Alchemical Study Group - XXI The World


(from the book)

"Long life and health are in her right hand and glory and immense riches in her left. Her ways are beautiful and praiseworthy works and neither despicable nor bad, and her paths are measured and not hasty, but connected with persistent continuous hard work. She is the tree of life for everybody who understands her and a light which is never extinguished."
-- Aurora Consurgens, in Alchemy by von Franz

The World brings us to the culmination of the Great Work. Alchemically, the world is the final red stage, the rubedo, in which the red stone of the philosophers is formed. The stone, symbolized by the heart, is composed of pure spiritual essence, the heart or soul of the world (Anima Mundi), which is personified as the nude woman in the center. In alchemy, the Great Work is called the work of the woman. In Renaissance art, nudity represents truth.
In early Tarots the World is represented by an angel, a female figure, or Mercury standing on top of a circle containing a landscape, or an elemental cross. The Jacques Vievil deck, circa 1643-1664, shows a figure of Christ surrounded by a wreath, and with symbols of the four evangelists in the corners. The winged lion, bull, eagle, and man, the symbols of the evangelists, are commonly associated with the four elements, through their connection with the four fixed signs of the Zodiac, Leo, Taurus, Scorpio, and Aquarius. Therefore, the figure of Christ in the center of the elements could easily be interpreted as representing the quinta essentia, the element that unifies the other four. By the early 1700s the Christ figure was consistently replaced by the more familiar female, representing the Anima Mundi as the quinta essentia. This card provides the best evidence that the Tarot expresses an alchemical, neo-Platonic philosophy, and not orthodox Christian philosophy.
The World stands in the center of the ouroboros of time, which forms a wreath around her, signifying that she is beyond time and yet is all time at once, and therefore is the source of immortality.
She is the other half of Hermes, his inner soul. She holds his caduceus and wears his winged sandals. The caduceus has blossomed wings and has evolved from the green of the Magician (the prima materia) to gold. It symbolizes the power of the stone to heal any illness, to change base metal into gold. The stone is also an elixir of life. It is shown as a liquid, or medicine in the form of the red drop at bottom of the card. It is life-giving and perfecting. The rose on top symbolizes the perfection of the Work. It has five petals, the number of the Hierophant, symbolizing the invisible quinta essentia, which holds the elements in unison. The World expresses the feminine essence of divinity that we can perceive. It underlies all matter, and is the quinta essentia, which lies at the center of the cross and unites the elements and forms them into the physical world.
The number of the World, twenty-one, reduces to three (two plus one equals three), the first complete number, and the number of the Empress, the ruler of the physical world. Twenty-one is the completion of everything: the Anima Mundi revealed. Though numbered twenty-one, the World is really the twenty-second card in the Major Arcana, since the first card, the Fool, is numbered zero. Twenty-two is a master number, the number of the Great Architect and of the angelic kingdom.
Tarot wisdom: The World is the achievement and culmination of our goals. On the highest level it is the merging of our individual personality with the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. The Anima Mundi strains the ability of words to describe it, and it can seem paradoxical. To the Neoplatonic philosopher, it is the highest form of the divine presence that we can comprehend. It is at the center and the circumference of being. It is outside space and time, and yet here now. It is composed of neither matter nor energy, but is the mother of both, continually creating the universe. It is the intelligent, compassionate guide that is evident in the evolution of life. It is both masculine and feminine. Though dual-sexed, we call it "she."
The Anima Mundi has been with us guiding us all along; we could not be alive unless this was so. She was with us when we were the Fool in the beginning. We are still that same fool now; the only difference is that we have dropped our blindfold and have become conscious of her for the first time. Now we are aware of the infinite creative potential that was here all along.

This knowledge is bliss.
This stone is had in small regard
With men of slender wit
But yet the wise and learned sort
Make great account of it.
--Rosarium Philosophorum (pg. 11)