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The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

The Fool, Alef and Orion

by Stephen John Mangan [Kwaw]

The first image is detail of Ninurta/Orion standing next to a Lion [sacred animal of Innana and symbol of Sirius], 2nd image the complete picture from the ancient Sumerian Seal of Adda. 3rd is of Ninurta enthroned with image of double headed eagle, 4th Orion and Canis Major detail from cylinder seal. Further details at end.

Orion Ninurta and Lion
Ninurta (Orion) with Lion (Sirius)

 Alef ℵ , which leads the letters, is attributed to the constellation Orion [and also the fixed star Aldebaran, the eye of the bull in the constellation of Taurus], which leads the starry hosts and is called in Hebrew KSYL, which in plural form also means ‘constellations’ in general, but in singular ‘fool’. The root also means fool, loins, flank, hope, confidence.

The words in bold below are all translations of the root KSL [hope, flank, confidence, folly, loins]:

Job 8:14 Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider’s web.

Job 15:27 Because he covereth his face with his fatness, and maketh collops of fat on his flanks.

Job 31:24 If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;

Ps 38:7 For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh.

Ps 49:13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Ps 78:7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

Pr 3:26 For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.

Sumerian Seal of Adda
(Click to enlarge)
Seal of Adda

Those in bold below of KSYL [folly, orion, constellation]:

Ec 7:25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:

Isa 13:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

Am 5:8 Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:

Job 9:9 Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Job 38:31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?

Orion is one of the oldest known constellations. The bands of Orion refer to the three apparently equally spaced stars that form the belt of Orion, an easily identifiable locational aid, followed North they lead the eye to Aldebaran, South to Sirius, two bright stars of calendrical and navigational importance as directional and seasonal markers. Above to the right is the constellation of Taurus, to the left, Gemini.

The constellation was thought of as a cosmic giant

His arms extended measure half the skies:
His stride no less.

Another name for his belt [and for the central star in particular] was ‘the string of pearls’. Perhaps we may see reference to this in the giant stature and string of balls in the pseudo "CHARLES VI" OR "GRINGONNEUR" deck.

Charles VI Fou
aka ‘Charles VI’ Fool

Kesil has also the meaning of arrogance, and in relation to Orion has particular relevance in relation to these three stars as they are identified in Hebrew tradition with Nimrod, and the band of stars represent the bonds with which God bound him to heaven for his arrogance. Perhaps there is some unknown relevance to the seat of the TdM [Tarot de Marseille] fool’s pants being torn, revealing his buttocks, as with the Nimrod figure of the Sola Busca?

In Egyptian star lore Orion is the abode of the soul of mummified Osiris, God of the underworld and of the dead. Among his symbols were two red feathers worn in his white atef crown, to which we might see a reference in the red feather in the hat of the Waite/Smith fool card [feathers are also referenced in C. De Gebelin, and the Bolognese and Visconti-Sforza decks].

The Sola Busca Matto too has the feathers in his hair, a string with three balls attached to his waist, but also the black bird on its shoulder may allude to a connection with Orion:

Do you know that the Hare, Canis Major and Canis Minor have forty three stars in the Southern part of the heaven, and are so rewarded for only two or three trivial reasons not less unimportant than the reason that causes the Hydra, the Saucer, and the Raven to be next to Orion and to receive forty-one stars to commemorate the occasion when the gods sent the Raven to obtain some drinking water? [Bruno, 1584]

Due to having the gift of ‘walking on water’ bestowed upon him by his father Neptune, in the renaissance Orion was used as an allegory of Christ, and it was through such an allegorical use that Giordan Bruno was accused by the inquisition of attacking the divinity of Christ in his The expulsion of the triumphant beast.

This is because he [Orion] knows how to perform miracles, and, as Neptune knows, can walk over the waves of the sea without sinking, without wetting his feet, and with this, consequently, will be able to perform many other fine acts of kindness. Let us send him among men, and let us see to it that he give them to understand all that I want and like them to understand: that white is black, that the human intellect, through which they seem to see best, is blindness, and that that which according to reason seems excellent, good and very good, is vile, criminal and extremely bad. I want them to understand that Nature is a whorish prostitute, that natural law is ribaldry, that Nature and Divinity cannot concur in one and the same good end, and that the justice of one is not subordinate to the justice of the other, but that they [Nature and Divinity] are contraries, as are shadows and light…

I want him to go down to earth; and I shall command that he lose all power of performing bagatelles, impostures, acts of cunning, kind actions, and other miracles that are of no worth, because I do not want him together with the other to be in a position to destroy whatever excellence and dignity are found and exist in things necessary to the commonwealth of the world. I see how easy it is for it to be deceived, and consequently inclined towards acts of madness and prone to every corruption and indignity. I do not however, however, want out reputation to depend upon the discretion of him or similar to him. For if a king be mad who gives so much power and authority to one of his captains and generous leaders to make him superior to himself…how much more senseless and deserving of a disciplinarian and tutor will he be if he should put or leave in the same authority an abject, vile and ignorant man, by whom everything will be depreciated, slighted, confused and thrown into disorder, ignorance being placed by the latter where knowledge is customary, nobility where there is contempt, and villainy where there is reputation!” [Bruno]

Ninurta enthroned with double headed eagle
(click to enlarge)

In relation to star lore we may also note that Aldebaran is one of the four fixed stars known as the Guardians of Heaven, the Four Watchers, Royal Stars or Four Archangels, the other three being:

Regulus – in the constellation Leo [currently at end of tropical sign Leo]
Antares – in the constellation Scorpio [currently ‘in’ tropical sign Sagittarius]
Fomalhaut – in the constellation Pisces Austrinus, the ‘Southern Fish’, [currently ‘in’ tropical sign Pisces]

Their astronomical positions form a cross in relation to each other; so each rises after the other at approximately 6 hour intervals. And “Persian astrologers used them, instead of cardinal points, to mark the four quarters of the heavens as early as 3000 BC.” [Astrology, ed. Kim Farrel, Starfire 2002].

Aldebaran was the Watcher of the East,
Antares was the Watcher of the West,
Fomalhaut was the Watcher of the South and,
Regulus was one of the four stars of the Persian monarchy when, as Watcher of the North, it marked the Summer Solstice.” [Farrel, 2002].

We have had available the research of Daana Mindon [aka: Diane O’Donovan] for over 10 or so years ago now, which has shown through a study of medieval atlases and navigation maps, that the suit signs are connected with the Star Lore of the Persians as emblems of the directions:

sticks – east
gold discs – south
swords – north
whips/cups -west

These Four Guardians or Watchers were also called the archangel stars. In kabbalistic tradition the four corners of the protective tau : : represents the ‘good impulse’ by which man shall inherit the world to come. The ‘good impulse’ that hovers overthe pious is represented by four archangels that descend with the soul at birth and accompany the pious:

Before all this, there are four angels that descend with the soul of the pious….One of these angels is Michael, in remembrance of Abraham; one Gabriel, in remembrance of Isaac; one Uriel, in remembrance of Jacob; and one Raphael, in remembrance of Adam; and the good impulse hovers over him…Now all men are formed of four elements, but on the order in which these elements are found – that is, the order of the planets with which each person is connected-depends the order of the angels who accompany him…”

” …Thus, if the ruling planet be the Lion, Michael will lead, and be followed by Gabriel, then Rapheal and then Uriel. If, however, his planet is the Ox, first comes Gabriel, then Michael, then Uriel, then Raphael. If the Eagle be the planet by which he is influenced, Uriel will be first, then Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. And should the planet be Man, then will Raphael lead, with Michael, Gabriel and Uriel coming after in that order.” [Zohar, Bo (exodus) 42a, c.13th century]

So ‘mixing’ the star lore of the persians and hebrews we candeduce a set of correspondences as follows that can be traced back to before the 13th century [and probably as far back as the 10th]:

Lion – Michael – Regulus – North – Swords – Summer Solstice
Ox – Gabriel – Aldebaran – East – Sticks – Spring Equinox
Eagle – Uriel – Antares – West – Cups – Autumn Equinox
Man – Raphael – Fomalhaut – South – Coins – Winter Solstice

Note in the seal of adda:

Enki with two flowing rivers from his shoulders, reminiscent of the sign for aquarius, in whom we may see the image of Man: below him is the Bull: from Enki’s arm flies the thunderbird or Eagle: and next to Ninurta is the Lion.

Orion and Canis Major
Orion and Canis Major

Explanation of the Royal Cylinder Seal [image 1 and 2 above], notes and references:

Images 1 and 2 the ‘Seal of Adda’

The cuneiform script gives the name ‘Adda’ and title ‘Scribe’. The seal is in the collection of the British Museum.

“In the center is the sun god, Shamash/Utu, rising from behind the mountains. To Shamash/Utu’s left stands Inana, goddess of the morning star [Venus], next to her is Ninurta and a clearly defined lion with mane. To the right of Uta is the god of sweet waters, Enki, from whose shoulders spring the Euphrates and Tigris. Enki holds the thunderbird on his hand. Directly under Enki is a clearly defined member of the bovine family with horns and legs tucked under in typical bovine posture. Behind Enki stands his vizierthe double headed attendant God Usmu.”

[In relation to the Venus and Orion being next to each other in this sequence, note that while Jerome follows the tradition associating the Hebrew word ‘Kesil’ with the constellation Orion in the Vulgate, it is translated Hesperus, that is the evening star or Venus, in the Septaguint – LXX].

Thanks to ‘trolldomsstavar’ of the Tarot Study Forum for helping me to clarify the details of this image with reference to “The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion” by Thorkild Jacobsen.

Innana on the right of Ninurta represents the Morning Star, Venus; she is also associated with Sirius and the sacred animal the Lion, thus my interpretation of the Lion on the left of Ninurta, taken together with the association of Ninurta with Orion and their relative positions, with Sirius [the ‘dog star’ of the constellation Canis Major], also associated with the Lion because of its Heliacal rising when the Sun is in Leo.

The double headed figure to the right of Enki, is his attendant minister God or vizier the double headed Unsu, his double headedness, reminiscent of Janus, I suggest may represent the old and new year; the sequence being an allegory of beginnings, of creation and of new year. The whole sequence may be seen as an astronomical representation of the spring equinox as the start of the New Year. Given the nature of Sumerian astral religion and the clear references here to astronomical markers, and remembering this image is circular and therefore Usmu at the far right of the image is to the left of Ninurta could represent the constellation Gemini:

Now near the Twins, behold Orion rise;
His arms extended measure half the skies:
His stride no less. Onward with steady pace
He treads the boundless realms of starry space,
On each broad shoulder a bright star displayed.
And three obliquely grace his hanging blade.
In his vast Head, immersed in boundless spheres,
Three stars less bright, but yet as great, he bears;
But farther off removed, their splendour’s lost;
Thus grac’d and armed, he leads the starry Host.

Manilius, trans. Thomas Chrichton.

Image 3 is an image of Ninurta enthroned with double headed eagle. Image 4 is of Orion (the Hunter) and Canis Major (the Dog star) from aSumerian cylinder seal of the Neo-Assyrian Period. A reproduction of which can be found in “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia” by Jeremy Green.

Other references:

Astrology published by Starfire 2002 General Editor Kim Farrel.

The Wisdom of the Zohar arranged by Lachower, F. Tishby, I. Translated by David Goldstein

The expulsion of the triumphan beast Giordano Bruno, translated by Arthur D. Imerti.

A couple of online essays by Daana Mindon [aka: Diana O’Donovan] can be found here:

  Shipman’s Guide: Early packs and the minor arcana [pdf file]
 Michael Scot’s rebus figure of "Juppiter" as prototype for the tarot pack’s “Magus”/Bateleur

Orion Heb. Kesil i.e., “the fool”, the name of a constellation consisting of about eighty stars. The Vulgate renders thus, but the LXX renders by ‘Hesperus’, i.e., “the evening-star” Venus. The Orientals “appear to have conceived of this constellation under the figure of an impious giant bound upon the sky.” This giant was, according to tradition, Nimrod, the type of folly that contends against God. In Isa 13:10 the plural form of the Hebrew word is rendered “constellations”. From The Illustrated Bible by M.G. Easton, 1897.

Fate is a dog, walking always behind a man, well able to bite. It clings like dirty rags saying: “Who is my man? Let him know it.”
Ancient Sumerian proverb.

Please note: My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the sources I have referenced! All errors are my own.

[A thank you to Stephen ‘Kwaw’ for permission to reproduce these living reflections – jmd ed.]

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