“Hey, Rock, watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat!”
The modern tarot Magician began life as “le Bateleur,” a clever, street-wise conjurer skilled at juggling and ingenious sleight-of-hand diversions or, alternatively, a cunning mountebank, charlatan or trickster. The only thing “occult” about him was what he chose to keep hidden from the gaze of the gullible rubes watching the show. He was a master of “misdirection,” drawing the observer’s attention elsewhere with his shifty eyes and raised left hand, while his half-hidden right hand worked its subtle magic. His reputation was more than a little shady, so the architects of the esoteric revival had to rehabilitate him by imputing the dignity and profound artistry of a metaphysical master to this erstwhile stage-magician and purveyor of what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia once famously referred to as “jiggery-pokery.”
In the June 25, 2015 issue of Time Magazine, Katy Steinmetz wrote:
“Among the Scots, the word jouk led to the notion of joukery or jookery to describe underhanded dealing or trickery. Pawky is another Scottish word, meaning artfully shrewd. A pawk, on its own, is a trick. And by 1686, some inventive Scottish speakers had combined the words in the phrase joukery-pawkery, which they used to refer to clever trickery or sleight of hand.”
In the late 19th Century, the duplicitous nature of his “artfully shrewd” manipulation was thoroughly scrubbed to convey the innocuous idea of “skills and talents,” arcane or otherwise, without placing value judgments upon its moral rectitude. The correspondence to astrological Mercury retained the connotation of “a trickster,” but the focus was altogether more high-minded. He became the apotheosis of Hermeticism and a repository of super-conscious Will, an exalted initiator and a transmitter of the Fool’s divine inspiration to the next phase of its unfoldment. He might still seem less than honest, but it may be more a byproduct of his mysterious craft than of any malicious intent.
In practical terms, this card often represents the desire for new creative experiences, bolstered by a consummate finesse that can be brought to bear in their pursuit, and the willpower to see things through; thus, the ability to turn ideas into reality through the application of innovative methods. He channels spiritual enlightenment from “above” via the wand in his (now-raised) right hand and directs it with his lowered left hand into the “below” of concrete manifestation. Focus, concentration, motivation, goal-orientation, organization, coordination, communication and a willingness to take risks are all present in abundance, making it a good portent for the success of any initiative or enterprise. Discrimination between various points of view is part of the process of self-realization implied by this card. Subtlety and artifice are also suggested, such that it can be difficult to tell whether truth or falsehood holds the upper hand, and whether the Magician will pursue his ends by “fair means or foul.” The medieval legacy of this personage conveys the notion that he is is not someone to be trusted unconditionally.