The Magician is an iconic Tarot card. It might be the first one most of us think of when someone mentions the Tarot—unless we’re serious Led Zeppelin fans. (In which case we’ll think of the Hermit, thanks to Led Zeppelin IV.) There’s a lot going on in this card, so let’s start to unpack it.
First off, this is a Major Arcana card. I haven’t spoken much about the differences between the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcarna. But they’re important in order to understand the Magician, so I’ll remedy that now.
Arcana means secrets or mysteries. (You know what? I like mysteries. Let’s go with mysteries.) So Major Arcana means big mysteries; Minor Arcana means small mysteries. Think of the Major Arcana as either larger-than-life experiences or powerful archetypes. The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, is more about our every day world.
The Major Arcana has no suits. Unlike the Minor Arcana, they’re not divided into Wands, Pentacles, Swords and Cups. Instead, there are twenty-two individual cards, starting with the Fool. The Fool is number zero, leaving him free to roam through the rest.
The Fool represents all of us on the start of our journey—or all of our main characters, if we’re writers. And the first card the Fool encounters when he sets off is The Magician. (You can tell by the Roman numeral one at the top of the card.)
The Magician is holding a wand in his right hand, pointing up. His left hand is pointing down, giving life to a mystical maxim in Hermeticism: as above, so below.
There’s either a table or an altar in front of the Magician. On that table is a wand, a cup, a pentacle and a sword. Yes, a representative for each of the Minor Arcana suits. The wand signifies fire, the cup signifies water, the pentacle signifies earth and the sword signifies air. Together, these are the four primal elements of ancient western thought.
A closer look will reveal a few more details. The Magician is surrounded by red roses and white lilies. His robes are likewise red and white. These colors represent different things to different groups and people. For me, red symbolizes action and energy, while white symbolizes peace and stillness. Ideally, we need a bit of both colors in our lives. The Magician seems to have struck the right balance.
Look closer still. There’s a halo of sorts above the Magician’s head. That sideways figure eight is called a lemniscate. It’s a symbol of infinity, or unending space. And now look at the Magician’s belt. That snake swallowing its own tail is Ouroboros, a symbol of eternity, or unending time. There’s also something cyclical about that snake, as if it contains the dance of creation, destruction and rebirth all within itself.
So how does the Magician function in our stories? He’s either a person or an experience that initiates our main character into a new role or onto a new path. Our main character is a newb when she encounters this guy. (Or this woman; again, don’t be afraid to switch things up with gender, age, race or culture.) Fortunately, the Magician has all the tools she needs on the altar in front of him. She can start learning how to use each one.
In The Horned Gate, Lev served as the Magician to my main character, Jake. Jake didn’t know what the fuck was going on with his dreams or his son or his wife. Lev ushered him into a world where the lines between dreams and reality starts to blur, and taught him how to function there.
Oddly, though, I don’t associate the Magician card with Lev in general. In fact, I never associate Major Arcana cards with particular characters—except in so far as the Fool is a sort of every man card. And if you read The Horned Gate, you know that the Three of Swords is Lev’s personal card. But at a particular moment in time, Lev took on the archetypal role of the Magician for Jake’s sake.
So is the Magician the same thing as a mentor? (See Quintessential Editor’s excellent post on that archetype.) I think they’re actually two separate roles. The Magician initiates you into the sacred mysteries. Yet he may or may not be the person who sticks around to help guide you on your path.
As always, let me know your thoughts on this card! And if it inspires a poem or story or meta, please leave a link in the comments. Meanwhile, we need a random card for next week: the Four of Pentacles. (Yup, back to the Minor Arcana.)