Monday, March 28, 2022

Could the "moon" be Betelgeuse?

In my last post, I mentioned that Sirius and Procyon -- possibly represented by the two dogs or jackals on the Moon card -- form a triangle with a third very bright star, Betelgeuse.

Betelgeuse is red, and the moon is also mostly red in many Tarot de Marseille decks. Could the "moon" actually be Betelgeuse?

The obvious question is why a star would be represented with a waxing crescent shape on it -- but the Tarot itself offers a possible answer. Betelgeuse is the right shoulder of Orion.

On the Chariot card, the charioteer's right shoulder also bears a waxing crescent with a face, very similar to what we see on the Moon.

The problem remains that the dogs are in the wrong position. If Betelgeuse is at the top, Sirius (the larger, bluer dog) should be on the right, and Procyon on the left. If the "moon" is Betelgeuse, the Moon card shows a mirror-image of the Winter Triangle.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The blue and red jackals and the stars

The Moon card of the Tarot de Marseille features a crayfish and two dogs. The constellation Cancer was normally portrayed as a crayfish in the past, and the two dogs would then represent Canis Major and Canis Minor, both of which are in the region of the sky assigned to Cancer.

My recent post "The red and blue jackals" drew my attention to the color of the two dogs, and I realized that a blue canine could well be a representation of the principal star in Canis Major -- Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest and most obviously blue star in the sky. Sure enough, the Tarot de Marseille always portrays the blue dog as the larger of the two -- Canis Major.

It would be natural to infer, then, that the smaller, pink or buff dog represents Canis Minor and its principal star, Procyon. The problem is that Procyon isn't red. The red star close to Sirius in Betelgeuse -- the third member of the Winter Triangle asterism -- but Betelgeuse is part of Orion and has nothing to do with dogs. Procyon is very nearly white, and much closer to Sirius than to Betelgeuse in color.

Doing a bit of searching on the Internet, I found a few possibly relevant facts. The first is that several cultures have called Sirius the jackal star. I quote the following from a notice in the November 1883 issue of Popular Science, which ties Sirius not only to the jackal but specifically to the jackal as an animal in Indian fables.

The Jackal, the Fox-Fables, and the Dog-Star. -- Herr O. Keller, in a paper on "The Jackal in Antiquity," urges that the Western nations, who had foxes but no jackals, borrowed the traits ascribed to jackals, in Oriental fables, with the fables, and transferred them to their foxes. Thus the Grecian foxes were endowed with the attributes of two animals, and the most curious fox-fables of Aesop are in their origin Indian jackal-fables. Some of Aesop's fables represent the fox as the follower and servant of the lion, which he is not known to be in any sense. The jackal, however, is in the habit of following the lion at a respectful distance, and lives on what he can pick up from the deserted repasts of the king of beasts. This trait was observed by the ancient Indians, and it was a natural result of the observation that their vivid imaginations, discovering royal prerogatives in the lion, should endow his follower with the qualities of a minister and counselor, and make him to assist his majesty by using in his behalf the qualities of slyness and cunning in which the royal beast was deficient. The Greeks substituted foxes for jackals because they knew nothing about them, and their foxes came nearer than any other animal to answering the descriptions of them. The transfer was made easier by the gradual development of the fables from simple nature-stories into moral lessons, in the course of which absolute truth to nature grew less essential, and the representation of abstract qualities under purely conventional masks became more prominent. The incongruous association by the Greeks of the supposed evil influences of Sirius with the harmless dog are susceptible of a similar explanation. The Chinese, however, who also attributed evil qualities to the dog-star, called it the jackal-star, and appropriately; for as the heat and drought of which it is the forerunner are destructive to the crops, so likewise are the jackals, which make their home in the fields, and are constantly running through them in gangs, destroying myriads of plants, in search of their food. To the Egyptians, Sirius was also the jackal-star, but foreboded good, for it appeared just before the time of the inundation. The Mesopotamians also recognized in it a forerunner of beneficent inundations, and gave it the name of the dog, an animal which they held in high esteem. The Greeks borrowed the Mesopotamian name, and kept the Chinese idea, which harmonized well with the character of their own dog-days. The origin of the dog-star has been associated by some other writers with the idea that Sirius, the chief of the stars, was the shepherd-dog to the host of heavenly sheep, represented by the other stars.

The second thing I found was this 1995 article by R. C. Ceragioli in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, called "The Debate Concerning 'Red' Sirius." It begins thus:

A long-standing question in the history of astronomy concerns whether Sirius, the Dog Star (α CMa), could have changed its intrinsic colour since antiquity. Half a dozen Greek, Roman and Near Easter sources refer to Sirius as "reddish", whereas since at least the Renaissance it has always shone a brilliant bluish white. So the question has been posed: could Sirius have changed from reddish to white since Antiquity?

At first sight, this might seem a reasonable possibility: stars do evolve and suffer various kinds of changes during their lifetimes. Could these ancient references to Sirius's redness be evidence for an evolutionary change during the historical period? Most astronomers consider this unlikely, because stellar evolution generally takes eons, not a mere 2,000 years, to produce significant results. Accordingly, they usually reject the ancient evidence for 'red' Sirius out of hand. Yet that evidence is strong . . .

I haven't yet read the whole article, but the idea that Sirius somehow changed from looking red to looking blue is an intriguing one. Paired with the idea that Sirius was originally the jackal-star, it suggests a possible meaning of the Blue Jackal fable, in which an ordinary (red-brown) jackal is dyed blue.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The red and blue jackals

In comparing different historical Tarot de Marseille decks, one quickly discovers that color is one of the most variable elements. It would be hard to find any feature of any card which is the same color in every single Marseille-style deck. Even such basic things as the Sun being yellow are not universal.

However, in every single one of the Marseille and Marseille-like decks in my files, the two dogs on the Moon card are colored the same: the one on the left is light-blue, and the one on the right is pink/buff/flesh-tone. (How exactly the eight colors of the standard Marseille palette are realized varies from deck to deck.) The one exception is the relatively late Lequart Pochoir deck (1890), which is wildly idiosyncratic in its color scheme -- but here even the Lequart doesn't stray far from the consensus, making the dogs blue and red rather than light-blue and pink. Take a quick look at the gallery below and notice how variable the colors are for the moon, the crayfish, and almost everything else in the picture, except the dogs. 


Recently, while searching for something else (Tarot, but otherwise unrelated), I came across a passing reference by Wilfried Houdoin (whose historical Tarot de Marseille facsimile decks I highly recommend) to a very similar pair of colored dogs found in manuscripts of Kalīla wa-Dimna, an 8th-century Arabic adaptation of the Sanskrit Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables dating back to 200 BC or earlier.

Kalīla wa-Dimna, 1220 (above) and 1310 (below)

As the examples above show, there is some variation as to which dog (jackal, actually) is on the left and which on the right, but the Arabic names are constant: The red or pink jackal is Kalīla (Sanskrit Karataka) and the blue one is Dimna (Sanskrit Damanaka).

I've never read Kalīla wa-Dimna, but I do have some passing familiarity with its source material, the Panchatantra, and anyone who has read that will know there is not the slightest chance that either Karataka or Damanaka could have been blue or would ever have been portrayed as blue in Indian art. Why? Because one of the stories told by this pair of jackals revolves around the idea that there is no such thing as a blue jackal, that a "blue jackal" might as well be a creature from another world!

Briefly, the story of "The Blue Jackal" concerns an ordinary jackal who, fleeing from dogs, jumped into a vat to hide and found that it was a vat of blue dye. When he came out, he was blue and scared away the dogs, who did not recognize him as the jackal they had been chasing. Taking advantage of his new color, the Blue Jackal told all the animals that he was a celestial being sent from Indra to be their leader, and they believed him. His first act as King of the Beasts was to banish all the jackals, lest any of them recognize him. Some time later, though, while he was holding court, a pack of jackals happened to be passing by in the distance, and they started howling. The Blue Jackal, unable to restrain himself, joined in the howling. Thus was he recognized as an impostor by the other animals, who turned on him and killed him.

Searching the Wikipedia article on Kalīla wa-Dimna (flagged with "This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed"), I can't find the words blue, dye, or color anywhere, so it appears that "The Blue Jackal" didn't make the cut when the Panchatantra was translated into Arabic. Could the convention of portraying Dimna as blue have been influenced by an Indian illustration for "The Blue Jackal," misunderstood as portraying a different Panchatantra jackal story?

In the story from which Kalīla wa-Dimna takes its name, the two jackals are brothers who work as doormen in the lion king's court. The ambitious, smooth-talking Dimna successfully gains the favor of the king and becomes his most trusted advisor. Later, when a bull becomes his rival for the king's favor, Dimna sows distrust between the lion and the bull and tricks the former into killing the latter.  Through all this, Kalīla is constantly warning Dimna to abandon his ambitious schemes, but Dimna always ignores him. In the end, Dimna's duplicity is revealed, and he is first imprisoned and then executed.

The similarity to "The Blue Jackal" story is apparent; both Dimna and the Blue Jackal use deception to rise higher than their appointed station in life, and both come to a bad end. In some versions of "The Blue Jackal" I have read online, the Blue Jackal even becomes the most trusted advisor of a Lion King, so it appears that the two stories have sometimes been conflated. Perhaps an Indian illustration of the Blue Jackal enjoying a position of high status among the animals was misinterpreted by the Arabs as depicting Damanaka/Dimna, and the original idea that a blue jackal was something highly unnatural was lost. (Perhaps jackal coloration once varied more in the Middle East than it does at present, or than it did in India; cf. the black jackals of Egyptian art, corresponding to no extant species. Gray, or "blue," might have been seen as an unremarkable color for a jackal.)

Whatever the origin of the red and blue jackals seen in Kalīla wa-Dimna illustrations, I think it is reasonably likely that they had a direct influence on the Tarot de Marseille. While the Major Arcana are Christian and European through and through, the Minor Arcana (and our modern playing cards) undeniably descend from Arabic cards brought into Europe in the 14th century with the invading armies of the Mamluk Sultanate. If this bit of Arab Muslim culture was incorporated into the Tarot wholesale, we should scarcely be surprised to see hints of that influence in the Major Arcana as well.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Lightning and falling rocks

In my last post, "Lightning from the Sun?" I refer to the astronomical theories proposed by David Talbott and the Thunderbolts Project and how synchronicity connected them with the Tower card of the Tarot.

Intrigued by the first "Symbols of an Alien Sky" video, I've started watching "Symbols of an Alien Sky, Episode 2: The Lightning Scarred Planet Mars," which is, insofar as a layman can judge, makes a very strong case that the face of Mars was shaped by electrical discharges on an enormous scale. Starting at 18:39, there is even a reference to the question that inspired my first post on the Tower, "What is the House of God?" -- the connection between lightning and "thunderstones," or meteorites.

We have proposed that in a former epoch of planetary instability electric discharge excavated the Martian surface miles deep, throwing massive quantities of rock into space. This would mean that most of the Martian rocks reaching Earth would have come from well below the surface and would not even bear the atmospheric signature of the planet. So, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the planet Mars was not a small contributor but the greatest contributor to meteoric bombardment of Earth in ancient times.

On this question, ancient testimony holds a surprising answer. Worldwide accounts describe apocalyptic wars of the gods punctuated by lightning and falling stone. Rocks from space falling on the Earth have no connection to lightning and thunder in our own time, but the ancient connection is clear. In many different languages meteorites and exotic rocks were called thunderstones, or thundereggs, said to have fallen in the great wars of the gods.

Could this ancient connection have survived in oral tradition all the way down to the French peasants of the 20th century, who, René Guénon reports, "say, in fact, that thunder falls in two ways, 'in fire' or 'in stone'"? Could there really be any connection between this


and this?

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Lightning from the Sun?

The earliest recorded names of the 16th trump, known in English as the Tower, show that its primary subject was originally lightning. Old Italian documents call it Fire or The Arrow, and the Vandenborre Tarot (1780) calls it Lightning. The Vandenborre and the Tarot of Bologna, also dating to 1780, are the oldest Tarots I have been able to find that portray lightning in a way somewhat recognizable to us moderns, as zigzag lines.

Vandenborre, Bologna (both 1780)

Even the Vandenborre portrayal is a little odd, though. Note the petal-like tongues of flame or light radiating from the cloud, which seem out of place in a thunderstorm ("dark and stormy" is a cliché for a reason) and belong more to conventional representations of the Sun. The Bolognese card seems to show the bolt coming from the Sun itself.

The Vandenborre card is clearly patterned after the much older Jacques Viéville card, and seems almost to be a modernizing "correction" of its imagery.

Jacques Viéville (c. 1650)

Look at the Viéville card. Does that look anything at all like lightning? The cloud is simply radiating light like the sun. Even the cloud itself is somewhat strange, with its reds and yellows (changed to a more realistic gray in the Vandenborre), but it does at least look like a cloud.

The Bolognese card is based on the Tarot de Marseille, where the lightning comes from the upper right corner of the card, and what it comes from is scarcely visible -- but what it visible of it certainly doesn't look at all like a cloud.

Pierre Madenié (1709), Jean-Pierre Payen (1713)

The lightning appears to be emanating from an object consisting of concentric circles, with pointed rays coming out of it -- nothing at all like cloud, and much more like the Sun. Some decks show a bit more of this object, making its nature clearer.

François Héri (1730)

In some Besançon decks, it is pretty explicitly the Sun.

Johan Jerger (1801)

Isn't that strange? Lightning obviously doesn't come from the Sun, and it's hard to imagine that any one ever thought that it did. Lightning typically occurs during rainstorms, when the sky is overcast and the Sun is not visible.

The other strange thing is the way the lightning itself is portrayed. As I've said, no cards that I know of prior to 1780 show anything we would recognize as lightning. The appearance of lightning -- a narrow, many-angled, often branching line of light -- is so distinctive that any deviation from it demands explanation. But all the oldest Tarots show it either as a diffuse radiance (Viéville), a thick column (Payen), or tongues of flame (most Marseille).

Over at From the Narrow Desert, I recently posted "Moon River syncs," about synchronicities indirectly related to my earlier post here about the Tower, "What is the House of God?" Something I mentioned in the post made Craig Davis think of the documentary "Symbols of an Alien Sky," and he posted a link to it. He had posted the same link once before, quite some time ago, but I didn't watch most of it because I have little patience with video. This time, though, with a little nudging from the sync fairies, I watched the whole thing.

The video, by David Talbott, presents a fringe astronomical theory which is too involved to summarize here, but the important points are (a) that the planet Saturn used to be much closer to the Earth, so close that it dominated the sky and was referred to as the "sun"; and (b) that when planets are close together, streams of electrified plasma sometimes connect them, and that the vajra, keraunos, and other strange-looking traditional depictions of the thunderbolt are accurate renditions of these plasma streams.

I lack the background knowledge to pass judgment on fringe astronomical theories, but this one fits nicely with the Tarot images discussed in this post, where strange-looking lightning emanates from the "sun." This image from the video bears a certain resemblance to the lightning on the Payen card.

After writing the above, I went to work, and received immediate confirmation from the synchronicity fairies.

My first class is a very small one, with only two students, a boy and a girl. Today the boy was wearing a shirt that said "SPACE" in English and had a silhouette of the planet Saturn. In the center of Saturn was a "lightning bolt" shape -- a modern one, just a zigzag pointed at either end.

Something like this

Just before the class, I had been thinking of the Tarot in terms of Talbott's theory, thinking that the "sun" from which the lightning was coming might actually be Saturn. Quite a coincidence, right? How often is the planet Saturn associated with lightning?

But the other coincidence was even more impressive. The other student, the girl, had brought a toy which was a little stuffed octopus with short tentacles.

Like this

During the class, she took this octopus out of her bag. She held it with the tentacles up, smooshed them together so they resembled the fingers of a hand, and said, "Teacher, look! 'Raise your hand'!"

Why was that such an impressive coincidence? Because, starting at the 57:56 mark, the "Symbols of an Alien Sky" video shows how a configuration with eight radii can look from a certain angle like a hand.


That's an extremely specific coincidence! The same thing can resemble either a hand or an eight-tentacled "octopus" depending on how you look at it. Paired with the lightning-Saturn shirt, it seems almost uncanny.

Friday, March 18, 2022

What is the "House of God"?

Pierre Madenié (Dijon 1709), Rider-Waite (London 1909)

In the Tarot de Marseille, the card usually known in English as the Tower is called La Maison Dieu -- the House of God -- and I've never really seen a good explanation for that. Some Tarot writers have attributed it to "the anti-clericalism of the period," but I don't think that really works. The Tarot de Marseille portrays the Pope in a very conventional way, and ranks him higher than the Emperor, which hardly seems consistent with an anti-clerical stance. There is also no attempt to make the tower look at all like a church or the two figures falling from it like clergymen. And supposing you did view the institutional church as irredeemably corrupt and wished to portray it being destroyed by a bolt from heaven -- would you really label this doomed edifice "the House of God"? Our hypothetical anti-clerical cardmakers can hardly have been atheists -- the tower is being destroyed by God -- and so they could hardly have been against the church while at the same time acknowledging that it was the House of God.

(Okay, maybe they could have. Jesus both acknowledged the Temple as "my Father's house" and prophesied its destruction. But the fact remains that both the building and the people look quite secular on the card.)

I think the key is to keep in mind that the tower itself may not be the central feature of this card. Old Italian sources call it Sagitta or Fuoco -- Arrow or Fire -- clearly seeing the lightning bolt, not the tower, as the main subject of the card. (Something similar can be seen in the Star, Moon, and Sun cards, each of which features an earthly scene which, were it not for the card title, we might mistake for its primary subject.) This is confirmed by the Jacques Viéville card, which doesn't even feature a tower at all but has a tree being struck by lightning.


And what are those round things falling down from the sky, which also appear on the Marseille card? I'm typing this in my office at the English school, and just outside a student is playing a CD for a listening exercise. Immediately after I typed the above question, the CD chimed in: "What are they? They're rocks."

Are they rocks? I guess the only other real possibility would be hailstones -- the biblical combination of hail and fire (Ex. 9, Ps. 18, and elsewhere) -- but rocks are interesting because they suggest a possible referent for the title "House of God."  In his essay "Thunderbolts," collected in Fundamental Symbols, René Guénon quotes an obscure writer whom he refers to only as Auriger.

In an article published in a special number of Le Voile d'Isis devoted to the Tarot, Auriger, speaking of arcanum XVI, has written: "It seems that a relationship exists between the hail of stones which surround the thunderstruck Tower and the word Beth-el, dwelling place of the Divine, from which 'baetyl' is derived, a word by which the Semites designated meteorites or 'thunderstones.'" This connection was suggested by the name "House of God" given to this arcanum and which is in fact the literal translation of the Hebrew Beth-el.

Unable to find any information about this Auriger character, I tried looking up the name on the French-language Wikipedia, and by a strange coincidence, the first suggestion was a Wikidata article on Betyla auriger, which is apparently an extremely obscure species of tiny ant-like insect. Having just read a quote from Auriger about the meaning of baetyl, I search for his name and find it associated in a completely different context with betyla!

Anyway, whoever Auriger was, his link between baetyls (sacred meteorites), lightning, and the phrase Maison [de] Dieu checks out.

Le mot bétyle provient de l'hébreu « Beth-el » (« demeure divine » ou « Maison de Dieu »). Par la suite, ce mot fut utilisé par les peuples sémitiques pour désigner les aérolithes, appelés également « pierres de foudre ».

Baetyl means Maison de Dieu, and refers to meteorites, which are also called pierres de foudre ("thunder stones" in my translation of Guénon, but more properly "lightning stones"). In the Flemish Vandenborre Tarot (1780), the 16th trump is called La Foudre and closely resembles the Jacques Viéville card -- the main difference being that it shows flames rather than stones falling from the sky.


The Vandenborre shows lightning as fire; Viéville shows it in the form of "lightning stones," also called bétyles; and the Tarot de Marseille also shows these stones and calls the card La Maison Dieu, which is an etymological translation of bétyle. There's clearly something going on here. Is it possible that the card was called La Maison Dieu because it portrayed baetyls, and that it was the influence of this name that led the "tree" form of this card to disappear and the "tower" form to become standard?

Guénon himself goes on to reject Auriger's idea, insisting that "thunder stones" are actually something quite different.

In fact, whether it is a question of baetyls in general, or of "black stones" in particular, neither the one nor the other really have anything in common with "thunderbolts"; and it is on this point that the remark quoted at the outset is gravely mistaken, with a mistake which can be easily explained. It is indeed tempting to suppose that "lightning stones" or "thunder stones" must be stones fallen from heaven, aeroliths, but in reality they are not. We could never have guessed what they are without having learned the truth of it from peasants who, through their oral tradition, have retained the memory of it. Moreover, these peasants themselves are mistaken in their interpretation, that is, in their belief that the stones have fallen with the lightning or that they are lightning itself, which shows that the true sense of the tradition eludes them. They say, in fact, that thunder falls in two ways, "in fire" or "in stone." In the first case it sets fire, while in the second it only shatters; but they know the "thunder stones" very well, and they are mistaken only in attributing to them, because of their name, a celestial origin which they do not have and never had.

The truth is that the "lightning stones" are stones which symbolise the lightning. They are nothing other than prehistoric flint axes, just as the "serpent's egg," the Druid symbol of the World Egg, is in its material form nothing other than the fossil sea urchin. The stone axe is the stone which shatters and splits, and this is why it represents the lightning bolt.

Whether the French peasants are "mistaken" or not is neither here nor there. Certainly modern science finds no more connection between lightning and meteorites than between lightning and flint axes -- but the fact of an old French tradition about "lightning stones," whatever its scientific shortcomings, remains highly relevant when it is a question of interpreting old French symbolism. They say, in fact, that thunder falls in two ways, "in fire" or "in stone" -- isn't that an excellent explanation of the two depictions found on the Vandenborre and Viéville cards? And the fact that these "lightning stones" are called baetyls -- after Beth-El, the vision-inducing meteorite which served as Jacob's pillow -- suggests an explanation of the otherwise confusing title La Maison Dieu.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Temperance, the Hermit, and the hourglass

As I pointed out in last year's post "First thoughts on Temperance," the image on the Temperance card -- liquid being poured from one vessel to another -- is conceptually similar to an hourglass, and that an hourglass has actually been used elsewhere as a symbol of that virtue.

Detail from Ambrogio Lorenzetti,
Allegory of Good Government (1338)

Lorenzetti's painting is in fact the earliest known depiction of an hourglass -- and it is captioned Tenperantia (cf. the spelling Tenperance used in most old Marseille decks).

If we look at the hourglass as a symbol of time itself (tempus), the narrow neck in the center represents the present moment. The lower chamber, full of sand which has already passed through that neck, corresponds to the past; and the upper chamber is the future.

Now compare this to the Tarot image of Temperance.

Pierre Madenié (1709)

The angel of Temperance is pouring water from the vessel in her left hand (our right) into the one in her right (our left). Since the original image is of pouring water into wine to dilute it, the upper vessel contains water, and the lower one contains wine. The upper vessel corresponds to the upper chamber of the hourglass, which has the form of an inverted triangle -- the alchemical symbol for Water. The upright triangle of the lower chamber is the alchemical symbol for Fire (with which wine is associated). If we add horizontal lines through the triangles, we have the alchemical symbols for Earth and Air. Just as the angel of Temperance is pouring Water into wine (Fire), an hourglass pours sand (Earth) into an "empty" chamber (Air).


Notice that the grains of sand in the upper chamber of an hourglass move toward the center, while those in the lower chamber move away from the center. In the Aristotelian schema (from On Generation and Corruption), centripetal motion is associated with the Cold elements of Water and Earth, and centrifugal motion with the Hot elements of Fire and Air.

Fire and Air are masculine elements, while Water and Earth are feminine. In the hourglass, and in the vessels of Temperance, we have a sort of reverse-insemination symbolism, with the masculine vessel passively receiving material from the feminine. In the hourglass, this inversion is explicit: the only reason an hourglass works at all is that it artificially inverts the natural arrangement, putting Earth above Air; the motion of the sand is gravity's gradual rectification of this unnatural state of affairs. Notice that both in Lorenzetti's painting and on the Tarot card, the receptive vessel is held in the masculine right hand; and on the card, the other vessel (I can't think of an appropriate antonym for receptive) is held in the feminine left hand.

If the upper vessel represents the future and the lower vessel the past, the main difference between the hourglass and the Temperance image is the present. In the hourglass, as in our common conception of time, the present is where the future and the past meet, and it approximates a dimensionless geometric point. On the Temperance card, the two vessels are separated, and the present -- no longer dimensionless -- corresponds to the stream of water flowing between them. Temperance. The present has been expanded from a point to a line. Our ordinary perception of time is as a line bisected by a point present, but occasionally (mostly in the dreaming state), we have access to the higher-dimensional perspective of meta-time: a time plane bisected by a linear present -- a meta-present which embraces the entire timeline of ordinary experience. (I have posted about this many times; search my blogs for the name Dunne.) In my 2018 post "As the heavens are higher than the earth," I interpret the "higher" perspective referred to by Isaiah as being dimensionally higher.

One sense in which the heavens are higher than the earth is in their higher dimensionality. Strictly speaking, of course, the earth is a spheroid and is just as three-dimensional as the heavens, but the earth as experienced by man is essentially a two-dimensional surface, which is why it is often convenient to represent it with two-dimensional maps. The heavens, in contrast are fully and irreducibly three-dimensional, such that no two-dimensional map would be a close enough approximation to be of any use.

Human thoughts and ways tend to be limited to three spatial dimensions, with the fourth dimension experienced as “time.” God, who is eternal rather than temporal, can be conceptualized as thinking and working (at minimum) “one dimension up” — using the fifth dimension as time, which enables him to see our whole four-dimensional continuum as “present.”

But just as the earth is not truly two-dimensional, human thought and experience is not truly limited to the “temporal” (meaning the perspective from which the fourth dimension is “time”). Just as we can sometimes look down from a mountaintop or an airplane, using the third dimension to get a wider-than-usual view of the two-dimensional surface on which we live and perhaps an inkling of the perspective of “the heavens,” so can we sometimes attain a fleeting glimpse of the higher-dimensional (“eternal”) perspective of God.

These "fleeting glimpses" of the perspective from which the present is not a point but a line -- can they not be symbolized by an hourglass with the two chambers drawn apart, a flowing stream taking the place of the point-like neck? And don't the angel's wings and eye-like headdress also suggest this "higher perspective"?


If hourglass imagery is implicit in Temperance, it was explicit in the card now known as the Hermit but originally called il Gobbo, il Vecchio, or il Tempo (the Hunchback, the Old Man, or Time). Like the figure in the Lorenzetti painting, the Old Man carried an hourglass, holding the lower chamber in his right hand.

Visconti-Sforza (mid 15th century)

When what presumably began as a copying error transformed the hourglass into a lantern, this character developed into the Hermit of the Tarot de Marseille and his close cousin, the Capuchin of the Tarot de Besançon. (Even some decks that call him the Hermit make an exception to their standard eight-color palette to give him the characteristic brown robe of a Capuchin friar. Historically, the Capuchin style of dress was a deliberate homage to that of the Camaldolese Hermits.)

Pierre Madenié (1709), Johan Jerger (1801)

The Rider-Waite card generally follows this model, deviating from it as described by Waite in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.

The variation from the conventional models in this card is only that the lamp is not enveloped partially in the mantle of its bearer, who blends the idea of the Ancient of Days with the Light of the World. It is a star which shines in the lantern. I have said that this is a card of attainment, and to extend this conception the figure is seen holding up his beacon on an eminence. Therefore the Hermit is not, as Court de Gebelin explained, a wise man in search of truth and justice; nor is he, as a later explanation proposes, an especial example of experience. His beacon intimates that "where I am, you also may be."

Waite writes the Hermit's number not as VIIII but as IX -- the Greek initials of Jesus Christ -- a decision perhaps not unrelated to his identification of the Hermit with the title "Light of the World" (John 8:12) and with the saying "where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3).

The most interesting feature of the Rider-Waite Hermit in the present context, though, is that "it is a star which shines in the lantern" -- specifically, a six-pointed star, or hexagram.


The hexagram in the lantern is interesting for two reasons. First, it reintroduces the hourglass's symbolism of the two opposing elemental triangles.


As shown above, Temperance and the Hermit take the hourglass symbolism in opposite directions. In Temperance, the two chambers of the glass are separated and moved farther apart, expanding the point that connects them (the punctal present of object time) into a stream (the linear present of meta-time). In the Hermit, the two chambers overlap and interpenetrate.

What this could mean in terms of time is hard to make out. While the Temperance image features a linear present -- an extensive region which is neither past nor present -- the hexagram has instead a large two-dimensional region which is both past and present whatever that could mean! So far I have not been able to find any coherent symbolism in this.

The other reason the Rider-Waite star-in-the-lantern image is interesting is that it is a link to the Star card, which in turn is obviously closely related to Temperance.


Marseille decks invariably have eight-pointed stars, and Waite follows that tradition, but in Switzerland the number of points was somewhat variable. Besançon decks often have five-pointed stars, and one deck (only one that I know of) actually has hexagrams like the one in the lantern of Waite's Hermit.

François Héri, Solothurn 1730

I find the Star to be one of the very most enigmatic Tarot trumps, the origin of its iconography a mystery. I suppose it must have come from depictions of the constellation Aquarius -- often shown pouring out two water jugs in Medieval zodiacs -- but in the context of the Tarot deck the similarity to the Temperance image must be intentional and must have some meaning. I have connected Temperance with the Hermit by way of the shared hourglass imagery, and Waite's Hermit completes the triangle by connecting the Hermit with the Star.

I am not yet sure what to make of these connections, but I think in the future I will have to contemplate these three trumps together.

Could the "moon" be Betelgeuse?

In my last post , I mentioned that Sirius and Procyon -- possibly represented by the two dogs or jackals on the Moon card -- form a triangle...