The Magician is one of the most widely-recognized and iconic Tarot cards on the planet. Along with IX The Hermit and The Fool, The RWS Magician card is probably one of the first images that pops up in people’s minds when you say the word Tarot.
In early, non-divinatory Tarot decks, The Magician was depicted most commonly as a juggler (“Le Bateleur”) or a mountebank—an unfortunate image association for most modern (and honest) Tarot readers. The Magician is the first numbered and lowest-ranking trump card, and outranks only The Fool. In French Tarot, The Magician is one of the oudlers, or “honors” and scoring a trick with either The Magician (the lowest trump) or The World (the highest trump) has special scoring rules (more on this later).
Oswald Wirth was one of the earliest esotericists to incorporate occult and esoteric symbolism into divinatory Tarot decks. Much of his imagery is based on the much earlier Tarot de Marseille but with some subtle changes incorporating the extant symbolism of occultism at the time. His Bateleur is no longer a juggler or charlatan, but rather a magician with a table containing the tools of his craft: a sword, a cup, and a coin; and in his hand, a wand. From this tradition, we see the beginnings of the contemporary versions of the card. The magician’s hat recalls the shape of a lemniscate, which we see prominently displayed above the head of A.E. Waite’s Magician.
In divination, The Magician can mean many things. From AeclecticTarot:
Thirteen’s Observations on the Magician
If any card in the Tarot is the Tarot, it is the Magician. He’s one of the most recognizable cards, always a favorite. He’s also the only card in the major arcana that refers to the minors with the “trumps” displayed upon his table. One way to look at them is as ideas that the Magician is offering you.
Thus, the card is about getting an idea and finding a way to verbalize it. This is the first step toward making it a reality. Which is why the Magician can indicate a time when one is eloquent and charismatic, clever, witty, inventive and persuasive.
Keep in mind, however, that the Magician could be a trickster. If this card represents some magnetic person in the querent’s life, they need to make sure that he’s or she is a genuine magician, not a con man.
The card can also indicate an interest in certain careers or someone who is already in one of those careers: a scientist, inventor or medical professional. The card also relates to careers where speech and writing is of great importance: salesman, motivational speaker, storyteller, politician, commentator. This might be the querent himself, something the querent wants to be, or someone who was, is or will be in his life.
Most importantly, the Magician card stands for the “reveal” – as in a magic trick. The handkerchief is draped over an empty box, the Magician waves his wand, *presto!*–now there is a dove in the box. The Magician card does the same for the querent–only what it reveals is not birds or rabbits but NEW ideas. Emphasis on NEW. When the Magician card appears, the querent is likely to say: “Now there’s an idea! Why didn’t I think of that before?” Truth is the querent probably had that idea in his head all along. The Magician merely revealed it to him, allowed him to verbalize it and crystallize that idea.
Remember when I mentioned that the Magician scores differently in French Tarot than other trump cards? I think that this is because the Magician, as an archetype, exists somewhere between realms. The Fool is us: mundane, earthly, and naïve. The High Priestess is the first person along The Fool’s Journey after our Magician—she holds the secret mysteries in her scroll. She holds knowledge beyond this mortal coil. The Magician is in that æther where the worlds blend together. Perhaps he was once a beggar, like the Fool, who learned the secrets of the Tarot, and now spends his days helping other hapless fools along on their journeys.