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The Magus

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Understanding Tarot – The Magician 1

By James Donahue

The first tarot card in the deck, right behind The Fool, is The Magician. He also is known as the Magus. His number is one, which also appears as “I.” This is significant. The card deals with our ability to personally use our minds to tap into the spiritual forces and the light that surround us and use it to cause events to turn out in the way we desire.

As the Fool begins his journey through life, then, the first important lesson for him to learn is how to transform his consciousness and reach a mental state of Initiation. The significance of the number one is geometrically symbolized to represent personal concentration and attention. We much learn how to do this before we can perform the Great Work

The word “magican” or “magi” stems from the Greek word “magos,” a word influenced by the ancient Greek word “go’es,” which meant a practitioner of astrology, alchemy and other magic wisdoms. The reference in the Gospel of Matthew to the “wise men from the East,” or “magi” was a reference to Eastern culture and its link to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

As you examine the Magician card, think of the story as it unfolds. The moment he encounters The Fool, the Magician receives the sack, or pouch attached to the end of the staff and opens it, exposing the sword, the cup and pinnacle, which are spread before him on his workbench, or table. Then he receives the Fool’s staff, or wand, and raises it over his head, thus inviting spiritual forces into the scene. The four items represent the four elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

Notice that these are the four elements used in the Minor Arcana.

As he looks on, The Fool has a vision of all the possibilities for his future, all of the directions he may elect to take. As one document expressed it: the choices include “the cool, airy Sword of intellect and communication, the fiery Wand of spirituality and ambition, the overflowing Chalice of Love and emotions, and the solid Pentacle of work, possessions and body.”

But beware: The Magician is represented by Mercury, who in turn is remembered for his gift of tongues. He might appear as a true physician or merely a snake oil salesman. He is clever with the “slight-of-hand.” In French, the Magician is called “Le Bateleur,” or “mounteback,” the practitioner of stage magic.

Once esoteric practitioners began designing the decks, the artists changed mountebank into a magus. They turned the curves of the magician’s hat brim into the Marseilles image for the mathematical sign of infinity. And there is appears on the contemporary card, hanging like a halo directly over the Magician’s head.

The infinity symbol also is seen as the mysterious sign of the Holy Spirit, the sign of life, like an endless cord going on forever. Around the Magician’s waist is not a belt, but rather the ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail. This is yet another ancient symbol of eternity, transmutation or transformation.

That The Magician stands with his right arm and wand pointing upward, and his left arm and hand pointing to the earth also is a significant message. He is, in effect, laying out the rule of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.”

Science has proven that there is a pattern to everything in the universe, from the smallest atom to the most distant galaxy. Everything is in motion. There is a center around which smaller objects are circling. Nothing is constant. What we perceive to be reality is only a trick of the mind.

The garden both overhead and in the foreground represents the subconscious mind. Like a real garden of plants and flowers that we see daily, we barely notice its beauty because our attention is directed to The Magician and what he is doing.

The Mind of James Donahue