When I was about twelve years old, my parents dragged me off to a used book store we liked to visit, and I was in a mood.
I don’t remember why, but for some reason I’d decided to be a sulking little brat that day, and had zero interest in going anywhere. That’s kind of weird, when I think about it. I loved that store. The shelves strained under the weight of books piles on books, and every corner of the place had at least two tall stacks of tomes leaning precariously.
I’m sure if a fire marshal had ever visited the place, it would have been shut down in an instant. Then again, maybe they were a book lover, too.
Anyway, my parents insisted I come along for the trip I didn’t want to take, and I made various unhappy “harumphing” sounds in the back seat the whole way there. Once we’d arrived, I dove out of the car, probably slammed the door, and went inside to find the deepest corner of the store in which to hide and pout.
As it turned out, the deepest corner of the store was home to the occult section. And just about five minutes after stepping into it, my life changed forever.
I know that’s a cliche, but honestly there’s no other way to describe it. I walked into the aisle crammed with esoterica, found myself drawn to a mustard-colored paperback, and pulled it off the shelf.
It was a book on the Tarot.
I don’t remember thumbing through it in the store, though I must have. I do remember that it was two dollars. I took the book, went in search of my mother, and sheepishly asked if I could have it. She glanced at the cover, then said “sure” without even blinking.
There’s no real way to explain how remarkable her unremarkable reaction was. First, since I’d been so miserable on the trip, it was somewhat of a miracle that my mother let me have anything that day. Second, while I’d never heard her disapprove of the Tarot or other “occult-type” things, she’d never glowingly endorsed them either. The fact she didn’t even question my interest was a little odd.
Also? She didn’t even ask the price. She just said yes.
On the car ride back, I didn’t sulk. I was too busy reading the book I’d just acquired. And once we’d gotten home, I dove out of the car again and spent the rest of the day in my room, reading the whole thing by that evening.
The next morning, I asked my mother if I could get a deck of Tarot cards. Once again, she replied with a “sure,” and asked no questions. That afternoon, I had a copy of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and started re-reading the book.
Over the next thirty-plus years, the Tarot has come in and out of my life. I’ve set it aside, picked it up, and put it down again. Over time, the cycles grew shorter—I spent more time with the Tarot than without it.
Now, I’m forty-four, and the Tarot is as interwoven into my life as anything else. It’s my go-to tool for divination, and central to my magical practice.
And, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s pretty much the whole reason I began to study magic in the first place.
I’ve spent thousands of hours in the occult sections of various bookstores since that first day, and even more thousands of hours learning and practicing every form or approach to magic I’ve been exposed to.
To be fair, I was never very disciplined about my studies. It was only about seven or eight years ago that I began to seriously and consistently practice magic, and it was only about five years ago that I decided to make magic my “full-time job.”
In some respects, at some points in my life, I’ve thought of this as a bit of a waste. If I’d been more “mature” or less “lazy,” I’d be able to straight-facedly claim an additional twenty years of experience and study. I like how that sounds, of course, but more importantly the idea has me looking ahead, staring down the “back nine” of my life, and wondering if I have time enough to learn everything I want.
The answer is “no,” of course. Magic is infinite, and no one can ever learn it all, in one human lifetime or a hundred.
Anyway, I was thinking these thoughts the other day, while trying to ignore my to-do list, and I found myself considering the “Magician” of the Tarot.
In the ever-popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Magician is modeled closely after the ceremonial magicians familiar to anyone who’s come upon the “Western Magical Tradition.” They’re a serious-looking character, with their wand upraised as they stand before an altar bearing the traditional four “weapons” associated with each of the four elements.
The Magician here definitely never skipped classes or blew off their homework. You can easily imagine that their house resembles a library more than it resembles a home, and I suspect they can rattle off “correspondences” from dawn to dusk.
Then, there’s “Le Bateleur.” This is the “Magician” as represented in the earlier Tarot de Marseilles. We can clearly see some similarities here, which point to the evolution of the card, but there are enough differences to be intriguing.
First, the name of the card, “Le Bateleur.” This is a French term which means a street performer, tumbler, or juggler depending on who and when you’re asking. “Juggler” is interesting, as it’s a term that was sometimes used to describe magicians, and the term “jugglery” is usually defined as “manipulation or trickery, especially to achieve a desired end.”
Suffice it to say, magicians haven’t always been held in high regard by mainstream society. And there’s a casual, almost carefree air to the Bateleur that we don’t see in the Magician.
Not only is it hard to imagine the Bateleur as a hard-working student of Super Serious Esoteric Mysteries with a house full of books, they might very well be homeless. A drifter, roaming from town to town, plying their trade—at least until the fine, upstanding citizens of the town drive them off.
When I first came upon the Tarot de Marseilles about six years ago, the appearance of the Bateleur (and its contrast to the Magician of the RWS deck) was what struck me the most. Here was a wizard I could relate to.
I don’t mean to say that I consider myself a shiftless drifter to be driven out of the country (although I do like the idea of living the “van life” someday). Rather, I mean that if you look back at old stories about magicians, wizards, and witches, you’ll find that, yes, they often liked their magical tomes and had great power, but they were also apt to be tricksters—and maybe even a little bit mad.
Look into the literary history of Merlin, if you don’t believe me.
The point of all this is to say that as I’ve been working myself to exhaustion these last few weeks, more and more I’ve come to appreciate my own evolution as a wizard. A slow, wandering drift from Magician to Bateleur. A leaving behind of memorized correspondences and fixed rituals, for the more expressive lands of spirit communication and celebratory performance.
So while I’m by no means some huckster, shining folks on until the torches and pitchforks say it’s time to leave, I am taking myself less seriously than did years ago, and I’m having much more fun doing it.
Incidentally, you can get both the Magician and the Bateuler on a t-shirt from my Spring store.
I hope you have an excellent week.
If you would like a Tarot or natal astrology reading, please visit my Consultations page. I would be happy to help.