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Tarot and Anthroposophy – The Symbols of the Christmas Tree


The first to mention in public the relationship between anthroposophy and the Tarot, beyond Steiner’s scarce quotations, was the controversial Valentin Tomberg, who, protected by anonymity, published the two volumes of Meditations on the Tarot.

For many years we had wondered why Steiner, who had treated almost all the subjects of both natural and esoteric science, had left out the Tarot. This silence ended thanks to the publication of some writings kept in the archives of the Goetheanum and that already circulated in the 70s and 80s. These are notes dating back to the beginning of the 1900s, when Steiner was still the president of the German Section of the Theosophical Society (before the split of 1913 in the Krishnamurti case). This set of writings consists of both Steiner’s notes and memos written by the disciples of the smallest circle gathered around Steiner, the disciples of the so-called Esoteric Section of the future Anthroposophical Society, active since the beginning of 1900 and then becoming the “First Class “in the period following the First World War. Before joining the Esoteric Section, Steiner had asked all members for confidentiality about what was communicated within the Esoteric Section, which is why we have only a few excerpts of these Steiner esoteric lessons, memorized only in one second time, after the lessons themselves, for the private consultation of the disciple.

Let us therefore forget the abuses of the Tarot that made it the “cartomancy” and go instead into the science of the spirit that studies the Tarot, the tarology, and of its relationship with Steiner’s anthroposophy.

Christmas tree

The aspect that may seem most surprising is that Steiner places the Tarot at the center of a symbolic composition, discussed at the conference on the origin of the Christmas Tree (17 December 1906, GA96) and the Rite of Misraim to which Steiner adhered in the same period and that it proposed again as “Cognitive Cult” always within the Esoteric Section of what was the German Section of the then Theosophical Society.

The first reference is a private note taken from a disciple of the Esoteric Section, who remained anonymous:

The Book of Thoth of the Egyptians consisted of 78 cards containing the secrets of the cosmos. It was a well-known fact in the Egyptian initiation. The cards that are used today as playing cards derive from these. The names of Kings, Knights, Watchtower, Commander are occult names. – The Misraim service: Freemasonry and ritual work, 12 December 1906, GA265

And again, in a more extensive form:

Those who had begun in the Egyptian Mysteries were able to read the symbol of the Tarot. They could also read the Book of Thoth, which included 78 cards, in which every event in the world was represented from beginning to end, from Alpha to Omega, which could be read if placed in the appropriate order. The book contained images of life, which led to death and were resurrected to new life. Anyone who could combine the correct numbers with the correct images could read what was written there. This numerological knowledge, this imaginative knowledge, had been taught from the earliest times. He still had much influence in the Middle Ages, for example in Raimondo Lullo, but today not much remains of it. – The Misraim service: Freemasonry and ritual work, 17 December 1906, GA265.

Il simbolo del Tarot: fu dato da Rudolf Steiner nell'ambito di una lezione della Sezione Esoterica, è l'unione della Tau con la Ro greca.

The symbol of the Christmas tree is therefore polar with respect to the symbol of the Nativity of the crib, as the Tree represents the first Adam, while the Nativity the second Adam came to redeem the fall of the first. During the periods of culture following the ancient Egyptian the meaning of the set of symbols has been lost, so that the symbols of the planets would have been replaced first by the apples of the Tree of Knowledge, and then by the Christmas balls that would thus represent the spheres heavenly. Their spiral course on the tree still culminates with the star at the top, like a Christmas tree tip. Even today, in the Steiner-Waldorf School and in the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society it is customary to adorn the Christmas Tree with the symbols so arranged by Steiner in this Christmas Tree.


The symbols of Minor and Major Mysteries placed on the Christmas Tree.

Steiner talks about the symbols shown here in various conferences:

The square is the symbol of the quadripartite nature of man: physical body, etheric body, astral body and Io. The triangle is the symbol of the superior man: Spiritual Self, Vital Spirit and Spirit-Man. Above the triangle is the symbol of the Tarot. The initiates of the Egyptian Mysteries knew how to read this symbol. They also knew how to read the Book of Thoth, which consisted of 78 cards on which all the events of the world were memorized from beginning to end, from Alpha to Omega, and which could be read if joined and assembled in the right way. The Book of Thoth, or Hermes, contained in images the life that fades into death and that rises again to new life. The one who could combine the right numbers (minor Arcana) with the right images (Major Arcana) was able to read it. This numerological and imagery wisdom has been taught since the primordial era. In the Middle Ages it still played an important role, but today little is left of it. – Christmas Conference, 17 December 106, GA96.

And also:

Above the Alpha and Omega is the sign of the Tao. It reminds us of the ancestors’ worship of God by pressing because this worship took its origin from the Tao. Before Europe, Asia and Africa were lands colonized by man, our ancestors lived on Atlantis, which was submerged by a flood. In the Germanic saga of Nifleheim, the land of mists, the memory of Atlantis still lives. Because Atlantis was not surrounded by pure air. Its atmosphere was filled with huge masses of fog similar to clouds and high mountain mist. The Sun and the Moon were not yet clearly visible in the sky, but were surrounded by a rainbow, the sacred Iris. At that time the man still understood the language of nature. What he speaks today to man in swelling and deflating the wave, in whistling and howling in the wind, in the rustling of leaves, in the rumble of thunder, he does not understand it anymore. The man could hear something talking to him from everything around him. From the clouds and the waters and leaves and wind the sound resounded towards him: Tao (The I am). The Atlanteans felt it and understood it, and knew that the Tao crossed the whole world. Finally, everything that permeates the cosmos is present in man and is symbolized by the top of the tree. The deeper meaning of the pentagram cannot be mentioned here, but it is the star of humanity, of evolving humanity. It is the star that all wise men follow as the wise priests did in ancient times. It symbolizes that the Earth was born in the Night of Consecration, because the most sublime light radiates from the darkest night. Man lives going towards a state in which light will be born in him, when a significant saying will be replaced by another, when it will no longer be said “The Dark does not understand the Light” but when the truth will resound in cosmic space with the words “The Dark makes way for the Light that radiates towards us in the Star of Humanity, the Dark generates and understands the Light”. This will resonate from the celebration of Christmas, and spiritual light will radiate from it. May Christmas be celebrated as the feast of the highest ideal, the Idea of ​​Humanity, so that joyful trust may arise in our souls: without a doubt, I too, will experience the birth of the superior man within myself. The birth of the Savior, the Christos, will also take place in me. – Signs and symbols of the feast of Christmas, 17 December 1906, GA96.

Finally, there is a reference in Steiner’s notebooks, dating back to December 1906. However, the note does not add much more to these few references leaked about Steiner’s teaching on the Tarot.

Steiner, on the other hand, associates the divinatory ability of the Tarot with that which is then developed in the subsequent Greco-Roman and medieval period as Ars Combinatoria linked to the Art of Memory of Marsilio Ficino. It relates medieval Christianity to the development of the imaginative faculty in order to penetrate the life of the spiritual worlds:

How were these spiritual truths presented to humanity before the existence of modern teaching? They were presented in ritual images. The essential element in the expansion of religion over the centuries does not lie in the sermons, but in the ceremonial, in the rituals. Try to imagine for a moment what it was like to be in the Christian countries in the 14th and 15th centuries. For people, the important thing was to enter a world presented to them in powerful and grandiose images. All around, frescoes on the walls reminded them of spiritual life. It was as if their earthly life could climb as high as the highest mountain, but at that point, if one could only climb a little higher, the spiritual life would begin. The language of the spiritual world was represented in images that stimulated the imagination, in the audible harmonies of music, or in words in formulas such as mantras or prayers. These ages clearly understood that images, not concepts, were required for the spiritual world. People needed something vividly pictorial, not something they could debate. Something was required that could allow the spirit to speak through what was accessible to the senses. Christianity and its secrets, the Mystery of Golgotha ​​and all that is connected to it, were essentially communicated in the form of images, even when the words were presented in the form of stories. The dogmas were still understood as something pictorial. And this Christian teaching remained undisputed before the existence of intellectual teaching, and these things did not need to be justified by reason. – The Anthroposophical Movement, 1923, GA258.

The esoteric meaning of the Christmas Tree

Let’s look at the Christmas tree in more detail. It consists of 14 symbols, divided into two main groups:

  1. The central cross, composed of the 7 symbols that refer to the microcosm, or the Minor Mysteries;

  2. The transverse sinusoid, composed of the 7 symbols that refer to the macrocosm, or the Major Mysteries.

Let’s see in detail the symbols of the central cross:

  1. ⚴ Cube: represents the quaternary, the four bodies or four philosophical elements. From the most subtle to the most dense: Fire, Air, Water, Earth. The earth corresponds to the physical body, the bearer of the physical-mineral organization; to water the etheric body bearing the formative forces of life, of plants; to the air the astral body bearer of the passions and animal sensations; the ego corresponds to fire, or the individuality of the single human being, the biography.

  2. △ Triangle: represents the ternary, the three spirits or three powers of the soul. Thought, feeling and will.

  3. TP Tarot: the union of T and P, represents the Tarot, from number 0 Il Matto to number XXI Il Mondo. The Fool represents all the possibilities of the world in power, the archetype present both at the beginning and at the end, The World represents all the possibilities of the world in progress, the total realization. In esoteric orders the Tarot is also called the Book of Thoth, since it was originally part of the Egyptian hermetic corpus: in them was contained past, present and future. For this reason Aleister Crowley, drawing on some of Steiner’s esoteric lessons, renamed his Tarot deck in the same way.

  4. A Alpha: the first letter (capitalized) of the Greek alphabet. The beginning of all things. In the Arcanum I the Bagatto is inscribed with an aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the principle in place.

  5. Ω Omega: the last letter (capital) of the Greek alphabet. The end of all things. In the Arcanum XXI the world is in fact inscribed an O.

  6. ☥ Tau or ankh: the old cross before the Christian or crucified cross (✝). It is also the Egyptian cross. The circle above it is half a lemniscate (∞) which represents the return to Earth after death, or reincarnation.

  7. ✩ Pentagram or pentalpha: it represents the quinary, that is the quintessence that is the philosophical element deriving from the refining of the four grossest elements of the quaternary. It is the ether. But in a higher sense it is also the man who has completed his earthly evolution by rejoining with his Higher Self, contained in the Spiritual Self. The man who therefore restored his Fall from the heavenly state in which he found himself in the Polar Era until the first half of the Lemurian Era. It is the completion of the so-called Reintegration in the bosom of the divine.

La parte di croce nell'albero tarotico di Steiner.

The cross in the Tarot Tree

The sinusoid:

  1. ♄ Saturn: represents the matter in its primordial heat stage, of fire of the first metamorphosis of the Earth, the Old Saturn. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of the trance and to the mineral kingdom.

  2. ☉ Sun: represents the airy, gaseous stage of matter present in the second metamorphosis of the Earth, the Ancient Sun. It corresponds to the state of sleep consciousness and the plant kingdom.

  3. ☾ Moon: represents the liquid stage of water present in the third metamorphosis of the Earth, the Ancient Moon. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of dreams and to the animal kingdom.

  4. ♂ Mars: it represents the solid stage that is crystallizing in the Creation. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of conscious waking and to the human kingdom before the advent of Christ, or the ancient Indian, Persian, Egyptian and the first half of the Greco-Roman era.

  5. ☿ Mercury: represents the stage about to melt. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of the self-conscious vigil and to the human kingdom in the times following the incarnation of Christ in the baptism of the Jordan, that is, from the second half of the Greco-Roman era, up to our current fifth post-Atlantic era.

  6. ♃ Jupiter: represents the “upper” liquid stage, meaning that it has passed a solid stage before melting again. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of “conscious dream” or lucid dream, in other words clairvoyance. It will be reached by humanity in the fifth metamorphosis of the Earth, the Future Jupiter when man will have become an angel.

  7. ♀ Venus: represents the “upper” air stage, that is, that has passed a liquid stage before evaporating again. It corresponds to the state of consciousness of “conscious sleep”, or clairaudience. It represents the stage reached by humanity in the sixth metamorphosis of the Earth, the Future Venus when man has become an archangel.

The cross between the cross and the sinusoid makes it possible to give meaning to the reading of the Tree.

The vertical arm of the cross is read as the refining of coarser bodies in more subtle bodies: or the action of conscious individuality (I) on the bodies that constitute the human being (physical, etheric, astral), this is to be reached during a series of incarnations (Tau). The illumination of the four bodies by the consciousness takes place through the history of humanity and the Earth, or the horizontal arm of the cross.

The horizontal arm reads like “The Book of Life” (or Cronaca dell’Akasha), or the history of the Earth and of man. The symbol of the Tarot is placed at the intersection of the two arms because, with its 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, it represents all the possible combinations in which the story unfolds, from the absolute beginning (0: The Fool), to his end (21: The World). So, while the cross is concerned with telling the progression from the bottom up, that is from the gross to the subtle, of the history of the Earth and of man, the sinusoid tells us the history of conscience through all the kingdoms of nature: minerals , vegetables, animals and finally the human being. That is trance, sleep, dream and wakefulness. This is the story of cosmic evolution.

The intersection between the immanence of the horizontal arm (the history of the Earth and of man), and the transcendence of the vertical arm (the perfectibility of bodies through the action of individuality, the I) gives rise to the unfolding of consciousness in the nature and man. Hence the message: just as every point on the sinusoid (states of consciousness) derives from the intersection of the infinity projection of each point of the immanent and transcendent axis (ie the coordinates of the Cartesian axes), so human consciousness passes through all the previous stages that nature has experienced in the course of evolution, but always in a new form. This is the law of Haeckel’s recapitulation, extended to his cosmic cosmic dimension enunciated by Steiner (or recapitulation or palingenesis).

For the sinusoid, the vertical arm is a mirror, since the stages of consciousness corresponding to Antico Saturno = trance, Antico Sole = sleep and Ancient Moon = dream pass through The Book of Life (Tarot) and are recapitulated this time in a conscious and inverse manner in the Future Jupiter = conscious dream, Futura Venere = conscious sleep. The last stage of “conscious trance” (the recapitulation of Ancient Saturn in waking consciousness) is not present in the tree as a repetition of all previous stages and its planet is Vulcan. In this sense the Tarot is a mirror placed at the origin of the axes of the cross: the Arcana are the mirror of all that can happen in your life both external (that is linked to space-time) and interior (that is without space-time).

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