As a kid I experimented with Tarot cards. I think many of us did. That sort of rampant curiosity that comes with being a teen. The occult didn’t escape my attention. The mysterious Tarot cards, so iconic as a tool of prophecy, drew me in.
Years later, this dabbling turned into downright research for my first published novel—Tarot: The Magician. I didn’t just want a story about evil Tarot cards. That felt too simplistic. Something the Syfy channel would whip up as their movie of the week. Instead, I delved into the history of the cards and how they started as the Dance of Death (see my article on it here).
Three of the Major Arcana cards particularly influenced me: The Magician, Death, and the Hanged Man. These not only became themes for the novel, but characters as well.
The Magician Becomes Love
The title of the novel revolves around a man named Luke Rykell (you can read some of his history here). He helped create the cursed deck. His reward: being trapped inside. But he was no magician.
The history of the card dates back to more of a con-artist or street hustler. One name for the original Magician card is Thimblerigger. Those were the sorts of fellas who tricked people with the three card monty. Their sleight of hand seemed like magic, thus the name of magician.
For most of the history of the tarot, the Magician was simply a street performer and con man. In fact the card’s name was the Juggler or the Trickster. This all changed when the occultist Éliphas Lévi redesigned this card. He depicted the Magician holding one of the card suits (usually a wand) with the others lying on the table (these items replaced the cups and ball trick). Later, Paul Christian (a devotee of Lévi) renamed The Juggler as The Magus, and the change was complete.
How does this relate to love? For most, the Magician represents skill, creativity, and free will. Yet when this card pops up with a romance question, the meaning shifts. It indicates that the time for a new romance is at hand. The moment is now.
Death is the Ultimate Change
Most folks are frightened when the Death card appears in a Tarot reading. They shouldn’t be. The Death card represents change—clearing out the old to make way for the new. Think about a forest fire. As destructive as this process is, it burns away brush that is clogging out new growth. Only with this destruction can the forest revitalize itself. Even after the Black Plague that scoured Europe, the survivors were stronger for it. New evidence suggests that the disease targeted weaker and more frail people, leaving a stronger populace in its wake.
In the story of Tarot: The Magician, there is a death in our heroine’s past. Right now, this loss weighs on her, and prevents her from moving on with her life. She needs to deal with it, and clear it away in order to grow.
The Hanged Man has Betrayed You
The man hanging my one foot represents a traitor (the original Italian name was Il Traditore, the Traitor). May believe this represent Judas Iscariot, and the fifteenth century Rosenwald deck shows the figure clutching a small bag in each hand. This might be the thirty pieces of silver.
Another argument suggests that this figure is Muzio Attendolo, who had been given a high position by the the Pope and then chose to speak out against him. The offended Pope ordered pictured painted of Muzio Attendolo upside-down and suspended from one foot. This type of art was called shame painting. The Pope displayed these paintings all over Rome.
In both cases, the men hanging upside down were traitors. And that’s the meaning used in Tarot: The Magician. The brother to Luke Rykell is Gabriel and he was tasked with illustrating the cursed deck of cards. Only when he reached the final illustration, he balked—not ready to doom his soul to eternal torment. His betrayal led to the entrapment of Luke inside the Tarot cards themselves.
What Does a Giant Snail Have to Do with All This?
The fact that Luke lives in a tower attached to a snail is not a mistake. While researching the aspects of the magician card, I wanted to hone in on the idea of the will and the mind (both traits associated with the Magician card). This led me to the spiral of the snail’s shell, and how it winds in on itself. This is a common symbol for expanded consciousness. In sacred geometry, the spiral follows the Golden Ratio.
So the home for Luke was both a way to expand his magical powers of intellect, but also a prison that spiraled in forever. It also wasn’t lost on me that in Christian symbolism, the snail stands for sloth. Although Luke is far from lazy, he does linger in his card for hundreds of years and this plays on his mind.
There are many stories attached to the Tarot cards. The symbolism is rich and goes back centuries. The more you dig up on the Tarot, the more they will amaze you.