Swallowed by the whale or to slay the dragon?
The two paths of initiation mirror each other.
One exalts the principle of individual initiative, of reason and will-power (Fire & Air)
The other cultivates receptivity, purposefully investing in loss and the power of sacrifice. (Water & Earth)
In the ‘active’ way of the Magician, theory precedes practice, whereas In the way of the mystic we find the opposite; The ‘passive’ subject is urged into practical activities first before any understanding is given.
These routes can be laid out symbolically using the major arcana of the tarot.
The magician begins by acquiring the knowledge of the first 5 cards of the arcana.
Card (6) (The lover) is a transition point indicating a moral test that must be passed in order to transform theory into the practical realisation symbolised by the next group of 5 cards.
The mystic’s initiation proceeds in the opposite direction. His yielding abandon is immediately put into the form of the 5 major arcana tarot (12 to 16) Starting with ‘The Hanged Man’. The transition point for him is card (17) (The Star) symbolic of an outside influence aiding progression to the next set of 5 cards.
The active initiation leads from (1) the Magician, to (11) Strength
The passive initiation leads from (12) The Hanged man, to (0) The Fool
(17) The Star is a symbol of destiny, the tutelary archetype; It determines the fate of the mystic who does not choose his own path. (6) The Lover conversely forces a choice. The initiate must choose, like young Hercules, between vice and virtue.
The preparation and study for the magician are laid out in the arcana (2) to (5), the Priestess, the Empress, the Emperor and the Pope, symbolising both secular and the religious functions:
(2). The Priestess — Inductive sacred Knowledge, Intuitive metaphysics, Gnosis
(3) The Empress — Inductive temporal science , physics
(4) The Emperor — Deductive temporal science, mathematics
(5) The Pope — Deductive sacred Knowledge, Religious philosophy, Kabbalah
The symbols are mirrored across the transition point. The second group of arcanas show in a practical way what the corresponding preceeding card only holds in theory and in potential.
The transcendental and abstract doctrine proclaimed by the Pope (5) from his motionless chair, is applied by the triumphant rider of the Chariot (7), who travels the world on a moving throne. Everywhere this intelligent minister adapts the ideal to practical needs. He is at grips with harsh reality which he transforms by the harmonizing of opposites: spirit and matter, egoism and altruism. He is an arbiter, a peacemaker, a wise man who reigns by his knowledge and moral authority.
Mathematical precision (The Emperor 4) is translated into the moral sphere by Justice (8), because ‘justice is nothing but mathematics in action, put into practice’, as was remarked by Berthault-Gras a follower of fourier, quoted by Lacuria. The deductive, temporal science shows us how to bring order into the world, to put everything in its place, thus ensuring equilibrium, stability and regular functioning. We can thus relate card (8 Justice) to wisdom that conserves and governs.
The inductive temporal science (Empress 3) is cultivated by the Hermit (9), a ‘personification of the scholar, who ellucidates progressively with extreme care, the mysteries of nature. The Wheel of Fortune (10) promises success in practical life to the person who knows how to apply the intuitive faculties (Priestess 2). One must be a diviner to benefit from the alterations of fate. Strength (11) depends on the Magician (1) who puts into practice his entire programme.
Oswald Wirth — Le Tarot, des Imagiers du Moyen Age
The mystic is represented by The Hanged Man (12); one who sacrifices himself by renouncement and is mirrored by The Fool (0) who’s seeming passivity takes on a sublime character due to his accomplishment of the great work; An inner transformation only visible to those who have the eyes to see.
Death (13) (Unlucky for some) symbolises a renouncement of the world, but it is the world of the ego. It is mirrored in the ecstasy of (the World 21) without the veil. The unknown, revealing itself to the soul and the development of clairvoyancy.
Temperance (4) indicates an immersion. The vital ‘fluid’ of the universe transmitted from one vessel to another. To bathe oneself in the waters of the ocean of this ‘fluid’ is in fact the opposite of what the Hermit (9) does, by retiring into the most strict isolation. This is mirrored by the arcana, Judgement (20) pointing towards inspiration and prophesy.
The Devil (15) is a further abandonment. Instinct navigates the seeming randomness and wild disorder. This can find transformation in the Sun (19), the source of spiritual light , a higher ordering principle and inspiration to artists and poets. By his incantations he comes to act on the soul of the world.
The tower is the crisis of the spirit. The dark night of the soul; forces are in revolt. The seeker journeys to the underworld to confront the lunar forces of the creative imagination.
Oswald Wirth in his ‘Le Tarot, des Imagiers du Moyen Age’, published 1927, grouped the arcana into tetrads. Each arcana in a tetrad forms synergy with the other three, either in opposition, as a mirror or showing similarity across scale.
Tetrad 1. He titled ‘the principle of individual intelligence’. The two cards on the left are ‘in potential’. The other two are ‘in action’
Tetrad 2. ‘The spirit in the presence of Mystery’ — The priestess indicates an effort to penetrate it by intuition. The World symbolises perceiving fully with ecstatic vision. The wheel of fortune shows discernment and discovery. and Death indicates denial and disillusion; Absolute scepticism.
Tetrad 3. ‘The spiritual principle, source of thought and life’ — The Empress points to comprehension and conception. Judgement indicates inspiration and enthusiasm. The Hermit symbolises the mental sphere and the storage of memory. Temperance shows the animating force of universal life.
Tetrad 4. ‘The Creative Light’ — The Emperor symbolises individual expansion and growth. The Sun shows an opening out of self; Altruism. Justice symbolises harmonious distribution to ensure normal functioning of the organism. The Devil indicates base instinct and egotism.
Tetrad 5. ‘The Four sources of human convictions’ — The Pope is symbolic of the philosophic or religious traditions. The Moon indicates conventional opinions and dominant prejudices. The Chariot shows the independent search for truth; the free thinker. The Tower points towards the contradiction of opposing doctrines and sectarianism.