by Kathy Berkowitz
Journey of the Soul (Continued)
This is the last essay in a series of essays that compares Saint Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God with Arthur Waite’s Trumps from his 1910 Tarot.
Despite the popularity of the Waite-Smith Tarot, few have explored Arthur Waite’s mysticism outside of the magical tradition of the Secret Society of the Golden Dawn that Waite insisted he rejected. In these essays, I propose that Waite’s deck shows the influence of Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey, which had six steps that recapitulated the six days of creation. The journey begins in the sensory world, or macrocosm. The external world is interiorized, and made hierarchical with the regeneration of a spiritual faculty lost in the Fall. If the spiritual faculty is not regenerated the soul risks becoming lost in the sub-lunar world of temptation and error. However, through contemplation the soul continues the ascent to divine union. In the Sixth Stage the soul recapitulates the creation inside and outside therefore becoming a mirror of divine unity. In order to argue this hypothesis, I divide the twenty-two Tarot Trumps into eleven pairs based on verbal clues and iconography. Then, I associate the pairs with the steps in the Soul’s Journey by using quotations from Bonaventure (1217-1274), and Pseudo-Dionysius, the 5th Century Christian Platonist, who was the inspiration for this tradition of contemplation. In the final stage or the seventh day, the soul will experience the ecstasy of divine union, as symbolized by the marriage of the soul with her spouse and the descent of the divine Jerusalem.
After completing the six days of the soul’s journey, the 7th day is for rest and peace, as Bonaventure writes, ‘It [the soul] reaches the perfection of its illuminations on the sixth day of creation, nor does anything more remain except the day of rest on which through mystical ecstasy the mind’s discernment comes to rest from all the work which has been done’. (Soul’s Journey, p.109)
The Fool and World represent the 7th Day
The Fool and the World pair mark the beginning and end of the soul’s journey just as Temperance and Judgement represent the ascent and the final goal of ecstatic union.
Waite describes the Fool card as , ‘[…] a prince of the other world on his travels through this one’ (PK p.152). Often the Tarot has been called the Fool’s Journey, and so in a sense we could say that the Fool is a kind of soul figure, as the soul is from another world traveling in this one.
Waite says the World card, ‘[…] represents also the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God […]. It has more than one message on the macrocosmic side and is, for example, the state of the restored world when the law of manifestation shall have been carried to the highest degree of natural perfection. But it is more especially a story of the past, referring to that day when all was declared to be good, when the morning stars sang together and the Sons of God shouted for joy’ (PK pp.156-159).
The Bible quote, ‘When the morning stars sang together and the Sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:4-7) begins, ‘where were you when I laid the foundation of the world’. Remember that the journey of the soul is a journey back to the beginning before there was a separation between God and the Universe, it is a journey of restoration and a journey that recapitulates the act of creation uniting the macrocosm and the microcosm. The Fool could be viewed as traveling toward the World, as a return journey with the sun behind him.
Waite, according to his biographer R. A. Gilbert, spent a lot of effort coaching Pamela Coleman Smith, the artist for his Tarot, on the design of the Fool card. Therefore it’s intriguing that in his guidebook, Pictorial Key [PK], description of the Fool seems to be paraphrasing Pseudo-Dionysius.
Here is the first sentence of Waite’s description of the Fool:
With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world….He is spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card (PK p.152).
Here I believe is a comparable sentence taken from Dionysius:
Then freely and untrammeled by anything beneath him, he returns to his own starting point without having any loss. In his mind he journeys toward the One. With a clear eye he looks upon the basic unity of those realities underlying the sacred rites. He makes the divine return to the primary things the goal of his procession toward secondary things […] (PK p.213).
The two passages contain some common words and similar meanings. For example, the words ‘trammels’, and ‘return’ appear in both passages. Also in Dionysius the traveler doesn’t seem to be concerned about ‘anything beneath him and he has no loss’; while the Fool pauses at the ‘brink of a precipice’. In the Dionysius paragraph there are ‘sacred rites’ and in Waite’s description there are the ‘Instituted Mysteries’.
In the 5th Step of the Journey I compared the Visconti-Sforza World card with the two Cherubim of Bonaventure’s two paths representing the divine names of Being and Good. I believe Bonaventure’s Soul’s Journey has an interesting relationship to the Visconti-Sforza World card. On the surface the Waite-Smith World card and the Visconti-Sforza World card don’t seem to have much in common. The Visconti-Sforza features the two Cherubim holding up a circle with a city inside; while the Waite World card has a single lightly clad dancer inside a wreath. I believe, though that the following quote from Bonaventure might provide the basis for a relationship between the two cards.
Finally, when the face of the earth has been renewed,
when the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater,
like the light of seven days that holy city of Jerusalem,
which came down from heaven like a bride adorned
now prepared for the marriage of the Lamb,
clothed with a double stole will be led into the palace of the heavenly court
and introduced into that sacred and secret bridal chamber
and will be united to that heavenly Lamb
in so intense a covenant that the bride and groom will become one spirit one spirit one spirit
(Tree of Life, pp.167-168)
In the Visconti-Sforza World card each cupid is wearing a stole. You could say that these are double stoles. In the Waite-Smith style the figure is wearing one stole. Perhaps the Visconti Sforza is the pre-bridal chamber with the two stoles, and the Waite-Smith World is post-bridal chamber with the one stole. After the bride and groom have become one.
The World card brings to a completion the Soul’s Journey, which Bonaventure compares to the ‘six steps of the true Solomon’s throne by which we arrive at peace where the true man of peace rests in a peaceful mind as in the interior Jerusalem’ (Soul’s Journey, p.110).
The Judgement card precedes the World card in the order. Ecstasy comes before peace or rest. As I explained in the first essay, Temperance and Judgement are a pair representing the beginning and end of the soul’s journey. I am including Judgement here because I believe it helps make the case that Waite was following Bonaventure in the symbolism of his deck. The scene on the Judgement card exactly matches a passage in Bonaventure’s book, the Tree of Life:
At the time of the future judgement,
when God will judge the secrets of hearts,
fire will precede the judge
angels will be sent with trumpets
the elect will be gathered together from the four winds
and all those who are in their tombs will rise by the power of the divine command.
(The Tree of Life, p.165)
The Waite-Smith Judgement Trump perfectly illustrates this passage from Bonaventure. The angel’s hair is on fire, the angel is blowing a trumpet, the wind is represented by the clouds, the people are rising from their tombs as if by a command that appears to be coming from the trumpet.
Arthur Waite was a mystic but he was also an occultist. He studied the occult Tarot and borrowed heavily from Eliphas Levi and Oswald Wirth for his 1910 deck. The idea of pairing Trumps to express esoteric insights was part of that occult tradition. Papus in The Tarot of the Bohemians has a scheme of paired trumps as does Oswald Wirth in The Tarot of the Magicians. Paul Christian in his History of Magic describes a journey beneath the pyramids where the blindfolded postulant goes through an initiation that culminate in entering a gallery of twenty-two frescos that face each other in eleven pairs. Paul Christian’s journey beneath the pyramids was probably based on Abbe Jean Terrasont’s novel Sethos where the initiate undergoes trials by the four elements beneath the pyramid of Khufu. The journeys beneath the pyramids have characteristics of the Soul’s Journey including the four elements or metals as a veil of matter, the risk of losing one’s way and perils on the path, and a death like experience that leads to a vision or ecstasy. Arthur Waite ‘Soul’s Journey’ is filled with authentic Catholic medieval mysticism, but he constructed the journey in pairs similar to other occultist, only in typically Waite style obfuscated the pairs beneath a layer of symbolism. Did Waite leave some hints that he had combined images?
In his book, Shadows of Life and Thought, in the chapter on the ‘Great Symbols of the Tarot’, Waite writes:
There is an explanation of the Trumps Major which obtains throughout the whole series and belongs to the highest order of Spiritual truth. If anyone feels drawn in these days to the serious considerations of Tarot Symbolism they will do well to select the codex of colored cards produced under my supervision by Miss Pamela Coleman Smith. If they seek to place upon each individually the highest meaning that may dawn upon them in a mood of reflection, then to combine the messages, modifying their formulation until the whole series moved together in harmon. It should be understood in conclusion that we are dealing here solely with pictured images; but the way of the mystics ultimately leaves behind it the figured representations of the mind: It is behind the kaleidoscope of external things that the still light shines in and from within the mind, in that state of pure being which is the Life of the Soul in God.
When we ‘reflect’ on the images we see that some cards have matching iconography, as do their descriptions in the guidebook. We can then ‘combine’ them, although this might ‘modify’ the order or arrangement, but the whole series will then reflect a harmony.
Another way to approach proof of this hypothesis is to add up the numeric pattern, which again is following in the traditions of Papus and Oswald Wirth who had arithmetic patterns with their Trump pairs.
I did add the paired series, first adding the numbers on individual pairs and then adding the sums of the eleven pairs. The total sum of the pairs is a highly meaningful number, 78, or the number of cards in a Tarot deck.
This confirms for me that the paired Trumps not only seem to match up with iconography and word clues but also do belong together numerically. Since seven plus eight equals 15, and 1+5=6, the total sum may refer to the six spiritual days of creation that are recapitulated in the six stages of the soul’s journey.
This ends the comparison of Waite’s Soul’s Journey of the Tarot and Bonaventure’s Soul’s Journey.
Bibliography and Notes
Colm Luibheid, translator and Paul Rorem Foreword & Translation Collaboration, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1987.
- Note: All the quotations and page numbers refer to this translation of Dionysius.
Arthur Edward Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination, U. S. Games system, Inc. Stamford Ct., 1910 and 1997.
- Note: I have abbreviated the Pictorial Key to ‘PK’ and all the page references are to this guidebook.
Ewert Cousins, Translation and Introduction, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; the Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, Paulist Press Inc., Mahwah, New Jersey 1987.
- Note: All the quotations and page references are taken from this translation of Bonaventure.
Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Great Britain, 1995.
- Note: Denys Turner is a brilliant scholar of Dionysian spirituality. He has a chapter on Bonaventure, ‘Hierarchy interiorised: Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis in Deum’ that explains the interiorized hierarchy. He gives a succinct description of the steps and makes both Dionysius and Bonaventure more accessible. His writings on Bonaventure and Dionysius influenced me throughout all the essays.
Kent Emery, Jr., Monastic, Scholastic and Mystical Theologies from the Later Middle Ages, Variorum Ashgate Publishing Limited, Hampshire, Great Britain, 1996.
- Note: Kent Emery’s chapter on ‘Bonaventure’ explains much of the underlying structure of the Soul’s Journey, such as, the theological virtues with the three powers of the soul and the four cardinal virtues with the four elements, the recapitulation of creation, the spiritual days of creation and much more. I used his interpretation of Bonventure’s concept of spiritual days rather than material days.
Ewert Cousins, Bonaventure and the Coincidence of Opposites, Franciscan Herald press, Chicago, Illinois, 1978.
Michael Dummett and John McLeod, A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack: The Game of Triumphs, volume one, The Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales, United Kingdom, 2004.
R. A. Gilbert, A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts, Thorsons Publishing Group Limited, Northamptonshire, Great Britian, 1987.
- Note: The comment on the Fool card is from page 138. Also, Gilbert is sympathetic to Waite, especially in relation to his arch foe Aleister Crowley. He doesn’t give explicit information, though, on Waite’s mysticism.
Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 6th Edition, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., 1998.