|Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot|
This is a fairly complicated card as far as imagery goes, but for readings, you can more or less sum it up with one key word
For its more esoteric meanings, things get a bit more interesting.
The card is all about alchemy. Earlier in the trump cards, the Alchemical Wedding takes place on the Lovers card. There, we see a black king and a white queen getting married by a very tall priest in a hood. The black king is accompanied by a white child and red lion. The white queen is accompanied by a black child and a white eagle. The white queen holds a cup into which the black king pours liquid fire. The Orphic egg sits at the bottom of the card. All of these opposite qualities are being joined together, but have not yet begun to blend. We see the blending happening in the Temperance card, which Crowley calls 'Art'. (Because alchemy is known as 'the Art'.)
Let's take it from the top, and as I point out these symbols, I must express my gratitude for Lon Milo Duquette and his book Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, without which I might have noticed these details, but I would have had to search high and low to find the answers to what they might represent.
The big golden orb in the background of the Art card is the Orphic egg we saw earlier at the bottom of the Lovers card. It is inscribed with a motto: 'Visita interiora terrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidus' -- 'Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying (ie, purifying) [what you find there], you will find the hidden stone.'
The hidden stone ('occultum lapidus') is the 'true medicine' ('veram medicinam') that alchemists hoped to find. The acronym of this motto is VITRIOL.
I found this insignia and accompanying verse (click first line of verse for link to source):
The three shields together indicate
Sal, Sulphur, and Mercurium.
The Sal hath been one Corpus that
Is the very last one in the Art.
The Sulphur henceforth is the soul
Without which the body can do nothing.
Mercurius is the spirit of power,
Holding together both body and soul,
Therefore it is called a medium
Since whatever is made without it hath no stability.
For soul and body could not die
Should spirit also be with them.
And soul and spirit could not be
Unless they had a body to dwell in,
And no power had body or spirit
If the soul did not accompany them.
This is the meaning of the Art:
The body giveth form and constancy,
The soul doth dye and tinge it,
The spirit maketh it fluid and penetrateth it.
And therefore the Art cannot be
In one of these three things alone.
Nor can the greatest secret exist alone:
It must have body, soul, and spirit.
So -- the Great Work is perfect communion of body, soul and spirit, and that would seem to be what is represented by the Art card.
According to Lon Milo DuQuette, mercury, sulphur and salt are represented by the tarot cards Magician, Emperor, Empress. These three principles, when combined, create the universal solvent, 'vitriol'. The motto of alchemy is 'solve et coagula' -- 'Dissolve and coagulate,' which sounds kinda gross, but means to take apart and recombine. Break something down and then put it back together again in a wholly new form. And that's what we do with our lives. Hopefully, if we're trying.
That's the concept that is being shown in the Art card. The Emperor and Empress are being married by the Magician - sulphur, salt and mercury combine - and the resulting creature is the figure in the Art card. You can see how the black figure and the white one are half and half, switched and swapped. The red lion has turned white, the white eagle has turned red. The cup and the flame are being poured out into the cauldron (decorated with a crow or raven perched on a skull), and the whole scene stands on water that is aflame with fire. The figure wears a mantle seemingly made of rainbows that pour down into the cauldron as well. I think these represent the chakras (that's not DuQuette, that's me).
This is a seriously complicated card, but even if you know nothing about alchemy (which I don't) you can still easily see the balance, yin yang, exchange going on in this card. Fire and water, black and white, male and female, all mingling together to create something new, something getting closer to being 'perfected'. Harmony.
That's a very fine message for first day of year.