Wednesday 26 November 2014

Sagittarius in the Major Arcana - alchemy at work

Let’s start our exploration of Sagittarius in the tarot with the Major Arcana.  In astrology, Sagittarius is the last of the three Fire signs that we encounter as we go around the zodiac – the first being Aries, the second Leo.   It’s the mutable one – taking what’s been established in Scorpio and transforming it into something else.  It combines fiery passion and creativity with the expansiveness and benevolence of Jupiter, its ruler, to give us the visionary, the explorer, the philosopher.  

Sharman-Caselli Tarot
The key word for me here is ‘transforming’ – that ability to take what we have and change it, to temper it... ah, you’ll see where I’m going with this now!  In the astrological correspondence system for the tarot that I follow, the Major Arcana card associated with Sagittarius is Temperance.  It’s THE alchemical card, for me – all those symbols of alchemy present in most depictions of the card. In the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot we see an angel pouring liquid from one cup to the other.  An angel also appears in the Sharman-Caselli version; here the alchemy is emphasized by the colours of the cups – gold and silver.  There’s a need for flow between the conscious and unconscious, indicated by the flow between left and right hands, as well as one foot being on land and one in water. The rainbow symbolizes promise, as does the sun.  So, transformation gives us the link to the mutable nature of Sagittarius, but what about the Fire?

Thoth Tarot
Well, fire plays an essential part in alchemy – some of the main alchemical processes take place in a furnace.  The Crowley Thoth tarot’s version of Temperance, entitled ‘Art’, depicts the alchemical union of fire and water.  We see here the lion and eagle, representing the Fixed signs of Leo (Fire) and Scorpio (Water), on either side of the cauldron, balancing each other.  While water can extinguish fire, it can also join together with fire to form steam – which we see rising through the centre of the card, forming two rainbows enveloping the woman’s shoulders. Again, that symbol of hope and promise – which is part of the Sagittarian’s vision. This symbolism also appears in the Druidcraft Tarot’s Fferyllt, the Druid alchemist. 
Druidcraft Tarot

(The actual alchemical process associated with Sagittarius is that of ceration – the softening of hard material, achieved by continuously adding a liquid to a hard, dry substance while it’s being heated, ending up with something the consistency of molten wax.  That’s a simplification, of course... and there are a number of different definitions. I plan to look at the various alchemical processes in relation to zodiac signs next year, so stay tuned!)

So then, Temperance – or Art, if you will – is about uniting, integrating, blending, bringing things into balance and harmony, drawing on Sagittarius’ mutability and, if you think of this as an alchemical process, on fieriness!  

Druidcraft Tarot created by Philip Carr-Gomm and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections

Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games Systems, Inc. 

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