The Twenty-Second Trump

The original Alchemical Tarot was published by Thorsons, a branch of HarperCollins located in London. It came out in 1995. The Lovers card that I designed for the deck was deemed too sexy. Therefore, the publisher had me redesign the trump. So, I illustrated the King and Queen engaged in the foreplay that would have led to the sex act that was illustrated on the first version. After the Thorsons edition went out of print, I regained the right to publish the deck and I created The Alchemical Tarot: Renewed. For this second edition I decided to print both versions of the Lovers, both numbered 6. (I use both cards when reading and find that they illustrate foreplay and action.)  From then on, each edition of The Alchemical Tarot had 79 cards instead of the traditional 78. 

That is until the most resent version, The Alchemical Tarot: Renewed 6th Edition, which has 80 cards, because of the addition of a 22nd trump.

The 6th edition of The Alchemical Tarot is being printed at this time. It is subtitled “the Blue Sky Edition,” because unlike the 4th and 5th editions, which let the parchment background serve as the sky color, this edition has blue skies, unless of course they are grey or black (as on the Devil). The cards have silver edges instead of gold, as on the 5th, and the two-part cloth covered box is blue instead of green. The deck includes a little book with a blue cover. The biggest change, however, is that there is a 22nd trump card, called Truth, which brings the total number of cards to 80.  This card is a tribute to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who was my partner on the book for the first edition, and who died in 2019.

The first card from the Alchemical Tarot to be published was the Star. It was published in the Fall, 1989, edition of Gnosis Magazine along with a one-page article that I wrote explaining the symbolism of the card and the concept of the deck. This was actually the first card that I designed for the deck. And this was the first thing I had ever published. 

Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who was a well-known New Age author, having written numerous books on spirituality and the occult, including several encyclopedias, was also a subscriber to Gnosis and she read my article.  Rosemary wrote to me and invited me to contribute to a book she was writing called The Mystical Tarot. I contributed two drawings of trumps: Temperance and the Devil, and I wrote several pages expounding on my insights correlating the Tarot with alchemical symbolism. The Mystical Tarot came out in 1991. This was the second time I was published.

After that, Rosemary had me do research for her for a book on alchemy, and we stayed in touch. Eventually she asked me how I was doing with my Alchemical Tarot project. I was working as a craft jeweler at that time and had limited time to work on the deck, so it was going slowly. Rosemary explained to me that I needed to get an advance from a publisher to free up my time so that I could finish the deck. She offered to partner with me on the book for the deck and to show me how to write a proposal, and that is how we got a contract with an advance from Thorsons. The deck and book set was published in 1995. This was the third time I was published.

Shortly after The Alchemical Tarot was published, Rosemary had a startling vision. In the middle of the night, Rosemary awoke to find Hermes Trismegistus, the first alchemist, standing at the foot of her bed holding a large Tarot card, called Truth. He told her that it was the 22nd trump. Rosemary described the card to me, and I made an illustration of Hermes holding the card for her to use in her lectures.  

The card depicted a pyramid with a flame at the top. The pyramid was composed of four stone layers, but the layers seemed to float separate from each other with air between them, so that there were actually seven layers, but three of them were invisible.  

At first, I did not know what to make of this image. I found a related illustration in an alchemical text: Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aerernae, 1602. The sixth illustration in the book depicted a triangular mountain with a flame at the top. The front face of the mountain was flat and covered with a written text. The illustration was called “the way of the wise leading to the door of the Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom.” I showed this to Rosemary, but I knew that I had to delve deeper to reveal the meaning of the card.  

On the first page of Khunrath, there is a small detail at the top of the page that was leading me closer to the meaning of the card. The image depicted the tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God in Hebrew: yod he vau he. But the letters were arranged in a triangle with yod at the top, yod he on the second layer, yod he vau on the third, and all four letters on the bottom. This I discovered was a kabalistic version of the Pythagorean sacred symbol called the Tetractys.

Pythagoras (circa 580–490 BCE) was one of the earliest Greek philosophers, in fact he is credited with having coined the word philosophy. Much of his teachings are at the core of alchemy philosophy. And the Tetractys symbol expressed the most essential aspects of his philosophy.  Here is a description of the Tetractys derived from Chapter Four in my book The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism.

The Tetractys

In the Pythagorean school ten was considered the perfect number. In fact, the number ten was such a symbol of perfection that the Pythagoreans developed an alternative model of the cosmos in which there were ten celestial bodies. In this model, Earth was considered a planet and added to the ancient seven, which included the Sun. The seven ancient planets were the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  It was believed that these eight planets, Earth and the other seven, orbited a Central Fire that was not the Sun. To bring the number of bodies to ten, it was further theorized that there existed a counter-Earth that could never be seen because it was always orbiting on the opposite side the Central Fire from Earth.

In another example of the Pythagorean use of the number ten to represent the numerical intelligence of the universe, the Pythagoreans constructed a triangular arrangement of ten dots with one at the top, two on the second layer, three on the third, and four at the base. This symbol was called the Tetractys, and the Pythagoreans considered it sacred. The Tetractys expressed the concept of emanation in its simplest form, from the greatest unity at the top, representing the One, to the diversity of the world of form at the bottom, which was associated with four directions, four seasons, and four elements. It was like a pyramid reduced to a diagram. The most important aspect of this symbol to the mystic was that it could be used as a meditative tool, a ladder, that he or she could use to visualize an ascent back to Oneness—a state of being connected to the universe and to the part of an individual that is permanent and beyond the reaches of death.

There are many classes of symbolism that can be attached to the Tetractys. One of the most basic is a geometrical progression. With this theme, the single dot at the top depicts a point, a theoretical beginning with no dimension. The second layer has two points, which describe a line. Although a line has length it has no depth and still cannot be perceived any easier than the point. Next, are three points, which are necessary to form the first polygon, the triangle. This gives us a two-dimensional plane. The base has four points, which allows us to form the first three-dimensional object, the tetrahedron, which is composed of four triangular sides, like a pyramid with a triangle for a base. This is the beginning of physical reality. These four physical layers correspond to the four stone layers in Rosemary’s pyramid.

If we also look at the relationships between the layers, called ratios, these describe numerically the vibrations of the three essential notes in the music scale: the whole note, which had a ratio of one to two; the perfect fifth, which has a ratio of two to three; and the perfect fourth, which has a ratio of three to four. These three musical layers correspond to the spaces between the stone layers in Rosemary’s pyramid.

Together with the four physical layers these musical layers give us seven layers altogether—four physical layers and three non-material layers. Like the sacred  ziggurat, symbolizing the seven emanations of creation and the seven essential gods of Babylon, the Tetractys had seven layers but here numbers have replaced the gods as emanations. To fill out the music scale Pythagoras devised four other notes and created our familiar Western diatonic scale with its seven notes, denoted by the seven vowels in the Greek alphabet. The Tetractys can be correlated to all seven notes in the scale, and just like the notes, the seven layers can be correlated to the seven ancient planets and in alchemy the planets are correlted to seven metals. seven operations in the Opus, and to seven soul centers which ascend the human spine. With this correlation we can see that the emanations can be viewed as existing within the human body.

Now that it has been explained, the symbolism of the twenty-second trump seems obvious. But it took me several years to figure this out. Also, you might ask why I did not add the twenty-second trump to The Alchemical Tarot years ago. I guess that I felt that it belonged to Rosemary, but now that she died it seems that it is time to add it to the deck.

About robertmplace

I am an illustrator and author best known for creating the Alchemical Tarot and the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery and writing The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination.
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