A STUDY OF THE MAJOR ARCANA IN LIGHT OF MASONRY

 

By Brother P. D. Newman

 

Tupelo Lodge No. 318, Mississippi

 

He who desires to attain to the understanding of the Grand Word and the possession of the Great Secret, ought carefully to read the Hermetic philosophers, and will undoubtedly attain initiation, as others have done; but he must take, for the key of their allegories, the single dogma of Hermes, contained in his tablet of Emerald, and follow, to class his aquisitions of knowledge and direct the operation, the order indicated in the Kabalistic alphabet of the Tarot. - Albert Pike ('Morals & Dogma,' p. 777)

 

The Fool card features a wanton youth who is skipping along a mountain ridge, daydreaming & completely ignorant of the fact that before him is a cliff off of which he is about to step. In Masonry, the Fool card correlates to the candidate for initiation. The due & true preparation of the candidate is to signify that he is symbolically bound by his own ignorance & blind to the true workings of nature, & like the fool, he is about to take a great leap of faith into the unknown. Culturally the fool is represented in the figure of Wagner's 'Parzifal' whose mother, so as to avoid his being considered for knighthood, dressed him as the villiage idiot, not unlike the candidate for Masonic initiation. Also, the word 'Parzifal' is a rearragement of the Arabic words 'Fal Parsi' which mean 'Pure Fool.'

 

The Magician card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Beth' which means 'House.' Masonically the Magician card is therefore suggestive of "that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." On the card itself is depicted a young man before a table on which is displayed the weapons of his trade, similar to the working tools of a Mason. In his right hand is held aloft a wand with which he points to the heavens, while with his left hand he points to the floor of the Temple, as if to say that the plans for the building of the earthly Temple are to be sought in the tracings of the heavenly bodies.

 

On the High Priestess card is depicted a young woman seated on a throne between two pillars. In the Rider-Waite deck the pillar to the left of the High Priestess has inscribed upon it the letter 'J,' & to her right, 'B,' alluding to the pillars which were set in the portico of King Solomon's Temple. One of the Three Great Lights in Masonry, the Sacred Volume of the Law, rests open atop her lap, & from it flows a bubbling stream which irrigates the rest of the Major Arcana. The High Priestess card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Gimel' which means 'Rope,' Masonically suggestive of the rope or cable tow which binds the candidate for initiation. Also, the Latin equivalent of the Hebrew Gimel is the letter 'G,' indicative of the self-same letter which is suspended over the head of the Worshipful Master in the east of the Lodge.

 

The Empress card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Daleth' which means 'Door.' Masonically the Empress card is therefore suggestive of the door of the Lodge on which the candidate must knock for admission. The Empress card itself is representative of the archetypal mother, & in the world of symbolism there has always been an explicit connection between the idea of a 'door' & the reproductive anatomy of the female. As Ida Craddock points out on page 241 of her exhaustive 'Lunar and Sex Worship,' "The usual and natural symbol of femininity is a doorway or archway, suggestive of the vulva or external genitals."

 

The Emperor card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Heh' whose Yetziratic attribution is the zodiacal sign Aries. Aries is the ram or lamb & signifies the childlike innocence of the coming spring. In the Thoth deck there is even depicted a lamb seated next to the Emperor in the lower left hand corner of the card in commemoration of this fact. Masonically therefore the Emperor card is suggestive of the lambskin or white leather apron which is worn over the sacral region as an indication of the Mason's moral purity.

 

On the Hierophant card is featured an adult male whose attire is indicative of a papal position. Two or three monks kneel before him in reverence as he blesses them with the sign of benediction. Masonically the Hierophant card correlates to the Worshipful Master whose working task it is to initiate, pass & raise candidates. The Hebrew letter which corresponds to the Hierophant card is 'Vau' whose Yetziratic attribution is the zodiacal sign of Taurus, the sign of the bull. Mythologically he is connected to the Egyptian Osiris, the 'solar bull,' whose death & resurrection serves as the prototype for that of Masonic hero H. A., whose mystery play is acted out by every candidate for the degree of Master Mason.

 

The Lovers card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Zayin' which means 'Sword.' Masonically the Lovers card is therefore suggestive of the Tyler who, during the working or business hours of the Lodge, can be found standing without the door of the Temple with a drawn sword in his hand in order to ward off all whose intention it is to intrude or evesdrop upon Lodge work or business. This is the same function which the Lesser Bannishing Ritual of the Pentagram serves in the Magical tradition where the magician performing the ritual, having armed himself with a specially consecrated sword, 'bannishes' any intruding thoughts or spirits from the Magick Circle or Temple.

 

The Masonic implications of the Chariot card are not as easy to trace as have been the preceding cards, but the connection is clear if one but approach the problem from a slightly different angle. In most Qabalah-based Orders and Societies the Rungs of the Ladder of Attainment are based upon the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, & the Paths which lead up to each Sephirah are the means by which an initiate attains a given Rung. Each Path corresponds to a specific Hebrew letter, & the Path which leads to the Rung which correlates to the Grade of Magister Templi in the MSRICF is that of Cheth, the same letter which is attributed Yetziratically to the Chariot card. The title 'Magister Templi' appears to have been borrowed by the SRIA from the Freemasons, for not only is 'Magister Templi' Latin for 'Master of the Temple,' a possible reference to the Masonic 'Master of the Lodge,' but the Grade of Magister Templi also happens to be the entry point into the Rosicrucian Third Order, structurally analogous to the S.'.S.'. or Holy of Holies of King Solomon's Temple in Masonry. Masonically the Chariot card is therefore suggestive of the Master of the Lodge as one of the Three Lesser Lights in Masonry. Also, on the Chariot card is depicted a knight being drawn in a chariot by two sphinxes. The canopy of the chariot is, like the ceiling of the Lodge, the starry vault of heaven itself, & the sphinxes which pull the chariot are mix-matched in black & white, reminiscent of the groud floor or checkered pavement of King Solomon's Temple, indicating that creation is propelled by the interplay of opposing forces.

 

Masonically the Strength card is related to Fortitude, the same title by which the card was known in the old decks. Fortitude is the Cardinal Virtue which corresponds to the Perfect Point of Entrance located in the pectoral region. The Hebrew letter which is attributed to the Strength card is 'Teth' whose Yetziratic correspodence is the zodiacal sign Leo, the sign of the Lion, indicating that the Sxxxxx Gxxx of the Lxxxx Pxx is also suggested by the Strength card. Similarly, the Hermit card corresponds to Prudence, the Cardinal Virtue which relates to the Perfect Point of Entrance located in the hands. The card itself is connected to the idea of 'Silence,' & in the old decks the card was even called 'Prudence,' keeping in step with the actual nature of the card.

 

The Wheel of Fortune card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Kaph' which means 'Gripping Hand.' Masonically the Wheel of Fortune card is therefore suggestive of the token or grip whereby one Mason may know another in the dark as well as in the light. The Yetziratic correspondence of Kaph is the planet Jupiter which, as Albert Pike tells us on page 202 of 'Morals & Dogma,' is "an emblem of the ever-approaching dawn of perfection and Masonic light."

 

The Justice card is related to the Cardinal Virtue of the same name which corresponds to the Perfect Point of Entrance located in the feet. The Hebrew letter which is attributed to the Justice card is 'Lamed' whose Yetziratic correspodence is the zodiacal sign Libra, suggestive of the balance that comes structurally from building on the square.

 

The Hanged Man card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Mem' which means 'Water.' In the magical tradition each of the four elements is attributed to one of the four cardinal directions, & the element which correlates to the occident is that of water. Masonically the Hanged Man is therefore the Senior Warden seated in the west, representative of the setting sun. Mythologically the setting sun is signified by the Egyptian Osiris who was, like the figure depicted in the Hanged Man card, bound and hung from a living tree.

 

The Death card is indicative of the ritual which every candidate for the degree of Master Mason must undergo in rememberance of the fallen architect of King Solomon's Temple, H. A.. As stated above, the prototype of this mystery play is the death & resurrection of Egyptian deity Osiris, & it is Osiris' murderer, the Saturnal Typhon, who is depicted on the face of the Death card harvesting the souls of the dead with a sickle, the astrological symbol for the planet Saturn. The handle of the sickle forms a Greek Tau, the Hebrew equivalet of which correponds Yetziratically, like the sickle itself, to Saturn.

 

Like the Strength, Hermit, & Justice cards, Temperance corresponds Masonically to one of the four Cardinal Virtues. It is attributed to the Perfect Point of Entrance located in the gutteral region on accout of the fact that "TEMPERANCE [signifies] the antipodes of Gluttony." ('Morals & Dogma,' p. 727) Robert Macoy, on page 682 of his 'A Dictionary of Freemasonry' tells us that it is "By temperace [that] we are instructed to govern the passions, and check unruly desires."

 

The Devil card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Ayin' which means 'Eye.' In Masonry the Devil card is thus suggestive of the All-Seeing Eye, a symbol which is used by Masons to signify the ever-watchful eye of deity. On the card itself is depicted a goat-headed beast which is seated atop a cubical stone. The beast is highly reminiscent of Baphomet, the deific icon of the Templars, while the cubical stone on which he is seated most readily brings to mind the idea of the perfect ashlar in Masonry.

 

The Tower card corresponds to the Hebrew letter 'Peh' which means 'Mouth,' indicating that the words or names of the tokens which are imparted during the taking of the degrees are Masonically implied by this card, while the Star card is suggestive of the five-pointed blazing star which is depicted amidst the black & white checkered pavemet in the floor of every Masonic Lodge, over which the majority of the words are imparted.

 

Along with the Chariot, the Moon & Sun cards correspond to the remaining of the Three Lesser Lights in Masonry, completing the triad of Sun, Moon, & Master of the Lodge. To quote again from Bro. Pike, "The Sun is the ancient symbol of the life-giving and generative power of Deity...The Sun was His manifestation and visible image...The Moon was the symbol of the passive capacity of nature to produce, the female, of which the life-giving power and energy was the male...The "Master of [the Lodge]" was the Supreme Deity, above both, and manifested through both..." ('Morals & Dogma,' p. 13).

 

Similar to the Hanged Man card, the Judgement card is suggestive Masonically of the second of the two Wardens. The Hebrew letter which correlates to the Judgement card is 'Shin' whose Yetziratic attribution is the element of fire. Like the relation of water & the west, the element of fire is related to the south, for when the sun reaches the south it is generally the hottest portion of the day. The Judgement card is therefore indicative of the Junior Warden in the south, whose task it is to call the workers from labor to refreshment while the sun is at its miridian height. On the card itself is depicted the angel Israfel whose trumpet blast calls the dead from the refreshment of sleep to the labor of the next life.

 

Finally, the World card is suggestive of the central icon of Masonry: the combined square & compasses. In the Qabalistic document 'Liber 777' we are told in so many words that a correct design of the World card should contain a demonstration of the "Quadrature of the Circle." The Alchemical concept of the squaring of the circle is not an idea traditionally associated with Masonry, and yet the square & circle are precisely the geometrical shapes in which the square compasses are used to inscribe by operative masons. Thus the demonstration of the quadrature of the circle contained in a proper depiction of the World card is Masonically suggestive of the combined square & compasses which are placed upon the open Volume of the Sacred Law atop the altar, thereby completing the Three Great Lights in Masonry which, in the peculiar words of Gadicke, "are immortal, and neither limited by time nor space..." (Quoted in Robert Macoy, 'A Dictionary of Freemasonry,' p. 528).

 

REFERENCES

 

Case, Paul Foster. Introduction To The Study Of The Tarot

Case, Paul Foster. The Secret Doctrine Of The Tarot

Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key To The Wisdom Of The Ages

Craddock, Ida. Lunar & Sex Worship

Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Thoth

Crowley, Aleister. Liber 777

Frazer, J.G. The Golden Bough

Jones, Charles S. The Chalice of Ecstacy

Macbride, A.S. Speculative Masonry

Macoy, Robert. A Dictionary of Freemasonry

Mathers, S.L. MacGregor. The Kabbalah Unveiled

Pike, Albert. Morals & Dogma

Regardie, Isreal. The Golden Dawn

Waite, A.E. The Pictoral Key To The Tarot  

Wescott, W. Wynn. The Sepher Yetzirah Or Book Of Creation

 

 

 

         

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