The first Arcanum – the principle underlying all the other twenty-one Major Arcana of the Tarot – is that of the rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality.
It occupies the first place in the series because if one does not understand it (ie, take hold of it in cognitive and actual practice), one would not know what to do with all the other Arcana.
For it is the Magician who is called to reveal the practical method relating to all the Arcana. He is the “Arcanum of the Arcana”, in the sense that he reveals that which it is necessary to know and to will in order to enter the school of spiritual exercise whose totality comprises the game of Tarot, in orer to be able to derive some benefit therefrom.
In fact, the first and fundamental principle of esotericism (ie, of the way of experience of the reality of the spirit) can be rendered by the formula: Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light!
This counsel, or command, or even warning, however you wish to take it, is most serious; this is attested by its original source, namely the words of the Master Himself: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew, xi, 30)
Meditations on the Tarot, Unknown Author, Letter I, The Magician
And go alone I could, and plead your cause
Alone for all: but, by the eternal laws,
Yourselves by Toil and Travel of your own
Must for your old Delinquency atone.
Were you indeed not blinded by the Curse
Of Self-exile, that still grows worse and worse,
Yourselves would know that, thoughyou see him not,
He is with you this Moment, on this Spot,
Your Lord through all Forgetfulness and Crime,
Here, There, and Everywhere, and through all Time.
But as a Father, whom some wayward Child
By sinful Self-will has unreconciled,
Waits till the sullen Reprobate at cost
Of long Repentance should regain the Lost;
Therefore, yourselves to see as you are seen,
Yourselves must bridge the Gulf you made between
By such a Search and Travel to be gone
Up to the mighty mountain Kaf, whereon
Hinges the World, and round about whose Knees
Into one Ocean mingle the Sev’n Seas;
In whose impenetrable Forest-folds
Of Light and Dark “Symurgh” his Presence holds;
Not to be reach’d, if to be reach’d at all
But by a Road the stoutest might apal;
Of Travel not of Days or Months, but Years—
Life-long perhaps: of Dangers, Doubts, and Fears
As yet unheard of: Sweat of Blood and Brain
Interminable—often all in vain—
And, if successful, no Return again:
A Road whose very Preparation scared
The Traveller who yet must be prepared
Who then this Travel to Result would bring
Needs both a Lion’s Heart beneath the Wing,
And even more, a Spirit purified
Of Worldly Passion, Malice, Lust, and Pride:
Yea, ev’n of Worldly Wisdom, which grows dim
And dark, the nearer it approachesHi m,
Who to the Spirit’s Eye alone reveal’d,
By sacrifice of Wisdom’s self unseal’d;
Without which none who reach the Place could bear
To look upon the Glory dwelling there.
Bird Parliament, Farid ud-Din Attar
This hour of sunless gloom
Evokes a forceful impulse in the soul
To open and reveal the strength in her,
To make her way into the darkest places
And there what senses later shall impart
Feel as a telling warmth about the heart.
Rudolf Steiner, Calendar of the Soul
The Arcanum “The World” thus communicates to us a teaching of immense practical significance: “The world is a work of art. It is animated by creative joy. The wisdom that it reveals is joyous wisdom – that of creative-artistic elan, and not that of an engineer-technician or industrial designer.
Happy is he who seeks wisdom in the first place, for he will find that wisdom is joyous! Unhappy is the one who seeks the joy of joyous wisdom in the first place, for he will fall prey to illusions! Seek first the creative wisdom of the world – and the joy of creativity will be given to you in addition.”
From this teaching there results an important rule of “spiritual hygiene”, namely, that he who aspires to authentic spiritual experiences never confounds the intensity of the experience undergone with the truth of what is revealed – or is not revealed – through it, ie, he does not regard the force of impact of an inner experience as a criterion of its authenticity and truth. For an illusion stemming from the sphere of mirages can bowl you over, whilst a true revelation from above can take place in the guise of a scarcely perceptible “inner whispering”.
Far from imposing itself through force, authentic spiritual experience sometimes requires very awake and very concentrated attention so as not to let it pass by unnoticed….For all the exercises that all serious esotericism prescribes are necessary in order to render attention so awake and intense that it is in a position to perceive within the calm and silent domain of the depth of the soul where spiritual truth reveals itself. And this latter has the quite pronounced tendency to work gently and gradually, although – as in the case of St Paul – there are exceptions.
But as a general rule, the spiritual world does not at all resemble the surging of the sea – at work to break down the dams holding it back, so as to inundate the land. No, what characterises the spiritual world, ie, “the sphere of the Holy Spirit”, is the consideration that it has for the human condition.
Meditations on the Tarot, Letter XII, The World, Unknown Author
I felt reasonably satisfied to be in possession of two paws but then, after several minutes, the performance became somewhat more demanding, seeing as the clenching of my arms and hands was not quite comfortable and put an almost perceptible strain on my whole body.
He asked once again if I was OK and sounded a bit more concerned this time, but while my tone of voice acknowledged some stress I insisted that I was and kept my face down. It had passed through my head but fleetingly that I might never be normal again, but I had already committed myself to the action and saw that there was no way of returning to the point which came before the position I had arrived at. I felt no fear and did not allow doubt to enter my heart.
The stretching out of my own into fabulous leopard’s legs was a welcome diversion from the stiff front claws and I spent quite a few minutes appreciating the fact that they seemed to be almost a foot longer than usual. In their new-found elasticity was discernable movement within the internal veins, which seemed to override in quality the inert calcified matter of the solid form.
My feet were pointed and held together so I considered that they were affected at the same time. I arched backwards from the base of my spine, constantly aware of my somehow unnatural flexibility, while my arms remained rigid. It felt rather as if a spirit of immense energy was moving my body without revealing itself fully to my mind.
Thus, the voices reached a clamour –
Each had made his case with vigour –
Each revealed his spirit’s armour,
Each declared his god(s) the bigger.
So the Shaman stepped amongst them:
“Let us settle this forever,
Lest in man is made a schism,
Then in woman, child and creature.”
On his drum he rolled a rhythm,
Challenged all to meet his maker,
Clear of conscience visit heaven
Then return, not less, nor greater.
As the beat rolled on, relentless,
Nine – the listeners – reach inside them,
Sought to find their soul-connection,
Straight unto the gate’s of Heaven.
First to fly, the Sufi mystic –
With his coat of many colours –
Made a spiral of his spirit,
Through his dance amazed the others.
Where he went was then a secret.
“Who’ll rise next?” the Shaman wondered.
So the Rabbi brought his deepest
Spark to life and upward wandered.