It’s widely believed that the Tarot has origins as a pictorial book of occult knowledge disguised as a pack of cards. Even further, some say modern-day playing cards were developed as another layer of concealment. The earliest documented deck is from the late 13th century, although there are various theories about the country of origin. Italy, France and Germany are often cited as possibilities. The popular idea that the Tarot originated in ancient Egypt and was spread to Europe by Gypsies has been disputed by scholars, including Dr. Arthur Edward Waite, creator of the Rider-Waite deck. Based on this, we gather that the Tarot was developed to preserve knowledge of cultures under attack by the repressive regime of the Catholic church during the middle ages. It’s not surprising, then, that over the course of 500 years the cards would assimilate some of the figures from Christian mythology.
Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel are the three angels of the Tarot. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia online, they’re part of a group of seven archangels from the “angelology of post-Exilic Judaism”, meaning they predate Christianity. In our metaphor of the Tarot as a map for a meaningful life, I like to think of the angels as guides, pointing the way to must-see destinations.
The first to appear is Raphael, suspended beatifically over The Lovers. Also known as the Angel of Science and Knowledge, the qualities attributed to Raphael are healing and compassion. Raphael means “God heals” in Hebrew, and in Catholicism Saint Raphael is Patron of healers, the blind, travelers, matchmakers, and happy meetings. In The Lovers, Raphael represents superconsciousness, or the universal mind. Levitating between the Sun and the human figures in the illustration, Raphael is shown as a channel for Spirit and Life-force. The important destination found in The Lovers is an open and energetic exchange between the conscious and subconscious minds. It is in this balance, Raphael tells us, that we find the healing capacity for love.
The archangel Michael inhabits Temperance, the 14th major arcana. Prominent in the lore of both Christianity and Judaism as a protector, Michael is reputedly known also to Muslims, who describe him as covered with fine hairs all over his body which act like tongues, beseeching the Mercy Of Allah on behalf of sinners. In Catholicism, Michael is patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police, and illness. Traditional illustrations most often depict him brandishing a sword, and he is considered to be the highest ranking of all the angels, captain of the armies of Heaven. In Hebrew, the name Michael literally means “Who is like to God?”. Among other things, Michael is credited for driving Lucifer out of Heaven after he refused to follow the direction of humans. Later, after Adam and Eve had also been cast out, Michael is said to have helped them survive by teaching them how to farm. Taken in that context, we see that we are are guided to the “destination” of Temperance by the first and greatest advocate of the human race. In that case, let’s hop off the bus for a moment and take a closer look.
The sword-wielding warrior is replaced with another perspective in the Tarot. The angel of Temperance is a symbol of vibrational energy, which generates and sustains all life. The cups in the illustration represent self-consciousness and subconsciousness, and the water vibrating between them is a symbol of what Paul Case calls “cosmic mind-stuff”. Action and reaction are suggested. The position of the feet signifies subconscious activity manifested in the material world. While the message in Temperance is similar to the one brought to us by Raphael in The Lovers (harmony between the conscious and the subconscious), we know that the emphasis of each card is different because of the meanings of the particular angels. Raphael points the way toward our best possibilities for mental and physical health, and Michael teaches how to preserve, protect, and encourage that to flourish.
Paul Case refers to the angel of Temperance as “the real I AM, or Ego of the entire human race”, demonstrating the ability to adapt and modify the personal stream of psychic energy. The vernacular of the 1960’s coined a simple phrase that’s fairly descriptive of the forces represented by Michael, as well. “Good vibrations” may have passed its heyday of popular usage, but that’s the basic idea presented by our guide at this stop. The key to moving our lives along in a positive direction is found through attuning our minds to the correct energies, and to the constant fluctuations of those currents.
The final member of our angel triumvirate resides in the card of Judgement. Gabriel bears the distinction of being highly recognized in three major world religions. In the tradition of Islam, Gabriel is reputed to have dictated the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed. In the Christian religion the Protestants, who typically avoid anything that smacks even remotely of idolatry, join in with the Catholics in the imagery of a horn-blowing Gabriel announcing the second coming of Christ and calling all souls to the last judgement. Gabriel is also said to have appeared to Daniel in the Old Testament, and is credited for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Jewish Heritage Online Magazine describes the angel as “God's messenger on numerous missions and the constant defender of the Jewish people”. In Hebrew, Gabriel literally means “God has shown himself mighty”, but is more often interpreted as “Strength of God”.
Gabriel is Patron Saint of communication specialists, including broadcasters, telecommunications workers, diplomats, messengers, postal workers, and (interestingly) stamp collectors.It is said that Gabriel is made of fire, and in the symbolism of the Tarot, we see the action of heat upon water. According to Paul Case, this symbolizes the creation of air, which in turn creates sound. The seven lines radiating from Gabriel’s trumpet represent seven mystical tones. Fire and water mean what they always mean in the cards, Spirit and the subconscious mind. In my opinion, the meaning of Judgement is somewhat more obscure than most other major arcana, and it can also be difficult to elude my childhood idea of a punitive God peering over a long scroll containing a list of all of my previous mistakes. What can I say? I’m a preacher’s kid.
Once one gets past that, however, there’s another way to look at Gabriel and this issue of judgement. Spirit calls to our subconscious mind, bringing us a message of gladness. Our honest efforts are recognized and our best intentions understood. The music from Gabriel’s horn is a blessing from higher power. Our guide at this point offers a message of welcome. This is truly the destination we have sought for so long!