Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
An international group of tarotists are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers. I was the wrangler this go-around and offered up the theme “The Magic of Images,” inviting participants to design a tarot spell, tarot talisman, tarot ritual, or magical image to invoke the qualities of the Two of Wands (Mars in Aries), Three of Wands (the Sun in Aries), and/or Four of Wands (Venus in Aries) or otherwise write about tarot, images, and magic.
The Magic of Images
Decans: The Source of the Magical Images
We’re all familiar with the tropical zodiac, the constellations that form the red carpet of the Sun’s annual circuit divided into twelve equal pie pieces with the earth at the center. Each of these pie pieces is one sign of the zodiac, and these signs can be further divided into three sections each, called faces or decans (from deca, ten, indicating that each of the thirty-six faces is a 10-degree portion of the 360 degree circle of the zodiac). The origins of this division go back to ancient Egypt, where these ten degree divisions correlated to thirty-six 10-day weeks of the year (plus five intercalary days to create a 365-day year).
In Egypt, each decan was associated with a fixed star that rose at the appropriate time, but due to the longevity of their culture, they tracked the stars for long enough to notice that the stars shifted and no longer lined up properly with the seasons, a phenomenon known as precession. But the idea that a star or deity ruled each week carried on in the imaginations of many generations to follow. In the late nineteenth century, the Golden Dawn was inspired by these astrological divisions and assigned the forty pip cards, minus the four Aces, to these thirty-six decans.
In 36 Faces, Austin Coppock compiles charts of references to the decans, which helpfully outline similarities and differences in one easy-to-reference source. The second decan of Aries in one tradition is assigned to Persephone, in another to Anubis, both characters who travel to the underworld periodically. The Liber Hermetis ascribes the spirit of the decan as Tzabaoth, a Hebrew word meaning “armies” or “hosts.” This source goes on to describe the image as having “a two-headed face and a lotus of the kings open on its head. In the compass of the lotus there are stars the splendor of gold. He has also in his right hand a water jug that is called life, in his left a scepter the extremity of which is bifurcated. This decan is clothed in linen and he treads under both his feet a tortoise entirely covered with a net.” The idea of a split scepter is relevant to the spring plowing of fields, and to the sexual metaphor that inspires.
But starting with the Brihat Jataka, a sixth century astrological text of India, the image becomes a woman wearing red with a single foot. Similar descriptions are found subsequently in texts from the Middle Ages, including the Picatrix, which changes the woman’s garment to green. “There ascends in the second face of Aries a woman dressed in green clothes, lacking one leg. This is a face of high rank, nobility, wealth and rulership. This is its form.” Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, the European Renaissance text on ritual magic describes the magic image as: “A woman, indeed dressed in red outer garments, and white [garments] beneath them, stretching out her foot. This image is made for nobility, loftiness of kingdom, and a great dominion.”
The One-Legged Goddess
In a class I took with Austin, he mentioned that a possible source for the image is an African one-legged goddess. When I consulted Google on the subject, it did not provide an African goddess, but did offer up a Japanese mountain deity, Yama-No-Kami, a female spirit who had one leg and seemed to be associated with the hunt as well as spring-time planting, both correlates of the Aries symbolism. I also discovered a suggestive reference in The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia by William Hayes Ward, published 1910, available on Google Books. Chapter 50 describes an image from the Syro-Hittite pantheon of “the goddess with robe withdrawn.” She is described here as a naked goddess who exposes her nudity by lifting her garment on one side. Not a one-legged goddess, but with a single leg revealed.
Interestingly, the Syro-Hittite goddess is posed between two men, and the majority of the decanic images show our one-legged woman between two men: in Aries 1 the character is described as a distinguished black man dressed in white holding an axe, in Aries 3 we see a man described alternately as yellow, red, or white who holds a bracelet in one hand and a wand or stick in the other. He wants to do good but cannot. In one of the Syro-Hittite images we see something remarkably similar:
Another large and fine cylinder is shown in fig 926. Here as in the previous cases the goddess’s flounced garment covers one leg and is seen extending outside of the other leg. Before her stands a very short skirted god Adad Teshub with weapons in both hands a long queue down his back and walking on mountains. On his head is a pointed helmet. On the other side of the goddess is the other principal vested god in a high hat and a longer robe. We observe that both his hands are closed fists.
On one side is a warrior with weapons in his hands–similar to our axe-wielding Aries 1, and on the other side is a man with fists–the image of a closed hand being one that is not taking action, like our dis-empowered Aries 3 character.
The Faces of the Zodiac and the Tarot
Do these images have anything to do with the RWS Two, Three, and Four of Wands? No, I’m not even going to try to argue that Pamela Colman Smith was influenced by this. I don’t see it. But does the astrology fit the cards?
The Golden Dawn assigned the titles Lord of Dominion to the Two of Wands, corresponding to Mars ruling the first decan of Aries; Lord of Established Strength to the Three of Wands, the Sun ruling Aries 2, and Lord of Perfected Work to Aries 3, ruled by Venus. Dominion is an area that you have control over–it can be territory or an area of life–but you are in charge of your dominion. Established Strength means that your power in your dominion is clearly recognized by others. Perfected Work means that you have done this work well–you have ruled well and people respect what you have built.
But astrology adds a seasonal component to this. The planet Mars rules the sign of Aries, and well as being the ruler of the first decan. We can see from the arrangement of the glyphs at left the image of plow and furrow, and yes, throughout the millennia plowing a field has been used as a sexual metaphor. The middle decan is ruled by the Sun, which also is exalted in Aries, and finds its exaltation degree in the second face. The Sun’s astrological glyph is a circle with a dot in the center. This can be an image of the center and by extension the self, but also could be seen as a seed with the germ indicated, or a pregnant belly. The glyph of Venus is frequently, even in tarot, shown as a flower (see the pattern on the gowns of the women in the Nine of Pentacles or the Empress in Colman Smith’s illustrations) and can also easily be seen as a stick figure of a person, the outcome of the gestation. In the Four of Wands image at the top of the post, you can see the flower rising up out of the field.
Like our one-legged Japanese goddess, the decans of Aries refer to spring planting, germination, and growth. Like Anubis and Persephone these seeds enter the underworld but return. Like the two-headed face and bifurcated scepter these faces rule both: the equal division of day and night, the above world and underworld. The seed in many cultures is considered a spiritual mystery. A tiny, seemingly inconsequential pipsqueak is hidden out of sight in the dirt. And then sprouts wheat, corn, flowers: food and beauty. Things Venus rules, incidentally.
The sprouting seed has two shoots–one, the root, descends into the earth. The other, the sprout, rises up into the air. One leg is hidden, the other revealed.
This is a face of high rank, nobility, wealth and rulership. This is its form.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.