The Magian Tarok by Stephen E. Flowers, PH. D.
I have, yet again, had the pleasure of reading a book by Stephen E. Flowers. The Magian Tarok – The Origins of the Tarot in the Mithraic and Hermetic Traditions is, as the title suggests, a book about the origins of the tarot. As regular readers of my book reviews will know, I have a particular affinity for the Mithraic Mysteries. Moreover, since we recently became familiar with the Hermetic Tradition, I deemed this book to be a natural next step.
As with many other magical traditions, Tarot has gotten a somewhat bad reputation due to its association with ‘New Age’ spirituality. However, as the author shows, the origins of the Tarot prove its magical legitimacy.
The Magian Tarok gives, in addition to other insights, a good overview of all of the 22 images of the Major Arcana. Each card can be seen as a mystery, archetype, or teaching – quite similar to the Runes. The picture below is from the Rider–Waite deck (perhaps the most common and well-known Tarot deck).
At the time of writing this review, I am meditating upon the Runes of the Elder Futhark*; after that, I will delve deeper into the Tarot.
The Visconti-Sforza Tarot
The author notes that the oldest verified Tarot images come from Renaissance Italy: the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of the fifteenth century. As the name suggests, it was most likely commissioned by the Sforza family, which ruled Milan from 1450 to 1535. The name Sforza will be familiar to Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition enjoyers – Francesco Sforza is the protagonist of one of the campaigns. Renaissance Italy is an interesting subject to study – both for the aspiring magician and for the historian. The author does not elaborate on the Sforza family beyond their relation to the Tarot; I merely thought it was interesting to point out.
Mithraists and the Tauroctony
Mithraism has, by some, been labelled as an early competitor to Christianity – the two religions were quite dissimilar though; Mithraism being an initiatory cult and Christianity one open to everyone (which is why it was popular among the lower strata of society). The author notes that the Mithraists were known for their loyalty to the emperor and empire – in sharp contrast to the Christians of the time. This is understandable since the Mithraic mysteries was, to a large extent, a cult for soldiers.
The author also comments on the Christian tactic of placing Christian celebrations on Pagan holy days (as a way to outmanoeuvre competitors). A primary example of this is the birthday of Mithras, which was celebrated on the 25th of December. Saturnalia was celebrated between the 17th and the 23rd of December. Jul (Yule – Christmas) is celebrated in Sweden on the 24th of December.
The Tauroctony (pictured below) will be a familiar image to readers of my book reviews. Although the cosmological meaning behind it lies outside the scope of this review, we can nonetheless share the following in regard to its connection to the Tarot.
‘It is not his conscious will to kill the bull, but he is forced by circumstance into doing so. But a greater good, previously hidden from him, is revealed through this act. This is why he is called the “Fool.” All acts based on the exploration of the unknown, based on the impulse to satisfy curiosities about what is hidden, begin in Foolishness.’Stephen E. Flowers – The Magian Tarok. Page 77.
The Fool is, appropriately (as is shown in the quote above), the first card (card 0 or 1) of the Major Arcana.
The Triple Mithras
‘“The Triple Mithras” refers to the images of Mithras flanked by the two torchbearers Cautes and Cautopates, who represent the rising and falling, waxing and waning powers of the sidereal manifestations of the god: the Stars, the Sun, and the Moon. Cautes is represented with a raised torch. He is also called Lucifer in Latin.’Stephen E. Flowers – The Magian Tarok. Page 42.
The insight presented above will be of interest to those who, like Otto Rahn, are interested in Lucifer. I have reviewed Rahn’s two books here: Crusade Against the Grail by Otto Rahn, Lucifer’s Court – Book Review and Inspiring Quotes.
Evola on the Mithraic Mysteries
The following epic quote appears in an essay by Julius Evola. I thought it was reasonable to include it in this review since it is relevant to the topic at hand.
‘The Mithraic mysteries lead to the very heart of the magical Western tradition – a world characterized by self-affirmation, light, greatness, regal spirituality and spiritual regality. In this path there is no room for escapism; or asceticism; or mortification of the self through humility and devotion; or renunciation and contemplative abstraction. Mithras’ path is one of action, of solar power and of spirituality, which is opposed to both the dull and dreamy orientalism and to Christian sentimentalism and moralism. It is said that only a “man” could proceed along this path; any “woman” would be consumed and broken by the “taurine strength.” The brightness of the hvareno, of the glorious and radiant Mithraic halo, arises only out of a frightful tension, and it only crowns the “eagle,” which was capable of “staring” at the Sun.’Julius Evola – The Path of Enlightenment According to the Mysteries of Mithras
In the chapter titled Magianism and Mithrism/Mithraism, the author introduces orthodox Zoroastrianism thus:
‘The philosophical moral dualism of the orthodox Zoroastrians was based not on world-denying emotions but rather on rational, world-affirming principles: the good and wise god (Ahura Mazda, or Ohrmazd) created a perfect world, which was beset and corrupted by evil entities, where humanity exists as the comrade and coworker with this Ahura Mazda to restore the good creation. Those things are classified as good which promote the happiness, well-being, prosperity, strength, courage, intelligence, and wisdom within creation; those things are seen as evil (or bad) which promote misery, sickness, poverty, weakness, cowardice, stupidity, and ignorance.’Stephen E. Flowers – The Magian Tarok. Page 22.
Reading this put a smile on my lips. If I may be so bold as to point out the following: the things classified as good are the things I have been promoting for a long time now. And, to no one’s surprise, my detractors do indeed promote the things that are seen as evil. I have said it before, and I will say it again – our current struggle is, to a large extent, between good and evil.
In the introduction, the author beautifully states the following regarding the limitations of science:
‘Science cannot answer the most basic and essential questions concerning the nature of the sender and receiver (their psyches) or of the system they use to communicate (language). What is it? Where did it come from? How does it work? It has been said by the wisest of men that nothing that has its origins in the human mind can be reduced to a set of logical, rational rules. The soul is not a compilation of chemical reactions – otherwise its mysteries would have long since been unraveled’Stephen E. Flowers – The Magian Tarok. Page 4.
In the same chapter, the author goes on to note that systems like the Tarot can be seen as mythic maps of the world and of consciousness. Much more can, of course, be said about the topic, and we will return to it at a later point.
Just as the other works by Stephen E. Flowers we have reviewed, The Magian Tarok is an excellent book full of valuable insights. For anyone interested in Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, or the Tarot, I can highly recommend it. At 168 pages, it does not require a great time investment. The book can also be used as a handbook for those engaging in Tarot – I will definitely refer to the book as I delve deeper into it!