A powerful looking young man stands behind a table. The raw nature of the universe lays out on the table before him and the very fabric of reality seems to bend around him. I am talking of course about card number 1 of the tarot deck, The Magician.
If this is above your head that is perfectly normal. Some people
just aren't cut out for tarot reading. However if you want a reading
without the work of learning each card this way then there are many
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The Magician wasn't always this way however. In earlier tarot decks The Magician was a sleight of hand artist, a stage magic practitioner, or even a juggler. It wasn't until the more esoteric tarot decks were created that he became a magus or wizard. A fine example of this is the card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck which was created by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith in the early twentieth century. This deck is still one of the most popular today, and most other modern tarot decks borrow liberally from its rich symbolism.
Primary symbols on the modern magician card include representations of the elements, a lemniscate halo above his head, and a uroboros belt. The elements are represented by the elemental tools laid out across the table. They match with the symbolism of the magic tools used in the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn, which A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith were both members of. Cups represent the water element, rods the fire element, swords the air element, and pentacles(also known as coins or discs) the earth element. Understanding these elemental attributions to these symbols is important for understanding the meaning of tarot cards.
The lemniscate, also known as an infinity symbol, halo above his head illustrates The Magician's power over the infinite energy of the universe. In some decks an additional lemniscate is shown near The Magician's throat. This shows the infinite magical power of the spoken word.
The Uroboros, a serpent swallowing its own tail, is symbolic of the cycles of the universe which The Magician aligns himself with. This energy is limitless, and the uroboros around his waste shows his control over this energy. There are other symbols on the card as well. The lilies and roses that adorn the card are symbolic of purity and innocence. The Magician's gesture towards the earth with his left hand also seems to show that he has power over the physical world.
When using the tarot for divination this card can have a few different meanings. Among them the card can represent skill, diplomacy, self confidence, and willpower. Alternate meanings can include pain, loss, and disaster. These meanings go back to the older symbolism of the magician as more of a sleight-of hand artist. The magician can also simply be a representation of the Querent himself.