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.

15th century

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.

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. The subtle symbol of a velum also fits the way esoteric knowledge is incorporated in the other cards of the Visconti-Sforza.

The peculiar hat of the Magician is a reference to the caduceus (right), the classic symbol for a kundalini awakening. The white-black cloth on his mantle represents the two serpents of the caduceus, which in turn represent the two polar energy channels that merge in the head.

Visconti-Sforza Tarot (15th century)



This interpretation is in line with the way the Magician holds his staff. Both the staff and and the outstretched middle finger represent the spine with the awakened kundalini flowing through it.

The symbol of the extended middle finger is also frequently seen in Christian art from that time, as a veiled reference to the kundalini process that Jesus went through. Below are three examples (click on the images to enlarge).

Giovanni di Francesco del Cervelliera, 1460.

Domenico Feti (after), begin 17e eeuw.

Bartholomäus Spranger, 1580.

The Tarot of Marseille

To express the merging of the two polar energy channels (the two serpents of the caduceus), i.e. the inner realization of the oneness of the divine, the Magician’s hat in the Tarot of Marseille (right) is in the form of a lemniscate (infinity sign). Tarot card 11. Strength uses the same symbolism.

The Magician’s right hand is on his lower abdomen where the kundalini energy is located when it is not yet awakened. With his left hand he holds up his staff – symbol for the spine: we are urged by him to raise our own kundalini energy to the head.

The six buttons on his tunic represent the six chakras that the kundalini passes on its way to the crown, where man is (re)connected to God.

Tarot of Marseille,
by Stefano Vergnano Tarot (1830)

Italian Tarot, Carlo Della Rocca, 19th century.

Instead of his staff, Carlo Della Rocca’s Magician (above right) – who has the appearance and tools of a shoemaker – raises a glass of wine to his head. Wine is a metaphor for the kundalini in the Bible. An alchemist of the time would have associated the glass of wine with the coveted red ‘Elixir of Life’, which is also a metaphor for the kundalini energy.

The Etteilla Tarot

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 (right). 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.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

Oswald Wirth’s Magician has three symbols of the minor arcana on his table: a sword, a cup and coins. In his hand he has the fourth symbol: a staff.

The coins have a double edge. The double circle is an alchemical symbol that stands for the merging of the opposites / polar energy channels.

All coins have a symbol that also stands for the fusion of the opposites / polar energy channels: a hexagram, an equal-armed (Greek) cross, and an eight-pointed ‘Morning Star’.

Double circle
(click here)

(click here)

Eight-pointed Morning Star
(click here)

The Magician’s staff has a blue and a red knob. Blue and red are the classic colors for the feminine and masculine respectively. Another reference to the merging of the polar energy channels.

Château des Avenières

On the table of the Magician in mosaic in Château des Avenièreswe see a saucer and two coins with hexagrams, consisting of a white and a red triangle. In alchemy RED and WHITE (click here) are the colors of the polar energy channels/sacred marriage. The sword on the table is decorated with a gold and a silver crescent moon. Gold and silver also refer to polarities in alchemy. The kundalini is associated with moon goddesses in many traditions.

The staff of the Magician  is placed on his hip/pelvis; the abode of the kundalini. An intriguing detail is the small stream of water that meanders between the feet of the Magician. This is a metaphor for the kundalini-energy, derived from the Old Testament. As the people of Moses roam the wilderness looking for the Promised Land, they get thirsty and start to complain. Moses then hits a rock with his staff – the one that can also turn into a serpent – and water starts pouring out (Exodus 17: 6). Jesus calls this “living water” in the New Testament. Water that will quench your (spiritual) thirst forever:

But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14)

The Magician of Château des Avenières


Moses hits a rock with his staff and water pours out.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

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 (below left) 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 (below right) illustrates that the fusion of these poles takes place through the action of (the kundalini) fire.

The lemniscate, above the head of the RWS Magician, is a universal symbol that expresses this fusion. Around the Magician’s waist we see a so-called ouroboros; a serpent that eats its own tail. The ouroboros is an ancient symbol, also from alchemy, that with its circular shape stands for the cyclical nature of creation, and its underlying divine unity. This ouroboros as a belt symbolizes that the animal drives (the lower abdomen) must be mastered in order to experience the divine. The serpent is also a universal symbol of the kundalini-energy.

With his arms, one pointing up and one pointing down, the Magician expresses the connection of heaven and earth. His raised staff tells us how this connection can be established: by raising the kundalini. The staff has two small knobs, a subtle reference to the fusion of the polarities that must be achieved.

The king in this image symbolizes the alchemist who has realized the divine. The ROSE and LILY, like the sun and the moon, symbolize the polar energy channels that merge during the kundalini process. (Basilius Valentinus, 1613)

The fusion of the opposites, symbolized by the sun and moon, takes place through the action of the KUNDALINI FIRE. (Viridarium Chymicum, D. Stolz von Stolzenberg, 1624)

Colman-Smith has added an additional clue for tarot researchers to clarify the deeper meaning of this card (right). On the rim of the table, on the right, we see a rising bird. This is the dove of the Holy Spirit. However, we read in the Bible that the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends on Jesus:

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, (Luke 3:21-22)

Bartolomeo Passarotti, 16th century.

In Christianity the kundalini energy is called The Holy Spirit. The Bible is written in the language of symbolism (see my book). Inner processes are explained by using images that the masses could understand. A dove that descends represents the kundalini energy that rises. Colman-Smith knew this and hid this esoteric knowledge in the card of the Magician.

This is also explains the inverted M on the RWS Ace of Cups (right); a mysterious detail that has kept tarot analysts wondering and guessing for over a century. What does it mean?

The M stands for the Roman god Mercury (Hermes with the Greeks), with his staff the caduceus, and refers to the water that flows from the cup. In alchemy, the kundalini energy is called Mercurial Water.

The inverted M indicates that we have to turn over the card, to understand its meaning. The water that flows from the cup and the dove both represent the rising kundalini energy.

We can also find this deeper meaning of Bible stories in paintings. Always subtle, because esoteric knowledge could not be dispayed, or spoken about, openly. The painting of Bartolomeo Passarotti (left), from the 16th century, creativily connects the dove of the Holy Spirit, the rising kundalini serpent, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Grail. An in-depth analysis of this subject can be found in my book: John the baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

The pentagram

The pentagram, on the RWS card the Magician, 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 (see illustration below left).

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 (above center). 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 (above right). The deeper meaning of this is that a kundalini awakening leads to (spiritual) wholeness and purity.

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

The symbols of the minor arcana

With his tarot deck, in 1909, Arthur E. Waite is the first to 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 (below).

The aces of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Colman-Smith was inspired by the Tarot of Marseille (below) for these illustrations. 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 (above left) 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 (read more in my book: Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom Jesus loved)

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 (right) 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 hidden 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 (see illustration on right). 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 is part of the process of awakening.

Cups Seven (RWS)

Cups Two (RWS)
with kundalini symbolism

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 her being hidden/locked up in the pelvis of man (the theme of the “Black Madonna”). From: Aurora consurgens, 15th century.

The staff of Hermes

Tarot decks that originate from, or are inspired by, the 19th century occult grouping The Golden Dawn (below) 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 (above left), 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.

The spear on the table is a reference to the ‘Lance of Longinus’, with which Jesus was pierced on the cross (a kundalini metaphor). The cube stands in alchemy for matter/man. The four objects on the table are placed in the shape of a pentagram.

On the Knapp-Hall Tarot card (above, second from left), the Magician’s staff is a caduceus. Geoffrey Dowson (Hermetic Tarot, above, third from left) has chosen to depict the entire figure of Hermes / Mercury. The Magus of the Thoth Tarot (above, right) 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.

Een schematische voorstelling van het kundalini-proces

The three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. They are symbolized by the two serpents and the staff of the caduceus.


Tarot card The Magician stands for spiritual transformation and self-realization. The Magician is an alchemist. His Magnum Opus is creating the inner gold (the divine). His staff, with which he works magic, is the staff of Hermes/Mercury: his spine, with the Holy Spirit of God flowing in it.

Dragons Tarot
(Lo Scarabeo 2004)

The inner work of the Magician is revealed in beautiful symbolism. The burning candle on the table has the shape of the pineal gland. When the kundalini fire (the burning staff) has arrived at the pineal gland, in the middle of the head, hormones and opiate-like substances are produced, giving a mystic experience. For this to happen, the the inner polarities (the statue of a man and a woman embracing) must be unified. The chessboard represents the inner battle between the higher nature (the white angels) and the lower, animal nature (the red devils). The menacing dragon represents the animal instincts of the magician, that will extinguish the divine light if he does not pay attention!

Tarot of Mermaids
(Lo Scarabeo 2003)

The trident on this card – an attribute of the sea god Poseidon (Neptune) – has the same symbolic meaning as the caduceus. The three “teeth” of the trident represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening. Click here for RED CORAL (on foreground card) as a symbol for the kundalini.

Dark Exact deck
(Coleman Stevenson 2016, self published)

An original perspective: the work of the Magician made clear in the language of alchemy. The flask is the alchemist himself, in which the Magnum Opus takes place. The plant is a saffron crocus (crocus sativus). Saffron is a very expensive spice, with a medicinal effect. Each flower has three pistils that must be picked and treated with care to obtain saffron. A beautiful metaphor for the budding of the inner “kundalini flower”, which involves three energy channels.
On the right the symbol for the ultimate goal of the alchemist: the “Philosophers ‘s Stone” – the inner gold. On the left the symbol for platinum, which stands for persistence, determination and completion.

The Working Tools Freemason Tarot
(Ralph DeSiano, 2014)

Tarot of the Angels
(Lo Scarabeo 2008)

The Magician/alchemist is helped by an angel. Everyone who chooses this path receives guidance and support from the divine dimensions!

Arcus Arcanum Tarot
(AGM Müller 1987)

The big white bow on this card, designed by the German cartoonist Hansrudi Wascher, concisely summarizes the inner work of the Magician: the merging of the duality of creation – the Alpha and Omega, in Biblical terms – into divine unity (the lemniscate).

Mona Lisa Tarot
(Lo Scarabeo 2008)

A Magician/alchemist working in his laboratory. On his table we see what really has to be “transformed” in alchemy: the heart and the head (brain).

Golden Tarot of the Tsar
(Lo Scarabeo 2003)

The choice of Jesus as the Magician is spot on. The story of Lazarus who is raised from the dead, is a metaphor for an inner “resurrection,” or spiritual awakening. The sign that Jesus makes with his right hand is what I have named “the sign of the sacred marriage”: the union of the masculine and the feminine energies, followed by a union with God. This subject is discussed in my book John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ.

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

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

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© of images belong to Lo Scarabeo.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres

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