The path in the Tarot according to Oswald Wirth
Oswald Wirth was one of the leading esotericists of the late nineteenth century, when esotericism was a serious business that permeated the leading circles of the social elite.
He was a member of the main secret societies of the time, he was a Freemason, and he became a friend and collaborator of almost all the personalities in the Tarot world of the era.
Although other names are often mentioned in relation to esotericism and Tarot, I wanted to talk about him for two reasons:
- He wrote what is perhaps the most complete treatise on the Tarot.
- He designed a deck of Tarot cards, little known today, but considered by many as the most meticulous from a symbolic and esoteric point of view.
The teachings of Wirth
According to Oswald Wirth, Tarot is a treatise on high philosophy presented through pictures. This book, however, remains silent to most people, because they do not have the skills to make it speak.
He argues that we have lost the ability to immerse ourselves in fruitful reflections inspired by the mere appearance of things.
In reality, language originally expressed only real, physical concepts, without any abstract ideas. Therefore, the oldest forms of knowledge were expressed through images. And for many years afterwards, images remained the most effective way for the common people to express concepts.
The Tarot is a masterpiece that survived the subsequent predominance of the written word.
According to Wirth, Tarot cards are art, and should only be handled by artists, that is, by those who have learned to decipher them.
The initiatory path according to Wirth
According to Wirth, within the Tarot there is a very precise initiatory path of wisdom. For those who know how to read the Tarot, it contains the steps that lead to knowledge, to wisdom, and to dominion over things.
- The Conjurer (The Magician). The “initiate” must not depend on anyone. They do not want knowledge borrowed from others. It takes enormous intellectual initiative to approach the door of the Temple. One must dare and have an indomitable will to approach knowledge.
- The Popess (Juno). The science of the initiates is not the material science of the objects perceived by our senses. It is revealed only by entering into oneself and confronting one’s own inner spirit.
- The Empress. Climb as high as you can! Rise above the heavens! Learn to climb and contemplate everything around you from above, without any dizziness. Climb high to broaden your views so that you can escape the confines of your ideas.
- The Emperor. Take action! Take control of yourself, grab the scepter that governs your personality: you are your own Emperor.
- The Pope (Jupiter). Instruct yourself! Listen to others, but listen also and above all to yourself. Formulate your science by yourself, and follow its commandments.
- The Lover (The Lovers). Decide your destiny freely. Are you afraid? You need to understand that if you want to be strong, you must also accept suffering.
- The Chariot. Show that you know how to steer yourself. You must be able to drive divergent forces, which when properly mastered will lead you to victory.
- Justice. Carry justice within yourself, and you will achieve a stable equilibrium.
- The Hermit. Isolate yourself, look into yourself. Find that light inside you to illuminate the path you must take, because that is where it is. Tread forward slowly and carefully, so that you never have to retreat.
- Wheel of Fortune. Having emerged from solitude, enter the circle of human life. Do not look down on lower states and conditions. Do the opposite, help them to rise under destiny’s favor.
- Strength. Learn discipline. By giving free rein to your instincts, you show that you are weak. The strong person controls their instincts and passions, without extinguishing them.
- The Hanged Man. Help others. Give without thinking of receiving.
- Death. When the illusions of the past die, you will prepare the ground for your future harvests. Allow things that have run their course to die, and make room for the new.
- Temperance. Resurrection. Having abandoned the mortal state, you can now rise to heaven, thanks to the regenerating water.
- The Devil. Without the fire of hell, the earth would be infertile. Without evil there is no good. The Devil within you is not an enemy if you can keep him under control, on the contrary.
- The Tower. Moderation that is imposed on the strong person, to stop them going too far and failing. Not too much and not too fast, measure your ambitions and your thirst for knowledge.
- The Star. Learn the art of rest. Sleep gives you the dynamism you need. Learn to enjoy earthly pleasures, without abusing them. The wise person is not a grumpy ascetic.
- The Moon. We are victims of appearances, which never cease to deceive us. We only learn at the expense of mistakes and painful wounds.
- The Sun. True light shines only through spirits. Enjoy life, but do not forget that enlightenment is strictly spiritual. Happiness is not an end in itself, or personal: it can only be collective.
- The Angel or Judgement. The enlightened spirit leaves the body. The spirit leaves the body to move to a higher, wider state. But without losing its awareness of its past experience.
- The World. The past teaches us about the future. We imagine what will be, based on what has been.
- The Fool. Reintegration into the primordial Everything (only by humbly realizing one’s insignificance faced with the generating power of all things). Once you reach the summit from which you can contemplate all the kingdoms of the earth, you will succumb to the vertigo of infinity, and the bottomless abyss will absorb you: you will thus be reintegrated into the primordial Everything.