1: the Magician

The Magician is either a figure of wisdom and enlightenment full of arcane knowledge… or a petty con-man, ready to dazzle the unsuspecting marks. She sits at the keyboard with a wand beside it. Above her floats the tools of her trade. She might be juggling them; this recalls the fact that the earlier con-man versions of this card were often called ‘le Bateleur’, which translates either to ‘mountebank’ or ‘juggler’. The tools of modern neo-pagan ritual fade into the tools of the programmer and the tools of the hustler. Will she drink that coffee or scry the future in it? Is the pentacle for grounding her energies, or for weighing down a stack of reference books? Is she writing a game or a paint program or a virus, or blogging about what Sally said about Mary at the last coven meeting? Will she wear that vixen mask to take on the aspect of a trickster goddess, or to distract you while her accomplice steals your credit card? She’s probably going to use that ball and three shells to run a con on you – or is she planning to use them as a demonstration of the essential mutability of reality, or at least our perception of reality?

Most of this deck is free of Obvious Symbols, with very few planetary, astrological, or any other such associations woven into the foreground of the cards. The Magician, on the other hand, wants you to know what she’s associated with. Perhaps to help you delve into the symbolism, perhaps to create an aura of competence she’ll exploit. A pendant with Mercury’s symbol is nestled between her ample breasts; she wears earrings shaped after the electrical diagram of a transformer. On her hat, she has pins: an ibis head, to remind you some say this card is associated with Thoth, Egyptian god of wisdom; the Hebrew letter Beth (because every Major Arcana has to be associated with a Hebrew letter if you go for that whole Cabalistic thing), an infinity to remind you of the cryptic symbolism of earlier decks, and a monkey. I can’t remember why she has a monkey on her Pin-Covered Wizarding Hat; since the Magician wants to remind you she’s all mystick and meaningful, I will encourage you to meditate upon her monkey pin to deduce its meaning, possibly with the help of the Holy Herb of the Arabs[2].

She sits at the center of wavy radiance, with a sly look. Rather like a well-fed cat. She’s just done something clever, or she’s about to do something clever. Whether it’s something complicated, magic, and clever, or something sly, deceitful, and clever, really depends on the cards around her. Or on the orientation of the card, if you like reversals. Ask the monkey on her hat whether ‘mountebank’ or ‘magician’ is the reversed meaning. Transformation, disguise, deception, magic, technical knowledge. Mockery, arcane wisdom. She might even be smirking because she’s about to unleash a devastatingly obscure witticism that will go over your head – or because, ‘while there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers, you just asked a real contender for a stupid question’. Or she might be half-smiling because she just loves this kind of creation, and isn’t very good at looking people in the eye.

Do your eyes keep wandering back to that ample cleavage and the pendant snuggled in there? Misdirection. Is she connected with any cards that represent something you find to be a powerful distraction from what you’d rather be doing?

Many modern authorities want this card to be all about MAGIC and WILL and the PURE AWESOME of MY MYSTICKQ WANG, but I think it’s equally important to dig into the past and remember that it started out being about the con-man, the juggler, the trickster. And that these things overlap – how many Native American myths have the world we live in created by a trickster; how many tricksters have brought us the gift of fire? Would we have all our modern conveniences without some trickster’s laziness, and their willingness to expend immense amounts of energy on Not Working?

Where did she get that fox-mask, anyway?

[2] Did you know that Crowley had three drafts of this card before he was satisfied with its heroic portrayal of himself for his deck? Now you know where I got the idea for the three Fools from. Also the monkey pin has something to do with Hanuman, the Monkey King of Asian myth. Trickster again!