On Tarot Key 17, called The Star, we have the lovely Isis-Urania. Isis means earth-mother goddess; Urania means “the heavenly”. She is also known as Hathor, or Mother Nature, who gives birth to the earth, the stars and the whole universe. In some respects she reminds us of the Empress, in other respects the High Priestess. She is also the woman in Key 8 who tames the lion. One of the functions of this tarot card is Revelation, which is expressed in pictorial symbolism as a beautiful woman. The other function is meditation. This nude water-bearer represents Truth, and, as we will find, the practice of meditation reveals Truth to us without disguise. Revelation is the third stage of spiritual unfoldment.
Revelation in Key 17 means unveiling, disclosure, discovery. Here the discovery is made to the seeker, not by him. The seeker doesn’t lift the veil, Isis unveils herself. Thus Key 17 pictures something that operates from above the level of human personal consciousness. The disclosures made at this stage are not perceived by the physical senses. They are not arrived at by the reasoning mind, engaged in external observation. Quite the reverse. They come when the reasoning mind is completely stilled and the senses sealed.
In the previous key we had a woman and man falling upside-down from a tower. They represented the two states of mind called sub-consciousness and self-consciousness, respectively. On Key 17 we have these two states of mind now represented by the two pitchers held by Isis-Urania. The ellipses on the sides of the vases represent the zero sign, symbolizing Spirit, or Akasha. Only two ellipses are shown , but there are really four, signifying the expression of Spirit through the four elements, fire, air, earth and water.
One important clue to the meaning of Key 17 is that the woman lifts the vases, and that the water comes from the pool and goes back to it. From the vase in the woman’s right hand falls a stream that sets up wave motion in the pool. Note that the wave motion is in the form of concentric rings, like the circles on Key 10, Wheel of Fortune. This wave motion in the pool represents the activity set up in sub-consciousness by meditation. It represents direct modification of the cosmic mind-stuff apart from sensory experience. In her left hand the stream of water is divided into five parts which flow back into the pool along the ground. This indicates the fact that meditation also modifies sensation, and unfolds higher and subtler types of sense experience. Here we have the purification and perfection of the senses by means of right meditation.
The weight of her body rests on her left knee, supported by the earth, representing the facts of physical existence. Her balance is maintained by her right leg, and her right foot rests upon the surface of the pool. Earth supports her weight, but she balances herself by water. The implication here is that in meditation something occurs that gives to the unusually unstable mind-stuff, symbolized by the water, a solidity and stability comparable to that of the physical world. Also, sensations derived from physical forms are the main support of meditation, but these are balanced by experience gained directly from sub-consciousness.
Meditation is largely the utilization and direction of the powers of deduction and imagination peculiar to sub-consciousness, as in the Strength Key 8, where she tames the lion and opens his mouth. There she is controlling the animal forces in human personality. Also, the knowledge gained in meditation is gleaned from the imperishable record of the memory of nature, symbolized by the scroll of the High Priestess Key 2.
The Hebrew letter assigned to Key 17 is Tzaddi, which means fish-hook. Note the symbols in the lower light hand corner of the card. A fish-hook is a symbol of angling. This makes us think of experimentation, quest, and research. It is a quest that is a sort of feeling one’s way, of groping, such as “fishing.” Thus the fish-hook is symbolizing an agency, or instrumentality, whereby one investigates the unseen and the unknown. In doing so you are attempting to solve enigmas, or discover secrets, or follow a faint trail leading to the solution of a mystery.
Meditation is the function attributed to Tzaddi. Patanjali, in his Yoga Aphorisms, defines it as “an unbroken flow of knowledge in a particular object.” It is a fishing for Truth in the depths of sub-consciousness. The Hebrew word literally means “conception,” and is a transference to things mental of the idea of physical conception. It refers to the budding or germination of ideas. Here we are dealing with the germinal stages of mental unfoldment, rather than their full development. Meditation is close, continued thought. It is deep reflection. It is a continued dwelling on one central idea, a diving down into the depths of the mind for the ideas associated with the main thought, as in fishing for Truth.
In meditation, by keeping the stream of consciousness flowing in relation to some particular object, we gather impression after impression from that object. Our minds take the form of that object. We become more and more identified with it. Thus we become aware of the object’s inner nature. It reveals itself to us. The object of meditation is some sort of problem. Just as one must have the right sort of bait before the fish will bite, so must one have a definite object for meditation. The first thing to do in meditation is to silence the superficial activity of personal consciousness. Just as a fisherman sits quietly, so must one in meditation learn to wait patiently until the fish of thought takes hold.
Silencing the mind was discussed in the post on Key 1 The Magician. The practice of concentration enables you to perceive the inner nature of the object of your attention. Concentration is the collection, at a center focus, of units of force. These units are always units of the Life-power, because every unit in the universe, regardless of the form it takes, is made of that One-force.You will understand that you do not concentrate attention. Attention is the means that enables you to concentrate units of mental energy. The result is that you intensify this energy so that you can direct it usefully. When you intensify the rays of the sun through a convex lens, it will burn you. Placing your hand in sunlight in front of a window will only give you a slight sensation of warmth. Never forget that when you practice concentration you are directing a real force.
To develop this skill, and be able to meditate, you may wish to use The Orange Concentration Exercise listed on this web site. I used it almost every day during the first year after it was shown to me. I still find it to be very helpful. It may take you a few days, or weeks, or even months to finally complete the exercise as described. Then begin using it on a regular basis; it will be well worth your efforts!
These are the mental aspects of the meditation process. Meditation has specific physical results, and employs physical energy in the organism of the person who engages in meditation. Practically, meditation is the only safe regenerative method, because it draws nerve-force up from the reproductive centers without any actual fixation of attention on the centers themselves, and without any thought about the sex-functions. Meditation is the direction of currents of solar force by acts of self-conscious attention.
In Hebrew the idea “fish” is represented by the letter Nun, and the idea “hook” by the letter Tav. The letter Nun, represented by Key 13 Transition is associated with the zodiacal sign Scorpio, associated with the reproductive centers and the secret force governed by that sign. The letter Tav, represented by Key 5 The Teacher, is associated with the sign Taurus. Scorpio and Taurus are opposites, but complements in the zodiac. The centers corresponding to them in the human body are also opposite and complementary. In meditation, the force which ordinarily expresses itself through the Scorpio field of the human body is raised, and made to express itself through the Taurus region, which includes the hearing centers in the brain. It is by the stimulation of these centers in the work of meditation that one becomes aware of the Inner Voice represented by the Teacher. The Teacher is the Revealer, and in Key 17 we have a symbol of the Revelation.
Aquarius, the Water-bearer, an airy, fixed sign, is attributed by Qabalists to Tzaddi. Its astrological symbol is shown on the Wheel of Fortune, two wavy lines, one above the other. Note the symbol on the lower right hand corner of the Key 17. This is also an alchemical symbol for dissolution, and we have already seen that solution is one of the ideas connected with the symbol of the fish-hook. The Aquarius symbol is one of many Hermetic representations of the axiom, “That which is above is as that which is below.”
The numerical value of Tzaddi is 90. Note that the legs of Isis are each at a 90 degree angle. This is also the value of the letter name Mem, which is associated with Key 12 The Suspended Man. Mem means seas or water and a fish-hook makes one think of water. The Suspended Man signifies the suspension of the activity of personal consciousness as a result of profound meditation. In the Sanskrit writings on Yoga this suspension is called Samadhi.
The mountain in the background of Key 17 is the same as the one in Key 6 The Lovers and Key 8 Strength. It represents the perfection of the Great Work., which is man’s conscious control of the inorganic forms of the Life-power’s self-expression. That control begins with the mastery of your own mind and body, so that they become open channels for the outflow of the higher aspects of the Life-power’s true consciousness.
The tree in the middle distance refers to the human nervous system. The upper part of the tree is the human brain, the trunk represents the spinal cord and the sympathetic nerves and ganglia. The bird perched in the branches is an ibis, a fishing bird regarded by the Egyptians as being sacred to Thoth, identified by the Greeks with Hermes, and by the Romans with Mercury. Its long bill is a natural fish-hook. Here the bird reminds us that meditation is begun by, and supervised by, the self-conscious aspect of human personality, pictured in the Tarot as Key 1, the Magician. It symbolizes the act of bringing intellectual activity, or the thought process, to rest by concentration.
The great yellow star is the symbol of the Quintessence, or Fifth Essence, of the alchemists. This is indicated by the eight principal rays. The 8-spoked figure on the robe of the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune and this star are all emblems of the Quintessence, which is Spirit. This is the essential power behind the energy transmitted to their world-systems by suns. The symbolism of the eight very short rays will be fully developed in Key 19 The Sun.
The seven lesser stars are also eight-pointed, to show that they are also manifestations of the same Quintessence. They also represent the seven alchemical metals of the Western Tradition: Lead, Iron, Tin, Gold, Silver, Copper and Mercury. These correspond to the seven astrological planets: Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury. The symbols of the planets are noted on the stars. They are the same as the seven interior stars, or chakras, which are centers through which the One Force manifests itself in the human body.
This picture of Isis-Urania on Key 17 shows the third stage of spiritual unfoldment. It is the calm which follows the storm depicted by Key 16. It is a period of quest and search. The light is dim, like starlight, but these stars are distant suns. Thus it is written: “When you have found the beginning of the way, the star of your soul will show its light.”