Bardic origin of Tarot

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Visconti-Sforza Ace of Cups

This page presents the theory of the Bardic origin of Tarot, a theory alternative to the commonly accepted Italian origin. See also the pages about The Trumps of the Consonants, The Trumps of the Consonants II and The Bardic Vowels.

Tarot is explicitly based on a bardic tradition (concerning sound and the universe) that entered the culture of the Continent on the backs of Arthur’s 12th-century ‘knights’ (who were originally 5th-century Brito-Sarmatians). It is recoverable still, by putting what has survived of ancient Irish and Welsh poetic tradition together with its kindred tradition in Judaic circles, Kabbalah. These fill each others’ holes and together easily explain the origin of tarot.

G.K.Spain inscribed this.


Has not tarot—specifically the Marseille Tarot—from the beginning had a clear link to Keltic tradition through its Grail King, Grail Queen, and Grail Knight? Indeed the Grail Knave is a mere thief, who discovers a trait of the Cauldron in both Keltic and Sarmatian lore: its rejection of the unworthy. I speak, of course, of the suit Cups, which displays a knight offering a cup, rather than battle. Surely it is the cup offered in peace that cures the wasteland of legend, symbol of war’s destruction. Do not the four suit symbols directly reflect the four Grail hallows—lance, sword, Grail, and platter—and through these the four Treasures of Ireland—spear of Lugh (Luck), sword of Nuada, cauldron of the Dagda, and stone of Fal?

One potential problem in postulating a Keltic origin is the fact that the symbol for Batons in all the Pips of that suit but the Ace is like the polo-stick emblem of the Mamluk deck. But upon closer analysis, this is not such a hurdle. Polo had been taken up by the Mamluks seemingly from early on, and it would surprise me greatly if it had not spread through them to the Moors and thence to Spain. And the geographic origin I propose for the Kelt’s hand in all this is in the Languedoc of the time of the Troubadours and their embracing of Arthurian Tristan legend, when this region still had close cultural ties with Spain. Scholars even trace the Troubadours’ style of poetry to the Moors of Spain, and ultimately to the Persians. In Persia, of course, polo is an extremely old sport. (Arthur’s Sarmatian ‘knights’ were of Persian linguistic stock, originally.)

This also was the era paper-making was first introduced to that region (1157, in Vidalon) by a returning Crusader, Jean Montgolfier. Paper making was already a commonplace in the Muslim world (especially Spain), and block printing had evidently arrived in the Muslim world by the end of the first millennium (according to discoveries at the Fayyum oasis). If tarot sprang up, say, in the 13th or perhaps 14th century in the ‘Midi’, then centuries of destruction and repression would have utterly hidden their existence by now. For the Albigensian Crusade (13th century) began the systematic destruction of that glorious culture, whose tolerance of Jews and ‘heresies’ and reverence for poetic tradition had made it so anomalous and precious for its time.

Since the earliest extant tarot cards are Italian, it has been assumed Italians invented them, even though they could never agree on the naming and ordering of Trumps whereas the Marseille Tarot order remained fixed and agreed-upon over a wide area, evidently even when unnumbered, as in the earliest examples from the Milan area (though I understand the ranking of the last two were reversed there, to please the Church perhaps?). This shows Marseille Tarot was the stronger tradition, and indeed when French cards hit Italy in earnest around 1500, they dominated in the north. If it was indeed the main mass-produced form of cards from early on, then that the early painted corruptions of it in Italy—such as an XI Force that shows Hercules holding a club with which to slay lions, rather than a woman manipulating one’s jaws, which is the much more sophisticated symbol—would predate its earliest surviving instances is only to be expected, since old decks would have been discarded and replaced. Many of the earliest extant Italian block-printed cards were found discarded in a well.

It is my contention the Marseille Tarot was tarot’s original form (truest coloration, Grimaud), perhaps in a slightly cruder form but complete with details lacking even in earliest extant block-printed examples of the general type, meaning the Cary sheet, which appears to be a somewhat crude offshoot. Marseille Tarot is clearly not a Renaissance but a late medieval creation, judging by appearance first of all, though this has possibly been tampered with by royal authority. More importantly, the tradition that gave birth to the Trumps and their symbolism would only have gotten (and did get) lost in all the neo-Platonic speculations characterizing the Italian Renaissance.

The tradition of which I speak was that of the numbers associated with letters in medieval Irish literature (the insular Kelts having been the only preservers of ancient learning in all of Europe, seemingly), each letter interpreted according to its tree-meaning (following Roderick O’Flaherty’s Ogygia). Robert Graves lists the numbers given them, in The White Goddess, and I confirmed that this same numbering existed also in Wales, as it was one version of letter-order given (by one particular ‘bard’) in that uneven but nonetheless instructive work Barddas, by Iolo Morganwg. In this evidently ancient calibration of number with phonetic symbol can be seen the original of which the Trumps of the Marseille Tarot are the expression. Those from XVII on were apparently kept secret, yet they are easily restored, based on both logic and on what the cards picture, that is, using the two double-vowels Graves postulated as secret vowels—to go with two doubled consonants already in ogham, Q (Kk) and ‘Z’ (Ss)—omitted from the twenty-letter ogham sequence. Even though he did not see this, their existence is confirmed by the square-Hebrew letter yod, corresponding to his Ii-mistletoe (or loranthus) in not being rooted in the ground (meaning the line on which one writes). Ancient Semitic veneration of trees is well attested, so I see no need to present Graves’s arguments here (complete with flaws) and instead will merely add my own on top of his.


It has long been suspected Jewish Kabbalah had something to do with tarot’s design. The deck’s structure as a whole shows this: ten Pip cards in four suits for the Sefirot—the ten emanations leading from the divine to man—manifesting in four worlds, the four Court cards in each suit for the Great Name yud-heh-vav-heh sounding through those worlds, and twenty-two Trumps for the twenty-two letters of the alef-bet. The problem has always been no known tradition linked Trumps to letters, hence they are usually laid side by side in order and correlated straight across, using Hebrew letter-order. For some, the unnumbered LeMat begins the sequence at alef, but for others, I LeBateleur, and that each school seems happy with their result suffices to demonstrate the lack of coherence in such systems.

But Judaic letter-order itself can be shown to be a carefully jumbled original, as there is a calendar-order, of demonstrable kinship to proto-Canaanite (pre-Phoenician) and other alphabets, that dates from at least 1700 B.C.E., in the form of ogam consaine, bronze age consonants-only ogham cipher (letters represented by one to five notches meeting or crossing a line, druids’ books in Ireland originally having consisted of ogham carved on branches). Ogam consaine and tifinag were two forms of writing used by bronze age Scandinavians, tifinag surviving (in North Africa) to this day. And when calendar-placement of the square-Hebrew letters in particular is carefully restored using this ancient relic of bardic tradition from the north, their shapes begin to make sense in terms of where on the zodiac of the year they fall, strongly supporting the idea of there having been a widespread early tradition underlying letters. For example aries-the-head, marking the beginning of spring when nature sprouts upwards towards the head, is by this reckoning samekh, the only Hebrew letter actually shaped like a head, instead of the heh currently assigned it, which as a head could only be interpreted as a paper-bag mask with a slit for the eyes. And gemini-the-shoulders is originally cheyt, which shows both arms hanging, as opposed to one-armed zayin occupying it now, while straight back from it on the closed zodiac, at aquarius, is lamedh, representing the spine opposite the shoulders as ‘learning to walk’ (arms swinging while walking, seen from above). And heh, the letter added to Abram to make Abraham that signifies the Covenant (circumcision), is at the eighth sign, scorpio, which not only stands for the male organ but determines its being performed on the eighth day of life. Indeed its shape shows male and female conjoined: the male organ, or top of the letter, extends over to the left or female side, whose opening is just under where the top reaches the left side of the letter. This is confirmed by where tradition places the final heh when the Name is viewed as Anthropos, namely at the bottom, representing the loins and legs.

Calendar-order—once refined by certain stipulations in Judaic tradition concerning letters—reflects a simple phonetic ordering of sounds, in relation to which the shapes of most letters in all primary alphabets—Egyptian, proto-Canaanite (whence Phoenician), Meroitic, tifinag, Libyan, runic—can be understood with real clarity. An example would be proto-Canaanite vav (sixth letter of alef-bet), which corrected order places at cancer-the-breasts (being the bardic vowel, U, of summer and the full moon), whose shape is a breast pouring forth milk. (Hebrew letter-order has it at taurus-the-throat.) Another is Libyan B and R, first and last months of the 13-month calendar (beginning at winter solstice), which are circles with and without a dot in the middle, respectively, the latter indicating it has returned to the source to ‘recharge’: a circle with a dot at the center is the alchemical symbol for the sun or gold. Indeed this tradition can be shown to be the heart or source of much that has survived of Hermetic science (alchemy) and astrology both, which suggests to me all three are coeval (and much older than scholars allow).


The symbolism involved in the Trumps relates to the prime bardic myth concerning the sun, in which the heroic god of the waxing year—the upper half of its wheel, winter-spring—and the satiric god of the waning year—the underside, summer-fall—vie for the affections of the White Goddess, the moon, she who initiates and inspires poets. One aspect of this myth will show how permeated with its symbolism the Marseille Tarot is: these two rivals meet, alive, at only one place in the year, winter solstice. This is because their other potential meeting-place, summer solstice, is where the heroic is sacrificed on its oak (XII LePendu). Just so, we find these twin gods in both XVIIII LeSoleil, mistletoe or winter solstice itself—where they are at play—and in V LePape, the birch month of the year’s birth that begins at winter solstice—where they are dressed up and brought before their ‘father’ (who of course chooses the heroic one to rule first). The twins are parodied, too, most notably in XV LeDiable—last month of calendar’s thirteen-month version, R (elder)—but also in the months leading up to this, as the satiric antihero’s fear of being unseated by his twin haunts him: the two creatures on either side of X LaRoue deFortune (one descending, one ascending), which is G-ivy or scorpio (mid-autumn), and the two horses in VII LeChariot, which is P-whitten or sagittary (late autumn). Yet this last portrays the antihero’s opportunity to tame his fears, harness them through poetic discipline or initiation, symbolized by the charioteer, which can be brought about by R’s return to its (deducible) original station libra, in the twelve-month calendar—the very bottom—where, acting as servant rather than ruler, it can presage the fear of being unseated which man need overcome, motivating the antihero—mortal man—to seek these greater mysteries. (R represents the sensual or sensory, which serves well but rules poorly.) And XVI LaMaisonDieu, which is S-willow and thus positioned in the middle of the waxing or heroic half of the year—directly opposite R’s corrected station—shows the fall of duality itself: the fear of duality, represented by the twin gods, is forcibly ousted from ‘God’s house’ by the fire or light of inspiration, leaving only Unity, the hero’s sense of purpose and destiny (Holy Spirit, ruach ha-kodesh).

The structure produced by the Trumps, once calendar-order is ‘refined’ according to some stipulations of the Hebrew Sefer Yetzirah (stemming from Merkavah tradition, the ‘Work of the Chariot’) yields the following landmarks on the central vertical axis: beneath I LeBateleur is XXI LeMonde, beneath which is XV LeDiable, while above I LeBateleur is VIII LaJustice (Law), the shattered illusion of which, XVI LaMaisonDieu, leads to the highest ideal, VI L’Amoureux (the Lover). This shows the two ruling ‘dispensations’, the earlier one of Law, and the later or higher one of Love. This, along with the presence of a Pope rather than the Jewish high priest, shows tarot to be a product of Christian gnosis, not Jewish. But it is Gnostic in the sense that it is based on pre-Christian alphabet-tradition, which orthodoxy would have had no use for. True gnosis, by the way, is not dualistic, for it shows the problem plaguing man to be the estrangement of duality from Unity in his thinking. By the time of its insertion into the Continent, British bardic tradition was ostensibly Christian, yet this aspect of it descended from the more contemplative form of Christianity originally prevailing with insular Kelts, not the Roman variety, and the bardic curriculum itself had survived in secular counterpoint to ecclesiastical learning.

To fully grasp the origins of tarot, then, we must draw on two traditions considered quite distinct today: bardic numbering and tree-letter symbolism for the Trumps, and Kabbalah’s ten Sefirot and four-letter Name for the Pip cards and Court cards. Yet it is inconceivable that these two traditions did not also meet and cross-fecundate in 12th-century Provence-Languedoc, which was where the first stirrings of Kabbalah proper actually occurred, clearly based in part on Merkavah yet embodying something new.

Concerning kinship of Hebrew and Keltic calendar-traditions, the two most striking links have to do with placement of letters. Sefer Yetzirah divides letters into three ‘mothers’ (A-S-M), seven ‘doubles’ (P-T-K-R-G-D-B), and twelve ‘simples’ (the rest, symbolizing signs of the zodiac). The bardic calendar itself groups all the doubles in the seven signs of the bottom half of the wheel of the year (summer-fall), interrupted only by M, but it turns out that M, being the only completely self-contained sound, represents omnipresent Light (“mm,” the sweetness of knowledge) and is thus only filling-in for R at its deserted proper post, at the bottom. M even has two forms: mem-sofit, its final form in Hebrew, is shaped like the box containing the Ark and thus represents the all-encompassing, while its intermediate form is shaped like a worshiper prostrating himself before it, relating to its calendar position libra (lowest point), hence its ‘leak’ or opening at the bottom. Their calendar positions conform to what Sefer Yetzirah stipulates: M (mem) is at the ‘belly’ or loins (straight down from aries-the-head), S (shin), at early spring, is at the ‘head’, and A (alef), the yuletide silver fir, is halfway between, that is, the ‘trunk’, the ‘bridge’ between S-head and M-belly. Alef turns out to stand for the zodiac of the seated torso, being its center.


The Vision of Ezechiel - Troyes, 1150-1200 Bible de Montiéramey. Troyes (Troyes, B.m., ms. 0028, t. I, f. 220, 28)


Enough of general argument: the most convincing argument is the tradition itself. Let us begin with its basic structure, the wheels of Ezekiel’s vision whence arise the Pip cards. For the vision of the wheels or Ofanim in Ezekiel, 1:1, is not the great unknowable mystery the rabbis, not knowing its meaning, claim it to be, else Ezekiel could not then have understood it himself.

Picture Adam Qadmon, the Anthropos, the (Platonic) Form ‘upright sentient being’, before any division into male and female. Kabbalah describes rays emanating from this Being’s forehead, and British bardic lore reveres the great name Taliesin (as poet-hero or god), which means ‘Radiant brow’. Now picture the uprightness of this Being emanating from the point atop Its head to which that uprightness tends: being oriented, or tending, upward, it follows that the uprightness located there, in order to include in itself the body whose uprightness it is, which is below it, must whirl or pivot about to include ‘down’ in its sweep, and of course return, and it must do this instantaneously but also perpetually if it is to remain a symbol. This generates the thirteen middot or divine attributes, which are the twelve signs of the round plus the first again upon the return to it. But these signs are not all mere points: ‘up’ and ‘down’ are points, but the direction straight ahead compasses an entire 360-degree horizon, while the direction straight back is the exact complement of this within. For forward ultimately means the outer horizon—wherever one’s eyes can reach—and back ultimately means one’s inner horizon, back from ‘other’ towards self—the direction of individual responsibility.

So the ‘wheel’ centered atop Adam Qadmon or Taliesin goes from up to out to down to in to up and constitutes two whole spheres, one compassing all that is without, one compassing all that is within. Now, picture Adam seated, as if to meditate. This generates a second wheel, essentially the same wheel except now centered atop seated Adam, that is, half the height of the first (in its ‘belly’), defining development of the second of four worlds in (the original) Kabbalah, the one called the Throne world (for obvious reasons). And just as this rests in the ‘belly’ of the first and stands half its height, in its ‘belly’ rests a third, again halved in height: the zodiac of the seated torso, centered about its heart or center. And in the ‘belly’ of the third, again halved in height, rests a fourth: the round of the womb. This fourth wheel is the womb of time and is called the physical world or present instant.


The reason it is the present instant is that the first wheel, which is all-encompassing, represents the eternal, and the fourth is at the other pole of things, where the present is. Plato (Republic, Book V, Chapter XIX) points out that there is that which abides (the eternal), that which both abides and abides not (has finite duration), and that which abides not (the fleeting present instant), and that of the first we may have knowledge, of the second belief or opinion, but of the third must remain ever ignorant (ere one can consider it, it is gone). This shows the conscious self consists of three distinguishable parts: a knower to deal with things eternal (truth, gnosis), a thinker to deal with things of finite duration (thoughts, karma), and a doer to act in the present instant, the instant of creation. The doer-creator, being completely ignorant of its ‘field’, can only act responsibly with the help of thinker and knower, that is, guided by what has durations extending through the present instant. The flaw in man—the cause of the Fall—is the doer’s failure to be guided by its thinker-knower, following the senses instead. For man has lost sight of the inner horizon and sees only the outer.

The three ‘mothers’ ultimately represent these three parts of the conscious self. They stand at the centers of, and represent, the first three wheels, those that have other wheels in their ‘bellies’. M-mem signifies the all-encompassing Monad or first wheel—the eternal, God the Father. S-shin signifies the second, the Throne world, which contains the cycling thoughts we create to mask the truth—the finitely durated, realm of God the Holy Spirit (ruach ha-kodesh). And A-alef is the third, the fallen doer-creator—God the Son—whose round surrounds the fourth, the present instant, because the doer deals with this in terms of what comes just before or just after it. The doer’s passive side, feeling, tries to perceive where the present instant came from, and its active side, desire, tries to direct where it will go to. (When the former is stronger, the body is female, when the latter, the body is male.) The fourth wheel—physical space—is dark because the womb is dark (the womb of time): this symbolizes the physical world because to the fetus it is. (In other words, it is ‘scalable’, as are the equations of plasma cosmology.)

These three mothers must be a slight alteration of the only three single-sound Egyptian hieroglyphs that were birds: ’ (alef) the eagle (Egyptian vulture), w the quail chick, and m the owl. For these spell out the Logos, the Word, AUM, the letters of which ultimately (whether Egyptians knew it or not) stand for the three parts of the self. This is the primary mantra of the East and is found in the Huna term for the High Self, au-makua—‘utterly trustworthy parental pair’—which can also be interpreted as AUM-akua, ‘AUM-being’. It is also spelt by the suffixes of the names of the three ruffians in the Masonic drama: Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum. Harold W. Percival, in Thinking and Destiny, explains that for man the Logos is pronounced IAUM: the full vowel spectrum from front to back (from smile to pucker) in a nasal tone, resolving in the “mm” of pure sweetness. The I stands for the physical body in which the self dwells, without which it tends to pull self out of the body (it has indeed pulled Tibetan Buddhism out of its body, Tibet). This suggests the name of the transcendent Dionysus, IAO, and Christ’s ‘I am the alpha and the omega’: the vowels I-A-U as bardic symbols invoke (in order) the colors black-white-red, which are the three stages of alchemy, Nigredo-Albedo-Rubedo. For I is the vowel of ‘old moon’ winter, A of the new moon or birth of the year, and U of the full moon and summer.


More than one source in Barddas spoke of ten original principles that were kept secret (in insular Keltic bardic lore). Even in the Huna system elucidated by Max Freedom Long, there are the ten ‘elements’: a High, Middle, and Low Self, each self’s mana or vital force, each self’s aka or shadowy body, plus the physical body itself. These ten define the greater self or individual, and so do the ten Sefirot in Kabbalah. These last were originally (i.e. are actually) the first ten of the thirteen middot (divine attributes), with respect to the round. They show how far one has progressed about the round to have become a conscious self in the first place, having emanated from Unity or ‘up’ and come as far as straight back or ‘in’, the direction of self-knowledge. This last is referred to as the Shekhinah, the divine Presence, because it is an individual capable of reflecting on the Whole.

The Bahir (first appearing between 1150 and 1200 in Provence) describes these original emanations, calling the first Crown since it is uprightness resident in the crown of Adam’s head, the second Wisdom because as departure about the round it is the wisdom to return, the third Wisdom’s or Torah’s treasury or storehouse because it begins the triad pointing down (that of water originally, of what flows down from on high), the fourth Lovingkindness because it points straight out towards other, fifth the Great Fire because it completes the first side of the fire triad (its quality Severity or Judgment stemming from its being a veering-away from Lovingkindness). Ninth and tenth are both called Victories or Endurances, because they represent the two parts of the self not involved in the Fall: ninth is the thinker, the approach to self-knowledge, and tenth is the knower, self-knowledge itself. Sixth is called divine Throne because it is the approach to straight down, seventh the Holy Palace because it IS straight down, the direction of self’s ‘palace’ or body. Eighth, of central importance to Judaism, is called Foundation (of the work or opus), also the Righteous (Tzaddik): it is linked to the Covenant or eighth day.

In the other three worlds, these ten Sefirot leave a mark that is characterized by further subdivision. The second or Throne world introduces a dichotomous structure, as reflected in the description of Sefirot in Sefer Yetzirah, where they are emanated as five pairs of opposites: first-last, good-bad, up-down, east-west, and south-north. The relation of these to the round is slightly involved, but their dichotomous structure is obvious. The third world, that of the doer-creator, introduces a triadic structure: it is the Tree of Sefirot as usually diagrammed, as three triads with a tenth suspended below. These actually show the descent of man’s form (being the world of Formation) from Adam Qadmon: first by division into 2 and 3, primordial male and female, then by altering these to 4 and 5 to unite outwardly (the test was to reunite inwardly, being desire and feeling, parts of the same being) to produce (neutral) offspring 6, then by further degeneration of type to 7 and 8, where they unite out of lust and produce the un-agreed-upon or dual offspring 9 and 10: nine months of gestation (or fear thereof), originating more from the female, and the ten grasping digits of lust itself, originating more from the male. Yet their original signification as signs of the round remain reflected in their names: Kingdom, for instance, the tenth, can be interpreted as the Kingdom of Heaven, meaning the tenth sign as self-knowledge, but it also recalls the petty Sovereignty sought by lust, in which self-knowledge gets lost in the temporal maelstrom.

The fourth world—the present instant or physical universe—consists of planetary cycles spanning the physico-temporal gap between eternity—omnipresent fire or mass-energy—and today—the diurnal cycle, representing the present: Prime Mover, great year (precession, but viewed as the stellar heavens revolving in a forward sense about the zodiac of signs), Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the year, Venus, Mercury, the month, and the day. (Three outer planets, unmanifest to the eye, also enter into the logical structure and in reality are mere counterweights, since with respect to the central frame of the solar system they are retrograde.) The sun is often mistakenly associated merely with the year but in actuality rules the stellar heavens that revolve about the zodiac every 26,000 years or so: it is the relationship between the year or ecliptic and the day or equator. That the sun should be associated primarily with the second Sefirah, not the sixth, is reinforced by the pattern of exaltation of planets in signs of the zodiac in astrology, for then the sexual pairs of the third world, 2-3, 4-5, and 7-8, are three pairs of opposite signs: sun-gold-up-aries versus Saturn-lead-down-libra, a Jupiter and Mars at the culmination of their respective halves of the year, cancer and capricorn—the former the heroic or celestial, the latter the satirical or barbed—and Venus-Mercury at pisces-virgo. Venus (feminine beauty) represents that after which the male lusts, Mercury (connectedness with celestial power, as Jupiter’s messenger) that after which the female lusts.

It is easy to see the relation of suits to worlds. Batons constitute the spokes of the original or first wheel: being the only suit symbol that is combustible, they are fire, the first element. Swords split the air, reminding us that the second world (that of air or life) not only divides things into pairs of Sefirot but splits each Sefirah in two as well (see second-to-last paragraph of section on the Great Name). Cups hold water and water corresponds to form, hence the world of neuter, male, and female: the world of life-forms. That it is the suit of the Grail means that it is the doer that is the object of the work, the subject of the quest. And Coins are the rounds or cycles of physical, temporal reality.


The phonetic structure behind letters is tacked onto the above map of reality. Specifically, the three mothers represent the first three wheels, the seven doubles the seven signs on the lower or manifested half of the surroundings or second wheel—from outer horizon to inner horizon—which we shall call the Cauldron, and the twelve simples the twelve signs of the zodiac of the torso or third wheel sitting within the second, which we shall call the Egg. The upper half of the surroundings is transparent, unmanifested sky, and even the heavenly bodies in it show us only their lower halves. This is the origin, of course, of the Orphic world-egg, with its upper half sky: Orpheus the poet was the patron of the bardic mysteries in their pre-Homeric (and post-Homeric) Greek guise, which enabled Greeks to restore vowel force to the bardic vowels, which had been consonantized in Egyptian, Phoenician, and later Libyan—probably to wriggle around the taboo that denied ogam consaine the use of its vowels.

The key to the phonetic structure—which is of charming simplicity—is to envision the Egg as the tongue sitting in the mouth formed by the Cauldron as one incants to the heavens. The Cauldron, since it is a discontinuous half-circle or half-wheel, harbors the discontinuous stops—the doubles—which include rolled R as repeated stop. The twelve simples were all originally continuous sounds save qof or Q at virgo, which represents our stopping each time round in the womb to await rebirth. This, the interrogative consonant, is a continuous sound w (pronounced v) or hw (our ‘wh’) in Germanic, but it is apparent that Q (Kk) replaces A-alef in the natural vowel-sequence and represents stoppage of breath in the womb (where one depends, rather, on the mother’s breath). In Hebrew, bardic vowels having been consonantized, the twelve simples are not all continuous sounds, but we are speaking here of origins.

The Cauldron originally had (very simply) B-P on the rim or lip, G-K and guttural R down at the bottom or gullet, and D-T in the region between: P-T-K-R-G-D-B, voiced towards inner horizon, unvoiced towards outer. But in calendar-order, D and P have switched places, indicating that D, thinking or sagitarry, is no longer that which leads to self-knowledge but rather thinking that concerns outward things, generated by the fallen doer-creator and leading to its further restriction or karma. The Egg’s top five signs in pagan tradition are L-N-F-S-H, which go out the tongue voiced and back unvoiced, except that F (which could be voiced or unvoiced) is out beyond the tongue to signify the Corn Spirit (its shape in runic) sprouting out beyond the tongue or seed. In Hebrew this sign (aries) is samekh, and the sounds stay on the tongue, the simples of the top five signs being lamedh-nun-samekh-tzaddi-cheyt. The vowels, then, array themselves across the bottom or tongue-root beginning with U (“oo”), the pouted lips about to partake of the nipple offered by other (to suckle), and ending with I (“ee”), the smug smile of self-satisfaction: U-O-A-Aa-E-I-Ii, except that A—mother letter alef—has been replaced by Q at virgo, so that it can occupy the center. These, then, are the simples vav-ayin-qof-teyt-heh-zayin-yod. Zeta (zayin) is the initial of Zeus because it is the corrosion of D by I or Y: it is a little like our J, originally vowel but become consonantized by usage. This leaves teyt to be Aa, and indeed once this is determined it is wondrous to note, by way of corroboration, that both letters thus ending up at libra, intermediate mem and teyt, look like our legs folded under us while meditating.


The months of the waning year, skipping R, are numbered 12-11-9-6-10-7-5-(6, returning to the center-post M owns), whose differences are 1-2-3-4-3-2-1: this identifies the four levels or horizontals of the Cauldron with the four elements, since their natural order, fire-air-water-earth, associates them with the first four numbers. The best place to illustrate this is in the context of the Trumps, below. The rest of the numbers appear somewhat haphazardly strewn at first, as the simples go (starting with samekh) 8-20-0-17-4-18-21-2-3-19-14-13 in bardic numeration. Yet this sequence turns out to be of amazing significance once one associates the bardic numbers with atomic numbers and thus with the atom-types these define. Now this can be interpreted as just the primal efficacy of the vision that produced the structure, else we can (as I do) presume the tradition to have been handed down from such extreme antiquity as to descend from the last civilization that occurred on earth’s surface (I would hardly call what we have reached so far a civilization), before such things as atomic numbers were forgotten and had to be painstakingly rediscovered.

One reason I opt for the latter interpretation is that in addition to just according with atom-types, the distribution of numbers (in part utilizing arcs leading to and from signs) carefully marks off valence-by-height (alef’s hydrogen being unit-measure, at +1/-1 valence) and indicates through shared valences the seven columns of planetary metals in the alchemical vessel—which determine planetary rulership in astrology. And it even presages how modern particle physics has shown matter to consist of four elementary types: fire-photons, air-leptons, water-mesons, and earth-baryons. This perhaps I should at least outline before we dive into the Trumps, as it is essentially structural. So is some of the alchemical-chemical content, but this also can be viewed through individual Trumps, most of which seem actually to picture how the atom-types affect man today.

The number at the top is 8-oxyen, the principle behind combustion and thus involved in production of photons of light: these are ‘spin one’ and electrically neutral, the former indicated by height off the ground (at aries), the latter by its being on the center-post, neither to right nor to left. The number at the bottom is 21-scandium, the largest atom-type involved and thus indicative of the pi-meson, quantum of the strong force binding nucleons together to make nuclei: pi-mesons are ‘spin zero’ and come in all charges, averaging neutral therefore and thus on the center-post, but at the bottom (zero spin). The numbers at the left-most and right-most (outermost and innermost) signs, 17-chlorine and 19-potassium, are minus-one and plus-one valence electron respectively, suggesting proton and electron and standing for baryon and lepton, respectively: since in ordinary matter these are the prime baryon and lepton and are joined mainly by the neutral neutron and neutrino, respectively, they average out opposite in charge. Thus as ‘spin one-half’ and opposite in charge, they are perched halfway up the Egg (even in height with alef) and equidistant from the center-post on opposite sides.

What makes the above pattern even more remarkable is that the two that are gathered together on the center-post—photon and meson—are bosons, meaning quanta or measures of forces between particles, and these like to gather in the same energy state (thus making possible, for example, the laser), while the two off to the sides are fermions, meaning actual particles of matter, and these insist on distinct energy states (the Pauli exclusion principle). This somewhat weighs things against the pattern being mere serendipity.

The two indicating fermions, which form the salt potassium-chloride that holds fluids within cells, manifest a fundamental polarity between the two numbers directly below them on the Cauldron, 10-neon and 9-fluorine: these are numerical +1 and -1 valence, respectively (by numerical, I mean effect on digital sums), each a zero (either inert, or having no effect on digital sums) where the other is non-zero. Their ‘proxies’ on the Egg, then, express these two opposed principles in common terms, that is, change the zero part of each to conform to its non-zero part: 19 is +1 valence to match its being +1 numerically—its digits add to 10 and thus add 1 to any digital sum—while 17 is -1 numerically—its digits add to 8, which subtracts 1 from any digital sum (taking number as a continuous wheel)—to match its being -1 valence. When one stops to consider that 19 and 17 here are yod and vav, one begins to glimpse power in the Name: it expresses tension or imbalance between inner and outer horizon, producing results in the outer and, in context of the tikkun or ‘restoration’ (Lurianic Kabbalah), also in the inner.

Finally, the levels of the three mothers in the above scheme appear to identify three distinct unit-levels. A-1-hydrogen is +1/-1 in valence and defines a unit of valence, which, since a valence-electron is ‘spin one-half’, indicates half a unit of spin. S-16-sulfur as -2 in valence (like oxygen) marks the level of the ‘spin one’ photon, thus measuring off one unit of ‘spin’ (angular momentum), which is also called (in physics) a unit of action. And M-6-carbon is +4/-4 in valence and would mark the level of the ‘spin two’ graviton, if such were more than a figment of physicists’ imagination: it is four units of valence, two units of ‘spin’, but one unit of life, since carbon forms the carbon chains that are the basis of all organic matter.


I guess it is imperative to explain these also, ere we meet Mr. Trumps. Taking equinoxes as the vertical axis and connecting the two vertical pairs of points in each half thus delineated creates six vertical sections of the round. These, with the center-post itself, are the seven pillars, and by a process of inversion (recoiling from the original stations of the round to mark the point opposite) and twisting (the effect of time, of temporal cycling about) these get stamped with the numbers 3-4-5-6-7-8-9, beginning with the innermost and ending with the outermost. These represent, in the fourth or physical world, the planets-and-metals Saturn-lead, Jupiter-tin, Mars-iron, the year, Venus-copper, Mercury-quicksilver, and luna-silver, respectively: a sign is ruled by the column the round passes through to arrive at it, the lower half of luna’s column having been handed over to sol or gold (as if reflected in silver’s mirror). (Nature’s general concordance with all this is shown in the fact that 10-neon’s cycle is diurnal, 6-carbon’s annual, and 2-helium’s, being tied to the half-life of radioactive nuclei, is similar in order of magnitude to that of the precession.)

Now the simples are said (in Sefer Yetzirah) to be the months (arcs) that begin in the signs they represent. When this is coupled with the seven pillars, three have arcs above and below (hereafter called ‘roof’ and ‘floor’) that agree in valence. Moreover, the sweep of the Cauldron’s radius on its approach to each double—except the first, D, where it is the sweep on from the sign that counts—agrees in valence with the part of the Egg it intersects in the second half of said sweep in four out of six cases (excluding R for a moment). The ingenious pattern which gradually reveals itself is one in which the distribution of numbers stamps the four odd-numbered pillars with the valences of their associated NUMBERS (3-5-7-9), the 4 and 8 columns (number sequence symbolizing increase) with the valences of their associated METALS (tin and mercury), and the 6 column, simply, with 6: M is both capital and base of the center-post of the Throne world and thus determines the center-post of the Egg. The valences of 3-4-5-6-7-8-9 are +1, +2, +3, +4/-4, -3, -2, -1 and span the distance from inert 2-helium to inert 10-neon: these two (month and radius sweeping it) agree and forming the floor of 4’s or tin’s column, whose roof carries tin’s +4/-4 valence (L-14-silicon), as befits a sky god.

The details are these. Roof and floor agree in valence in the case of 3 and 5, the latter’s roof swept by the radius approaching B-5-boron: this stands for the pillar Boaz and the 3 column for the pillar Jachin, said to flank the facade of Solomon’s Temple, I-3-yew and B-5-birch being the only two tree-letters to retain their tree-names in runic. The 7 column is fixed at 7’s valence by P and R at their original stations (outer horizon and straight down): the Cauldron’s radius sweeps 7’s roof as it departs P-7 and 7’s floor as it arrives at R-15 (both are 7’s -3 valence). The 9 column’s valence is defined by its floor, vav-17-chlorine, and the fact that both its floor and roof—which is space or no-thing—are swept by the Cauldron radius’s approach to kaf-9-fluorine (both are halogens). The 4 column has a roof of its metal’s valence, as I said, while in 8’s column both floor and roof are of mercury’s +2 valence—ayin-4-beryllium and tzaddi-20-calcium—as is the D-12-magnesium in the second half of departing from which the Cauldron’s radius sweeps 8’s roof (taking D as outer horizon, that is).

Now for the coup de grace, proving the pattern to conform to genuine metallurgical principles well known to the alchemists (and by the way, Lewis Spence has suggested there was a native Keltic alchemy, that of the pferrylt). Quicksilver’s column having been determined by its valence as a metal, this column’s number, 8, expands its realm according to the metal’s natural volatility. For by bardic numbering, 8 is the month preceding its column’s roof, meaning samekh (or F) at aries, while by Hebrew numbering, 8 is the month following said roof, meaning cheyt (H) at gemini: these show mercury’s poisonous vapors rising up to engulf the whole upper half of the outer vessel—front half of the round, extending out from the body’s axis, as opposed to the back half, extending ‘into’ that axis (in the sense of the centrifuge)—thereby cutting off copper’s and silver’s columns halfway. This, by the way, takes mercury the rest of the way up to its proper valence-height (marked by D’s station) and cuts off the two other columns at their metals’ proper valence-height as well. This rising up of mercury’s poisonous vapors is of course what necessitates the closed vessel represented by the round in the first place (lest the alchemist go ‘belly up’).

What of the three middot, or divine attributes, beyond the point to which a conscious self has progressed: does anything set these apart? Absolutely: the last two signs and return to the first—the arcs leading TO which form the last quarter-circle, the part of the round oriented to us, if we stand back from it a bit, as would be the hill-slope standing before us—happen to be the three most common atom-types in earth’s crust. At the top or chief position is the most common one, oxygen, and at the other macrocosmic sign of the three, aquarius, is the next most common one, silicon: together these form silica or quartz. In between, at pisces, is the only metalic one of the three, the third most common one, aluminum.

The next page about the Bardic origin of Tarot deals with The Trumps of the Consonants