Capricorn: Egyptian Tarot Set XV

The Capricorn Solstice is here depicted by the god Set-Typhon. The Devil XV is the traditional title of the trump, while the esoteric title is Lord of the Gates of Matter: Child of the Forces of Time. The Egyptian god Set is no devil as such but is the Opener of the Year and Lord of Initiation.

Egyptian Tarot Set XVSet is shown here as God of the South, wielding the was sceptre of sacerdotal authority in his left hand and the Ankh of Life in his right hand. His colour is black, his nemyss and apron of blue-black and indigo. His ornaments, sceptre and ankh are black, gold and grey as according to the key-scale colours of the  path of Capricorn and the ancient Egyptian title that was afforded Set, ‘the black and gold one’ (Set-Nubti). His peculiar ass-head with truncated ears has caused much bafflement. Some have thought he was modelled on a creature that has long been extinct. Whether this is true or not, Set is certainly among the most ancient of gods. Like Sokar, Lord of the Necropolis, Set is older even than the Pyramids. Perhaps he is older than the vast wilderness of the desert itself.

Most descriptions of Set focus on the later dynastic periods of Egypt, where he was demonised and known only as the slayer of Osiris. However, Set is the first and only begotten son of Nuit, the goddess of the night sky. His birth is by divine parthenogenesis. No paternal intervention is required for a star to manifest the mother, for this comes about through the mysterious power of Neïth, or Maya in Hinduism, and which is without beginning or end. To discuss Set-Typhon in terms of Osiris is a diversion from understanding Set’s true nature and function.

Set is the most difficult of gods to ‘pin down’; his very nature forbids it. He is on the other side of wherever we happen to be in terms of point of view. Thus, the Egyptians tended to think of Set as Mercury, called the shapeshifter in Western or Druidic traditions. In northerly locations, typical Setian totems are corvids—the raven, crow, jackdaw and magpie. The function of Set is dual. Firstly, Set veils the invisible in an almost infinite variety of forms. Secondly, he destroys the illusion of the appearance of things. Small wonder then, that Set is not only the ‘First before the Gods’, but is also the most misunderstood of all gods.

Set’s hieroglyphic name is shown at the top of the Tarot picture. The first two letters are phonetics (‘s’ and ‘t’) while the rectangle provides a further clue to Set’s mysterious origins. The rectangle means ‘stone’. This has agricultural and building connotations, as well as that of the graven image. Some of the earliest Dynastic kings of Egypt were Setians, and were noted for their great feats of architectural magnificence as well as introducing irrigation canals.[1] Esoterically, Set is the layer of the foundation of the universe from ‘before the beginning of things’. Likewise, Capricorn or winter solstice is the natural opening of the year. Capricorn is also the ‘height’ or summit of the Zodiac, figured as the tenth house of the midheaven. As height, the mountain upon which Capricorn leaps has its basis buried deeply in the earth—or in fact, as according to the ancient glyphs of the sign, the goat has a fishy tail, indicative of a more cosmic intepretation.

Capricorn: Iset Throne FoundationThe Iset throne of Isis typifies the foundation stone. Set and Isis, though portrayed as enemies in more recent times, are inseparable. Set is the elemental nature of Isis and is, through her identification with Nuit, her only begotten child. Turning to stone, as recounted in folk legends, can be an analogy for the petrification of the psyche, which amounts to being impervious to learning or knowledge. That, however, is only the most outward interpretation, for the ‘men of stone’ or Stone Age as it is termed, bore no relation to what historians have made of it. The great stone monuments and earthworks around the world testify to an ancient civilisation whose ways were utterly incomprehensible to people of modern times. In terms of knowledge, modernity is vastly degraded and is not in the slightest way superior to what is supposed to be ‘primitive’; if we use that word at all we should use it to denote what is primal or principial.

Tales of people being turned to stone are common in myth and legend. It is notable that in Cornish folklore, the origin of prehistoric megaliths and stone circles that abundantly populate the land is illustrated by stories of the petrification of men, women and giants. For example, the Merry Maidens and the Nine Maidens of Boskednan, the Tregeseal Dancing Stones and the Hurlers. A further version of the petrification is given among the legends of King Arthur. The wizard Merlin, in one account, is seduced by the witch, sorceress or nun—she is all these things—Morgan Le Fay. To impress her with a feat of magick he enters a group of standing stones, or a stone enclosure but is unable to leave. Thus, the knowledge of the ‘men of stone’ or old times was withdrawn at a certain point in time.

Capricorn, Set and the Eye of God

The twenty-sixth path of A’ain and Capricorn connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Hod, the sphere of Mercury and mind. It is called the Renewing Intelligence. It is called thus because ‘thereby God renews all the changing things that are renewed by the creation of the world’ (Westcott). This indicates the cosmic renewal through perpetuity of all manifested forms.

Most depictions of the ‘Devil’ are a monstrous representation of the pre-religious Goddess of life and love, variously named Qutesh, Asherah, Lilith or Ashtaroth. For example the scarlet or golden girdle worn loosely about the waist of the Devil XV in early Tarot decks such as the Marseilles Tarot was the signature of Asherah and other primal dancing goddesses. Note that ‘Scarlet Woman’ (AShH ShNI) counts to 666, a number often associated with the Devil or Antichrist, though it is also a symbol of the Sun and of Spirit, and therefore of Christ. It must be said though that the Renewing Intelligence links the Sun with Mercury, and that Mercury is also the abode of Set.[2] The very confusion of symbolism over time might owe something to the Setian power to obfuscate through shapeshifting.

The magical powers of the twenty-sixth path of Capricorn are said to be the Witches Sabbath (so-called) and the Evil Eye. The former symbolises the degraded remnants of long forgotten rites, while the latter is the protection against the hostile forces thus unwittingly evoked. The Witches Sabbath is fictional, owing to the paranoid imaginings of fifteenth century clerics, but the symbolism is peculiarly apt.[3] The backwards dance of the revellers, for example, is a recollection of exceedingly antique rites as well as the whole underlying theology of ancient Egypt. Egypt recognised no ‘progress’ or ‘evolution’; the ideal was always to go back to the source, before the beginning of things. This return is not literally a going back to the past, or the ways of the past. It is a return to the principial origin, which is metaphysical. This spiritual truth is known by every yogin; it is certainly not in any way a symptom of a reactionary disposition among the Egyptians, as profane commentators have supposed.[4]


Notes

From the forthcoming book and Egyptian Tarot deck.

1. Even Seti I, the grandfather of Rameses II in the relatively late Middle to New Kingdom, was named after the great god and ensured the continuance of his cult—in spite of the fact Set was demonised by that time.

2. When a ‘star’ determinative (seba) is added to the name of Set then the hieroglyphs spell ‘Mercury’. Thus Set and Mercury, and the qualities of Mercury, are identical. See Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary Vol I, p. 707 A.

3. Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘Hammer of the Witches’, which pretended to be the product of fact-finding research, was a bestseller in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Propaganda was one of the first uses of the invention of the printing press.

4. One such profane commentator writes books on esotericism!

© Oliver St. John 2020, 2024.

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Sagittarius: Egyptian Tarot Neith XIV

The Egyptian Tarot trump for the twenty-fifth path of Sagittarius is Neïth XIV. Jupiter, the Sapphire Star, is the ruler of Sagittarius. Neptune is also figured as inverse governor of the mutable signs.

Egyptian Tarot Neith XIVNeptune is also figured as infernal governor of the mutable signs. Neïth is depicted here as a young woman clothed in blue, with yellow ornaments and trim. She bears a green ankh of life in her left hand and priestly was sceptre or phoenix wand in her right hand. She wears a fillet armed with a serpent. Neïth’s hieroglyphic name is shown at the top right of the Tarot picture. The first letter is net, the ‘shuttle’ determinative. Next comes the hieroglyph for the ‘sky’, identical to that of Nuit. The name completes with the phonetic ‘t’.[1]

Behind Neïth stands a composite symbol formed from the djed pillar, the shuttle, which spells her name (net), and the Arrow of Sagittarius. The Egyptian djed is possibly a precurser of the Hebrew and Arabic letter samekh, which defines the path of Sagittarius. The djed pillar is comparable with the spinal column, which is in turn analogous with the subtle channel for the special fire (shushumna) of Kundalini yoga. It also signifies spiritual strength and endurance. Further comparison may be made with an alchemical retort for the transmutation of iron, the metal of Mars, into gold, the metal of the Sun and invisible radiance of spirit.[2]

Neïth was one of the earliest creatrix deities, the weaver of the web of the worlds, and comparable to the Hindu Maya. She was a personification of the waters of the primordial nun, the abyss from which all life issues forth, and which existed even before the birth of Gods such as Ra.[3] ‘Before’ is not meant here in the sense of time, which is a common confusion when the word ‘creation’ is used in relation to the cosmos. As with the biblical ‘in the beginning’, the real sense of this is in principio, ‘with the principle’, which is to say, the supreme ineffable, which is without beginning or cessation, without birth or death; in Itself it is eternal, changeless, indestructible and infinite.

As goddess of the crossed arrows (not shown on the card), Neïth is guardian of the Abyss and of all crossroads or thresholds of initiation. The ‘x’ symbol is the primal signature for any place or location. It marks the formless substance or radiance from which all life comes forth or is manifested.[4]

Sagittarius and the House of the Net

The foremost shrine of Neïth was called the ‘House of the Net’ (Net-Het) at Sàis in the Delta. It was here that a great annual festival was held in honour of Neïth and Isis. The festival resembled the rites of Candlemas or Imbolc, the crossquarter of the year between the winter solstice and spring equinox where cakes are made and eaten in honour of the Goddess. Lanterns are kept alight all night and carried in processions coinciding with the full Moon. According to Herodotus, some curious rites were performed in Sàis, near a row of ancient monoliths. A small shrine was hollowed out below ground level and covered with an ornately carved stone slab. The walls of the shrine were also decorated with fantastic carving. From the account given by Herodotus it is certain that the shrine was used for night-long vigils for the purpose of initiation. No one would be allowed to enter or leave until the morning, by which time the person thus prepared would have encountered their Daemon, or Neïth herself.[5]

Neïth was called the ‘House of the Net’ from earliest times. The root of the name ‘Net’ is phonetically identical to the name for any god or natural principle, neter; spinning or weaving is a traditional analogy for the emergence of worlds and creatures from the ground ‘substance’ (Sanskrit prakriti). According to the Hindu doctrines, Maya spins the worlds from her own essence. It must here be understood that essence and substance symbolise a self-polarisation of the eternal, non-dual principle, so that manifestation can come about and be known as existence.

Neïth and the Path of Sagittarius

Temperance is the traditional name of Tarot Atu XIV; Daughter of the Reconcilers: Bringer-forth of Life is the esoteric title. The Tarot of Marseille depicts an Angel pouring liquid between blue and red vases. The art of alchemy is shown there—Sagittarius is the mutable and so changeful fire sign of the Zodiac. The path connects the Moon, which always symbolises mind, with the Sun that symbolises spiritual ‘gold’, and the centre of intelligence. The silvery lunar water and golden solar fire is fused into the stone of the wise, lapis philosophorum, or the philosophic egg, in which cosmos is likened to embryo.[6] Fools attempt to apprehend the immortal stone through physical means—similarly, a child might seek to capture sunshine in a bottle. While the child may be rewarded with a faery song, the materialist will get nothing but pain and suffering in return for the soul, his birthright, that he has abandoned.

The twenty-fifth path crosses the veil called Paroketh, marking the division between the world of appearances and the invisible world of spirit. As such, the path is called the Intelligence of Probation or Trial. The mind’s intelligence has its foundation in Yesod, domain of the natural soul. It is only by dint of sacrifice of the labour of the work done that the harmony and beauty of Tiphereth or spirit can be fixed as a permanent reflection in Yesod, as the sphere of mind. To be a foundation for beauty, the psyche must undergo the purification of study, the organisation of the thoughts through concentration of the mind. Likewise, the body must submit to the beneficent astringent of the discipline, including rituals and practice. The aspirant practices indifference to phenomena, refusing to self-identify with the actions of the self and events that seem to be taking place. This must not be thought of as lack of attention; the level of observation is intensified through meditation practice. Neïth, the spinner of the worlds, fires the upward Arrow of Truth that spells dissolution of ego and entrance to higher states of being. World renunciation begins no sooner than a foot is placed on the path, for in control of body and mind there is already the shutting out of all that would otherwise obstruct the path. For that reason the Intelligence of Probation is likened in Christian mysticism to a Dark Night of the Soul.

The magical power of the twenty-fifth path is that of Transmutations. In yoga, this refers to subtle changes in the mental state that are only perceptible to the experienced yogin.


Notes

From the forthcoming book and Egyptian Tarot deck.

1. The name ‘Neïth’ may be pronounced approximately as nyet.

2. Mars is physical strength and so the corporeal state, whereas the Sun is light-intelligence and all that transcends the former. In alchemical texts it is sometime said to be the transmutation of lead into gold, lead being the metal of Saturn, which  symbolised time and death by classical times.

3. The term ‘abyss’ is often incorrectly identified with ‘chaos’ in the sense of confusion, disorder, which is in itself a profane misunderstanding of the original meaning of ‘chaos’. The primordial nun is the depth.

4. The formless light or radiance that clothes Neïth is the particular attribute of the Priestess of Atu II. The thirteenth path is an axial continuation of the twenty-fifth, so the same ideas are resumed on a higher arc. By comparison, the thirty-second path at the base of the Tree, Great One of the Night of Time, is usually imaged as anima mundi.

5. The comment by the ancient Greek traveller Herodotus proves that psychology was not the invention of Freud, for he drily dismisses the vigils conducted in honour of Neïth as mere fantasy: “Herein everyone encounters the shadows of his own affections and fantasies in the night season, which the Egyptians call Mysteries.” The commentator thus reveals his own lack of knowledge, unless he was simply pandering to his sceptical readers.

6. Cf. Hiranyagarbha, the ‘world egg’ of Hinduism, which is itself a symbol of Pure Being, Ishvara or the Lord of the Universe.

For the complete Qabalistic notes on Sagittarius and the twenty-fifth path, plus all other paths, see Thirty-two paths of Wisdom.

© Oliver St. John 2020, 2024

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