June 20, 2017

Tarot Blog Hop: Thesis vs Antithesis


Position Statement

The assignment for this blog hop is based in the Wiccan myth of the Oak King and the Holly King, who - like the Christian myth of the trinitarian Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - are one and the same. Because the waxing, generative Oak King takes turns with the waning, degenerative Holly King, participants are asked to discuss "the cycle of the self." I'm choosing to approach this assignment in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.


Among the pieces of Tarot lore I've learned over the years, few have been as impactful on my understanding of the Tarot as the concept of a septenary, or something that is composed of seven parts. To see what this is, take all 22 trumps out of the deck. Set the Fool aside - who is unnumbered - and lay the remaining numbered 21 trumps in order as three rows of seven cards. From left to right, each column of three cards tells a connected story. If you follow a standard interpretation of the cards, then this can reveal intricacies in your method that you might not have realized were there. Consider the following picture:

In this layout, the blue bottom row is our starting point - the thesis - which informs everything that follows. If you care to do so, you can align the entire bottom row with mind, body, or spirit - it's up to you - but I find it more productive to consider each of first seven cards to be indicators of direct action upon others. When these appear in a reading, they reach out and touch other things and people. Their waxing influence expands, grows, inflates, or elevates whatever they touch.


The natural development of the thesis is the antithesis, the top orange row which stands in opposition to the thesis. Oak King and Holly King, light and dark, yin and yang, up and down, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. You know, frenemies - two things that don't particularly like each other, and yet can't seem to exist independently. Consider the following image:

In this image, you see that the Magician, Strength, and the Devil all share the same column. Like most things in life, the way you interpret the Tarot is up to you. Speaking for myself, I regard the Magician - our thesis - as an agent of creative destruction and violent yet expansive force. The antithesis to the Magician is the Devil, who is also violent, intrusive, and destructive, yet unlike the waxing Magician is a wane force that leaves everything it touches barren, scarred, and disordered. The Magician and the Devil are sympathetic enemies: although they agree that violence is necessary, they disagree regarding its application and will forever oppose one another. But what would happen if they found a way to get along...


... and synthesize something useful? The green middle row are those which perform their essential nature upon themselves. If the Devil (which shows a subject being acted upon) and the Magician (which shows a subject acting upon something else) can cooperate, then they're able to be synthesized into Strength (what I call Chaos) which destroys and abuses itself in order to recreate itself. Wanton destruction creates random patterns, and from this ever ravishing dance potential beyond counting may emerge. Invoke the mythical ouroboros or phoenix, or if you prefer the regenerative power of a forest fire - that is the synthesis of the Magician and the Devil.

But is this a true synthesis? In the search of open and secret faces as they relate to the cycle of the self, and what emerges from the play between them, we can observe the result of their blending. But this process is purely internal - do you see? It exists only within the group of the Magician, Strength, and the Devil. If you dare expand your gaze, then you can find the true and complete cycle of self.


In order to see this true and complete nature, you must expand beyond the immediate group. This isn't a limited matter of three cards, but of 21. What happens when we use a transpolaric approach to thesis, antithesis, and synthesis? Consider the following image:

In this way, it's revealed that the Magician and the Devil are in fact complimentary opposites. To return to a previous example, the Magician may yet remain Justin Bieber, but instead of The Devil (Selena Gomez) as the complimentary opposite, the polar opposite is played by The World (which could be vested corporate interests who want to sanitize his work for mass consumption by teenaged girls and boys.) The intrusive, disorderly, yet innovative and ultimately generative force of The Magician stands in polar opposition to the heavy, oppressive weight of The World which while stable and fully formed is ultimately orthodox and authoritarian. It seeks to impose smothering peace (devoid of liberating conflict) on everything that it touches.

Standing exactly half-way between them, the synthesis of the Magician and The World is Justice - what I call Inequality - which seeks its own level of stratification and succeeds according to its own definition of the rules. As it happens, Justice is the ultimate synthesis of any two cards measured transpolarically on the grand tableau, with its meaning changing depending on the thesis and antithesis measured against it. As it relates to the tension between Justin Bieber and his corporate stake holders, then Justice is probably Perez Hilton.

Applying this pattern to the remaining cards, we see illuminating patterns of mutual antagonism emerge:

  • The High Priestess =/= Judgement
  • The Empress =/= The Sun
  • The Emperor =/= The Moon
  • The High Priest =/= The Star
  • The Lovers =/= The Tower
  • The Chariot =/= The Devil
  • Strength =/= Temperance
  • The Hermit =/= Death
  • The Wheel of Fortune =/= The Hanged Man
  • Justice is opposed by nothing, influenced by everything
Isn't that fascinating? A simple exploration of opposition within the grand tableau of the 21 numbered trumps changes everything. And while it's fine and well to recognize complimentary and polar opposite relationships in the cards, how can they be practically applied? If we consider that polar opposition brings negation, dissolution, and censure, then we can name and measure the degree of opposition between trumps in a reading. Consider the following image: 

via http://serennu.com
Randomly generating some cards in a Celtic Cross spread just to put something on the table, we get a selection of trump cards all in the vertical arm of the cross. Read them as you will, but I read them from bottom to top as needs, habits, and desires. In this case, the High Priestess as habits are the key significator card for the reading and show the actor in an extroverted state in which he or she is seeking to both influence and expand people and events around him or herself through the use of either greater magic and ritual or simply deceit, falsehood, and illusion. But an actor in a position of power, none the less! But what's the motivation?

Looking at this actor's desires, we see a failing reluctance to confront what he or she already knows to be true: that no matter of chicanery will dissuade others of the actor's true place he or she has earned for him or herself. Straight away, this reading tells us that the actor is afraid to take the place circumstances have given to him or her since Justice/Inequality - which is opposed by nothing, yet influenced by everything - and is almost certainly avoiding responsibility through smoke and mirrors used against those who would hold him or her accountable yet also reward him or her for doing what he or she is called to do. 

But we can see from the actor's needs filled by The Star - an antithetical card with a waning influence - that he or she should abandon deception and accept the encouraging and even optimistic promptings of others who want what's best for the actor. Because The Star is very close to The High Priestess's antithesis (The Tower), the degree of opposition between them is quite minor. Were this Judgement, we'd have a more severe discussion on our hands, but the gentle advice of the star to move in another direction unburdened by the weight of unproductive dishonesty is secretly welcomed by the actor who's probably getting tired of the charade.

Final Solution

The High Priestess is our thesis. The Star is our antithesis. And while Justice happens to be present as our synthesis, it doesn't build a bridge between the actor's habits and the actor's needs. How are the two reconciled? Consider the following image:

By forming a bridge between The High Priestess and The Star, I judge the most natural synthesis to be the Wheel of Fortune. Not only because the Wheel stands in proximity to Justice (the actor's secret desire to live at his or her level of stratification without fear of insecurity within the hierarchy), but also because it moves the actor closer to The Star while moving the actor further away from the fantastical, deceitful group of The High Priestess, The Hermit, and The Tower.

Embracing The Wheel of Fortune, the actor is able to synthesize his or her habits and needs into a solution which requires a rediscovery of personal optimism (even if it is unfounded) and decide for him or herself why he or she has reason to expect glad tidings and can encourage him or herself to voluntarily accept the necessary path forward instead of inflating the discussion with bullshit reasons that he or she isn't exactly who he or she is known to be.

The Oak King and the Holly King

If the Oak King is our waxing thesis, and the Holly King our waning antithesis, then what's the synthesis? If you find value in the Wiccan myth of the cycling seasons, then you would probably name the trinitarian Goddess who waxes as the maiden, is full as the mother, and wanes as the crone - imposing the growth, glory, and decay of her phases upon herself. How might similar cycles of the self be revealed elsewhere in the Tarot - such as in the pips?

The world may never know.

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