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Meaning and interpretation Bateleur / Magician

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INTRODUCTION

Le Bateleur/The Magician is the first card of the Tarot, and represents the beginning, the potential, and the manifestation of ideas in the material world. It is the card of positive energy and possibilities. It invites you to be active, creative, resourceful and to seize opportunities to achieve your goals. It's a symbol of beginnings, potential, the willingness to learn and the ability to manifest your desires in the material world. Keep in mind that the Bateleur/The Magician also reminds you of the importance of self-confidence and perseverance to succeed in your endeavours.

The first versions

The genesis of the card

The first versions
Sphaera's Bateleur

In the Middle Ages, the bateleur was a juggler of no particular character. In the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, entertainers were in great honor, either in public squares or in castles. By a generic name, these public entertainers were called jugglers. They were nomadic, sometimes accompanying trouvères or troubadours, sometimes going it alone. The bateleurs were more especially accustomed to making the crowd laugh on the trestles. They were, in a way, tricksters and even animal trainers, what we today call fairground artists. Jugglers were an indispensable part of public celebrations, as well as the great feasts of the lords. The word basteleur seems to have originated around the 13th century, but the origin of jugglers and bateleurs is the same as that of the crowd's taste for fairground shows. Born on French soil, they were direct descendants of Greek and Latin decadence.

Rosenwald's sheet (1501 - Italy)

Rosenwald's sheet (1501 - Italy)

It's really interesting that some early versions of the Bateleur featured a man in a jester's costume. Opposite, a bonnet with bells. Note that the Rosenwald sheet is missing a representation of the Fool's card. So, if Le Bateleur, we don't know what representation was given to Le Fou. It's quite possible that the card depicted a defrocked man who was truly mad, which a jester is not.

Cary's sheet (1500 - Italy)

Cary's sheet (1500 - Italy)
Cary's sheet
Cary's sheet (1500 - Italy)
Tarot Visconti

That said, on Cary's sheet, Le Bateleur doesn't have the attributes of the Jester. It seems that from the outset, the Tarot's Bateleur was not really seen as an entertainer, but more as a prestidigitator, emphasizing his ability to manipulate the objects in front of him. And this agility was all the more symbolic given that on the Visconti tarot card, the 4 objects denier, bâton, couteau, coupe - linked to the 4 Elements - are undoubtedly to be found.

Anonymous Tarot from Paris (1615)

Anonymous Tarot from Paris (1615)

With the Tarot anonyme de Paris, the form is far from definitive. We see yet another representation of the Bateleur.

The 'Tarot de Marseille'

Jean Noblet (1650)

The 'Tarot de Marseille'

It wasn't until the arrival of Jean Noblet's Tarot (and Jacques Vieiville's of the same period) that Le Bateleur clearly resembled the canonical form, and added a fundamental aspect : the 3-legged table that stands out from the frame. This way of representing the table evokes an incomplete Bateleur, unfinished and just waiting to grow. The young plant that appears between the Bateleur's feet also underlines the man's youth and inexperience. The card embodies resourcefulness, exhorting the consultant to use ingenuity to solve challenges and make the most of available resources.

As for the young man's middle finger, drawn in the shape of a penis, many commentators refer to it as a gesture against the tax authorities, who ordered the annual destruction of wooden molds, to make it easier to check the production declared by master card makers. I don't really share this opinion. The intelligence and, above all, the finesse of mind that run through Jean Noblet's images, make me think that he was a scholar who had a great deal of perspective on his own existence, and quite a bit of humor too. It seems to me that, with his middle finger, Jean Noblet reminds us of one of these great truths, perhaps even both: 1) Life is a game 2) Don't care what other people think.

Jean Dodal (1701)

Jean Dodal (1701)

Subsequently, the plant between the Bateleur's feet may take on a distinctive shape, similar to the appearance of a cactus. It's worth noting that the shape of this cactus may evoke the female sex through which the young Bateleur would have emerged, with the lines of the ground more or less cleverly tracing his mother's legs.

The mind map

The mind map
optimized for widescreen

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1910)

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1910)

The R-W-S Tarot has the merit of explicitly showing the objects on the table as representations of the 4 Latin signs of the tarot: deniers (precisely pentacles), sticks, swords and cups. He awkwardly adds an ouroboros to the belt, evoking the cyclical nature of life. I'd have understood the use of such a symbol on the Wheel of Fortune or World cards. But with the Bateleur, when we're at the beginning of everything, when everything remains to be done, why talk about the cyclical nature of the path ? But it's true that Waite sees this symbol more as "a sign of eternity", as he puts it, adding to my perplexity.

The card focuses on the fact that the traveler has true, infinite, magical power ; if he wants, he can achieve his full potential. It underlines the importance of persuasive communication and the mastery of words to positively influence one's environment.

The mind map

The mind map
optimized for widescreen

The Modern versions

The Mad House Tarot

The Modern versions

With this card, I like the idea that the Bateleur/Magician is neither whole nor finished. He or she seems to be made up of multiple red wires, each a thread of life, each a past experience, good or bad. We need to weave or knit these threads to become a unified, coherent, solid person, not a somewhat chaotic draft as the card seems to show us. In this sense, I like the concept of the Boatman who is only a sketch of himself.

The Housewives Tarot

The Housewives Tarot

So, yes, on the face of it, this Bateleur/Magicien could be a salesman trying to sell us anything, even a washing machine, like the Bateleur of the Renaissance who could use sleight-of-hand to squeeze a few pennies out of naive passers-by. It could also be some kind of magician trying to convince us that his machine washes whiter than white, reminding me of the TV adverts of my childhood. In any case, I like the idea of the Bateleur having to wash his dirty laundry. That the "Voyage du Fou", or the journey of the Bateleur, is a spiritual path to "enlightenment". But perhaps it's simply a path to purify ourselves, to wash and heal ourselves of our wounds and failed acts. In this light, the washing machine takes on its full meaning.

The Sasuraibito Tarot

The Sasuraibito Tarot

With this version, we're extremely close to a historical representation of what bateleurs were, as explained in the paragraph on the card's genesis at the beginning of this article. Here, we're looking more at a juggler than a magician. The Bateleur must learn to master the 4 Elements, and in so doing, acquire multiple skills and talents along the way. So I love this Bateleur with his many arms representing his many talents in the making.

The Wild Wood Tarot

The Wild Wood Tarot

The first thing that catches my attention about this card is its name: the Shaman. It evokes the idea of transmission, but above all of initiation into a spiritual art. I use this expression because I don't wish to use the terms secret art, occult art or esoteric art. And the Fool's journey through the 22 cards of the Trump series is indeed a path of initiation. Of course, the card shows the master and not his disciple, his apprentice. Somewhere along the line, it would have been more appropriate to show the Shaman on the La Papesse card (The High Priestess) or Le Pape card (The Heriophant). However, unambiguously signifying on the first card of the series that the Tarot's content speaks of a journey of initiation is undoubtedly a clearer message than that of the Bateleur in the Tarot de Marseille.

The Urban Tarot

The Urban Tarot

With this card, I like the idea that the Bateleur / Magician doesn't have a table, but a piano keyboard in front of him. It's a nice touch that the Bateleur has to arrange and build his life like composing a musical symphony. There is a framework and standards to respect, just as there is a music notebook with staves on which to write. There are absolute truths, principles with which we cannot compromise, like affixing a treble clef at the beginning of a score. There's a way of life to be learned, just as there are chords and melodies that are more harmonious than others.

What the card is : Beginning, Potential, Youth, Learning

  • Le Bateleur/The Magician represents the beginning, offering new opportunities and promising potential for the consultant.
  • This card encourages you to use your creative talents and your will to express your ideas in the material world.
  • Le Bateleur/The Magician is the symbol of bold action, encouraging initiative and seizing opportunities.
  • This card marks the beginning of an intellectual and spiritual journey, inviting the consultant to engage in continuous learning in order to evolve.
  • Le Bateleur/The Magician encourages you to remain open to new information and to seize learning opportunities as they arise in life.
  • It symbolises self-confidence and belief in one's own personal power to achieve one's aspirations and succeed in one's endeavours.

What the card isn't : This man is no magician !

Le Bateleur is not a magician ! He doesn't do magic, he's a prestidigitator, to put it plainly: he's a person who, through skill, manipulation and trickery, produces magical illusions by making objects disappear, appear, change place or appearance. You could call him a conjurer or an illusionist. First of all, producing illusions is not what the French master craftmen of the Renaissance remembered. In the first stage of the spiritual journey, these scholars wanted to show that this adventure was for everyone, because the Bateleur comes from the lower classes, and is even rather poor. The Bateleur is itinerant by nature, a perfect social role to suggest the idea of journey. Last but not least, the Bateleur is very agile, and it takes a lot of agility to learn to master the 4 Elements. These, then, are the 3 essential aspects of the bateleur's craft, as retained by the master craftmen. He's not a magician, in the sense that he has no magical powers, he doesn't perform miracles, even making illusions goes beyond the initial concepts of the card. He's not a magician, because he's not part of an elite, he hasn't received any secret knowledge. Worse still, he still has a lot to learn, whereas the title of magician implies that he has mastered his art. His goal isn't to link or connect Heaven and Earth, as shown by his gestures on the R-W-S card. No, his goal is to become himself, to become One, to find his place in the world, as the last card of the journey so clearly shows : The World.

Many Tarot enthusiasts see the wavy shape of the Bateleur's hat as a lemniscate in disguise, i.e. the symbol of infinity. I must debunk this fantasy and return to the reality of the time. Among French master craftmen, there were some great scholars, Jean Noblet being one of them. Jean Dodal also passed on subtleties and a strikingly personal interpretation in his tarot. But Jacques Vieiville, a contemporary of Jean Noblet, engraved his tarot with numerous French mistakes. The Académie Française was founded in 1634 with the initial aim of unifying the spelling and grammatical rules of the French language. While 16 years after the creation of the Académie, Jean Noblet showed a real mastery of "canonized" French, Jacques Vieiville still wrote in approximate French. What's more, the engraving of his tarot is less precise and qualitative than Noblet's. In short, some French master craftmen were scholars, but most were artisans with little education beyond learning their craft. And from the beginning of the 18th century, i.e. very soon after the "standardization" of the French tarot tradition (which would much later become known as the "Tarot de Marseille"), master craftmen would give way to merchants, purchasing molds or having them identically reproduced. By the early 18th century, traditional French tarot was no longer a deck of playing cards with a spiritual message ; it had become a deck of playing cards, plain and simple, sold by the thousands for export - in short, it had become a commercial item.

In this context, only master craftmen such as Jean Noblet or Jean Dodal could have placed a lemniscate on the Bateleur's card. And if they had, they wouldn't have hidden it discreetly in the man's hat. Firstly, because the target of these master craftmen was the "real" people, the "low" people, mostly illiterate or illiterate, not familiar with the infinity symbol. And when Noblet or Dodal have something to say, they say it clearly: Noblet's LL du Bateleur is not a fault, but a clear indication that he has been initiated by his master. Similarly, Dodal puts a '4' on L'Empereur's card, to signify that he too has been initiated by his master. So if Noblet and Dodal had wanted to include the infinity symbol, they would have engraved it as is. In short, to see a lemniscate in the Bateleur's hat is a pure fantasy of modern times.

Come on, let's forget the initial perspective of the French master craftmen. Is Waite right to ask Pamela Smith to draw the infinity symbol above the magician's head? Waite writes in his book 'The Pictorial Key To The Tarot' that the lemniscate is the sign of the Holy Spirit, the sign of life, or in reference to Martinism, 8 is the number of Christ. Well, let's face it, the day Waite wrote those words, he'd really been smoking or maybe just drinking... I'd stick to the usual interpretation I read: "The lemniscate evokes that the magician has an infinite potential for realization" or "The lemniscate evokes that the magician has an potential for infinite realization". Now that's more convincing. Yes, this card does indeed speak of "potential". But what's "infinite potential" or "infinite realization"? Because here, in concrete terms, we're talking about simply finding one's place in the world, not ascending to Heaven or reaching the afterlife. Where's the infinite ?

I'm going to be straightforward : make it easy for yourself to understand this card, forget the infinity symbol !

The keywords

Symbolic interpretation
Right direction (Positive) Beginning, potential, youth, flexibility, learning, availability
Reverse direction (Negative) Slow start, inexperience, incompetence, fumbling, unawareness, lack of confidence, passivity, perility
Psychological interpretation
Right direction (Positive) Enthusiastic, ambitious, spontaneous, daring, mischievous, optimistic, resourceful
Reverse direction (Negative) Idealist, reckless, immature, careless, confused, lost, naive, childish, irresponsible, suggestible
Advice
Give meaning and direction by listening to your heart. Develop your potential. Give yourself a chance. Take charge of your life. Don't fear the future. Life is an eternal beginning. Let every day be like the first day of your life. See with fresh eyes. Listen as if you knew nothing. Decide as if you'd never been hurt.
Thematic Interpretation
Love Spontaneous meeting. Beginning of a relationship. Youthful or reckless love. Immature feelings
Work New mission or ambition. Independent activity. Self-taught. Difficulties due to inexperience
Money Little or no financial backing. Investment to be considered or ill-considered. Unscrupulous banker
Family / Friendships Open relationship. Joy in family. Tensions due to tactlessness. Immature dialogue
Health Vitality. New physical activity or therapy. Healing path. Beginner practitioner
Divination / Prediction
Who ? A young man. A juggler. A candid or carefree person. A learner or beginner
Where ? At school. At the market or fair. At the circus or a show
When ? At the beginning of the year, at the start of the season. At the start of a trip. Very soon
How ? Searching for meaning. Undoing behaviour. By juggling or adapting. By discovering or learning.

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