The Magician




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he Magician is a tarot card that has undergone a significant shift of meaning at the hands of the occultist of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In many modern decks, he is a magician in the metaphysical sense, perhaps a practitioner of ceremonial magic, a master of arcane rituals and sacred lore. In early decks, however, he is quite a different sort of character - a mountebank or charlatan, what we would call a sleight-of-hand artist. His moveable table could be set up on a busy street, ready to draw passers-by into a shell game or other similar con. In the original Italian, the name of the card is not The Magician (Il Mago) but Il Bagatto, a rather obscure word most likely derived from the word for wand, hence a cognate of baguette.

So rather than an impressive wizard, we have a rather lowly character making a living by his wits, his quick hands, and his engaging banter. In some decks, he becomes a craftsman, usually a cobbler. The common thread is that of cleverness with his hands and technical skill. In the early Renaissance millieu in which the tarot was born, technology had none of its modern authority and mystique. People who worked with their hands and made things were scarcely above peasants in the minds of the clergy and the elite. It would be centuries still before we began to worship technology and industry as answers to all our wants and needs.

So the Magician is actually a rather down-to-earth fellow, manipulating tools and physical objects (and perhaps our perceptions as well) to serve quite practical needs.

In my own system of understanding the major arcana, The Magician is the connection between Thinking Self, our analytical mind, and the physical world of body and matter. This is not the path of magic in the metaphysical sense, but rather the path of technology and direct action on the physical world. The Magician accomplishes his goals by understanding how things work and implementing a plan to achieve the desired result. He may build or use gadgets; he may conduct experiments; he may even develop scientific theories to help explain the behavior of physical objects.

Science, technology and engineering are notoriously dry and complex subjects. The Magician represents the kind of abstract, objective, unemotional mindset needed to master these disciplines and put them to effective use. It's a state of mind we all need to employ, especially those of us whose work involves technical skill or knowledge. Often, the Magician's way is the most efficient and direct path to a goal.

The Magician's down side, however, is his excessive rationalization and sometimes opportunistic materialism. In the Magician's world, there is no place for love, dreams, poetry, or spirituality. It's all about ideas, theories, technological progress, and monetary gain. He can become obsessed with facts and dismissive of anything that doesn't fit his cut-and-dried picture of reality. He stands in direct contrast to the Fool's careless, unpremeditated, emotional style of living in the world.

When the Magician comes up for you, consider your relationship with rationality. Do you overanalyze things? Or perhaps underanalyze, so that your careless thinking causes trouble. Also consider how your thinking abilities affect your material success and comfort. How do you deal with the cold facts of making a living and getting things done, day to day?

Tarot Wisdom is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters