Not since the days of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has an artist been able to create a tarot deck with esoteric depth and spiritual wisdom until now. Robert M. Place the creator of six tarot decks, two of which I am highlighting in this blog post, with a focus on the newest. These two decks are The Alchemical Tarot (1995) and the latest, The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery (2013). While I am focusing on The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, whatever can be said of this deck can be equally said about The Alchemical Tarot since both are highly esoteric and symbolic rich.
So what is The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery? The deck is based on the artwork of the 19thcentury Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Edward Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones based his tall female “stunners” and melancholy heroes on the paintings of Botticelli and Michelangelo, two artists whose works are considered primary examples of Renaissance Neo-platonic mysticism. His work expresses the Renaissance ideal that physical beauty and spiritual beauty are linked in one continuum that can lead to the mystical experience of beauty itself, as a timeless, underlying reality. Plato described this reality as a radiant light that is the true food of the soul. He said that this light is made of the true essence of Virtue, a higher quality of virtue, beyond mere codes of behavior. In the Renaissance, artists, like Botticelli, symbolized this spiritual essence as an ideal female nude and my studies have shown that it is this ideal that allowed early Tarot artists to place a nude on the World card as a symbol of the primary beauty.
The structure of the Major Arcana in The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery is based on Plato’s theory of the three parts of the soul. The Soul of Reason, the Soul of Will and the Soul of Appetite. These three represented a spiritual hierarchy and as individuals developed and balanced each soul through the practice of virtue they were able to advance spiritually and operate at a higher soul level. The keys to spiritual advancement were the Cardinal Virtues. Plato and later philosophers assigned three virtues, one to each of the soul levels, and these are the same three that are depicted in the Tarot: Temperance to the Soul of Appetite, Strength to the Soul of Will, and Justice to the Soul of Reason. If we divide the twenty-one trumps into three groups of seven we find the theme of each group corresponds sequentially to these three soul levels and the sequence also depicts the three virtues that are necessary to bring them into balance.
The number seven is also very important to the structure of the Major Arcana. The number seven was of special importance derived from the seven classical planets. The planets were each named after a god; from the bottom up, they were: Luna, Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The planets were, also, believed to from a ladder between Heaven and Earth that the soul would descend at birth and at each planet the soul was given certain qualities by the god of the planet. These qualities are the source of the lists or seven virtues and seven vices. The seven planets were thought of as the soul centers of the cosmos and corresponding soul centers could be found ascending the spine, from the sacrum to the crown of the head, in the microcosm of the human body.
Robert believes that the Tarot’s trumps depict Virtue driving an ascent through the seven soul centers depicted repeatedly on three levels, corresponding to the three Platonic soul levels. The final achievement of this ascent is illustrated on the Soul of the World card, which depicts Prudence/Sophia as the light of higher consciousness and the true food of the soul.
When I saw the Major Arcana of The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery I felt a resonance with it’s symbolism. The neo-platonic symbolism as it is presented here is refreshing. I feel that the original inspiration of the decks like the Thoth and Rider Waite Smith (of the Golden Dawn) were based on these neo-platonic ideas however the truth was concealed partly in these decks. However with the Tarot of the Sevenfold mystery, the true philosophy behind the tarot is exposed for all. This is the true soul of tarot and all other decks seem to just be masks that do not reveal with real truth of tarot.
Another thing I love about the artwork is the simplicity, boldness and clarity of it. It is not flashy, not cluttered with useless details. It is direct and to the point. It is timeless.