In the midst of the "wine-dark sea," a large bronze sarcophagus, green with verdigris, stands on a small patch of dry ground. On the distant horizon a twin-peaked mountain rises above white cliffs descending to the water.
Standing behind the sarcophagus are two figures facing toward us; on our left a ruddy man wears a solar crown and a yellow workman's khiton (tunic), on our right a pale woman wears a lunar crown and a blue peplos (long robe). They are adoring a naked child (of indeterminate sex), visible from the waist up, who stands facing us in the sarcophagus. He has golden mark on his forehead. The man's arms are crossed on his chest, the woman's reach out to the child.
Note that Latin angelus is a late formation (from Greek angelos, messenger or envoy) used only in a Christian context; in classical Latin nuntius has approximately the same meaning as Greek angelos (Smith's Eng.-Lat. Dict. s.vv. angel, messenger). Hermes is, of course, the archetypal angelos. Indeed the tarot angel is sometimes identified with St. Michael, who in Christian tradition blows the trumpet to call the souls on Judgement Day. Michael is associated with planet Mercury, and hence with Hermes Psychopompos, or Guide of Souls. (Sharman-Burke 114)
In the Ferrara order 19.Angel occupies the ninth position in its Hendecad, and the primary Pythagorean meaning of Nine is "That which Brings Completion"; it is "Near Perfection" and the "Threshold of the Return to Unity." (See the Nines in the Minor Arcana.) This is confirmed by isopsephia, for ERMHS O AGGELOS (Hermes Ho Angelos, Hermes The "Angel," i.e. Messenger) = 735, which reduces to 5-3+7 = 9. However, Iris is also called Angelos (Kerenyi, GG 60) and H IRIS (He Iris, Iris) = 328, which reduces to 8-2+3 = 9, so we see that this trump corresponds to the unification of Hermes Psychopompos (1.Magician) and Iris Psychopompos (7.Temperance), two principal agents of transformation.
As 1.Magician Hermes began the process of transformation represented by the sequence of trumps (intervening critically as 6.Eros); now at the end he steps in again as Psychopompos, to lead the soul to its final destination. (Thus we see him using his wand to raise a soul from an urn on a 6th cent. BCE lekythos, Bonnefoy, GEM 187.) He is the Emissary of Hades, who touches the eyes of the dead with his golden wand and guides their souls to the underworld. (Pollack I.122; SB&G 78)
But Hermes' golden wand can open the eyes as well as close them (Kerenyi, GG 247). Not only does Hermes lead souls to the Underworld, he also shows them the way back, and so he is the Redeemer, who rescues souls from death, and the Deliverer, who raises the dead from the Underworld. (Nichols 346; SB&G 79)
For example, after Semele was incinerated by the divine fire of Zeus, the unborn Dionysos was incubated in Zeus's thigh. After he was born, he was given to Ino (Semele's sister) and Athamas to be raised as a girl. After Hera drove them mad, Hermes took Dionysos away to Mount Nusa (from which some derive his name, Dio-Nusos) to be raised by the nymphs. (Thus we see Hermes and Dionysos in the famous statue by Praxiteles.) (Kerenyi, GG 257-8)
In another typical myth of shamanic regeneration, Tantalos, who had tasted the nectar and ambrosia of the gods, caused his son Pelops to be cut up, boiled in a purifying cauldron and served to the gods at a feast (eranos). In some versions Hermes reassembles the boy - except for his left shoulder, eaten by Demeter, which is replaced by an ivory one. This is also typically shamanic: an incorporation of the spirit world, hence the gold forehead (over the Third Eye) of the child in 19.Angel. Psychologically, the psyche is disassembled into its components and reassembled, but incorporating an element of divinity. (In other versions of the myth Pelops is restored by Rhea, that is, by 16.Star, Lady of Necessity, who is responsible for the transformations represented by trumps 17-20; see 16.Star.) (Butterworth, Traces ch. 4; Gantz 531-6)
In further illustration Sharman-Burke and Greene (79) observe that Hermes led Theseus and Orpheus out of the Underworld, but he does not perform this service in the version of the myths that I know (e.g. Gantz 291-5, 721-5). However, he does lead Euridice to Orpheus before their ascent, and back again, after the tragic retrospective glance.
In 19.Angel Hermes is a redeemer, but redemption means getting back something of one's own. In this case what we are getting back is the integrated Self - that which is most truly ours, though we may have never possessed it before. This new order, which will be attained in 21.World, is accomplished by balancing on several levels, which is accomplished in 20.Justice. (Nichols 338, 344)
First, the four functions of consciousness (thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition) must be brought into harmony. On this trump they are represented by the four human figures (rather than elements, liquids, metals, etc.) to show that the functions have become humanized. The superior function (which may be any one of the four), the function most developed in an individual, is represented by Hermes hovering above. The inferior function (which is opposite to the superior: thinking and feeling are opposites, as are sensation and intuition) is the least developed and is represented by the child, who is the major vehicle for regeneration. The secondary functions are represented by the man and woman. All four must be reunited to create the Homo Philosophicus. (Gad 295; Nichols 338-9, 347)
Second, the four figures represent the totality of the psyche, the various components (e.g., consciousness, anima, animus, shadow), which must be integrated. The unification of opposites is represented by the figures of the woman, who reaches out actively, and of the man, who adores the child passively. Their gestures also represent a reversal of the mundane order, and thus the inauguration of a new order in the cosmos. (Case 201)
Finally, the androgynous child represents the reintegration of the parents (the boy and girl, now mature, from 18.Sun), who is summoned by Hermes into an Unio Mystica. That is, by integrating the elements of the psyche into the Self, we reunite with the Unus Mundus, which is the source of the Self. The resurrected child possesses the "corpus glorificationis, the 'subtle body,' in the state of incorruptibility" (Jung, ACU 202), the Diamond Body of Chinese alchemy. In this way 0.Idiot, who began his journey guided by luck and intuition, is led by divine intervention (19.Angel) into its last stages, where the experiences of his journey are synthesized (20.Justice) into a new cosmos (21.World). (Case 201; Gad 297-300; Haitch 154; O'Neill 390; cf. Pollack I.102, 122; SB&G 78-9; Simon 52)
In Christian tradition angels are considered sexless, and here also we have found the divine messengers to be somewhat androgynous (see 1.Magician and 7.Temperance). Ritual transvestism is also common among shamans, since they travel across the boundaries between the worlds. In 19.Angel, however, there is an additional factor, for the psyche is travelling toward the Unio Mystica (Mystical Union), in which all the opposites are united. Thus, after the polarity of 17.Moon and 18.Sun, the last three trumps are progressively more androgynous: androgynous male (19.Angel), androgynous female (20.Justice), and purely androgynous (21.World).
In summary, Hermes Psychopompos is an agent of rebirth. In psychological terms he awakens us to a new life on earth, achieved through a new consciousness and an enlarged personality, and to the enlarged responsibilities that come with a more developed psyche. The child represents Dionysos (also represented by 0.Fool) and all the resurrected gods (Adonis, Attis, Mithras, Osiris, etc.); his death began in 0.Fool, he is reborn in 21.World. (Nichols 337, 345; Pollack I.122; SB&G 79; Williams 126)
The salpinx is a long, straight war-trumpet (Guhl & Koner 209-10), and metal trumpets, such as the salpinx, are associated with the elements fire and water - the two primary opposites (sulphur and mercury, sun and moon), and thus represent the Coniunctio Oppositorum that must be achieved in 20.Justice. It also corresponds to the "twin peaked Mountain of Mars," which we see in the background of 19.Angel. (Cirlot s.v. trumpet; for more on the mountain see 7.Temperance, 17.Moon and 18.Sun)
The legends of the Trojan War say that Achilles' mother, worried for his safety, dressed him as a girl and hid him among the women in Lukomedes' palace. He was discovered by Odysseus and Diomedes, who sounded the salpinx, for Achilles automatically grabbed weapons, since he could not ignore this summons. (Apollodorus, Bibl. III.xiii.8; Gantz 581; Hyginus, Fab. 96)
So also in this trump: the primitive, penetrating sound of the salpinx represents the Call, the summons that cannot be ignored. For Achilles it was the call to leave his mother's protection and take on adult responsibilities. Such a call may come from inside or outside, but in either case it summons us to advance in our development; if we ignore it, we sink back into stagnation, and are perhaps never called again. (Nichols 337-8, 345; Pollack II.120-1, 123; Williams 127)
Walker (129) compares the trumpet of 19.Angel with the Gjallarhorn, which, in Scandinavian mythology, Heimdall, the Watchman of Heaven, will sound to awaken the gods and summon them to Ragnarok, the final battle (Bellows 12n27). In the Poetic Edda (Voluspo 46, tr. Bellows, p. 20) we read:
Heimdall has many connections with the sea. First, the "Sons of Mim" mentioned above are water spirits. Heimdall was born of nine maiden sisters (Ocean goddesses), nine being the number of this trump in the Hendecad. Walker (130) claims that his name means "Son of the Sea Mother." In any case, he has numerous connections with the sea, which appears in this trump (as in other tarots, including Case's BOTA deck, the Golden Dawn deck, and perhaps the Wirth and Marseilles decks). This is the briny primeval Ocean which surrounds the world, the sea of the High Priestess and High Priest; it is also the salty Womb of Rebirth from which new life arises; it is the source of the libido which engenders life (see 16.Star and 17.Moon). (Bellows 20n46; Case 201; Nichols 348)
In the Pythagorean tarot the reborn child is in a sarcophagus, which means "flesh eater," for the first sarcophagi were made from a special Trojan limestone that dissolved the flesh of corpses. Thus the sarcophagus represents the dissolution (Solve) of the old life, which has been accomplished by the preceding trumps. However, the sarcophagus is also an arc in the midst of Ocean, for in Latin an arca is a box, including a coffin, or a coffer holding hidden treasure; from it we get "arcana" for the secrets hidden in the arca. This is the Apocalypse (Uncovering), for the Arcanum is revealed: the Mysterium Coniunctionis of the Moon and Sun (trumps 17, 18) has produced the Homunculus emerging from the Hermetic Vessel (trump 19). (Case 201; Gad 301; LSJ s.v. sarkophagos; O'Neil 286, 390)
The sarcophagus also represents the bronze cauldron (aes cavum) of rebirth, which appears in many myths; we have already considered the resurrection of Pelops (see also 7.Temperance and 16.Star). Another myth reflecting a shamanic regeneration has Dionysos being torn apart by the Titans and boiled in a cauldron, after which everything was incinerated by a blast from Zeus (dissolution of the psyche). Zeus and Athena rescued the ashes (purified prima materia, foliated earth, sublimated matter), from which a potion was brewed, which Semele drank and became pregnant (with Dionysos Reborn). Similarly, Ino (sister of Semele) seethed her boy Melikertes in a cauldron, and on an ancient black-figure vase we see a child emerging from a tripod cauldron, which is flanked by two men and two women. However, this regeneration was unsuccessful, and the mother and child returned to the sea. The well-known story of Medea and Pelias also recounts an unsuccessful (or intentionally aborted) regeneration. On the other hand, Medea successfully dismembered and regenerated Iason (Jason) and his father Aison, although in these cases she uses a lebes (cauldron) of gold. (Edinger 123; Gantz 365-8; Kerenyi, GG 254-7, 263-5) (In 19.Angel the adults wear robes, as in several ancient vase paintings of Medea and either Pelias or Iason.)
Pausanias (V.17.10-19.7) describes the famous cedar Chest (Larnax) of Kupselos, in which the babe Kupselos was hidden by his mother. The sides of the chest depict Pelops, Medea, Iason at the funeral games of Pelias, and Dionysos in a cave, as well as Circe lying with Odysseus, Eriphule with the necklace of Harmonia (see 14.Devil), two "unnamed women skilled in medicine lore" grinding herbs, and many other scenes from mythology.
The primordial couple floating in an arc on the cosmic womb represent the seeds of the next creation. Thus, on an ancient Day of Judgement, Zeus decided to destroy the corrupt world, and after blasting it with his bolt (15.Tower), called on Poseidon to flood the land. Only Deukalion and Purrha survived, in a chest (Gk. larnax = Lat. arca), and they sowed the seeds of a new, better race of people; the seeds were stones, the "bones of Mother Earth." In Apollodorus' account (Bibl. I.vii.2), the arc floated for nine days and nights, nine being the number of 19.Angel in its Hendecad. Further, it was Hermes who heralded the end of the rain and directed this act of (re)creation. (Gantz 165; Walker 130)
Mythology contains many stories of people set afloat in boxes. Often, it is the mother and her baby: Danae and Perseus, Semele and Dionysos, Auge and Telephos, Rhoio pregnant with Anios. In other cases it is twins (Romulus and Remus), or brother and sister (Tennes and Hemithea). And, of course, there is Noah's Arc. Nonfloating chests are also used for the incubation of various magical children, including Adonis (the yearly resurrected lover of Aphrodite) and Erikhthonios (Hephaistos' son, Athena's serpent-child, the first king of Athens), whom the Kodros painter depicts being born from the womb of Gaia and delivered to Athena (20.Justice) while Hephaistos, Herse (Dew, see 17.Moon) and her father Kekrops look on. The myth of Osiris also fits the pattern. (Kerenyi, GG 127; OCD s.v. Adonis; Preston s.v. chest)
The sarcophagus is also the Arc of Vaivaswata, the Seventh Manu. In Hindu mythology there are fourteen Manu, or ancestors of humanity, each ruling for 4,320,000 (= 28 X 33 X 54)