2009 Tarot Study – I The Magician

The Magician is often shown standing in an outdoor setting with plants growing around him. Before him is a table with objects laid out on it representing the four elements. He prepares to work magic with them. He appears to be conscious of the power implicit in the elements, as well as of his ability to use them, to take purposeful action in the world of form, action that changes things, that is meaningful.

No longer the innocent, naive, or fearful lower manifestation of the Fool (which has a higher manifestation too that we’ll explore when we get to that card), the Magician is now sentient, aware of himself and his individuality. He’s also aware of the world around him and his active role in it. He may not yet fully control himself or his personal world, he may not have a definite plan in mind, but he’s taking a first step in the direction of meaningful, ordered action as opposed to the chaotic behavior of the Fool. He’s gathered his tools together in a special workspace, and he’s preparing to act with conscious intent, to make a conscious choice for which he can be held accountable. He has a sense of the responsibility inherent in that. First he experiments, perhaps internally through active imagination or mental analysis. Soon he’ll experiment in the real world, for he is all about thought in action and creativity in motion. He uses his mind and he works with his hands.

In a Jungian sense the Magician is starting to consciously tread the path toward individuation. He’s embarking on a life that he takes responsibility for and which he recognizes as interdependent, having impact on more than his own life. His interactions with nature, including the civilized world and other people, will now take on a recognizable shape as he flexes the power of free will. He will learn to make choices and learn their consequences. He’s invoking Karma, for good or ill.

I’ve felt in the past as if I never really got to know this card. That makes sense when I see it as representing the conscious mind or ego just starting on the path of coming to know the Self in its wholeness, beginning to bring the unconscious into consciousness. We don’t see our Self or the world in their entirety, we see “through a glass, darkly” at best. In other words, we see through our smaller conscious selves, our egos, and the world doesn’t see us any more clearly, only the personas our ego takes on, which is no more realistic a presentation of our true Self than a street magician playing a shell game. That is in fact one way of looking at the image of the Magician, and a hint at its interpretation as a Trickster-Creator. In the Tarot de Marseilles the card appears to portray a street magician, and the card is titled Le Bataleur, French for juggler, mountebank, or charlatan. Our ego juggles the personas or masks we wear in our interactions with others, as well as our shadows, shuffling what’s unwanted or embarrassing into our unconscious, without realizing it does so, until we finally become aware of our unconscious patterns, or shadows, and begin to become Self-aware.

The Trickster, as written of by Carl Jung is at its heart also creative. According to Jung in Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, the Trickster’s original nature is as a Creator. “On the other hand he is in many respects stupider than the animals,” he adds, and mentions the Trickster’s “imprisonment in animal consciousness.” It should be noted here that the Fool is also seen to represent the Trickster archetype, as well as that of the Divine Child, depending on which aspect or facet of the card we’re talking about. The Fool is often depicted as a na├»ve person about to take a serious misstep, and is attended by a small animal, a cat or dog that appears to try to warn him. In other words he’s “stupider than the animals.” Yet in his highest manifestation, at the number 22, he’s again Creator — the Divine Child that has come full circle — or perhaps up a step in the spiral of Self-evolution — arriving at consciousness of Self and integration of the shadows, fully Self-aware.

Jung mentions that the Trickster was seen in medieval Christianity as a necessary part of spiritual life. It survives in Carnival celebrations where the spiritual hierarchy is reversed. Jung also saw the Trickster archetype in myth and story developing eventually back into a more creative and self-aware form, thus becoming to some degree unnecessary, but still reappearing in story and myth from time to time, as we need it. It never dies out altogether in any culture, perhaps because humans continue to go through this process. First we set out innocently on our path in life, never realizing consciously how we fool ourselves and are at the mercy of our own unconscious. Eventually we learn to see our shadows, to see beyond the ego’s juggling tricks and perceive something greater and more complex in ourselves — the Self. We withdraw our projections and begin to find an internal balance — Individuation.

The objects representing the four elements in the card can be seen to symbolize the four functions of the personality that Jung described: thinking, sensing, feeling, and intuiting. As we begin the process of Individuation we start to understand their interdependent nature within us and bring them into conscious balance.

The Magician is intellect, Mercury, language, the artist, the poet, the prophet. He’s the magician who invites us to witness the wonder of his work rather than playing practical jokes behind our backs. He’s open, inquisitive, experimental and experiential. He is thought in action.

I’ve read much more about this card and the Trickster archetype than I can relate here, and still not enough to feel that I understand them completely, but Tarot is a book we never finish reading. So I’ll leave this post now to pursue my next study of the Twos.

Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.

2009 Tarot Study Index

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