystic. All three work with the same deep, pre-verbal awareness of how all our every-day, ordinary means of perception barely convey reality–reality that lies, as it does, far far beyond the reach of any thinking the human body can think and anys ensing the human body can sense.

    And this limitation, so kindly built into our material existence, is one of the limitations that keeps us all sane.

    “Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / cannot bear very much reality.”

  115. Prizm, excellent! Thanks for this.

    Yorkshire, very good. Geometrical relationships are very much worth considering in this context.

    Chris, the details are complicated indeed, and trying to make sense of them with a six-inch brain is not an easy task!

    Robert F, fascinating — some of those details I didn’t know. The Golden Dawn/Rider-Waite version is useful in its own place but it’s certainly not the only game in town.

    Karma, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Denis, I’m sorry to say it’s currently available only in the paperback edition. You might contact the publisher and hope out loud for a hardback; some publishers listen to that sort of thing. I’m glad you’re finding the text thought-provoking.

    Myriam, good. Very good. So, yes, you have the pineal gland and the solar plexus being indicated. The physical reaction is a sign worth noting, by the way — that can be a sign that the pineal center is active.

    Karma, good heavens. This is fascinating — and thank you for pointing me to the site, which seems to be doing an extremely interesting blend of trad sacred geometry and Buckminster Fuller.

    Degringolade, the flipbook is fine. You can certainly compare and contrast, so long as you’re aware of the imagery that Lévi is working with. As for knowledge and power, yes, that’s an important part of it, but there’s another side. If you were to try to teach analytical geometry to people who didn’t understand basic mathematics, think of the muddle they’d make of it — and if they then took their misunderstandings and taught that to other people as analytical geometry, what a mess that would be! Occultism is in a similar quandary; in order to be understood, it requires skills of consciousness most people never learn (and are in fact hostile to learning), and so misunderstandings are rife. Keeping your mouth shut except around people who are willing to learn those skills is usually a better policy — though you can also express what you want to communicate in ways that automatically screen out the clueless.

    Kirsten, you can find a detailed discussion of the kind of meditation I’m talking about here (start at the bottom). No, it’s not the kind of nonchemical tranquilizer marketed to suburban moms these days! Your comments are solid, though, and each of them is a good start to a meditation in prose.

    Degringolade, good. What do you think?

    Phutatorius, I haven’t read either of Sterne’s novels, so I’ll be interested to see what comes up in the discussion.

    Erika, plenty of minds need stretching these days. Lévi’s good at that. 😉

    Robert, well, Hermes is the god of con artists as well as mages!

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

Leave a Reply