The idea that Mathers intended the tarot cards to be talismans when he wrote Book T came to me when I first saw Eliphas Lévi’s Clavicules de Salomon. P. Chacornac’s introduction says "[the keys] describe it with precision and simplicity the seventy-two branches. They include the figures of the thirty-six talismans, those of the thirty-two Ways of Wisdom (the ten numbers and the twenty-two letters)" (Google translate used for all quotes). The first section of the book, The Schem haMephorash Scheme, says "We form seventy-two names which are written two by two on thirty-six talismans", and
"Carefully study the hieroglyphics and sacred letters of the thirty-six talismans and write around each of them a scripture verse of your choice1, the one that will best express it for you the virtue of letters and numbers.
These talismans fix the mind, make the mind stronger and serve as sacraments to will.
The spirits of all the hierarchies are in communion with the one who carries with dignity and who understand these signs well".
The text then goes on to show pentacles with drawings which are evidently tarot, e.g. the following four talisman show the aces of cups, swords, and wands, and the three of cups. Each is indeed associated with two trigrams of the seventy two fold name of God.
|Pentacle / card||72 fold name of God2|
|Ace of Wands||VEHUVIAH (1st)||CHALAMIAH (4th)|
|Two of Wands||JELIEL (2nd)||MAHASIAH (5th)|
|Three of Wands||SITAEL (3rd)||LELAHEL (6th)|
|Four of Wands||ACHAIAH (7th)||ALADIAH (10th)|
|Five of Wands||CAHETEL (8th)||LAAVIAH (11th)|
|Six of Wands||HAZIEL (9th)||HAHAIAH (12th)|
|Seven of Wands||IEZALEL (13th)||HACKAMIAH (16th)|
|Eight of Wands||MEBAHEL (14th)||LOVIAH (17th)|
|Nine of Wands||HARIEL (15th)||CALIEL (18th)|
|Ace of Cups||LEVAVIAH (19th)||JEJAHEL (22nd)|
|Two of Cups||PAHALIAH (20th)||MELAHEL (23rd)|
|Three of Cups||NELCHAEL (21st)||HAHIVIAH (24th)|
|Four of Cups||NITHAIAH (25th)||SCHEHEAH (28th)|
|Five of Cups||HAAJAH (26th)||REJAJEL (29th)|
|Six of Cups||JERATHEL (27th)||OMAEL (30th)|
|Seven of Cups||LECABEL (31st)||LEHAHIAH (34th)|
|Eight of Cups||VASARIAH (32nd)||CHAVAKIAH (35th)|
|Nine of Cups||JEHUIAH (33rd)||MENADEL (36th)|
|Ace of Swords||ANIEL (37th)||JEJAZEL (40th)|
|Two of Swords||HAAMIAH (38th)||HAHAEL (41st)|
|Three of Swords||REHAEL (39th)||MICHAEL (42nd)|
|Four of Swords||VAVALIAH (43rd)||NGARIEL (46th)|
|Five of Swords||JELAIAH (44th)||AZALIAH (47th)|
|Six of Swords||SEATHIAH (45th)||MEHIEL (48th)|
|Seven of Swords||VEHUEL (49th)||NGHIMAMIAH (52nd)|
|Eight of Swords||DANIEL (50th)||NANAEL (53rd)|
|Nine of Swords||HAHAZIAH (51st)||NITHAEL (54th)|
|Ace of Pentacles||MEBAIAH (55th)||JEJALEL (58th)|
|Two of Pentacles||POVIEL (56th)||HARAEL (59th)|
|Three of Pentacles||NEMAMIAH (57th)||MITSRAEL (60th)|
|Four of Pentacles||UMABEL (61st)||JABAMIAH (70th)|
|Five of Pentacles||JAHAHEL (62nd)||HAIAIEL (71st)|
|Six of Pentacles||NGANAVEL (63rd)||MUMIAH (72nd)|
|Seven of Pentacles||EIAEL (67th)||MEHIEL (64th)|
|Eight of Pentacles||HABVIAH (68th)||DAMABIAH (65th)|
|Nine of Pentacles||ROCHEL (69th)||MAUKEL (66th)|
Lévi sees the cards as the seals from key of Solomon, and therefore the deck a set of magical tools. This gives a precedent to the tarot images being parts of talismans, used to evoke the spirits of the seventy two fold name to do the magician’s will, e.g. give him love or “fruitful force”.
Mathers did something similar in Book T, associating thirty six of the minor arcana with the seventy two trigrams, which seems to me was taken from Lévi, though in a different way3. The other associations extend this idea – the card-talisman synthesizes the meaning, influence, and power of a sephirah and an element via their colors, and the associated decan via the astrological symbols. The decans have faces, images illustrating their meaning, and used in and of themselves in magic.
I think Mathers had taken Lévi’s idea into the G.D. tarot deck. The cards are talismans, only drawn by the magician on paper, rather than a pentacle.
As a side note, the 10 of pentacles (image to the right), associated with the sephirah of Malkuth, is a minimalist version of the Wheel of Fortune from The Magical Ritual of the Sanctum Regnum, which Waite used in his deck, saying "...the wheel itself follows other indications of Lévi in respect of Ezekiel's vision, as illustrative of the particular Tarot Key. In The Pictorial Key to the Tarot Waite refers to tarot cards as keys, my understanding as keys to something else4. Still, I think the use of the phrase & embedded seal in this context is noteworthy.
Two books were written on the subject- The Shem Grimoire by Nick Farrell, and Tarot Talismans: Invoke the Angels of the Tarot by Sandra Tabatha Cicero & Chic Cicero.
1. Mathers has added a verse to each of the pentacles in his translation of the Greater Key of Solomon.
2. Some of the names are improperly transliterated, e.g. 6 of Swords has סאל in Hebrew letters transliterated to Seathiah. The th should have been transliterated as L. I kept the original transliteration.
3. Lévi used the ace through nine in each suit, ordering them wands, cups, swords, and pentacles (seems like suits to elements to the four worlds). The names are associated almost in order - within each six names, the 1st & 4th are associated with the first pentacle (one to each side), 2nd & 5th to the next, and 3rd & 6th to the last. I don't know why. Also note it seems he swapped three names for the last six pentacles cards. Book T associates the 72 names to the decans in running order, starting with the Leo. This is used to associate the names to the minors associated with the decans as well, which are the 2 through 10 of the four suits.
4. Waite says "the pictures are like doors which open into unexpected chambers, or like a turn in the open road with a wide prospect beyond", but that the illustrations to "all numbered cards of the Lesser Arcana--the Aces only excepted--are furnished with figures or pictures to illustrate-but without exhausting--the divinatory meanings attached thereto". I take it to mean he intended some of the symbols on the cards, such as numbers and pips, might have deeper meaning, but the illustrations themselves have no magical powers, e.g. being recognized by spirits as symbols of power.
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