9/2 The Magician #1
Tarot with Rian Hughes
TEMPLE artefact #001
Rian Hughes has been one of my longest-running creative partners, with collaborations going back decades now.
Back in 2015, we talked about doing a Tarot deck reflective of my ‘Pop Mag!c’ system which could update and re-contextualise some of the familiar imagery of the cards.
This was the sample as proof of concept and I chose my personal favourite card.
Here is The Magician with accompanying commentary to suggest not only the visual style of the image but also the kind of symbolic content I wanted us to pack into the design.
The Magician #1 Final version
MAJOR ARCANA: THE MAGICIAN
KEY WORDS – MASTERY, CREATIVITY, COMMUNICATION, SELF-CONFIDENCE, SKILL, MISDIRECTION, GLAMOUR
The Magician is Trump 1 of the Major Arcana.
The Magician is the rock star, the genius, the Mastermind, the exclusive, extraordinary, especially-talented “A-number 1”.
Our Magician is the Ultimate Pop Star, the Master of all s/he surveys – all four elements in the Cardinal directions. S/he is the centre of the known physical Universe, the unique, scientific and individual, self-elected, self-directed Prime Mover of all that is; the arbiter of history, and the future that is come. The Magician, of course, represents only one potent, though very specific state of consciousness among the many available to the human organism. The Magician is how we feel when we master our art to produce a great work of any kind. The Magician is how we feel when the world seems to be doing exactly what we want and all the TV shows and record charts are aimed somehow directly at us.
To add to the pop star feel, perhaps our magician can be a little bit Ziggy Stardust or Kiss - with lightning bolt zigzags on their face. The lightning bolt is a glyph of the messenger gods, or gods of magic and language, like Hermes, Mercury, Thoth and Odin, among others. The lightning bolt – an exchange of energy, which links sky to earth – is symbolic of the contact between God (equivalent to the highest “non-dual” state of consciousness available to the human mind) and Man (representing ordinary consciousness).
The Magician card in the Tarot deck traditionally shows a confident, poised young man at an altar representing the entire material universe.
The Magician stands for human ingenuity and mastery at the height of its powers. The Renaissance, the western Enlightenment. This is the erect cock and the “1”! In binary notation that interacts with “0” to generate the known universe of phenomena and digital information.
Sometimes represented by the curving brim of a hat s/he wears or sports, sometimes shown above hir head like a halo, is the “8 on its side” INFINITY SIGN which we will depict as Mobius strip - in fact, I suggest a Mobius Orouboros snake eating its own tail to take care of the crown-of-serpents symbolism often seen on versions of this card.
The Magician raises a wand to the heavens in his right hand, while his left hand points to the earth. This gesture encodes the Hermetic axiom “as above, so below” – macrocosm and microcosm – indicating the special and unique position human consciousness occupies between the infinitesimally large and the infinitesimally small.
A PLUS sign on his right palm, a MINUS bar on the left.
The Magician traditionally stands at a 4-square altar – our version suggests a mixing desk which is also the PERIODIC TABLE - upon which there are four magical weapons. These blazing archetypal weapons also represent the 4 suits of the Tarot pack and of conventional playing cards.
S/he is Master/Mistress of the material world and its ever-changing, ever-the-same fashions. The Magician also sees everything in the universe as grist to his creative mill and in this sense is somewhat amoral and lacking in conscience.
The Magician is an alchemist engaged in the Great Work of transforming Lead (ordinary consciousness and the material world) into Gold (exalted consciousness or “Spirit”)
In our image let’s see him juggling these four elemental objects in a figure of 8.
WAND – the Wand is the magician’s magical phallus – the image of his Will, hence its resemblance to an erect penis. Also, ‘I’ and the 1 in binary notation that interacts with 0 to generate the known universe of phenomena and digital information. It can also be considered as the pointing finger which distinguishes things from other things and directs attention to the particular among the general.
Our Wand is a MICROPHONE.
It represents the Element of Fire. Its colour is RED.
SWORD – the Sword which divides, is a symbol of the intellect and of rational analysis. It is the tool by which human consciousness comprehends and classifies the universe of discrete phenomena.
It represents the Element of Air. Its traditional colour is YELLOW.
CUP – the Cup, which receives and nourishes, stands for the emotions. Our Cup is a TEST TUBE.
It is the Holy Grail of Romance and the Ever-giving Cauldron of Celtic Myth, the Undry. Both receptive and nourishing, the Cup has been considered the female counterpart to the Phallic Wand.
If the Wand is the erect 1, the Cup is the vulval 0 – the plug and the socket. The impulse and the generative matrix.
The colour traditionally associated with the Prime Cup and the Element of Water is BLUE. OR GREEN!!!
The Cup is also the bottomless “0”, the universal, unimaginable hole that’s infra-red, hot and seductive enough to attract, engulf and render limp every theory and structure created by masculine intent. The all-swallowing Black Hole of sci-fi speculative cosmology.
PENTACLE – the pentacle – or disc – represents the material world. The disc is associated with coinage, money, wealth, DNA, heritage and all the immediate physical concerns of the human organism.
In this image, the Pantacle is a PLATINUM DISC – a record with a rainbow surface.
The Pentacle stands in for the Element of Earth. Its traditional colour is BLACK. However, this black soil-loam is only how the material world appears from a higher-dimensional perspective.
In fact the material world is prismatic – therefore, the Pantacle should be divided into 4 pie sections, each a different colour, each representing one of the 4 elements. RED. BLACK. BLUE and YELLOW.
Here we need a reflective or symmetrical background.
The Magician transcends duality and the elements – therefore s/he may often be described as hermaphroditic or otherwise asexual or androgynous in appearance. S/he is metamorphic, neither one thing nor the other, becoming what is required at every turn. That’s because the Magician like language can assume any shape.
S/he can endorse any well-expressed ideology. S/he can impart undying wisdom or lead the unwary into Hell.
The God forms associated with the Magician include Hermes, Thoth, Ganesh, Nabu, Ogma and Legba. The winged heels of Mercury are depicted here as jet engine aircraft wings on a wholly futuristic androgynous figure.
The Magician is all scientists, all writers, artist, all artificers, con-men and healers, all creative people who feel justified to impose their wondrous word-driven vision of reality upon all other living things.
The Magician is also known as “Le Jongleur” or Juggler. There must always be a super-modern, populist, glitzy and deceptive element of charlatanism or showmanship to the Magician. S/he is Houdini and Derren Brown, Paul Daniels and Sooty, and all your favourite entertainers too.
At his side is the mocking APE OF THOTH, the “cynocephalus”. The Ape represents interpretation, which takes the word/the Logos of the magician and twists it to become gibberish or to shift and even reverse the intended meaning.
The Ape is sometimes regarded via information theory as the “noise” to the magician’s “signal”. He's the bad review, the mistimed gag, the bum note, the aging idiot glimpsed in the mirror, monkey-dancing in motley.
To this card is attributed the second Hebrew letter BETH – Beth means a house – the house represents the Magician’s mastery of the material universe – the house is often represented in traditional cards by a structure arching over the magician’s head – often a bower made of rose bushes. Red 8-petalled roses – with thorns – form a bower above the Magician’s head, framing him.
In our card, I’d like the house to be the Tree of Life itself, seen as a 3-Dimensional structure – the flat circuit diagram of the Tree of Life can, be seen as a 3-D wire-frame structure which resembles a building with a pyramid roof but only when we pull the material sphere up into the sphere of the imagination. So here I’d like to see this rotated 3-D Tree structure framing our magician.
The Magician, as mentioned above, has an androgynous aspect – the idea of the Hermaphrodite combines the god forms of Hermes and Aphrodite. Hence Bowie, New Romantic, drag, and showbiz culture. This image of the magician as spiritually bisexual, of mixed or fluid gender, shows up in various forms in many cultures and philosophies.
Our card therefore should depict the Magician as a competent, confident, androgynous rock star, the ultimate entertainer putting on a dazzling show for the universe.
This card shows a performer, a performance, a gig.
The Magician #1 First version
Notes from Rian Hughes on design :
Grant - this will be much more polished when finished, but here’s the basics pinned down.
I tend to use colours in a schematic manner when laying out the shapes, just to differentiate things - hence these brash colours will change and be made more subtle as we go.
The cup I thought might work coming out of the periodic table and looking like the inflationary model of the Big Bang - creation, hot and dense inside, and shaped like a goblet:
I’ve put the Beth character on the record sleeve - it’s a bad pun on house music.
The monkey will have unplugged headphones.
There will be more detail on the Technics decks.
The sword cleaving the periodic table is a light sabre - symbol of the future sword of science.
The rose background is (are) stage curtains.
I wonder if the Ziggy lightening could also reference Harry Potter somehow?
The juggling in a figure 8 was hard to visualise - there were not enough items to convey the shape of the 8, plus the hands are otherwise occupied and so the objects looked like they wee free floating. So may need a rethink.
Tree of Life is still to be added.
Mirrorball top right - so we have the 1 of the Wand and the 0 of the mirrorball?
I’ll also design a border of some kind that will run on all the cards, and each will have a type treatment at the bottom, TBD.
I await feedback!
GM response :
Hi Rian –
The Magician card is looking fantastic – just what I hoped for. Only a couple of notes.
I like the face and head of the character in the alternate version, as the look is more feminine and less overtly Ziggy Stardust/Bowie. Maybe we could use a touch more femininity. Love the lighting bolt referencing Ziggy AND Harry Potter.
The disco ball could take on a more appropriately esoteric dimension if it was moved to the centre above the magician’s head, taking the place of Kether, the highest sephira on the Tree of Life diagram.
While traditional to the Rider-Waite imagery, the robe and cape the Magician is wearing seem slightly old-fashioned. I still like how it all looks however so any other suggestions are just thrown out as food for thought: the Magician wearing a kind of Ziggy/Paradax catsuit with the Qabalistic lightning flash on the front and a bra perhaps.
OR more convincingly a Major Tom style Mercury SPACESUIT without the helmet (a Mercury style suit would of course tie nicely into the generally “mercurial” tone of this card…hmmm..)
Having said that, I’m reluctant to have you do too much more work and the image looks so good as it is, we may not have to include any further elements of modernity at this stage.
The Magician #1 Rare early variant
Would you like to see more? Rian and I could easily be convinced into doing a full deck!