Meditations on the Tarot; Chapter III, The Empress

The third chapter of Meditations on the Tarot interprets the third major arcana, The Empress, as signifying magic; or, more specifically, “sacred magic”. This he differentiates from “personal magic” and “sorcery”; the first coming from the divine, the second from the person, the third from “elemental forces”. He defines magic with the statement the subtle rules the dense. [Compare with Crowley’s definition, the science and art of causing change to occur in accordance with will, to see the difference between the author’s “sacred magic” and Crowley’s “personal magic”.] She has her tools, as any good magician. The crown, scepter, and shield she bears are her divine authorization, magical power, and aim, respectively. The throne has a place as well, per the book, as the role of magic in the world.

There are obvious parallels to be drawn between the tiara of the High Priestess and the crown of the Empress. The author surmises that the two level crown signifies that the work of magic is done on two levels rather than three, meaning the “sublimation of Nature” rather than the “revelation of Gnosis”. This crown grants the moral basis for her work, as practicing the only legitimate form of magic [for the author, arguing from a Christian perspective], that same type practiced by the apostles. Rather than a book, there is the image of an eagle, to signify activity, or rather “the accelerated evolution of the living forces of Nature.” The scepter contains with it the power to make the operation work.

Here we could get into one of those endless, and excellent, debates on the finer points of magical symbolism in specific imagery. The author points out that the scepter contains, within its design, both a wand (staff) and a chalice; symbolizing the Divine Will turned earthwards, and human will turned to Heaven. Through the eyes of a ceremonial magician, this is clearly the wand and cup used to symbolize fire and water, also “will and feeling”, or whatever else the magician sees fit. So does that make the crown the knife? Being on the head one could surely make the argument that it represents the sword, or the intellect, and certainly has enough pointy little blades on it to bring the metaphor home. Is the shield the pentacle, then, representing the element of earth and manifestation? The author doesn’t make those connections directly, so this case is my own.

The magician symbolized by the Empress is, for the author, practicing what may be more precisely defined as theurgy than magic in the modern, Western Occult fashion. The magic of a miracle worker or saint, who has given his or her will to merge with the Will of the Divine (but while still maintaining free will) and thus becomes a vehicle for the power of such. Thusly, the scepter is complete.

So if the crown is the sword, the scepter both wand and cup, and the shield the pentacle, what is the throne? Here you see the mistake I am making already, that one can so easily throw the tools of the ceremonial magician over the author’s Christian Hermetic view of the imagery of the card. [Although I would argue for them being there when looked at from a different perspective.] The throne is the thing transformed by the magic, Nature itself, the very “domain of sacred magic”. [I wonder, as tarot students, do we give enough thought to the thrones in the tarot? For they are literally and metaphorically “seats of power”.] Here, for the author, the throne of the Empress is the Tree of Life, guarded by the flaming sword of the cherubim against those who would, of their own will, reach out and take its fruit. Rather, the sacred magician waits to receive the fruit of the tree, and through this reception, is able to participate in the Great Work.

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