tarot and alchemy

[Author's note, added Jan. 21: I have made a few corrections to my original post. They are in bold type accompanied by a parenthetical explanation that what is in bold is a correction.]

There is not much about alchemy's relationship to tarot on this Forum, perhaps for good reason. The most extensive discussion I have found is Robert O'Neill's chapter on alchemy and tarot in his 1986 Tarot Symbolism, pp. 264-291, where he maintains that alchemy is one of the sources of the tarot. His arguments, since they are presented without the illustrations he mentions, are hard to follow. Also, I think he makes mistakes and fails to make important distinctions. But I think the discussion should be continued rather than ignored.


I will work backwards. Here is the beginning of O'Neill’s conclusion (p. 288):
To point out that there are remarkable similarities is not to maintain that alchemy is the source of the Tarot nor that the designers slavishly copied alchemical images. Alchemy was only one of the numerous sources for the symbolism of the Tarot.
Then he gives three other conclusions:
1. The designers were not ignorant of the allegories and symbolism of alchemy and incorporated them into the syncretistic world-view they developed.
2. The Tarot designers showed the same propensity to convey their concepts in emblemata and pictorial symbolism as the authors of the alchemical works.
3. The tarot and the alchemical texts outline the same mystical journey and use the same symbols, e.g., union of opposites, death-rebirth, etc., to portray the stages of the journey.
O'Neill elaborates briefly on the third conclusion by adding
Both the allegories and the Tarot use an extensive inventory of psychological imagery. Both are preoccupied with the psychological stages of development. The oscillation of depression-elation, the need for isolation, etc. are used as the background for a map of consciousness that resembles modern theories of depth psychology.
And so the chapter ends. To evaluate these conclusions properly, I think it is important to be time-specific. When is alchemy a source for the tarot: at its inception, or later? It is one thing to say that some tarot designers modified the tarot images centuries after they were invented, so as to contain allusions to alchemical imagery of that later time. It is another thing to say that alchemical imagery inspired the tarot at the beginning. The first may be defensible but not the second.

O'Neill himself mostly (changed on Jan. 21 from "only") refers to alchemy as it existed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and also mostly with the tarot of that time. But he does not rule out the possibility that alchemy may have been an inspiration for the tarot even at the beginning. He says:
...the illustrations discussed in this chapter almost all appeared after the Tarot cards were in existence. Thus, the designers could not have copied the specific images cited here. The imagery might have been copied from older manuscripts, but few of these have been unearthed for us to examine.
[Author's note: what follows in bold type is a rewrite, Jan. 21, of what I said originally.] I think more can be said about alchemical texts before tarot. Some of the illustrations to which O'Neill refers are assigned to the 15th century, often with no more specificity than that. Tarot cards also originated in the 15th century, sometime between 1420 and 1441. It is not easy to say which of the extant pieces of paper, manuscripts or cards, came first. But we may be able to say with some assurance what alchemy texts looked like before 1420, based on the 15th century manuscripts that are available. Many of them say they are copies of earlier texts, or are quoting earlier texts, and they fall into recognizable traditions to which there are pre-15th century references, e.g. in Chaucer. It may be possible to reconstruct fairly well what pre-tarot alchemy looked like and so judge whether tarot drew on it. In any case more research is in order, as to whether alchemy is one of the sources of the original tarot of the 15th century.


Lynn Thorndike, in his multi-volume History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923-1928), cites numerous 15th century Italian alchemical manuscripts. Some, purporting to be copies of 14th century works, are discussed in a chapter called "The Lullian Alchemical Collection." It starts at
http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... &q&f=false

If you skim this chapter, you will see that many of these manuscripts, all of the so-called Lullian school, date from the 15th century.

Another chapter is devoted to fifteenth century alchemy as such, "Alchemy Through the Fifteenth Century" (starting at http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... &q&f=false.)

The alchemical writings in this chapter are not by any well-known alchemists; but at least they exist. One (p. 342ff) is by the physician to anti-Pope Felix V, Filippo Visconti's father-in-law, answering Felix’s questions about alchemy. Of more interest--because it says more--is a purported letter between Cosimo di Medici and Pius II. While spurious, it was copied in a manuscript authentically before 1475. Thorndike writes (p. 346f)
The most holy father is advised to take water of gold and place it without division into the elements in a spherical glass so that it may circulate and be reduced to the true fifth essence and finally converted into the elixir...The vase is to cook for 170 days continuously over a slow fire until the contents turn successively black, red, yellow, green, the color of a peacock, and that whitest of appearance which indicates the elixir for silver. The fire is then augmented and the elixir for gold is finally obtained.
In relation to the tarot, the last two stages might correspond to the Moon and Sun card. Black might relate to Death, and the other colors to cards in between Death and Moon; it is hard to say more. After the elixir is made, it is suitable for the regeneration of body and spirit, i.e. the resurrection portrayed in the Judgment. But I am projecting backwards from the tarot. In itself this description is quite mechanical.


A few 15th century alchemical writings are mentioned in another chapter of Thorndike's study, “The Sixteenth Century up to 1550.” It begins on p. 533 of http://books.google.com/books?id=xjN8f3 ... my&f=false

On p. 532 we see the name of Lodovico Lazzarelli, better known as a humanist and hermetist than as a writer on alchemy. Thorndike puts him in the sixteenth century because Lazzarelli says he began his alchemical instruction in 1495, and it would take more than five years to learn. Also, the handwriting looks in the style of that century. However he admits that most authorities have Lazzarelli dying in the year 1500.

I choose Lazzarelli because he is already known to members of this Forum, for the poem that he wrote to accompany the “Mantegna” images. Now he will serve as an example of his breed, the alchemically-minded humanist. (And he was also a Kabbalist, independently of Pico and Boiardo.)

The introduction and conclusion to his alchemical writings have actually been translated into English, in Hanegraaff and Bouthoorn's Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents. I will start there.

Lazzarelli begins (p. 377)
...in this book called Vade mecum we will first of all speak briefly of alchemy, which is a natural magic and is called terrestrial Astrology by Aristotle, the secret of which I owe to Joannes Ricardus de Branchiis from the province of the Netherlands called Labourgogne in popular speech. He was my master in these matters from the year 1495 onwards. He again had it from the books of Raymund of Mallorca and Arnold of Villanova, and from very long practice. Raymund had it from Arnold, and Arnold from a certain master Peter...
The editors tell us that Labourgogne is Burgundy or the Franche-Comte. About this Ricardus, or Rigaud, as Lazzarelli also spells the name, we know nothing more. Raymund is Raymund Lull, the 14th century Catalan mystic and missionary to the Arabs, to whom numerous alchemical writings were falsely ascribed. Arnold, or Arnald, of Villanova is another 14th century figure in whose name alchemical writings were produced. Peter is Petrus Bonus, of whom Lazzarelli writes, at the very end of his book, in a dedication entitled “The poet Lodovico Lazzarelli of Sanseverino to his teacher Johannes”:
Here Bonus, in name and in reality the renowned son
of which famous Ferrara is proud, has finished his work.
But now I, the poet Lodovico, have copied it down; and this
I give to you, Johannes: therefore be mindful of me....
Per Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrus_Bonus), this Bonus was a 14th century Ferrarese physician, supposed author of the alchemical "Precious New Pearl" or "Pearl of Great Price," a work known now from 16th century manuscripts.

I find it unfortunate that Hanegraaff and Bouthoorn saw fit only to translate Lazzarelli's introduction and conclusion, and not the parts in between. Their excuse is that the alchemical pieces are not original with Lazzarelli, merely copies of others' work. Perhaps so; but if nothing else, seeing them would help us to see what in alchemy humanists such as Lazzarelli found significant. (They do provide a synopsis in Latin done by Brini, as published in Testi Umanistici su l”ermetismo: Testi di Ludovico Lazzarelli, F. Giorgio Veneto, Cornelio Agrippa di Nettesheim, ed. Garin et al 1955. The work itself, Vade Mecum, is in Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS. 984 (Lami IIIXX). Cart. In 8 (with degree sign superscript), sec. XVI 1 (with degree sign superscript). It is in Lud. Lazereli, Raym. Lulli et Io. De Branchis. Tractatus de Alchimia.)

Thorndike summarizes the omitted material (in English). He says of Lazzarelli
He sets forth the usual alchemical process of calcination, solution, purification, projection, and multiplication in seven chapters...He speaks of astrological images and celestial magic...The same manuscript further contains a “treatise of master Raymond lull to his dearest nephew on the investigation of the stone” which is, so far as I know, the earliest occurrence of this particular work of the Lullian alchemical corpus. After it follow excerpts from Lullian alchemy “in volgare,” chemical tables, a sonnet in Italian on alchemy, and a secret recipe for the elixir invnted by the aforsaid de Branchis—now called John Rigaud de Branchiis—when he was in Siena in 1494--with the cooperation of Albert, a physician of Perugia. This secret John had revealed to Lazzarellus with his own mouth. Lazarellus therefore appears to have been responsible for the putting together of this alchemical manuscript in its entirety" (pp. 533f).
In other words, while the contents might not be original to Lazzarelli, the words are probably his from start to finish. It was common for writers to attribute their productions to famous alchemists of the past, as Lazzarelli does to Bonus. Thorndike includes in a footnote a summary in Latin of the steps involved in the work.

This all sounds interesting, but hardly, as described so far, the stuff of tarot. Well, Thorndike was primarily interested in alchemy as a precursor to science. A full translation of its 36 double folio pages might help.


From this summary and my earlier quotes, as well as the large number of Italian manuscripts that Thorndike mentions in the chapter on “The Lullian Collection,” we at least know one variety of alchemy that was admired in Italy throughout the 15th century and probably a little earlier [correction in bold type done Jan. 21]: the "Lullian" and “Arnuldian” schools (they are sometimes differentiated). Their works used diagrams and wheels, just as the real Lull used wheels with words on them, from which he generated interesting associations (Roberts, Mirror of Alchemy p. 40, confirmed by examples in Thorndike, "The Lullian Alchemical Collection," p. 41f). There are also "philosophical trees," another species of diagram. Otherwise, illustrations were of the apparatus to be constructed: furnaces, cauldrons, flasks, etc. There do not seem to have been the colorful tarot-like illustrations, showing people and mythological figures, that became popular later. However Tarotpedia does cite one Lullian manuscript for its picture of a king, in which it finds a dragon similar to one in a Sola-Busca trump (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola_Bus ... chodenasor). They also note wings on another trump (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola_Busca_Cards:_Ipeo) similar to those in another alchemical work, the Rosarium, which I will discuss later.

Several of the SB pips also suggest alchemical apparatus and operations: the Nine of Coins has a man lying on top of flames (an alchemical reference noted by Tarotpedia); the Seven of Coins has a man apparently adjusting the flame of an oven (per Di Vicenzo, p. 75 of Sola-Busca Tarot); the Eight of Batons has its arrows in a container topped with red flowers that resemble flames; and the Five of Swords has its swords in a pot, as though to melt them down;


Likewise, the Ace of Coins seems to represent the three main stages of the Opus, as Tarotpedia argues (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Ace_of_Coins_Sola-Busca). Tarotpedia relates the Three of Swords to Ripley’s alchemical Scrowle, written c. 1460-70 (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Three_of ... Sola-Busca). Ripley is said to have been a Lullian. Its illustrations, in cruder form, might go back to the 15th century. One part, singled out by Tarotpedia (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Three_of ... Sola-Busca), has symbols of the Sun, Moon, and Earth in a triangular configuration similar to the coins on the Ace and Three of Coins.

The Lullian texts are similarly concerned with apparatuses and diagrams, as well as describing how by means of them operations on some obscure material could be performed: dissolving, vaporizing, scraping residue off the sides of containers, condensing, burning, grinding, etc. Here is a sample of the type of illustrations that we mostly see, in an authentic 15th century Ripley manuscript (Jennifer M. Rampling, “Establishing the Canon: George Ripley and his alchemical source,” on the Web).


There is not much here that relates to the usual tarot, as opposed to the Sola-Busca. Even when representing a specific stage of the work, e.g. the nigredo, all we see is a piece of apparatus painted black.


No tarot-like grinning skeletons or old men with scythes here.


Perhaps we will find tarot-like imagery in the alchemical texts’ words more than the pictures. Perhaps Thorndike’s summarizes do not represent the texts fully, since his main concern is the extent to which they anticipate modern science. In Ripley’s case, he gives a sample of the writing. It is a short poem called A Vision . We know it only from a 16th century manuscript; it may or may not be actually by him, but it is consistent with Ripley’s known 15th century works. In it a toad secretes poison, dies, and turns various colors; from its transformed body comes the elixir (Thorndike, p. 353 of his chapter on 15th century alchemy, http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... 22&f=false).

All of this would seem to refer to substances in a laboratory rather than to the human psyche. Yet the toad, art historian Laurinda Dixon tells us, was a symbol of human sinfulness (Bosch, p. 224):
Chemical theory relegated toads to the lowest sphere of creation, for they were believed to arise spontaneously form the action of heat on rotted substances. Their low nature is also reflected in Christian iconography, which associated toads with sin and heresy. Chemical texts picture them as symbols of nigredo, upon which the entire process rests. Like Christ, they must be killed before their resurrection into perfected substance.
In this tradition, Hieronymus Bosch's Adoration of the Magi shows as one of the gifts a small golden sculpture of the sacrifice of Isaac. The sculpture is supported by toads. You can make them out on the ground in the reproduction at http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/7274- ... bosch.html. Below is the detail itself (Dixon p. 208).


The sacrifice of Isaac was seen as a precursor to the Crucifixion. Hence the sculpture symbolizes the redemption of the toads beneath. A similar redemption is implied in the alchemical transformations described by Ripley: the end result of the toad's transformation is the elixir. If the toad is human sinfulness, the alchemical sequence could also be an "imitatio Christi” within the human soul.

In that context, it is of interest that the toad in Ripley’s poem doesn’t start out black. He only becomes black after excreting a goodly amount of what is inside him; these excretions are what kills him and turns him black. Before he dies, he suffers, as in the passion of Christ. In the PMB tarot trumps, what corresponds might be the Wheel, in which one suffers a loss of status; Strength, in which one figure gives the other a beating; and the Hanged Man, a slow, shameful torture before death. Then we have more changes, shown by the color changes, corresponding perhaps to the cards immediately following Death. Then come the elixir cards, Moon and Sun, and the rebirth at the Judgment.

I have found an early 15th century page of illustrations that anthropomorphizes the alchemical operations in a way strikingly similar to the PMB cards that I have just mentioned. It is from the early 15th century Buch der heilegen Dreifaltigkeit, a manuscript in the Kantonsbibliothek Vadiana, St. Gallen (Dixon p. 269).


St. Gallen, Switzerland, is where images of the “Tarot of Mantegna” turned up in a 1469 manuscript, suggesting interchanges between the monastery there and NE Italy. But in the case of the Heilegen Dreifaltigkeit, the parallel is not close enough for us to say that one influenced the other. The illustrations merely have elements in common with the cards.

In another Ripley poem, the Cantilena, said to imitate an earlier Lullian poem of the same name, an old king gets absorbed by his wife during sex and dies there; she languishes, then gives suck to a “green lion”; the child’s flesh rots and is stripped white; finally a “ruddy son” is reborn. I can find only isolated stanzas of this poem on the Web. It appears in its entirety, in both English and Latin, in Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, pp. 274ff. Like the Vision, the earliest surviving manuscript is sixteenth century. At the time (1460-1470), the old, sick king was identified with Henry VI and the vigorous son with Edward IV (http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199 ... mists.html).

All of this is again colorful, and might indeed be psychological. It is more explicitly anthropomorphic than the poem about the toad. This one adds, near the beginning, another stage, the coniunctio, which corresponds to the tarot Love card. This coniunctio requires the prior existence of a king and a queen; similarly, the tarot sequence has before Love an Emperor and Empress (an observation that O’Neil makes for the 17th century, and which holds true for the 15th). But in the Cantilena, death comes almost immediately after copulation, as opposed to seven or so cards later as in the tarot.

Besides the Lullian works, another school of alchemy known in tarot circles then was that represented by the Turba Philosophorum ("Assembly of Philosophers"). A copy of that work existed in the Visconti Library at Pavia, according to Christiane Joost-Gaugier (Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe, Appendix). But I defy anyone to draw more than the usual parallels (conjunction, death, rebirth) between that work and the Cary-Yale. (A translation is at http://www.levity.com/alchemy/turba.html.) The Turba is cited in various 15th century Italian alchemical writings, including the spurious letter of Cosimo di' Medici to Pius II.


There are also specically Arnaldian texts, which we know from Lazzarelli was of interest in 15th century Italy. One is the Arnaldian Aurora Consurgens, of which some illustrations are said (by Dixon and others) to date to c. 1400. These illustrations are abundantly anthropomorphic: even the tripods are humanoid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Auror ... odites.jpg and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Auror ... violin.jpg). Bit even granting that they were known in 15th century northern Italian court circles, I don't see much relationship to the tarot. (For more examples see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_consurgens.)

By the time of the printed Rosarium Philosophorum, 1550 (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rosarium.html), another Arnuldian text, anthropomorphic illustrations were commonplace, showing what might plausibly be a mystical journey within the human psyche, as opposed to an anthropomorphic description of chemical processes. This is precisely when the emblem tradition became popular, with its moralistic emphasis. However the Rosarium of 1550 was not the first, but only the first to be printed. Before that were illustrated manuscripts, and before them manuscripts without illustrations. Urszula Sculakowska, in The Alchemy of Light (2000), says that illustrated versions circulated by 1400, called “Rosarium cum figuris” (p. 25). (See http://books.google.com/books?id=ZJox8E ... um&f=false). Before that, Chaucer spoke of it, and in anthropomorphic terms, in his “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” (late 14th century). In the “Rosarie” of “Arnold,” the Yeoman tells us, Sol and Luna are said to be the father and mother of the dragon Mercury (lines 1418-1447). Here I give the original and a modern translation, putting the words I want to emphasize in red:
Lo, thus seith Amold of the Newe Toun,
As his Rosarie maketh mencioun;
He seith right thus, with-outen any lye,
'Ther may no man Mercurie mortifye,
But it be with his brother knowleching.
How that he, which that first seyde this thing,
Of philosophres fader was, Hermes;
He seith, how that the dragoun, doutelees,
Ne deyeth nat, but-if that he be slayn
With his brother; and that is for to sayn,
By the dragoun, Mercurie and noon other
He understood; and brimstoon by his brother,
That out of sol and luna were y-drawe.

Arnold of Villanova I will cite.
In his Rosarium he brings to light
These facts, and says- in this I do not lie:
"No man can mercury ever mortify,
Unless its brother's aid to it he bring,
And also he who first did say this thing
Was father of philosophers, Hermes;
He said the dragon, doubtless, takes his ease
And never dies, unless there's also slain
His brother, which, to make the matter plain,
Means, by the dragon, mercury, none other,
And brimstone's understood to mean the brother,
That out of Sol and Luna we can draw...”
(http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl- ... an-can.htm)
Actually the imagery that Chaucer invokes here is from a different Arnaldian work, we learn from the footnotes to another modern translation (http://www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necast ... /23cyt.pdf); but this passage shows how early and widespread the Rosarium and other Arnaldian works were known, and the metaphors they used.

Would the reader have been expected to identify with the process instead of simply seeing chemical phenomena in anthropomorphic terms? Ripley’s use of the toad as a symbol of sinfulness, which I would expect also occurred in alchemical writings earlier than Ripley’s 1460s poem, would suggest that a discerning reader would indeed identify with the process.


In the Rosarium, the coniunctio (Love) is followed immediately by Death, unlike in the tarot. But in other alchemical sequences, such as Ripley’s with the toad (and less clearly the Cantilena), various forms of suffering occurred before the Nigredo of death. The tarot, with its Wheel, Strength, and Hanged Man, might simply be honoring these sequences. Then the Devil and Tower cards might represent the Putrefaction and other changes after death, as in the Devil and Tower-like imagery that illustrated 15th century editions of Dante's Inferno. Then the Star is the washing (at an astrologically propitious time), the Moon and Sun the elixirs, and Judgment a scene of rebirth. The World card, with its magical city or castles in a globe, is the promise of alchemy’s rewards, material or otherwise. Either that or, as in the “Sforza castle” design (the predecessor of the “Marseille”), it is a diagram of the whole, similar to the “circulation of the elements” diagrams in the Lullian texts, with the quintessence in the middle. An example is below (Roberts, p. 48); admittedly there is nothing in the middle, but these texts talked about the quintessence often enough.


In this scenario, the virtue cards might correspond to “apparatus” drawings in Lullian manuscripts, capable of being inserted in various parts of the sequence. Justice has a scales for weighing and a knife for cutting. Temperance has her flasks for circulation or distillation. Strength is for pulverizing, as Hercules with his lion and Samson with both lion and temple.

The most typical [words in bold added Jan. 21] placement of the 15th century Chariot card in the order does not quite fit the alchemical viewpoint. If the chariot itself is an alchemical apparatus, and the horses the application of heat, the charioteer would seem to suggest the rising of the material above the apparatus, a sublimatio into higher realms. I have not found any alchemical tract in which sublimation follows immediately upon the coniunctio. The alchemists were a gloomy lot: nothing pleasant followed the copulatio, at least not until after death and considerable suffering.

[This paragraph added Jan. 21:]Another possibility is that the Chariot, in an alchemical context, might refer to the dominant color of the substance at a particular time in the sequence. One 15th century manuscript cited by O'Neill (Nicola d'Antonio degli Agli, 1480, plates 31-34 and 47 of de Rola's Alchemy: the Secret Art) actually has seven chariots, one for each planet. Particular planets were associated with particular colors (http://www.skyscript.co.uk/colour.html, at the end). This sequence of colors typically occurs after the Nigredo, i.e. death; but why should the correspondence between tarot and alchemy be so precise? Also, in one early tarot order, that in the Triomphi of 1534, the Chariot card comes before the Love card (http://l-pollett.tripod.com/cards26.htm). Alchemically interpreted, the Love card following might represent the beginning of a process that ends with Death, but takes some time--as it does in the Ripley "Vision." So the King on his chariot is before all that. Or it simply might be that the tarot designers, disagreeing with their alchemical predecessors, thought that after copulation there should be some stages before death, including a period of post-marital inflation indicated by the Chariot. I will discuss this matter more thoroughly in another post later in this thread, on the Chariot card.

Other cards might represent the alchemist himself or herself, in various guises. The Fool is the alchemist who has spent all his money on alchemy and come up with nothing—a common occurrence, at least in the fifteenth century anecdotes about alchemists reported by Thorndike. The Magician is the alchemist at his table, of course. Thus the three-tiered hats on the Cary Sheet Fool and Magician could signify Trismegistus, the thrice-powerful Hermes, lord over the animal, vegetable and mineral realms; or they could represent that other Mercurius, the “philosophical Mercury” who wears the tiara in 17th century alchemical illustrations.

The Pope and Popess are then male and female alchemists as authority figures. The Pope, of course has his tiara, making him Trismegistus. As for the Popess, in the past, there were Maria the Jewess, Isis (mentioned by O’Neil in this context), and a certain Cleopatra. In the 15th century, Empress Barbara was thought to dabble in alchemy, according to a 1440-1448 text cited by Thorndike (“Alchemy Through the Fifteenth Century,” p. 341). Alternatively, as O’Neil suggests in relation to later texts, the two cards could be the active and receptive sides of the alchemist, the one ordering around his assistants—or his chemicals--and the other reading out directions from the recipe books.

The lantern-carrying Hermit would be the alchemist as seeker, even to the end of his mortal life. All these cards that I am saying represent the alchemist might also represent specific aspects of the work itself; but there is not enough in the 15th century tarot cards or alchemical texts to say what they would be. This aspect of these cards becomes clearer in later centuries, as I will try to show in other posts.

As I have already indicated, the Empress and Emperor cards correspond to the Queen and King of Ripley’s Cantilena.

Yet the tarot sequence can also be explained easily enough, and less esoterically, in purely Christian terms. It is not surprising that two systems of Christian imagery would have much in common. Where is any sign of direct borrowing from the one to the other? The Pope’s two gold and silver keys, for example (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_regalia_and_insignia), would seem to have occurred independently of either tradition, yet been borrowed by both (in the tarot, the Catelin Geoffrey Pope and Popess, 1557, below, from http://www.poker168.com/bwg/bwg_tl6.htm; in alchemy, a 16th century illustration of which the lower half is shown below; my source is Jung,Psychology and Alchemy, p. 281). (It is conceivable that the Pope’s having two, gold and silver, derives from the alchemical tradition; I don’t know. In that case, the Catelin-Geoffrey might be said to borrow from alchemy, but only indirectly, by way of the papacy, and probably in ignorance, since it lacks the distinctive gold and silver colors which would link the keys to alchemy.)



So I still have to ask, what is specifically alchemical about the imagery in the 15th century tarot, except for some cards of the Sola-Busca? I don’t see anything. All I see is parallel imagery, which some humanist of an alchemical bent could have used to give the cards an unexpected alchemical twist, much as I am doing here.


[Author's note of Jan. 21]: In the next two paragraphs, I have put in some phrases, in bold type, to tone down my conclusions.]Thus far, it looks as though the first two of O’Neil’s numbered conclusions are in general false as applied to the fifteenth century or earlier. There is no indication of any borrowing of imagery from alchemy to tarot at that time, with the notable exception of the Sola-Busca. The second conclusion is also false. The fifteenth century was too early for emblemata of any kind, in the sense of the combination of picture with motto and explication that was so popular starting in the mid-sixteenth century. But even in the sense of associating a word or phrase with a picture, the tarot was far in advance of alchemy in the fifteenth century. However I have not yet examined all of O'Neill's sources. I hope to do so later in this thread.

But I think we can say already that the third conclusion, that the tarot and alchemical texts described the same mystical journey, using the same symbols, with the same preoccupation for psychological stages of development, is partially true. They do concern the same or at least similar psychological stages, if by psychology we narrowly mean the psychology of Christian perfectability or purification, and the psychology of Christian mystical experience. In so doing, they drew on a common stock of symbolic imagery that had been developing for centuries in ancient and medieval Western Europe.


There remains the other part of O'Neill's hypothesis. Could alchemy have been a source for the tarot in the sense that references to alchemical images were added by the card-makers later on, by the 17th century, so as to enhance their mystery and appeal? In "Bianca's Garden" here, I have given an example in the Tower thread (see viewtopic.php?f=23&t=399&p=7246&hilit=alchemy#p7246): the pose of the falling figure, from the c. 1650 Noblet on, looks uncannily like a figure representing gaseousness in an alchemical manuscript.

And it remains possible that even where the imagery was not inspired by alchemy, more parallels came about, for whatever reason, that an interpreter might use to give an added meaning to a card. Here is where O'Neill's card-by-card commentary, linking tarot images with 17th century alchemical images, could be useful. (I am ignoring the 16th century as such because we know so little about tarot in those years.)

It is also possible that tarot’s more hidden side took psychological lessons from alchemy, even when it did not use the same imagery.

In future posts I will attempt to mine O'Neill's card-specific comments about seventeenth century alchemy and tarot, attaching to them the relevant alchemical images, to the extent that I have been able to track down his sources. In the meantime, if anyone has anything to add to, or detract from, my comments about the fifteenth century, feel free to say something.

The Fool

O'Neill makes sthree points with regard to the Fool card (Tarot Symbolism p. 276). In fact, these three points are the sum total of his comments on this card.

(1) "The Fool is a likely candidate as a symbol of the prima materia, the crude ore which begins the operations."

(2) "However, this hypothesis is not validated by the alchemical texts."

(3) "The closest image I have found is a blindfolded man being led over the landscape by a small animal."

Here is the image to which O'Neill refers (in C.G. Jung,, Psychology and Alchemy, p.58).


On point 1, I agree. On point 2, I disagree. I have elaborated my reasoning on these points on the "Fool" thread, because it is intrinsically related to another post of mine there (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&p=9669#p9669).

On point 3, I see only a little resemblance, as the animal is not reaching up to the man's midsection from behind. The original source, which can be seen at http://www.levity.com/alchemy/terrastr.html, does not say what the scene in the small circle is about. I think it depicts the alchemist blindly following wherever nature leads him, as opposed to relying on authorities. If he does not heed nature's signs, he is a fool. It does not depict a fool or madman, although the world may see him so. In that sense it may relate to the Fool card, as the one who seems a Fool, and in reality may be wise or may be a fool. The image itself was published in 1676. So its relation to the tarot would be a case of parallel sentiments about Folly, that those whom the world considers foolish may be wise, and vice versa.

However I think I have adequately confirmed, at least for the Noblet Fool, that the tarot imagery, as modified by the Noblet's designer, does refer us to an alchemical interpretation of the scene in terms of the prima materia, and specifically to the interaction between the fixed and the volatile in purifying the Stone. Even though O'Neill did not find the connection, his conclusion #1, that "the designers were not ignorant of the allegories and symbolism of alchemy and incorporated them into the syncretistic world-view they developed," is thus correct for that card. His conclusions #2 and #3 are also confirmed. However the crucial details on the card, namely the webbed feet of the animal and the genitals of the Fool, were obscured by later designers, who either did not understand the alchemical references or wished to remove them. For a detailed explication of what I think is the connection to alchemy, see my post at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&p=9669#p9669.

The Magician

O’Neill points to two alchemical images that resemble the Tarot Magician. For one, he cites de Rola’s Alchemy: the Secret Art, plate 8. I got a copy of this book on Interlibrary Loan, and it turns out to be from a 15th century manuscript of Norton’s Ordinall. Showing an alchemist at his table on which are a crescent, a cup, and a ball, the image is now widely available on the Internet; I reproduce the image on http://www.heritage-images.com/Preview/ ... id=1222805:


One might question whether this English manuscript would have been known outside of England, and even there by many people. But Elias Ashmole reproduced it as an engraving in his Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, 1652. You can see that version at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... -fig3.jpeg. Certainly after 1652 it was widely familiar. Anyone seeing it who also knew the tarot Magician would surely associate the two traditions as expressed in that card.

The other image that O’Neill refers to is Figure 15 of Frabricius’s Alchemy. This, Fabricius tells us, is from Basil Valentine: Revelation des mysteres des teintures essentielles des sept metau, Paris, 1668. So as not to take up too much room, I give you Adam Maclean’s colorized version, from http://www.alchemywebsite.com/amclglr13.html.


There are also several images of the original engraving on the Web. Again, it is too late to have influenced the tarot. But it could have influenced people’s thinking about the tarot Magician.

Another argument that O’Neill makes is that the tarot Magician is associated with the planet and god Mercury, and that is also the name of “the Artifex, the alchemist.” The problem is that there is no early evidence that the tarot Magician was associated with Mercury. Conjurors like the tarot Bagatto appears on illuminations and engravings of the “Children of the Moon.” In alchemy the child of Luna is Mercury, as early as the Emerald Tablet. But that is alchemy, not tarot.

One possibility is that Jesus might have been associated with Mercury as the conveyer of souls to heaven or hell. Then if Jesus was thought of as a magician, at least one magician would be associated with Mercury. This would be a more positive interpretation of the figure on the card than is usually associated with that figure. But I don’t have documentation of such an interpretation.


However I think a case can be made that even in the 15th century, anyone who had heard of alchemy—most everyone, then—would almost automatically associate the person on the Bagatto card with the alchemical Magus. And it is through the association with alchemy that the Magician card might have gotten associated with the god.

For one thing, there was the “Artixan” card in the “Tarot of Mantegna, ” c. 1465-1470. It is similar to depictions of goldsmiths as O’Neill points out on the tarot.com website (http://www.tarot.com/about-tarot/librar ... ll/bagatto). Goldsmiths and other metalworkers, were considered Children of Mercury and depicted as such in “Children of the Planets” series.


Alchemists, of course, also were workers in gold: they were trying to produce it, or produce something even better, the elixir, from it.

Artisans in charge of decorations at festivals were also considered Children of Mercury, for example


Letter or contract writers also fell under this category, e.g.


The figure with pen and cup suggests thereby, and by the position of his legs, the Bagatto once more.

For the complete “Children of Mercury” engraving of which these are all parts, see
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_5e7P4Y3Wo3w/S ... MercSM.jpg. It is from c. 1465-1475 Florence, sometimes attributed to Baldini.


For another thing, alchemy was widely regarded as a species of magic or conjuring, which might or might not mean the intentional creation of deceptive illusions. The only difference between alchemists and street conjurors was that the alchemist didn’t go around doing tricks at fairs. He did his privately, or at various courts. He also had a more impressive set of props, with his furnaces, flasks, and substances that transformed themselves before one’s eyes.

So while the two traditions likely don’t depend on each other for their images of the Bagatto/Bateleur vs. the Alchemist, it seems to me that anyone who had heard of alchemy would associate the tarot Magician card with the alchemist.

For those who knew more about alchemy than the average person, there would have been another level to the association. The alchemist was said to be an imitator of nature, as one who tried to duplicate the development of metals as they evolved in nature. It was theorized that they grew in the bowels of the earth like plants, and that the heavier metals like silver and gold were more mature members of the species (or genus?). In a sense, he was duplicating the work of God as Platonic demiurge.

A few alchemists were even said to have succeeded in creating artificial intelligence. In the 15th century some alchemists wrote about the creation of the homunculus, a small magical humanoid who knew the future and could do whatever one asked of it. The artist of the Florentine sketch-book included a sketch of an alchemist holding his homunculus, to the fascination and horror of an onlooker. Here is a detail, showing the magus and his creation, from Plate 51, titled "Mercurio Re Degitto," Mercury (i.e. Hermes Trismegistus) King of Egypt. Besides this drawing, there is a similar engraving, attributed to Baldini, c. 1465-75.


Likewise the tarot Magician might have been a version of the card-player or card-interpreter himself, whose combinations of cards might have been seen in terms of God’s combinations of the five elements, put together so as to create particular things. Like God or the alchemist’s homunculus, the card-reader would then have a magical ability to win at games of chance, have access to knowledge about the future, and perhaps even have the ability to change the future. For more on the homunculus, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homunculus. For a late medieval Jewish alchemical source, see http://books.google.com/books?id=LorvA_ ... &q&f=false.

My conclusion is that for people who knew even common hearsay about alchemy, and also knew the Magician card of the tarot, the alchemist and the Bagatto would have been combined in their minds, so that aspects of one would be thought of in terms of the other, quite naturally.


From the demiurge association, another interpretation of the Magician card also would be generated by alchemical lore. Here I am going beyond McNeill. In Kabbalah, the Platonic demiurge is represented by Sefira number one, Kether or Crown. It is from this topmost point on the Tree of Life that everything else emanates. Pico, 1486. called Kether “Ehyeh, Father” ([/i]900 Theses[/i]11>5);”paternal power” (Oration p. 4); “inaccessible abyss of divinity” (11>62); and “Empyrian” (11>48). Reuchlin, in his 1518 Art of the Kabbalah called it “bottomless fount of all the ages, Father of mercies.” For Agrippa, it was “God the Father,” who works by means of the Seraphim and the Primum Mobile (http://www.esotericarchives.com/agrippa/agrippa3.htm, search “Kether”).

But in Plato’s Timaeus the demuirge was not the ultimate origin. He copied from a pattern he saw above him, which was produced by what the Neoplatonists called the Absolute. In Kabbalah, what corresponded was the Ayn-Sof, of which Reuchlin wrote (p. 121 of English translation):
Not even our thought can grasp him, he who is called En Sof--'Infinity,' a concept according with him who is unknowable and unutterable, hidden away in the furthest recesses of his divinity, into the unreachable abyss of the fountain of light, so thus nothing is understood to come from him--as if at ease the absolute Deity held all kinds of things in his compass, himself remaining naked and unclothed, without the cloak of attributes.
It is the concept of God that had already been advocated by Cusa, as Reuchlin says: (p. 121)
Rationality falls far short of the infinite power we have been talking about, it cannot simultaneously connect these contradictories that are separated by infinity. A German philosopher-archbishop handed down this dictum some fifty-two years ago...
Later Reuchlin explains the literal meaning of “En Sof” (p. 286):
Infinity is the most absolute Essence, drawn back in the depths of the shadows, and, lying or, as they say reliant upon nothing, is hence called "Nothing" (nihil) or "Not being," (non ens) and "Not end” (non finis, then Hebrew letters for En Sof) because we are so damned by our feeble understanding of divine matters that we judge things that are not apparent in the same way as we judge things that do not exist.
Thus the En Sof, too remote to be on the Tree of Life, is suitably represented by the Fool card, given the number zero by those who used Arabic numerals, e.g. the Sola-Busca (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Image:T00_Sola_Busca.jpg) and de Mellet (find “zero” at http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Recherch ... les_Tarots), but more often the unnumbered trump, in the Latin system which did not have a zero.

Kabbalah was separate from alchemy, yet inseparable from it. They interpenetrated long before the Christian Kabbalah. See Scholem’s Alchemy and Kabbalah and Raphael Patai’s The Jewish Alchemists: a History and Sourcebook; the latter is in Google Books and has translations of many Jewish alchemical writings. When Kabbalah became Christian, the association with alchemy continued. If nothing else, notice the Hebrew letters in some alchemical images, and the tree-like arrays, especially Fludd's, early 17th century (http://www.cesspit.net/misc/tree1.gif, and TH03 &TH04 at http://www.alchemywebsite.com/prints_se ... isser.html). Sometimes they only have the seven planets (e.g., http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_uK1hV_K6mkU/S ... alTree.jpg), although there may be three or four other things below and above them (e.g. http://media.photobucket.com/image/rebu ... thtext.jpg).

Re: tarot and alchemy

I took a break from writing this because I was uncertain about whether one of O’Neill’s sources for alchemical imagery, de Rola’s Alchemy: the Secret Art was really showing alchemical imagery of the 15th century, and also from what part of the 15th century it was from. It is one kept in the Vatican Library, Palat. 1066. I set out my concerns and hypotheses on a special thread for that purpose (“Tarot-like images in a c. 1420 manuscript,” starting at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=655). I still don’t know the answers, but at least I have set out the issues. And I do think that some of the illustrations probably reflect alchemical themes, as well as being representations of the gods, virtues, and vices.

I did not use this source in my posts on this thread up to now, because I hadn’t received it on Interlibrary Loan until after I had posted them.

As far as the Fool, the manuscript in question suggests the Fool as Saturn, aka the prima materia. I have developed a line of thinking about the alchemical origin of this card on the Fool thread in “Bianca’s Garden,” starting at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&p=9705#p9705.

As far as the Magician, the alchemical precedent from this manuscript (lat. 1066), which appears to be c. 1420, is a table at which Mercury stands, and where a Queen manages various sized pots of various contents. I have expanded on this point on the “Magician” thread, at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=384&start=90#p9869. I did not much discuss the lady in the picture, the one who seems to be in charge of the pots. I will do so shortly.


So now I will start looking at the alchemical associations to the Popess, starting with O’Neill’s.

O’Neill gives many alchemical associations that he says could equally apply to the Empress. Many in fact have purely royal attributes with no hint of the sacerdotal. I will discuss them in connection with the Empress.

In one case, O’Neill identifies as Pope and Popess a pair that actually has the attributes of Emperor and Empress. Of Plate 7 in Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, he says (p. 290)
The crosses on the crowns definitely identify the figures as Pope and Papess, rather than King and Queen. Thus see the shape of the crowns in plate 6.
Here are the images in question. Plate 6 is on the left and plate 7 on the right.


But O’Neill is wrong. The Holy Roman Emperor’s crown did in fact have a cross on top, signifying that he ruled by the sanction of and in the service of the Roman Catholic Church, as we see below. This crown dates from the 10th or 11th century.


Images of crowns in imperial coats of arms, e.g. Charles V in the 16th century, closely resemble the crowns in the alchemical illustrations, e.g. those shown on
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Categ ... s_-_crowns. Such depictions might be the origin of the crowns shown in the alchemical illustrations.

O’Neill is on firmer ground when he associates the Popess with well-known mythic or historical female alchemists. He mentions Isis, whom he already independently associates with the Popess due to the resemblance between the Cary Sheet Popess and the Pinturiccio Isis done around the same time (http://www.tarot.com/about-tarot/library/boneill/papess, Fig. 3). Isis was certainly recognized at least as a proto-alchemist by the alchemists. She is not included in Mylius’s depictions of 160 alchemists, which starts with Hermes Trismegistus and ends with himself (Opus Medico-chymicum 1618). But she is in Emblem 44 of Atalanta Fugiens, with the motto “By treachery Typhon slays Osiris and scatters his limbs abroad, but majestic Isis reassembles them” (de Rola Golden Game p. 103). Moreover, Mylius does list several female alchemists in his historical line-up:

Obviously the Popess card existed before the Pinturiccio Isis, painted c. 1495. It is true that people already knew about female as well as male alchemists. But why would that have led to the Popess? There was no High Priestess of alchemy, or anything remotely resembling a Popess. There were simply individual female alchemists. In the same way, there were male abbots and female abbesses in the Church. The tarot had enough female sacerdotal role-models for the Popess in the Church without going dubiously outside. Associations from the Popess card to female alchemists would have been after the fact, by people who valued both tarot and alchemy.

O’Neill also identifies the Popess with the Soror, the alchemist’s companion, whom he interprets as the feminine side of the alchemist, relaying instructions from higher authority (the god Mercury or Hermes Trismegistus). He gives as an example fig. 391 in Fabricius, which is from the Mutus liber, first published in France of 1677 (de Rola, Golden Game p. 266) and reprinted in the Bibliotheca chemica curiosa, Geneva 1702 (Fabricius p. 225). The image is the next to last in the series, http://www.nyfikenvital.org/files/image ... ber-14.jpg. The dates are of course far too late to have influenced the tarot as it existed before de Gebelin.

For the Popess’s role in relaying information, one would also include the book in her hand, and not just to “inspiration and intuition” (O’Neill) generally. Such books do play a role in alchemical illustrations; but all the ones that I have found (except one that might be alchemical that I will discuss at the end of this post) are in the hands of male alchemists (e.g. the first engraving of Mittelspracher’s 1616 Cabala, at http://www.thieme.de/viamedici/medizin/ ... piegel.jpg, or the first engraving of Ashmole’s 1652 Theatrum chemicum britannicum, at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... -fig1.jpeg).

So for the Popess, there is no suggestion yet that the tarot was inspired by the alchemical illustrators, and no need for it to have been the other way around either. However there is enough in common between the two, in some of the ways O’Neill suggests, to give the tarot Popess alchemical associations for those who wished to put them there.

Yet there remains the questionably alchemical ms. Vat. Cod. Palat. 1066, in which a hooded lady appears over and over again in a series of illuminations, all from the 1420s or earlier. Thecolor reproductionbelow is from de Rola, Alchemy, the Secret Art, plate 57.


Seznec (Survival of the Pagan Gods p. 94) identifies her in one illustration as Juno, based on the accompanying text, which is about that goddess, and a verse there that describes her in ways that fit the picture:
Vertice velata, iride sertata, unguentis afflata, sceptro decorata et auro ligata, Iovi maritata, Herculi irata, avibus vallata, humore rigata et luce lustrata.
Head-veiled, rainbow-wreathed, perfume-fanned, sceptor-decorated and gold-bound, Jove-espoused, Hercules-enraged, birds-surrounded, dew-moistened, and light-illuminated. (translation after that in Seznec p. 106, which I have adjusted to correspond word for word with the Latin)

So she has, in the picture, a hood, a rainbow behind her head, a scepter, a golden sash binding her, the peacocks, the rain as “dew,” and the lantern as the “light.” The trashcan-like things on either side are perhaps perfume bottles. There is no Hercules that I see, and the king and queen on either side are unaccounted for. But since she is the goddess of marriage, perhaps she is marrying them, or blessing the marriage.

Yet everything can be interpreted differently. The “trashcans” or “perfume bottles” are similar to pictures of alchemical apparatus (on the left below, 15th century, on the right 16th century, from Laurinda Dixon, Bosch, p. 193, of Trinity College Library Cambridge MS 0.8.1 f. 1r and Wellcome Institute Library, London, MS 719 f. 256)).


The lantern, of course, associates her with the tarot Hermit card, and also with alchemical pictures of alchemists holding a lantern in search of the elixir (Michael Maier, ) Her position between the man and the woman likens her to the third figure (apart from Cupid) who appears in many tarot Lover cards. This third figure there has been interpreted by some (notably Daimonax) as the same person as in the Popess card, as a priestess either marrying the couple or blessing the marriage. In the middle between King and Queen, she is also in the position of the dove in the Rosrium alchemical illustration, manuscript versions of which existed by 1400.

In another illustration of ms. Palat. 1066, a very similar hooded lady stands in a tower counting out money, with similar trashcan-like objects in the background (at left below; whether she is also the figure at the right, after a rebirth is another issue, not to be discussed in this post).


The accompanying verse, which identifies her as Juno, accounts for everything if the “trashcans,” are bottles of “ungents
diviciis vel opibus ditata, viribus orbata, vestibus aurata, pavone curata, yride lustrata, capite velata, in sublimi sita, ungentis linita.
(something about riches,.., clothed in gold, ..., rainbow-illuminated, head veiled, in a high spot, ungents...)
Juno is, to be sure, goddess of riches. Yet the scene could also be a depiction of the alchemical multiplicatio, in which the purified Stone multiplies itself when in contact with baser metals in the oven, the castle is the oven, and the ungent-bottles schematic alchemical apparatus.

Ms. Palat. 1066 has other illustrations in which a similar lady appears. In one, she is seen helping a young, beardless man in and out of a tomb. In the context of the rest of the picture and the accompanying verse, she is one or both of the sisters of Phaeton, grieving their brother’s death. (I have put all the verses, in Latin and as much as I could in English, at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=655&start=10#p9823; except in a few cases, they need not detain us here.)


These could well be alchemical, taking the subject out of the chemical bath and putting it in the oven. There is also some similarity to the tarot “Tower” (as the fall from the heights, sometimes into water) the Star (the water), and the Judgment (the tomb).

In another picture, she is standing at a table minding some pots, while next to her Mercury is killing Argus, a deed done at Jupiter’s request because she was guarding a virgin that Jupiter had his eye on. Mercury earlier tricked Argus into falling asleep by playing him music. Exactly why this scene is depicted, out of all the deeds of Mercury, is not entirely clear; perhaps it is because of its alchemical significance. Argus’s eyes were the raw material for a stage in alchemy known as the “peacock’s tail,” which has circles resembling eyes. It is that very bird that was sacred to Juno.

I have elaborated on this picture elsewhere, notably at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=384&p=9869#p9869. But I didn’t talk about the woman. From an alchemical perspective, she would be the “soror” to Mercury as the alchemist. Or perhaps she is the alchemist himself, with Mercury as the dissolving agent that “kills” the prima materia. In this persona, she is not the killer; she is more in the role of healer. Alchemists in their practical life often were physicians and used their chemicals for healing specific illnesses even as they searched for the elixir that would cure all disease.

In another picture, she is talking to a man with ram’s horns, identified in the verse as Neptune, with Harpies, agents of death, on the other side.


I do not know a precisely similar alchemical or tarot picture, but she might be leading him toward an initiatory death-experience, as is portrayed frequently in tarot (Hanged Man, Death) and alchemy (Mortificatio, Putrefactio, e.g. http://www.lunatica.pwp.blueyonder.co.u ... age043.jpg) .

In another illustration, she sits at the bottom of a picture of a bearded king, whom the verse identifies as Jupiter. The ram is to suggest Aries and Ares, the god of war, as the text informs us; every king needs an Ares.


In another picture, where the surrounding attributes identify her as Athena, she is in a tower with a king; the attributes of owl and Medusa-headed shield suggest death again (the plume and armored headdress are other attributes). Here is the relevant image:


All in all, this group of pictures looks very much like that of a psychopomp leading people, at least the king, through an initiatory sequence. The one just shown is about the death of the king, and probably the two before it as well, in anticipation (I will discuss the eagles and harpies in more detail in relation to the Emperor.). A corresponding alchemical illustration, showing the killing, is in the Dresden copy of the Buch der Heilegen Dreifaltigkeit , from the same era as our illustrations. I get this from http://www.handschriftencensus.de/14918. It is German, but a copy was owned by the father of the duchess of Mantua, a friend of Bianca Maria Visconti, as Huck has pointed out to me (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&start=80#p9708).


But there is too much I don’t know about these illustrations to be more definite.

Juno, as it happens, was featured in other 15th century manuscripts. In one, the so-called “Amsterdam Commentary,” she was “the incarnation of the Church,” as Seznec reports (p. 95). The sacraments of the Church, of course, played an essential part in various initiatory transitions in life: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, marriage, entering holy orders, and last unction. It may not be coincidence that when the Church expressed its displeasure with the Pope and Popess cards in the tarot, the card-makers in some areas, notably Brussels, Strasbourg, Lake Constance, Solothurn (Switzerland), responded by turning the Popess into Juno (list from mmfilesi, viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&p=8580&hilit=Belgium#p8580, who got them from Dummett). These are all in Catholic areas except Switzerland, which I expect was marketing to Catholic areas nearby.


Another association that I think the alchemical illustrators might have made to the Popess—one that to be sure O’Neill does not mention--was to the figure of Wisdom, Chochmah of the Hebrew Bible. The alchemical engravers usually made her young and beautiful, unlike the Popess, as befitting the spouse of God (e.g. in Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens, emblem 26, for which the motto is “The Tree of Life is the fruit of human Wisdom” (http://www.alchemywebsite.com/atl26-0.html). Her crown and youth associate her with the Empress more than the Popess. What suggests an association to the Popess is that she is clearly a spiritual authority rather than a temporal one, and that Chochmah is also the name of the 2nd sifira in Kabbalah, corresponding to trump number 2 in tarot. Pico (Oration p. 4) and Reuchlin (Kabbalah p. 286) both call this sefira “sapientia,” wisdom, although they also follow the New Testament protocol of identifying this personification with Christ rather than the Old Testament’s Sophia.

In Vat. cod. Palat. 1066, there is a figure identified in the caption as Sapiencia (Wisdom); it is extremely similar to one of Wisdom in the clearly alchemical Aurora Consurgens of c. 1400 (in color below). The figure at her left in the black and white illustration of Palat. 1066, another personification of sapienca holds a book. That, of course, is similar to the Popess.



The presence of the figure from the Aurora Consurgens in cod. Palat. 1066 is a strong suggestion of alchemical influence on the images there. Again, her nutritive function relates her more to the Empress than to the Popess. Yet in giving nourishment of the spirit rather than the flesh, she fits the role of the Popess.

A very late alchemical emblem (not discussed by O’Neill) I think shows the Popess as a mature-looking Wisdom. It is on the theme of the “renewed king” and has a Benedictine monk being given, under protest, an Emperor’s crown in place of his former king’s crown (Fabricius fig. 120). The female figure making the exchange has a key dangling at her side, suggesting to me a reference to the tarot Popess.


This engraving is in the Discours philosophique of Sabine Stuart de Chavalier, Paris 1781, according to Fabricius (Alchemy p. 220), an illustration of the Second Key of Basil Valentine. But the only reference to that Key, which is about the wedding of Sol and Luna (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/twelvkey.html), is in the flask, which copies the conceptio in Mylius’s Anatomiae auri, 1628; that in turn derives from the Pandora, 1532. I give these earlier illustrations next to the de Chavalier, the Mylius on top. The text says that the second monk is “another Benedictine...weeping at the loss of a clergyman, that is, Basil Valentine” (Fabricius p. 220).

All in all, the Popess is an extremely important card. Like the Magician, her alchemical manifestation rises considerably above her image as the trickster Pope Joan or whorish Renaissance Church of her surface interpretation.

Re: tarot and alchemy


The alchemical images that that O’Neill sees as parallel to the Empress and Emperor are the King and Queen. The marriage of the pair appears in “dozens of representations.” In a footnote, O’Neill lists 39 examples, all in Fabricius’s Alchemy. Most show the King and Queen together, as in the tarot Love card; so I will discuss some of their particulars in a later post.

What is of interest now is their dates and attributes. They are almost always shown wearing the ordinary crowns of kings or dukes, as opposed to the ones topped with a cross worn by emperors and empresses. They are usually shown with pictures of the sun and moon next to them. So they are Sol and Luna, Apollo and Diana. Most are 17th century or later. Exceptions are the illuminated Splendor Solis Augsburg 1532-35, the woodcut Rosarium Philosophorum of Frankfurt 1550, the woodcut Artis aurifrae of Basel 1572, and the woodcut Pandora of Basel 1582.

By exception, the King occasionally is in armor and holds instead of a scepter a sword (Philosophia Reformata 1st series, emblem 7, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_07.htm), or the trident of Neptune (see 2nd image posted below).

Sometimes the Queen holds the stalk of a plant instead of a scepter (same work, 1st series, emblem 24, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_24.htm), a bow and arrows (2nd series, 12, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_40.htm), an eagle (1st series, 7, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_07.htm), or even a ship (in the second image posted below).

With a few exceptions, the images are all variants on the Rosarium series, in which they are shown first clothed, then naked, then in coitus, then combined in one body in a watery tomb, which nonetheless undergoes a “conceptio” (emblem 7, http://www.labyrinthdesigners.org/wp-co ... rium_7.jpg); then it is raised on high in one body with wings, taken back to the tomb with the wings, and then raised on high again. I think all of these variations on the Rosarium apply more to the Lover card than to the Emperor and Empress, as the latter are shown by themselves. For present purposes, as I say, it is the dating and variety of their attributes that is mainly of interest.

That most of these illustrations derive from the Rosarium or are of the same era, suggests a 15th century origin or before, as that text existed in manuscript early in the century. The King and Queen as Sol and Luna or Sulphur and Mercury are—along with the dragon--among the earliest personifications in the alchemical literature.

However there is no reason to suppose that the tarot Emperor and Empress derive from them. The tarot antecedents are the manuscript and heraldic representations of actual or typical Holy Roman Emperors and Empresses. The alchemical illustrations derive from the same sources, but with a slightly different emphasis. The tarot pair represent secular authority—authority in the material realm--worthy of honor, gratitude, respect and fear. The alchemical pair, I think, in part represent humanity in general in a state bound to materiality. The “Ripley Scrowle” of 1588 shows Sol and Luna in the typical bath of the Rosarium series, but also at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge. A female serpent-woman hangs from the upper branches of the tree.


The King and Queen, in the early stages of the Work, are simply Adam and Eve both as lords of the earth and its slaves. It is a condition from which the Work can help free them. It is like in the fairy tales, where the king is under enchantment as a frog, a fox, or a wild man. It is materiality that enchants us. There is something similar between the tarot story and the alchemical one, in that both affect the domain of matter rather than spirit. But the tarot Emperor and Empress are not Adam and Eve.

O’Neill draws our attention to a few illustrations that do not show the King and Queen together. Sometimes the pair is shown with the product of their union, the philosopher’s son (Mylius’s Philosophia Reformata 1622, 2nd series, emblem 19, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_47.htm). In the Rosarium of 1550, the child is of indeterminate gender and is shown with Christ and an old man wearing the crown of an Emperor (http://www.alchemywebsite.com/rosar19.html; MacLean (http://www.alchemywebsite.com/s_rosar.html) says it is a “young woman” and that the older man is “the Father”; the text itself refers to a “Son.” Mylius has substituted the Queen for Christ.

What is also important, I think, is that it is only near the end of the sequence that an Emperor or Empress as such is shown: it is as though, in virtue of the process thay have undergone, they have received a deserved promotion. So I think O’Neill is right in associating the tarot Emperor and Empress with the alchemical King and Queen, in that both occur near the beginning of their sequences. Yet we must also be aware of the differences.

O’Neill singles out one alchemical image as particularly close to the tarot Empress card: Emblem XXXV of Maier's Atalanta Fugiens 1618 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: ... em_35.jpeg). He comments (p. 179):
Here the figure is seated, suckling her son, seated in a field of that which symbolizes her fertility. Thus, both the Tarot card and the alchemical emblemata infer that the Empress is Cybele or Demeter, the earth goddess, the goddess of wheat.
There is to be sure a clear reference to Ceres/Demeter in this emblem, and thus a similarity to the tarot Empress, on whose fertility the stability of the realm depends. The motto attached to this image in the Atalanta Fugiens is
As Ceres made Triptolemus—and Thetis made Achilles—able to stay in the fire, so the Artist makes the Stone.
De Rola explains (Golden Game, p. 102) that Triptolemus is Ceres’ foster-son, and she puts him at night in the fire so as to make him immortal. Sea-goddess Thetis does the same with the body of Achilles after his death, putting him on the pyre on Leuke, the White Island.

Also suggestive of Demeter/Ceres, showing the Queen with a sheaf of grain, is the frontispiece to Balduinus’s Aurum superius & inferius aurae superioris & inferioris hermeticum , Amsterdam 1675:


The other side of the emblem shows her with a ship. This attribute identifies her with Isis, protector of sailors. Apuleius’s Roman-era Golden Ass famously included a procession to the sea by the devotees of Isis. Isis is another goddess who used the fire technique at night to secure a child’s immortality, as related by Plutarch (Isis and Osiris sect. XVI at http://thriceholy.net/Texts/Isis.html). The queen whose son Isis was charged with nursing (met in Isis’s search for Osiris’s body) found her out, thought that Isis was killing her son, and he lost his chance.

By its association with all three mythological episodes (Ceres/Triptolemus, Thetis/ Acchiles, Isis/king’s son), the Empress card gets new interpretations for those who have looked at Maier’s book. (Here is also where the King has Neptune’s trident.) All of these associations, I think, apply to the Empress. She is the personification of life and of life’s renewal, in the child she will conceive who will become the new Emperor.

Throughout the alchemical works, there are numerous illustrations of women nursing an infant; she provides the milk by which the elixir matures. And while sometimes nurse, she is also the one from whose womb the elixir comes. You will recall the Rosarium’s “conceptio.”

O’Neill calls one image, following Fabricius, the “anima mundi”—soul of the world, a term from Plato’s Timaeus; O’Neill says it includes elements of the Empress, Popess, Temperance, Star, and World cards. He refers us to Fabricius’s figure 47; it is actually figure 71, from Robert Fludd’s 2 volume Utrusque cosmi, 1617 (
Fludd calls it “Integrae Naturae,” the whole of nature.

That is one aspect of the alchemical Queen. For another example, the Pandora has the image of a tree coming out of her head (Fabricius p. 133).


A 17th century German manuscript of the Rosarium uses the image of the tree to illustrate its version of the “Conceptio”


At the same time she is a force to be reckoned with. Mylius, in Philosophia Reformata 3rd series, emblem 10, elevates baser metals to her own status (http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_58.htm); and in the same book, second series, emblem 12, as Luna she draws her bow against her husband Sol (http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_40.htm).

The alchemical Queen has something in common with the old image of the cornucopia, the bounty of nature. In one emblem of the Philosophia Reformata, she is seated on a compliant lioness who is feeding her cubs (1st series, emblem 16, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_16.htm); in another, she gives out riches (1st series, emblem 28, http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_28.htm). Here she is the agent of the “multiplication,” in which the elixir is increased without limit.

This type of image can be found even in the 15th century (de Rola Alchemy: the Secret Art plate 61). I showed this picture already in connection with the Popess. The text of the manuscript (Vat. cod. Apost. Palat. 1066), curiously, has nothing to do with alchemy. It is only the pictures, in sequence, that suggest such a thing; even then I have found no one except de Rola (and O'Neill, following de Rola) linking it to alchemy.


Here, however, the woman with the coins doesn't wear a crown. De Rola says of this figure, whom he dubs "Lady Alchimia":
below she reappears in the guise of Iris; and on the right Venus stands on her scallop shell, her body all roses; the red flowering out of the white.

Iris is only the handmaiden of Juno.

But in fact the verse accompanying the picture says that the female on the left is Juno, to whom the rainbow was associated. Hans Liebeschutz, in his classic study of this manuscript, also identifies the hooded figure as Juno. And Juno, crown or no crown, as the wife of Jupiter is a Queen.

Perhaps the two goddesses in this illustration are both representations of "Lady Alchimia." Juno/Iris is the goddess of the rainbow that appears during rainstorms, and so a symbol of the Stone going into solutio for purification. This solutio brings temporary death. As de Rola explains, in another comment about her (attached to his plate 57)
The lady is...the harbinger of death to women, as Mercury is to men. To release the souls of women, in alchemy, means to sublime the volatile parts of the residue after the nigredo, thus producing the rainbow colouring which is called the Peacock’s Tail.

The peacocks' tails in this manuscript are uniformly golden, not rainbow-colored. In the "multiplicatio" stage shown here, however, the Stone changes baser metals into gold, so the color is appropriate. (On the other hand, another illustration that appears earlier in the book also shows the peacock's with all-gold tails. So either the tails are not alchemically inspired, or the illustrator was not sufficiently sophisticated in the ways of alchemy. All this uncertainty!)

I have previously, in my last post, suggested features that relate the hooded figure's various appearances to the Popess. Now I am identifying her with the Queen, in her capacity as bringer of abundance. Other illustrations in the manuscript show what appears to be the same hooded figure wearing a crown. In at least two of them, she is sitting next to a king: Pluto in one, Saturn in the other, i.e. she is Proserpine and Rhea. She perhaps plays both roles, Popess and Queen (as indeed O'Neill suggests of the alchemical Queen).



The crowned, naked, and hence hoodless Venus remains quite unique, with those measles-like spots all over her body. The verse accompanying this figure does speak of her being clothed in roses. But the illustration suggests a white object turning red, as de Rola suggests. And by her demeanor and crown, she could be the tarot Empress, as the formerly impure Queen now renewed and youthful, just as Venus was said to renew her virginity whenever she took her morning dip in the sea. In a similar spirit, the Rosarium ends with an image of the coronation of the Virgin (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rosary5.html).



in the 15th century manuscript I have been focusing on (Palat. 1066), de Rola reproduces illuminations that show the King without his Queen. In all cases, even with his Queen, the theme is death, he says, either having happened or in the future. Here are two examples. These are de Rola’s plates 54 (in color) and 59, f. 222v and 224v:


The chicken-like creatures are really harpies, de Rola says, and are just as lethal as the three Fates (on the upper right of the illustration in black and white that I posted in the previous section), the "Stamphalides" (on the left in the same illustration--the verse says Furies), Cerburus (at the feet of the royal couple in the same picture), and other bringers of death which de Rola finds in these illuminations. De Rola says of the one on the left above:
The subject is emerging from the black shadow of death, hence his victorious crown. The Harpies, offspring of Earth and Sea, were as deadly as their cousins the Sirens...
I don’t know why the crown should indicate only victory; in the Rosarium series the King wears it before, during, and after death; it identifies him as the same figure through successive transformations. Also, the verse corresponding to the illustration identifies this king as Neptune holding his trident. And death often comes by action of the sea that Neptune controls. All the same, the horns are very strange, and he is not in a sea with sea creatures, as Neptune is usually portrayed.

O’Neill cites the black and white image I have reproduced on the right above as an example of a resemblance to the tarot Emperor card:
...the King is shown in royal state, much as he appears in early hand-painted Tarots and is even surrounded by black eagles which frequently appear on the shield of the Emperor card.

There are problems with this comparison.

(1) The Emperor card doesn’t ever have eight eagles.

(2) In the alchemical illustration, the eagles are stylized differently than in the Emperor cards, to conform to the stilization of the Holy Roman Empire's eagle. The Emperor card's eagle is a specific eagle that was used by the Emperor and those who were granted its use, to signify loyalty to the Holy Roman Empire and to its continuation.

(3) According to de Rola, the eagles in the illustration signify repeated cycles of death and purification. He says:
Here again, the king is about to meet his doom... The eight eagles symbolize repeated sublimations. In his left hand the king holds the orb, which is a hieroglyph of the name of the subject, corresponding to the celestial sign of Aries. In this sense the death alluded to is a fixation of the volatile, whereby Water becomes Earth.
In sublimation, a substance boils out into the upper part of a flask, where it cools and condenses in solid form on the side, an apt image of death and rebirth. But in the tarot card, the eagle merely symbolizes the Empire. To be sure, the Empire is bigger than the Emperor, it endures after the Emperor has died. But it is still only a succession of mortals, not a purification process.

Thus the resemblance of these alchemical eagles to the tarot eagle is superficial. However that is not to say that people could who knew both could not justly have associated the two figures, an alchemical king so portrayed and the tarot Emperor.

And in a sense even in the tarot sequence, the King must die. The alchemical King and tarot Emperor represent temporal authority, whom subjects of the Empire must obey. Similarly the Pope represents external spiritual authority, which all Christians are bound to obey. To internalize their authority is to be a good citizen and Christian. Yet these figures are mere mortals; later in the tarot sequence comes Death, and after that more long-lasting representatives of authority: the Devil and the Angel of the Last Judgment, certainly, and also the Star, as the “morning star” symbolizing Christ in the second coming. To internalize the authority of that Star, for whom the Angel speaks, is to die and be reborn, and to go from alchemical King to alchemical King of Kings (who sometimes, in alchemy, wears a tiara).


To summarize thus far: What corresponds to the tarot Empress and Emperor in alchemy is the King and the Queen at the beginning of the work. The alchemical King and Queen, in contrast, remain throughout the imagery of the work, in new and sometimes strange forms (in particular, hermaphrodites).

We might ask, then, what corresponds to the alchemical King and Queen later in the tarot sequence? Are they simply left behind, as Empress and Emperor, or do we see them in new form? Perhaps not, in the early tarot. But in the "Marseille" form, of the 17th century, one place we see a crowned head is in the Death card, sticking up out of the ground, outside Death's swath. We might wonder also about the two figures on the Maison-Dieu card; those blobs next to their heads look a lot like crowns, perhaps non-European, Arabic or Egyptian. Their shape is brought out in Flornoy's restoration.) And then there are the two figures on the Judgment card, on either side of the middle.


I could go on: the two horses on the Chariot card, the two imps in the Devil card, the two figures in the Sun card, etc. In short, perhaps King and Queen in alchemical transformation are all these images in the tarot, existing as internalizations of the subject contemplating them, just as the transformations of the King and Queen are in alchemy (in one aspect of that subject). They appear first as powerful authority figures requiring obedience and respect, then the subject himself or herself in various roles, including ones not of this world. That is a hypothesis worth bearing in mind.


I have suggested, following O’Neill, that the alchemical version of the tarot Empress and Emperor is the Queen and King as the impure Stone at the beginning of the Work, when we think in terms of following leaders who are perceived as wise, good, and also worthy of fear. Then there is a purification through suffering, death and rebirth, in which the King and Queen reappear renewed. But alchemy has its association with Kabbalah; there, the third and fourth sefiroth are very high indeed. What could be impure about them?

Pico called the third sefira “source of all souls” (28.6); “the river that flows from Eden (28.11); “the gates of intelligence, great jubilee” (28.13, 11>69); “female, Bet” (28.17) and “the superior jubilee, to which Moses attained” (28.43).

Al the energy that comes from above it, Eden, flows through it to all that is below. To attain it, like Moses, is to gain access to something very near the source. He is describing a force of nature more than a wise being.

Reuchlin, in his Art of the Kabbalah called Binah "Intelligence" (intelligentia); Understanding (prudentia); foresight (providentia), Lord (Adonai), spirit (spiritus), soul (ai'a), prayer (votum), the mystery of faith, mother of sons, the King sitting on the throne of mercy (rex se deus in cthrono miseratinum), the great Jubilee (Iobeleus magnus), the great sabbath (Sabbathum magnum), spiritual foundation (fundamentum spirtuum), and the river issuing forth from paradise (fluvium egrediens de paradiso).

The term “Binah,” means “intelligence.” The descriptors that relate most to the alchemical Queen and the tarot Empress are those that pertain to its being a source of life and spirit, and thus to being a mother--one with foresight, understanding, and mercy. That goes beyond the primitive level of Adam and Eve. This is the Queen at her best, when she is worthy of being crowned Empress, or Queen of Heaven, and not really separate from the Popess.

So perhaps we can say: in one occurrence she is Nature, in all its ethical contradictoriness. In another, not. There is apparently a double nature to the sefira, at the beginning and end of a process. In between is suffering, depth, and the building of consciousness.

As for the fourth sefira, Chesed, Pico called it “Loving-kindness...divine liberality” (Oration, p. 4); “Abraham” (28.14);); and “love, piety” (28.39). Could that be our tarot Emperor as alchemical King, as Adam?

Reuchlin translated “Chesed” as "Loving-Kindness" (clementiae) or "Goodness" (bonitatati), to which he added the qualities of kindness (gra), mercy (misericordia), right arm (brachium dextura, innocent (inocens), bright fire (ignis candid), the face of a lion (faces lionis) m the old man Abraham (Abraham senex), the higher waters (aqiae superiores), and the silver of God (argentum dies),

For the alchemical King and tarot Emperor, the historical Christian Kabbalah of the 16th-17th centuries guides us to think especially of the first patriarch. Abraham loved greatly and was devoted to the continuation of his line, even when it seemed impossible, because God promised it. When he was given a son, he loved Isaac more than he loved himself, because Isaac was his dream fulfilled, but he loved God more. How fear-provoking! He is not Adam, but still, how simple-minded. Such a person, were his voice a different one, would be dangerous. That is the King/Emperor in primitive form, full of paradox. Thus Isaac died to him and was given back to him anew. Such, perhaps, is also the progress of events both in the alchemical and tarot sequences. Obedience changes to the birth within of the Christ, the King of Kings.

Re: tarot and alchemy


First, O’Neill says
In alchemical symbolism, it is difficult to separate the Emperor and the Pope. Together, they represent the material and spiritual aspects of the King. Some representations show them as two heads on the same body. In other cases, they are shown in adjacent pictures as the King and the “Renewed” or spiritualized King.
For the two heads on one body as representing the material and spiritual aspects of the king, O’Neill refers to the same Plate 6 in Mysterium Coniunctionis that we saw in connection with the Popess. What it really shows is the Emperor’s crown on the left head and a King or Duke’s crown on the right.


However another image in the same series, Jung’s plate 4 (below) shows us something like what O’Neill is describing.


Although without knowing the accompanying text it is difficult to say, I think it shows a man who is on the one hand a secular king and on the other hand someone with a spiritual role or calling. Yes, alchemy fuses what tarot, at least in the early part, keeps separate.

For adjacent pictures of the old King and renewed King as spiritual leader akin to the Pope, O’Neill refers us to these pictures in Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy. They are for two emblems from Kelly’s Tractatus de Lapide Philosophorum, 1678, sometimes known as the Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy.


He again says that the “renewed king,” i.e. the one on the right, is in papal gear. But is that really what he has on his head? Adam McLean, describing this picture, says only (http://www.alchemywebsite.com/s_kelly.html)
Emblem 14. Jupiter sits on a throne holding out his staff or sceptre in his left hand. Upon his head he wears a triple crown. At his feet are small symbols of Sun and Moon while beside him stands the alchemist. Kneeling at his feet are Saturn, Sun and Mars on the left and Mercury, Venus and Luna or Moon on the right.
As for what this triple crown might be, we have some information in the Splendor Solis of 1532-1535. It says of the renewed king:
He was crowned with three costly crowns, one of iron, another of silver, and the third of pure gold (Henderson and Sherwood, Transformation in the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis, p. 73)

The related image, Emblem 7, is best seen in large format, so I will not reproduce it here; see http://www.hermetics.org/solis/solis7.html. Here the dying king is in the water, and he is shown miraculously revived in the foreground. The “morning star,” as the text calls it, shines in the heavens next to the sun. This illumination, if it were in the tarot sequence, would be around the place of the Star card.

There are other examples of the same theme, e.g. emblem 20, 2nd series, of the Philosophia Reformata: http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_48.htm. But given the large separation between levels in the Kelly illustration, as opposed to the Splendor Solis, the Kelly could well be that way on purpose so as to suggest the papal tiara. Part of the King’s renewal is spiritual .

I don’t see any of these examples as showing that the tarot borrowed from alchemy. Both symbol-systems used images common in the culture, but for different purposes. The alchemist in the Jung manuscript uses the ecclesiastic’s head to show a goal to be striven for by the seeker, who already has some mastery of the material realm, and not merely to ascend to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth. The king’s simple crown is used to show the soul, or Stone, in its impure state, and the emperor or triple crown to signify when it has attained the goal. The tarot, in contrast, uses such images to show two types of authority, secular and spiritual, which are part of the tarot contemplator’s world and are to be honored, respected, and feared. Then it uses other images, some of which are again part of alchemy’s repertory (such as death and the star), to show later steps along the way, to lead the soul beyond the earthly representatives of authority to a higher authority than either. In this progression, if the tarot Emperor and Empress are the first stage, whose later appearances are the pairs that occur further on in the sequence, then the tarot Pope is the first stage of a sequence of single figures—male humans or masculine-associated objects such as a Tower or Sun--who accompany the pairs in their journey.

The tarot Pope belongs to the earlier phase of development, the relatively blind following of respected authority, rather than the later, more illuminated phases. O’Neill is wrong. if he is saying (and perhaps he isn't) that the transformation is from figures corresponding to the Emperor to figures corresponding to the Pope. The transformation (in tarot, not alchemy) is from both to other figures that transcend both.

O’Neill goes on to compare the tarot Pope with the “alchemist’s guide” in alchemical illustrations. Here I think he is on solid ground. He refers us to two types of alchemical figures: one is wise-looking figures with wings, watching over the operation; they appear in Mylius’s Philosophia Reformata1622, 1st series, emblems 5, 11, 20, and 21 (at http://www.hermetik.ch/eidolon/bilder/d ... 622_48.htm) and emblems 11, 12, 13, and 15 of Lambsprinck’s De lapide philosophica 1625 (http://www.rexresearch.com/lambspr/lambsp.htm). The other group consists of historical alchemists from the past, represented by various personages in Maier’s Symbolae aureae mensae, 1617. For two of O’Neill’s examples, see http://www.trinitysaintdavid.ac.uk/en/r ... hersstone/ and
Similar examples can be seen on the web by searching under the title of Maier’s book. In both types, it is the alchemist’s spiritual authority-figure, the one speaking to him from his books. It is similar to a Pope with his edicts (“bulls”); yet these engravings are all from the 17th century.

What chance is there that the tarot of that time was influenced by such pictures? The tarot Pope is never shown with wings, and the alchemists of the past never sport papal tiaras. After the proliferation of alchemical emblems in the 17th century, however, such associations may well have influenced the Pope’s being renamed, in the late 18th century, High Priest or Psychopomp. Moreover, other figures who, like the Pope, might be construed as initiatory guides, do have wings: the Hermit as Old Man, for example (in the Beaux Arts cards, http://www.tarothistory.com/images/encyclopedia1.jpg), as well as the Devil and the Angel. The Lover’s Cupid might also qualify. Female figures, corresponding to the Popess at later stages, also have wings: e.g. Justice and Temperance in the Noblet (http://www.tarot-history.com/Jean-Noble ... ustice.jpg,
http://www.tarot-history.com/Jean-Noble ... erance.jpg.

Of the male figures, only Cupid, the Devil, the Angel, and in one deck the Old Man , have wings. But in all these examples the figure existed outside of both alchemy and tarot and had wings. (The Old Man has wings in the 15th century engravings illustrating Petrarch’s Trionfi, http://www.petrarch.petersadlon.com/ima ... i_time.gif.) So it is difficult to say whether there is any cross-influence between tarot and alchemy, as opposed to common Judeo-Christian conventions.

It strikes me that one of the images that O’Neill shows for the Magician could serve just as well for the Pope. In an 15th century illumination and 17th century engraving for Norton’s Ordinall, the two assistants are below the alchemist in the same positions as the two acolytes on the Pope card and the two demons on the Devil card.


Both the Pope and the alchemist are in positions of authority over others. Yet there is no reason to suppose that the designers of the Pope cards knew such designs. The Pope is defined by his position as leader of a hierarchy. It is more likely—unless it is pure accident--that the designer of the alchemical illumination wanted to compare the alchemist to a priest or higher clergyman, putting both in company with their acolytes. To those familiar with the Devil card, the alchemist could also be compared to the Devil and his demons.

My conclusion for the Pope—unlike for the Popess--is that the alchemical illustrators may have deliberately cultivated associations between their spiritual heroes and heroines and the figures on the tarot cards. Whether the associations were intentional or not, educated people would have thought of the two pairs together and add alchemical resonances to the tarot cards.

For the Popess, however, to the extent that she has the role of a female psychopomp, there is evidence of that role in alchemy even before the tarot, in Vatican ms. Palat. 1066; I have not found evidence for a male psychopomp in alchemy that early.


The Pope, in his Kabbalist incarnation, has his counterpart in the 5th sefira, Gevurah, often translated as Severity. Pico calls it “Judgment” (900 Theses 28.3); “secret of darkness” (28.21); “outer fear, inferior to love” (28.38); “God's judgment by fire” (11>44); “the property by which Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world” (11>47); “Mars” (11>48); and “power” (11>71). Reuchlin has “gravitas,” seriousness, and “severitas,” severity; also “the dark appearance (spes fusca) ... of harshness (gravitatis)... and fear (timoris).”

That is a rather dark characterization. Kabbalists were often suspected of “Judaizing” heresy: Reuchlin was even put on trial. As for alchemy, from John XXII on, popes issued bulls against it—even though, during the Renaissance, individual popes sometimes consulted its advocates. After the Council of Trent, alchemists were on their guard more than ever.

The alchemists’ own psychopomp, the elusive “Mercury of the philosophers,” was no less severe. It demanded all the alchemists’ money to buy materials for his experiments. It subjected the alchemist to the danger of poisons and explosions. It was unrelenting in its demand for careful study of old texts and then meticulous observation and recording of experimental results. By the end of the 17th century it had turned on the one hand into modern chemistry, medical science, and physics; and on the other hand into new forms of mysticism, with corresponding expressions in art (e.g. Blake), and eventually metamorphosized into the psychotherapy of Freud and Jung; this path carried with it psychic dangers to which its practitioners were often blind (I am thinking of the issues concerning sexual and emotional abuse of patients, real or imagined, in childhood and in therapy).

Reuchlin called this sefira “the old man Isaac.” Two centuries earlier, the Italian Jewish Kabbalist Gikatilla, whom Reuchlin knew in Ricci’s condensed translation, called it “the dim eyes of Isaac” (Gates of Light, English trans. p. 204). Just so, after the benign but obedient (to his voice) Abraham comes the traumatized Isaac, who expresses his emotional state in defensive harshness. Such also is the trauma in the world of the modern psychopomp, whether as world leader or psychotherapist.

The Alchemical Lover

The images on the Lover card, from the Cary-Yale on, correspond to one of the dominant themes of the Rosarium and its descendants: the coniunctio between King and Queen.


The text says that the pair are brother and sister. That might be an allusion to Egypt, where it was well known that the Pharaoh married his sister, or to Adam and Eve or Jupiter and Juno. To me it looks as though the woman was considerably older than the man, and the artist made them mother and son. If so, there might be associations to Oedipus.

In the Rosarium woodcuts of 1550, there are only two people, no Cupid. But I see the dove as comparable to the Cupid overhead on the Lover card.In some later versions there is actually a winged boy in place of the dove, perhaps influenced by the tarot card. The first is the conceptio from the Pandora, c. 1500; the second and third are from Mylius's Anatomia Aura, 1628. I include two from Mylius, because the child doesn't get its wings unril rhe pregnatio, after the Queen has absorbed the King). These emblems resemble the Cary-Yale and PMB Love cards. It is hard to know which way any influence would have gone.


Another illumination is more parallel to the Marseille Lover card. That one occurs in the c. 1420 series of illuminations for ms. apostolica vat. lat. 1066. There a woman stands between the King and Queen, as though either to bless the marriage or to be their initiation leader in what follows. Instead of a child on top, rain falls from a cloud, and a rainbow surrounds the head of the woman in the middle.The text identifies her as Juno, identifiable by the rainbow that accompanies her, as well as the peacocks.


The trash-can like things are to me reminiscent of alchemical containers. The text refers to unguents, i.e. aromatic oils. A double meaning is possible.

Rain from clouds is a feature of many Rosarium-based alchemical illustrations, in the mundificatio or "washing", which immediately follows the conceptio in the sequence.


Juno is the goddess of marriage; so it would not be surprising for her to be in the sequence, to bless the union of the king and queen. The same would apply to the older woman on the Lover card. Yet there may be another meaning, since a similar lady occurs in several other illuminations in the same manuscript. As someone bigger than Juno, a female initiator, she may be leading the king and queen through a series of initiations. It might be as in Mozart's Magic Flute. There it is not enough that Tamino and Pamina love each other. They must also prove themselves in initiations that follow.

De Rola (in Alchemy: the Secret Art) says that the rainbow makes her Iris, the female Mercury, conductor of souls to the underworld. That is one of the functions of an initiator, to lead souls into a symbolic underworld.

The mythologist Natale Conti wrote a compendium of stories about the gods in 1551, entitled Mythologies. In it he includes what he specifically calls an alchemical interpretation of Juno. He calls her "water of Mercury," and says, among other things,
She is in charge of marriages because she is the means for conjoining the sulphuric vapors, Venus and Mars, as it were, and because before the distilling process, she is joined with Jove, and the two together engender the alchemical Sun, hence her being called the wife of Jove. She is the queen of the Gods because she controls, dissolves, joins, separates and constrains the metals, which are named after various Gods. (Anthony DiMatteo, Natale Conti's Mythologies, A select translation, p. 81)
Here again we see Juno depicted as that which brings about the transformation of others, in this case envisioned as vapors and metals, in other words their initiator into higher stages of development. As for the "alchemical Sun" engendered by Jupiter and Jove, we meet him in the next card, the Chariot.


In the same series of alchemical illuminations as the one I have just shown, there is one that might fit Daimonax's interpretation of the Conver Lover card (above), in which the older lady, by touching the phallus (which he imagines her reaching for on the card, above), changes into the younger lady (http://www.bacchos.org/tarothtm/6amour1.html).

The illumination has Juno on the left side and Venus on the right.


Juno, although of much wealth, was said to have been confined to the upper air by Jupiter, who "hung down a golden chain from her hands" (DiMatteo p. 77). In the illumination, consequently, we see her in a tower, counting her gold, with a golden belt. The peacock's tail also suggests the golden chain.

Venus, for her part, was said by the alchemists to have been born from the foam that was generated when Jupiter flung his father Saturn's testicles into the sea. Conti gives the alchemical interpretation of this act. First, he says, the say that "Jove" represents a certain salt-derivative from "Saturn," which is another salt. Then:
...because this "Jove" carries off within himself the "virile parts," that is, cuts off and separates the sulphur hidden within the salt, the residue being received into a vessel placed for the reception of it, he is said to have cut off the potency of Saturn. And since salt sinks down in water, "in the sea," Venus is said to be born from this compound of salt and sulphur. (DiMatteo, p. 77).
It seems to me that this "potency of Saturn," the sulphur hidden within the salt, could just as well, by its touch, serve to renew an older lady as merely give birth to a younger. In alchemy, I am speculating, the effect of the elixir. when it comes into contact with an aging body, is to act as a fountain of youth. In contact with base metals, correspondingly, it changes them to gold.

This process, called multiplicatio in alchemy, is nor depicted as such in the manuscript. But we do have the renewal of the queen. On the left is the middle-aged Juno, cooking in her oven (we can even see the fire buening at the bottom), and on the right, Venus on her seashell. The red spots on Venus are identified in the text as roses, sacred to Venus. But de Rola says that such spots in alchemical treatises are characteristic of the Stone in the final stages of preparation, "the red flowering out of the white" (Alchemy the Secret Art p. 57). So the two women might be the same substance at different stages, before and after contact with the elixir under heat.

At least that is one interpretation that occurs to me. The fountain of youth was a popular theme in 15th century frescoes; perhaps it is based in an alchemical teaching about the elixir, in which the birth of Venus gets an odd twist. However it is something that would happen at the end of the process, not in its early stages as Daimonax finds it in the tarot. The card from this perspective perhaps hints at what is to come.

The alchemical Charioteer

O'Neill says that what corresponds to the Chariot card is the stage in alchemy that he calls "the birth of the philosopher's son," "the first union, the Royal Son," or "the triumph of Apollo or Mars." Moreover (Tarot Symbolism p. 287):
The birth of the philosopher's son only completes the first stage of the operations. The King's son must die, be buried, travel through the underworld and be resurrected into a higher unity. Thus, the Chariot card represents Apollo, the sun god, about to travel into the sea to initiate the "night sea journey."
O'Neil's account of the King's son in alchemy is very close to the interpretation I quoted earlier from Natale Conti in 1551. Conti says of Juno:
...before the distilling process, she is joined with Jove, and the two together engender the alchemical Sun... (DiMateo, Natale Conti's Mythologies, p. 81)
O'Neill refers us to ms. palat. 1066, where there are images with chariots. One is of Apollo leading his horses skillfully. There are also the nine Muses, a typical accompaniment to illustrations of Apollo, the son of Jove if not of Juno. When with the Muses, he usually is shown with his lyre. Here he has a bow and arrow. That is also one of his attributes, the weapon with which he kills the Python of Delphi. A black crow and a red man sit on the chariot, two of the colors of alchemy. The text that goes with the illumination is about Apollo. The crow is part of Apollo's myth and a typical accompaniment; I don't know how the red man fits into his myth, although red men occur often enough in alchemy. The horses are reddish and whitish, corresponding to some versions of the tarot card.

Another illumination in palat. 1066, the one immediately following, has a younger person at the reins, and a devil grabbing them. Below him the same figure being helped out of the water and put into a tomb. The accompanying text is about Phaeton, the son of the sun god Helios, who tried managing the chariot of the sun but couldn't control it. Struck by a bolt of lightning from Zeus, he falls out of the chariot to his death, where his sisters mourn him.

The illustration is in some respects typical of illustrations of Greek mythology at that time. But what is usually shown is just the fall out of the chariot (for example, in the" tarot of Mantegna" Sun card, shown at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantegna_Tarocchi). In the comments accompanying the illumination, no devil is mentioned, nor do the sisters help him out of the water and into a tomb.

The scene in the alchemical illustration seems to me to be one of volatilization and then fixation, in an early stage of the process. Vapors from the heated substance in the alchemist's retort are released into the tubing above it, where it will condense on the sides. They are in a state of heat and agitation, in other words, of high-flying aspiration. Similarly, the man on the chariot is seeing with his mind's eye the ideal images of the upper world that he is now recalling, and at the same time trying to guide his horses accordingly. But he is out of contact with the horses and the rest of the material world. He doesn't even have reins; all he has is his voice. For one horse, that is enough, but not for the other. The chariot is headed for disaster. But it is a purifying disaster, like the boiling over of the alchemist's substance, because the boy will return with more knowledge than he had before.

As far as the Chariot card, it is not clear whether the mature Apollo or the immature Phaeton applies. I would think Phaeton, but perhaps it is intentionally ambiguous.

A problem with the images in palat. 1066 is that they are not in an unambiguously alchemical manuscript; they are in a manuscript talking about the Greek gods. It might help to see what in the unambiguous alchemical imagery corresponds to these images of Apollo and Phaeton.

Unfortunately O'Neill does not give us anything; so I will try. After the marriage of King and Queen, what follows in the Rosarium series is the act of coitus, in a bath. Next, the bath has turned into a tomb, and we see one body with two heads; and third, a small boy ascends into the sky from the fused body. It is this small boy that I identify with O'Neill's "royal son." Here are what the 1555 woodcuts look like (http://www.rexresearch.com/rosarium/rosarium.htm). Number 5 is top left, 6 bottom left, and 7 on the right.

The first is the "coniunctio or coitus"; the second (below the first) is the "pregnatio, or putrefactio"; and the third is the "extractio, or impregnatio animae" i.e. impregnation of the soul. For the third image, the motto is
Here the Four Elements are separated,
And the Soul is most subtly severed from the Body.
So far only this last scene is relevant to the Chariot card, in that it shows a young person in the air. What about the other scenes, between the marriage and the little boy? Well, they are not in the tarot, at least not explicitly. If the Lover card was meant to represent the hieros gamos of Isis and Osiris, anticipating that of God and Mary--then that may include the death scene, because Osiris was already dead, and Isis would soon join him. Isis in effect was making love to Osiris in his tomb.

In the Marseille-style Lover card, Cupid corresponds to what we are now taking as the Royal Son. It is a Cupid who has lost his wings and is all grown up. Now it is the allegory of the Phaedrus that most clearly applies, and the three parts of the soul. The rational part, the charioteer, is quite a bit separated from the other two. If we can say that the rational part is the immortal part, then in that sense it is separated from the mortal parts, in that he is on one level, they are on another, and there is nothing connecting the two. But how does this relate to the Apollo and Phaeton images?

I think the relationship will become closer if we see an additional image from Mylius's Anatomia Aurea of 1628, the "Coitus" image, right before the two I showed in connection with the Lover card. I will show "Coitus" first; the others will follow (I take these images from de Rola's Golden Game).

In the Coitus image, the King says. "Come my beloved, let us embrace and generate a new son who will not resemble his parents." The Queen replies, "Here I come to you, most eager to conceive a son who shall have no equal in the world." These comments, although they come from the Rosarium text, are what is new in our understanding of the imagery. Psychologically, it is very much a recipe for inflation if communicated to the child. According to de Rola, the lady in the vessel in the top image is the Mercury of the Wise. and the youth is the Sulphur of the Wise. De Rola comments (Golden Game p. 207).
The sexual embrace of the purified Principles causes pregnancy, which, as the winged Spirit at the top of the vessel shows, is a Volatization of the Fixed.
He is referring to the child in the "Pregnatio" image. It is the same result as I got for the Phaeton illumination, volatization. It will be followed by sublimation. Here are Myulius's next images

Whether by accident or design, the embracing couple with the child above them is pictorially similar not only to the early tarot Love card but also to the Marseille-style Chariot card, the two horses taking the place of the embracing couple. Both here and in the account described by Conti, the sequence goes directly to the "engendering of the alchemical Sun" without the intervening "putrefactio" of the Rosarium; in the process, the man has disappeared from the vessel in the "Praegnatio" because he has been fully absorbed by Lady Mercury. The old king is dead, and his successor and heir flies overhead.

In the Rosarium sequence, the volatization is the little boy flying up from the tomb into the clouds. The sublimation comes two emblems later, when the boy returns. That stage, it seems to me, is what corresponds in the Phaeton myth to Phaeton falling from the sky. One version of the Rosarium image, a year earlier than the well-known 1550 version, actually shows a child falling rather than flying (http://www.alchemywebsite.com/virtual_m ... urces.html. This is of a second volatization-sublimation process in the sequence, emblems 14 and 16, which involves a little winged girl; I presume that the sequence has a similar image earlier for the little boy.

In such a manner does the charioteer come to earth after living in the clouds of his ambitions. Something similar happens in the tarot as well, when the Wheel of Fortune turns and the Charioteer finds himself at the bottom of the wheel. It is the Charioteer as Alexander the Great, poisoned at a banquet, or Julius Caesar, assassinated in the Capitol.

Alchemical Justice

In the alchemical laboratory, scales are for weighing ingredients, so as to know their proportions relative to each other. Sometimes specific proportions are given in the texts, sometimes not. For the alchemist it is important to know what combinations in what quantities produce what results. The various scenes with scales sometimes also indicate the importance of balance in the work, using the four elements equally. Below, a monk (variously identified as both Roger Bacon and Basil Valentine) holds equal portions of fire and water, while the cloud (air) and stone (earth) balance each other. He exclaims, "Make the elements equal and you will have it." (Image from Michael Maier's Tripus Aureus, 1618, as reproduced in de Rola's Golden Game p. 119.Quote is from s Maier's Symbolae Aurea Mensae, 1617, p. 450, as cited by Fabricius, (Alchemy p. 92).


Measured quantities are also a part of the process of creation, from the random combinations of chaos, as in the illustration below, from Caneparius, Petrus Maria: de atramentis cuiucunque generis, Venice 1619 (in Fabricius, fig. 155, p. 90).

Other relevant images are cited by O'Neil in Tarot Symbolism, p. 278: Fabricius figs. 30, 254, and 325. Fabrocois's fig. 30 has scales with water and fire, like the one with the monk. Figs. 254 and 325, from the Mutus Liber of 1677, show the alchemist and the soror preparing ingredients for the retort

The illustrations so far do not show the sword that is present in the card. It sometimes appears in alchemy as well. Below is an example, from Maier's Tripus Aureus of 1618. A Justice-like figure stands guard over a sealed retort while the Stone cooks (de Rola Golden Game p. 122; Fabricius, Fig. 272, p. 144).

The words on the neck of the retort are "Sigillum Hermetis," "Hermetic Seal," according to Fabricius p. 145. De Rola says that "the scales and double-edged sword respectively symbolize the weights of Nature and the Secret Fire" (p. 125). She has probably used the sword and scales to make sure the proportions of the various ingredients inside were right. I would guess that the sword represents the knife that the alchemist would use to cut off any excess.

Here is another illustration with both scales and sword (from De Alchimia, by Pseudo-Thomas Aquinas, 16th century, as reproduced in de Rola, Alchemy, the Secret Art, pl. 43, and Jung, Psychology and Alchemy p. 300).


Certain ingredients are being added to alchemical Saturn, so as to free his potency. In this case, what is being freed seems to be the children he has eaten. In this case, the lady with the scales holds in her other hand a pitcher of water, with which she washes the figure of the new or renewed king as well as the old king. This pitcher connects her to the pitcher-carryin ladies in the tarot, i.e. those in Temperance and the Star.

In general, I think that all the virtue cards pertain to alchemical operations. Force has to do with the fire: the lion that appears there is associated with fire, and its mane has vertical fire-like waves. Temperance has to do with distillation and the mixing of liquids, one operation making alcoholic drinks stronger and the other making them weaker. Other cards also have associations to alchemical operations, notably the Wheel of Fortune, showing circulation. The Star card has imagery similar to that of Temperance.

Like everything else in alchemy, these operations take on spiritual significance. Keeping good accounts and weighing things carefully is something that applies to life in general. Chemicals are hard task-masters and often unforgiving. Equality among the various components of life, i.e. soul, spirit, and body, is also important. The sword suggests trimming off excess.

I do not see much in alchemy pertaining to justice in the sense of reward and punishment; the emphasis is on maintaining proper order, everything in its place and in the right quantity. This has little direct relationship with Judeo-Christian ethics but much with the exemplar of the ideal society as developed in Plato's Republic, as well as the quest for the perfect examplar of a measure, which bore fruit in the 18th century's declaration of a particular stick in Paris as exactly one meter in length.

The alchemical Hermit

One interesting thing about the Hermit card is the name. It originally was simply "The Old Man." But by the time of the Noblet we see him called "L'Ermite," The Hermit. The same spelling is in "Chosson," 1672, the prototype for the Conver. Yet in Conver (below, the 1781_ the title is spelled differently: "L'Hermite." That is the Old French spelling of the word. Why was it changed? Perhaps to suggest an associaton with Hermetism and its mythical founder, Hermes Trismegistus.



What basis is there for a connection between the tarot Hermit and Trismegistus?Hermes Trismegistus was depicted often in Renaissance Europe and after, especially after the discovery and translation of the so-called "Corpus Hermeticum," the works allegedly authored by him. One of the oldest European depictions was in the frontispieces of alchemical works attributed all or in part to "Senior" i.e. "the Elder," an alchemist known to the Arabs as Ibn Umayl. For the West, the one pictured was Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary sage of Egypt and founder of alchemy. He is the "Hermes" for whom the term "Hermetic" applies. Here is one way that the image appeared (from Mangetus, Bibliotheca chemica curiosa, 1702, as reproduced in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy fig. 128, p. 249).


Notice the nine eagles, with nine bows and nine arrows, all pointing at the center figure. There is a decided similarity here to an image in ms. lat. palat. 1066, of the king surrounded by eight eagles with similar bows and arrows. I showed this image earlier in this thread in connection with the Emperor.


Researching these eagles, I found an article called "Religious Symbolism in Medieval Islamic and Christian Alchemy," by Italo Ronca (pp. 95-116 of Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, ed. Antoine Faivre & Wouter J. Hanegraaff). It is an attempt to explicate frontispiece pictures like the one above. According to Ronca, the picture represents the text's account of what the alchemist reported seeing in a temple known as the "Prison of Joseph." It is a temple near Memphis identified by modern archeologists as that of the legendary physician and healer Imhotep, later deified by the Greeks as Aesclepius. On the temple ceilings were pictures of nine eagles, and on the walls pictures of people dressed in colorful clothes, all pointing to a statue in the center, of a wise man described in a way that Ronca says identifies it as of Imhotep.

Ronca shows another illustration in the same manner, in the Aurora Consurgens of c. 1400. Here it is in color (from Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism p. 362). One of the hieroglyphs in the book is the same; the other substitutes flasks for the sun and moon.


The most interesting of the various versions is in the Dresden copy of the Heilege Dreifalatigheit, c. 1420 (http://www.handschriftencensus.de/14918). In both of these illustrations, there are nine eagles. (2)


According to Ronca, the eagles correspond not to the falcon of Horus but to the Egyptian vulture goddess Neckhbet. The vulture is a symbol of transformation, specifically of the resurrection of the dead; for it is the habit of vultures to eat carrion and transform it into their own living matter.

The nine eagles in the Arabic text--ten in the frontispiece, eight in the c. 1420 manuscript--signify, Ronca says, "the cyclical operations of sublimation and distillation ending in fixation" (p. 107).

Now look at the central figure in this picture, the wise man, the Hermes Trismegistus who corresponds to the Hermit of Conver's Marseille tarot. I thought it might be interesting to compare the image with actual statues from similar temples in ancient Egypt. Below, the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit image is on the left, and two images of Imhotep on the right. It seems to me that there is a clear resemblance.


Compare the ears, the hat, and the shape of the face. In this instance it is as De Gebelin said: an image from ancient Egypt is on our card, transmitted via the Arabs and a German alchemical manuscript, a copy of which was owned by the father of Barbara of Brandenburg, who as Marchesa of Mantua was a close personal friend of Bianca Maria Visconti (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John,_Marg ... g-Kulmbach).

For the Egyptians, as Ronca says, the image would have been Imhotep, architect of the first pyramid and legendary healer, identified by the Greeks with Aesclepius. In alchemy he is the wise old man in possession of the way to the elixir, i.e. eternal life.

Why nine eagles? Did they really "kill" the alchemical Subject nine times, and nine times revive him? Perhaps, but there is another significance to the number. The Theology of Arithmetic, a work I believe inspired the images for the pips of the Sola-Busca, says of the number nine
They used to call it 'Hephaestus,' because the way up to it is, as it were, by smelting and evaporation. (p. 106)
Haephestus is of course the metal-worker of the gods, and a patron saint to alchemists. In relation to the numbers, Waterfield, the translator, speculates that
perhaps the image is supposed to suggest that "smelting" is the fusion of monads into the sequence of numbers, but the monad is not exhausted--some part of it "evaporates," in the sense that it can continue the sequence. (p. 106)
"Smelting and evaporating" is also the way of alchemy. Smelting there is the dissolution of solids into a liquid, followed by evaporation into sealed upper chambers and condensation as a solid again. It is now associated with the number 9.

Correspondingly, the Sola-Busca gives us another version of the scene with nine eagles, this time with nine discs. The alchemist, Trismegistus or his follower, is the still the one being killed, shown now in a way that explicitly reflects the alchemical procedure (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola-Busca_gallery):



There is also Saturn, in his Renaissance characterization, and those born under Saturn. The PMB Hermit has a clear association with Saturn. We can see the association by comparing it with the "Mantegna" Saturn of just a decade or two later(below). Besides his general appearance, the hourglass also was associated with Saturn, in the identification, already made in ancient times, of Cronos and Chronos, Saturn and Time. (Notice here also the headgear: the layers of the PMB's connect him to the Pope; the snail-like hat of the "Mantegna" connects it with the Leber Fool and the Sola-Busca 4 of Batons.)


In alchemy, Saturn was typically shown naked except for a loincloth, and lame, missing one leg below the knee. He is associated with death, decay, lead, and the blackness, or nigredo, when the alchemical substance has been burnt and, in alchemical imagery, the soul has left the body and life seems without spirit (image from Mylius, Philosophia Reformata 1622, Emblem 6; in Fabricius, Alchemy fig. 173, p. 102).


In the Rosarium sequence, we are in a stage shortly after the ascent of the little boy. In emblem 8, the little boy returns to the dead body. He does not look much like the Hermit--on the other end of life, in fact--but like the Hermit he is returning from the heights, into a world dominated by melancholy (the dead body, the clouds). (Image: http://www.rexresearch.com/rosarium/rosarium.htm.)


O'Neill describes the alchemical Hermit as the mystic's inner "evil old man...dying and decaying within him." But not everything Saturnian is evil, or worthy of death. To be sure, those born under Saturn are afflicted with melancholy, but some of them, by virtue of that very melancholy, also see beyond the visible into the realm of prophecy and divine inspiration. Agrippa (Three Books on Occult Philosophy, 1533, Book I Ch. LX) listed three types of divine melancholy. According to Tyson's notes to the printed version (probably drawing on the account in Saturn and Melancholy), this positive side of melancholy went back to pseudo-Aristotle in antiquity, in the 13th of his Problems; in the Renaissance, it was revived by Ficino.

That is is another side of the alchemical adept: melancholy much of the time, isolating from society, but also no stranger to spiritual ascent. So we have pictures like that below, of a man in isolation yet in contact with his spirit and soul (the two little birdlike creatures). This man is not, as O'Neill describes him, "within himself, sealed in the 'philosophical egg' or alchemical vessel...overcome with sadness and suffering" (Tarot Symbolism p. 279). The lines in the picture, I think, link him to the other world, a perceived in ecstatic states (Image: Daniel Stolcius de Stolcenberg, Viridarium chymicum figuria cupro incisis adornatum et poeticia picturis illustratum 1624, fig. XCIX, after Basilius Valentinus, De occulta philosophia, 1603. I take it, following O'Neill,Tarot Symbolism p. 279, from Fabricius fig. 193, p. 109.)


In 17th century alchemical imagery, the alchemist was sometimes shown with a lantern like the Hermit's, following in Nature's footsteps, as some interpret the image. Or is it Wisdom, in O'Neill's words, "the 'Anima Mundi', the goal of human life? (Image: Maier, Atalanta Fugiens 1618, emblem XLII. I take it from Fabricius, fig. 84. p. 55, as cited by O'Neill: )


Whichever, it is the alchemist as searcher; in that case, his despondency comes from his inability to get to where he wants to go. However I think the dominant image is that of the adept, someone already in touch with the divine, which we see in the folds of his robe as the rising sun (left to right: Noblet x. 1650, Dodal c. 1701. Conver 1761)


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