The work of the Golden Dawn has brought another modification to the numbering: the tarot cards of this tradition change the Lover’s Cupid into an angel or archangel, to introduce a superior coherence in the whole game (there can be progress in Tarot as everywhere else). Here we have four angels or archangels in all – who are they and what is their symbolic meaning?
In the order of the cards, our four angels are:
- Raphael on the Lover (VI)
- Michel on Temperance (XIV)
- Uriel on the Devil (XV)
- Gabriel on the Judgement (XX).
Raphael means “God heals” (de refa, “to heal” and El, “God”).
The three figures of the Lover represent the three parts of our being: the conscious (Adam), the subconscious (Eve), and the “Higher Self”, which is entirely devoted to healing us by bringing us to the harmonious functioning between these three parts.
It so happens that our sensitivity, represented by the feminine figure, seems to be better informed than our reason about what makes our Way or our essential Being: we can see that it reacts immediately by telling us that such and such a domain “speaks to us” and that another “does not speak to us”; and these are the ones that correspond to us, or rather that correspond to our Way.
It is as if this sensitivity knows perfectly well which is the Way we spend our time looking for, whereas it is unknowable by reason (it is useless to look for your Way by making logical deductions, you would only find the “most reasonable” Way at best, and there are many examples of people who have fallen into depression because they have chosen the “reasonable” Way). Therefore, wise reason will use the sensible as a guide, rather than its own assets; thus, in Arcanum VI, the man looks at the woman because the woman looks at the angel. She is doing well, because this is how one arrives at a healthy life, cured of the flaws and neuroses of one who is fighting against himself.
Michael means “Who is like God?
God, whose Hebrew name we see on his chest. On Rider-Waite tarot cards, the rainbow above him signifies that he is the intermediary between God and humanity; it is the symbol of their covenant, for it appears after the Flood, when the Lord pledges to mankind not to seek to destroy them. The same desire to ally the material and the spiritual appears in the fact that this archangel has one foot on land and the other in the water, and above all that he connects in a continuous flow his two bowls whose different nature is indicated by the two colours of the Tarot de Marseille. On Waite’s tarot, the triangle in the square simply signifies the presence of the Spirit in matter.
The solar disc drawn on his forehead represents the light of the soul realised by his spiritual work. In fact, Michel is the one who shuts down the dragon; the dragon represents the ego and the low instincts we have to overcome, it is the necessary work to accomplish if we want to pass from a purely material life to spiritual elevation. Michel will be our guide on this path: his function as guardian angel leads him to make the intercession between the human being and his divine part. You can visit angelsnames.xyz for more about angels’ names.
Uriel is the angel of punishment
It is the one “whom the Lord of glory has set over all the stars that shine in the sky and illuminate the earth” (Book of Enoch). It is therefore he who brings to human beings the lights of the knowledge of God. Lucifer is the bearer of light, and we see him on the Tarot bringing light on our worst weakness: the lie we make to ourselves. Indeed, the two little figures at the Devil’s feet are chained together, but they look rather relaxed for victims trapped in a monster; the loose knot of chains around their necks forces us to finally recognise that while we may feel trapped in certain situations, we may not be entirely strangers, and we may have more freedom than we want to admit. This is very unpleasant, but liberating: as long as we tell ourselves that the problem is external and that we are not to blame, it is absolutely impossible to act.
the knowledge of God. Lucifer is the bearer of light, tarot marseille devil meaningand we see him on the Tarot bring light on our worst weakness: the lie we make to ourselves. Indeed, the two little figures at the Devil’s feet are chained together, but they look rather relaxed for victims trapped in a monster; the loose knot of chains around their necks forces us to finally recognise that while we may feel trapped in certain situations, we may not be entirely strangers, and we may have more freedom than we want to admit. This is very unpleasant, but liberating: as long as we tell ourselves that the problem is external and that we are not to blame, it is absolutely impossible to act.
Let us not forget that it is the fall of Lucifer-Satan that makes the existence of freedom possible. When God creates free will, all his angels continue to act perfectly in His direction – exactly as if, in creating free will, He had done nothing at all. At this moment the most beautiful of them must sacrifice themselves to give this creation the value it lacks: by standing up against God, which brings him the terrible suffering of being cast out of His face, Satan proves that it is possible to say no. By doing so, he gives obedience to others the value it could not have had before his act: if others obey God when it is possible to disobey him, then they obey him freely. If disobedience did not exist, they would automatically obey, which would have no value. Without the fall of Satan, everything is only determinism; without error, no salvation is possible. This is the true light that Lucifer brings to mankind: the possibility of error, which the Arcanum XV forces us to recognise in order to become free again.
Gabriel is God’s messenger. His name means “Man of God” or “Power of God”.
He is considered a bearer of good news, hence his representation bringing the good news of the resurrection to our arcane. Gabriel announces, he doesn’t judge; in general it is Michael that we portray as judging.
However, the Last Judgement should not normally represent only the resurrection of the righteous: in the Christian tradition, we always see the contrast between the reward of those who have deserved eternal life and the punishment of the damned. Our arcana is therefore strangely biased in showing only the good news.
Secondly, in the Bible, Gabriel is not the one who sounds the trumpet of the resurrection at the Last Judgement. He blows his trumpet to call all the angels to witness God’s judgment on Adam as he casts him out of Eden (“And the angel Gabriel blew the trumpet to call all the angels together and say, Come down with the Lord into the garden and hear the judgment by which he is about to judge Adam”). In Revelation, seven angels blow seven trumpets; Gabriel is not named, but it is probably him and his colleagues (because “Then I saw the seven angels standing before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” – Revelation 8:2 – as in Luke 1:19 “I am Gabriel, who stands before God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news” – that is, the birth of Christ). However, all these trumpets serve to destroy the Earth, which does not correspond at all to the scene of our arcane. And Gabriel does indeed announce a resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10), that of Christ to the women who have come to visit the tomb, but without a trumpet, and this is not a judgment either.
So Gabriel announces the good news, which is the birth and resurrection of Christ, and he plays the trumpet when he wants to call everyone, but he has not (yet) done both at the same time. Where it works is when we consider that he must also announce the second coming of Christ as described in the symbol of Nicaea (“[Christ] will come again to judge the living and the dead… We await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come”). Christian esotericism, however, speaks of our inner Christ, who represents our soul realised in glory… exactly what the initiatory path represented, among other things, by the arcana of the Tarot leads us towards. The Angel of Judgement does his work perfectly: by recognising that the Righteous below him correspond to the Will of God, he announces their apotheosis and the coming of the Inner Christ, that is, the moment when the initiate realises that if his Will and that of God correspond, then it is good that they are one, and that he is God. The awakened one is therefore the Whole, both God and the world: this is indeed the teaching of the card announced by the arcane XX.
Watch your eyes, here is Gabriel sounding the trumpet for the second coming of Christ
So here are a few additional elements in place that may allow us to better appreciate the exceptional coherence of the Esoteric Tarot system, and to go a little deeper into each of these four cards.
Some also use the correspondence with the four cardinal points and the elements to set up ritual spaces in which the Tarot cards can intervene. These correspondences are as follows:
- Uriel presides to the north of the celestial vault and corresponds to the Earth element
- Gabriel presides to the west of the celestial vault and corresponds to the element Water
- Raphael presides to the east of the celestial vault and corresponds to the element Air
- Michel presides to the south of the celestial vault and corresponds to the Fire element.