Arcanum XIX, The Sun

the legendary Phoenix Bird sacred to the Sun, consumed by its own flames and resurrected from its ashes


Esoteric Titles:
Child of the New Sun
The Golden Phoenix
The Solar Charioteer

The 19th Arcanum is called simply the Sun, however, its significance, like the 18th Arcanum The Moon is extensive and complex. All cultures have their own individual Fire Gods, in fact even before fire was discovered the Sun to them seemed like a huge ball of fire, and bush fires would have also been quite common. The Egyptians especially were very fond of iron as a material for this purpose. They thought that a falling meteorite was the cosmic egg of the “Phoenix Bird” – a legendary creature who occasionally flew through the heavens and literally “laid one on mankind”. In fact they would send expeditions into the desert to retrieve chunks of the stuff believing it had magical properties. In ancient Egypt the Hyksos, a warring steppe tribe, attributed it to their God Seth, the personification of drought, evil and perversity. However it predominant use in the 19th century heralded the emergence of the Iron Age of Man – See also the Ages of Mankind. So long before the Chalybes under the guidance and instruction of the Hittites had perfected the art of smelting iron ore, it was being used for an entirely different purpose. In fact flint would be a more suitable attribute for Mars, considering that flint and bone weapons were widely employed in early agricultural and even hunter gatherer communities. In the Aryan religion for example they revered Agni as their fire god, while the Zoroastrians dedicated their religious rituals to a fire that was kept alive from the dawn of time. The Olympic Games begin when a runner carrying a torch steps up to an altar and sets the symbolic pyre on fire. In Greek mythology for example it is the Titan Prometheus who stole the gift of fire from the Olympian Hephaestus and gave it to mankind. Zeus was so annoyed at this transgression that he ordered Prometheus to be chained to Mt. Caucasus where daily an eagle or vulture came to peck away at his liver. Fortunately another hero called Hercules rescued Prometheus from his inexorable fate. Traditionally, The Sun rules the astrological sign of Leo and in the physical body governs the heart, ribcage and spine. In the classic Rider Waite deck the 19th card depicts a Sun in the midday sky with 24 rays arranged in a symbolic Y-shaped configuration. Now 24 is a solar number which reduces to six and below it is a group of five sunflowers, which again will ultimately add up to the magic calendrical number 11. There is also a walled garden and beyond that a child mounted on a white horse which appears to be running away and out of its control. The image of the horse as a solar symbol goes back to Celtic and pagan times and extends into the iconography of the Teutonic tribes whose priests, shamans and rulers practised a particular form of horse sacrifice. The symbolic Y-shaped rays of the Sun can also be seen in Arcanum V The High Priest, which being normally attributed to Taurus signifies the arrival of the “New Sun” of the solar year. The link between Taurus and the Sun is made on the basis of the solar cults from Persia which practised bull sacrifice and of course the fundamental myth of Mithras slaying the Bull to make way for the Ram (Spring Equinox). It would appear a veiled reference is being made to the precession of the equinoxes – by virtue of the fact that the horse is moving away and out of the picture, so to speak. Moreover, after the dark night of the soul symbolised by the previous card “Arcanum XVIII, The Moon”, we have an image of creative renewal and restoration.

A Roman marble relief depicting the Persian Mithras slaying the Bull

Following on from my previous post in this series of articles (“Arcanum XVIII, The Moon”), whereby I have undertaken to compare 22 of Shakespeare’s plays that correspond to the 22 Tarot trumps I have arrived at Arcanum 19, The Sun. Although it is quite likely that the Sun, a symbol of monarchic rule, would have been synonymous with the golden lion or jewelled crown that defined England’s long dynasty of Kings and Queens. The ten History plays which feature in Shakespeare’s Folio of 1623 are clearly about England’s Kings and both Protestant and Catholic religious iconography represented Christ as King, wearing a crown of thorns while in their symbolic cosmology the Sun represented God as well as his only-begotten son, Jesus Christ. The play I have chosen to represent or resonate with the Tarot card, the Sun is Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” because the narrative and plot feature an aging English King who, while negotiating with the representatives of the Roman Empire, has the awesome task of choosing a future successor, which coincidentally Queen Elizabeth never did officially. Some would argue of course that Christ never chose a successor and simply relied on his 12 disciples to carry his message to the world after his “supposed death”.

An artist’s depiction of Caractacus in defiant mood before the Emperor Claudius

In the 1623 Folio of plays it is the last of a list of 12 tragedies. The play is partly based on actual English history but the convoluted and complex plot has a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of “Sleeping Beauty”, or “Rapunzel” but also features the “wager” between the exiled husband of Imogen, Posthumus and the Roman Iachimo regarding the former’s wife’s loyalty and chastity in his absence. The author must have derived the wager narrative from Boccacio’s Decameron, a story of Bernabo and Ambroguilio (day 2, novel 9) but he may also have read or seen an anonymous play “The Rare Triumphs of Love & Fortune” published in 1589 but performed as early as December 1582. Other commentators (Carol Gesner) suggest the plot and narrative has all the hallmarks of Greek or Roman tragedy (“Clitophon & Leucippe”, by Achilles Tatius translated into French in 1568). In any case the question of a woman’s chaste behaviour in the absence of her husband was a popular theme dramatically in Elizabethan England. Historically, this play has an indirect tribute to the dynastic line of King James Ist and of course to Queen Elizabeth Ist although harking back to the historical British King (Cunobelinus who died 42 AD). The chief of the Catuvellauni tribe who founded the city of Colchester and successfully defeated the Trinovantes tribe. But the actual son of Cymbeline was the legendary rebel leader Caractacus who organised resistance to the Roman invasion of Britain. As a fugitive he was eventually betrayed by the mercenary Queen of the Brigantes (Cartimandua) in N. Yorkshire. In this sense “Shakespeare” abandons historical accuracy for the sake of dramatic effect as he does in the Scottish play, “Macbeth”, and several other plays from the 1623 Folio.

“Children Of The Sun” (Cymbeline) Resh

A potential King in exile (Posthumus Leonatus) was perhaps what “Shakespeare” was attempting to describe or demonstrate in this play and there were several contenders to the throne of England should Elizabeth be ruthlessly removed by an assassin or should suddenly die of old age like Cymbeline. This means that according to Raphael Hollinshed (his major historical source) the play is set around the same time as the miraculous birth and death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion although it also includes some anomalous scenes from “16th century Italy” not 1st century Rome. In actual fact it was King Cymbeline’s son Guiderius who refused to pay tributes to Rome alongside the “Pax Romana” which provoked the eventual Roman Invasion in 43 AD under the command of Emperor Claudius. There are echoes in this play of Shakespeare’s second attempt at poetry, namely “The Rape of Lucrece” in which the chaste wife is coerced by the villainous Tarquin into being sexually molested.

An artist’s impression of Caractacus mobilising against the Emperor Claudius

But the interesting element of this play is the use of a soothsayer which gives foresight to all the reversals and inevitable contradictions within the play. “Shakespeare” often uses a soothsayer to give depth or predetermination to his plays as for example in “Julius Caesar” (“Beware the Ides of March”) and in “Anthony & Cleopatra” Act 2, scene 3.

Mark Anthony:
“Say to me, Whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or mine?”

“Caesar’s. Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side:
Thy demon, that’s thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar’s is not; but, near him, thy angel
Becomes afear’d, as being o’erpower’d: therefore
Make space enough between you.”

Mark Anthony:
“Speak this no more.”

“To none but thee; no more, but when to thee.
If thou dost play with him at any game,
Thou art sure to lose; and, of that natural luck,
He beats thee ‘gainst the odds: thy lustre thickens,
When he shines by: I say again, thy spirit
Is all afraid to govern thee near him;
But, he away, ’tis noble.”

An artist’s depiction of Boudica’s last stand against the Roman Army

In “Cymbeline” the soothsayer predicts a different outcome for the King with his relations in Rome:


“Last night the very gods show’d me a vision–
I fast and pray’d for their intelligence–thus:
I saw Jove’s bird, the Roman eagle, wing’d
From the spongy south to this part of the west,
There vanish’d in the sunbeams: which portends–
Unless my sins abuse my divination–
Success to the Roman host.”

And in the final denouement of the last scene she announces:

“When as a lion’s whelp shall, to himself
unknown, without seeking find, and be embraced by a
piece of tender air; and when from a stately cedar
shall be lopped branches, which, being dead many
years, shall after revive, be jointed to the old
stock, and freshly grow; then shall Posthumus end
his miseries, Britain be fortunate and flourish in
peace and plenty.”

Ending her prophecy with the promise of an honourable peace with Rome, which as we know never happened, the Romans simply abandoned their colonisation of Britain as a lost cause:

“The lofty cedar, royal Cymbeline,
Personates thee: and thy lopp’d branches point
Thy two sons forth; who, by Belarius stol’n,
For many years thought dead, are now revived,
To the majestic cedar join’d, whose issue
Promises Britain peace and plenty.
….for the Roman eagle,
From south to west on wing soaring aloft,
Lessen’d herself, and in the beams o’ the sun
So vanish’d: which foreshow’d our princely eagle,
The imperial Caesar, should again unite
His favour with the radiant Cymbeline,
Which shines here in the west.”

The mysterious phenomenon of a double sunset at Leek, Staffordshire

The topical allusions that “Shakespeare” was attempting to make in this play are numerous and extremely subtle. As I queried previously; “was there an eligible male heir to Queen Elizabeth 1st other than King James VIth of Scotland?” If so, who could have legitimately and safely acceded to the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth? Some researchers into this dynastic dilemma have suggested that Queen Elizabeth had several secret liaisons with aristocratic courtiers from which children were born of royal blood and were in fact denied recognition or simply refrained from “kingship” due to lack of motivation or lack interest in the affairs of state. This has led to another theory in the Shakespeare Authorship Question of a “Tudor Prince Theory”, by several academics and authors each proposing and substantiating their theories with anagrams and secret ciphers contained in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays. The most well-known of course was Sir Francis Bacon, who was also suggested as an alternative candidate for the author of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays. It was rumoured that he was the illegitimate son of Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (the Queen’s paramour and Captain of the Queen’s Horse). But he was not the only one and speculation has emerged to propose other courtiers were involved in secret liaisons with the “Virgin Queen”. Sir Walter Raleigh was another of the Queen’s favourites, at least for a short while as well as the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere who, it was also rumoured was the father of the Queen’s illegitimate son, Henry Wriosthesley who became a ward of William Cecil before reaching his majority as the Earl of Southampton. As many students of Shakespeare will be aware, the “Bard of Avon” dedicated several volumes of poetry to Sir Henry Wriosthesley which also led to the controversial “Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets” or for that matter “The Rival Poet” and the “Dark Lady”. The question of sexual indiscretion and impropriety by controversial critics and commentators is levelled at both “Shakespeare” and Queen Elizabeth 1st. The question remains unanswered: “was William Shakespeare ever presented to the Queen and by whom?”. How well these contradictions and discrepancies sit in the Stratfordian circles of the Stratford-upon-Avon million dollar tourist industry is unsure and are cleverly and conveniently ‘swept under the carpet’. No one it would appear would welcome the toppling of “Shakespeare’s” statues and monuments in Stratford-upon-Avon accompanied by street demonstrations and perhaps riots should these closely kept secrets see the light of day.

A 16th century illustration of a “shooting star”

The Earl of Salisbury (Richard IInd, Act 2, scene 5).

“I see thy glory like a shooting star
Fall to the base earth from the firmament.
Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west,
Witnessing storms to come, woe and unrest:
Thy friends are fled to wait upon thy foes,
And crossly to thy good all fortune goes.”
“Was this the face that, like the sun,
Did make beholders wink? Was this the face that
Faced so many follies, and was at last
Out-faced by Bolingbroke?
A brittle glory shineth in this face:
As brittle as the glory is the face;”
(King Richard Act 4, scene 1)

The many faces in portrait or bust of “William Shakespeare” reveal little in the debate or discussion on the real identity of the “Swan of Avon”. The author Robert Nields (“Breaking the Shakespeare Codes”) does highlight a possibility that Queen Elizabeth, while promoting herself to the realm as the “Virgin Queen”, had an opportunity or possibly several opportunities to conceal her illegitimate children. He mentions that she had smallpox in 1563 and later in 1572 when she was confined for a period at Windsor. The first bout of smallpox would have given her lifetime immunity, a second bout is therefore extremely rare if not implausible. Nields suggests that “Shakespeare” was secretly William Hastings (Lord Arundel Talbot) and that the Queen feigned the second bout as smallpox to conceal her pregnancy from the public gaze. It is a strange coincidence that the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley (Shakespeare’s patron) himself was born in 1572 and that Lord Burghley’s son Robert Cecil was born in 1563, the years of the Queen’s confinement supposedly with smallpox. It is conjectured by many Oxfordians that Wriothesley was another of Elizabeth’s secret love-children by the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere which helps explain the ambiguously-worded dedication in the Sonnets. Among other scandalous conjectures by a variety of authors and researchers are that either Francis Bacon (b. 1561) or Robert Devereux (b. 1566) were the illegitimate love-children of Robert Dudley and the Queen. If this is true and ultimately proven, then it could explain why Essex was prosecuted and successfully found guilty of treason by his own brother, Francis Bacon. Prior to the advent of the Essex Rebellion Robert Devereaux and Francis Bacon were the best of friends. It also reveals the extent of those royal scandals and the immoral nature of Elizabeth’s reign, which at all costs would remain a secret for future historians. As the very last monarch from the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth should have basked in the glory of an English Renaissance, but unrecorded circumstances ensured her reign ended in calumny and disorder. Following on from the Queen’s death in 1603 the machinations of state (Robert Cecil) as well as the Royal Society and the Masonic Brotherhoods were at pains to conceal the Queen’s indiscretions and legitimise James’s accession. A lot has already been ascertained quite recently with regard to the Masonic ciphers and symbolism found within Shakespeare’s plays and poetry (eg: “The Shakespeare Enigma”, by Director of the Globe Theatre, Peter Dawkins). Some academic authors have found anagrams and coded ciphers which support the theory that the pseudonymous “William Shakespeare” was a member of some secret Masonic Order, namely that of the Rosicrucian College, the Sacred Order of the Rosy-Cross. The presence of the actors Guiderstern and Rosencrantz in Shakespeare’s melancholic but autobiographical play, “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is an obvious yet simple clue to the existence of the Rosicrucian Order in England since Christian Rosencreutz was the name of their founder in Germany.

Towards the end of her life Queen Elizabeth became increasingly ill and depressed partly because of old age and possibly because she used a lead compound (known as “spirits of Saturn”, or Venetian Ceruse) as a make-up to hide her bad complexion caused by smallpox which would have slowly poisoned her. Despite the fact that she refused to give permission for a post mortem her servants noted that all her teeth had fallen out, her hair was thin and her face emaciated. Confined to Richmond Palace, she was unable to stand and spent hours in bed as the poison and old age finally wreaked havoc on her health. Still she remained indecisive, stubborn and vain to the end and failed to name her successor, except perhaps with a gesture of her hand when asked if she had any objection to James VIth of Scotland acceding to the throne of England. After her death she was laid in a lead coffin for 14 days, the affairs of state and the accession taking precedence over her condition. Her lady in waiting, Mary Southwell recorded that prior to burial having been largely forgotten her body actually exploded in the coffin giving off noxious vapours.

“At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,
Dispersed those vapours that offended us”. (Comedy of Errors, Act 1, scene 1)
“I begin to be weary of the sun,
And wish the estate of the world were now undone”.
(Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5)

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

Every day the golden light beams of the sun disperses the darkness of night and the 30th path on the Tree of Life links the sphere of Yod (Splendour-Mercury) with Yesod (Foundation-Moon) from the left hand side to the central pillar. In Tarot symbolism it is known as the “Collective Intelligence” which translates as the sum total of the 12 zodiacal influences, the celestial portents as well as the fixed stars in the science of astrology that represent the total evolution of the human personality through the process of reincarnation. However, astrologically, it also represents Mercury, as spirit or intellect, acting through the sphere of the Sun, as the masculine principle upon the Moon as the feminine principle. The Sun is simultaneously a receiver and transformer of other planetary influences within its own solar system. In this sense therefore, as it is part of the astral triad, it denotes the rigour of the heart or emotions combined with that of the “hidden soul body”. In declaration of the phrase;

“We do not observe the Sun by the light of the Moon,
No, even the Sun is illuminated and perceived by its own radiance.
Similarly, the true self is made real in this world by the eminence of its own light.”

The gestalt image of a face (Resh) or countenance implying that this path is actually an alchemical synthesis of solar and lunar energies, often represented in the subtle body as the alternating, coiling spirals of ida and pingala usually illustrated in the winged symbol of the caduceus carried by the Greek god Hermes. This path or journey is both individual and universal since it embodies and integrates the physical, the intellectual and the emotional aspects of the personality. It suggests working in harmony with other forms of consciousness, the necessary application of the human will or directive, and the recognition in human affairs of the subtle influences of the collective sub-consciousness.

Positive: Union, material happiness acclaim and recognition celebration of friendship or marriage, success in creative endeavours, openness with children. New achievements, growth and liberation from negative forces. Altruism.

Negative: Loneliness, dissolution abnormal relationships, regression inadequacy.
SPHERE: The Collective Intelligence Resh – A Face
Astrological: The Sun in Leo, the 5th House.
Constellation: Pegasus – The Flying Horse
Sacred Gemstone: Tiger’s Eye or Sunstone

The next Arcanum in this series can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

“Arcanum XX, Judgement”

“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,