Steiner and Tarot
Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophic Movement lect. 4  GA 258
Anthroposophy and Tarot
An increasing number of books on tarot make either direct or indirect reference to Steiner. Some of these, however, and despite even frequent quotes by Steiner, either misrepresent Steiner's view or attempt to support their own peculiar viewpoints by quotes taken out of context.
The only major Anthroposophical work dealing with tarot of which I am aware is Meditations on the Tarot.
Rudolf Steiner on Tarot
There are very few times that Steiner appears to have directly referred to Tarot. In fact, only three sources (inclusive of his notebook entry) have thus far come my way. Those who are familiar with especially some of Steiner's untranslated work may come across other sources, and would be grateful for further offerings (please contact me!).
As will be obvious from what follows, I strongly suspect that further material from the 1906 period is yet to emerge.
GA 96 Christmas Lecture 17th December 1906
The following is in reference to the symbols exhibited (shown above) on the Christmas tree - with a clear and obvious reference, as for the seven seals of the Apocalypse, to Eliphas Levi's work referencing a similar diagramme. Steiner explained the symbols thus:
The square is the symbol of the fourfold nature of man: physical body, ether body, astral body and ego.
[the above paragraph is also reprinted, with minor modification (perhaps only arising out of an alternate translation, on p375 of GA 265 The Misraïm Service: "Freemasonry" and Ritual Work - the double quotation marks surrounding 'Freemasonry' showing something of the hesitation the publisher obviously had surrounding Steiner's involvement with the MM-Rite]
Rudolf Steiner Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival [lecture III] GA 96, 17th Dec. 1906
Further notes on the theme - 12th December 1906
It seems that no Anthroposophist of the time paid much attention to Tarot, for there appears little evidence of secondary material developing there and then. Perhaps it was picked up with greater zeal by members of the co-freemasonic order working the Memphis-Misraïm rite under his jurisdiction. This, however, is likewise an area that appears to have had relatively little coverage outside of the series published as Temple Legend, Occult Brotherhoods, and Freemasonry and Ritual Work (Cf my page 'Steiner and Freemasonry').
Certainly a few days earlier than the above section mentions, and during a lecture at an esoteric session, Steiner mentioned Tarot. During those lectures, notes were not permitted. Afterwards, however, notes were made by various participants. These were made perhaps simply to jolt memory for what may have been considered significant, or simply for the sake of later recollection.
The entire session, given on the twelfth of December 1906, is summarised by one participant in just forty words, given below - and I must here thank Adrian Anderson for both alerting me to the notes, and providing me with both a copy and its translation:
The Book of Thoth of the Ægyptians consisted of 78 cards that contained the secrets of the cosmos. One knew this very well in the Egyptian Initiation. The cards used as playing cards derive from this origin. The designations King, Knight, Tower-guards, Commander are Occult names.
What is of significance is that if this summary is of the whole lecture or session, then, presumably, Steiner devoted at least a whole session to working with Tarot, and that to a highly select group.
It may also have been in consequence of his own inner work in the course of preparing the more public lecture on the symbols of the Christmas tree mentioned above.
From Steiner's NoteBooks - December 1906 - Notebook ref. 222
Given the dates of the above two references, I took the opportunity when I was last in Dornach, Switzerland (the week after Easter, 2008), to check out Steiner's NoteBooks from the period - and was both pleased to find a reference and at the same time disappointed that not more notes, however peripheral, were made. In fact, the whole entry is the following:
Perhaps we can note two small important details from this: the first is that Steiner spells 'tarot' in the French manner rather than in the German as was made by the stenographer in GA-96 above; the second is that the position of the Alpha (α) and Omega (ω) is inversed in relation to their placement when it came time to position these on the Christmas Tree (again as shown above from GA-96). That these, incidentally, were in his notebook in lower-case rather than capitals I personally consider without significance.
These details again point to Eliphas Levi as an influence, though it should be noted that Levi appears to only have used the capitals (though, again, I do not think this is of significance), and that he positions the 'P' so that the 'head' is above the horizontal of the 'T', unlike Steiner. Perhaps the influence is therefore indirect. One avenue that may be worth pursuing are references — or rather imagery — that may have been used for tarot by Reuss or Yarker, through whom Steiner had originally obtained the charter for the Memphis-Misraïm Masonic rite (Misraim-Dienst, also referred to at times as Mystica Aeterna).
The books that follow are those that contain the material mentioned above, and related topics. These are in addition to the three more general ones I mention on the Spiritual Science page.
Steiner, Rudolf Festivals and their Meaning / 'Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival'
recommended Tarot site:
for other Anthroposophical and Tarot pages within this site: