11 - The Beatles and The Tarot
11 - The Beatles and The Tarot
The Tarot, the ancient precursor of today’s playing cards, deals in archetypes and symbolism, particularly in the twenty-two trump cards of the major arcana (“greater secrets”).
Independent researcher Kevin Hendryx says it is fascinating to note how uncannily each member of The Beatles, even the band as a unit, is mirrored by a particular major arcana card. He believes that as The Beatles recede as historical figures and enter the realm of myth and legend, it is imperative to examine how they fit into the allegorical context of the Tarot. He calls the field of study “voodoo musicology.”
Ringo was The Star
Hendryx reveals that the card chosen for Ringo is number 17 in the sequence of the major arcana: “The Star.” More than just a serendipitous pun, this card represents hope, trust, and optimism. Its positive aspects include bright prospects, opportunity, and satisfaction. Anchored in the sky and cosmos, it is the first card to complement and complete the gifts of the Magician (John).
Seven smaller stars are depicted in the card’s illustration, one for each note in the music of the spheres, while a young girl under a single radiant star pours the purifying water of life into the consciousness of humanity. The Star is one of the happiest cards, acting as a check on the influences of ill-omened cards around it. The inversion, or reversal, of the Star card brings negative effects into play. These include bad luck, pessimism, disappointment, imbalance, lack of opportunity, and hope unfulfilled.
Who can deny that Ringo brought good-natured cheer and down-to-earth sensibilities to The Beatles? He was a borderline illiterate who spent most of childhood in hospitals and came from a truly poor, working-class environment. Yet he never strayed far from his roots. Ringo typified the ability of common persons to rise above their origins and achieve greatness.
At the same time, he proved capable of intuitive reasoning, astute insights, and droll malapropisms. Ringo harbored the least resentment and made the fewest enemies. He provided a center for the others to rally around, musically and spiritually.
In Tarot, The Star is close to The Magician (John). In public or private moments captured on film, John often stayed close to Ringo and looked to him for support or reassurance. The feeling was mutual, as Ringo later recalled: “He [John] knows me better than anybody else in the world--better than the other two.”
George was The Hermit
Hendryx says George was “The Hermit.” He represents both a seeker and teacher. Positive attributes of The Hermit are knowledge, deliberation, thriftiness, caution, silent counsel, and inner wisdom. The Hermit wears the hood and scourge of a penitent and carries the walking stick of a pilgrim. He stands on a summit and holds the lantern of truth, illuminating the path to heaven. Through his searching, the way is revealed to others. Selfless but also somewhat distant, The Hermit realizes that few are ready for the truth; his light can also blind, and secret knowledge must be hidden.
Negative aspects of The Hermit revolve around imprudence. A Hermit who loses his way in the dark shows hastiness, immaturity, and a lack of patience. He withdraws from his responsibilities toward others. He becomes a follower rather than a leader, and attainment yields to hollow pursuits.
“George contributed a spiritual imperative to the Beatles’ music, assuming a teacher’s role in a group in which he was the junior member in age. Originally typecast as the almost invisible lead guitarist with a miserly streak, the “quiet Beatle” metamorphosed into a leading spokesman for Indian music and philosophy. He was the first to consider the potential of a life and purpose beyond material rewards and Western consumerism. As The Hermit, he is generally able to look back at the road his life has followed with tolerance and understanding, even a trace of amusement; but his eyes are fixed on a goal that still lies ahead.”
Paul was The Fool
Hendryx contends McCartney is represented by The Fool, a card denoting pure creativity, enthusiasm, theatricality, unpredictability, and inexperience seeking self-expression. The only unnumbered card in the Tarot deck, The Fool stands apart from the normal sequence, unconfined by boundaries. In part, this difference is supremely liberating; however, having a value of zero means The Fool counts for nothing by himself. He requires the addition of other cards, which are then modified by his influence. The Fool typically wears a gaudy disguise--his appearance is designed to deceive--thus he also represents concealed wisdom (as in “The Fool on the Hill”).
Hendryx reveals that there is an instinctive affinity between The Fool and The Magician (John).The two are linked paths to the same sephira on the Tree of Life in the Hebrew Kabbalah, and their union produces original inspiration that is unmatched in the Tarot:
“All is not bliss for The Fool. A reversed card indicates folly. Bad decisions are likely, as is negligence, frivolity, rashness, indiscipline, a tendency to show off, unrestrained excess, thoughtlessness, and a halting in life’s progress.”
Hendryx points out that Paul needed The Beatles more than the others did. He thrived in the identity and framework provided by the group and flourished in the public acclaim of the concert stage. The Fool’s creativity made Paul the most natural musician, albeit wholly untrained. His innate Celtic romanticism revealed itself in a love of story-telling songs (as opposed to sharing personal experiences) and in a love of sounds for their own sake. More than the others, he writes from the heart, not the mind, and his imagery is more frequently drawn from nature. He is pastoral and reflective whereas George could be acerbic and admonitory, or John would take refuge in the surreal and grotesque. In his Beatles songs, the music best expresses the pure joy of living. On another level, The Fool may be a comedian, but comedians are often the loneliest of people, seeing a joke that no one else can share.
John was The Magician
John is “The Magician”- the first card in the major arcana, so it is fittingly assigned to him - the founder and titular leader of the group. The Magician (also called the Sorcerer, the Juggler, or the Minstrel) is the card of human consciousness seeking to manifest its latent divinity. It is identified with the power to bring things into being, and with originality, dexterity, spontaneity, self-reliance, resolution, imagination, and transformation. The Magician is portrayed with his arms reaching to both sky and earth my Mother was of the Sky / my Father was of the Earth (Yer Blues). It’s a curious inversion of the standard mythic references, but one perhaps more personally meaningful and emphasizing the essential unity of all things - but I am of the Universe.
Just as creativity and power can be misused, there are less favorable aspects to The Magician. Typically, they are weakness of will, insecurity, delay, lack of interest, intrigue, deceit, and skills applied to destructive ends.
Hendryx says: “Lennon was the wizard of The Beatles, the voyager to the otherworld who returned with visions and the power to energize those around him. He brought a restless creativity to the band and an Irish love of language and wordplay. Like many minstrels, he often sang in riddles, lest sacred mysteries be revealed to the unready or profane. The “fire in the head” of the ancient bards (as William Butler Yeats called it) was his special gift and burden. Because he was never long content with the way things were, he never ceased to challenge us to be better than we are. John sang of imagining possibilities. ‘Reality’, he once said, ‘leaves a lot to the imagination’.”
The Beatles’ card, all together: The World
“The World” is the twenty-first and final card in the major arcana and the culmination of all the others. The World signifies attainment, completion, success, and triumph in undertakings, rewards of hard work, admiration of others, an aerial voyage, and apotheosis. The card shows a young woman encircled in a wreath forming a mandorla, or vesica piscis--nature surrounded by the divine, the worlds of spirit and matter meeting. She has a leg raised in a dance, evoking Shiva Nataraja’s dance of creation, and she holds a wand in each hand to illustrate the opposing principles of duality (yin/yang, light/dark, male/female). In the corners of the card are the tetramorphs, the four allegorical evangelist figures from Ezekiel’s vision and the Revelation of Saint John: a bull, a lion, an eagle, and an angel.
In its imperfect form, the meaning of this card is, simply, imperfection, lack of vision, disappointment, failure to finish what is started, and a refusal to recognize the meanings revealed in the preceding cards.
Hendryx’s interpretation is to identify the overtly feminine nature of this card with the universal woman or girl who is the subject of so many unpersonified Beatle love songs.
The number four symbolizes wholeness and is commonly encountered in esoteric systems: four elements, four seasons, four cardinal virtues, four points of the compass, and so on. The Beatles were casually linked with this tradition from an early date, the description “Fabulous Foursome” coming into use in 1963 even before “Ed Sullivan”. As the Pied Pipers of a generation, they might easily be identified with the four evangelists.
Their collective synergy was apparent as they popularized the sanctity of "the group”. They became famous as a group and were interpreted in the media in terms of group-psychology notions about family dynamics and sociological types.
Their identities were defined in relation to one another on the basis of very limited samples of behavior and then became self-reinforcing. These identities seem to apply only to the individual Beatles as Beatles, and in terms of how they are understood publicly. Their private characters remained especially unknowable until they parted.
Beatle author Jonathan Gould wrote: “A powerful influence The Beatles exerted stemmed from their identity and solidarity as a group. In their loyalty to one another and their autonomy from everyone else, The Beatles had come to personify an ethic of collective nonconformity.”
The four of them as a group was their meaning; musically, and in their physical state.
Hendryx concludes that The Tarot can help us think about The Beatles in a different light, to re-examine their legacy in a context removed from the flip smugness of rock-crit journalese or hack pseudo-biography:
“They left signs along the road. They challenged their listeners to open their minds as well as move their feet. They preached a sermon on the text ‘You don’t need preachers’. You need love. And compassion. And truth. And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. And then the rest is, well, it’s never easy--but you can imagine it to be.’ ”
Lennon said just before he was murdered: “If The Beatles or the Sixties had a message, it was to learn to swim. Period. And once you learn to swim, swim. You make your own dream. That’s the Beatles’ story, isn’t it?”