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Tarot 15. The Devil

15. The Devil

The devil is an interesting archetype that can help us with self-understanding and spiritual growth. The demonic being staring at us from tarot card number 15 is a representation of our own animal urges; an aspect that is inextricably linked to our body. Denial of your inner devil causes these forces to lead a life of their own in our subconscious, and makes us behave in ways that we do not want. Recognition and insight, on the other hand, create a expansion of consciousness in which choices arise.

The Devil in the 15th Century

Unfortunately, no 15th century hand-painted tarot cards of the Devil have been preserved. We can, however, find in museums a number of sheets from early printing that have never been finished. From these cards we can deduce that the devil in the tarot was depicted according to the common characteristics at the time: a fearful creature with horns, bird’s legs, a lot of hair and a large fork (see also the painting by Hans Memling from 1485, below right).

Rosenwald deck

Rothschild-Beaux-Arts deck

Budapest-​Metropolitan deck

Hell (detail),
Hans Memling, 1485.

In our inner world a constant battle takes place between the impulses of our lower, animal nature and our higher, divine nature. Animal tendencies include aggression, greed, jealousy, lust and selfishness. Attributes that arise from our higher nature are love, forgiveness, compassion and altruism. The Devil not only represents the beast in man, but also one-sided focus on the physical dimensions (materialism). And on an even deeper level, the Devil also stands for duality.

Energetically, the Devil represents the two energy channels that flow along the spine and make us experience duality. The yoga tradition calls these energy channels the ida nadi and the pingala nadi. The divine is characterized by oneness. In the person who has realized the divine, the energy flows through one channel: the sushumna nadi, which runs through the spine.

On the card of the Budapest Metropolitan deck (above) – the only 15th century card with clear esoteric symbolism – the Devil stands between two small trees. These trees represent the ida and pingala nadi: the Devil is rooted in duality.

The three energy channels involved in a spiritual awakening.

19th century miniature of a yogi

The Ancient Greeks used the beautiful metaphor of a double flute to express the energy flowing through the ida and pingala nadi. On the right are two examples of a satyr – who, like the devil, also stands for the beast in man – with such a double flute. (Pottery from circa 530 BC.)

Often the devil is depicted with a face on his belly. A 15th century example is the Rothschild-Beaux-Arts deck (above). This represents focusing on the desires of the (lower) abdomen; pursuing sensory pleasure and sexual gratification.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Devil of the Tarot of Marseille has additional elements that refer to duality. First, he has both male (genitals) and female (breasts) features. Note that this is different from androgyny, which is a characteristic of the person who has realized the divine. In that case the inner male and female energies have merged into oneness. In the Devil these polar energies are both present (as in any unenlightened person).

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Noblet (1659)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Payen-Webb (18th century)

The Devil’s staff also refers to duality. It is a bident on Jean Noblet’s card and on Payen-Webb’s card two flames are burning on the staff. The Devil’s two horns are not only a reference to the animal instincts, but also to duality. In addition, Jean Noblet uses the combination of the colors red (male) and blue (female) to express the polarities / duality.

The bat wings of the Marseille Devil symbolize spiritual unconsciousness: a bat lives at night, in the (spiritual) darkness. Jean Noblet’s card has two dots on the left wing and three dots on the right wing. This is probably another reference to duality. In Pythagoras’ teaching about the opposites, the even numbers are female and the odd numbers are male.

The two Devil-like creatures tied to the pedestal represent man “trapped” in matter and guided by his lower nature.

An important theme, visualised on several tarot decks, is dealing with the sexual energies. Lust is a primal force that can keep man imprisoned in the world of the animal urges, and thus keep him away from the divine.

The card on the right from the Swiss 1JJ tarot deck (19th century) addresses this theme with clear symbolism. The Devil’s tail is bent forward, evoking associations with a phallus. The tip of the tail touches the bident, which represents the two energy channels that make us experience duality.

Duality and the animal instincts are part of God’s creation and not necessarily “bad” in this respect. However, if we want to experience the oneness of the divine, we must let go of the world of the senses. The Tarot of Marseille card by Payen-Webb (above) emphasizes this by naming the card L’Antechrist (the antichrist) instead of Le Diable: the Devil is the polar opposite of the divine (Christ) in our dual world.

1JJ deck from Switzerland
(Johann Georg Rauch, circa 1830)

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

Oswald Wirth’s version of the Devil is heavily influenced by the Baphomet figure of the occultist Eliphas Levi, and this creates confusion. Baphomet is seen by historians as an idol, of which the exact origin and meaning is unknown. The Knights Templar – a Christian knighthood from the 12th and 13th centuries – were said to have worshiped him instead of Christ, and were burned at the stake for this reason.

Eliphas Levi came to the conclusion that Baphomet represents the Gnostic principle of perfect equilibrium between the opposites, and he created an image that reflected this (see right). His Baphomet includes alchemical principles (“solve et coagula”), the four elements and the caduceus of the god Hermes.

Levi’s Baphomet hereby represents positive, spiritual principles, worth of pursuing. For example, the flame on the goat’s head represents the human intellect that rules over the animal instincts. Using elements of Baphomet for the Devil, as Oswald Wirth did, could mislead someone as to the meaning of the card.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Baphomet, by Eliphas Levi (1854-1856).

Château des Avenières (1917)

The designer of the mosaics at Château des Avenières (left) even took Levi’s Baphomet in its entirety for the Devil. The man and woman who are trapped in matter (the big circle, earth), could easily free themselves if they wanted to. The mosaic therefore presents their captivity as a choice.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Artist Pamela Colman-Smith has the card refer unambiguously to the opposite of the divine again. Her Devil is corpulent (gluttony) and sinister. His horns are curved towards the earth. The upside-down torch in his hands refers to the kundalini fire, which flows down instead of up. This is also the meaning of the two tails of the naked man and woman. The grapes (wine) and the fire both refer to the divine kundalini that feeds on this card the lower, rather than the higher, chakras.

The pentagram, which is shown pointing up with Levi’s Baphomet and on the mosaic of Château des Avenières, has been turned downwards on the RWS card. In occult circles, the pentagram pointed upwards refers to God-realization. The fifth point of the star represents the Spirit, which rules the other four points, which represent the four elements (matter). Pointing down, matter (the beast) rules over the Spirit (the divine).

On the upper hand of the Devil is written the sign for Jupiter: of the seven planets of classical astronomy, the planet furthest away from the sun, and (thus) in alchemy symbolizing the first / bottom chakra. The hand gesture itself refers to duality (“split in two”).

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The naked man and woman evoke associations with Adam and Eve, especially if you place the RWS card The Lovers next to it. Arthur E. Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith were connected to esoteric circles that knew that at the symbolic level the Bible story of Adam and Eve is about man choosing to use the kundalini energy (the serpent) for the lower chakras (sexual activity) and, as a result, losing paradise (connection with the divine). This esoteric knowledge has also been incorporated in countless paintings, see three examples below.

Adam holds Eve’s breast: the forbidden fruit is sexuality (Hans Baldung Grien, 1511)

God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruits. What these forbidden fruits are is symbolized by the branches with leaves, in the form of a phallus, in the left hand of Adam. (Grabower Altar Panel, Bertram van Minden, 1375-1383)

The twig in Adam’s hand refers to a phallus: the forbidden fruit is sexuality. (Lucas van Leyden, 1529, Rijksmuseum)


In the field of the dual forces, the devil is the polar opposite of the divine. Where the divine stands for oneness, the devil represents duality. In man, the devil represents our lower, animal nature, which is the opposite of our higher, divine nature.

In the tarot, the Devil is the counterpart of the Emperor, the Hierophant, and the Chariot. The men on these three cards have conquered matter and the animal instincts (the devil).

Right: the rider of the Chariot (tarot card nr. 7) has conquered his lower nature (the devil) and realized the divine (YHWH in Hebrew letters). The figure at the bottom of the screen is the Fool (tarot card no. 0) who does not believe in God. Illustration by Oswald Wirth from La Clef de la Magie Noir (Stanislas De Guaita, 1897).

Recommended reading: Paul Solomon on our lower and higher nature
(from: “The Wisdom of Solomon“)

Golden Botticelli Tarot (Atanas Alexandrov Atanassov, 2007)

The trident represents the three energy channels involved in a spiritual awakening. The inverted trident on this card symbolizes that the energies are flowing downward, to the lower chakras, rather than up, to the higher chakras.

The Buddha Tarot (Robert M. Place, 2004)

In Buddhism, Mara is the demon who tried to prevent the Buddha from attaining enlightenment.

Ramses – Tarot of Eternity (Severino Baraldi, 2003)

The god Set represented in ancient Egypt the lower nature / animal consciousness.

Tarot of Atlantis (Bepi Vigna, Massimo Rotundo, 2004)

The Hydra from Greek mythology is the dragon-like monster that the demigod Hercules had to defeat. Every time he chopped off one head of the beast, two new ones grew. The Hydra stands for our (animal) desires, which are difficult to overcome.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright April 2020.

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-04T12:54:49+00:00June 15th, 2020|Tarot, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Tarot 15. The Devil

Tarot 14. Temperance

14. Temperance

Temperance is one of the four so-called “cardinal virtues”. We have seen that two other cardinal virtues, 8. Justice and 11. Strength, represent in the tarot aspects of a kundalini awakening. Does this also apply to Temperance? Is there a hidden, esoteric meaning behind the two vases with which the woman adds water to the wine?

Traditionally, the virtue temperance stands for self-control and balance, especially with regard to physical pleasures, such as eating, drinking and sex. Allegorically (as a symbolic representation), this virtue is usually depicted by a woman pouring liquid from one jug into another. Other attributes also occur, for example a bit (“curbing” the animal drives), a clock, and other measuring instruments (“regulating” behavior).

In the case of a liquid, this is usually interpreted as adding water to wine (to prevent drunkenness). But other interpretations are also possible, for instance adding cold to hot liquid, to lower the temperature.

Temperance in the 15th century

In the tarot, the flowing liquid refers to the kundalini energy, that flows from the pelvis to the head. A first indication that this card means something more than adding water to wine is the physical impossibility of the path the liquid travels. Not only on the 15th century tarot cards, also in the centuries that follow, the liquid defies the laws of gravity.

A schematic representation of the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.

Visconti-Sforza Tarot (15th century)

Ercole d’Este Tarot (15th century)

A second clue is that on many tarot cards the liquid flows from the woman’s head to her pelvis: the (reverse) path the kundalini energy travels. But there are more details that refer to a kundalini awakening process. The combination of the colors red and blue of the woman’s clothing, on both the Visconti-Sforza card and the Ercole d’Este card, refers to sacred marriage: the fusion of the masculine (red) and the feminine (blue) energies.

The spiral pattern on the woman’s clothing on the Ercole d’Este card refers to the spiraling upward movement of the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. Her crossed legs symbolize the fusion of the inner duality into (divine) oneness.

On the dress of the Visconti-Sforza woman we see a pattern of eight-pointed stars. As we will see when discussing tarot card The Star, the eight-pointed star (the “Star of Venus”) is an ancient and widely used symbol of the kundalini energy.

Something strange is going on with the jug on the Visconti-Sforza card. The liquid does not pour from the spout, but from the top of the jug. This incongruity has to make us aware of the deeper meaning of the spout: it’s value is not practical but symbolic. The S shape refers to the kundalini serpent.

The two ends of the cord around the woman’s dress have the same S shape. They represent the two energy channels that merge in the head, during the kundalini process. The loop on the cord refers to the pineal gland, which is activated during this fusion.

Venus (the planet) with eight pointed star
(The Sphaera Mundi, circa 1450)

Not only in the tarot have the allegories of the cardinal virtues been used to communicate forbidden esoteric knowledge. Hidden references to the kundalini energy can be found everywhere. On the right three examples.

The woman’s bare back is a reference to the spine / kundalini.
(Hendrick Goltzius, circa 1600, Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands)

The outstretched middle finger is a reference to the spine / kundalini (the “center” of the body). The scarf from head to pelvis has the same symbolic meaning as the liquid: the flowing kundalini energy. (Jacques de Gheyn, 1593, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, The Netherlands)

The scarf from head to pelvis is a reference to the kundalini energy.
(Fresco Parz castle, Austria, 1580)

The tradition of alchemy also uses the metaphor of a liquid, or vapor, that travels between two flasks / pots, to express a kundalini awakening. See below.

Above: the kundalini fire purifies the first five chakras, symbolized by the five flowers. From: Symbola aurea mensae, Michael Maier (1617).

Below the same message with different symbolism.

Right: the dove of the Holy Spirit (= the kundalini) cleanses the first five chakras. From: Rosarium Philosophorum, 1578.

The flasks with the red liquid on the right are a metaphor for the kundalini energy. The pliers the alchemist holds represent the two energy channels that merge during a kundalini awakening. From: Pyrotechnia or fire-firing science (1687)

The five flasks on top of each other (left) represent the first five chakras transformed by the kundalini. The crossed flasks and crossed “horns of plenty” represent the two energy channels that merge. So do the two pliers (bottom). From: Chimischer Wegweiser, 1710.

The Alessandro Sforza Tarot

We can also deduce that the Temperance card in the 15th century represented more than just a cardinal virtue, from the Alessandro Sforza Tarot, which is very different from his contemporaries. It is a card that raises many questions among tarot connoisseurs and historians. What is the meaning of the deer on this card and why is the woman with the two vases sitting on top of it?

The answer we find – again – in the tradition of alchemy and the Greek myths of the gods. In both, the deer symbolizes the kundalini energy. Probably because of its red-brown color (the color of fire) and its antlers, which grow toward “heaven”.

One of the twelve “labors” that the Greek demigod Heracles (Hercules) has to carry out on behalf of King Eurystheus is to bring him the Hind of Keryneia with the golden antlers. When the animal is captured by Heracles, one of the antlers breaks off. The deeper meaning of this myth is the mission of a spiritual seeker to awaken the kundalini (catch the hind) and merge the two energy channels that represent the inner duality (the two antlers become one).

The woman on the Alessandro Sforza card is sitting with her spine against the spine of the deer. This may be taken as confirmation that the deer refers to a kundalini awakening. The woman has raised one leg to indicate that duality has merged into (divine) oneness (see also the painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, below). The red coral necklace that she wears is also a metaphor from alchemy and also represents the kundalini energy.

Alessandro Sforza Tarot (15th century)

The deer and the unicorn on this alchemical emblem (Book of Lambspring, 16th century) both refer to the kundalini process. The unicorn’s horn represents the kundalini energy, which has ascended to the sixth chakra (the forehead). The deer’s antlers represent the two energy channels that merge at the sixth chakra.

The alchemist fishes coral (the kundalini) out of the water (his unconscious). From: Atalanta Fugiens, 1617.

While capturing the Hind of Keryneia, one of the golden antlers breaks off. (An amphora from circa 540 BC.)

This Roman mosaic (ca. 175 AD) uses alternative symbolism to communicate that Hercules made two antlers into one (the kundalini process).

Apollo and Diana, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525. The hand of the goddess Diana lies between the two antlers of the deer. This has the same meaning as the bent leg of Diana and the bent foreleg of the deer: the inner duality is transformed into divine oneness during a kundalini awakening.

The Tarot of Marseille

The most important addition to the card in the 17th century are the wings. This new element underlines that the woman represents the feminine pole of the divine. She has many names, including Isis, Hera, Diana, Venus, Iris, and Shakti (the kundalini). Other elements on the card that refer to her divine status are the symbol of the sun on her head (Tarot of Marseille, by Jean Dodal) and the five-petalled flower, the so-called ‘Rose of Venus’ (Tarot of Marseille, by Pierre Madenié), also on her head. On these two Marseille cards we also see the color combination of blue and red in the clothing of the goddess: the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies.

Jean Dodal’s card accentuates the woman’s breasts. This refers to the “nourishing” character of “God the Mother”. This nourishing / giving aspect is also expressed in general iconography by depicting goddesses with a large amount of breasts. Sometimes liquid flows from the breasts. See the alchemy emblem below. This liquid is a reference to the kundalini energy, but also to the transformed brain fluid of man, which under the influence of a kundalini awakening has turned into amrita (drink of immortality), or ambrosia (the “nectar of the gods”).

Tarot of Marseille,
by Pierre Madenié (1709)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Dodal (1701-1715)

On this alchemical emblem from Das Blut der Natur (1767), the kundalini energy is personified by both the goddess with the flowing breasts and by the god Hermes with his staff the caduceus. Below them the (inner) resurrection of the (spiritually dead) alchemist takes place.

The deeper meaning of the Temperance card becomes even more clear when we look at Tarot de Marseille cards with deviating elements, such as that of Jacques Viéville, from 1650 (right). On the card of Viéville, the woman has a large staff with wings in her hand. Derived from the caduceus of Hermes, this staff represents the spine, with the pineal gland at the top, and is a wonderful addition to the symbolism of the jug with liquid in her other hand.

The enigmatic Latin text SOL FAMA is also a reference to the divine. Sol means sun and Fama means fame. The words are written in mirror image. I think this is a clue that we need to turn around not only the words, but also the flow of liquid to understand its meaning: the kundalini energy flows from bottom to top!

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Vieville (1650)

Tarot of the Master, by Giovanni Vacchetta, a 2002 reproduction of the 1893 original

Also worth mentioning is the Temperance card of the Italian Giovanni Vacchetta (Tarot of the Master, above), from a somewhat later period. The flying ribbons on the woman’s back and head symbolize the two fusing energy channels. The loop represents the pineal gland. The two vases are decorated with a pinecone pattern; this is also a reference to the pineal gland, which is so called because it has the shape of a pinecone. The side seams of the woman’s skirt refer to the caduceus.

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

Oswald Wirth (1889) has not added any new elements to the Temperance card. On the mosaic of Château des Avenières, which is derived from the tarot of Wirth, the vases have different colors: gold and silver. Just like the colors red and blue in the women’s clothing, gold and silver (representing the sun and the moon) refer to the (melting) polar energies.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Château des Avenières (1917)

The kundalini, here personified by a woman wearing a crown with seven stars (chakras), stands on two fountains: one with a golden and one with a silver liquid. From: Alchemical Notebook, Johann Grasshoff, 1620.

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

Right: Ottheinrich-Bibel, Matthias Gerung, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 1530. This illustration also includes kundalini symbolism: the color combination red-blue of the angel and the sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1 with the fingers).

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Pamela Colman-Smith has chosen yet another way to express the polarities: her goddess has one foot on land and one foot in the water. This symbolism is probably ispirered by a vision of the apostle John, which is described in the Book of Revelation (10: 1-2):

“I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land…”

This vision are inner images of a kundalini awakening. The angel personifies the divine kundalini energy.

The kundalini energy, which flows from one chalice to another on the RWS card, is also represented by the narrow stream (or is it a small road?) that runs between the pond in the foreground to the sun, in the distance. The triangle placed in a square, on the chest of the angel, probably represents fire (triangle) in earth (square), in other words: the kundalini fire in man. Above this symbol is written in Hebrew letters: YHWH (God).

The irises are an esoteric symbol for the pineal gland and the kundalini process. In Christian painting, the iris has been used extensively to (secretly) refer to the kundalini awakening that Jesus experienced. See three examples below, as well as my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

The appearance of Christ on Lake Tiberias, Albert Bouts, early 16th century.

The Resurrection of Christ, Pietro Perugino, circa 1495, Cathedral of Sansepolcro, Italy.

The Last Judgment (detail), Ambrosius Benson, 1540, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

The Greek pantheon also has a goddess Iris: the personal messenger of Hera. Iris is the female counterpart of Hermes in terms of tasks. Like Hermes, she is often depicted with a caduceus.

On the right we see Iris pouring a libation: a ritual in which a liquid is poured as a sacrifice for, or by, the gods. In the iconography of the Ancient Greeks, libations were used to refer, in a disguised way, to the kundalini energy. This vase from the 5th century BC is an example.

The vase beautifully combines the various kundalini metaphors that have also been incorporated in the Temperance card. Iris pours liquid into a bowl held by the god Apollo. They represent the male and female energies (polarities). Just below the jug and the bowl is a deer (the kundalini). Iris holds a caduceus in her hand.

The gods Iris and Apollo


Since the first decks in the 15th century, the tarot card of the cardinal virtue temperance has been used to communicate forbidden knowledge about the kundalini energy. Numerous examples show that not only the tarot, and not just the cardinal virtues, were used for this “heresy.” Wherever you look in museums and churches, everywhere you see creative attempts by artists to refer to the source of divine energy in our pelvis. Even on illustrations in old Bibles!

This powerful energy source awakens when we live a “virtuous” life, in which self-control (temperance) with regard to the sensory pleasures is an important factor. If you want to experience the divine, you have to let go of the physical dimensions.

The goddess Venus makes her son Aeneas immortal. We can deduce that this refers to a kundalini awakening from their hands that make the sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1)

The grave of Pope Clement II (Bamberger Dom, circa 1240) depicts, along with the four cardinal virtues, a fifth woman, seen from her back, pouring out a large vase of liquid (right). The meaning of this is unknown. It is called “Paradiesfluss” (River of Paradise). The reader of this article will have no trouble interpreting this enigmatic fifth woman…?

Silvia Ritter’s Tarot Deck(Work in progress)

Legacy of the Divine Tarot (Ciro Marchetti, 2008)

The Gill Tarot (Elizabeth Gill, US Games, 1991)

Medieval Scapini Tarot ( Luigi Scapini, 2005)

The artist connects the Temperance card with the descent of the Holy Spirit during the baptism of Jesus (an event that is a metaphor for a kundalini awakening). See also my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright April 2020.

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:52:52+00:00June 15th, 2020|Tarot, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Tarot 14. Temperance

Tarot 13. Death

13. Death

Death is a positive card in the tarot. It stands for transformation; for leaving the old behind and making a new beginning. On a spiritual level, Death is about dying and being born again. A process that, according to this card with number 13, has everything to do with our spine!

Four 15th century cards

Four Death cards from the 15th century have been preserved, containing clear symbolism of its significance in the tarot. The Visconti-Sforza card has only a skeleton – symbol of Death – with a bow and arrow in his hands

The bow is large, the same size as Death itself, and its shape is twice a spine. We can deduce from the notches on the bow, that look like ‘vertebrae’, that the spinal shape is no coincidence. The card refers to the “mystical death” (dying of the ego), that is the result of a kundalini awakening.

The Visconti-Sforza Death (15th century)

Sola Busca Tarot (circa 1491)

The esoteric meaning of the arrow, which is barely visible on the Visconti card, becomes clear when we put the card of the Sola Busca Tarot next to it. The arrow is a symbol of the kundalini energy. On the Sola Busca card, the arrow – which has the same length as the man holding it – has pierced the left eye of the severed head on the floor. A gruesome image, but with a beautiful message!

Decapitation is a universal metaphor for the death of the ego. The pierced eye refers to the opening of “the third eye” as a result of the kundalini process. The man on this card has a laurel wreath on his head; this represents a spiritual victory. His armor is on the floor; a reference to the inner battle he had to fight. The eight-pointed star in the upper right corner of the card symbolizes – as we will also see when discussing the tarot card The Star – the feminine aspect of God, or the kundalini energy.

A cloth is tied around the head of the Visconti-Death. The two ends fly in the air and one of them touches the bow. This is no coincidence either. The two ribbons represent the two polar energy channels that flow along the spine, and merge at the sixth chakra (in the head) during a kundalini awakening. On two other 15th century Death cards (below) we also see these flying ribbons, including a knot. Their symbolism is rooted in the so-called ‘Knot of Isis’, from Ancient Egypt, which represents the two polar energy channels and the pineal gland, which is activated during the merger.

The Egyptian goddess Isis.

The coffin of Ta-mit
(Toledo Museum of Art)

The Holy Family, Giovanni Agostino da Lodi (circa 1500)

The Baptism of Jesus, Martin Schongauer (circa 1480). John the Baptist makes the sign of the sacred marriage (2=1) that is taking place in Jesus.

The Crucifixion, Dutch School (16th century).

Pièta, Ercole de’ Roberti da Bologna (circa 1482).

In the Renaissance, the Knot of Isis was regularly used (concealed) by artists in paintings about the life story of Jesus, to make clear that in the Bible his birth, baptism, crucifixion and resurrection, on the symbolic level, represent aspects of the process of kundalini awakening. Above four examples.

The cards of the Visconti Di Modrone Tarot and the Estensi Tarot (below) also illustrate the fusion of the polar energy channels in another way. On both cards we see people being trampled under the hooves of the horse on which Death is sitting. The combination of the colors red and blue is subtly incorporated in their clothing. These colors represent, respectively, the masculine and the feminine (read: the polar energies) in man. On both cards, a hand makes the sign of the sacred marriage (2 = 1) with two fingers: the fusion of the opposites.

Visconti Di Modrone Tarot (15th century)

Estensi Tarot (late 15th century)

Symbol of the Rosicrucians.
Dying to yourself, and being born again, is a process that takes place in the head, during a kundalini awakening. The two serpents represent the two polar energy channels that merge. The wings symbolize an expansion of consciousness.

The persons affected by Death on both of the above cards do not seem to experience this as an unpleasant event. We see a peaceful smile on almost all faces. This confirms to us that this card does not represent physical death, but a mystical experience. Man is freed from his ego and experiences the unity of the divine.

Right, from: Atalanta Fugiens, emblem 50, Michael Maier (1617). The blissful facial expression of the man in the grave shows that he experiences the divine, as a result from the awakened kundalini energy (serpent), which has ascended to his head.

In the opened abdomen of the Visconti Di Modrone Death (above) the viscera are visible. They make a spiral movement that refers to the ascending kundalini.

The scythe is the instrument of Death with which he chops away everything that stands between man and God. This purifying effect will be emphasized more in the centuries that follow, in the Tarot of Marseille.

Right, an alchemical illustration from: Book of Alchemical Formulas, Claudio de Domenico Celentano di Valle (1606).
The two persons sitting on the wolf represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. The rear person, with the two eagle heads, represents the fused polar energy channels (sun and moon). The front person, with the scythe, represents the purifying kundalini energy. The ladder symbolizes the ascent of the kundalini through the spine. The wolf represents the energies of the animal drives that are used for the process of God-realization.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Death of the Tarot of Marseille works like a gardener. With a large scythe he mows the field in which he stands. Body parts are lying scattered around him: hands, feet, bones and heads. We can deduce that the scythe represents the effect of the kundalini energy from the coloring of the card. The scythe has the same color as the spine of Death.

Tarot of Marseille,
 by Pierre Madeniè (1709)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Nicolas Conver (1760)

Liguria-Piedmont Tarot (1860)

On the cards of Pierre Madeniè and Nicolas Conver, the scythe also has the colors red and blue of the polar energies. This interpretation is confirmed by one of the severed hands on the card of Pierre of Madeniè, that makes the sign of the sacred marriage (2=1).

Death rarely cuts limbs outside of the tarot. This is an image that comes from alchemy and refers to the spiritual phase of disintegration: the old man is cut into pieces, after which the new man is born. The severed limbs symbolize the “stripping” of the ego. Everything that stands between man and God is removed. Below three alchemical illustrations.

From: Splendor Solis (1535). The alchemist shows his inner processes. His red and white clothing represents the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies (duality). A severed arm shows the sign of the sacred marriage. He has been purified (the chopped up body and the color white). He has discarded (beheaded) his ego.

From: Philosophia Hermetica, Federico Gualdi (c. 1790). This illustration shows that the kundalini energy is the active force behind the transformation process: the caduceus is the classic symbol of kundalini awakening. We can deduce that this is a spiritual growth process from the crown on the severed head, and the red cloak of the Magnum Opus that is lying ready, for when the alchemist is whole again (reborn). But first his body parts have to be purified (the pot with the caduceus above it).

From: Atalanta Fugiens, emblem 44, Michael Maier (1617). In the background the alchemist is cut to pieces. He will be reassembled by the woman standing next to the body parts (Sophia / Isis / the kundalini). In the foreground we see the resurrection that follows.

The following quote from the Bible Book of Revelation probably served as an inspiration for the Death card of the Marseille Tarot: God sending his sickle (the kundalini energy) to harvest man when he is ready.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
(Revelation 14:14-16)

The two heads in the foreground, on all three of the above cards, do not appear chopped off and dead, but they are standing upright and looking happy. They resemble new crop emerging from the ground. Significant in this regard is that the coloring suggests that the heads are outside the mowing area of ​​the scythe. The crown they wear is a reference to spiritual completion.

A Bible quote that fits this image of dying and rebirth is the familiar parable of the grain of wheat, from the Gospel of John:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.
(John 12: 24-25)

In Hinduism, the gods use a variety of weapons to express the activity of the kundalini.

Left: the god Vishnu with a so-called Sudarshana Chakra. This rotating, razor-sharp wheel refers to the spiral movement of the ascending kundalini. The seven heads of the (kundalini) serpent represent the seven chakras that are purified.

Right: the goddess Kali; a personification of the purifying kundalini energy. The standing cobra around the neck of Shiva reinforces the symbolism. With her tongue sticking out, Kali searches for impurities in man; a reference to the (kundalini) cobra that ‘smells’ prey with its tongue.

Left: Krishna – an incarnation of the god Vishnu – decapitates an opponent with his Sudarshana Chakra. This opponent is Narakasura, the ruler of all kingdoms on earth. The trident in Narakasura’s right hand represents the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

Oswald Wirth (1889) has not added any new elements to the card. The esoteric symbolism has even partly disappeared, compared to the Tarot of Marseille. The Châteaux des Avenières mosaic, that is based on Wirth’s tarot, does contain new elements. Death is standing in a great pool of fire, instead of in a field. This is divine fire: the purifying fire of the kundalini.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Chateaux des Avenières (1917)

From: Mystère des Cathédrales, Fulcanelli (1926). On this alchemical illustration we see a retort in the foreground, with liquid in it, the top of which is placed against the skull next to it. The meaning of this is: the Elixir of Life coveted by the alchemists is a metaphor for the changes in the cerebrospinal fluid, under the influence of a kundalini awakening. In the background is a large sphinx: a symbol for God-realization.

In the background we see a sphinx: a human head on a lion’s body. A sphinx represents the spiritual aspirant who has conquered his animal drives and is rooted in the divine. In the lower left corner we see the head of a man with an uraeus cobra on his headgear. This is an unambiguous reference to a kundalini awakening. Behind Death, a winding road leads up into the mountains. This is a metaphor for an expansion of consciousness.

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

In the hands of Pamela Colman-Smith, the card has undergone a true metamorphosis. Her Death does not swing a large scythe, but carries a banner with a white rose on it. The deeper meaning of this, however, is the same as the scythe: the divine transforming man. In the esoteric traditions, the rose represents the mystical experience, and it has traditionally been associated with goddesses from many traditions, including Isis, Ishtar and Venus. In a general sense, the rose represents the feminine aspect of God, or the kundalini energy.

The specific shape of the RWS rose comes from the alchemy and the tradition of the Rosicrucians. A wild rose always has five petals. When duality merges during the Magnum Opus, a rose with ten petals is formed: the RWS rose.

The flag on the RWS card is perfectly square. In alchemy, both a square (the four elements) and the color black represent matter. Combined with the white rose, the RWS flag stands for the transformation / purification of matter (the black square), through the activity of the divine (the white rose). The heart of the rose is full of seeds: the new life that this Death brings.

Cruce Rosea, symbol of the Rosicrucians.

Detail of the Ripley Scroll (ca. 1490)

Rugosa Alba, historical rose.

The three figures on the right of the card, who await Death with their eyes closed, all have flowers in their hair (the girl and the child) or on their clothing (the bishop). Their closed eyes refer to an inner experience. On the bishop’s hands and sleeves there are the same crosses as on the horse’s reins. An equal-armed cross refers to the fusion of the polarities. There is also a (half) cross on the chest of Death. On the back of the bishop’s cloak is the alchemical symbol for the sun / divine: a circle with a cross in it.

These three figures have made themselves worthy of the grace of mystical death through diligent spiritual practice. The bishop refers to the card of the Hierophant: in him duality has merged into the oneness of the divine. He has conquered matter. The woman with the wreath of flowers on her head can be found on the Strength card: she has mastered and sublimated her emotions and animal instincts. The child is a symbol of wholeness and can also be found on the Sun card. All three of them radiate surrender. They are willing to let go of their ego; an inner attitude that takes courage.

The two pillars in the background return on another card from the major arcana: the Moon. These pillars, with the radiant sun of the divine behind them, represent the duality that must be overcome.

Het alchemistische symbool voor de zon/het goddelijke.

Petrus Bonus Series, emblem 2 (14th century): “The son stabs the father as he sits on the throne.”

A red feather hangs on the helmet of Death. We also find this element on the cards The Fool and The Sun. The red feather represents the kundalini energy, which has been brought up from the first chakra (color red) to the crown. The white rose is also an element on the Fool card.

A dead king lies under the horse. This is probably a reference to a well-known esoteric theme: “the death of the old king.” The archetype of the old king represents the ego, that rules in the spiritually unconscious man. He must die first to make way for a new king, who is connected to the divine. The king’s blue cloak and red shoes on the RWS card represent the feminine and masculine in him, that have become one (the energetic impulse to his death). His gray hair indicates old age (old king).

From: Alchymiæ Complementum et Perfectio, Samuel Norton (1630). An illustration of the Magnum Opus. The tree trunk represents the spine. Hermes and his staff the caduceus refer to a kundalini awakening. The red and white rose represent the two polar energy channels.

From: Aurora Consurgens (15th century). This illustration depicts three aspects of the alchemical process in visual language: purification, union of the polarities, and discarding the ego. The blue serpent-tailed woman is Sophia / the kundalini. She has united the polarities (red man and white woman, and the six-pointed star around her head), after which a beheading (discarding of the ego) has taken place. The fire under the flask also represents Sophia / the kundalini. In the flask we see four roses, with five petals. The three black roses represent the heart, head and body of the alchemist, which are being purified. The golden rose represents his soul.

A 15th century alchemical illustration from the Vatican Library. The alchemist has completed the Magnum Opus. His body is covered with five-petalled red roses. The staff in his hand represents his spine, with the pineal gland at the top. His breasts refer to androgyny.


Our spine contains a great Mystery, which in 15th century Catholic Italy could not be talked about openly. The secret knowledge of the divine in man found its way underground, ironically, to a card game for the nobility that would be called the Tarot a few centuries later.

The Death card stands for an inner death and rebirth. The “second death” (physical death) has no power over those who participate in this “resurrection”, according to the Bible book of Revelation:

Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:6)

From: Emblemata moralia & bellica, Jacob de Heyden (1615). The ladder represents the spine and the seven steps represent the seven chakras. Climbing up to God involves being pruned and beheaded (the scene in the background).

Golden Dawn Magical Tarot (Sandra Tabatha Cicero and Chic Cicero, 2001)

Clear symbolism: the spine of Death is connected to a serpent.

Sun and Moon Tarot (Vanessa Decort, 2010)

In alchemy, the phoenix represents the reborn man, rising from the ashes of his old self, that is burned by the kundalini fire.

Dreams of Gaia Tarot (Ravynne Phelan, 2017)

The Raziel Tarot (Robert M. Place, 2016)

Moses dies on the threshold of the Promised Land. This is a Biblical metaphor for the ego (Moses) who must die to enter the Kingdom of God. I write about this in my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright April 2020.

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:51:54+00:00April 13th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Tarot 13. Death

Tarot 12. The Hanged Man

12. The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man is a mysterious card, that has hardly changed over the centuries. We see a man hanging upside-down by one leg, who seems to be at peace with his fate. He has an indifferent look on his face, and on some cards even smiles. This confusing picture raises questions. How did he end up in this dire situation; did he do something wrong? And how is it that his facial expression is so serene in these hopeless circumstances?

The Visconti-Sforza Hanged Man

This oldest surviving card of the Hanged Man, from the 15th century, immediately gives an important clue of how to interpret its symbolism. This is remarkable, because on most Visconti cards, the esoteric meaning is hidden in subtle details, which can only be understood when tarot cards from later centuries are placed next to them.

You must first enlarge this card on your screen, because this time the deeper meaning is not hidden by the artist’s hand, but by the influence of time. Up close you can see fire emanating from the upper body of the Hanged Man. This is the kundalini fire that has awakened, and which now purifies his body, head (thinking) and heart (feeling). The color white of his blouse refers to this purification. The long row of buttons on the blouse refer to his spine that is on fire.

With this interpretation, the puzzle pieces of the other symbolism also fall into place. Standing on one leg means being rooted in the oneness of the divine (see examples below). Because the man hangs upside down, one leg is also directed towards heaven, which reinforces the symbolism.

Standing on one leg refers to God-realization.

Left: The Emperor from the Tarot of Marseille (Jacques Vieville, 1650)

Right: The World from the Tarot of Marseille (anonymous, 17th century)

The head of the Visconti Hanged Man touches the blue-colored mountains in the background. A mountain is a universal symbol for an expansion of consciousness (on a mountain you are closer to God), and blue refers to heaven / the divine. The wooden frame on which the man hangs evokes associations with a door; a symbol for a transition / transformation to something new.

The Hanged Man is in a process of God-realization. His blonde hair also fits this explanation. This transformation process requires stillness. The life energy no longer flows to the outside world, but is directed inwards. The man’s facial expression indicates a state of detachment and surrender.

The Visconti-Sforza Hanged Man
(15th century)

Tummo yogi (Tibetan buddhism)

Estensi Tarot (end 15th century)

The Estensi (Charles VI) Tarot

A second hand-painted card from the 15th century, that has been preserved, comes from the Estensi Tarot, also called the Charles VI Tarot (after Emperor Charles VI). This Hanged Man has two filled bags in his hands. Its content is not entirely clear; is it gold as most tarot researchers assume? What these bags stand for is indicated by two other cards from the same time period, that we only know from uncut printing sheets: the so-called Rothshield Sheet and the Rosenwald Sheet (below). Unfortunately, no colored originals of these very first printed tarot cards have been preserved.

A kundalini awakening involves three energy channels that flow along, and through, the spine (see the illustration of the Tummo yogi above). The outer two energy channels form the energetic blueprint of duality in our inner world. These energy channels are balanced during the process of spiritual awakening, after which they merge at the level of the sixth chakra (the pineal gland).

On the Rosenwald tarot card, the Hanged Man holds the two bags exactly in front of the two vertical wooden posts, left and right of the man. This expresses the balance of the two energy channels that flow along his spine.

On the Rothshield tarot card, these energy channels are also symbolized by the two flying ends of the cord with which his leg is tied. Similar symbolism can also be found on illustrations from alchemy (see below).

Rosenwald Sheet
(uncut, uncolored
printing sheet, ca. 1500)

Rothschild Sheet
(uncut, uncolored printing sheet, ca. 1500)

An illustration from the alchemical manuscript Splendor Solis (16th century). The flask represents the alchemist himself. His seven chakras are purified by the seven-headed kundalini serpent. The two flapping ribbons, like the two crossed pieces of wood under the flask, represent the two energy channels that merge at the level of the pineal gland (the knot).

The hair of the man on the Estensi card is red-brown in color and shaped like a flame. This is a reference to the kundalini fire that burns within him. The red-yellow bottom of his tunic also resembles fire.

The body posture of the Estensi Hanged Man can be found in an alchemical emblem (right) from the same time period. On this illustration, the phase of ‘distillation / evaporation’ is expressed in visual language. At the bottom of the flask we see the alchemist in prayer (focused on God). His efforts are bearing fruit: the ascending figure symbolizes his spiritual ascension.

The position of his arms represents the balance achieved between the inner polarities (duality). One leg up represents the fusion of these polarities. This interpretation is confirmed by the peacock next to it, which stands on one leg. In alchemy, a peacock represents a phase in the Magnum Opus (process of God-realization).

Alchemical illustration
(Wellcome Institute Library, London (ms. 29, Fol. 40))

Andreas Libavius (16th century).
The alchemist who completed the Magnum Opus. The balance symbolism of the arm position is reinforced by the sign of the sacred marriage (2=1) that both hands make (circled in white). The symbols of the six planets, on the circle, represent the six chakras that have been purified and activated by the kundalini fire. The man’s hair refers to this fire. A circle with a dot in the middle represents in alchemy the sun / gold / God-realization.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Tarot of Marseille also gives us various indications that the Hanged Man is not just an image of a martyr or traitor who has to undergo a punishment, but that the card represents a phase in the spiritual process of awakening.

The numbers on the cards of Jacques Viéville (circa 1650), Jean Dodal (circa 1700) and Francois Chosson (1736) are mirrored. This could be a mistake, but it could also be an indication that we need to turn the cards over to understand its symbolism. Turned upside-down, the man on the card becomes someone who is ascending (spiritual ascension). On Nicolas Bodet’s card (1739) both the number and the name are mirrored. This makes intent even more likely.

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Vieville (1650)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Dodal (1701-1715)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Francois Chosson (1736)

Nicolas Bodet Tarot
(Belgium, 1739)

From each vertical tree trunk, on the three French cards, exactly six branches are cut off. The stumps, which have a different color from the trunks, to make them more noticeable, represent the six chakras of the Hanged Man, which have been purified (“pruned”) by the kundalini energy.

On three of the above four cards, the man’s arms are on his back, his fingertips showing above his shoulders. A curious, unnatural position that intrigues tarot researchers: how should this be interpreted? I think these fingers are a flaw in the design: they are on the exact same place where we see flames of fire on the Visconti card. The fingers should have been flames.

Dodal and Chosson have left the Hanged Man’s pants white at the crotch area. This is a reference to the purification and sublimation (transformation) of the sexual energies. On all cards, the man’s legs form a cross: a symbol for the fusion of the opposites.

The Hanged Man on Dodal’s card looks cross-eyed. This can be the result of sloppy drawing, but it could also refer to the opening of the “third eye” (the sixth chakra) during a kundalini awakening. Similar symbolism is found in Norse myths.

To obtain Wisdom (Sophia), the Norse supreme god Odin sacrifices himself by hanging himself from the (kundalini) tree Yggdrasil. This symbolizes the death of the ego, or the old man, as a result of a kundalini awakening. For the same purpose, he also sacrifices one of his eyes, leaving him with only one eye. This refers to the opening of his third eye.

The Norse god Odin hanging
on the world tree Yggdrasil.

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

The Hanged Man by Oswald Wirth (1889) has two bags of money clamped under his arms: one with gold and one with silver coins. This is a new element on the card to express the balance between the polarities. Just like gold and silver, the colors red and white also represent the opposites in alchemy. These two colors are united (oneness) in the tunic that the man wears.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

The alchemical
symbol for sulfur

From: The Hermetic Triumph (anonymous, 1740).
The Magnum Opus (a kundalini awakening) in alchemical symbols, including the symbol for sulfur.

The tunic also has a crescent and a waning moon. This too symbolizes the duality that has merged in the Hanged Man. As we saw earlier, the two vertical tree trunks represent the two polar energy channels that flow along the spine. The crossbar, which is on top of the vertical trunks, represents the sacred marriage (the union of the opposites), which takes place at the sixth chakra. The Hanged Man hangs from this crossbar: he experiences the oneness of the divine.

Oswald Wirth has placed the arms of his Hanged man more emphatically in the shape of a triangle. Together with the cross that the legs make, this creates the symbol for sulfur, which in alchemy stands for the Magnum Opus. The man’s reddish hair is shaped like fire flames.

On the mosaic of Châteaux des Avenières, which is based on Wirth’s tarot, we see a bird with a human head flying away from the Hanged Man. This is a so-called Ba bird that represented in ancient Egypt someone’s spirit; the part of man that lives on after his death. The mosaic thus wants to express that the Hanged Man, while still alive, has been liberated from matter.

Papyrus of Ani, New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, Collection of The British Museum.

Chateaux des Avenières (1917)

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Pamela Colman-Smith has chosen clothing in the colors red (the masculine) and blue (the feminine) to express the fusion of the opposites. The halo around the head of the Hanged Man gives even more clarity about his inner world: his crown chakra is fully opened; his consciousness is “enlightened.” The man’s hair is light in color (he is purified) and, like on the Estensi card, has the shape of a flame.

A notable change is the T-cross on which the man hangs. The letter T is called Tav in Hebrew. The Tav‘s original pictograph was a cross with equal arms. The Tav is surrounded with a lot of mysticism. As the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it stands for completion, and the ancient pictograph of a cross connects the Tav with the crucifixion of Jesus.

In addition, the vertical tree trunk behind the Hanged Man symbolically refers to his awakened spine. In many traditions, both a tree and a pillar are used as metafors for the spine with the kundalini energy flowing in it. The T-cross is, as it were, a combination of both. Below are three examples of a pillar being used to refer to a kundalini awakening. The leaves hanging on the RWS T-cross communicate that this is ‘living’ wood. An additional indication that the vertical trunk represents the awakened spine.

The Hindu god Shiva

A depiction of the Cathar sacrament the Consolamentum (second half of the 13th century, Bibliothèque Nationale de France): baptism with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. The pillar right behind the naked back of the baptized man, and the hand pointing up, are telling us that this ritual involves an awakening of the kundalini energy. On the right, two Franciscan brothers watch the ‘pagan’ ritual in horror.

From the manuscript Liber de arte distillandi simplicia et composita, by Hieronymus Brunschwig (1654). The kundalini process (obtaining the Life Elixir) expressed in alchemical images. Recognizable are the three pillars (energy channels) and their interrelationship. The man and woman represent duality.


The Hanged Man is rooted in the oneness of the divine. The kundalini fire has purified his head, heart and body. In his inner world, the polarities have been balanced and merged. He may be bound on the physical level, but his soul is free. He experiences life from a state of detachment and serenity.

Moon Dawn of Crystal Tarot (Masanori Miyamoto, 2000)

In the Bible, the crucifixion of Jesus represents, on the symbolic level, the transformation process of the Hanged Man. This is the subject of my book: John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

Silver Witchcraft Tarot (Barbara Moore, Franco Rivolli, 2014)

Le Tarot de l’Ange Liberté (Myrrha, 2016)

The Hanged Man card represents an alchemical transformation process.

Lo Scarabeo Tarot (Mark McElroy, Anna Lazzarini, 2007)

The card of the Hanged man, reduced to its essence. Blue is the color of heaven / the divine.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh. Copyright March 2020.

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:51:19+00:00March 27th, 2020|Tarot, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Tarot 12. The Hanged Man

Tarot 11. Strength

11. Strength

An important aspect in the process of spiritual awakening is to acquire mastery over our animal drives. Mastery is an important and carefully chosen word here. The tendency to want to suppress or deny our animal impulses is tempting, but it backfires in the spiritual process. When the primal animal energies have been purified and sublimated (transformed), they will help us to achieve the divine. This is the deeper meaning of the tarot card Strength.

Our dual nature is a central theme in many spiritual traditions. We are partly motivated by animal instincts, called our lower nature, a logical consequence of our animal origin. And we all are born with a divine potential also. This dichotomy creates a continuous, internal struggle, whether we realize it or not. The impulses of our animal instincts, which are rooted in our body, are often opposed to the desires of our soul, which is connected to the divine.

Our animal drives are the breeding ground for emotions such as anger, fear, greed and jealousy. They keep us trapped in the ego and matter. The lion is a universal metaphor for the energies of our emotional life. The tarot card Strength shows how these primal forces are controlled by God the Mother (the kundalini energy), and are used to connect man with the Eternal.

The Visconti Tarot

The Strength card is usually explained as an allegory of the cardinal virtue Fortitudo. Important thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have come up with four important virtues that man should pursue:

  1. Prudentia (Caution – sensibility – wisdom)
  2. Iustitia (Justice – righteousness)
  3. Fortitudo (Courage – strength)
  4. Temperantia (Moderation – temperance – self-control)

That the Visconti Di Modrone card, from the 15th century (right), also represents a spiritual proces, becomes clear when we study the details. The woman’s mantle has a curly pattern, similar to the lion’s hair. This mantle is lined with white (= purified) fur. The woman’s hair has the same color as the lion’s hair. These are three indications that the energies of the lion (the lower nature) and the woman (the divine) have merged.

We can deduce the sublimation (deification) of the animal drives from the following details: the crown, the golden color of the lion, and the dark blue color of the mantle of the woman. Dark blue (indigo) is the color of the sixth chakra, where the sacred marriage takes place. The lion holds one paw up; a reference to the ‘oneness’ of the divine.

The woman’s golden hair strangely floats in the air, not hindered by gravity. This symbolizes the kundalini energy that flows from the pelvis to the head. The woman holds the lion’s mouth open and sits on him: she has control over him.

Goddesses standing or riding on a lion is an existing theme in iconography, that has the same deeper meaning as the Strength card (see below).

Visconti Di Modrone Tarot (15th century)

The Roman mother goddess Cybele

The hindu goddess Durga.
Her attributes refer to her purifying effect in man.

The Akkadian goddess Ishtar.
  The seven layers of her dress refer to the seven chakras.

The Tarot of Marseille

The Tarot of Marseille (a collective name for tarot decks of different designers, over a certain period of time, in a specific geographical area) emphasizes the mystical experience of oneness even more. The hat on the woman’s head is now a combination of a crown and a lemniscate. The symbol of the lemniscate stands for infinity. Esoterically, it refers to the fusion of the opposites; the duality of physical creation merges into divine oneness. Our higher and lower nature are also polarities that merge.

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Viéville (1650)

The Tarot of Marseille,
by Francois Chosson (1736)

On this woodcut from the alchemical manuscript Azoth by Basil Valentinus (1613), the lemniscate is associated with the fusion of the polarities sun and moon, as well as the sublimation of the animal drives: a lion swallowing up a bird.

A curious detail on some Marseille cards is the woman’s bare foot. Jacques Viéville’s card, from 1650, even shows a completely bare lower leg. Because the woman is otherwise fully dressed, including a hat, you feel that this must have a specific meaning. Standing on one leg, or showing one leg / foot refers to divine oneness (the same meaning as the raised paw of the lion). This symbolism is also reflected in the three examples above of goddesses from various traditions.

That the woman and the lion form one source of power is communicated on the Jacques Veiville card by the tail of the lion that is curled around the woman’s foot. On the Francois Chosson card, the entire lower body of the lion has disappeared under the mantle of the woman.

In later tarot decks, such as the Italian Liguria-Piedmont from 1840 (right), the lion is even more one with the woman. The placement of the lion’s head at the height of her belly makes it even clearer what the animal stands for: the energies of the emotions and the libido. These forces are controlled by the woman (with her hands).

Liguria-Piedmont Tarot (1840)

The Hindu god Vishnu (here in his manifestation of the lion-headed god Narasimha) kills the demon Hiranyakashipu. From the staging it becomes clear what this demon stands for: the energies of the (lower) abdomen. The serpent heads above the lion’s head represent the sublimation of these animal drives by the kundalini energy.

The occultists

Oswald Wirth has not changed the card much. The manes of this lion are fiery red, a reference to the burning desires and emotions that the lion represents. The long tongue of the animal also resembles a large fire flame.

The mosaic of Châteaux des Avenières, that is based on Wirth’s tarot, contains three additional elements to clarify the other symbolism: an active volcano, a pool of water, and a tree with a serpent. These are all classic metaphors for a kundalini awakening. They are interconnected on the mosaic (the volcano is reflected in the pool of water); a confirmation that they represent the same thing.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Above: An illustration from the anonymous, alchemical manuscript Clavis Artis (early 18th century). A lion eating a (kundalini) serpent is a metaphor for the sublimation of the animal drives. The raised tail of the lion reinforces this symbolism.

Right: From the alchemical manuscript Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier (1617). The lion wears a laurel wreath, a symbol of victory. In the background is an erupting (kundalini) volcano.

Chateaux des Avenières (1917)

A subtle change is that on the mosaic of Châteaux des Avenières the woman seems to close the lion’s mouth with gentle hands, while on all cards from previous centuries an opposite action takes place: the lion’s mouth is kept open. This makes no major difference to the meaning of the card. In both cases the woman controls the animal, and they (the two power sources) are connected. Closing the mouth gives an extra dimension of calming the inner stirrings.

We also see this calming of the lion on the card of Rider-Waite-Smith (right). Arthur Waite has swapped the Strength and Justice card, making Strength number 8 in his deck.

The woman is wearing a white dress, a reference to the purity of the divine. She is connected to the lion by a long wreath of flowers, which is wrapped around her waist and around the animal’s neck. This connection tell us that together they form one power source. The choice of a floral wreath – and not, for example, a rope – means that the woman exerts her power with meekness and love (the red roses). The placement of the wreath around her waist refers to the control of the emotions and the libido (which the lion represents).

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The orange color of the lion could be a reference to the second chakra, which is connected to the sexual urges. The floral wreath around the woman’s head is a universal symbol of an open crown chakra. We also see this in, for example, Christian saint iconography. The RWS card shows that the animal energies have been purified and have been brought to the crown. The RWS card Cups Two (right) represents the same.


The Strength card gives a glimpse into the inner world of the spiritually awakened person. We are born in a body with animal instincts, but in us also burns a divine flame. Throughout our lives, our higher and lower nature compete for power. Sometimes we are selfish (the animal in us), and other times we are more altruistic (divine).

Our spiritual mission is to overcome our animal impulses (symbolized by the lion on this tarot card) and realize our divine potential. We cannot achieve the required purification and sublimation alone. The kundalini energy in our pelvis is the director and the working force in this process. She is personified by the woman on the card. Our task is to support her work with the right way of living: purity in thinking and doing, and using our willpower to choose the divine, again and again.

The Strength card shows how this opens the way for the merging of our higher and lower energies into one source of power, that transforms us and (re)connects us with the Eternal.

RWS Cups Two

This illustration communicates the same as the Strength card, with different symbolism. The yogi has conquered his animal instincts (he is sitting on a tiger skin) and has transported these energies from the lower to the higher chakras (the color orange of the tiger can also be seen on his forehead). His inner world is quiet and peaceful (he is in meditation). His blue color refers to deification. The ascend of the awakened kundalini energy, through the chakras, is shown schematically. The yogi’s crown chakra is fully opened. His heart is awakened (the heart chakra behind him).

Wonderland Tarot (Morgana Abbey, 1989)

The unicorn, with its white color and spiraled horn at the level of the sixth chakra, is a universal symbol for the purified and sublimated animal drives (the lion).

Ancient Egyptian Tarot (Clive Barrett, 1994)

The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet is an embodiment of God the Mother. The primal forces of the lion have been brought to the head. Her staff with the “Seth beast” at the top represents the spine, through which the purified animal energies flow upwards.

Rumi Tarot (Nigel Jackson, 2009)

A lion stands on a pillar behind the woman. A pillar is a universal symbol for the awakened spine.

The Bonestone and Earthflesh Tarot (Avalon Cameron, 2017)

Beautifully visualized is the inner focus and willpower needed to overcome the animal impulses. Behind the girl we see an elephant with a raised trunk. This symbolizes the sublimation of the animal drives. The standing cobra in the foreground is a symbol of the kundalini energy.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Wegh.
Copyright March 2020

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:50:50+00:00March 12th, 2020|Tarot, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Tarot 11. Strength

Tarot 7. The Chariot

7. The Chariot

The ceremony of a triumphal procession dates from ancient Rome. After an important victory, the army commander was publicly celebrated, riding through the streets of Rome, sitting or standing on a chariot. Card number 7 of the tarot, The Chariot, symbolizes a spiritual victory: the victory over matter and the animal drives.

The Visconti di Modrone Chariot

Even the very first tarot cards already had a spiritual meaning. The esoteric symbolism, however, is often subtle. They were different times and people had to be careful with statements that went against Christian dogmas.

Already in the 15th century The Chariot represented a spiritual triumph. On the Visconti di Modrone card we see a woman on a wagon pulled by two horses. She sits between two pillars and under a blue roof with stars on it. In her hands she holds a scepter and, barely visible, the personal coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti: a white dove with a banner and sunbeams.

The Visconti di Modrone Chariot

The personal coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The French motto A Bon Droyt means: rightly so.

The scepter stands for mastery. Various elements on this map represent the conquered duality: the two pillars, the two horses, and the combination of a blue coat with a red hat from the man on the horses. Red and blue are the classic colors for, respectively, the masculine (fire, sun, heat) and feminine (water, moon, coolness). On the man’s clothing we also see a Y; a letter that in alchemy – as we saw with the Pope card – refers to the fusion of duality into a unity. The wheels of the car have eight spokes; this also stands for the fusion of the polarities (2 x 4 = 8). When discussing tarot card number 17, The Star, we will elaborate on the meaning of the number eight.

The animal instincts have also been conquered. The horses represent our animal drives. Their white color stands for purification. On the Visconti card, the purified animal energies are at the service of the woman: they pull the victory chariot.

The blue roof with stars represents the cosmic experience: everything is one. The coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti with white dove fits in seamlessly with this symbolism: the spiritual victory has been achieved through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Only with the help of God can man rise above matter.

The Visconti-Sforza Chariot

On a second card that has been preserved from the 15th century, the Visconti-Sforza Chariot, the two white horses have golden wings. Because of this you can no longer ignore a spiritual meaning. Wings represent the ability to ascend to the divine dimensions. The designer of this card was probably inspired by images of the god Apollo in his solar chariot (see below).

The Visconti-Sforza Chariot

Apollo on his chariot, by Pinturicchio, circa 1509.

The woman on the Visconti-Sforza card sits on a throne, between two twisted pillars. The spiral shape of the pillars is a reference to the two polar energy channels that flow on both sides of the spine and that keep us connected to duality. The platform on which the woman sits is hexagonal: the hexagram is the universal symbol for the fusion of polarities. Her dress also has a hexagonal pattern.

A globus cruciger
(circa 1879)

The woman is wearing a crown and she is holding a scepter and a globus cruciger (a globe with a cross on it). As we saw when discussing the The Emperor card, a globus cruciger stands for the victory of spirit (the cross) over matter (the globe). The wings of the horses are an additional element to express that the animal drives have been sublimated (transformed).

Remarkably, on both Visconti cards a woman is depicted, while in the centuries that follow we only see victorious men, which corresponds to a triumphal procession traditionally being for army commanders.

An explanation for this could be that the cards are a tribute to certain women from the Visconti family. Another reason could be that it is a reference to God’s (Holy) Spirit, or the kundalini energy, which is considered feminine in most spiritual traditions, and which is the active divine power in a spiritual awakening. Comparable to the tarot cards The High Priestess and The Empress .

The Tarot of Marseille

On The Chariot from the Tarot of Marseille we see a man in military clothing, with a scepter and a crown, standing in a wagon that has the shape of a cube. The roof above his head rests on four pillars. Both the cube shape and the four pillars refer to matter / the physical dimensions: in numerology four is the number of the earth (four elements, four cardinal directions, four seasons).

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Viéville (1650)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Noblet (1659)

Tarot of Marseille,
by Nicolas Conver (1760)

In symbolism, the moon, with its ever-changing shape, stands for duality and the impermanence of creation. This meaning is confirmed by the faces of the moons on the shoulders of the driver: one looks happy and the other one looks sad.

There are also differences between the various Marseille cards. The two horses on Jacques Viéville’s card have a man’s head with a crown. The meaning of this is that the human will is controlling the animal drives. The horses on the Jean Noblet card have different colors: blue and red – the colors of the feminine and masculine. The horses of Nicolas Conver are both blue in color; a reference to the “deification” of the animal drives.

On two cards (Viéville and Conver) the horses have no hind legs, but are attached to the chariot with their bodies. This symbolizes that the horses and the chariot cannot be viewed separately. The chariot represents the body of man (vehicle of the soul) and the horses represent the animal instincts, which we experience through the body – a consequence of our animal origin.

The man on the Viéville card has two suns on his chest; a reference to the divine energies that flow through him. The scepter on the card of Nicolas Conver is enriched with the symbols for the sun, the moon and (probably) the earth. The symbols are partly overlapping, to indicate a ‘fusion’: the cosmic experience, everything is one.

The scepter of Nicolas Conver

Sun symbol

The philosophies of Plato have probably served as a source of inspiration for the Chariot of the Marseille decks. In his work Phaedrus Plato uses the metaphor of a wagon with two horses, for the forces at work in man. One of the two horses is white in color, noble, obedient and immortal; the other horse is black, deformed, stubborn and mortal. Plato describes the dichotomy in humans: we all have a higher, divine nature, and also a lower, animal nature. The white horse wants to ascend to heaven. The black horse pulls the other way, towards the earth. The mind of man (the charioteer) must get these contradictory forces in the right direction.

According to Plato, two forces (horses) are active in us.

The bodies of the horses on the Marseille Chariot are in opposite directions. However, their heads look the same way: the charioteer has managed to keep a course on the divine. Oswald Wirth and Arthur E. Waite incorporated this theme into their tarot, as we will now see.

Oswald Wirth

Oswald Wirth’s Chariot stays close to the Tarot of Marseille. The two horses have become two sphinxes, in a dark and a light color, to emphasize the duality that they stand for. A sphinx – a lion’s body with a woman’s head – represents control over the animal drives. Just like the two moons on the man’s shoulders, the sphinxes also have different facial expressions.

On Wirth’s card the wheels have six spokes; a reference to the hexagram. He brings back the roof with the stars from the Visconti Tarot. The stars are all five-pointed: a pentagram stands in the tarot for the perfected human. At the top of the scepter we see a triangle on a circle; this symbolizes the victory of spirit (the triangle) over matter (the circle).

On the front of the car a winged sun disk is depicted; a symbol from Ancient Egypt that refers to deification. The figure under the winged sun disk is a self-made variant of the yoni-lingam symbol from the Tantra tradition, which stands for the fusion of male and female (energies). The yellow circular symbol on the front of the roof of the car refers to the coveted “philosopher’s stone” (the state of God-realization) of the alchemist.

Oswald Wirth (1889)

Rider-Waite-Smith (1909)


Artist Pamela Colman-Smith added a number of new elements to the Chariot. It is no longer the two sphinxes / horses that are part of the chariot, but the charioteer himself. The chariot, which also has the shape of a cube, seems to rest on the ground. The charioteer rises, as it were, from the cube. This is symbolism that traces back to Ancient Egypt (see below) and refers to victory over matter / the body (the cube).

The laurel wreath that the man wears stands for his achieved spiritual victory. The crown with the eight-pointed star has the same meaning as the eight spokes in the wheel of the Visconti-Chariot. On the belt, around his waist, are (probably) the signs of the zodiac. Below the belt, on his clothing, are geomantic symbols. These were used for magic rituals by members of the occult group The Golden Dawn, of which Arthur E. Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith were members.

The two sphinxes – not visibly attached to the cube – hold the tips of their tails between their front legs. This is a reference to the ouroboros, the serpent that bites its own tail: a symbol from alchemy that refers to the oneness of everything.

Amun priest Hor (Ancient Egypt)

From: The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer (Francis Barrett, 1801)
Source: www.fromoldbooks.org

From an alchemical manuscript:
“The Crowning of Nature”

Château des Avenières

The charioteer on the mosaic of Château des Avenières wears the atef crown of Osiris; the Egyptian god who stands for resurrection and renewal. A uraeus cobra is placed at the front of the crown; the Egyptian symbol of the kundalini energy. The two red feathers on the side of the crown symbolize, just like the wings of the caduceus, the completion of a kundalini process.

The shepherd’s staff (heka) in the hand of Osiris symbolizes the spine with the kundalini energy in it, and stands for “herding” the inner animal. The flail (nekhakha) refers to the suffering that accompanies a kundalini awakening. Dismantling and discarding the ego (the old man) is rarely painless. The three ribbons on the flail represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.

Château des Avenières (1917)

Château des Avenières (1917), detail

The Egyptian god Ptah with was-scepter (Hermitage Museum)

On the roof of the car we see gold- and silver-colored pentagrams: the colors that are connected to the polar energies (sun and moon). The chariot rests on a globe: the charioteer has gained mastery over matter.

The corners of the chariot refer to the was-scepter with which rulers (gods, kings, priests) in Ancient Egypt were depicted. It is not exactly clear which animal it is on a was-scepter (and on the chariot), and this ambiguity is intended. This so-called “Seth-beast” represents the animal in man. The was-scepter stands for power over the animal drives. The bottom of the scepter is often forked (two-pointed); this referes to duality that, together with the animal drives, has been mastered.


The Chariot stands for victory: the spiritual aspirant has mastered the temptations of the world (money, status, power, fame, etc.) and the animal impulses of the body. The image of a chariot indicates that a battle had to be fought.

This is the subject of the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the yogis. The Gita is a dialogue between prince Arjuna and Krishna, who are sitting in a chariot together. Arjuna is about to fight against his own family (read: himself), with his army, to get his rightful place on the king’s throne (the Kingdom of God). The Gita is about the fight in man between his higher and lower nature. Arjuna is advised by Krishna (God), who also controls the horses of the chariot. In the ultimate battle with our demons and animal drives we are helped by God.

Arjuna and Krishna go to battle (Bhagavad Gita)

Though thousand times a thousand
in battle one may conquer,
yet should one conquer just oneself
one is the greatest conqueror.

– The Buddha (Dhammapada, verse 103) –

Starchild Tarot
(Danielle Noel, 2014)

A unicorn represents sublimated (transformed) animal energies. Its white color stands for purification. His spiral horn, at the height of the third eye, symbolizes the awakened and ascended kundalini energy.

Olympus Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2002)

This card beautifully depicts the mystical experience: flying through the air, free from the earth, without clothes (free from the ego), and with the purity / wholeness of a child. The myth that the card refers to is also applicable: this is the Greek god Hermes – the god with the caduceus –  who personifies the kundalini energy. He is pulled by the (stolen) cows of the god Apollo.

Retro Tarot Deck

(Anthony Testani)

This hilarious version of The Fool is the exact opposite of The Chariot.

Dragons Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2004)

In Eastern iconography, gods and saints (in this case the Jade Emperor, the supreme god in Taoism) are often depicted sitting or riding a dragon. The deeper meaning of this is that the inner dragon (the animal) has been conquered and is used as a means of transport to the divine dimensions.

Harmonious Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2005)

The (sacred) marriage has taken place: the male and female energies have merged. The chariot is heading for the Kingdom of God. Cupid is sitting on one of the horses: the primal forces of love are a catalyst in the process of spiritual awakening.

This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (August ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:48:59+00:00March 1st, 2020|Anne-Marie, Tarot|Comments Off on Tarot 7. The Chariot

Tarot 10. The Wheel of Fortune

10. The Wheel of Fortune

The major arcana of the tarot is a series of miniatures that refer to spiritual awakening. Each card illustrates
an aspect of the process of God-realization, driven by the kundalini energy in our pelvis.

Surprisingly enough, The Wheel of Fortune also.

Traditional meaning

Traditionally, the wheel of fortune stands for the instability of prosperity and social success; everything you have achieved in life you can lose again. The oldest images of a wheel of fortune date from the early Middle Ages. In most cases we see the Roman goddess Fortuna (Tyche with the Ancient Greeks) who turns a large wheel (Rota Fortunae), with several people clinging unto it. Because of the rotation there is a constant dynamic of changing positions: some are on their way up, others are on their way down. At the top of the wheel is – temporarily! – the lucky person: the king or another ruler. Sometimes Fortuna is blindfolded. This is a reference to her arbitrariness: she seems to be distributing prosperity and setbacks without personal regards.

A Wheel of Fortune from:
Troy Book by John Lydgate (15th century)

The Visconti Tarot (15th century)

The Visconti Tarot

On the very first Wheel of Fortune card, that of the 15th century Visconti tarot, both the person moving up on the wheel, and the one at the top, have a pair of large donkey ears. The designers of this card want to make it clear to us that those who are concerned with status, power and money, are donkeys. These worldly things are fleeting, and you are at the mercy of Lady Fortuna, as the image of the wheel of fortune shows. Of lasting value is inner wealth, obtained through a God-centered life.

The Tarot of Marsseille and family

From the 16th century on, the rotating wheel on tarot card The Wheel of Fortune, represents the spiral movement of the kundalini energy. The upward movement represents spiritual ascension: growing in consciousness from the material / animal to the divine. The downward movement stands for spiritual descend: the way back to an unconscious, “animal-like” life.

Tarot of Marseille
(Payen-Webb, 18th century)

Tarot of Bologna (Giacomo Zoni, 1780)

Liguria-Piedmont Tarot (1860)

The designer of the Marseille Payen-Webb card has placed the wheel on a body of water (the “kundalini well” in the pelvis). On the right side we see a dog, wearing a collar and a skirt, on the way to the top of the wheel. This dog in human clothing symbolizes the spiritually unconscious person living an animal-like life. The collar refers to controlling the animal drives, a prerequisite for the process of God-realization. The choice of a dog has to do with the tamed nature of this animal. It is a pet that no longer lives fully according to its instincts, but has learned to obey man.

On top of the wheel of the Tarot de Marseille card is a sphinx-like creature – a human head on an animal body – that symbolizes the person who has mastered his animal nature. We can deduce this from the crown on the head of the sphinx and from the wings (symbol of sublimation) on the animal body. The red sword represents the driving force behind this spiritual process: the kundalini energy.

On the way down, back to a spiritually unconscious life, there is a figure with a tail of fire. The awakened kundalini energy in this person has not ascended to the crown, but is dwelling in the abdomen and feeds the lower chakras (sensory pleasure and ego aspects).

Also on the Tarot of Bologna card a dog in human clothing is on the way up, and there is a sphinx-like figure, with crown, scepter and wing, on top of the wheel. That the rotating wheel represents the spiral movement of the kundalini, is made clear by the pillar with the large flame attached to the wheel.

On the Liguria-Piedmont card it is even clearer that the body of water, under the wheel, represents the kundalini in the pelvis: water also flows around the wheel – poorly colored, yet clearly visible.

The “kundalini goddess” Shakti as a female figure in a bowl (the pelvis, the Holy Grail) with divine fire, and as a coiled serpent (gouache from Rajasthan, India, 19th century).

Illustration from: The Chronicle of Nuremberg (Hartmann Schedel, 1493). Man as a hybrid being: partly human and partly dog ​​/ wolf. These two halves want to go in opposite directions, which gives us continuously inner struggles.

On the left a drawing of “the serpent pillar” from Delphi, on the right the current state of the pillar, erected in 447 BC.

Oswald Wirth Tarot

Both the tarot deck of Oswald Wirth and the Rider-Waite-Smith deck are influenced by the ideas of the French occultist Éliphas Lévi. Lévi has never designed a complete tarot deck himself, but in his book “La Clef des Grands Mystères” (The Key to the Great Mysteries, 1861) a number of cards are depicted, including The Wheel of Fortune (see below).

Wheel of Fortune: illustration off
“La Clef des Grands Mystères”
from Eliphas Levi

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

(Vatican Museum)

The sphinx at the top of the wheel of Lévi wears an Egyptian nemis: a striped headscarf that only Pharaohs were allowed to wear and which underlined their divine status. The nemis gave the head of the pharaoh the contours of a standing cobra with a spreaded hood: the serpent that is a symbol of the kundalini energy in several spiritual traditions. The false beard that Pharaohs wore represented the body of the snake. The sphinx’s raised tail, on Lévi’s card, stands for the same as the sword: the ascended kundalini.

The death mask of

A standing cobra

Instead of a dog in human clothing, Lévi chose Hermanubis: the god who is a combination of the Egyptian god Anubis and the Greek god Hermes. The human body with a head of a jackal / dog and a nemis is derived from Anubis, the god of mummification and guide of the deceased. The staff in the hands of Hermanubis is the caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, that stands for a kundalini awakening.

On the way down, at the wheel of Lévi, there is a devilish figure, called Typhon by Lévi himself: the serpentine monster from Greek mythology who is defeated by the supreme god Zeus after a major battle. Typhon rerpesents everything that stands between us and the divine, in particular our animal instincts. The trident symbolizes the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. In the hands of Typhon this energy flows down to the lower chakras.

Tomb of Sennedjem, Deir el-Medina, Egypt.
Living on after death was associated in ancient Egypt with a kundalini awakening. On this image we see the god Anubis with the mummy of Pharaoh Seti I. The bench on which the mummy is lying is decorated with a lion’s head and tail. The curled tail touches Anubis at the height of his pelvis area, the dwelling place of the kundalini.

Lévi placed the words Azoth, Archée, and Hyle next to the three figures on the wheel. Azoth is a term from alchemy for the kundalini, or God’s (Holy) Spirit. Hyle is Greek for matter. Archée refers to the soul. In alchemy, the element sulfur stands for the soul. On the Oswald Wirth tarot card we see the symbol for sulfur – a triangle with a cross underneath – above the head of the sphinx, instead of Lévi’s Archée.

The double wheel, according to Wirth, stands for the dual energies in humans, which constantly move in opposite directions (“the good and the bad”, Hermanubis and Typhon). The two serpents under the wheel also represent these dual energies. The yoga tradition speaks of the ida and pingala nadi. According to Wirth, the seven spokes on the wheel represent the seven (classical) planets. These planets, in turn, correspond to the seven chakras.

On the mosaic of Château des Avenières (1917), Typhon has been replaced by a crocodile: the animal that represented in Ancient Egypt our most primitive (animal) urges. The six spokes of the wheel form a hexagram; just like the double wheel of Wirth, a reference to the (fusion of the) dual energies in humans.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

On the RWS card we also see the influences of a second diagram from the books of Éliphas Lévi: his interpretation of the Wheel of Ezekiel (see below). In the Old Testament we read about the vision that the prophet Ezekiel has of four living beings with four faces (a man, an eagle, a lion and an ox), and four wheels on the ground next to it (Ezekiel 1:5-15).

These four faces represent the four aspects of man: the mind (eagle), feelings / emotions (lion), the body with the animal instincts (ox) and the soul (face of man / angel). Pamela Colman-Smith, the designer of the RWS deck, has placed these four aspects in the four corners of this card. We will also see the same four images on the last card of the major arcana: The World. It is these four aspects of man that are transformed during the process of spiritual awakening.

Instead of Typhon, Colman-Smith opted for more straight forward symbolism: a (kundalini) serpent, on its way down. Hermanubis has a more stylized appearance on this card and is red in color: the color of the (first) chakra where the kundalini resides when she is still ‘sleeping’. Unlike the cards of Lévi and Wirth, Hermanubis on the RWS map covers both the position at the bottom of the wheel and the rising position. This confirms our interpretation of the red Hermanubis: the kundalini leaves from the bottom of the spine, from the first chakra, rising up to the crown (top of the wheel).

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

The Wheel of Ezekiël from: Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, by Éliphas Lévi (1854)

The RWS Wheel contains the symbols of the three primary building blocks of the alchemist: salt (left), mercury (top) and sulfur (right). The esoteric meaning of these chemical elements is: the body with the animal drives (salt), the Spirit / kundalini (mercury) and the soul (sulfur). Just like Lévi, Colman-Smith added a fourth element at the bottom of the wheel: the symbol for water. How this fourth sign relates to the other three elements, and to the Wheel, is not clear. Different interpretations are possible. Written on the outer edge of the RWS Wheel is the name YHWH in Hebrew, and the letters TARO, which can also be read as ROTA (Latin for wheel), TAROT, and TORA(H).


Traditionally, the Wheel of Fortune stands for the volatility of wealth and power. The image of a blindfolded goddess spinning a wheel, with people clinging to it, stems from a pessimistic and fatalistic philosophy: prosperity in life depends to a large extent on being lucky, and you may lose it any time.

The Wheel of Fortune has a completely different meaning in the tarot. A better name for this card would be: the Wheel of Spiritual Evolution. The evolution from ‘ape-man’ to ‘god-man’.
The goddess that spins the wheel is not Lady Fortuna, but the kundalini shakti. She is the driving force behind the process of spiritual awakening. The way up on the wheel represents the rising of the kundalini energy. The position at the top of the wheel represents God-realization: the inner animal has been conquered and integrated. The way down is a “fall into matter” (the “fall of man” of Adam and Eve).

We often see the wheel as an esoteric symbol, referring to a kundalini awakening, in spiritual traditions. Officially, the wheel in Buddhism stands for the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). However, if you dig deeper into the writings and iconography of Buddhism, you will come to the conclusion that this official reading is not the only meaning of the wheel. The flame on the Buddha’s head is one of the pointers.
(photo: M. Lang via Pixabay)

Classic Golden Dawn Tarot (2004)

The meaning of card number 10 of the tarot has been reduced to its essence: the evolution from ape-man to god-man through a kundalini awakening.

El Gran Tarot Esoterico (Luis Pena Longa, 1978)

Beautiful images that make clear what this card stands for. The rotating wheel makes a (kundalini) tree grow. Arriving at the head, the polarities merge (the two heads under one crown). The animal drives are purified (the white bear) and sublimated (the monkey with a royal mantle and crown). These primal forces are needed to make the tree grow to the crown chakra (the bear holds the wheel and the tree).

Mansions of the Moon tarot (Dennis Hogue, self published, 1999)

The wheel is in us.

Le Tarot des Alchimistes (Jean Beauchard, 2006)

A kundalini awakening in alchemical images. The bottom half of the card represents the fusion of the polarities. The tarot wheel represents a divine fire: the red triangle with the point up, the angels, and the multiple eyes. The stars and the signs of the zodiac refer to the cosmic experience of a spiritual awakening.

This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (Dec ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019

Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ

Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres


By |2020-08-02T11:50:19+00:00February 25th, 2020|Anne-Marie, Paravisie, Tarot|Comments Off on Tarot 10. The Wheel of Fortune

Tarot 1. The Magician

1. The Magician

Nowadays a magician has a certain prestige. Whether it is a quick-fingered entertainer, or a talented “energy worker”, his or her showmanship evokes awe and admiration. In the 15th century, however, when the first tarot cards were born, a magician did not have much more status than the Fool; the wanderer on the first card of the major arcana. A magician was a street artist and he was associated with deception and scamming.

The Visconti-Sforza deck is the oldest known tarot deck. It depicts the Magician with the four symbols of the minor arcana: a staff, a knife (sword), a cup and coins. In the centuries that follow we sometimes see other objects on the Magician’s table. Oswald Wirth (1890) re-esthablishes the Magician as the keeper of the four minor arcana symbols. This will remain the standard for almost all decks after Wirth’s.

Visconti-Sforza Tarot (circa 1463)

Stefano Vergnano Tarot (1830)

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

On the table of the Visconti card also lies an enigmatic white cloth with something underneath. Some tarot researchers have opted this is a so-called velum that covers the consecrated hosts in the Catholic Church. During the height of Catholic mass, ordinary bread (the host) changes to “the Body of Christ” (called the transubstantiation). The transubstantiation is indeed a beautiful metaphor for the process of spiritual transformation that the entire major arcana stands for.

Aaron’s staff

The Magician of the Etteilla Tarot (1890) is dressed as a Jewish priest, a reference to the high priest Aaron, the brother of the prophet Moses, from the Old Testament. Moses and Aaron both had a special staff that could turn into a serpent; a biblical metaphor for a kundalini awakening.

When a priest is to be chosen from twelve tribal chiefs, God instructs all candidates to give a stick to Moses. And the staff of the man whom I choose will blossom,” says God (Numbers 17: 5).

The next day Moses entered the tent of the testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted, formed buds, blossomed, and produced almonds! (Numbers 17: 8)

The blossoming and bearing fruit of the staff is a apt metaphor for a spine in which the awakened kundalini energy is flowing. This “sprouting” of Aaron’s staff is a theme that has found its way into the tarot. In many decks we find staffs with buts and leaves attached to them, something that is not common for a staff that is used for walking or sheep herding.

Grand Etteilla tarot (1890)

“Moses and Aaron before the Pharaoh”
(16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Aäron’s staff blossoms

The ten coins, or tokens, on the table of the Magician of the Etteilla deck, are organised in the pattern 1-2-3-4, a reference to the tetraktys of Pythagoras. The philosopher Pythagoras, who lived around 500 BC, saw the tetraktys as the foundation of the cosmos and as an expression of the divine. Ten, the sum of the numbers one, two, three, and four, is a sacred number for the Pythagoreans; symbol for harmony and perfection.

The title Maladie (illness) does not refer to the Magician, but to the meaning that, according to Etteilla, the card has in a tarot reading.

The symbols of the minor arcana

With his tarot deck, in 1909, Arthur E. Waite is the first to also illustrate all the cards of the minor arcana. The cards of pentacles (or coins), cups, rods and swords, were already associated with the four elements – earth, water, fire and air – before this time. Now this connection is made visible in the illustrations of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck.

The symbolism, however, does not stop with the classical four elements. The four symbols of the minor arcana, on the table in front of the magician, also refer to the divine and various aspects of a kundalini awakening. The four aces of the deck, with the Hand of God holding the symbols, are an example of this. Colman-Smith was inspired by the Tarot of Marseille for these illustrations.

The Magician of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

The aces of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

The sword, the staff, and the cup are ancient symbols that are used in many traditions to refer to a kundalini awakening. Surprisingly enough, even in the 17th century Tarot of Marseille. We see a divine hand and divine (kundalini) fire on the Aces of Swords and Rods.

The aces of the Tarot of Marseille (17th century)

The castle-like top of the chalice on the Ace of Cups refers to the Kingdom of God. The mysterious liquid that flows over the rim of the chalice in three small waves represents the divine energy that flows to body, heart (feeling) and head (thinking); a classical tripartite division of man, which we also see in Biblical symbolism.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
(Psalm 23:4-5)

Cups Seven from the RWS deck is also very interesting in terms of symbolism. Each cup on this card shows a characteristic of the kundalini energy:

  • A serpent => a classic symbol of the kundalini energy
  • A dragon => if the kundalini energy is used to feed the animal instincts, it is a dragon that must be conquered
  • The head of an angel => an angel is a metaphor for the (divine) kundalini energy
  • A castle on a mountain => the Kingdom of God
  • Jewels => the inner wealth / abundance that the divine brings
  • Someone under a cloth => the purifying effect of the kundalini energy makes one invisible (ego-less)
  • A laurel wreath with a skull (on the chalice itself) => victory over death

Like the staff, the sword is also a metaphor for the spine with the kundalini energy flowing in it. The image of a sword refers to the inner battle and the cleansing – the “cutting away” of everything that prevents a connection with God – that are part of the process of awakening.

Cups Seven (RWS)

Cups Two (RWS) with kundalini symbolism

From: Aurora consurgens, 15th century

On this illustration from alchemy we see the kundalini energy personified by a winged woman (angel / Sophia), standing on the moon (symbol for the feminine), with a sword in her opened belly. Her black skin color refers to the hidden / locked up (in the pelvis) character of the kundalini (the theme of the “Black Madonna”).

The pentagram

The pentagram is a symbol that is almost as old as humanity itself. In many traditions it is a highly valued esoteric sign. Among other things because of its special mathematical properties, the five-pointed star stands for the perfect human being; for the person who has realized the divine.

Over time, the inverted pentagram, pointing downwards, acquired the meaning of satanism. Nowadays, with one point up, the star stands for the divine dominating over matter (the four elements). With two points up it is the lower, animal drives (satan) that rule.

From: ‘The Alchemy of the Freemason’, by François-Nicolas Noël, early 19th century.

From: “Le Barbier Medecin ou les Fleurs d’Hyppocrate”, by Jean Michault, 1672.

The Greek goddess Hygieia with pentagram, staff and serpent.

On the illustration from Jean Michault’s book the letters YGEIA are added to the pentram. This refers to the Greek hugieia which means wholeness / health, and to Hygieia , the goddess of health and purity (hygiene). As an attribute, Hygieia, like her father Asclepius, the god of medicine, has a staff with a serpent. The deeper meaning of this is that a kundalini awakening leads to (spiritual) wholeness and purity.

We also see a dragon depicted on Michault’s illustration. This represents the animal drives that pose a threat to God-realization (‘hugieia‘).

The staff of Hermes

Tarot decks that originate from, or are inspired by, the 19th century occult grouping The Golden Dawn often relate the Magician to the Greek god Hermes (Mercury to the Romans). By touching them with his serpent staff, the caduceus, Hermes could put people to sleep and wake them up. In other words: he could awaken spiritually unconscious people.

Classic Golden Dawn Tarot (2004)

Knapp-Hall Tarot by Manley Hall (1929)

Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson (1980)

Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley (1969)

On the Classic Golden Dawn card , the Magician has a caduceus on his chest. With his hands he makes the figure of a triangle with one point upwards – the symbol for the element fire – at the height of his pelvis. This is a reference to the “kundalini fire” at the sacrum. This card is without color. Traditionally, members of the Golden Dawn were supposed to color their own tarot cards. On the table are not the four symbols of the minor arcana, but objects that refer to the Grail legend: the Holy Lance of Longinus, with which Jesus was pierced on the cross; Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur; and the Holy Grail itself, in which, supposedly, the blood of Jesus was collected. The cube represents the divine. The four objects are placed in the form of a pentagram.

On the Knapp-Hall Tarot card, the Magician’s staff is a caduceus. Geoffrey Dowson (Hermetic Tarot) has chosen to depict the entire figure of Hermes / Mercury. The Magus of the Thoth Tarot is, as it were, a caduceus himself. Behind him a long staff is placed and at the height of his head spiral two serpents. The wings of the god Hermes are connected to his feet. At the top of the card we see a small, descending dove.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Magician

The RWS Tarot makes a link between the Magician and an alchemist. Red and white – the Magician’s clothing – are the colors that represent in alchemy the two poles of duality, which must be fused into a (divine) unity. On an energetic level, these colors refer to the two energy channels, running along the spine, which in the yoga tradition are called ida-nadi (the feminine, white) and pingala-nadi (the masculine, red). They are also the two serpents that spiral upwards on the staff of the god Hermes.

Alchemy often uses images from nature, such as flowers. On the illustration from the manuscript of Basilius Valentinus we see a king – symbol for the alchemist who has realized the divine – standing wide-legged between a rose (red) and a lily (white). These are the same flowers that we also see on the RWS card of the Magician.

He is holding a sun and a moon in his hands. These are also symbols that express duality. The alchemical emblem with the mythical figure Hermes Trismegistus illustrates that the fusion of these poles takes place through the action of (the kundalini) fire.

From an alchemical manuscript by Basilius Valentinus, 1613.

Hermes Trismegistus, from: Viridarium Chymicum, of D. Stolz von Stolzenberg, 1624