Arcanum XXI, The World

Esoteric Titles:
The Universal Goddess
The Heroic Path
The Womb of the Great Mother
The World

In actual fact the Fool re-enters this life through the gateway of the Great Mother either by destiny or design although he may manifest in the series at any sequence, at the beginning of the traditional sequence or the end in reverse order. In Arcanum XXI we are presented in Tarot symbolism with an image of a naked Goddess holding two sceptres and partially wrapped in a flowing fabric. The whole of this image is surrounded by the four alchemical cherubs representing the 4 fixed signs of the zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio & Aquarius) as well as the 4 elements employed in alchemical transmutation, often symbolised by the Sphinx. The Sphinx symbolises a passage of time, in this case the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each with their own conditions and activities which re-emphasise the solar path. Her crossed legs are a mnemonic indicator symbolising the planet Saturn, the ruler of this Earth plane which orbits the zodiac in 7-year cycles. Numerically the card suggests that after 1 cycle we attain childhood after two cycles we reach puberty, after 3 cycles we leave the teen years and enter the adult world and after 4 cycles we attain a modicum of maturity. The cycle extends even further in life as 4 major cycles add up to the average human life-span 4 x 21 = 84. Finally, 8 plus 4 equals the 12 signs of the zodiac, through which he must travel in life, the violet wreath denotes the circular opening of the vagina from which we come into the world, the leaves the endless cycle of lifetimes we have manifested in this world and the numerous experiences we have sustained. In Buddhist mythology she signifies or embodies the quality of “digambara” literally translated as “naked as space”, the naked androgynous figure holds two wands (ie: 2 of Wands) in either hand signifying masculine and feminine principles or forces, and that in life, from beginning to end we are subject to numerous good and bad influences. Traditionally this card is ruled by the planet Earth or the electro-magnetic sphere and the 4 primary elements (Water, Fire, Earth & Air).

A bronze statue depicting Shiva or Nataraja, Lord of the Dance

The dancing figure with the crossed legs is reminiscent of Indian statues, usually of the “God of the Dance”, Nataraja or Krishna holding a flute and signalling the commencement of a celebration of ecstatic joy. It is unusual and perhaps remarkable that the statues commemorating Shakespeare as a poet and playwright at Westminster and at Wilton House depict him with the same posture (with crossed legs) as the Indian Avatar, Krishna. Similar statues of the “Bard” are also found at Stratford-upon-Avon. Another statue in a similar pose is the Dark Lord Shiva, whose dance presumed to herald his role as “The Destroyer of Worlds” in Kali Yuga our current great age according to the Hindu calendar (See “The Cosmic Aeons & Ages of Human Evolution”).

“The New Kingdom To Come” (As You Like It) Tau

This being the last in my series of essays entitled “Shakespeare’s Tarrochi”, whereby I attempt to compare one of the Tarot’s 22 trumps with one of 22 Shakespeare plays. No doubt the reader will find some precedent on the internet with numerous attempts to link Shakespeare’s plays and text with the semantic qualities of the Tarot trumps, the major and lesser arcana. The Lesser Arcanum is composed of four suits of 10 and a further 16 court cards illustrated as Knave, King, Knight and Queen in four different suits based on Arabic Geomancy. The 40 numbered cards are both astrological and numerical aspects of the 4 elements. The 16 Court Cards were based on the 16 “Geomantic Figures” or sigils that were the Western or Arabic equivalent of I-Ching divination, its’ origins are from the deserts of Arabia and N. Africa from which it spread ultimately to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Early Christian missionaries presumed it to be similar in effect to the oriental art of Feng Shui. It is both earth based and directional and in effect similar to the Celtic and Egyptian Ogdoad. It interprets the Universe as a series of complementary pairs or opposites so it can be transposed to the Chinese method of classifying the phenomenal world into a binary series of yin and yang lines. Coincidentally, just as I have attained completion and as the “Shamanic Journey” reaches its final goal, there is inevitably a “new beginning”, the “Kingdom to Come”. So, the earnest reader of my most recent posts might ask which one of Shakespeare’s plays resonates so closely with that idea or notion? While researching this project I had already symbolically consigned six of Shakespeare’s plays to the “Elizabethan Festival Cycle”. They are as follows:

The Winter’s Tale (Winter Solstice-Saturnalia or Christ’s Birth)
A Comedy of Errors (Spring Equinox-Springtime/Easter or Christ’s Crucifixion)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Midsummer Solstice-Christ’s Ascension)
Measure for Measure (Autumnal Equinox-All Soul’s Day)
Much Ado About Nothing (Solar & Lunar Eclipses)
The Two Noble Kinsmen (Lunar Nodes-Dragon’s Head & Dragon’s Tail)

Thereby, a total of 38 plays…..excluding the possibility that Shakespeare may have wrote or collaborated on “Sir Thomas More”, “Cardenio” and “Love’s Labours Won”, the latter presumed to be lost. Which simply leaves the play “As You Like It” to correspond with Arcanum XXI, “The World” or the Universe as it is known. The word Universe only appears in two of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry Vth and Edward IIIrd, but the word “World” appears in almost every Shakespeare play and is often used with added resonance of its inherent troubles and woes:

Alarum. Enter King Henry VIth alone:
“For what is in this world but grief and woe?
O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,”

Miranda (The Tempest)
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

A scrivener in “Richard III”:

Bad is the world; and all will come to nought,
When such bad dealings must be seen in thought.

Duchess of York:
Blind sight, dead life, poor mortal living ghost,
Woe’s scene, world’s shame, grave’s due by life usurp’d,
Brief abstract and record of tedious days,

Marina: (“Pericles, Prince of Tyre”)
This world to me is like a lasting storm,
Whirring me from my friends.

O my good lord, the world is but a word:
Were it all yours to give it in a breath,
How quickly were it gone!

Timon of Athens:
Rogue, rogue, rogue!
I am sick of this false world, and will love nought
But even the mere necessities upon ‘t.

Cardinal Wolsley in “Henry VIIIth”:
Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye:
I feel my heart new open’d. O, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!

However, Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” contains the well-known phrase:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

Many medieval treatises on the subject of astrology provided a schema based on the average life span and a series of corresponding life stages or Seven Ages of Man (9 x 7 = 63 an average life-span in those days);

  1. Infant (Moon)
  2. Child (Mercury)
  3. Youth (Venus)
  4. Adult (Mars)
  5. Maturity (Jupiter)
  6. Old Age (Saturn)
  7. Decrepitude (Fixed Stars)
An artist’s impression of a scene from As You Like It

In 1930 the literary critic William Empson actually identified “Seven Types of Ambiguity” in a book of the same name and they consist of the following:

Equivalence (Coincidence)

Much of Dr. John Dee’s magical legacy was transferred into the possession of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn although it should be noted that Paul Foster Case’s attributions and correspondences are not the most reliable source. It would appear that Dr. Dee employed The Key of Solomon, and developed his own seven-fold “Seal of God” from a book on sigils entitled “Sigillum Dei Aemeth”. He also used the “Liber Juratus” (The Sacred Book), and no doubt had in his possession works by Giovanni Battista della Porta, Trithemius, Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa. The Biblical story of creation (Genesis) was arranged sequentially and in accord with a geocentric universe and as the Bible was considered by Catholics to be the “word of God”; to accept any other theory or hypothesis was to deny God’s fundamental truth-the Seven Days of Creation. Seven star constellations were considered sacred and meaningful in the culture of numerous high civilisations, the number seven being considered lucky and auspicious universally. The Great Bear (Ursa Major) for example also consisted of 7 stars known as the 7 Rishis or Sages of the World. The significance of seven lies in the fact that the second number of the card “17. The Star” is seven and the seventh sphere in Caballism is Netzach (Victory). So, the dancing figure could very easily be the Goddess of Victory, known to the ancient Greeks as Nike, which also means Justice, the card which in the Naples Arrangement sits conveniently above “The Star”. The Jewish menorah (a 7-sticked candelabra) represented this idea of continuous cycles being expressed in almost everything on Earth and in Heaven. In the Jewish calendar the seventh year gained prominence as a year of dispensation, when slaves were freed and criminals pardoned. The number seven in the colours of the rainbow and the seventh harmonic in music continues to be highlighted as the Seven Noble Virtues & Vices of Mankind. While 3 (symbolising the trinity) times seven equals 21, the number of cards in the Major Arcana if we exclude The Fool which represents YOU!

An artist’s depiction of a musical pageant from medieval times

In Shakespeare‘s play “The Merchant of Venice” Shakespeare himself writes;

“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils:
The motions of his spirit are as dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.”

Although only 8 of Shakespeare’s plays actually list the characters in a Dramatis Personae in the First Folio of 1623, in structure we will find singular characters with leading parts sometimes with soliloquies, doubles or “twins” and often trios of actors taking part in reconstructions of other distant times and faraway places. But we will also see “smoke and mirrors” where the playwright introduces confusion, paradox, irony or ambivalence into his equation. But more significantly as John Vyvyan (“Shakespeare & Platonic Beauty”) has suggested the play parallels the Orphic ascent of the soul through self-knowledge to divine truth as described in Castiglione’s “Book Of The Courtier”. Rosalind’s beauty awakens Orlando’s passion and admiration and she tests his faith by her lightning wit and critical mockery of conventional lovers. However, it ends with four couples getting married, synonymous with the four elements or “Four Worlds of Qaballah” which in turn resembles the marriages in “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”. The various characters in the play demonstrate four types of love or ‘humour’ (choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic) which are eventually sanctified by marriage ‘When earthly things made even, Atone together’. The other three marriages to take place in the de Vere family were of course the marriage of Elizabeth de Vere to the Earl of Derby, the marriage of Susan de Vere to Phillip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and the marriage of Bridget de Vere to Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Which with the marriage of Henry Wriothesley to Elizabeth Vernon gives the corresponding marriage of four eligible couples which no doubt was a relief to their father Edward de Vere.

Aside from which the play was actually written to celebrate the secret wedding of the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley to Elizabeth Vernon, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting who was also inadvertently pregnant with his child. Its first performance might have been in August 1598 with the assistance of the Earl of Essex, Elizabeth’s cousin. At that particular time the Earl of Essex was out of favour with the Queen despite his successes in the ‘Island’s Voyage’ and had retired to his country estate at Wanstead, Essex sensing the ingratitude of several nobles he had patronised and indeed the monarch herself. Elizabeth Vernon meanwhile had fled the court and was hiding out at Essex House fearful of the Queen’s displeasure. Henry Wriothesley and Elizabeth Vernon were subsequently sent to the Fleet prison and within two years London was overwhelmed by the Essex Rebellion in 1600 in which Wriothesley was implicated and transferred to the Tower. On the accession of James 1st in 1604 he was eventually released and his title, estates and nobility restored. (See “The Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”).

Detail from a portrait of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

We know from the theatre records of the time that at the end of nearly every play it was customary for the audience to participate in a jig or dance (usually accompanied by music), presumably to alleviate the tendency towards boredom or the cramped conditions and bare seating in the auditorium. Apart from ‘Oh, Sweet Oliver’ there are five songs in “As You Like It”, ‘Under The Greenwood Tree’, ‘Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind’, ‘What Shall We Have That Killed The Deer’ and ‘It Was A Lover And His Lass’ and the play ends with a celebratory dance. Similarly, I can happily end this series of 22 essays on a happy note and a successful completion of “Shakespeare’s Tarrochi”.

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

A selection of cards from the Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck

The 32nd and very last path on the Tree of Life connects the sphere of Yesod (Foundation) with Malkuth (Kingdom) on the central pillar. In Tarot it is known as the “Administrative Intelligence” primarily because it directs or conducts the 7 planetary harmonies and also the four cosmic elements through the sphere of the Moon with the influence of Saturn. Astrologically, it denotes the ascendant, or mundanely the moment of emergence of any given thing. However, it also symbolises the limitations of human existence and the completion of any given cycle, whether that is planetary or seasonal. Chronologically therefore it is the absolute beginning and the absolute end although that in itself suggests every end always has a new beginning. The path is linked to the Tarot card entitled 21 The World depicting a woman, possibly Eve or Lilith dancing naked within a wreath and surrounded by four winged cherubs described in Ezekiel (Revelations), each symbolising the 4 fixed signs of the zodiac which are often referred to as the powers of the Magus, to know, to will, to act and to remain silent. These cherubs, the lion, the bull, the eagle and the angel are the fundamental essence of the traditional elements as spirit (fire), intellect (air), feeling (water) and matter (earth). They also connote the four cardinal directions in space; north, south, east and west thereby suggesting a mass in motion being absorbed and then regurgitated over time. Some experts assert that the androgynous dancing figure is none other than the Mother Goddess herself or a representation of the Greek Titan Gaia, or possibly an aspect of the Hindu Kalima who wreaks both life and death upon her devotees. Some commentators have suggested that she represents an aspect of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who rejected him. However, there are also strong associations with the primal couple of masculine and feminine energies described in the Rig Veda as Purusha and Prakriti or even that of Mitra and Varuna (Light & Darkness).

Positive: Completion of a cycle, celebration of finished project, the integration of material/spiritual ideology, resolution of opposites, travel/new surroundings. Final conclusion of a contract.

Negative: Tasks fail intended goals, inadequate provision. Efforts inadequate to results. Vain glorification of self.
The Administrative Intelligence Tau – A Cross or Mark.

Astrological: .Neptune or Earth
Constellation: Andromeda – The Chained Maiden
Sacred Gemstone: Kunzite or Opal

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

“Arcanum 0, The Fool”

“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,