The Rose and the Philosopher’s Stone

“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty… One couldn’t die for you.  Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you.  But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Waite-Smith Fool holds a white rose in his left hand.  A. E. Waite points this out in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, “He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand…,” but he does not elucidate further, leaving us another rabbit hole to dive into if we so choose. 

Both Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith were members of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae), a secret society devoted to the study of mystical philosophies, at the turn of the 20th century when they collaborated to devise their tarot.  According to Robert M. Place, the white rose was “a Golden Dawn symbol of silence and rebirth.”  [i];  Unfortunately, Place posits this nugget of seemingly relevant information in the center of his commentary then goes onto something else, as though its inclusion was obvious and required no additional explanation; yet, the significance of this detail is not self-evident and does, therefore, merit further analysis.

The rose has long been associated with secrecy.  The Latin phrase sub rosa, which literally means “under the rose,” refers to the centuries-old practice of suspending a rose overhead when conducting furtive business.  In one Greek myth, Aphrodite gave her son, Eros, a rose to present to Harpocrates, the god of secrets, to prevent him from disclosing what he knew of her sexual indiscretions (the rose has been associated with Harpocrates ever since).  Roses may also be displayed upon or around ceilings of guest rooms (dining rooms, sitting rooms, salons, and parlors) to remind everyone present that what is said within is confidential and not to be discussed or repeated outside those confines.  Additionally, roses were sometimes placed over confessionals as a sign to both penitents and confessors of the sacred vow priests make to hold confessions in the strictest confidence.

None of this, however, explains why the Fool should have such a symbol in his possession.  Nothing in the image designed by Waite and Smith suggests the need for silence.  If anything, the ostentatious clothing of the youth calls attention to him, nor does he appear to be engaged in any kind of behavior necessitating secrecy.

The rose was an important symbol in alchemy (a fact well-known to Waite, as he published several books on the subject).  The goal of the opus alchymicum, the great work of alchemy, was the production of the lapis philosophicus, the philosopher’s stone, a catalytic substance, described in alchemical texts as being both a stone and not a stone, which was believed to be capable not only of changing base or “imperfect” metals into more perfect ones, such as gold and silver, but also capable of healing diseases, even restoring youth and vitality to people, promising, for all intents and purposes, eternal life and health to its bearer.  The opus was sometimes likened to the growth and development of a tree or bush in a carefully maintained garden or rosarium; thus, the ripened fruits and flowers would represent the culmination of the great work, manifest forms of the lapis philosophicus.

The philosophical tree (or bush) itself was sometimes referred to as the prima materia, the original stuff from which the universe was created and from which comes the philosopher’s stone.  In Genesis we read that darkness and chaos are primary; from this massa confusa (chaos), God brings forth light and form.  The alchemist, or philosopher, attempts to do something similar, with the essential difference that God created the heavens and the earth from nothing, whereas the alchemist must resolve what is (and what is by its very existence corrupt) back into the prima materia through the Nigredo, the blackening: the old form must die (mortificatio) and rot (putrefactio) so that a more perfect configuration might be brought into existence: as Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25 RSV).  A decomposing body provides nourishment for trees and plants; thus, it is returned to elementum primordiale (the rudimentary form), raised up through the roots, so that a more elevated or more perfect form can be created.[ii]  The rosarium is also the garden of wisdom,[iii]  in which red and white roses bloom.  Red roses are a symbol for the red stone, attained upon completion of the rubedo (the reddening),[iv] which is able to transform base metals into gold and common men into philosophers; white roses symbolize the white stone, which follows the albedo (the whitening),[v] and is able to convert base metals into silver.

Since the figure in the Waite-Smith illustration is so closely associated with the sun,[vi] we would expect him to be holding a red rose. [vii]  However, Pamela Colman-Smith gave him a white rose, symbolic of the feminine and lunar consciousness, apparently at A. E. Waite’s direction, or at least with his blessing, so we have to wonder why they made this choice.  What did they intend to convey with this detail?

It may be that there was nothing more to their decision than the intention of signifying the Fool’s innocence, and this does seem to be the consensus opinion from the books I have read.  Eden Gray writes, “The youth also carries a white rose, indicating that he is still free from animal forms of desire”; Paul Quinn states, “The Fool’s plucked white rose symbolizes the purity of his childlike spirit” (Tarot for Life); and I could quote more of the same from other sources as well.  I do not disagree with this assessment; however, I would say that if this is the intent, the white rose seems to be little more than a redundancy, for everything about the Fool already suggests he is an ethereal being anchored neither to the earth nor his corporeal (instinctual) existence.  He is, in fact, a splendid portrayal of the archetype Jungians refer to as a puer aeternus, an eternal boy.

In mythology, Iacchus, Dionysus/Bacchus, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, and Baldur would be familiar examples of pueri: young, beautiful, effeminate gods who died in the flower of their youth; for Jungians, pueri are young men who fail to outgrow their adolescence, so that when they enter adulthood (by the standards of their cultures) they refuse to accept the responsibilities that come with that transition, such as finding jobs and settling down.  M-L von Franz writes, “The one situation dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatsoever.  There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, of entering space and time completely, and of being the specific human being that one is.  There is always the fear of being caught in a situation from which it may be impossible to slip out again.”  She goes onto say that typically such young men have a fascination with heights, “to get as high as possible”; she adds, “If this type of complex is very pronounced, many such men die at a young age in airplane crashes and mountaineering accidents.  It is an exteriorized spiritual longing which expresses itself in this form [italics mine].” [viii]

It is not coincidental that the Waite-Smith Fool finds himself on the edge of a precipice, one step away from a catastrophic fall.  Of course, this description of the puer is painted in only the broadest of strokes, and were the youth to be an actual individual, we would be on the shakiest of grounds, irresponsibly concluding from a snapshot the particulars of his life and diagnosing complexes and neuroses.  But he is, like all the trumps, an archetypal figure; thus we are not so far out-of-bounds.  We have to proceed on the assumption that every detail was carefully thought out before being included in the final design.

In most historical decks, such as the Tarot de Marseille, Tarot de Paris, the Jacques Vieville, Tarocco Piemontese, and others, the character we know today as The Fool is a bearded man in his middle or late years;[ix] he is a desolate, wistful figure, arrayed in the traditional attire of the court jester.  He wanders alone through a world in which he no longer has a place, for in the years that these cards were being printed, the position of court jester was rapidly vanishing.  In many of these images, he is being harassed, perhaps run out of town, by a dog or feral cat, who claws at and rips his leggings (very likely the only clothes he possesses) to add to his misery.  In this incarnation he is more senex than puer.

“Senex” is Latin for old man, and if we are not well-acquainted with the term, we are very familiar with the list of its English derivatives, which includes such words as senate, senator, senior, and senioritySenex also refers to an archetypal figure who appears frequently throughout our literature.  In hundreds of fairytales worldwide, he is the old man of the woods or the wizened beggar the hero encounters in the course of his adventure.  Other would-be heroes came across him as well in pursuit of their quests, but they charged past without sparing him a glance; thus, they never learned the secret wisdom he possessed that would make it possible for them to enter the courtyard without being detected,[x] are never given the sword, helmet, or amulet that would allow them to enter the dragon’s lair and emerge from the contest victorious.  The senex is often a mentor for the future hero.  Merlin was such a figure for Arthur; Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga was another; Obi-Wan Kenobi fulfilled the role for Luke Skywalker in George Lucas’ Star Wars epic.  However, this is only one side of the archetype.  The list of English derivatives from the Latin senex also includes senectitude, the final stage of life, and senescence, the process of growing old, deteriorating with age.  In cellular biology, senescence refers to the loss of a cell’s ability to divide and grow – senescent cells, sometimes referred to as “zombie cells,” do not die; they just continue to age, and not benignly: these cells will give off harmful chemicals that cause neighboring cells to enter the same senescent state.  A common motif in fairytales worldwide is that of the aging king who is not willing to give up his throne.  He imprisons his daughter in a glass mountain where she is alive but emotionally cut-off from all human contact; he kills would-be suitors and anyone he considers to be a threat to succeed him.  His kingdom becomes a wasteland.  In Greek mythology, Zeus withholds fire, condemning men to live in a world of cold and darkness, and in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God settles Adam and Eve in a paradisal garden but forbids them the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[xi]

This senescent old man is rightfully rejected; he stands for stagnation, and if he is allowed to continue and consolidate power and authority, he will eventually suffocate all the life around him.  This is something of what T. S. Eliot conveyed in his poem “The Waste Land”:

Here is no water but only rock

Rock and no water and the sandy road

The road winding above among the mountains

Which are mountains of rock without water

*              *              *

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry and sterile thunder without rain.

The French historian of religion and philosopher Ernest Renan called the sun “the only truly rational image of God”: it is the source of light and life, but it can be mercilessly destructive as well, a relentless tormentor.  Water sustains life and in this context is the moistness of the soul without which we endure a perpetual state of barren existence, but how did we get to this point?

The King represents man in his most exalted and venerable form.  He wears a golden crown that marks his special kinship to the sun, indicating divinity.  The precious, sparkling jewels sewn through his robes betoken the starry firmament, and atop his scepter is the orb of the world, the realm over which he rules, by God’s will.  His throne is elevated, and he is addressed as “Majesty,” in acknowledgement of his sublime rank; when he speaks of himself, he uses the royal “We,” rather than “I,” an affectation which may be traced back to Henry II of England (1133-1189) who employed it in reference to God and himself, a practice kings since have kept to great advantage, bolstering the claim that they act in accordance with God’s inviolable will.

This creates an insupportable tension for the individual to bear, for as King Henry says in Shakespeare’s Henry V (Act 4, Scene 1), “the king is but a man . . . .  All his senses have but human conditions.  His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man,” yet but a man is precisely what he is not allowed to be, for as King he is the carrier of his subjects’ collective projections.  Henry’s father laments, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1); while yet the meanest of his subjects is able to find intervals, however brief, of refuge and repose, he, who sits upon the throne, is denied even a moment’s peace.  The weight of those projections can crush the life out of an individual, but it can also lead to a state of inflation when the king identifies fully with the ideal, even to the point of believing in his own mythological apotheosis, and indeed in many ancient cultures, rulers set up cults to themselves, so that their subjects would worship them as gods.  Inflation here is defined as being puffed up, distended with gas (or in this instance, with an unrealistically grandiose self-image) beyond one’s proper limits.  The ancient Greeks had a great fear of this, which they called hybris, a transgression against the gods brought about by unbridled pride and arrogance, and they warned of this in their mythology: Icarus flew too close to the sun; Phaeton tricked his father, Helios, into allowing him to drive the chariot of the sun when he was unequal to the task – both youths plunged to their deaths from heights to which they did not belong; Ixion betrayed Zeus’ hospitality, attempting to seduce the goddess Hera and instead of the queen of the gods mated with a cloud-version of her, Nephele, created by Zeus, and was bound to a fiery wheel forever spinning through the heavens for his arrogance; Sisyphus, through clever ruses, cheated death twice, making a fool of the god Thanatos, the personification of death, then deceiving the kind-hearted queen of the underworld, Persephone before being sentenced to his eternal fate of endlessly rolling a boulder up a steep hill; and, of course, Narcissus was so exceedingly beautiful and proud, he spurned the affections of those who fell in love with him, treating them with disdain until the goddess Nemesis punished him by causing him to become infatuated with his own reflection in a pool of water, so that he ultimately committed suicide, just as many of his suitors had, when he realized he could never possess the object of his unquenchable desire.

The ancient Romans also recognized the perils of inflation: in the Republic, after a great military victory, the conquering general would be awarded a triumphal parade in which he would drive through the streets of Rome in a golden chariot, preceded by elaborate floats depicting battles and other highlights of his campaigns, carts loaded with the spoils of war, and the most high-profile prisoners – kings, princes, and defeated generals (to be executed afterward).  The triumphant general would paint his face red, signifying Mars, the god of war, and Jupiter, King of the gods, but he would also be accompanied by a slave, who would hold a golden crown over the general’s head and whisper in his ear, amidst the unbridled adulation of the Roman masses, “Remember, you are a man; this is not for you.” 

 The triumphant general and public slave represent extreme opposites of the social strata; ironically, this inviolable distance brings them together in the triumphal chariot and unites them within the wide-ranging archetypal pairing of twins.  “Everything psychic has a lower and a higher meaning,” Carl Jung declares in his Symbols of Transformation.  He then goes on to quote from the Emerald Tablet, one of the most important scripts in Medieval alchemy, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (thrice-greatest Hermes): “Heaven above, Heaven below; stars above, stars below; all that is above is also below: know this and rejoice.”  In mythology, twins are rarely identical.  More often they are portrayed as two halves of a whole, though this phrase is somewhat misleading, suggesting equality when it would perhaps be better to think of compensation.  The constellation Gemini, for instance, is associated with the Dioskouroi, the “sons of Zeus,” Kastor and Polydeukes (Latinized Castor and Pollux), who were twins though only half-brothers.  Kastor was the son of Leda and her husband Tyndareus; thus, he was mortal (and not really a son of the thunder god).  Polydeukes was the son of Leda and Zeus, who, in the form of a swan, raped Leda; thus, Polydeukes was a demigod (a higher and a lower nature).  The two boys hatched from a single egg and were inseparable.  When Kastor was killed, Polydeukes was devastated, but Zeus allowed his son to share his immortality with his fallen brother, and that is how they ended up in the zodiac together.  However, even in the heavens, Polydeukes excels his twin, giving off a brilliant bluish light that outshines Kastor’s pale orange glow.[xii]

Sometimes the “twins” are light and dark, shadowing each other.  The term “shadow,” as it is used in Jungian psychology is, in some ways, unfortunate because it connotes, well, darkness, which has a whole range of negative associations; for instance, we know that in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the brutal Mr. Hyde is the split off shadow of the eminent Dr. Jekyll, but it is equally true that the well-liked and cultured Henry Jekyll is the shadow of Edward Hyde.  In The Practice of Psychotherapy CW. Vol 16, Carl Jung gave the most rudimentary definition of the shadow that he ever provided in his works: “[it is] the thing [a person] has no wish to be” (par. 470).  Mr. Hyde has no use whatsoever for Dr. Jekyll and grows increasingly hostile to what his more genial counterpart represents as the story progresses.  The most ruthless individuals do not wish they were more loving and gentle, despite the fact that our society values these qualities in people; the most ruthless individuals are predators who despise those who occupy more vulnerable positions due to their foolishness or sheepish nature.  The triumphant general is the most celebrated personage in the Roman Republic, on the fast track to the highest elected office in the Empire, Consul; the slave who stands beside him on his day of honor is the personification of the elements of humanity the general most scorns, subservience, weakness, irrelevance.  And though it is likely the slave would trade places with the general in a heartbeat, the latter also represents qualities that he would despise, brutality, oppression, pomposity, believing that were their places changed, he (the slave) would act very differently.  The two, then, despite a mutual distaste each for the other, compensate one another in this psychological pairing, the slave keeping the general tethered to the ground, the general preventing the slave from disappearing entirely into obscurity.[xiii]

The court jester fulfills a similar role for the King, not in terms of social standing (for the king is elevated above all others) but a shadow to his dignity.   The Fool’s coxcomb is a mimicry of the crown, with dangling bells where the King’s golden tines symbolize the rays of the sun; [xiv] his motley attire signifies a lack of coherence, whereas the bejeweled mantel of the King indicates his place within the elaborate harmony of the heavens; and the jester’s bauble, topped with a fool’s head, is a play on the King’s imperial scepter, which supports the orb of the world.  While the King must be noble and imposing, his Fool speaks in riddles, sings and dances, juggles and entertains with his foolish antics.  Amidst all the pomp and ceremony, he keeps the court from taking itself too seriously, and he is also privileged to speak his mind, even pricking the King from time to time in order to prevent him from becoming overly inflated.

By the seventeenth century in Europe, the tradition was dying out, and the court jester was cut loose to wander without purpose.  This is what we see in two of my favorite cards, from the Tarot de Paris and another old French deck of unknown origin,[xv] and it reminds us that the Latin senex yields the English language two more important words: senile and senility.

As I plan to discuss both these illustrations at length in a later post, I will content myself with a single remark that these forlorn figures evoke in me great sadness, for they presage an inescapable future which awaits us all.  We come into this world, as William Wordsworth writes, “trailing clouds of glory,” but very few leave in this condition.  For most of us, we are unceremoniously shuffled off into the twilit fringes of social codification to await the final darkness with only our own thoughts as companions, and the heavens ordered by whatever stars we are able to place in their echoing depths.

Kronos-Saturn is the god who rules the archetypal realm of the senex.  As his name suggests, he has a dual or bipolar nature.  Saturn, in ancient Rome, was a largely positive force, a god of generation, wealth, and the harvest; his mythological reign was a golden age of peace and plenty.  As an agricultural god, he was often depicted with his farmer’s scythe, and this image is likely what led him to become conflated with the Greek agricultural god Kronos, king of the Titans, who seized power when he castrated his father Ouranus with the sickle his mother, Gaia, gave to him, which he then used to cull all living things as devouring time; learning that he would be overthrown by one of his children, just as he had overthrown his own father, Kronos swallowed each child as soon as it was born, except for Zeus, who was hidden by his mother Rhea and allowed to grow up and fulfill the prophesy.  

When the king, like the god, is no longer viable, he must die, for his continued existence is anathema to the land.[xvi]  In the Alchemical illustration above, the fierce gray wolf, the prima materia, devours the body of the dead king; the wolf is then given to the flames (calcinatio) to be purified, and through this process, the king is reborn.  The same must hold for his shadowy twin.  Le Fou, in the unknown French deck, travels through this world blindfolded, trusting to his fool-headed bauble to guide him on his way.  An alligator, which serves the same function as the gray wolf, appears near his feet. 

This is the way of the world; life feeds upon life in the great continuous cycle; there is no room for sentimentality.  Each generation succeeds the one which gave it birth, and this, I believe, was Waite’s intent: his Fool is reborn an innocent upon the precipice, an emanation of the sun, not a recreation of what was, for that would have served no purpose, but the harbinger of a new age which also hearkens back to the beginning and the prima materia.

The Book of Genesis starts out somewhere in the middle, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and chronicles the development of consciousness through a process of separation.  There was something before the beginning, but we don’t know what to call it.  We cannot name it God, we cannot name it anything, for bestowing a name would be a mark of distinction within the archetypal round in which exists only a single, concordant identity.  “In the beginning is perfection, wholeness,” writes Erich Neumann in his History and Origins of Consciousness.  “The dawn state of the beginning projects itself mythologically in cosmic form, appearing as the beginning of the world, as the mythology of creation. . . .  One symbol of original perfection is the circle.  Allied to it are the sphere, the egg, and the rotundum – the ‘round’ of alchemy. . . .  The round is the egg, the philosophical World Egg, the nucleus of the beginning, and the germ from which, as humanity teaches everywhere, the world arises.  It is also the perfect state in which the opposites are united – the perfect beginning because the opposites have not yet flown apart and the world has not yet begun, the perfect end because in it the opposites have come together again in a synthesis and the world is once more at rest.”  The astrophysical model of this creation mythology is popularly known as the big bang, a theory which states, in the most rudimentary terms, that our universe came into being when an infinitely dense singularity exploded.  Scientists have no way to know what happened prior to this massive detonation, whether it was a singular occurrence (pardon the pun) or merely one of an infinite succession, and in all honesty, it does not really matter, for if our big bang was a cosmological reset, then whatever came before was erased, as though it had never been, and for all intents and purposes, it never had.

“So God created man in His own image.”  Genesis has two accounts of the Creation, but they have become conflated over the centuries into a single narrative stem with diverging branches: the origination of man in the collective sense and the formation of the first man within the paradisial Garden of Eden.  Adam was molded from clay, that ubiquitous but formless substance that is also every form in potential; in his original condition, he contained all humanity within him, both male and female, in an indivisible identity.  Thus, in alchemy, Adam is synonymous with both the prima materia and the aqua permanens (permanent/eternal water), which may be thought of as a liquid version of the philosopher’s stone; thus, he is both “the agent of transformation as well as the substance to be transformed.” [xvii] 

 However, he did not remain in his hermaphroditic state for long; we read in Genesis that God caused a sleep to befall him, and then removed a rib and created Eve from it.  The attraction between these two, then, was predictable, for one was made two, and the two were incomplete on their own.  In this sense, there were two “Falls” which Adam suffered, the first leading to an increasing divergence and alienation from his original self (which we follow when we repress aspects of ourselves that do not correspond to acceptable standards of gender identification within our cultures) and the second, banishment from paradise and the loss of his innocence.

What we have seen in modern tarot decks is a reversion in the Fool, from senex to puer, and the figure growing increasingly younger and ambisexual.  John Opsopaus writes in his Guide to the Pythagorean Tarot (2001) that his Idiot might be either male or female; even he, the creator of the deck, is uncertain.  The same confusion exists in other cards as well, the Morgan-Greer (1979) and Robin Wood (1991) tarots, just to name two.  In Tarot: Plain and Simple, Anthony Louis, examining the Robin Wood illustration, writes that in addition to this card signifying an innocent optimism, the figure is also associated with homosexuality and bisexuality, characteristics that were never part of his traditional interpretation. 

And the process of transformation did not end there: in ensuing decks, the conversion continued, with the Fool changing over completely into a female character, as we see in Elisabetta Trevisan’s Crystal Tarot (1998) and Robert M. Place’s Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery (2012), in which Stultitia, Latin for folly, foolishness, stupidity, wears the same ass’s ears as does the old Fool from the Tarot de Paris and Le Fou’s blindfold from the old French deck, but she is a young woman with a fresh energy at the start of her journey, which was initiated generations earlier, when the effeminate Waite-Smith Fool, perhaps the most iconic image from what became and still remains the most popular deck ever brought to market, was posited on a precipice, “a young man in gorgeous vestments … a prince of the other world on his travels through this one,” a figure hearkening back to Adam in his hermaphroditic state, the prima materia, an emanation of the sun from whose palm springs not the red rose of masculine but the white rose of lunar consciousness, the philosopher’s stone capable of turning baser forms not into gold but silver, and a restoration of the revitalizing feminine.


[i]         Place, Robert M. Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination.  New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2005.

[ii]        Alchemists did not believe it was possible to metamorphose lesser metals, such as lead, directly into more valuable ones, such as silver or gold.  The lead had to be reduced into the unstructured elemental substance first.  The prima materia is the sine qua non (“without which nothing”) of the process, yet it is also the most common of all substances, and for this reason, the least valued by men.  Alchemical texts speak of it as being despised by the ignorant, and in this way it is counterpart to the stone which the builders rejected (Psalm 118:22).

[iii]       In alchemy, the “garden” or the “Garden of the Philosophers” is the alembic or the vas rotundum, in which the alchemist performs the various operations of the opus.  The alembic actually has many names, depending upon which operation is occurring at the time.  When it is referred to as the “garden,” it is after the lovers (sulpher/Sol/the King and argent vive/Luna/the Queen) unite on the conjugal bed (depicted as a grave or coffin), are killed and buried, and are dissolved in the earth, the prima materia, in order to give rise to red and white roses. 

[iv]    The rubedo or rubification (the red philosopher’s stone is also called the “ruby”) follows the purification of the albedo; the process symbolizes in the philosopher the full enlightenment of the sun following the limited illumination of the moon.  In an interview in which he explained the alchemical opus, Carl Jung said that in the purity of the albedo “one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state.”  It is only in the rubedo, with the infusion of blood, that the individual becomes fully human.

[v]     The albedo, the whiteness, is the stage in which the putrefied corpse is given to flame, and all impurities are burned away.  It is the lunar consciousness, like clear moonlight following blackest night. 

[vi]      When we consider his golden hair, golden sun-boots, tunic decorated with sun mandalas, and his wand that, given the angle at which it crosses over the Fool’s shoulder, seems to be an extension of the sun’s rays, the inescapable conclusion is that this youth is an emanation of the sun.

[vii]       When Roberto De Angelis designed his Universal Tarot, which is very heavily influenced by Waite-Smith, he did, in fact, color the rose red.  However, he also distanced his Fool from the sun in other ways and made his card far less archetypal (and, for me, far less interesting).

[viii]        M-L von Franz, Puer Aeternus.

[ix]       The most obvious exceptions to this being Il Matto, the “Mad Man,” in the Visconti-Sforza, who appears to be only a few years older that the Waite-Smith figure but not at all a puer, and the Fool from the Gringonneur, who looks to be an overgrown and simple-minded adolescent, still wearing diapers and playing with much younger children but not especially effeminate.  In addition, the figure in the Sola Busca Five of Cups, who some tarot writers such as Robert M. Place, suggest might have influenced the Waite-Smith Fool, appears to be a middle-aged man (though clean-shaven).

[x]      In The White Parrot, an Iranian tale, a boy must obtain water from a magical silver fountain, which is guarded by a ferocious lion.  An old man he meets along the way tells him that he must try to get the water only when the lion’s eyes are open and he appears most alert, for then he is asleep; when the lion lowers his head and closes his eyes, he is awake and watchful.  Later in the story, the same old man tells the boy how to capture the white parrot without being turned to stone: the courtyard in which the parrot lives is filled with statues – men who tried to catch the parrot but failed.  The boy is too anxious and is turned to stone himself, but when his sister goes to find him, the same old man gives her the warning and advice, and she is able to redeem everyone in the garden.

[xi]      Although the serpent is judged negatively in traditional Judeo-Christian doctrines, an agent of evil who brought about the Fall of man through his temptation of Eve, in some Gnostic sects, the tale is spun very differently: it is the Lord God who fulfills the role of villain, for He seeks to keep man in an unconscious and dependent state; the serpent is an agent of gnosis (knowledge), representing the stimulus that leads, eventually to consciousness and independence. 

[xii]      The connection between Heracles and his brother Iphicles is very similar: Zeus came to Alcmene, the mother of the boys in the form of her husband, Amphitryon, and impregnated her, fathering the demigod Heracles; later that night, Amphitryon impregnated Alcmene and fathered the mortal Iphicles.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, things are a bit different: generally the imbalance between twins (or the two figures who are so connected they can be thought of almost as twins) is a preference by God of one over the other.  Abel’s offering to God is favored over Cain’s (sometimes being the favorite has a downside); Jacob is favored over Esau; Isaac is favored over Ishmael.

[xiii]    Of course, we are thinking of the general and slave only as symbols for the purposes of this discussion, not as the individual men they are.

[xiv]      A coxcomb, the farcical headwear of a court jester, parodies both the King’s golden crown and the monk’s cowl.  It was originally spelled cockscomb because the cap had a red crest, similar to that which characterizes a rooster.  A rooster is most known for crowing in anticipation of the sunrise, so in this sense, we might think of the court jester as a product of the liminal, mystifying realm between night and day.

[xv]      I found this image in Sallie Nichols’ book Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey.  She writes that the deck was given to her some years before she began writing her book, and she was never able to discover anything about its origins.  I certainly have never seen anything like it, though I very much wish I could view the entire deck!

[xvi]       Zeus did not actually kill his father, Kronos, but had him imprisoned in Tartarus.

[xvii]      C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, par. 545.

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