The Magician: The Demiurge?

[The demiurge] is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, “It is I who am God; there is none apart from me.” When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, “You are mistaken, Samael” – which is, “god of the blind.”

-From The Hypostasis of the Archons or The Reality of the Rulers,
Nag Hammadi Library, Codex II,
translated by Bentley Layton.

When you read about The Magician card most booklets that come with the deck invoke creativity, personal empowerment, initiative and motivation. But what does The Magician actually DO? How does one actually become or invoke The Magician? Every Tarot reader I know has their own interpretation, and I’d like to share mine. Not just who The Magician is to me, but how I incorporate that meaning into readings.

My own revelation on The Magician came out during a reading I was performing for someone else. In the reading The Magician came up as the goal for resolving a long series of challenges ahead.

In one of those epiphanous moments, I saw the implements of the minor arcana about him and asked: “Did he (The Magician) find those or did he make them?”

To which my client answered: “He’s a wizard, right? I think he made them!”

Afterwards, I kept thinking about The Magician having crafted the Cup, Sword, Coin and Wand; the very symbols the Minor Arcana are structured around. This lead to the “chicken-and-the-egg” kinda question; which came first? Did the Magician make these symbols after they already existed in the minor arcana, or did did he make them first and the minor arcana followed his example? Being a Major Arcana, it seemed inappropriate to think of The Magician was a mere locksmith who churns out copies of keys that the minor arcana use to fulfill their purpose (in which case, the Ten of Swords should ask for his money back). Nor did it seem right that he was a glorified trinket peddler hawking metaphysical bling outside the stadium of creation. No! This is The Magician! The archetype of mind-over-matter, the embodiment of creation-as-an-act-of-will. He’s the craftsman of the symbols which the minor arcana identify themselves with.

I explained this idea to Anastasia, who said simply: “So the Magician is the Demiurge?”

The Demi-who?

To detail the lineage of the Demiurge from its modern rebirths back through the Renaissance, muddle the Middle Ages, course Gnostic reconciliation and find its roots in Platonic syncretism would be an essay unto itself. Many a philosophy student has written their Masters’ Thesis on the topic already, so to use one of my favorite movie quotes:

“Let me explain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up.”

Here’s the short version:

The Greek philosopher Plato first spoke of the Demiurge in his work, Timaeus. The work is the vehicle for his reconciliation the philosophies of his predecessors, Homer and Hesiod, on the origins and structure of reality. According to Timaeus – as revealed via grand monologues – the Demiurge brought order out of the unthinking chaos that was before and instilled both intelligence and the soul into the life thus made. The Demiurge was not the creator of the universe, merely the craftsman who made something from the raw materials already present. Plato’s Demiurge was a benevolent shaper-of-what-is. The word Demiurge translates as “public worker” and commonly refers to a “craftsman,” or “artisan.”

Later Gnostic origins, inspired by Plato’s model, added the twist so common to dark age mythologies: intrinsic evil. In many Gnostic mythologies, the Demiurge was born unaware of his origins or of the higher gods that begot him. This abandoned and feral godling created reality out of a subconscious awareness of the perfection he was born from. But his work was flawed, and thus we have plagues, earthquakes, and taxes. The Demiurge of Gnostic mythology was thus an antithesis of the true creator and an allegory of Satan. Gnostic names for the Demiurge included: “Yaldabaoth,” meaning “the blind one;” “Samael” which means “God of the Blind” and “Saklas” for “the Foolish one.” The cross-pollination of these names into other religions as various devils and demons shows just how negative the concept of the Demiurge was during that era.

What’s this have to do with the Magician of the Tarot? It begins, as things often do, with The Fool.

Evolution of the Fool into the Magician
At the start of the Fools’ Journey through the Major Arcana, the Fool says to himself:

The Fool

“I know nothing of the world at large.

Thus, I am going to set about experiencing it for myself.”

The Fool finds the world confusing and chaotic because he lacks the tools and language to understand or reason with what he encounters. He knows that there must be patterns to what’s going on. His subconscious awareness of higher orders imposes a desire to force order out of chaos – the spark of divinity in his soul manifesting as subtle wisdom. This is an example of the Logos (Greek for ‘word’) as regards to the Nous (the Mind of God) in Platonic Idealism; that there is an underlying order under the surface of things and that intelligent beings can sense the logos because of their own connection to Nous.

Keeping careful notes, and learning from his mistakes and observations, the Fool begins to discern patterns in the chaos. He creates words to define and encapsulate not just what he sees, but, more importantly, the logic behind the scenes. He makes observations, empirically tests his theories, and revises them as needed. One can easily see The Magician as the model of the scientist employing rational methodologies, even if they are fantastical.

He crafts tools that embody his theories which let him not just observe but affect the world around him.

The Cup for containing the mercurial emotions and feelings of everyday life. The Wand for the passions that burn in our hearts, light our way, and occasionally burden us. The Sword for cutting through the Gordian Knots in our minds, represents the clarity of thought. The Coin for the earthly concerns and demands.

The symbols of the Minor Arcana are his creation and thus define the world for him and bring order out of chaos; everything in the Minor Arcana makes sense because the Fool – now the Magician – sees it in terms of his paradigm.

The Fool turned Magician
The Fool turned Magician

Thus the Magician is the Demiurge; the artisan who brings order out of chaos; the lens through the rest of the minor arcana fall into place and make sense.

So how do you use the Magician-as-the-Demurge in readings?

The ‘Platonic’ Magician
When The Magician comes up in readings it speaks to me of the opportunity to re-define how the world works, to craft new tools, to make sense of things and to sift chaos into patterns that we better recognize and understand.

When The Magician comes up in a reading space for self, opportunities or goals I think about self empowerment – the opportunity to become our own Platonic Demiurge and shape or reshape what is around us (at least, in our minds). When my querent is confused and looking for help, The Magician means they need to take a step back and define what works for them and to craft or discover the tools they need to succeed. Redefine your paradigm.

When the Magician comes up in the space of the other or outsider, the message can mean that this other actor is playing the Magician; they have their own worldview and tools and may see things differently than you; that they have a role for you to fulfill in their understanding and journey. Knowing that someone else is operating within a different paradigm than you can make interacting with them easier.

The Shadow of the Magician: the Gnostic Demiurge
Of course, we have the power within us to become the Gnostic Demiurge as well. Self-delusion, arrogance, and misjudgment lead to a flawed worldview and malfunctioning toolsets. The shadow of The Magician is about the risk of abuse of power and potentially being blind to the true workings of the world. If your theories are incorrect, the results will not match expectations. Wisdom lies in revising your theory and changing as needed. Insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results. The warning of The Gnostic Demiurge Magician is: don’t become Yaldabaoth or Samael “The blind” and don’t remain Saklas: “The Foolish One.”

The Magician is one of the most powerful cards in the Major Arcana but it can be hard to understand exactly what that power is or how to use it. Like great wizards of myth and legend, The Magician is not to be trifled with, and their power is seemingly unlimited. They see beyond the veil of matter and know the secrets of the workings of creation. Their power over creation can redefine the world around them, for good or ill. When we embrace The Magician, we’re tapping into our subtle divine insight to bring order out of chaos; not just see the patterns that shape our world, but take hold of them like reins and drive them before us. To invoke The Magician is to define for yourself how your world works, and by that knowledge, know where and how to apply your will.

~Andrew