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by Dirk Gillabel
As a seeker I have always asked questions about life, and looked for answers. I have studied religions, myths, psychology, occultism, and esoteric subjects. I have also discovered the richness of the inner world. In this way I became familiar with Tarot.
My hermetic background ( "hermetic" as used in the European tradition; the Greek root word "herme" signifies prop, support) gave me a deeper understanding of the Tarot cards. I soon left the traditional interpretation of the cards as explained in many tarot books. I began to ask questions. Why does the Major Arcana have 22 cards? What name would the 18th card have if the Earth had no moon? What names would the cards have in other cultures? During my search, it become more and more clear that the traditional cards of the Major Arcana were only masks. Underneath, there is a coherent system of knowledge.
The essence of the Major Arcana as a whole is the genesis of both mankind and every individual person. The Greek word genesis means "the origin of becoming"; the root word nesis means "to weave". Thus, genesis means "the weaving of life". Each card represents a well-defined stage in the process of becoming. Each card is linked to the preceeding card and the following one. Each has its place in a well defined structure.
One day, I suddenly felt a strange impulse to go through the masks in order to discover the essence of each card. By meditation and introspection I plunged into each card and looked for this very essence, the nucleus, the origin of the archetypes. Thus my first deck was created, the Medicator Tarot. The ideas I found were universal in nature; they could be understood by every culture. They could be found in all religions, myths and esoteric doctrines. This made it clear that the traditional images and names of the Tarot are extensions of, and in perfect agreement with, the original meaning. It also explains the proper placement of each card.
One can look at the Major Arcana has having eighteen essential cards or steps in evolution, with two additional cards ( the Fool, and 19-20-21 as one concept or card) that stand outside this evolution. The primary eighteen cards show how man arises and develops, matures and becomes enlightened. The movement of one to eighteen is a circular movement. Everything in the universe moves in circles.
We start with the Fool, card 0. Zero is actually not a number, it is a concept. It represents Emptiness, out of which man comes. Here, man is in his divine essence, pure and innocent. Once he leaves this Divine Kingdom, he enters into the substantial universe, the universe of matter, both the gross and the subtle. This is called involution, descending through the different substantial realms to finally arrive at the gross physical world we presently live in. This happens in cards one to nine. At card nine he is a full grown, physical human being. The he starts the ascent, his evolution. Again nine cards in legnth, up to card 18. Here he has completed the circle of his human manifestation in the universe. Everything moves in circles (the Greek word universe means one turn). Card 18 is the Moon, which traditionally was a symbol for cycles. At card 18 he leaves the substantial universe, and crosses over to the Divine Realm. He has become an enlightened being, he himself has Become a Sun (card 19). When we look at 19, The Sun, 20, Judgement,and 21,The World, we see that they all imply the same meaning as card 19.
The cycle of involution through the first nine cards and evolution through the next nine cards, thus constituting 18 cards, is based on my discovery that the the ancients considered the numbers 18 and 19 as a crossing point. They represent a crossing over from the Darkness (the number 18 was associated with the Moon) into the Light (19 was the number of the Sun). Also, the ancients believed in a total of nine Worlds (the term World should be regarded more in the sense of states of consciousness than in physical places). The soul travelled down the nine worlds to its present physical condition, and then had to go up through the nine worlds again before entering the Kingdom of Light.
These concepts led to the creation of my first Tarot deck, the Medicator tarot. It contains a booklet that explains the genesis structure in more depth. I consider this structure to be the essence of the Major Arcana. It does not contradict any of the traditional representations of the cards. On the contrary, the traditional images are in total accordance with it. At the time of their creation they were chosen from the European culture.
The oldest tarot cards date from mid 15th century Italy. These were not well ordered. Later on the French occult tradition took over the Tarot cards and assembled them in a well-defined structure and thus the Tarot de Marseilles appeared, on which all the subsequent tarot decks are based. One may wonder why suddenly every new Tarot deck after the Tarot de Marseilles had the same order. It is my opinion that the French occultists created the Tarot de Marseilles to communicate their esoteric doctrines. I believe they primarily used numerology, and put the cards in a particular, progressive order.
Other people have found other structures in the Major Arcana. That is not a problem to me. The Tarot lends itself to many structures, to many opinions, to many ideas. Remember, the cards are just cards. When we look at the tarot we are actually looking into ourselves, into our own mind. The mind has unlimited potentials.