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The following is an excerpt from The Book of Maps, the companion guidebook to the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot.
Hermetic principles rang true for me decades before I ever heard of the doctrine. When I was in grade school, I read an encyclopedia entry on Zoroastrianism, which inspired me to write a private diary entry fantasizing about a universal religion. What if there was one religion that was the common denominator of all religions?—I ruminated in longhand into a notebook as a child.
That is the cornerstone of Hermetic philosophy: prisca theologia, the pursuit of formulating a universal religion. Intuitively, all my life—with no knowledge of the work religious scholars have done on connecting Zoroaster with Hermes Trismegistus—prisca theologia has been my pursuit, the one passion for which I’ve consistently demonstrated the most zeal for.
The doctrine of a prisca theologia evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries to be integrated into the esoteric schools or mystery traditions of the time. Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Thelema integrated the principle of a primordial religion, one that the mystery traditions of that time believed could be learned through the ancient Egyptian religions, Zoroastrianism and the Persian magi, Hinduism, the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, and Jewish mysticism. So these were the systems of beliefs I looked to when crafting the stories, cultures, and worlds of Spirit Keeper’s Tarot.
Yet let’s begin our discussion of Hermeticism somewhere else. Perhaps the Hermetic principle best known among tarot readers is the maxim, “As above, so below.” In other words, that which is above corresponds with that which is below, and that which is below corresponds with that which is above, and if you can operate in a manner where above and below are resonant with your intentions, you can achieve personal miracles. What is the Craft but the pursuit of achieving personal miracles?
Hermeticism is also rooted in a trinity of core practices, which I summarize as devotion to the Divine, alchemy, and divination. Devotion to the Divine encompasses dedicated ritualistic observances to connect with a defined sense of what that Divinity is, and to lead a lifestyle that honors that Divine. It’s faith. The first of the three core practices is expressed by Key 0: The Initiate. This is the Spirit in Search of Experience.
The second is alchemy, but for modern sensibilities, I would interpret this as science, or the notion of passionate endeavors toward scientific discoveries. The spirit of alchemy and paying homage to it through integration of classical alchemical symbology is very much embedded into Spirit Keeper’s Tarot. Reconciling science and the formulation of a universal religion is, I think, the bedrock of alchemy. This second core practice is expressed by Key 0: The Seeker. This is the Spirit in Search of Science.
The third core practice is divination. Divination is the study of methods that facilitate the Voice of Spirit to be heard. Divination teaches us to always be listening to that Voice of Spirit. Here, divination includes astrology, but for me, also the tarot, and any mode of divination, such as the seven mystic arts. Weaving divinatory practices into everyday life directs your mind to harmonize your body and spirit with the world around you, both the seen and the unseen. That is expressed by the final Key 0: The Keeper. This is Spirit in Petition of Spirit.
Seven Hermetic principles as outlined in The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy (1908) also makes its way through the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, because these are the principles that my occult work is rooted in. The seven principles are: mentalism, correspondences, vibration, polarities, rhythm, causation, and the divine androgyne, or union of the polarities. Most of Western occultism, especially as it has been permeated into the esoteric practices of the tarot, is rooted in these seven Hermetic principles.
The principle of mentalism conveys to us that “all is mind.” Through your mind, you are connected to the whole of the universe. All the cards in the tarot bear the imprint of that lesson, but perhaps it is most immediately prevalent in the suit of Swords.
The recurring symbol of the lemniscate, or infinity symbol, often found in occult renderings of the tarot is the reminder to us of mentalism: the Magus can control the magnetic life force that binds together the fabric of the universe. The tarot, then, is a living, changing grimoire that instructs the Magus on how to operate that magnetic life force. The Force reminds us again of our mental powers for wielding that life force. Even the Demon has lessons on mentalism to teach.
Then there is the principle of correspondences that practitioners of any mystery tradition will be too familiar with. The principle of correspondences holds that a pulse point on one plane has an equivalent point on every other plane, and if you can access one pulse point on one plane, then you can access every other plane through that pulse point. In the practice of craft, that means each tarot card is a placeholder for every other system, from the Kabbalah to astrology to elements and numerology, to color waves and sound waves. We thus use the tarot as the access pulse point to trigger the equivalent points throughout the innumerable other planes. That is how personal miracles are achieved by the Magus.
The third principle is that of vibration. Hermetic philosophers borrowed the idea from the ancient Greeks, which modern science has confirmed as true: matter and energy are in constant motion, or vibration. In the philosophy of tarot reading, that is to say that no divination is static or fixed. Our fates are in constant movement and even the readings that tarot cards give reveal as much. Our fortunes are in perpetual shift beneath the surface of the cards, and it is guided by that conviction that I’ve tried to illustrate my deck in such a way as to convey that movement, that constant change, that vibration. I wanted a two-dimensional black and white deck to feel animated.
The principle of polarities, or dualism, is in short, yin and yang. It is the belief that all energies are expressed as dualities, creating a tension. We see this in the Egyptian ogdoad of primordial deities: four deities with their four consorts, the male and female dichotomy of each primordial element that were the catalyst for Creation. For every One, there is in fact Two—that is the crux of the fourth principle of polarities. There are two sides to every truth and a pair of opposites in every One Thing. The Priestess, The Lovers, and The Chariot are but three of many keys in the tarot depicting that principle of dualism. Flip through your deck specifically in search for the principle of polarities and you will find it to be one of the most recurring themes in the tarot.
The fifth Hermetic principle is that of rhythm and cycles. Everything in life is cyclic, from the changing seasons to the cycle of life and death, and implied within that, a belief in reincarnation. According to Hermetic philosophy, our mental states operate in rhythms and cycles. Suffering and pain are of the same rhythm and cycle.
A card in the Minor Arcana that exemplifies that principle is the Four of Cups (in Spirit Keeper, the Four of Chalices). The Golden Dawn attribution for the card is “Blended Pleasure,” and Hermeticism bears a strong influence over the Golden Dawn. Here in the Four of Cups, which the RWS deck depicts as a solemn figure with arms crossed, chin down, in solace under a tree, rejecting a divine offering of a chalice. The imagery hardly conveys the sense of blended pleasure, and yet it does, if we read it through the fifth Hermetic principle of rhythm and cycles. The fifth Hermetic principle is best expressed by the sine and cosine, the unit circle, and the cycles of trigonometry.
The sixth principle is that of causation: cause and effect is the universal law, both on the physical plane and on the spiritual. This is the principle that drives through the Second Septenary, most notably in Key 10, the Wheel of Life and Key 11: The Chancellor.
Finally, the seventh principle of divine androgyne, that there exists a divine masculine and a divine feminine within the One Divinity. The principle of gender here is psychic, however, not literal. The divine androgyne is a spiritual polarity that is ever present within the singularity: it is the anima and animus that must ultimately harmonize. Understanding polarity is the beginning of the Great Work, and harmonizing it into a divine androgyne is the end of the Great Work. Thus, the final card of the final Septenary in the Major Arcana is the New World Order: the Divine Androgyne, which has often been said in esoteric readings of the tarot to be a Key that depicts a hermaphrodite. Before Key 21, that harmony was prognosticated in Key 14: The Angel.
Yes, any tarot deck inspired by either the Rider-Waite-Smith or the Thoth deck is going to express these core principles of Hermetic philosophy. It’s inevitable.
For me, rather than have it be inevitable, it was intentional. Each card in Spirit Keeper’s Tarot tells a fable, parable, or is an allegory that expresses one of the core principles in Hermeticism, always in an effort to reveal that primordial religious tradition, that prisca theologia. The drawing techniques I worked with, such as pointillism in the suit of Orbs to suggest vibration, using illustration techniques with perspective and angles, or the contrasting checkered backdrop across The Shining Ones (the Knights), just to name a few, were chosen intentionally to depict Hermetic philosophy and to convey an enlivening of spirits residing within the cards.
While Hermetic influences in the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot are visible throughout and therefore undeniable, I would say the psychic nucleus of my tarot deck is to inspirit a sacred text, written under the tutelage and instruction of a cast of angelic beings and spirits, that could at its greatest potential direct each one of us to that prisca theologia.
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