Symbolism in the Tarot according to Eliphas Lévi
Who was Eliphas Lévi?
Eliphas Lévi – real name Alphonse Louis Constant – was the leading esotericist and occultist of the nineteenth century.
His contribution to the magical and esoteric universe of Tarot was enormous.
It was he who coined the term Major Arcana, he was the first to associate the Tarot with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and I am sure that anyone who has ever been interested in esotericism for any reason has sooner or later come across the image of the “Devil” drawn by him.
The basis of his teaching
There is a book, extremely popular, that you can find everywhere. It is an occult book, with incredible power and knowledge, and the book that constitutes the key to all the others.
By mastering it, it is possible to get the dead to speak, to understand all enigmas, and to penetrate all sanctuaries.
But despite the fact that it is an extremely popular book, most do not recognize it as such, and the knowledge it contains remains undecipherable.
This is a very ancient book, written in primitive characters. Its pages are separate, like ancient tablets.
This book is the Tarot, the pinnacle of all ancient knowledge, from which all other inspired books are subsequently derived. It is the masterpiece of the human soul, the universal key to knowledge.
Explanation of the symbols in the Tarot
- The Juggler (The Magician) – The letter Aleph. The juggler is wearing a hat with the obvious figure of eight turned on its side, the symbol of balanced light. In one raised hand, he holds a wand, which is simply the magic rod of the initiate. His other hand is lowered towards the ground. With his arms, he is stating the dogma of Hermes: “as above, so below”.
- The Popess – The letter Beth. The Popess is the high priestess of nature. She is the Isis of the Egyptians, the Mâya of the Hindus, the Maria of the first Christians. Her figure is a manifestation of life, creative and feminine. The book she is holding on her knees contains the secrets of her powerful fertility. It contains the secrets of creation.
- The Empress – The letter Gimel. The Empress is sitting on the throne of the world, with her left hand holding a scepter upwards and right hand holding an eagle. She represents the triune manifestation of the being: divine, spiritual, material.
- The Emperor – The letter Daleth. The Emperor is seated on a throne and holds the scepter of the world, surmounted by a cross. He has a 12-pointed crown on his head, or a crown with 12 flowers. His posture is reminiscent of the sulfur sign of hermetic philosophers (the triangle with the tip pointing upwards) supported by a cross (formed by his legs). He represents authority, the universal empire.
- The Great Hierophant (The Pope) – The letter He. He is the Great Hierophant of nature. He is at the same time man created by God, and God created by man. This is an absurdity for the profane: God who takes man as a collaborator for the creation. It represents the unity of divine activity. It represents both the temple of initiation, and initiation itself.
- The Lover (The Lovers) – The letter Vav. This represents man, throughout his life, always struggling between two opposing forces: virtue and vice, affirmation and denial, good and evil. Man is tasked with manifesting his intelligence, thanks to the freedom he has been granted, choosing between good and evil, between truth and error, between shadow and light.
- The Chariot of Hermes (The Chariot) – The letter Zayin. The crowned victor holding a scepter, driving the chariot being pulled by opposing forces. It is card number 7, the sacred number of all initiations. Everything in nature is conceptualized with 3, expressed with 4, and completed with 7. Seven is the number of rest after triumph, of rest after work completed (God created the world in 6 days, and rested on the seventh).
- Justice – The letter Heth. Symbol of the divine, sovereign and absolute justice that governs the balance of all things. Justice holds up the scales, a symbol of the laws of equilibrium of which she is the guardian. Woe to the reckless man who upsets the scales of Justice, because he will be a victim of the disorderly movement that he has generated.
- The Hermit – The letter Teth. The Hermit, wrapped in his cloak, walks through the darkness with the help of a lamp and a stick. He represents the initiate, wrapped in his protective cloak of discretion and caution. The lamp is that of Hermes Trismegistus: the light of reason that illuminates the way. The stick is that of the patriarchs, which guides and protects him.
- Wheel of Fortune – The letter Yod. A wheel moved by a crank, to which two mythological figures are attached. One is going up while the other is coming down or falling, and in falling it helps the opposite figure. At the top, an armed figure keeps its balance, remaining calm and impassive.
- Strength – The letter Kaf. A woman effortlessly closing the jaws of an enraged lion. She represents the absolute force that everything in the universe obeys. This also represents the absolute strength of the spirit of the initiate, who dominates the forces of the great magical agent.
- The Hanged Man – The letter Lamed. The gallows from which the Hanged Man is hanging represents the letter Tau. This gallows is formed by trees: the tree of science, and the tree of life, and both have several branches cut off. The cross that can be discerned in the figure of the Hanged Man represents divine humanity. It represents the suffering of the flesh, God crucified by humanity, achieving the immortality that only death can give.
- Death – The letter Mem. Death is neither the end of life nor the start of immortality. It is merely a phase in the continuous transformation of life. All creation arises through destruction, like every renewal. Every generation is a death, as every death is a generation. Death is a mere specter born of ignorance: in reality it does not exist.
- Temperance – The letter Nun. A winged angel pours the two essences that make up the elixir of life from one cup to another. This is the symbol of the divine nature in man, and human nature in God. It is the law of action and reaction, the universal law of life. It is the harmony of equilibrium, the perfection of the blend.
- The Devil – The letter Samech. The most monstrous and frightening figure in the Tarot. A monster standing on an altar, the embodiment of evil. He is the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, the goat of the Sabbath. God is in all things, but not everything is God. Affirming God’s presence implies the possibility of excluding God.
- The House of God (The Tower) – The letter Ayin. A tower that is struck by lightning and comes crashing down. It is the collapse of Babel, the tower of the architects who built it too high, attempting to rival God himself. Something built by force, without following the harmonious laws of nature, will collapse into ruins under its own weight.
- The Star – The letter Pe. The shining star of eternal fertility and eternal youth. True life is the intellectual light, the light of the soul. It is in this that God sees the beauty of the world, and it is in this that we see the light of God.
- The Moon – The letter Tzadi. Occultism, dogma, esotericism. Not everything is clear, and not everything can ever be clear. In the end, there is only one truth, but it has nuances, just like light. Not everything can be sun and light, otherwise everything would burn. Dogma exists precisely because of its shadows: if it were explained in full, it would be destroyed.
- The Sun – The letter Qoph. True light, the truth, Eden, the gateway to higher initiation. The Sun shines on two children united in a circle. The heavenly Eden to which Adam (man) is finally considered worthy of being readmitted, now that he has completed his initiation.
- Judgement – The letter Resh. The dead arise from their tombs, coming back to life in response to the trumpet sounded by the Angel of Judgement. This is a symbol of eternal resurrection, of the call of the divine word. It is the fountain of eternal youth, it is the explanation of how eternity is generated from the cycle of life and death of transitory elements.
- The Fool (no number) – The letter Shin. A man, dressed in crumpled and shabby clothes, wanders around carrying a bundle, undoubtedly loaded with his childish beliefs. He represents false forms of enlightenment, false mysticism, spiritualism. Imagining one can enter into contact with heaven in this manner shows a lack of reason. What does not come from Heaven can never enter Heaven.
- The World – The letter Tau. The key to deciphering the Tarot, the absolute, the 3 times 7. The summary of everything, universal knowledge. A woman is running inside a garland, causing it to spin. This is the synthesis of all things, it is the perpetual movement that establishes equilibrium. It is the destination, the achievement of perfection in a work that is eternally unfinished. It is the squaring of the circle, the secret of man’s divine nature, given by equilibrium.