Knave of Coins (I)

Notes of a Hermetic Conversation on February 12, 2019

February 12, 2019

Knave of Coins

We began with the protective practice.

We then invoked the presence of the Holy Trinity through performing the closing the Knight’s Practice.

After focusing briefly the mantra “I AM” on the brow chakra, we moved the fourth part of the Inner Radiance Sequence, and the 19th Letter of the Divine Alphabet, Qoph, in relation to The Sun.

We then read from Psalm 119: 145-152 (which relates to the letter Qoph); from Revelation 6:1-2; and Matthew 20:1-16.

Observations on the Knave of Coins, as first without any association to any other Arcana:

– There are so many interesting features:  it is refreshing to have a human figure again! Yet it is pretty distinct from the Major Arcana in spite of certain similarities. It is quite unique, actually. For example, the ground is flesh colored. Has this ever happened before in the Majors? Only in the Wheel of Fortune, with its strange wavy ground/field/river below. Usually solid ground is yellow. This is a more realistic color, less fantastic/strange. 

On the other hand, we can see immediate associations with the Majors, particularly the Magician. We see here the similar hat, the plant growing between the feet. These features are like, yet unlike, those in the Magician. The hat is not lemniscatory, it is more of a scoop-like shape. The plant is not a single blade/leaf, but a tuft. Notice that the feet are splayed the same way as the Magician—Kaspar Hauser fashion. They have the same white hair. 

What exactly is the hat’s shape? It is quite unusual.

– Notice also the pincer-like fingers that both the Knave and the Magician have. Yet the Magician holds the coin/sphere with his right hand in this way, while the Knave holds his belt in this way with his left hand. The Knave holds a much larger coin in his right hand, in a different way. Perhaps the Knave’s belt is somehow analogous to or related to the wand/baton that the Magician holds?

Due to the pattern on the belt, it almost looks like he is gingerly holding a shard of something like ancient clay. A triangular coin from ancient Egypt?

– He has such an expression of nobility. By default, he shares certain characteristics of the Magician. But the Magician appears that way out of his character, his personality, whereas the Knave appears that way due to his position, his royalty/nobility. His expression is dour, not nearly as playful as the Magician’s. 

– Holding the belt—this is reminiscent of the Emperor, not the Magician. Yet the Emperor is firmly grasping his belt, not holding it in this tender pincer-like way. 

Ah, and look at the staff of the Emperor! Comparing this to the coin held by the Knave, what a resonance!  It’s almost as though the Knave’s hand has emerged from the staff and lifted up the ball above, making it into a coin and veiling the cross upon the ball in the sleeve/arm of the Knave. On the other hand, we could think in terms of our observation of other Arcana, for example the Magician:  that his leg is the fourth leg of the table, that they have united or are in the process of uniting with the instruments they are using. In this light, perhaps the Knave has united himself, his arm, with the baton held by the Emperor—and the coin is what is revealed/unveiled after this uniting. 

It begins to become clear that the Knave is a true fusion of the Magician and the Emperor.

– The coin that he holds is a brand new pattern of coin:  A ten-petaled flower without, and a six-petaled flower within. Prior to this we have had 16 without/4 within (Ace); 10 without/4 within (2); and 12 without/4 within (3-10). 

Yet the other coin in the image, the one in the ground below, has eleven without and six within. Why the difference from above to below?

– The flesh-colored ground, and the garb as a uniform (rather than an expression of individual character) both make this image more realistic, less fantastic. This is someone (especially placing ourselves in the 15th-16th century) that one could run into in this garb, in this setting, unlike the characters of the Major Arcana that are like strange dream images, Holy Mountain characters, surreal. He’s not necessarily doing anything unusual; he’s just holding up and gazing at his treasure. Unless one is familiar with the Majors, this image might not seem strange or have any particular significance.

– The mundane interpretation of the Magician is the weirdo entertainer on the streets of NYC. On the other hand, the mundane interpretation of the Knave is that he is checking the money/treasure in his pocket/on his person. 

Whereas the true Magician is the expression of pure spontaneity. True Play without effort. 

And the True Knave is not just checking his money. What is he doing? Is he showing a fulfillment/completion of the Coins thus far? Stepping back, stepping above or outside and honoring/assessing what he sees, the summary. In that sense, he is an expression of Hermeticism/the Emperor. The Presentation of the finished product. 

Maybe the question should be:  is he performing that activity (Hermetic Summary) effortlessly? Notice that the Emperor is not effortless. He is heavily weighed down. He is not in motion, he has stopped. Many features of him are weighty:  throne, crown, girth, holding the shield with his foot. He’s leaning, not able to stand upright. 

Now, the Knave is also still, has girth, and seems a bit serious and grave, like the Emperor. But there is a difference.

The Magician, on the other hand, has all this mobility, many parts in motion. He is in the middle of an activity, and is so youthful.

And the Knave has this youthful quality. He doesn’t have the beard (age) of the Emperor, nor the crown or the throne. He isn’t still because he’s weighed down, he is still because he chooses to be, out of freedom. 

– Another unique feature is that we see his entire form, unlike all of the solitary figures of the Majors. At least some portion of the images in the Majors are extending beyond the frame, outside of our ken. But we can see it all here.

– Why isn’t he grasping the belt properly (like the Emperor)? Is it sharp perhaps? Or delicate? He isn’t keeping urges in check like the Emperor. It’s more an expression of the fact that he is maintaining contact with something awakening, so that he doesn’t get completely absorbed in/hypnotized by the coin at which he gazes. 

The belt has to do with the Will. Thought life is entranced by the Coin. The belt keeps him aware of his will. I think of my friend PW who does everything so delicately, with only the tips of his fingers. And he often does this with his eyes facing the ceiling. It is important to keep him attached to his body/the physical world, or he can get swept up into the ether. 

Now, if one is losing focus, needing to hold on carefully to something sharp is a great way to maintain awareness/groundedness.

– What exactly is up his sleeve? It is such an unusual shape, totally new in all of the Arcana. Is that a dagger or a sword up the sleeve? Is the Suit of Swords gestating, in potentia? Are the Swords gradually developing so that a wholeness can come about:  the Swords coming into contact with the Coins and completing the incomplete picture given by the Coins. 

– When we look at the pincer-grip of the Magician, we can see this as a grasp of the undifferentiated physical/material world. Here the Will is in a totally cosmic and pure realm (in the shape of a sphere). Over the course of the next few Arcana after the Magician, the baton (cosmic thoughts) unite with the sphere (undifferentiated will) in order to become the Scepter (creation).  

Now, the Knave has a totally different task. He is in a different type of contact with all of this, a different process in gestation. He is making sure to keep the Will activated and sharp in order to stay focused upon—yet separate from—the Coin, and how it is coming to meet the next phase (the gestating sword in the sleeve). This is a completely different gesture from the Magician:


Cosmic thoughts flowing into will substance to bring about creation in the physical realm. This is a more purely vertical process:  certainly, from the Baton to the Sphere we see a diagonal line, we are working with the hypotenuse of a triangle.



Attenuation of the Will so that one can make the effort to enter the spiritual world while maintaining egohood/separation from what beings one comes into contact with there. The gesture here is a vertical combined with a horizontal, creating a right angle (between the hand holding the belt and the hand holding the coin). 

In this description of the role/task of the Knave, we have a perfect blending of the roles of the Magician and Emperor!

Aha—placing the Knave between the Magician and Emperor, look at his hat in relation to the Emperor’s crown! It is exactly the same shape. In fact, it is of the substance of the Magician’s hat, in the form of the Emperor’s crown. Down to virtually every detail, they are perfectly blended in the Knave. Looking at the clothes as well:  the coloration is more like the Magician’s, but the style is like the Emperor’s. Perhaps in light of this, we could say that the coin in the ground mirrors the shield of the Emperor?

– Notice that the points on the Knave’s belt match the “Crown of Thorns” of the Emperor. 

– Why are there two coins? And why are they ever so slightly different?

– Is the Knave a boy? A rogue? A page? A servant or messenger? What does Knave mean, especially in the context of the Tarot?

Technically a knave is defined as a “dishonest or unscrupulous man.” He certainly has a dagger up his sleeve!

But in the French and Egyptian originals, it was simply “valet”—a young male servant.

– Tonight Phillip is struck particularly by the Magician’s face—is this even a man? His face is so youthful/feminine/other worldly. The size of the eyes. Definitely a smile, but hard to read from the way the lines are drawn. Like the Botticelli—a dream quality. Not performing at all, just joyfully handling the instruments, with no conscious plan—and yet something very good is happening. So much order and organization around him, yet the face expresses “this is all a costume, a show.”

Venus (Sandro Botticelli) (Illustration) - Ancient History Encyclopedia

He reminds Joel of RF, a very old fellow at Camphill Village Copake. He can barely speak, needs help with eating, bathing, etc. But he will ask to play the piano, there is a grand piano in his house. When he is brought over to the piano, one places music in front of him, but he does not look at it, or at his hands, he gazes wide eyed all around the room—and then the most magnificent playing comes out of his hands, without effort. Many autistic savants have this quality of being in another world, while something magnificent exudes from them effortlessly. The Magician has this quality.

– Returning to the “other coin,” the coin below. Maybe this is what is happening:  the lower coin (in the world) flows up, through the head, into the hand (upper coin, object of reflection). The yellow of his hat is the “11th petal” that is present below but not above (note that we can actually see the top of his hat, unlike the Magician!). He is the 11th petal, that can actually look back upon the other 10, just as he is the 11th Arcanum that can look back upon the other 10 Coin Arcana. Again, this is like what has been written at the end of the Letter-Meditation on the Sun:  that ten further Arcana needed to be worked with before the deeper aspect of the Nine could be touched upon (the Luminous Holy Trinity, the Novena—pages 551-52). 

– Maybe this is a feature of entering the realm of the “Four Worlds” (the four court cards)—a gesture of stepping back and assessing the overall structure. The Knave is the World of Activity, the lowest world. The Ten Coin Arcana are the Ten Sephiroth expressed in the World of Activity. Going through the Ten Coins has taken us through the various pieces or stages of the World of Activity, whereas the Knave brings us to Action beholding itself as a wholeness.

– Going back to the geometry of the Magician vs the geometry of the Knave. We noticed that the Magician has a gesture of the hypotenuse between the baton and the sphere:  but this is also distinctly above to below. This then becomes the gesture of the movement through the entire Major Arcana:

This is a movement of diagonal lines, from above to below.

On the other hand, the geometry of the Knave doesn’t just express a right angle, it is distinctly from below to above. This is what carries through the entire Minor Arcana:

The former, the Divine Name YHVH creates a triangle with the fourth in the center. Diagonals, no right angles. Whereas the latter, the Divine Name YHShVH creates a square with the fifth in the center. All right angles.

So this gesture of below to above, emanating from the feet up to the head and out to the hand, is of significance in the Knave.

– Is he just a messenger? Is he the initial point of reflection on the Numbered Cards (on the part of the Court Cards), and maybe this gesture doesn’t continue through the other Court Cards. Maybe there are no further stages of this process of unite/separate/reflect. That is an open question, that we will have to look out for as we move into the other Court Cards.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that Mysticism as an activity shouldn’t stand alone, or cannot stand alone and remain healthy. None of the four stages of Mysticism, Gnosis, Sacred Magic, and Hermeticism can stand alone and live. They must all four work together as a unity. But here, with the Knave, we do have a process that can stand on its own.  It is the movement of a lemniscate, like the fourth part of the Inner Radiance sequence:

1. Drawing up from below (the Mother) through lower chakras

2. Uniting with what has been drawn up through bringing it into the Heart

3. Separating from what has been united (bringing it to the Father)

4. Observing/beholding/holding in hand, by moving it through the upper chakras

5. Uniting with it once again through the heart.

6. Planting, submerging, returning it into the earth, with what one has brought to it added on (offering it to the Mother).

This lemniscatory process can stand alone. It is like a living, vibrant, comprehensive image of the Emerald Tablet. Like an image of the four stages of the YHVH working in harmony with each other. What expresses a working together of the four forces? The fifth—Shin

But how are the High Priestess and Empress present? We only really see Magician and Emperor. Maybe they are implicit, not explicit. Certainly Gnosis and Sacred Magic are a part of this cycle of the lemniscate. Maybe they become more explicit in other Court Arcana—the Queen perhaps?

– Going back to the Knave as Shin. When we look at the five Major Arcana that have been guiding us through the Coins, we see:

World = Yod

Judgement = He

Sun = Shin

Moon = Vau

Star = He

and the Knave comes into alignment with the Sun:

Nine = World

Ten = Judgement

Knave = Sun

Knight = Moon

Queen = Star

King = Tower of Destruction (transitioning into the next set of five, and the next suit).

And so although we don’t find any iconic/geometric resemblance between the Knave and the Sun, we find an inner resonance, in terms of The Sun as Shin, and as Qoph = Heart Awakening. The Knave is putting into practice this “heart awakening.”

Looking at our paths:

We see the path on the right, Ace through Ten, as the path from Yod to He, where Ten transitions us to the Two, both in relationship to the Judgement.

Then the path on the left, from Two to Knave, is the path from He to Shin. Knave is He that has become Shin, and transitions us to the Three, both in relationship to The Sun.

The Shin plays the role in the Divine Name YHShVH of a “center of gravity,” around which the four other letters are able to arrange themselves. This is precisely what the Knave expresses to us—bringing the four qualities of Mysticism, Gnosis, Sacred Magic, and Hermeticism into relationship.

Mysticism:  the bottom coin arising to the heart from the Mother below

Gnosis:  the coin in the heart uniting with the head above and becoming Gnosis

Sacred Magic:  Seeing the Coin, holding it in one’s hand (heart realm), making it objective

Hermeticism:  reintegrating the Coin back into the Earth below via the heart, making it part of the world process

– We still wonder, why is there a six petaled flower inside? Prior to this, it has always been four petaled.

– There is an amazing efficiency at work here. We are witnessing so much so quickly that would never have arisen without a deep familiarity with the Majors. Hence Tomberg’s insistence that a group work with the Minor Arcana only after having worked deeply enough with the Majors.

– Wow, if we re-arrange the four Arcana in question (Magician, Emperor, Sun, and Knave):

Here we see the Magician as the youth on our left hand side in the Sun, and the Emperor as the youth on our right hand side in the Sun, while the Knave is the sun above, uniting the two youths.  Even down to the hand gestures of the youths! The one on the left has the pincer grasp of the Magician, while the one on the right has the outstretched arm of the Emperor! After almost 3 years investigating the Tarot, we have never seen this resonance between the Magician, Emperor and Sun!

– And so we see that the Knave has united the two youths into one being. He is not an iconographical or geometrical echo of The Sun:  rather he has transformed the image by melding, uniting, resolving its various elements. Again it is a matter of stepping back—he maintains a distinct identity (geometrical/iconographic form) while uniting (summarizing) prior elements.

Stepping back…we can see all of him! With the Majors, we can’t “step back” all the way from the image. They are too close to home, too deeply embedded in our own psyche, or in the play of world events, too intrinsic and tied up with things. The Knave shows us the way, the spiritual activity/exercise of stepping back

It’s interesting to recall the injunction at the beginning of the Letter-Meditation on the Devil. Here Tomberg notes that in the spiritual exercises involving the Major Arcana, it is a matter of identification—of intuitively uniting oneself with the Arcanum in question. But with the Devil, we are not to do this. We must not intuitively identify ourselves with Evil. There is a strict either/or at work here:  you either intuitively identify or you don’t. 

But with the Knave in particular (perhaps with the Minors altogether?), there is not a strict either/or. It is a both/and. One intuitively unites, yet maintains one’s distinct individuality. 

This goes to something Joel was realizing earlier in the week. Again, a strict either/or that arises in Meditations on the Tarot is the discussion on page 510 (The Moon) about the difference between formal knowledge (intellect) and material knowledge (intuition). With formal knowledge, one only gets to know the “how” of the relationships between things and beings, whereas with material knowledge, one gets to know the “what,” of what things and beings are in and of themselves. 

But in our work with the Minors, it seems we have once again resolved a binary, and created a “both-and.” We are attempting to achieve intuitive perception of that which can arise between two or more people and beings, investigating how the “empty space” between people creates a space for a spiritual being to become present. In this sense, we are discovering the “what” (intuitive perception) of the “how” (relationship between us) itself. 

This goes right back to the discussion of Mysticism and Gnosis in the 2nd Letter-Meditation (page 41), in which it is stated that they fundamentally appear as a unity. In order to understand them, however, they must be treated as two separate experiences. 

– The Knave is asking us to somehow see all Ten Coins as a whole. What until now has been separate pieces of a process (a how), we must now see as a wholeness, a “what.”

– Phillip’s memory/review exercises. Learning a sequence backwards and forwards. This brings us to the point of being able to observe our own inner activity such that it becomes a living renewal/resurrection that is objective—an example of a what/how unity. Goethe’s archetypal plant is a perfect example of this. For Goethe, the proper mental image of plant was not static, but the plant organism put in motion, going through its stages of metamorphosis. The being of the plant (the “what”) is the process of unfolding over time of the organism (the “how”). 

On the other hand, in practicing the daily review as recommended by Steiner (reviewing one’s day in reverse, as a bystander of sorts), we transform the only thing we usually treat as a “what” (our sense of personality/identity) into a “how” (a process unfolding and transforming over time). 

– Notice that the Ace also bore within it a unity of One (Magician) as the first Arcanum and Four (Emperor) as the 22nd Arcanum. What about the Five…?

We closed with the fourth stanza of the Foundation Stone Meditation in Eurythmy.