The Life, Death and Resurrection of the Tetramorph
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. - 1Corinthians 13:12
Allegoric art has been praised for centuries. It is as though the designer of the medium wants to pick and choose who can interpret their artistic statement. We see this in many of the important pieces of religious art. Many people are terrified or even baffled by certain images that they forget to interpret the purposeful symbology beyond these pictures. As religious tales change and alter over time within local societies, they also change when interpreted and borrowed by new religions or outside cultures. Like a game of telephone, by the time a certain religious tale goes through enough alterations when passed down through different civilizations, the details become obscure and misinforming. It is the same for many art forms in and out of religion, even art that may be used to answer one’s deepest personal questions about life and faith via direct communication with the universe outside of deity worship.
The Tarot has been a part of history for over six hundred years. The deck has a shadowed history starting as a leisurely game to pass the time for wealthy noble families. The game first included trump cards, some today’s High Arcana, and can be traced back to Florence, Italy, and Paris, France. Known as “Naibbi,” the origin or true purpose of the deck is unknown, first appearing around 1375 then reemerging in 1450’s, first being hand painted before being printed for mass production. Bonifacio Bembo was one of the many original hand painters of the cards. His simple cartoons express a merge from Renaissance influence to Neoplatonism. Researchers are unclear as to whether the Naibbi were predecessors to certain trump and face cards, whether there were basic game rules for gambling or if the cards were used to tell randomized choose-your-own-adventure narratives. The use of the Tarot would die out as some believed such cards as The Devil was blasphemous. The Tarot would die, alter and rebirth into a way to interpret prophetic messages from the divine during the 1780’s by Antoine Court de Gebelin who believed the Tarot had an origin in Egypt. It may be due to the use of Greek, Roman and Babylonian characters depicted on the original cards.
It is evident in the depiction of the card The World. The meaning of each Tarot card changes rapidly over time but not that of The World. Like The Sun, The World has no original negative divine interpretation however laid or played and represents many different positive aspects up to today’s interpretation. The World represents the death of an age or moment, a pause and the birth of a fresh beginning. The card is known to have Christian, Hebrew, Gnostic and Alchemical meanings but directly associated with ancient Assyrian, Sumerian and Babylonian Iconography, the Earth's first major civilizations.
The earliest images of The World card matches greatly with the image of today’s cards. In it, a genderless human hovers within a mandorla, meaning “almond” in Italian, a vesica Pisces shaped aureola. In some depictions, The mandorla is replaced with the Ouroboros, an ancient symbol of a serpent eating itself representing time, the cosmos as a cycle that renews itself. The Vesica Pisces, meaning bladder of the fish, has major importance in early Christian Art usually symbolizing the fish that Jesus miraculously produced. It is the only two-sided shape in Geometry, typically used to symbolize the coming together of two dualities, that being two circles or spheres overlapping. At the time the Christ Messiah was taking us away from the age of the Ram, Aries personified as Moses and dawning the new age of Pisces, symbolized as two fish. The earliest use of the mandorla is in Christian, Romanesque and Byzantine Art surrounding icons in climactic moments that transcend time and space, represent a death and rebirth or mark of a new age. The depiction is in the many examples of Christ in Majesty in the early thirteenth century. Surrounding the mandorla is an Ox, Lion, Eagle and Human.
And I saw, and behold a whirlwind came out of the north: and a great cloud, and a fire infolding it, and brightness was about it: and out of the midst thereof, that is, out of the midst of the fire, as it were the resemblance of amber: And in the midst thereof the likeness of four living creatures: and this was their appearance: there was the likeness of a man in them. Every one had four faces and every one four wings. Their feet were straight feet, and the sole of their foot was like the sole of a calf's foot, and they sparkled like the appearance of glowing brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides: and they bad face, and wings on the four sides, And the wings of one were joined to the wings of another. They turned not when they went: but every one went straight forward. And as for the likeness of their faces: there was the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side of all the four: and the face of an ox, on the left side of all the four: and the face of an eagle over all the four. And their faces and their wings were stretched upward: two wings of every one were joined, and two covered their bodies: And every one of them went straight forward: whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, thither they went: and they turned not when they went. And as for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like that of burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps. This was the vision running to and fro in the midst of the living creatures, a bright fire, and lightning going forth from the fire. And the living creatures ran and returned like flashes of lightning.
Many Christians still do not have a clear answer when asked the meaning of the description of Ezekiel’s vision. Many Atheist and Ancient Alien Conspiracist consider the story to be describing an unidentified flying object rather than a creature or God, as the description of the wheels describes modern visions of the stereotypical underbelly of an alien craft.
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. -Ezekiel 1:16
Many artists have depicted Ezekiel’s Vision and one is rarely interpreted that same as another, such as is Raphael’s Ezekiel’s Vision, painted in 1518 in Italy, around the time the Tarot was beginning to be marketed towards royalty, undoubtedly families of secret societies. It once belonged to Francesco I de’Medici but currently is housed in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. It was greatly inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. It was speculated that the painting was done by Giulio Romano and that Raphael merely offered him a sketch to be used as inspiration yet the painting is still widely credited to Raphael.
What Raphael had done is combined Roman and Greek traditions with Christian traditions by representing the image of God described by Ezekiel in a somewhat literal account according to only a few lines, those being the lines that describe the creatures rather than that of the beryl color or wheels within wheels. The viewer is overwhelmed by the stunning size of the Tetramorph, meaning four shaped. God, represented as a muscular aged man, spreads out his hands in what could be considered a blessing gesture as two cherub babies grasp his arms. It would almost appear as though God is trying to hold his balance sitting on the back of a massive Eagle, the only animal with actual wings in reality. He rests his feet on the wings of an Ox and a Lion while an adult Angel, appearing androgynous, seems to interact with the Cherubs.
The shadow of the wings of the creatures appear almost solid black and contrast with the glowing aureola shining bright yellow behind the group. The clouds, in the shapes of onlooking cherub babies, stretch deep into the bright tunnel of light creating a vortex of depth. Though tiny in comparison, under God and the Tetramorph is a large tree. The tree may represent the Tree of Life or Knowledge in Christian or Judaic lore leading some to speculate whether the image has roots in Hermeticism, Alchemy, the Occult and Ancient Mystery School Knowledge of the Middle East.
Seraphim are, oddly, often depicted as having six wings yet are either depicted with all four heads within the common Tetramorph, only the animals of the Tetramorph or just the head of a human creating a single angelic figure. The tips of the six wings create a hexagonal shape, the same shape that overwhelms the viewer of Raphael’s depiction. A single wing tip from each of the Tetramorph, the Tree below and the head of God lead our eyes around a large hexagon. God extends out his left big toe creating the most foreground in the image, symbolic of a Merkabah, meaning “chariot,” a word first used in Ezekiel’s Vision of the Throne of God. There are a total of ten symbolic points within the image if one includes the extended hands of God and the Cherubs and therefore symbolically representing the ten spheres of the Tree of Life in Kabbalism.
God has his eye on Raphael, who replaces Ezekiel in this self-portrait as a tiny figure in the bottom left corner of the image. A light shines down on him from a minuscule aperture in the clouds. The color beryl is used to depict the blurred, stagnate and saturated distant landscape that stretches across the bottom panel while God, the Cherubs and the Tetramorph appear to be a swirl of vibrant, moving colors. The distinct separation of style and color lets the viewer feel they are witnessing something otherworldly, a surreal dream or holy vision of God.
As a way to further viewers from allegoric symbology, Saint Hieronymus used the four creatures as motifs for the four evangelists in the fourth century. Man was the symbol for Matthew, the Lion for Mark, the Ox for Luke and the Eagle for John. He did this to obscure the representation to the Tetramorph Cryptid used in ancient Assyrian iconography. A creature with the head of a Man, the wings of a Bird and the amalgamated body of a Lion and an Ox. The creature was a Cherub and usually came with an equal or dual second Tetramorph. Together they represent guardians to an entrance, typically the gates into the Garden of Eden which held the Tree of Life.
In the Occult, the Tetramorph represent the Four Elements known today as Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In Alchemy, now Chemistry, the four beings represent Solids, Gases, Plasmas and Liquids. In Geometry they represent the Cube, Octohedren, Tetrahedron and Icosahedron with God, Universe, Ether or Quintessence being the “fifth element”, the dodecahedron completing the five platonic solids. Though the original meaning used in both the ancient Assyrian depiction of a Cryptid Cherub, Raphael’s depiction of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Throne of God and “The World” Tarot Card has to do with Astrology. The Lion represents Leo of the Summer Solstice, The Angel as the Aquarian represents the Winter Solstice, The Ox represents Taurus of the Vernal Equinox while the Eagle represents Autumnal Equinox, now represented by the scorpion of Scorpio. Stars and galaxies expand from different distances of Earth’s view, our record of the stars along the ecliptic plane, along with their symbolic animal counterparts, change over time as well.
This image has been used in completely other contexts to represent either a point of renewal in time or the overall passage and cycle of time. Examples can be linked to Mithras, an androgynous being and personification of the transitional age of the Bull, is often depicted in a Tauroctony slaying the Bull representing Taurus while other symbolically celestial beings surround the scene, such as the scorpion biting the bull’s testicles, Sol standing behind Luna and the Twin Gemini.
These bouquets of symbolic celestial deities can also be seen in depictions of Protogonus, or Phanes and later Cupid, a “sexiess" or intersex Sun God born of the Cosmic World Egg in the Orphic Creation Myth. Phanes was often depicted as having either four eyes or four heads of various animals. Zeus, Phanes’ successor of the new age, ate Protagonus and all things created, then recreated the world only to impregnate his daughter Persephone and resurrect Protogonus as Zagreus or Dionysus.
These images of purposefully placed deities as a whole represent the cycle of time around a solar year, eon or age, the end of a cycle and the rebirth of a new beginning. The origins of the symbology have morphed from an amalgamated Cryptid of four specific animals to a separation of winged beings surrounding God in Ezekiel’s Vision to the prophetic positive image on The World Tarot card we see today. Moreover, has always represented the passage of time and the renewal of an age around an androgynous godly being. The image has come full circle, morphed, died and resurrected over the course of centuries, religions and continents only to remained the same.
The Tarot: History: Symbolism and Divination, by Robert M. Place
The Lion, the Eagle, the Ox and the Man in Hermetic Symbolism, by Julian Websdale
Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World's Most Misunderstood Cards, by Hunter Oatman-Stanford http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-surprising-origins-of-tarot-most-misunderstood-cards/
Divine Glory, by Keith White
Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Re-examining the Vision of Ezekiel, by Dr. Francis P. DeStefano