I have always been interested in mysticism and metaphysics. Looking through a book by P.D. Ouspensky, I found a chapter on Tarot with a detailed description of a card called "The Juggler." I had never seen the card described this way, and determined to investigate...
The earliest known decks of Tarot cards appeared in medieval Europe. One theory is that they were brought by gypsies - Bohemian mystics believed to have come from India through Egypt. The cards appeared to be patterned after ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The ancient mystics believed that truth was less likely to be obscured if it was passed on in the form of symbols. Therefore the 78 cards in Tarot decks contain many symbols and characters. These reflect the energies and teachings of the Caballa, astrology and numerology, with various analogies drawn to every other belief system know.
Tarot is known as a "meditative Yoga of the West." The 22 Trump cards are meant to depict the stages of evolution. The four suits - discs, wands, cups and swords - are meant to depict all relative aspects of consciousness. Through meditation and reflection on the cards and their interrelations, one can become familiar with all aspects of consciousness, and how that reflects one's particular nature. Then through an intricate process of understanding, align one's world view from the personal to the universal and reach enlightenment.
Mystics, believing man is given to vice, hid the symbols in a deck of cards. This way the unenlightened may at least have the system of reference in mind to be able to effectively apply them when the time is ripe.
There are many different Tarot decks, and of those, each has many different interpretations. After arduous research I had more trepidation and questions about our card, the juggler, than before. I needed help.
After searching schools of sacred arts, Mr. Thomas "The Tarot Expert" Turner of Weisers Occult Bookstore agreed to help. He plans to publish a magazine on Tarot. I believed he could clarify the juggler symbol on the Tarot card.
My card (the juggler) was most commonly referred to in Tarot as "Le Batleur," the bearer of the wand (energy sent forth). In later versions of the first known deck, the Visconte Sforza deck, Le Batleur was known as the Magician or Juggler. He represents in mythological belief systems the characters of Mercury, Thoth, Loki, Beth and Wednesday. If he was described by one word, it would be "will." Patriarchal belief systems aside, Le Batleur could represent a male or female.
One arm points up and one down - as above, so below. This dual sign shows the descent of grace, virtue and light drawn from things above and derived from things below.
The sign of infinity over the head represents life, holy spirit, eternal spirit, closed world, motion. His person rests in the world of matter. According to Martinism, the sideways figure eight that represents infinity is also the number of Christ.
About his waist is the serpent-cincture, the snake that eats its tail, the symbol of eternity, regeneration, attainment in the spirit. Beneath him are roses and lilies to show the culture of energy and polarity. In the Visconte Sforza Tarot deck, he has placed the other symbols on his altar. In the Alaister Crowley deck he is juggling them. The sword (air) symbolizes the intellect. The cup (water) symbolizes love, emotions, the Holy Grail. The disc (earth) symbolizes matter, property, or business dealings. He is also juggling the papyrus, or word, and the pen, or will.
According to Count de Geblin, "Le Batleur indicates the entire fabric of creation to be but a dream, existence a juggling of divine elements and life a perpetual game of hazard. The miracles of nature are but feats of cosmic legerdemain. The wise direct the phenomena of nature and are never deceived thereby."
Le Batleur's correlating planet is Mercury, the messenger of God and Sun. Mercury is the planet ruling the intellect, communications, sciences, transportation, sports, anything requiring skill and dexterity, and trickery. Sun represents active force. (This all reminds me of the juggler's survey, as jugglers interests predominate in these areas.)
"Mercury is the fluidic basis of all activity," says Mr. Turner. "He is energy and motion, the electric charge and stabilizing factor of continuous duality, he is both truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly. Being creative, he has no conscience. The ends he attains support the means, fair or foul, or by cunning. Like a Jester, he unsettles any established idea, appears tricky. He causes change in conformity with Will (both conscious and unconscious). As the Juggler he is rooted in reality, constantly creating the world, mixing the elements into life."
As I understand it, there is a contrast between the mystical implications of the juggler and the magician as depicted in Tarot cards, and how they manifest in their present day performing counterparts.
For the magician, in order to adhere to the original meaning of the card, every act of legerdemain must have divine purpose. Through wisdom of the ages and mastery of the elements the magician's goal was to help the audience think on a higher level, to evolve toward the divine self. The magician is permitted to use misdirection and deception if necessary. It is important to be aware that a "flashy" magician's stage act that does not contain these messages may reflect a decline of ethics and morals in our society.
Although the juggler sweats more (jestering aside) through sheer being, especially with mastery in numbers, there is magic. The juggler enters a world of focus where time slows down, and begins to perceive the meaning of infinity (and its related aspects). The juggler is a spectator of the process. The audience share the juggler's product and experience. Thus the juggler retains "Le Batleur's" original meaning.
In conclusion, the Tarot system is complex, and our card could have volumes written on it. In my way I did my best to make sense of it. Please contact me with your own insights. Turner says he would like to do a "mass reading" of jugglers as an entity. His results might make an interesting follow-up to our exploration of "The Juggler."
Billy Gillen is a New York City performer and coordinator of the New York Jugglers Club and chronicler into the mystic aspects of juggling history.