Find Your Brightest Self with this Alchemical Tarot Spread
I proposed the topic of “dawn” for today’s spring equinox blog hop. Today the Sun steps into Aries, marking the start of the zodiac and the dawning of a new cycle. To explore the idea of fresh starts, I developed a peeking-over-the-horizon spread. The Rising Dawn Tarot Spread combines alchemical and tarot symbolism so you can lift your light and shine!
We’ve been studying alchemy in the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. We join forces with the Denver Tarot Geeks on the first Saturday of the month to explore the seven alchemical operations with tarot. Then on the second Saturday we’ve been examining the Splendor Solis and its alleged relationship to the Major Arcana. Both studies are fascinating! Find out more on Meetup.
The Splendor Solis, “Splendor of the Sun”
The Splendor Solis, or “Splendor of the Sun,” is a 16th century manuscript by Salomon Trismosin. The edition from 1582 features some of the most beautiful alchemical illustrations of all time. The twenty-two images of the Splendor Solis end with an image of a sunrise. As we discussed the symbolism during our first study session, someone pointed out how surprisingly barren the landscape looked considering it theoretically represented an achievement of the alchemist’s golden goal.
Long after the session was over, I continued thinking about that paradox. At last it dawned on me that the red-gold Sun so heavy over the gray landscape represented a complete concentration of the life force energy. Rather than seeing energy radiating out into the sky, the land, the waters, and the inhabitants, it was completely solidified within the Sun. The image was symbolic of the alchemist capturing the sun’s splendor in his finished creation.
From Hidden Sun to Sunrise
The illustrations in the Splendor Solis depict several images of bright, shining suns over healthy, colorful landscapes. But in today’s post, we’ll shine a light on the unusual final sequence of plates. These final four show a sun below ground, children playing, women washing white fabric, and the concluding sunrise. We’ll translate them into the related tarot trumps, then develop the Rising Dawn Tarot Spread to guide you as you concentrate your energy into your brightest self.
The final four plates of the Splendor Solis represent a four-step sequence of Solution (dark sun), Coagulation (children playing), Sublimation (women washing), and Separation (the red sunrise).
The Rising of the Splendor Solis into the Tarot Trumps
Now, your ears probably perked up when I mentioned there were twenty-two plates in this manuscript. The tarot reader’s sacred number! In fact, according to a translation of the Splendor Solis from 1920, those twenty-two plates do indeed match the Major Arcana sequence. Most subsequent alchemical experts have, quite reasonably, denied that the Splendor Solis is based on the tarot. However, let the following facts shed their light.
The above-mentioned 1920 author, J. K. (Julius Kohn), was a student of Reverend W. A. Ayton. Ayton was a member of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and friends with Samuel Mathers, one of the founders of that late 19th century occult fraternity. Reportedly, Mathers was obsessed with the Splendor Solis. The story goes that he worked extensively with its images matching them to the twenty-two paths of the qabalistic Tree of Life as well as, of course, with the twenty-two tarot trumps. Mathers, along with his wife Moina, were the driving force behind the development of the Golden Dawn’s tarot curriculum. Of course, the brightest tarot names, including Arthur Edward Waite, Pamela Colman Smith, and Aleister Crowley, were all members of that organization.
Is the Splendor Solis based on the tarot? Unlikely. Is the tarot influenced by the Splendor Solis? Well, you’ll have to come to our next Meetup to discover for yourself. But my answer is YES!
From the Moon to the World
The final four tarot trumps: The Moon, The Sun, Judgment, and The World.
Splendor Solis translator J.K. stated that the plates matched the trumps in order. Our first session of our study group met up to ascertain which order that would have been.
The Fool is unnumbered and starts off the sequence in some traditions, while serving as the next to the last card in others. Some even place him as the final card. Meanwhile, we all point a finger at the Golden Dawn as the culprits behind the switch of Justice and Strength. Keeping in mind the various reasoning, influences, and time period, our study group determined that the Fool matches the first plate, the Magician the second plate, Justice the ninth plate (Trump 8) and Strength the twelfth plate (Trump 11). It’s important to keep that in mind. If the French system were followed, for instance, then the twenty-first plate, or next to the last illustration in the manuscript, would align with the Fool. Also, our conclusions seem to suggest that Mathers’ work with the Splendor Solis predated the decision to swap Justice and Strength.
With all that boggy administrative detail out of the way, we can now brazenly announce that the final four plates of the Splendor Solis align with the Moon, Sun, Judgment, and World cards.
Rising Dawn Symbolism
We’re going to use the symbolism of the above sequence to establish the Rising Dawn Tarot Spread.
First, a quick glance at the symbolism correlates the Splendor Solis images nicely to the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) cards.
The hidden Sun or black Sun is often used symbolically in reference to the Moon.
The rambunctious energy of clothed and unclothed children playing is an obvious doppelganger to the Sun card.
The women washing might make you pause for a second, but if you see how they are cleansing and purifying the white fabric, and consider the clouds in the sky, you can easily see the relationship between laundry and the Last Judgment. The purified souls rise up, following the call to the heavens.
Lastly, the shape of the World’s wreath matches well enough to the round red sun. Additionally, the four kerubs in the corners establish the fixed signs of the zodiac, the environment in which she dances. Likewise, the combination of wild, rural, and urban elements in the landscape under the Red Sun indicate it shines over everything.
If we summarize these symbols, we discover the four steps of the Rising Dawn Tarot Spread.
The Rising Dawn Tarot Spread Four Steps
1. Soaking Up the Seas
Called dissolution or putrefaction by the original author, the combination of the Dark Sun alchemical emblem and the Moon tarot card bring to mind soaking in the primal seas.
What useful energies can you soak up from your environment?
2. The Glow of Play
The second image is identified by Salomon Trismosin as coagulation. Personally, it feels more like fermentation to me, but probably I need to learn my alchemical stages better.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “solve et coagula” — it’s written on the arms of the Devil in some tarot cards. To dissolve and reform is the basic tenet of alchemy. Coagulation is often identified as the final step of the process. I think here it is associated with children because they are symbolic of the offspring — the final creation — of the alchemical union of the solar and lunar principles.
It’s the playfulness that makes me think of fermentation. Fermentation infuses the alchemical work with Spirit, enlivening and invigorating. Just like the energy of happy children playing.
What playfulness lets your light shine?
3. Cleansing the Soul
Third in the sequence is the stage of sublimation. Different editions of the Splendor Solis show slightly different illustrations. In one black and white woodcut version from 1709, one of the washer women appears to be looking up at the clouds. Sublimate means to pass from solid to gas without going through the liquid stage. Sublimation is why your ice cubes are all puny and weak if you ignore them in the freezer too long. It also means to refine, improve, or elevate. In the Last Judgment, purified souls rise to heaven. Ultimately, at this step we can redirect energy toward more sublime pursuits. Or more simply, we can release what’s not working. We cleanse on all levels: body, spirit, and soul.
What do you need to clean in order to release your soul’s mission?
4. The Rising Dawn
The final stage Trismosin lists in this sequence is separation. I have to admit, I learned separation as a much earlier stage, following dissolution, and learned the final stage as coagulation. So I have to twist my brain to get this one to fit here. But I do understand that it’s quite common for different alchemists to have their own unique set of steps and overall understanding of the process.
I believe that when used as the final step, separation must mean to separate the final creation from the detritus of the manufacturing process. Going back to baby analogies, certainly cutting the umbilical cord is the final step of birth. This might even clarify the contradiction of the barren landscape. To the point, the Sun, meaning all the life force energy of the alchemical process, is separated from everything else. It stands alone, unique, complete, no longer dependent on, or perhaps a little forlornly, no longer needed by its environment.
How can you concentrate your energies so that you shine brightest?
The Rising Dawn Tarot Spread
This is your four step process, from hidden in the darkness to the complete and unique expression of you.
The Rising Dawn Tarot Spread spread sheet. Click on the image to open up a pdf you can download and print.
Next Blog Rising
You can use the navigation links at the top and bottom of this post to hop on to the next blogger shining their light on the topic of “dawn.” But before you go, please let me know in the comments how you liked the spread!