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Wirth, Oswald

Category: Artist and sculptor

Tarot cards are symbolic and pictorial representations of the roles on the spiritual path, as well as symbols to represent metaphysic concepts and truths.  They were used at a time when anything even remotely spiritual was being persecuted by the established churches. 
There are numerous very beautiful examples around from very ancient to relatively modern, although as one proceeds towards the present, the symbolism can often be lost or misinterpreted and the roles entirely misunderstood

Joseph Paul Oswald Wirth (1860, Brienz, Canton of Bern – 1943) was a Swiss occultist, artist and author. He studied esotericism and symbolism with Stanislas de Guaita and in 1889 he created, under the guidance of de Guaita, a cartomantic Tarot consisting only of the twenty-two major arcana.   The cards are artistically very beautiful and we had difficulty deciding whether to list them under the Tarot card heading or under Wirth himself.  In the end we have listed them within the Tarot mystic system entry, in order that they can be compared with other decks, but we have used examples of his cards to illustrate this entry.

The meeting of Wirth with Guaita was prophesied by a clairvoyant and we have added this as an observation, as it is rather interesting.

The Tarot of the Magicians – Oswald Wirth English translation 1985 Samuel Weiser.

My entering into a relationship with S. de G. became for me an event of great importance! He made me his friend, his secretary and his collaborator. His library was at my disposal and benefiting from his conversation, I found in him a teacher of the Kabbala of high metaphysics, as well as the French language; for G. took the trouble to form my style and to refine me from a literary point of view. He made me appreciate well-turned phrases by initiating me into the aesthetics of beautiful French prose. It is to him that I owe my readability.

Metaphysical problems were like child's play to him, and I was far from being able to follow him, but when I was too far behind he was quick to retrace his steps and in brotherly fashion take me by the hand. He was lenient towards my slow saturnine understanding.

Knowing of my skill in drawing, he advised me, right from our first interview in 1887, to restore the 22 arcanas of the Tarot to their hieroglyphic purity and gave me the necessary material by providing me immediately with two Tarots, one French the other Italian, as well as Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, the most important work of Eliphas Levi, in which the Tarot is the object of copious commentary. 

Such was the starting point of the present work of which one could say that Stanislas de Guaita is the spiritual father. After I had submitted to him a first Tarot redesigned on the two crude packs which I have compared, this learned occultist gave me his criticism for which he was held answerable at the time of the publication of the Tarot Kabbalistique, which appeared in 1889, with 350 copies, with the help of the photogravers of G. Poise!'

By the 1920s Wirth's knowledge of the tarot had matured. His later effort resulted in images that were richly redrawn.  Furthermore the colours he used were better symbolically, altered to conform with his expanded knowledge. Eros in the Lovers card was eventually unmasked. The results were a “sumptuous feast for the eyes”.

The 1926 images appeared in a supplement to his original book.

The Tarot of the Magicians – Oswald Wirth English translation 1985 Samuel Weiser.

The ideal to be realized demands a perfect unity of symbolism, so that everything fits into the 22 compositions, which must throw light upon each other and must contain no arbitrary detail which is not justified. To lead to this operation one had to grasp the overall idea of it and become acquainted with the concepts which gave it birth.  With the help of Stanislas de Guaita, I set to work to acquire the knowledge of symbolism empowering me to restore the Tarot to the design and colours in accord with the Medieval Spirit. It was a long process

But of course the deck is also incomplete, because the suites are important -describing as they do the early stages of the spiritual path and the rise through the ‘elements’ and the virtues they embody.

It is inevitable that Wirth eventually became interested in Freemasonry and Astrology. Astrology because of its links with destiny, and freemasonry because it too attempts to incorporate the stages of the spiritual path using the ‘degrees’.

Wirth wrote a number of books in French regarding Freemasonry, most importantly a set of three each explaining one of Freemasonry's first three degrees:

  • La Franc-Maçonnerie rendue intelligible à ses adeptes, tome 1: L'apprenti
  • La Franc-Maçonnerie rendue intelligible à ses adeptes, tome 2: Le Compagnon
  • La Franc-Maçonnerie rendue intelligible à ses adeptes, tome 3: Le Maître


The Tarot of the Magicians – Oswald Wirth English translation 1985 Samuel Weiser.

Starting first of all with the constructive symbolism of the Freemasons, I was then led to compare it with that of the Alchemists, who put the esotericism of initiation into picture forms, taken from ancient metallurgy. This esotericism was most carefully adapted to the practice of their arts by the stone masons of the Middle Ages.   As soon as one is able to make the symboIs speak, they surpass all speech in eloquence, for they allow one to find the 'Last Word', that is to say the eternal living thought, of which they are the enigmatic expression.

In a poetic way symbols reveal to us concepts which are too ethereal to lend themselves to the limitation of words. Not everything can be dehydrated into the prose of barristers and rhetoricians. There are some things so subtle that one has to feel and divine them like the adepts of the wise philosophy of the Medieval Symbolists, who reacted against the pedantic slavery of words.

But does the mentality of the twentieth century lend itself to divination? What would be the lot of the Tarot today if it remained enigmatic, just as it has come to us today, without being accompanied by some interpreting text however slight? We are in a hurry and no longer have the leisure time for meditation; to think entirely for oneself takes too long. We need ideas explained clearly to achieve a quick assimilation or immediate rejection.

I did my best to conform to the requirements of the age. My efforts ended in a series of essays which I felt in no hurry to have published in view of their imperfection.  In 1922 however, I thought that I ought to draw from my mass of materials a definite manuscript.  …..The necessary uninterrupted meditation was found for me in the course of my holidays of 1924/25. Benefiting from a lovely retreat in a delightful spot where the view embraces one of the finest landscapes in France, I hope that my final text reflects the inspiring background

And the result is the Tarot of the Magicians .


Oswald Wirth was author of

  • Hermetic Symbolisme and The Mysteries of the Royal Art,
  • Freemasonry made intelligible to its followers
  • ‘Tarot of the Magicians’

and numerous articles published after 1912 in the revue that he founded “Le Symbolisme”.

Oswald Wirth was initiated into Freemasonry on January, 26th, 1914, at the Lodge «La bienfaisance Châlonnaise» of the Grand Orient de France







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