This card is referred to the letter Beth, which means a house, and is attributed to the planet Mercury. The ideas connected with this symbol are so complex and so multifarious that it seems better to attach to this general description certain documents which bear upon different aspects of this card. The whole will then form an adequate basis for the full interpretation of the card through study, meditation, and use.
The French title of this card in the medieval pack is "Le Bâteleur", the Bearer of the Bâton. [Variant: LE PAGAD. Origin unknown. Suggestions:
(1) PChD terror (esp. Panic fear) a title of Geburah. Also a thigh: i.e.membrum virile. By Arabic analogy, PAChD, causer of terror: Value 93!!
(2) Pagoda, a phallic memorial: Similar, and equally apt.]
Mercury is pre-eminently the bearer of the Wand: Energy sent forth. This card therefore represents the Wisdom, the Will, the Word, the Logos by whom the worlds were created. (See the Gospel according to St. John, chapter I.) It represents the Will. In brief, he is the Son, the manifestation in act of the idea of the Father. He is the male correlative of the High Priestess. Let there be no confusion here on account of the fundamental doctrine of the Sun and Moon as the Second Harmonics to the Lingam and the Yoni; for, as will be seen in the citation from The Paris Working, (see Appendix) the creative Mercury is of the nature of the Sun. But Mercury is the Path leading from Kether to Binah, the Understanding; and thus He is the messenger of the gods, represents precisely that Lingam, the Word of creation whose speech is silence.
Mercury, however, represents action in all forms and phases. He is the fluidic basis of all transmission of activity; and, on the dynamic theory of the Universe, he is himself the substance thereof. He is, in the language of modern physics, that electric charge which is the first manifestation of the ring of ten indefinable ideas, as previously explained. He is thus continuous creation.
Logically also, being the Word, he is the law of reason or of necessity or chance, which is the secret meaning of the Word, which is the essence of the Word, and the condition of its utterance. This being so, and especially because he is duality, he represents both truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly. Being the unexpected, he unsettles any established idea, and therefore appears tricky. He has no conscience, being creative. If he cannot attain his ends by fair means, he does it by foul. The legends of the youthful Mercury are therefore legends of cunning. He cannot be understood, because he is the Unconscious Will. His position on the Tree of Life shows the third Sephira, Binah, Understanding, as not yet formulated; still less the false Sephira, Da'ath, knowledge.
From the above it will appear that this card is the second emanation from the Crown, and therefore, in a sense, the adult form of the first emanation, the Fool, whose letter is Aleph, the Unity. These ideas are so subtle and so tenuous, on these exalted planes of thought, that definition is impossible. It is not even desirable, because it is the nature of these ideas to flow one into the other. One cannot do more than say that any given hieroglyph represents a slight insistence upon some particular form of a pantomorphous idea. In this card, the emphasis is upon the creative and dualistic character of the path of Beth.
In the traditional card the disguise is that of a Juggler.
This representation of the Juggler is one of the crudest and least satisfactory in the medieval pack. He is usually represented with a headdress shaped like the sign of infinity in mathematics (this is shown in detail in the card called the Two of Disks). He bears a wand with a knob at each end, which was probably connected with the dual polarity of electricity; but it is also the hollow wand of Prometheus that brings down fire from Heaven. On a table or altar, behind which he is standing, are the three other elemental weapons.
With the Wand createth He.
With the Cup preserveth He.
With the Dagger destroyeth He.
With the Coin redeemeth He.
-- Liber Magi vv. 7-10.
The present card has been designed principally upon the Graeco-Egyptian tradition; for the understanding of this idea was certainly further advanced when these philosophies modified each other, than elsewhere at any time.
The Hindu conception of Mercury, Hanuman, the monkey god, is abominably degraded. None of the higher aspects of the symbol are found in his cult. The aim of his adepts seems principally to have been the production of a temporary incarnation of the god by sending the women of the tribe every year into the jungle. Nor do we find any legend of any depth or spirituality. Hanuman is certainly little more than the Ape of Thoth.
The principal characteristic of Tahuti or Thoth, the Egyptian Mercury, is, firstly, that he has the head of the ibis. The ibis is the symbol of concentration, because it was supposed that this bird stood continuously upon one leg, motionless. This is quite evidently a symbol of the meditative spirit. There may also have been some reference to the central mystery of the Aeon of Osiris, the secret guarded so carefully from the profane, that the intervention of the male was necessary to the production of children. In this form of Thoth, he is seen bearing the phoenix wand, symbolising resurrection through the generative process. In his left hand is the Ankh, which represents a sandal-strap; that is to say, the means of progress through the worlds, which is the distinguishing mark of godhead. But, by its shape, this Ankh (crux ansata) is actually another form of the Rose and Cross, and this fact is perhaps not quite such an accident as modern Egyptologists, preoccupied with their attempted refutation of the Phallic school of Archaeology, would have us suppose.
The other form of Thoth represents him primarily as Wisdom and the Word. He bears in his right hand the Style, in his left the Papyrus. He is the messenger of the gods; he transmits their will by hieroglyphs intelligible to the initiate, and records their acts; but it was seen from very early times that the use of speech, or writing, meant the introduction of ambiguity at the best, and falsehood at the worst; they therefore represented Thoth as followed by an ape, the cynocephalus, whose business was to distort the Word of the god; to mock, to simulate and to deceive. In philosophical language one may say: Manifestation implies illusion. This doctrine is found in Hindu philosophy, where the aspect of Tahuti of which we are speaking is called Mayan. This doctrine is also found in the central and typical image of the Mahayana school of Buddhism (really identical with the doctrine of Shiva and Shakti). A vision of this image will be found in the document entitled "The Lord of Illusion" .
The present card endeavours to represent all the above conceptions. Yet no true image is possible at all; for, firstly, all images are necessarily false as such; and, secondly, the motion being perpetual, and its rate that of the limit, c, the rate of Light, any stasis contradicts the idea of the card: this picture is, therefore, hardly more than mnemonic jottings. Many of the ideas expressed in the design are well expounded in the extracts from The Paris Working.
[From The Paris Working.]
Here follows a very full description of the nature of Mercury in several aspects, particularly his relation with Jupiter and the Sun:
"In the Beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury; and is therefore to be identified with Christ. Both are messengers; their birth mysteries are similar; the pranks of their childhood are similar. In the Vision of the Universal Mercury, Hermes is seen descending upon the sea, which refers to Mary. [The path of Beth on the Tree of Life shows him descending from Kether, the Crown, upon Binah, the Great Sea.]The Crucifixion represents the Caduceus; the two thieves, the two serpents; the cliff in the vision of the Universal Mercury is Golgotha; Maria is simply Maia with the solar R in her womb. The controversy about Christ between the Synoptics and John was really a contention between the priests of Bacchus, Sol, and Osiris; also, perhaps, of Adonis and Attis on the one hand, and those of Hermes on the other, at that period when initiates all over the world found it necessary, owing to the growth of the Roman Empire and the opening up of means of communication, to replace conflicting Polytheisms by a synthetic Faith."
"To continue the identification, compare Christ's descent into hell with the function of Hermes as guide of the dead. Also Hermes leading up Eurydice, and Christ raising up Jairus' daughter. Christ is said to have risen on the third day, because it takes three days for the Planet Mercury to become visible after separating from the orb of the sun. (It may be noted here that Mercury and Venus are the planets between us and the sun, as if the Mother and the Son were mediators between us and the Father.)
Note Christ as the Healer, and also his own expression: "The Son of Man cometh as a thief in the night." Also this scripture (Matthew xxiv, 24-7): "For as the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be."
Note also Christ's relations with the money-changers, his frequent parables, and the fact that his first disciple was a publican, i.e., tax-collector.
Note also Mercury as the deliverer of Prometheus.
One half of the Fish symbol is also common to Christ and Mercury; fish are sacred to Mercury (owing presumably to their quality of movement and cold-bloodedness). Many of Christ's disciples were fishermen, and he was always doing miracles in connection with fish.
Note also Christ as the mediator: "No man cometh unto the Father but by me", and Mercury as Chokmah "through whom alone we can approach Kether."
"The Caduceus contains a complete symbol of the Gnosis. The winged sun or phallus represents the joy of life on all planes from the lowest to the highest. The serpents (besides being Active and Passive, Horns and Osiris, and all their other well-known attributions) are those qualities of Eagle and Lion respectively, of which we know, but do not speak. It is the symbol which unites the Microcosm and the Macrocosm, the symbol of the Magical operation that accomplishes this. The Caduceus is Life itself, and is of universal application. It is the universal solvent."
"I see it all now; the virile force of Mars is far beneath him. All the other gods are merely aspects of Jupiter formulated by Hermes. He is the first of the Aeons."
"The sense of humour of this god is very strong. He is not sentimental about his principal function; he regards the Universe as an excellent practical joke; yet he recognizes that Jupiter is serious, and the Universe is serious, although he laughs at them for being serious. His sole business is to transmit the force from Jupiter, and is concerned with nothing else. The message is Life, but in Jupiter the life is latent."
"With regard to Reincarnation, the heliocentric theory is right. As we conquer the conditions of a planet, we incarnate upon the next planet inwards; until we return to the Father of All, when our experiences link together, become intelligible, and star speaks to star. Terra is the last planet where bodies are made of earth; in Venus they are fluid; on Mercury aerial; while in the Sun they are fashioned of pure fire." ["In the Suns we remember; in the Planets we forget." - Eliphaz Levi.]
"I now see the eightfold star of Mercury suddenly blazing out; it is composed of four fleurs-de-lys with rays like anthers, bulrushes in shape between them. The central core has the cypher of the Grand Master, but not the one you know. Upon the cross are the Dove, the Hawk, the Serpent and the Lion. Also, one symbol yet more secret. Now I behold fiery swords of light. All this is upon a Cosmic scale. All the distances are astronomical. When I say "Sword", I have a definite consciousness of a weapon many millions of miles in length".
THE LORD OF ILLUSION
[Extract from Liber CDXVIII The Vision and the Voice: 4th Aethyr (Ed. Princ. p.144.)]
It is the figure of the Magus of the Taro; in his right arm the torch of the flames blazing upwards; in his left, the cup of poison, a cataract into Hell. And upon his head the evil talisman, blasphemy and blasphemy and blasphemy, in the form of a circle. That is the greatest blasphemy of all (i.e., that the circle should be thus profaned. This evil circle is of three concentric rings). On his feet hath he scythes and swords and sickles; daggers; knives; every sharp thing-a millionfold, and all in one. And before him is the Table that is a Table of wickedness, the forty-two-fold Table. This Table is connected with the forty-two Assessors of the Dead, for they are the Accusers, whom the soul must baffle; and with the forty-two-fold name of God, for this is the Mystery of Iniquity, that there was ever a beginning at all. And this Magus casteth forth, by the might of his four weapons, veil after veil; a thousand shining colours, ripping and tearing the Aethyr; so that it is like jagged saws, or like broken teeth in the face of a young girl, or like disruption, or madness. There is a horrible grinding sound, maddening. This is the mill in which the Universal Substance, which is ether, was ground down into matter.
A voice says: "Behold the brilliance of the Lord, whose feet are set upon him that pardoneth transgression. Behold the six-fold Star that flameth in the Vault, the seal of the marriage of the great White King and his black slave."
So I looked into the Stone, and beheld the sixfold Star: the whole Aethyr is as tawny clouds, like the flame of a furnace. And there is a mighty host of Angels, blue and golden, that throng it, and they cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art thou, that art not shaken in the earthquakes, and in the thunders! The end of things is come upon us; the day of Be-with-us is at hand! For he hath created the Universe, and overthrown it, that he might take his pleasure thereupon.
And now, in the midst of the Aethyr, I behold that god. He hath a thousand arms, and in each hand is a weapon of terrible strength. His face is more terrible than the storm, and from his eyes flash lightnings of intolerable brilliance. From his mouth run seas of blood. Upon his head is a crown of every deadly thing. Upon his forehead is the upright Tau, and on either side of it are signs of blasphemy. And about him clingeth a young girl, like unto the King's daughter that appeared in the ninth Aethyr. But she is become rosy by reason of his force, and her purity hath tinged his black with blue.
They are clasped in a furious embrace, so that she is torn asunder by the terror of the god; yet so tightly clingeth she about him, that he is strangled. She hath forced back his head, and his throat is livid with the pressure of her fingers. Their joint cry is an intolerable anguish; yet it is the cry of their rapture, so that every pain, and every curse, and every bereavement, and every death of everything in the whole universe, is but one little gust of wind in that tempest-scream of ecstasy. [This image is to be found painted (usually on silk, and repeated in varying forms, often representing the planets, about its central glory) upon the sacred Banners which adorn the shrines of Tibet].
And an Angel speaks: "Behold, this vision is utterly beyond thine understanding. Yet shalt thou endeavour to unite thyself with the dreadful marriage-bed."
So I am torn asunder, nerve from nerve and vein from vein, and more intimately - cell from cell, molecule from molecule, and atom from atom, and at the same time all crushed together. (Write down that the tearing asunder is a crushing together.) All the double phenomena are only two ways of looking at a single phenomenon; and the single phenomenon is Peace. There is no sense in my words or in my thoughts. "Faces half-formed arose." This is the meaning of that passage; they are attempts to interpret Chaos. But Chaos is Peace Cosmos is the War of the Rose and the Cross. That was a "half-formed face" that I said then. All images are useless.
Yea, as in a looking-glass, so in thy mind, that is backed with the false metal of lying, is every symbol read averse. Lo! everything wherein thou hast trusted must confound thee, and that thou didst flee from was thy saviour. So therefore didst thou shriek in the Black Sabbath when thou didst kiss the hairy buttocks of the goat, when the gnarled god tore thee asunder, when the icy cataract of death swept thee away.
Shriek, therefore, shriek aloud; mingle the roar of the gored lion and the moan of the torn bull, and the cry of the man that is torn by the claws of the Eagle, and the scream of the Eagle that is strangled by the hands of the Man. Mingle all these in the death-shriek of the Sphinx, for the blind man hath profaned her mystery. Who is this, Oedipus, Tiresias, Erinyes? Who is this, that is blind and a seer, a fool above wisdom? Whom do the hounds of heaven follow, and the crocodiles of hell await? Aleph, Vau, Yod, Ayin, Resh, Tau, is his name. [These are the Paths forming a Current 1-2-6-8-9-10 on the Tree of Life].
Beneath his feet is the Kingdom, and upon his head the Crown. He is spirit and matter; he is peace and power; in him is Chaos and Night and Pan; and upon BABALON his concubine, that hath made him drunk upon the blood of the saints that she hath gathered in her golden cup, hath he begotten the virgin that now he doth deflower. And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah. And this is the stone of the philosophers that is set as a seal upon the Tomb of Tetragrammaton, and the elixir of life that is distilled from the blood of the saints, and the red powder that is the grinding-up of the bones of Choronzon.
Terrible and wonderful is the Mystery thereof, O thou Titan that hast climbed into the bed of Juno! Surely thou art bound unto, and broken upon, the wheel; yet hast thou uncovered the nakedness of the Holy One, and the Queen of Heaven is in travail of child, and his name shall be called Vir, and Vis, and Virus, and Virtus, and Viridis, in one name that is all these, and above all these. [Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vici, the motto of the Master Therion as an 8=3]
The following excerpt from Liber Aleph, the Book of Wisdom or Folly, may also help to elucidate the meaning of this card.
Tahuti, or Thoth, confirmed the Word of Dionysus by continuing it; for He shewed how by the Mind it was possible to direct the Operations of the Will. By Criticism and by recorded Memory Man avoideth Error, and the Repetition of Error. But the true Word of Tahuti was A M O U N, whereby He made Men to understand their secret Nature, that is, their unity with their True Selves, or, as they then phrased it, with God. And he discovered unto them the Way of this Attainment, and its relation with the Formula of INRI. Also by his Mystery of Number he made plain the Path for His Successor to declare the Nature of the whole Universe in its Form and in its Structure, as it were an Analysis thereof, doing for Matter what the Buddha was decreed to do for Mind.