The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism
The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism was first published in 1962. For those interested in the esoteric nature of Tarot, it is part practical manual and part exposition on Tarot as a 'useful instrument of cognition'.
By Mouni Sadhu
Book - Published by Wilshire Publishing
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
I am fascinated by "old" books - not antique books (well, I am fascinated by them too, but they are out of my price range!), but books written over fifteen to twenty years ago. They are reflective of their times, and often unique in and of themselves. (Thursday Night Tarot, based on Jason C. Lotterhand's lectures, comes to mind.) At the very back of this 494 page book is a listing of books offered by Wilshire Publishing - a lengthy listing of self-improvement books that are priced, for the most part, at $2.00 each! There is also a page containing a letter from the publisher, discussing Wilshire Publishing's books, and how to place an order for their entire catalog. In this letter the publisher, Melvin Powers, offers an invitation to anyone who wishes to call on him, and talk to him in person. I consider myself lucky to get a form letter back from a publishing company! I think I was born too late. ;-)
On to the book itself. Mouni Sadhu (born Mieczyslaw Demetriusz Sudowski on August 17th, 1897, in Warsaw, Poland) was a noted occultist and mystic. His name change to Mouni Sadhu (approximate meaning "silent wandering holy man") came about after his stay with Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1949.
Mouni Sadhu views the "Philosophical Tarot" as a universal key to all wisdom. He writes on a level that is accessible to all people, not only for those that are already steeped in the Western Mystery Tradition. Each of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana has a chapter devoted to it, with the chapters entitled "Arcanum I, Arcanum II, Arcanum III ... Arcanum XXII". Each chapter is further broken down into individual lessons, in order to make the nature of the cards fully understood.
In his introduction, Mouni Sadhu states that he wrote this book as a means to expound on the Tarot as a "useful instrument of cognition" (as described by Eliphas Levi), as well as to provide a practical manual. His understanding is taken not only from classical Tarot works, but also from his personal study of Hermetism (to which he devoted himself exclusively during the years 1926-1933). He states that he also used a "book" (actually a series of notes) by Prof. Gregory Ossipowitch Mebes, a leading authority on Hermetism in Russia prior to 1917. The reader is also advised to study the book "Occultism and Spiritual Paths" (also by Mouni Sadhu) before beginning the study of this book as many introductory and technical esoteric points are made there that are not repeated here.
Tarot is seen here as encompassing the four subdivisions of occultism (Alchemy, Astrology, Kabbalah and Magic). The sections on each card are devoted to a discussion of the imagery on the specific card, the placement of each particular Arcanum in the scheme of the Tetragrammaton, an explanation of the Hebrew letter associated with each card, the associated branches of Western and Eastern teaching, and to exercises devoted to the practical use of the mental equations.
There is an interesting presentation of the Major Arcanum as a series of seven triangles, and the three columns inherent in this structure (from right to left: neutral, active, passive). The Tetragrammatron reveals itself in the Tarot as (1) the Name of the Almighty composed of four letters, (2) as four kingdoms of spirits, (3) as four elements of Alchemy, and (4) as four classes of men. The four suits form the four sides of a mystical square, each side representing an element.
Included in the introduction is an explanation of some of the more esoteric terminology used in the book: terms such as Atman, the Copper-Serpent, Egregor, Elementar etc. The Hebrew letters are also listed, along with their glyphs, and the ten Sephiroth of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, along with their letters and corresponding meanings.
I am going to use the chapter on Arcanum IX (the Hermit) to show how Mouni Sadhu has presented his work. The introductory page shows a black and white illustration of the card, done by Mrs. Eva G. Lucas, an Australian artist. (In general, the illustrations follow very traditional lines. I was unable to find out if a deck was ever published using them.) The heading reads: Arcanum IX, Lux Occulta, The Hermit. To the right of the scan is the associated astrological sign, Leo, with its glyph. Under the scan are the titles: Protectores, Initiatio, Prudentia. The illustration is a line drawing showing a robed, bearded male figure, facing the left hand side of the card, with a staff in his left hand, and a lamp held aloft in his right hand. Rays of light emanate from the lamp.
The first lesson for this card, lesson number 29, starts out with a discussion of its associated Hebrew letter and its numerical value - 9. The discussion refers to three lights being held within the lamp, referring to enlightenment within all three worlds. The scientific name for this card is Lux Occulta (Occult Light), while the mundane name is the Hermit. This is followed by a series of arithmetic equations, including a discussion of what each number obtained means.
In lesson 30, under the Hermit, Mouni Sadhu discusses studies of the Great Beings (Masters), and recommends studying the life of a contemporary (to him) master - the Indian Master Rishi Ramana. The Major Arcanum represent cycles, and for the Hermit Mouni Sadhu presents the mental cycle. He states that for the initiate this cycle may be explained as "Man's access to that current of ideas which is related to the type of monad to which he belongs." He states that there is now no personality of the initiator Master, who performs the act of initiation itself. The Hermit archetype simply accepts into his "body" the cell, which has all along been his right. The process of integration is a large part of this discussion - this is what the Tarot is all about, the journey of individuation that man takes to become fully actualized.
Lesson 31, under the Hermit, returns to a discussion of the symbolism within the card. The lamp of the Hermit is referred to as the Light of Hermes Trismegistus, Hermes being the personification of the system of metaphysical wisdom, astral abilities and knowledge of the physical plane that once flourished in the ancient Egyptian Temples of Initiation. The message contained here is that man is a three plane being, and that he needs to learn on all three planes.
The coat of the Hermit insulates him from the troubles of the outer world. It is called the cloak of Appolonius of Tyana, the famous Master of the Alexandrian School. It is the symbol of self-knowledge of the Monad, self-assertion in the astral plane and solitude in the illusionary physical world. The walking stick is a symbol of the Hermit's careful nature.
The nine cycles that the initiate needs to follow are presented, including removing every form of physical cowardice from yourself and removing all kinds of indecision. Also discussed is the Eastern Philosophy belonging to the Ninth Arcanum, which is Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of Wisdom. Mouni Sadhu concludes by stating that the figure for the Hermit is the same thing for both Western and Eastern traditions. This same type of profile is followed for each of the cards, with illustrations and charts used where necessary.
For anyone interested in Tarot history, and/or the esoteric nature of the Tarot, this book is an amazing resource.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.