There are already plenty of resources – like Clive Barrett’s The Ancient Egyptian Tarot (Thorsons, 1994) – that identify the Major Arcana with the Egyptian Gods. However, I have certain problems with many of these resources, one being the idea that any particular God or Goddess is “limited” to just one card (as when Barrett suggests that Seth is limited to the Devil card; eventually, I’ll try to explain why I think He’s also linked to the Hanged Man and the Tower, among others). I don’t claim to be an expert on the Tarot (far from it!), and I don’t claim to “know” any more about it than anyone else really does; but for what it’s worth, here’s how I choose to look at it.
First, I like the idea (introduced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) that the twenty-two Major Arcana can be used to interconnect the ten Sephiroth on the Qabalic Tree of Life. Here’s an example of how this is usually done in modern occultism today:
However, if we keep this same essential structure while replacing the Sephiroth with the nine Gods and Goddesses of the Heliopolitan Ennead (plus Horus), we get something like this:
Bear in mind, the Netjeru and the Sephiroth don’t match each other perfectly, and I’m not encouraging anyone to think otherwise. (It actually frustrates me a little whenever someone “identifies Seth with Geburah” for example, since there are ways in which He can also be identified with any of the other Sephiroth as well. The same is equally true of every other Netjer.) For my purposes here, I’m ditching the Sephiroth entirely while using the Tree of Life pattern to see how the Major Arcana look when they connect the Netjeru instead. And here we go:
A Kemetic Tree of Life?
Now I’m not claiming that this way of looking at it is perfect, but in this context, each of the Arcana represents a path where one member of the Ennead blends into another. I think this is much better than simply identifying one Netjer with one card.
Bearing this in mind, we can say that the path of the Fool represents that part of nature where Ra, the Prime Mover, begets Shu, the God of air and atmospheres. In the Heliopolitan cosmogony, this is after Ra ascends from Nun (the primordial chaos) and recognizes Himself as the first sentient being. He lays the foundation of Ma’at in His heart, and then He masturbates. As He does this, His breath becomes Shu; then He ejaculates and Tefnut (the Goddess of moisture) explodes from His loins (which I will further explain when I discuss the path of the Magician next week).
The Fool is usually depicted as a guy who’s happily walking along with his head in the clouds and a dog at his heels, and who’s completely oblivious to the fact that he’s about to walk over the edge of a cliff. In the sky above him, we see a very prominent Sun (the symbol of Ra), and the fact that he’s looking up in the air suggests that he’s looking at Shu. (Not to sound irreverent toward Shu, but you might say the Fool is literally an “airhead.”) The idea of walking over the cliff can be linked to Ra’s primal orgasm, which I identify with the Big Bang (no pun intended).
Notice also that the Fool is holding a flower and is wearing a very flowery outfit. This makes me think of how back when Ra was all by Himself and He had no children or chaos monsters to complicate His life, He was probably more like a hippie than the stern regal lawgiver He would eventually become. At the same time, all who would later come into existence through Him (including people) can be said to have His spark within them, and perhaps that’s what the Fool really is: that primal magical fire in the heart that’s completely intuitive and which has no agenda other than to seek happiness and pleasure. Assuming that our cosmos really is the result of Someone playing with Him/Her/Itself (as the Heliopolitans believed), then seeking pleasure is hardly a “sinful” thing; it is an act of innocence and purity as well as a supremely magical act.
So for me at least, the Fool – being the meeting point between Ra and Shu – represents how true Creation (on both the cosmic and personal levels) usually isn’t the result of some complicated master plan, but is more often just a matter of satisfying some primal urge. An entire family bloodline can be brought into being through one simple romantic evening, and an entire media empire can be conjured forth through an artist scribbling a cartoon mouse. When you draw the Fool card, you’re drawing the pure creative instinct for self-fulfillment, unadulterated by logic or any rational concern for results. This path is also associated with aleph, the reconstructed first letter of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet. Aleph happens to be the West Semitic word for “ox,” a horned beast of burden that wasn’t considered to be very intelligent in the ancient world, but which was nevertheless indispensable to the productivity of ancient agrarian and economic life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what Kenneth Grant had to say about the “shadow” or qliphothic side of this path. Grant postulated that the reverse side of the Tree of Life is the Tree of Death (accessible through Daath, the shattered sephira of knowledge), and that each of the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life corresponded with a “Tunnel of Set” on the Tree of Death. According to the esteemed Typhonian Thelemite Linda Falorio, the qliphothic version of the Fool is “Amprodias,” which is “The Irrational taken to the extreme results in perfect freedom, with the ability to perceive pure essence, and to extend consciousness into outré realities.” I have no clue what this is really supposed to mean (and reading Grant himself doesn’t help very much), but I would reckon that Amprodias is when the pure, primal creativity of the Fool is twisted to destructive and abusive ends. While the Fool’s obliviousness is a joyful and creative thing, Amprodias is nihilistic and inert; it’s the instinct in
Apophis that would prevent anyone from ever doing anything.
Note: Grant postulated that Seth-Typhon is the “ruler” of the qliphoth and that He is also the demon Choronzon in Daath, which guards the way to the qliphoth and the Tree of Death. I think Grant got some pretty mixed up ideas about Big Red from reading too much Gerald Massey – whose theories about Egypt were outdated even in Grant’s time – but I don’t think he was entirely wrong. Seth isn’t Choronzon, and He doesn’t “rule” the qliphoth in the sense of actually “supporting” them; but qliphoth are definitely afraid of Him and will do whatever He says (e.g., “Get away from my worshipers!”) for fear of getting blown away. And if the “Tunnels of Set” were actually made by the Big Guy, I imagine He only created them as a way of charting enemy territory.