Mirror of the Free

Nicholas Swift

2011 from O-Books

189 pages
ISBN 978-1-84694-419-2
11.99 / $19.95

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The images on the Marseille Tarot cards started out as illustrations
of Sumero-Bablyonian myths, preserved through the centuries on
cylinder seals. They were copied by people who didn't understand
them but who also had access to some form, whether written or
oral, of the wisdom encoded in those myths and in Bible stories.
That wisdom is identical with Sufi teachings as espoused by
teachers like Ibn al 'Arabi, Rumi, and others, including Gurdjieff
and his teachings about the enneagram. The myths and stories
are decoded in this book using the multiple meanings conveyed by
Arabic consonantal word roots and by reference to those doctrines
and to modern discoveries about conditioning and the hemispheric
specialization of the brain. Arabic is the closest existing descendant
of the ancient Protosemitic language. The Kabbalah, long
rumoured to be linked to the Tarot, is shown to come from the
same sources, and originally had eight, not ten, sefiroth. The visual
evidence alone is overwhelming: the mystery of where the Tarot
comes from has been definitively solved.

          Looking again at the image of what has universally been interpreted as a tower struck by lightning, what may strike us is the fact that the object - or phenomenon, if you insist on seeing it as lightning - that seems to be causing the destruction resembles nothing so much as a gigantic feather.
          The winged gate or door (Figure 19) is one of the motifs that occur over and over again in Mesopotamian seals for which no one seems yet to have come up with a satisfying explanation.


          It thus seems at least possible that the eight sefiroth of the original Kabbalah of the Ikhwan as Safa and the Sufis consisted of the seven lower sefiroth of the Kabbalah we know, plus the three upper sefiroth combined into one; if so, it would confirm Blavatsky's assertion that the division of the top sefirah into three is a 'blind'. Moreover, the description of the first three sefiroth as 'hidden potencies' that 'do not act in the visible sphere' as do the other seven obviously closely parallels the relationship, and difference, between the law of three and the law of seven as Gurdjieff taught them.

          In Figure 11 we see the king, the one in the middle, with his two escorts, who are divinities in their own right. The round object on the table the leg of which the individual in the front is grasping is a 'sun-disk', an emblem of the god Shamash, the great god to whom the king is being presented. About the odd bearded fellows in the upper right, even what significance it may be possible to gather in the context of the stele image cannot be considered here, because what is shown here is only that part of the scene that is likely to have been the origin of the image on the card The Lovers. It requires no great effort of imagination to see how the figures aloft who seem to be executing some procedure with some kind of ropes extending down to the sun-disk have become the arrow-shooting angel, and the sun-disk the angel's nimbus.

          Over the centuries of their existence up to the time of the writing of the books of the Bible - as, of course, in the centuries since - the Jewish people, whether through captivity or by other means, came into contact with a wide variety of foreign cultures and languages, and their language, Hebrew, was inevitably much changed by those contacts. Arabic, on the other hand, was, until the time of the expansion of Islam, the language of a relatively isolated people. One consequence of these unarguable historical facts is that of existing languages, Arabic is the closest to Protosemitic. If knowledge or methods of encoding and accessing it, or both, were woven into Protosemitic, and they are to be sought in any currently used language, Arabic is the obvious choice.
          If, moreover, we take the methods - the ones of which we may have an inkling, at any rate - used to embed knowledge in one place (such as Arabic) and try them out in another (such as ancient Hebrew writings), especially when the two are known to have a common ancestor, and the results appear meaningful, it is reasonable to conclude that the same methods were used to embed knowledge in that other place.

          In his initial general behaviour, Gilgamesh obviously represents the commanding self or, possibly, even the nafs al haywaniya, the 'animal self', to which regular commanding-self people may sink if they are not careful. He meets and does battle with his 'twin' - Enkidu, the wild man - which is to say, unconditioned or less-conditioned reality, a spiritual reality that is also his own real self or, possibly, a teaching pertaining to it. Enkidu is rendered more presentable after his rendezvous with and seduction by Ishtar's agent, which represents the capturing and relative neutralizing of that reality by the lower, conditioned world. (Another ancient story with the same theme is the Biblical story of Esau and Jacob, which we will look at soon.) Enkidu's struggle with Gilgamesh may thus also correspond with the manifestation of the accusing self, and their subsequent harmonization with the inspired self, or nafs al malhama: Gilgamesh and Enkidu together slay Humbaba, the beast in the forest; as it happens, another spelling of malhama means 'bloody combat, slaughter'.

          Shibli must have seemed like one kind of fool when he, an intelligent and capable man, followed the instructions of Junayd and sold sulphur, begged, and went from door to door looking for people he might have offended during his career as a civil servant in order to apologize to them. He must have seemed like another kind of fool when he first put sugar in the mouths of those who repeated the name of God; and then, as his 'state' increased, offered gold to those who would repeat it for him; and finally, when anyone repeated it, came after them with a sword because, he said, he had realized that they were only doing so out of mechanical habit.

          'Arsh means 'throne', but a closely similar word, arsh, in Arabic means 'creatures', in the sense of 'all creatures'. In its meaning it corresponds with the sefirah Malkuth, 'kingdom', even though in the Ikhwan's formulation it was meant to comprise 'minerals, plants, and animals', but not humans.

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Comments on the 2005 limited edition

Thanks go to Jean-Michel David for including an excerpt from this book in the January 2006 edition of the Association For Tarot Studies e-newsletter. I found the excerpt very interesting, and wanted to see what else this author had to say. I also found it interesting that I had just finished a review of the Babylonian Tarot, by Sandra Tabatha Cicero, which is based on the deities and myths of Mesopotamia -- the very territory that Swift is addressing... Swift starts out with the thought that perhaps authors of Tarot books claim that the origin of the Tarot is unknown because they really prefer not to know, as if it is better left a "mystery". He also posits that after reading this book the reader may find it hard to justify the manner in which they are accustomed to using the Tarot. His wry sense of humor is evident from the very beginning of the book... The body of this book is Swift's linking of the imagery in the Marseilles deck to the iconography of ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals, and he does an excellent job of this. Scans of the Tarot cards and representations of the seals that they are being compared to are thought provoking, to say the least!... There are in-depth discussions of the imagery of the seals, and how it transfers to the Tarot (and it does so remarkably well). Sufi myths are presented in a story-like manner (I read this book in one sitting - it is that interesting!), and there is a great deal of discussion of word derivations, sound-alike words, the alphabet etc. The work of many of the masters is referenced in a knowledgeable manner (masters such as Madam Blavatsky, Idries Shah, Gurdjieff, and many more Sufi writers), and in a manner that is easily understood by those of us who may not have the background that we would like to have on esoteric subjects. Tossed in amongst this mix are such jewels as Madam Blavatsky's belief that the first three sephiroth are actually blinds, and the notation that horns on individuals found on the seals indicate not that they are "devils", but that they are Gods, with multiple horns indicating high ranking gods. While the reader is free to disagree with Swift on any or all of his suppositions, my feeling is that this book at the very least presents ideas for further study, and opens the mind in many ways - not only as to the origins of the Tarot, but as a mini-study in word derivation and usage. I am left with the thought that this material certainly warrants further study, and that the material here has found its time. I should mention here that there is an extensive bibliography, in case the reader does want to do some research of their own... [It is] very much an "Aha!" experience!

Bonnie Cehovet, Aeclectic Tarot website review

[I] feel motivated to express admiration and respect for the wonderful work of research and presentation of these not commonly met subjects.

Ilya S., Tel Aviv

The basic premise looks sound: the pictures on the medieval Marseille tarot cards have never been explained satisfactorily, but they match the images on Archaic cylinder seals too well for coincidence. Nick Swift's investigations into ancient and modern near-Eastern languages underpin some fascinating linguistic detective work. He makes a strong case that the Sumerian seals were part of a mythological wisdom tradition that was still available in some form to the originators of the tarot deck several millennia later. Happily, the research is presented in an engaging and at times amusing style. Mirror of the Free should fascinate everyone from scholars of iconography to readers of Dan Brown. Students of sufism, Kabbalah, Fourth Way and related experiential paths will find it particularly valuable.

Michael Emmans Dean, author The Trials of Homeopathy: Origins, Structure and Development

Thankyou for publishing such an amazing and interesting book.

Deb G., USA

There is no doubt that this book contains some new and highly important information which has not been published previously. His research covers parallels with Gurdjieff's teaching which has been previously documented and also connections with the Ikhwan as-Safa and Ibn Arabi's thought which has been touched on by Idries Shah in The Sufis and Jereer el-Moor in The Occult Tradition of the Tarot in Tangency with Ibn Arabi's Life and Teachings, but it is in the linking of the Tarot depictions and imagery to be found in the Marseille deck to the iconography of ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals that the work is truly groundbreaking. Consider the following two depictions: ... To keep this brief I'll just pick up on a few points: the Devil motif, the Hanged Man and possible Islamic/Sufi influence on the development of the pack (it would be good to also include a look at the eight-fold Cabala)... The Devil: the observation is made early on (see also in Gurdjieff's teachings) that the god-figures are the ones that have horns whereas our contemporary society is more accustomed to associated horns with evil in general and Old Nick himself in particular. It is a marked feature of Gurdjieff's teaching that he takes a controversial character -- one who is reviled or avoided -- such as Judas or the Devil and 'rehabilitates' them as not just blameless but as adepts of the highest degree (without of course accepting any of the baggage assigned to them by the erstwhile detractors). In doing this, G is merely following an earlier Sufi practice... I think this book will prove to be something of a watershed and there are really some revolutionary ideas there - far more so than meet the eye on first contact.

Tarquin Rees, Anulios blog

Reading posted by Infra on March 23rd, 2007 One of my backorders finally came in. This now makes three books that I've found quite useful for understanding and working with the Tarot, so in case anyone is interested, these are the titles: Mirror of the Free by Nicholas Swift, A Brief Hirstory of Time by Orryelle Defenstrate-Bascule, and Tarot and the Magus by Paul Hughes-Barlow... Generally speaking, most books about the Tarot are worth just about as much as any other. Maybe you'll learn some theory, some history (although mostly about the cards themselves, not the origins of the Atus, on which Swift's book is the only decent one I've found so far)...

eso.terica.net/skinfilter blog

... this astonishing book...

Kai, Germany

2008/01/23/a-gorgeous-orrery Mostly, when it comes to things like that, I simply stumble across them: an acquaintance introduces me to someone else, who recommends a book, which comes from a distributor that carries small press items, which mentions a specific press, which carries a limited edition book that's only available from them. Or something along those lines. (That's how I found out about Mirror of the Free, which examines Sufi and Near Eastern cylinder seal influences on the Tarot. Worth the read, if you come across it and that subject interests you.) Oh, Infra. I think we may be kindred spirits. And that's not to mention our similar affections for language. ;)

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