The Minor Arcana: The World of Action

“The ‘worlds’ or ‘spheres’ of pentacles (coins), swords, cups and wands correspond to the degrees of the traditional way of preparation, purification (purgatio, καθαρσις), illumination (illuminatio, φωτισμος) and perfection (perfectio, unio mystica, τα τελη) … These are the things which can serve as a key to the Minor Arcana of the Tarot, for your work, dear Unknown Friend, on these Arcana.”

Our Unknown Friend identifies the Ten Commandments as being much more than a moral code for life. For him, and for us, they should “signify… the hygiene, the method and the conditions of fructification of the spiritual life”.

The first four commandments, we read, designate spiritual practice, whilst the proceeding six form the base on which our practice is built. We might liken this schema to the growth of a plant, where the leafed stem rises upwards towards a flowering bud. The climbing foundations of the stem and leaves supportthe burgeoning bud in the process of blooming. The stem and bud, however, exist as one organism: for no practice could flourish if one has no sense of inner culture, and the cultivation itself should be a natural continuation of our practice.

Now, the world of pentacles – or coins – corresponds to the degree of preparation for our journey on the way. The way being that of psychurgical practice, which is the transformation of consciousness as it rises ‘upwards’ towards the Divine. In the Meditations on the Tarot we read the following concerning this world of pentacles:

This is the world of the imagery of facts, intellectual constructions and imagined ideals. Here consciousness surrounds itself with a world of images – on the one hand the memories of experiences, and on the other hand the formulae and schemes of the intellect, as well as those of moral imagination, which latter we call “ideals”. This world of images is neither reality nor illusion. It consists of values / images corresponding to reality and which are therefore “convertible” into reality; for this reason coins are its symbol. For just as pieces of money are not themselves board, heating and lodging but can be converted into board, heating and lodging, so do memory images and the formulae and schemes of the intellect and moral imagination represent realities – being “worths” that may be converted into reality.

So it appears that this world of pentacles – the world where most of us spend the entirety of our lives – is one of half-truths: a mixture of both truth and illusion. The process of preparation that is the beginning of the spiritual life is that of creating the inner culture necessary to discern truth from illusion. As Christ has told us in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “…and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” But to cleanse the floor we must first recognise it as being dirty.

Towards this end the practices taught by the late Father Thomas Keating of the modern Centering Prayer movement have been indispensable. For further encouragement and reflection on the contemplative path I would also recommend The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling. Also, for the readers own reflection, we offer the ten numbered cards belonging to the suit of coins. Attached to these cards we have the ten commandments and the exegesis given by our Unknown Friend in Letter XI of his Meditations.

The World of Pentacles or Coins: Preparation


Keter (Crown)

 Surrender to the Living God – Thou shalt have no others gods before me

Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. – Matthew xx 37

“In fact, mysticism is the awakening of the soul to the reality of the presence of God.
This awakening is possible only towards the living God, only towards the divine Person,
whereas pantheism offers only the perspective of letting oneself be lulled by the undulation of the ocean of deified Nature, and atheism offers only nothingness.”

Hokhmah (Wisdom)

Non-substitution of products of the human mind, or those of nature,
for the reality of the Living God – Thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image, or any likeness

The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. – Matthew iv 10

“Gnosis is what reflected consciousness apprehends of mystical experience and revelation from above. The fundamental law of gnosis is not to substitute imagery drawn from the human mind, or from Nature, for divine intuition.”

Binah (Intelligence or Understanding)

Activity in the name of God without making use of his name in order to adorn oneself with it – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God. – Matthew iv 33-34

“Magic is the bringing into play of that which consciousness has received from mysticism and gnosis. Now, the fundamental law of sacred magic is to act in and through the name of the Divine,
whilst guarding against making the name of the Divine an instrument of one’s own will.”

Hesod (Majesty or Kindness or Mercy)

Practice of meditation – Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy

And he said to them: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath also. – Mark ii 27-28

“Hermeticism is the life of thought within the whole organism of mysticism, gnosis and magic. Its fundamental law is meditation, i.e. the practice of “remembering the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Meditation is “sanctified rest”, where thought is turned towards that which is above. ”

Gevurah (Power or Judgement or Strength)

Continuity of effort and experience – Honour thy father and thy mother

“In truth, in order to advance one has to learn. In order to learn, one has to appreciate the experience of the past and one has to continue it. All progress presupposes continuity-coherence between the past, present and future. This is stated by the fifth commandment: Honour thy father and thy mother.”

Tipheret (Beauty or Compassion)

Constructive attitude – Thou shalt not kill

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. – Matthew x 21-22

“There only is real progress within a living tradition. For life – spiritual as well as biological – is always tradition, i.e. continuity. Therefore, one has to abstain from all action that breaks continuity, cutting the current of life. It is the fundamental law of a constructive attitude, which is essential in spiritual life, that is stated by the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill”

Netsah (Victory or Eternity)

Faithfulness to the alliance – Thou shalt not commit adultery

“Continuity – or tradition and life – implies faithfulness to the cause that is espoused,
to the direction taken, to the ideal that one has as a guide, and to all alliances with entities above and with human beings below, for the sake of the continuity of life. This is what is stated by the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Hod (Splendor)

Renunciation of the desire to accept merit which is neither the fruit of one’s own work nor the gift of grace – Thou shalt not steal

“The commandment: Thou shalt not steal is still of fundamental importance for the spiritual life. Every school of authentic spirituality owes its continuation to the commandment which preserves its authenticity and which, for the spiritual domain, comes down to a fundamental rule of agricultural labor: you will harvest only after having tilled the earth, only after having sown, and only after having waited for the time when the fruit will be ripe for harvesting. All “tricks” of a technical nature, having as their aim the dispensing with the effort and sacrifice required for normal spiritual growth and development, thus fall under the heading of sinning against the eighth commandment.”

Yesod (Foundation)

Renunciation of an accusatory role towards others – Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor

Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. – Matthew iv 33

Malkut (Kingdom)

Respectful consideration for the private and personal life of others – Thou shalt not covert thy neighbors house

For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. – Matthew vi 21

“These two commandments relate to the spirit of non-rivalry, which manifests itself either as negative criticism or as envy. This means to say that every spiritual movement, every spiritual tradition, every school of spirituality, and every disciple or so-called “master” of a school of spiritual life, should in no way be motivated by a spirit of rivalry, but rather by love for the cause and ideal.”

April 9, 2019  Leave a comment

The Major Arcana and Psalm CXVIII

Represented by the letters of the Hebraic alphabet, the twenty-two Major Numbers are known in the Christian Tradition, where they are not associated with images but are systematically revealed in King David’s Psalm CXVIII –  Gnosis Volume III: Esoteric Cycle, Boris Mouravieff.

Now Christian Hermeticism also associates the twenty-two Major Numbers with the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot. It may be fruitful to meditate on the Major Arcana as they correspond and are revealed in King David’s Psalm CXVIII. Saint John of Kronstadt Press publish an English translation of Saint Theophan the Recluse’s commentary on the Psalm, available here.

Concerning Mouravieff’s thoughts on the Psalm, I post them here for others consideration. Taken from Gnosis Volume III, we read:

The problem of absolute Knowledge is raised from time to time in writings dealing with esoteric questions or concerned with man’s possibilities of attaining it. Apart from the Gospel, which attributes this Knowledge to Jesus and through Him to His Disciples, we may find a few careful allusions here and there in the Philokalia and in certain other early writings. Yet the specialized literature does not tackle the problem directly, but only gives vague hints about a few people belonging to the ancient world who are supposed to have possessed this kind of Knowledge. Hermes Trismegistus, Pythagoras, Plato and certain others are named in this context, but the student is not offered any practical means that could lead him to a solution of the problem. Hardly any mention is made of King David or his 118th Psalm, which contains a concise yet precise expose of the question; to our knowledge, only one authorized commentary exists on this Psalm: it is by Theophan the Recluse, whose writings we have quoted more than once.


I: The Magician


Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.

For they that work with iniquity, have not walked in his ways.

Thou hast commanded thy commandments to be kept most diligently.

O! that my ways may be directed to keep thy justifications.

Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all thy commandments.

I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgements of thy justice.

I will keep thy justifications: O! do not thou utterly forsake me.

II: The High Priestess


By what doth a young man correct his way? by observing thy words.

With my whole heart have I sought after thee: let me not stray from thy commandments.

Thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.

Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications.

With my lips I have pronounced all the judgements of thy mouth.

I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches.

I will meditate on thy commandments: and I will consider thy ways.

I will think of thy justifications: I will not forget thy words.

III: The Empress


Give bountifully to thy servant, enliven me: and I shall keep thy words.

Open thou my eyes: and I will consider the wonderous things of thy law.

I am a sojourner on the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.

My soul hath coveted to long for thy justifications, at all times.

Thou hast rebuked the proud: they are cursed who decline from thy commandments.

Remove me from reproach and contempt: because I have sought after thy testimonies.

For princes sat, and spoke against me: but thy servant was employed in thy justifications.

For thy testimonies are my meditation: and thy justifications my counsel.

IV: The Emperor


My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken thou me according to thy word.

I have declared my ways, and thou hast heared me: teach me thy justifications: and I shall be exercised in thy wondrous works.

My soul hath slumbered through heaviness: strengthen thou me in thy words.

Remove me from the way of iniquity: and out of thy law have mercy on me.

I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgements I have not forgotten.

I have stuck to thy testimonies, O Lord: put me not to shame.

I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart.

V: The Pope


Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it.

Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart.

Lead me into the path of thy commandments; for this same I have desired.

Incline my heart into thy testimonies and not to covetousness.

Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity: quicken me in thy way.

Establish thy word to thy servant, in thy fear.

Turn away my reproach, which I have apprehended: for thy judgements are delightful.

Behold I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy justice.

VI: The Lover


Let thy mercy also come upon me, O Lord: thy salvation according to thy word.

So shall I answer them that reproach me in any thing; that I have trusted in thy words.

And take not thou the word of truth utterly out of my mouth: for in thy words, I have hoped exceedingly.

So shall I always keep thy law, for ever and ever.

And I walked at large: because I have sought after thy commandments.

And I spoke of thy testimonies before kings: and I was not ashamed.

I meditated on thy commandments, which I loved.

And I lifted up my hands to thy commandments, which I loved: and I was exercised in thy justifications.

VII: The Chariot


Be though mindful of thy word to thy servant, in which thou hast given me in hope.

This hath comforted me in my humiliation: because thy word hath enlivened me.

The proud did iniquitously altogether: but I declined not from thy law.

I remembered, O Lord, thy judgements of old: and I was comforted.

A fainting hath taken hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law.

Thy justifications were the subject of my song, in the place of my pilgrimage.

In the night I have remembered thy name, O Lord: and have kept thy law.

This happened to me: because I sought after thy justifications.

VIII: Justice


O Lord, my portion, I have said, I would keep thy law.

I entreated thy face with all my heart: have mercy on me according to thy word.

I have thought on my ways: and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.

I am ready, and am not troubled: that I may keep thy commandments.

The cords of the wicked have encompassed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.

I rose at midnight to give praise to thee; for the judgements of thy justification.

I am partaker with all that fear thee, and that keep thy commandments.

The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy justifications.

IX: The Hermit


Thou hast done will with thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word.

Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge; for I have believed thy commandments.

Before I was humbled I offended; therefore have I kept thy word.

Thou art good; and in thy goodness teach me thy justifications.

The iniquity of the proud hath been multiplied over me: but I will seek thy commandments with my whole heart.

Their heart is curdled like milk: but I have meditated on thy law.

It is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy justifications.

The law of thy mouth is good to me, above thousands of gold and silver.

X: The Wheel of Fortune


Thy hands have made me and formed me: give me understanding, and I will learn thy commandments.

They that fear thee shall see me, and shall be glad: because I have greatly hoped in thy words.

I know, O Lord, that thy judgements are equity: and in thy truth thou hast humbled me.

O! let thy mercy be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.

Let thy tender mercies come unto me, and I shall live: for thy law is my meditation.

Let the proud be ashamed, because they have done unjustly towards me: but I will be employed in thy commandments.

Let them that fear thee turn to me: and they that know thy testimonies.

Let my heart be undefiled in thy justifications, that I may not be confounded.

XI: Force


My soul hath fainted after thy salvation: and in thy word I have very much hoped.

My eyes have failed for thy word, saying: When wilt thou comfort me?

For I am become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten thy justifications.

How many are the days of thy servant: when wilt thou execute judgement on them that persecute me?

The wicked have told me fables: but not as thy law.

All thy statutes are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly, do thou help me.

They had almost made an end of me upon earth: but I have not forsaken thy commandments.

Quicken thou me according to thy mercy: and I shall keep the testimonies of thy mouth.

XII: The Hanged Man


For ever, O Lord, thy word standeth firm in heaven.

Thy truth unto all generations: thou hast founded the earth, and it continueth.

By thy ordinance the day goeth on: for all things serve thee.

Unless thy law had been my meditation, I had then perhaps perished in my abjection.

Thy justifications I will never forget: for by them thou hast given me life.

I am thine, save thou me: for I have sought thy justifications.

The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I have understood thy testimonies.

I have seen an end of all perfection: thy commandment is exceeding broad.

XIII: Death


O how I have loved thy law, O Lord! is it my meditation all day.

Through thy commandment, though hast made me wiser then my enemies: for it is ever with me.

I have understood more than all my teachers: because thy testimonies are my meditation.

I have understanding above ancients: because I have sought thy commandments.

I have restrained my feet from every evil way: that I may keep thy words.

I have not declined from thy judgements, because thou hast set me a law.

How sweet are thy words to my palate! more than honey to my mouth.

By thy commandments I have had understanding: therefore I have hated every way of iniquity.

XIV: Temperance


Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.

I have sworn and am determined to keep the judgements of thy justice.

I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly: quicken thou me according to thy word.

The free offerings of my mouth make me acceptable, O Lord: and teach me thy judgements.

My soul is continually in my hands: and I have not forgotten thy law.

Sinners have laid a snare for me: but I have not erred from thy precepts.

I have purchased thy testimonies for an inheritance for ever: because they are the joy of my heart.

I have inclined my heart to do thy justifications for ever, for the reward.

XV: The Devil


I have hated the unjust: and have loved thy law.

Thou art my helper and my protector: and in thy word I have greatly hoped.

Depart from me, ye malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God.

Uphold me according to thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

Help me, and I shall be saved: and I will meditate always on thy justifications.

Thou hast despised all them that fall off from thy judgements; for their thought is unjust.

I have accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators: therefore have I loved thy testimonies.

Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear: for I am afraid of thy judgements.

XVI: The Tower of Destruction


I have done judgement and justice: give me not up to them that slander me.

Uphold thy servant unto good: let not the proud calumniate me.

My eyes have fainted after thy salvation: and for the word of thy justice.

Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy: and teach me thy justifications.

I am thy servant: give me understanding that I may know thy testimonies.

It is time, O Lord, to do: that have dissipated thy law.

Therefore have I loved thy commandments above gold and the topaz.

Therefore was I directed to all thy commandments: I have hated all wicked ways.

XVII: The Star


Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul hath sought after them.

The declaration of thy words giveth light: and giveth understanding to little ones.

I opened my mouth, and panted: because I longed for thy commandments.

Look thou upon me, and have mercy on me, according to the judgement of them that love thy name.

Direct my steps according to thy word: and let no iniquity have dominion over me.

Redeem me from the calumnies of men: that I may keep thy commandments.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: and teach me thy justifications.

My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept thy law.

XVIII: The Moon


Thou art just, O Lord: and thy judgement is right.

Though hast commanded justice thy testimonies: and they truth exceedingly.

My zeal hath made me pine away: because my enemies forgot thy words.

Thy word is exceedingly refined: and thy servant hath loved it.

I am very young and despised; but I forget not thy justifications.

Thy justice is justice for ever: and thy law is the truth.

Trouble and anguish have found me: thy commandments are my meditation.

Thy testimonies are justice for ever: give me understanding and I shall live.

XIX: The Sun


I cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord: I will seek thy justifications.

I cried unto thee, save me: that I may keep thy commandments.

I prevented the dawning of the day, and cried: because in thy words I very much hoped.

My eyes to thee have prevented the morning: that I might meditate on thy words.

Hear thou my voice, O Lord, according to thy mercy: and quicken me according to thy judgement.

They that persecute me have drawn nigh to iniquity; but they are gone far off from thy law.

Thou art near, O Lord: and all thy ways are truth.

I have known from the beginning concerning thy testimonies: that thou hast founded them for ever.

XX: The Judgement


See my humiliation and deliver me: for I have not forgotten thy law.

Judge my judgement and redeem me: quicken thou me for thy word’s sake.

Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought thy justifications.

Many, O Lord, are thy mercies: quicken me according to thy judgement.

Many are they that persecute me and afflict me; but I have noted declined from thy testimonies.

I beheld the transgressors, and I pined away; because they kept not thy word.

Behold I have loved thy commandments, O Lord; quicken me thou in thy mercy.

The beginning of thy words is truth: all the judgements of thy justice are for ever.

XXI: The Fool


Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart hath been in awe of thy words.

I will rejoice at thy words, as one that hath found great spoil.

I hath hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved thy law.

Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgements of thy justice.

Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block.

I looked for thy salvation, O Lord: and I loved thy commandments.

My soul hath kept thy testimonies: and hath loved them exceedingly.

I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies: because all my ways are in thy sight.

XXII: The World


Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.

Let my request come in before thee; deliver thou me according to thy word.

My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

My tongue shall pronounce thy word: because all thy commandments are justice.

Let thy hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen thy precepts.

I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation.

My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgements shall help me.

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

January 28, 2019  Leave a comment