Lesson 6) Artistic Endeavors
Welcome everyone! How do you think you did in your midterm? I don't believe I made it too difficult, however if you do have any questions about your grade, feel free to send me or any of my PAs an owl or email as always.
As was briefly mentioned in the first lesson, symbols and art served a special purpose among alchemists, particularly around the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Instead of being a medium of expression, art was used as a method of communication. Even though several alchemists knew Latin, and could communicate across borders in this common tongue, they wanted to keep their information within the alchemical community. They didn't want an outsider finding and understanding their important formulas. Several Muggle authorities also condemned the practice of alchemy during this time so using a common language, such as Latin, wasn't the safest way to transport ideas. Allegorical images became the solution to their problem.
Alchemical art may refer to either a physical or spiritual process or formula. This art reached a whole new peak in its popularity around the sixteenth century from alchemists using art to communicate ideas about physical alchemy. At this time, spiritual alchemy was slowly gaining favor with European alchemists and eventually began to seep into the art as well. One of the most common topics of alchemical art was the Great Work, in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Alchemists shared their theories on how to reach enlightenment, ways to concoct the Elixir of Life, and even how to create the Philosopher's Stone. Some groups would meet up and exchange their writings and drawings. Other alchemists would publish their journals knowing that the general public couldn't decipher the allegories.
We went over some common symbols related to Hermetic art in the last lesson. I have provided you with a cheat sheet below that includes several more symbols and their basic meanings in addition to the ones we have covered. There are a lot more than these, but tracking down every single symbol could fill up an entire encyclopedia.
Notice how some of the symbols are very specific. For example, look at the lion, red lion, and green lion. Lions are typically known to represent active, masculine principles. However, adding colors into the mix makes it more complicated. The green lion is representative of raw and unpurified energy. It's the living force in the matter at the beginning of the Great Work. However, the red lion resembles the combination of sulfur and mercury used to control the force of nature. Whereas the green lion would be the beginning of the Great Work; the red lion would be symbolic of the end of the Great Work. It doesn't just stop at red and green. There are also white, black, and gold lions. In order to have a better understanding of what these different colors mean, think of the phases and what they represent as a starting point.
Easy enough, right? Wrong. To make things more difficult, the lion's position in the art also matters, whether it's sitting, standing, or running. Sometimes even the background also influences what the meaning of the image or emblem is. Luckily enough, most of the art is accompanied by writings. Even though it's hard to understand the writing alone, if you can figure out the individual meanings of the symbols, you can most likely piece it together.
Don't fret if this seems confusing. The whole point of using allegorical art as communication was to keep outsiders out. Obviously, the understanding didn't happen overnight. Not only did the art confuse the general public, it even confused some alchemists! This method is shrouded in hidden mysteries which makes it almost impenetrable. Every interpretation is different, as there are various meanings to hundreds of symbols, so there are really no wrong answers. These allegories were even found in the writings and drawings of Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel. They could have even written down the actual formula for the Philosopher's Stone somewhere, but the allegories are so vague that we may never find out how to replicate it.
The idea of discussion through art became so popular that it influenced other orders and fields belonging to a giant umbrella term known as the Western Mystery Tradition. One of these fields happens to be cartomancy, so I have invited the lovely former Professor Pomeroy to discuss the Hermetic Tarot deck today!
Thank you Professor Rosenquist for asking me to join today’s lesson to discuss the symbolism of the Hermetic Tarot.
The Hermetic Tarot is not very well known or understood in many divination circles. One of the reasons for this is that the cards themselves are so complex, it would take years of study to read them properly and accurately. One thing all seers agree on is that the Hermetic Tarot is truly a masterpiece. The intricate artwork of the cards invokes the full spectrum of powers from the reader and is extremely accurate, especially when used for spiritual questions.
The artwork of the cards by Godfrey Dowson is sublime. The cards themselves are black and white and mainly focus on alchemical and astrological references. In fact, each card draws strongly on elemental dignities and affinities. Alchemical symbols representing the four elements are to be found on each one, denoting the attributes of the card. The knight of swords, for example, can represent the element fire (for the knight) or air (for the suit of swords). This is shown on top of the card itself whereby the left side has the symbol for card name and the right has the symbol for the suit. This can be extremely helpful for alchemists using the Hermetic Tarot in their work.
The backs of the cards themselves show the Hermetic Rose and hexagrams. The deck itself is not well suited to readings in reverse form; the name given to this is ‘Ill-dignified.’ However, for some divination practitioners skilled in the reading of this deck, reversed cards can still be read. From my personal experience of the deck, I have found it to be impractical when asking simple or less important questions. The deck is best suited to the asking of extremely spiritual questions and when the seeker needs to use the greater universal life forces.
When reading the Hermetic Tarot, the Triquetra Spread is the easiest as it requires only three cards to read. As the meanings can be complicated to determine, this ensures the most accuracy. The three cards stand as the trinity of forces and can be used to represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christian readings or the Triple Goddesses in Pagan readings. It can also be used to represent the three promises in relationships - love, honour and protection; or the parts of the psyche – ego, superego and the id. The Triquetra Spread is shown in the picture below.
The cards show three forces as one. In readings, shuffle the deck and place your three cards around one central card or signifier. The signifier card is the card that best represents the question you are asking and is chosen by the seeker from the deck. The three cards will then indicate the three facets to the one solution. Card one represents the seeker’s own subconscious, card two represents the collective unconscious, and card three represents the final part of the force.
The Hermetic Tarot is a deck best suited to personal readings and spiritual meditation. It is not a deck associated with readings given for other people as it is designed to tap into the universe through the seeker’s subconscious and is therefore used to better understand your own mind rather than others.
A round of applause for that wonderful insight about the Hermetic Tarot! Thank you Professor Pomeroy for dropping by!
Your second transmutation log is due today. Be sure to place them in the bin by my desk. For your homework tonight, you will be analyzing a page from one of my favorite alchemical manuscripts, the Book of Lambspring. It's a symbolic collection of manuscripts that is simple and to the point without bogging you down with too much mysterious chemical language. You may pick from the three pages provided in the assignment which you wish to analyze. Remember, there are no wrong answers as everyone's interpretation differs. On that note, I will see all of you next week!