ALCHEMISTICAL ASPECTS OF THE
DECK OF CARDS
(from a lecture by a student, presented at the Second International Alchemistical Convention, Stuttgart, Germany, 1973.)
Anyone investigating old alchemical literature for the first time must have experienced confusion in its highest degree. I am no exception! If, however, for some reason you are mysteriously drawn to Alchemy you will find this great confusion, to say the least, very interesting. You will keep on reading and re-reading and keep on being confused of course. At this stage the most important part is that you are concentrating. When you concentrate you concentre or, in other words, you reduce something to a smaller volume. So when you concentrate you make your brain shrink as it were. (It stands to reason that the well known saying: "Easy does it" should be kept in mind here.) Anyhow, with concentration a most wonderful process is set into motion, which you could call cosmic breathing. With normal breathing, before you can take a deep breath, you will have to breathe out first. Moreover, when you breathe out as much as possible, making it a voluntary effort and then relax, you will breathe in automatically. Try it! So when you have concentrated long enough and as it were squeezed your brain well enough you will automatically draw in new thoughts, ideas or thought patterns, dreams and visions, like a sponge absorbing water. This will make you see things you have never seen before. Strangely enough though, the first things we see are nothing but cobwebs and plenty of them. But this is progress! So what do you do? You get yourself an axe and start hacking and chopping away until your mind is finally free of them, with the exception of a few little ones, which either you have overlooked or are very hard to reach. I must say, I still have a few myself, but seeing that you are entirely free of them you will have no difficulty in conceiving that which is hidden in an ordinary deck of cards.
The origin of our modern deck is still a matter of dispute. Different occultists and historians have different theories. According to Hindu legend they were
invented in India by a Maharajah's wife to cure her husband of the nervous habit of pulling his beard My keeping his hands occupied. Others claim that the ancestors of our modern cards were imported into Europe by the gypsies, who had originally brought them from Egypt.
Personally, I have strong reason to assume that the modern deck of cards has been invented in the fourth century during or shortly after the reign of Constantine the Great. In those days it was plain suicide to utter any of your thinking contradicting or interfering with the then recently founded Roman State Church. It was Constantine that introduced laws forbidding all other forms of worship. Churches were ordered to be built and the temples of the Initiates of the Mysteries and their writings were destroyed. The initiates who refused to accept the Christian faith were murdered. Constantine was a cruel and bloodthirsty person, who committed many crimes, including the murder of many of his own relatives and friends. Philostorgius says that Constantine even murdered his son and and two of his wives, one being Fausta, whom he drowned in a boiling hot bath. It takes little imagination to see how difficult and how extremely dangerous it was for these Initiates, that did survive, to continue teaching their knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries. As a result of all this a deck of cards was ingeniously devised to preserve some of the most valuable truths of the Ancient Masters, although some material of the still older Tarot cards was used.
The deck of cards is certainly not the only way in which knowledge of the Ancients has been preserved, but it is a true masterpiece! It safely survived the Dark Ages. It appeals to the masses, has no language barrier and spread like fire over the whole world. Who has not seen a deck of cards? Who has not played a game with them? Today there are more than 300 games you can play with cards. They have been and still are used by kings and crooks alike. Yet how many did discover the jewels hidden in what they were playing with? Of course, as you know, not many have the eyes to see. If it is not cobwebs, then it is splinters or logs that prevent us from seeing things. Let us now then discover the jewels, which you will agree, form a most valuable key to open the gate to alchemistical thinking and understanding, paving the way to see the Light.
Simply said, the deck of cards represents God as THE ONE, the cause of all that which is and of what which is not. As soon as we open the deck we notice that there appear black cards and red ones and that there are as many black ones as there are red. Does not the Alchemist say "Out of the ONE come two."? The two colours, then, represent the Creative Principle of Polarity, divided into two opposite Principles, the positive and the negative. Although the Creative Principle is within the ONE, for creative purposes it appears to came out of the ONE as two opposite forces which form the basis of movement and without movement no creation would be possible. So in the whole of creation we find these positive and negative forces. We have male and female, active and passive, good and evil, alkaline and acid. In Chinese philosophy we have Yang and Yin, Yang the positive and centripital force and Yin the negative and centrifugal force. These two forces are spiral forces, more known as spiritual forces and truly can be called Spirit.
When we now then have a closer look at the cards we discover that each card carries a symbol and that there are no more than four different shapes, two black and two red, so either positive or negative. We call them Clubs (positive), Diamonds (negative), Spades (positive) and Hearts (negative) representing Fire, Earth, Air and Water in that order, which is also the same order as of the signs of the Zodiac.
According to Hermes Trismagistus the knowledge of the four elements of the ancient philosophers was not corporally sought after. On standard cards we find them in symbols of a shape, as it were, a semimaterialization of both forces into two elements each. These symbols of four suits existed, however, long before they were put on the cards. The Hindu goddess Ardhanari, for instance, holds in her four hands a wand, a ring, a sword and a cup, or the exact replicas of the four suits.
The court cards namely the Kings, Queens and Jacks or Knaves point out the different degrees of whatever element they represent as related to the elemental makeup of man. Of course, we are all composed of the four elements but not in equal proportions. This would be perfection and that can only be found in THE ONE. For instance, the King, Queen and Jack of Clubs refer to people who are predominantly Fire, within the Zodiac comparable with Aries, Leo or Sagittarius, they being Fire signs. The King of Clubs, however, would indicate strong active characteristics of a positive nature. His strength would depend on how he handles the sword he has in his hand. Being a King he would handle it wisely. The Queen of Clubs, also predominantly Fire, would have strong characterstics of that element but of more receptive female qualities. Her strength would depend on how well she handles or hangs onto Life symbolized by the flower she has in her hand. The Jack on the other hand indicates the ignorant or the beginner. He is apparently not aware of his potential fire, in that he has his head turned away from the Club contrary to the King and the Queen.
Much can be said about the different court cards and I would suggest that you have a good look at them in your leisure time, but as far as I can see, they are of little alchemistical importance. The same can be said about the remaining cards of the 52 card deck, namely the cards carrying the numbers one to ten. Each one has its own value, of course, and is very important for different purposes such as playing games, fortune telling, etc. One important realization from the courtcards and the numbered cards is that the possibilities within creation are infinite, that, in fact, nothing is the same with the exception of nothing itself.
What else, then, is there to be said about cards? Have not they all been dealt with? How easily we overlook the little things, the seemingly unimportant things! Don't we find a Joker with every deck of cards we buy? The Joker represents man. Whereas the whole deck is representative of the Macrocosm, the Joker represents the Microcosm. What is of more importance to the Alchemist than Self? Are we not all interested in ourselves most of the time? Let us therefore have a good close look at the Joker and let us discover what he tries to convey to us.
Firstly, I should mention that different manufacturers produce different Jokers as they do not see the importance of the original Joker. Even a bunny coming out of a magician's hat and in Australia a kookaburra with a snake in its beak are used as Joker's cards. This is the blind leading the blind and so much so that it is no joke anymore.
The Joker I'm referring to is the funny man with the funny face dressed in a jester's costume. His feet are like roots, which seem to stick out of the soil. The grass at his left looks aggressive and more like sharp teeth, whereas that on his right looks peaceful and more like grass. It indicates that he has the positive and negative forces of the creative principle within him and that he actually consists of them, as it were, growing out of them. Also have a look at his face. when you cover his left side you will see his right side of the face is happy and surprised. When you cover his right side, however, his left side shows an evil expression. The negative principle is often mistaken for an evil force, but I am one hundred percent certain, that the Joker's left side is meant to indicate evil by his inventor, why, we will see later.
On his jacket we see the symbols of the four elements and in the right order. It shows that man, like the Macrocosm, is composed of the four elements and that the body, with which man is clothed, is a materialization thereof. Now turn the Joker and let him lie on his right side and look at his left elbow. What we see is a head of a monk facing the grass on the evil side. He has no eyes, because he does not have the eyes to see.
Out of the Joker's left sleeve protrudes his left hand. This, of course, is nothing unusual, but his hand is. It represents the hand of Jesus after he had physically died on the cross, with the wound appearing in the form of a diamond in the centre of it. Furthermore, we see that the hand joins or comes out of the back of the monk's head, giving the impression as if the monk is talking through his neck. Now when we turn the Joker a little to the right until the stick in his belt is vertical, we see in his left arm the head of a nun with a cap. Her face actually forms the neck of the monk. She has no eyes either. With the Joker still in the same position, look at his right elbow now. You will see a head facing the Club, wearing a golden diadem, the face having an angelic expression.
Look at the Joker's right hand now, his "good" one, coming out of the angel's forehead. It points with the index finger directly to some sort of a sign on a yellow field. It has to be very important. The Joker's right eye also looks at it! Even this is apparently not
enough because the stick, he has in his belt, points towards it. What makes it so important? What is the sign? To find out what it is let me quote something out of "Aureus" or the Golden Tractate of Hermes*, which every alchemist should be familiar with as it is a written masterpiece of brilliant ingenuity. In section I Hermes says: "And know that the chief principle of the art is the Crow, which is the blackness of the night and the clearness of the day, and flies without wings." Isn't it marvellous that we find the Crow of Hermes in a most unexpected place, namely in a pack of cards hidden in the Joker? This is part of the clue only, because when you know what it is this does not mean you know what it represents. How often has not the "Aureus" or the Golden Tractate been read hardly making any sense or none at all? What it represents I will tell you clearly because once more a time has arrived that the Initiate can again openly teach without endangering his own life. At all times we should be careful, though, not to throw the pearls before the swine as you would only make a fool of yourself in the eyes of your ignorant brothers and sisters. For those who do not see yet what the Crow represents we need to go a little further. Let us discover, to our amazement, that the Joker provides the full key to this. Have a good look at this mouth. You will agree it is a funny one. To have a good chance to see what his mouth is we will turn the card a little to the left making the Joker lie on his right side again. Do you see it now? Isn't it ingeniously drawn? If you still do not see it then there is yet another clue and that is that the Joker has the comb of a rooster on his head and note particularly that it is on his left side. Can there still be any doubt? The relationship between the cock and the crow is obvious and actually these are the same although the cock has a mood different from that of the crow. When you read the Golden Tractate of Hermes again, knowing now what the Crow physically represents, his obscure language will start to make sense. For me, once I had discovered what the Joker had been hiding for hundreds of years, it was the start of one discovery after another, which eventually lead me literally to see the Light. In section II Hermes says: "And know this, that except thou understandest how to mortify and induce generation, to vivify the Spirit and introduce Light ... though knowest nothing nor canst perform anything," and in section III: "The stone comes with light and with light it is generated."
* found in "Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored" by A. Cockren.
TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT ISSUE.
THE OPINION OF 5 DIFFERENT STUDENTS
1. The Qabalah is a system where esoteric knowledge is
revealed about the creative forces which manifest all
materialized objects on our plane of awareness.
It is an oral tradition passed down by the Ancients, our version of which was written in Hebrew several centuries ago. There is great difficulty in retaining the meaning when adapting a tradition to written symbols and more so when translated into other languages. If able to absorb and express the meaning of the original colors, sounds and symbols. one will be aware of his purpose in life and be among those reverently called magi.
2. The QBL gives us an insight into the creation of
Man and the Universe. Also makes us aware of what is
going on about us in this world of ours and what effect
it has upon us.
You also realize there is a higher intelligence working through us if we are prepared to be awake to this.
3. The QBL is an oral tradition of wisdom teachings.
It must be oral because only oral contact can initiate
or pass over to the student the energy of understanding
from a Master.
The QBL teaches a system for establishing interrelationships between Man and the Universe. Such interrelationships involve the inner meanings behind words and language; how number, colour, sound and the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds correspond to Cosmic energies according to the ancient precept - "As Above - So Below".
The QBL shows how all manifestation appears and transforms and evolves according to immutable Laws; how in Nature, evolution and harmony is the Law. Man as a whole is blinded by ignorance of the subtle harmonic
Laws and correspondences in Nature. The chaos that the average man sees is only the chaos of his own ignorance and misunderstanding, for it is only in his society where the chaos is to be found, not in Nature.
Thus the QBL is a tool to lead Man out of his chaos into the world of Light and Reality, through the study of Natural Laws and whereby Man may find his true and rightful place and fulfillment in the evolutionary scheme of Life.
4. The QBL is a system used to establish a relation
ship between Man and the Universe and in particular our
Solar System. It reveals in a most ingenious way, a
Cosmic pattern in a concise manner. It also explains
the principle of polarity. It is an oral tradition
compiled by Moses de Leon + 1200 AD.
The Tree of Life consists of 10 spheres called Sephiroth. Each Sephira has a name, color and number and is connected by a path (Metzlah).
There are 22 Metzlahs which are related to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
5. The Qabalah is a pictorial manifestation or the
template of the evolutionary process. It represents
the spiral of life or life forces. Above all it is a
tool which hu-man may use to unravel the secrets of
life in its different manifestations and levels of
consciousness or existence.
For example, the mineral, plant, animal and supernatural configuration. All these kingdoms, each in its own accord, follow this evolutionary pattern representing the microcosm. If we wish to explore this in the macrocosm, each kingdom lies in its respective level of consciousness when compared to the whole, e.g. mineral to vegetable to invertebrate to vertebrate to human, etc. It therefore unfolds the relationship between all things in the Universe - man to God, mineral to vegetable, as well as man to man or mineral to mineral, etc. i.e. As Above, So Below.
ASTRONOMY FOR ASTROLOGERS I
This is the first of a series of short articles to illustrate and clarify some of the actual mechanics and physical realities behind the basic factors which make up the astrological chart and the information supplied by the ephemeris.
Such factors which often seem to need explaining are, for example, what is the Ecliptic, Right Ascension (RA) and Declination, the Precession of the Equinoxes, Retrograde motion of the planets, the Tropical and Sidereal Zodiacs, what causes the seasons, the phases of the Moon, etc?
I hope to answer as simply as possible, with the aid of illustrations, these questions and others in coming issues of Parachemica.
THE ECLIPTIC AND THE ZODIAC
The ecliptic is the apparent path of the Sun in the heavens, the great circle the Sun appears to follow in its journey around the Earth taking a year to complete one cycle. In reality it is the Earth that orbits the Sun, the Sun being the Earth's Centre of Gravity in common with the other planets in the Solar System. It is not entirely true to say that the ecliptic is, therefore, an imaginary great circle traced in the heavens, the plane of which passes through the centre of the Earth.
The ecliptic, as well as being the actual path followed by the Earth, also corresponds very closely to the plane of the orbits about the Sun traced by the other major planets.
The zodiac can be defined as a belt of the sky which has the ecliptic as its centre. This belt is considered to 0 extend about 8o either side (north and south) of the ecliptic, a total of 16o within which the Sun, Moon and major planets always remain. The ecliptic is so-called because eclipses can only occur when the Moon is in or very near to it.
The name zodiac comes from the Greek Zoon, meaning a living thing. Thus it is against this background band of the zodiac of 12 star constellations that all the planets and the Sun and Moon appear to move, from the viewpoint of the Earth.
The Earth's axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5o to the pole of the ecliptic.
The revolution of the Earth in its orbit, and the resulting changes in the direction of its axis of rotation relative to the Sun, produces the seasons. Hence, the varying angle at which the Sun's rays strike different parts of the Earth's surface is the principle cause of the seasons. The higher the Sun's meridian (noon) altitude, that is, the closer the Sun is to being directly overhead, at a given place, the greater the amount of heat that will be received.
Thus for Melbourne (38o S), midsummer is reached when the direct ray of the Sun strikes at 23.5o south latitude where and when the Sun is directly overhead at noon which is as far south as it can go. In Eastern Australia this occurs at the latitude of Rockhampton on 21 December and thus 23.5o S is known as the Tropic of Capricorn.
Likewise on 21 June the Sun is directly overhead at 23.5o north, the Tropic of Cancer, Melbourne's shortest day, or mid Winter. From all the foregoing, it should also be seen that the ecliptic also corresponds to the direct ray of the Sun and that the Zodiac is, practically also, the orbit of the Earth.
Inclination of the Earth's Axis, the Main Cause of the Seasons
EQUINOXES AND SOLSTICES (THE FOUR INGRESSES)
Equinox means equal day and night and occurs twice a year as the Sun (or Sun's direct ray) crosses the equator. This gives us the start and mid-point of the Zodiac (Aries and Libra) and the start of Spring and Autumn.
For someone living in the northern hemisphere Spring begins (0oAries) when the ecliptic crosses or cuts the equator, moving from south to north, on the 21 March and Autumn begins (Spring in Melbourne) when the Sun crosses the equator moving south (0oLibra) on the 31 September.
Declination is the term used for the angle between the equator and the plane of the ecliptic, and as said before, this angle or declination varies from 23.5 o N to 23.5 o S.
Solstice means 'Sun standing still' and this occurs at midSummer and mid-Winter at these maximum declinations north and south of the Sun or the ecliptic. Thus Winter Solstice (0o Capricorn) 21 December and Summer Solstice (0o Cancer ) 21 June. The 2 solstices and 2 equinoxes are together known as the 4 Ingresses of the Sun, i.e. the 4 entries of the Sun into the 4 corresponding signs of Aries (Vernal Ingress), Cancer (Summer Ingress), Libra (Autumnal Ingress) and Capricorn (Winter Ingress). These are often occasions for various religious festivals to be held all over the World, e.g. Harvest festivals, Midsummer day, festivals of Light (Christmas, etc.).
Astronomy for Astrologers II
Q: During a recent alchemy class we used a synthetic, washable and re-useable filter "paper" as a fast filter. Where can I get these filters?
A: This was a nylon fabric for swimming pool filtration.. The material is available by the yard from CLARK RUBBER STORES and can be cut in circles for re-useable filter "papers" or sewn on 3 sides for a useful filter bag for squeezing out the excess tincture from the body of herbs after maceration.
Q: It is still not clear to me what is the difference in medicinal virtue between the fixed and unfixed tinctures of antimony. Could you please clarify this?
A: It is said that the fixed tincture is applicable for fixed diseases and has a contractive influence. By fixed diseases it is meant chronic or long-term diseases which tend to be deep seated and slow in development. Mentally also, the fixed tincture tends to sedate and soothe the nerves. The overall action of both tinctures derived from yellow glass is, of course, as a general blood cleanser and detoxifier.
The more easily-prepared unfixed tincture which does not contain any spirit of antimony, is said to be active in unfixed or volatile diseases. This would refer to acute or short-term diseases which although more superficial can be violent such as inflammations with high fevers. Mentally also, the unfixed tincture should stimulate, being expansive and should therefore help in low energy and depression for example.
However, it is warned that both tinctures should not be used in disease without professional and qualified advice as amount and frequency of dosage is a vital factor, and also other remedies may be indicated. But rather the tinctures should be used in general detoxifying work once it is certain the preparation contains none of the poisonous body of antimony, and doses should start at the minimum for several weeks until the response of the system is established. A gentle cleansing at first is always better.
We must admit that what is closest to us is the very thing we know least about, although it seems to be what we know best of all.
Man, if indeed thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not. thou art cursed, and a transgressor of the law.
"And thus, every man, if he is not just an ordinary man, that is, one who has never consciously 'worked on himself', has two worlds; and if he has worked on himself, and has become so to say 'a candidate for another life',he has even three worlds."
-G.I. GURDJIEFF, from his latest book, "Life is Real Only Then When 'I Am".