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ROTA / TARO

Key to Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World



From left to right the key has three parts:
1) the bow, 2) the shaft, and 3) the head.
The diagram with its legends is an emblem.
Absconditorum a Constitutione Mundi Clavis
The Bow The Shaft The Head The Epigram

Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeyA Superficial Look at an Obscure Topic

This page is intended as a brief introduction to a minor detail in the history of occult Tarot. It presents an image which is otherwise difficult to find on the Web, describes it in some detail, and mentions a few contextual considerations.


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeyÉliphas Lévi and Postel’s Key

[Tarot] is a universal key, the name of which has been explained and comprehended only by the learned William Postel”, or at least so says Éliphas Lévi. Also according to Lévi, there are many references to occult Tarot which date back to antiquity. The closest he comes, however, to documenting even a single such reference prior to 1781 is his claim regarding Guillaume (William) Postel. If this attribution to Postel were correct, then occult Tarot would today be more than twice as old—458 years old rather than 224—as it is otherwise documented. (At the time Lévi wrote, occult Tarot was a mere child of 75 years, but his fiction about Postel “documented” it as four times older than that!) Therefore, it is a claim of some significance for Tarot history and folklore. Lévi produces a diagram which he attributes to a 1547 work of Postel, and expounds.

The Key as illustrated by Lévi I speak of it as a key, and such it is truly, having the circle of four decades as its ring, the scale of 22 characters for its trunk or body and the three degrees of the triad for its wards. As such it was represented by Postel in his Key of Things Kept Secret from the Foundation of the World. The Key as illustrated by LéviHe indicates as shown opposite [right] the occult name of this key, which was known only to initiates. The word may be read ROTA, thus signifying the wheel of Ezekiel, or TAROT, and then it is synonymous with the AZOTH of Hermetic philosophers. The Key as illustrated by LéviIt is a word which expresses kabalistically the dogmatic and natural absolute; it is formed of the characters of the monogram of Christ, according to the Greeks and Hebrews. The Latin R or Greek P is found between the alpha and omega of the Apocalypse; the sacred Tau, image of the Cross, encloses the complete word, as represented previously in our Ritual. Without the Tarot the Magic of the ancients is a closed book, and it is impossible to penetrate any of the great mysteries of the Kabalah.

That is Levi’s pronouncement on the diagram (above right) with the four letters arranged in a cross or wheel. This arrangement of letters can in fact be found in the diagram at the top of this page, which is a reproduction from the 1646 edition of Postel’s book. As is the norm in Tarot books even to this day, Lévi failed to offer any pertinent quotes from Postel, or even to reproduce the image he described. Thus, his account smells strongly of bullshit even prior to any fact checking. In a footnote to his translation of The Dogma and Ritual of Transcendental Magic, Arthur E. Waite corrected some of Lévi’s misrepresentations.

It was not “represented” by Postel but by his editor [Abraham von] Frankenberg in 1646, who thought with reason that Postel’s Key required another to explain it. He added therefore a kind of appendix to the Clavis and also a diagram, of which Levi is speaking in his loose manner. It is this which exhibits the four letters constituting the words ROTA, TORA, TARO, and ORAT. The elucidation in any case has nothing to do with Tarot cards.

Thus, Lévi’s fabricated evidence was debunked in 1896. This is discussed in A Wicked Pack of Cards (Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett, 1996). They add to Waite’s comment that Franckenberg even labeled his addition as such, “The Editor’s Key to the Author’s Key”, so there is no excuse for Lévi’s misstatement. They also note that Lévi could cite no authentic occultist references to Tarot before the eighteenth century, “since there were none”. Although the only connection between Tarot and Franckenberg’s Key is Lévi’s whimsical anagram, ROTA=TARO, it has became a permanent part of occult Tarot lore. For example, in discussing the highest of the Tarot trumps, the World card, a Golden Dawn writer had this to say.

Thus, in this card we find a synthesis of the whole Taro or Rota. The central figure should be taken as Hathor, Athor, or Ator, rather than Isis, thus indicating the hidden anagram which may perhaps be translated thus:
   ORAT—man prays.
   ATOR—to the Great Mother.
   TARO—who turns.
   ROTA—the wheel of Life and Death.

Some might consider this fanciful and (seemingly) antiquated folklore as long-dead, scarcely worth reviewing. And yet, as I finish up this file (11/7/05), a post just showed up on a Tarot mailing list which purports to explain the origin of Tarot’s trumps, repeating the traditional occultist view that they are primarily emblems of the 22 Hebrew letters, etc. The pathetic aspect of this particular post is that it comes from a rather well-read individual who considers himself (and is considered by various others) a rational and knowledgable student of Tarot history. He cites Hebrew folklore, specific (and obscure) historical decks, quotes biblical commentary, and makes every pretense of a rational analysis. All this while overlooking the obvious fact that no one has ever come close to making any sense of the Tarot images as reflections of the Hebrew alphabet, and ignoring the historical record of such attempts which resulted in numerous sets of correspondences and endless rationalizations of the fact the results are uniformly ludicrous. He seeks a detailed explanation for something which is clearly not the case, as if attempting to discover exactly when and how the Moon came to be made of cheese. Such myths live on indefinitely.

Because Lévi’s fabrication is the source of various bits of contemporary Tarot folklore, the image behind it deserves a presence on the Web. Moreover, while having nothing to do with Tarot, Franckenberg’s Key to the Key presents an interesting device in its own right. Both Postel and Franckenberg were esoteric Christian mystics fascinated by Christian Cabala and alchemy, i.e., they were Rosicrucians in Yates’ sense of the term. Any scholarly explanation of Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s Key would have to begin with Postel’s book and Franckenberg’s own literary output. That would be an interesting but arduous project. Here, only a broad-brush sketch will be drawn, consisting of relatively superficial observations.

But in any analysis, it is important to keep in mind this caveat: Neither Postel nor Franckenberg is known to have had any interest in Tarot—none whatsoever. Tarot was not a part of the Rosicrucian symbolic universe. So when we speak of the Key, we must be clear which Key we mean. Guillaume Postel’s 16th-century Key (Absconditorum a Constitutione Mundi Clavis) was a book which neither referenced Tarot nor included the diagram in question. A century later, Abraham von Franckenberg edited a version of that book, including his own 17th-century Key to the Key (Clavis Editoris ad Clavem Authoris) along with the complex emblem at the center of this discussion. But it wasn’t until two more centuries had passed, when Éliphas Lévi published his own book in the mid-19th century, that either Postel’s book or Franckenberg’s emblem was associated with Tarot. It was Lévi who equated both Postel’s and Franckenberg’s Keys with Tarot, and called it the “Universal Key” to the Magic of the ancients, the mysteries of the Kabalah, etc. As Papus memorably phrased it, Tarot had become,

The Absolute Key to Occult Science.

Lévi’s 19th-century Key, i.e., Tarot, is not the Key being discussed in most of this page, although Lévi’s Key is the reason why the Franckenberg Key is remembered.


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeyThe Key of the House of David

Michelangelo sketch of David Since Postel and Franckenberg did not mean Tarot, what was the subject they referred to as the Key? The short answer is, the key of the House of David. That is to say, the power and authority of King David and his dynastic line. Some Tarot enthusiasts—those who know nothing of Christianity except folklore about “the Burning Times”—may wonder: “who is this David guy?” Here are some highlights, quoted from Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary.

And what about the “key”? There are two main sources for this metaphor: Isaiah 22 and Revelation 3.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias, And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father. (Isa 22:20-24)

Those are the words of God in Isaiah’s vision. God is pissed at Jerusalem and at a presumptuous fellow named Shebna, (a scribe or lawyer and steward to King Hezekiah), and tells him he will be deposed from office. The key "upon his shoulder" is a symbol of authority, an insignia of office with the ancient Greeks, and was originally a real key conferring a literal ability to open and close a locked area. (Such keys were apparently wooden and very large compared to most modern keys, and were actually worn on the shoulder. A modern example is the use of such a key as a Masonic insignia of office.) A related reference is in Isaiah 9:6-7. Eliacim, the son of Hilkiah, is another assistant to the king. That was the basic historical gist of the passage. Christians interpreted it, along with endless other things in the Hebrew Bible, as not only historical fact but also as prophecies of Jesus. (One page online lists 121 such prophecies from the Book of Isaiah alone!) As such, it connects to the passage in Revelation.

He that shall overcome, shall thus be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth: I know thy works. Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. (Rev 3:5-8)

Those are the words of Jesus in Revelation. Jesus identifies himself as the one who holds the key of David—He claims that legacy, fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of David’s covenant. (He also proclaims this lineage at the close of Revelation, in 22:16. “I am the root and stock of David, the bright and morning star.”) One additional point about David the Psalmist has to do with his image being used as the antithesis of Folly. Fools are condemned in the Psalms as unbelievers.

David with the fool from Psalms
The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God, They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one. The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is none that doth good, no not one. (Ps 13:1-3)

In illustrated Bibles this was often accompanied by the image of a jester, and sometimes the fool was shown with King David. This is not only because David was the Psalmist, but he is repeatedly compared to an angel. “And Achis answering said to David: I know that thou art good in my sight, as an angel of God.” (1 Sa 29:9) “Then let thy handmaid say, that the word of the Lord the king be made as a sacrifice. For even as an angel of God, so is my lord the king, that he is neither moved with blessing nor cursing: wherefore the Lord thy God is also with thee.” (2 Sa 14:17) More specifically, he is praised for angelic wisdom, making the contrast with the fool more striking. “...thou, my lord, O king, art wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to understand all things upon earth.” (2 Sa 14:20) In the image above, the Psalmist’s harp (also an angelic attribute) is strategically placed in the image so as to suggest wings for Kind David.

The Key, that striking metaphor turned symbol, has naturally appealed to many allegorists, and Rosicrucian mystics in particular. Within the work of any particular occultist, the term is likely to be ill-defined and polysemous, and also different from that of other occultists. Nonetheless, it remains a great symbol of ancient covenants, dynastic authority, divine selection, Messianic power, etc. Writers of occultist fiction continue to be fascinated by the House of David to this day. It is among the central themes of the Holy Blood, Holy Grail mythos, although in that context the interest is in a literal biological lineage rather than the authority of Jesus as the Christ (which is emphatically denied) or any mystical derivative of that. Regardless, the point here is simply that in no case prior to Lévi was it used to refer to Tarot.


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s Key1. The Bow of the Key

Sign over the Cave of the Illuminati On the left side of the bow is the word, INTELLIGENTIBUS, which means “those who understand”, “the discerning”, “those with understanding”. An example comes from Daniel 2:21. “And he changeth times and ages: taketh away kingdoms, and establisheth them: giveth wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that have understanding...” Also see Jer 49:7. This suggests the elitism characteristic of most occult world views. Franckenberg expressed his disdain for the masses in a letter written the same year in which his edition of Postel’s Key was published.

Of the KEY, whatever Theologians are about to think it matters not. This I know that the eyes and the ears of the common herd cannot discern or tolerate the light and the word of wisdom and the truth of hidden things. And since one teaches that wisdom is by far the most central and universal thing, it is not wonderful [i.e., surprising] that the lowly and plebeian should not understand or grasp such things because they neglect them and are ignorant. Therefore let him understand who can, let him carp who will, it is all the same to me. (Meador)

In Book VI of the Aenead, Virgil had the Cumaen Sybil run off the hoi polloi, “ere Hecate came. ‘Far hence be souls profane!’ The Sibyl cried, "‘and from the grove abstain!’” The Latin expression, Procul, o procul, este profani, has also been translated as, “Be off, O be gone, ye unitiated.” This seems to express Franckenberg’s sentiment.

Above the bow are the words, Intellectus and Judicet. The word intellectus means understanding. An example comes from Isaiah 29:13-14: “for wisdom shall perish from their wise men, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”. The Vulgate has, peribit enim sapientia a sapientibus ejus, et intellectus prudentium ejus abscondetur. Another example is from Col 2:2-3, which speaks of, “the knowledge of the mystery of God the Father and of Christ Jesus: In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The word judicet means “to judge”. An example comes from Job 13:17-19. “Hear ye my speech, and receive with your ears hidden truths. If I shall be judged, I know that I shall be found just. Who is he that will plead against me?

Below the bow are the words, Qui potest capere capiat, from Matthew 19:12. It means, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (KJV) or “The one who can accept this should accept it.” The passage is in the context of accepting celibacy, becoming “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” This probably refers again to the concept of an elite, either a spiritually elect few or an initiated few. It is a repeated theme of Franckenberg’s Key to the Key.

The Magician from David’s TarotThe shape of the bow itself is a circular ring. Inside the bow are three shapes: a square enclosing a circle enclosing a triangle. A circle is a very common symbol. Traditionally, it may represent eternity or the godhead, or conversely it may represent cyclic time, the created world, etc. The meaning in a particular instance must be taken from context. For example, a circle around the Monogram of Christ signifies the eternal nature of Christ, as a circle around a triangle implies the eternal nature of the Trinity. On the other hand, as a solar symbol the circle’s significance is temporal and cyclical rather than eternal and unchanging. In combination with a triangle and square, the three shapes constitute a conventional mystical motif, but still with various possible interpretations. In the present case, they must be reconciled with DEUS HOMO ROTA, so that the triangle is associated with God, the circle with the created world or Cosmos, and the square with Man.

The legends on and within the bow read clockwise from the shaft. Written on the bow are the following words and letters: “R Pulsate O et T aperietur A vobis”. The letters spell R O T A, wheel. In their knee-jerk obeisance to Lévi, modern occultists seem unable to conceive of any wheel that is not symbolic of Ezekiel’s vision. “And I saw, and behold there were four wheels by the cherubim: one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels was to the sight like the chrysolite stone: And as to their appearance, all four were alike: as if a wheel were in the midst of a wheel.” (Eze 10:9-10) However, Franckenberg’s Rota (like Tarot’s Wheel of Fortune) seems to have little to do with Ezekiel’s Cherubim, (although Postel does refer to “a wheel in the middle of a wheel” as one of various allusions to the union of God and man, as in the sacrament of Holy Communion), and again, it must be taken in the DEUS HOMO ROTA context. As such, the Cosmos itself is a rotating sphere consisting of spheres within spheres, or, metaphorically, a wheel.

The words pulsate, et aperietur vobis come from Matthew 7:7, knock and it shall be opened to you. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” This is related to the general theme of Christ opening the door, as in the passage from Revelation quoted above. The idea that one must ask in order for grace to be conferred is a commonplace but fundamental concept, given prominence—for example—in some Grail stories.

Inside the bow is a square; in the four gaps between the bow and the square are the letters H O M O. Man is thus connected with the square, which is a common symbolic association consistent with the DEUS HOMO ROTA design. John Meador notes, “Postel’s Clavis seems to be largely about HOMO becoming DEUS. He mentions Deushomo several times and presents Enoch and Elijah as prefiguring such a Mediator.” Enoch and Elijah are like David in being Old Testament types, prefiguring aspects of Jesus as the Christ. Jesus was the archetypal Deushomo, man as God and God as man.

Inside the square is a circle; in the four gaps between the square and the circle are four pairs of letters spelling CHRISTUS. This is the Latin name of Christ, who holds the key of David. Christ is both man and God, and, as Logos, is the means by whom the world was created. Christ unites God with both Man and Cosmos, and thus his name is woven between the circle and square. In that sense, CHRISTUS squares the circle, which can be thought of as another symbolic representation of Deushomo.

Inside the circle is a triangle; in the three gaps between the circle and the triangle are the letters E N S. In the medieval Neoplatonic tradition, God is identified with ens, being. This corresponds to the much older Judeo-Christian concept expressed in Exodus 3:14 and the name Jehovah. The Aristotelian concept of on is sometimes symbolized by the letters omicron omega nu: ο ω ν, from the Septuagint. The relation between God and the created world (circle and triangle) is discussed in the Corpus Hermeticum quote below.

Trinity Shield
The triangle is divided into three triangles; in the smaller triangles are the initials P. F. S.. Given that these three form the main triangle, and thereby a trinity, the initials obviously refer to the Trinity: “Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”. This part of the diagram is a simplification of the Trinity Shield or Scutum Fidei. The Shield of the Faith was a medieval diagram of the Trinity, as codified in the Athanasian Creed.


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s Key2. The Shaft of the Key

Above the shaft is the word VERITATEM, which means “truth”. An example comes from Daniel 7:16. “I approached one of the attendants and asked the truth from him about all these things. He told me the interpretation of the words, and he instructed me”. Most notably, Jesus is the Truth. “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” (Jo 14:6) The Vulgate has ego sum via et veritas et vita nemo venit ad Patrem nisi per me. 1 John 5:5 affirms this: “This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth, that Christ is the truth.Christus est veritas in the Vulgate. VERITATEM is connected with INTELLIGIBUS by the fact that both are written in capital letters. This implies that they should be taken together as the motto of the emblem.

Below the shaft are, from left to right, a triangle, the letters Per, and a square. Above these are the numbers 1 2 3, while below them are the numbers 3 2 1, respectively. This illustrates a cycle from the triangle to the square and back again. Per is Latin, meaning “through”, “by means of”, “as in”. Thus the expression “[triangle] per [square]” might be translated as “Deus via Homo”, and the numbering indicates the cyclic route which implies Homo via Deus. The Axiom of Maria Prophetissa describes such a three-step cycle: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” Restated, one yields two, two yields three, and from the third comes the unity. (For a more modern usage, the Jungian process of individuation has also been described in terms of Maria’s Axiom: “one is the original state of unconscious wholeness; two signifies the conflict between opposites; three points to a potential resolution; the third is the transcendent function; and the one as the fourth is a transformed state of consciousness, relatively whole and at peace.”)

Written on the shaft are the words, Exi ut Introeas (Exit in order to enter? Exit so that you may enter?) which seems connected to the grouping below the shaft. An example of the terms comes from an exorcism in Mk 9:24. “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee, go out of him and enter not any more into him.” The Vulgate has Surde et mute spiritus, ego praecipio tibi, exi ab eo: et amplius ne introeas in eum. The teaching of the passage was, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mk 9:22) One of the most famous examples of departure and entrance is from Egypt to the Promised Land.

And Moses with the ancients of Israel commanded the people, saying: Keep every commandment that I command you this day. And when you are passed over the Jordan into the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, thou shalt set up great stones, and shalt plaster them over with plaster, That thou mayst write on them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over the Jordan: that thou mayst enter into the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as he swore to thy fathers. (Deuteronomy 27:1-3)

Ultimately, death and resurrection (literal or their mystical equivalents) are the underlying implication of exi ut introeas, as Christ (himself the first fruit of the resurrection) turns death into life. Revelation 2:10 puts it this way: “Be thou faithful until death: and I will give thee the crown of life.” “Amen, amen I say unto you, that he who heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath life everlasting; and cometh not into judgment, but is passed from death to life.” (Jo 5:24) This is likewise what the sacraments are about: “For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.” (Ro 6:4) “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.” Jo 6:55


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s Key3. The Head of the Key

On the right side of the head is written, Lucae XI, 52, which refers to Luke 11:52. The text of this passage is also written out, with the following capitalization. “WOE to you lawyers, for you have taken away the KEY OF KNOWLEDGE. You yourselves have not entered in: and those that were entering in, you have hindered.” The Vulgate has, VAE vobis legis peritis quia tulistis CLAVEM SCIENTIAE ipsi non introistis et eos qui introibant prohibuistis. The reference to entering reinforces the exi ut introeas allusion. More generally, this reference to the Key of Knowledge is the epigram, the main message of the emblem. As such, it significantly alters the concept of the Key of David. David’s power, authority, and God’s special covenant with his house were all based on David being the chosen of God. Despite his failings, his faith justified him and God blessed him. Here Franckenberg has insinuated another common occult doctrine: that power, authority, and connection with the divine are based on secret knowledge. Grace is still required, but it is conferred on the initiated rather than the faithful.

The head of the key is divided into 12 squares. Each square has a letter, spelling out the following words:

DEUS
HOMO
ROTA

Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, the contemporary of Moses, with a quotation from Asclepius; Siena Cathedral, 1488This refers to the three realms or worlds of God, Man, and the created Universe. Among the more profitable places to take that are Ficino and—for a modern view—Jung. However, perhaps the best place is Chapter X of the Corpus Hermeticum, known as The Key. Not surprisingly, Franckenberg frequently referred to the Corpus Hermeticum in his writings, using the 1591 work of Francesco Patrizi of Cherso (1529-1597), Nova de universis philosophia. This Hermetic Key, Chapter X, is a synopsis of the “General Sermons” which precede it. Some of the main themes of Hermes’ Key are also themes of Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s Key. Deus, Rota, and Homo, for example, are spelled out in this passage.

And the cosmos is first, but after the cosmos the second living thing is the human, who is the first of mortal beings and like other living things has ensoulment. Moreover, the human is not only good, but because he is mortal his is evil as well. For the cosmos is not good because it moves, yet because it is immortal it is not evil. But the human, because he moves and is mortal, is evil. A human soul is carried in this way: the mind is in the reason; the reason is in the soul; the soul is in the spirit; the spirit, passing through veins and arteries and blood, moves the living thing and, in a manner of speaking, bears it up. [...] All things depend from one beginning, but the beginning depends from the one and only, and the beginning moves so that it can again become a beginning; only the one, however stands still and does not move. There are these three, then: god the father and the good; the cosmos; and the human. And god holds the cosmos, but the cosmos holds the human. And the cosmos becomes the son of god, but the human becomes the son of the cosmos, a grandson, as it were. (Copenhaver)

Regarding the Key of Knowledge referred to in Luke, the Hermetic Key reiterates the central occultist theme discussed above: salvation is gained by “the truth of hidden things”. Ignorance is the real sin, and knowledge is equated with virtue. “The vice of soul is ignorance. [...] The virtue of the soul, by contrast, is knowledge: for one who knows is good and reverent and already divine.” (Copenhaver)


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeyMichael’s Key to the Key

All that is most ancient is a lie.
One of Alciato’s simpler yet more ironic emblems
O Proteus, old man of Pallene, with the form of an actor, who at one moment takes the limbs of a man, at another those of a beast, come tell us why you turn into all shapes, so that, forever changing, you have no fixed form?
“I bring forth symbols of antiquity and a primaeval age, of which each man dreams, according to his wishes.”

What is the import of these assorted references? Taken together, the symbols and legends form an emblem of occult knowledge. The emblematic genre was established in 1531 with Alciato, although he drew from similar devices and traditions. Initially, the words—essentially epigrams—were the main point of the emblem. In their most canonical form however, emblems at the time of Franckenberg had three main features: an epigram or verse, a proverbial motto, and a symbolic picture. The relation between the elements varied greatly, sometimes consisting of little more than an illustrated motto with an explanatory epigram. However, emblems commonly involved the juxtaposition of seemingly antithetical elements, often within the pictorial element. They usually involved some moral concept, often summarized in the motto. Given our distance from the popular culture in which they developed, most of them seem obscure today. This is nonetheless in keeping with another characteristic: apparently they were considered conversation pieces.

Too often 20th-century readers are attracted by the visual images of emblems, and stop there. Yet the emblem in Alciato is also - some might say principally - a working through of moral and verbal dilemmas, of the puns, proverbs, and catchwords of classical Latinity (and Greek). Some of the poems have a very elaborate referentiality, so that commentary becomes necessary, even for highly educated readers.
(Alciato’s Book of Emblems: The Memorial Web Edition)

In this case, the epigram is Luke 11:52. “Woe to you lawyers, for you have taken away the key to knowledge; you yourselves have not entered in, and those that were entering in, you have hindered.” The motto consists of the two words in capital letters: INTELLIGENTIBUS VERITATEM, meaning, “The truth of those who can understand”. If the words in capital letters are a motto for the Key, and if the passage from Luke is the epigram, then the rest of the Key—the image and the remainder of the legends—constitute a diagram both illustrating and elaborating on the verse and motto. These references need to be considered in light of the motto and epigram. All the pieces should fit together.

In the three preceding sections, texts were chosen to illustrate the various legends on Franckenberg’s Key emblem. In some cases these may have seemed arbitrary, but the selections were not random. Taken together, the various bits and pieces of the emblem tend to cluster into three constellations of meaning. Biblical passages were selected which seemed most in keeping with those themes. The Bible was used because it has served for many centuries as the primary code book of Western esotericism. The organizing literary conceit, the overriding group of meanings, deals with the key metaphor, (including allusions to entry and exit, open and shut), the Key of David, and the Key of Knowledge. This is the form given to the more substantive message. References include pulsate, et aperietur vobis, exi ut introeas, and Luke 11:52. The more substantive message consists of two themes: 1) hidden secrets and the elect or initiated who understand them, and 2) cosmological mysticism.

Key of the Electi

There are hidden secrets, and there are initiated adepti, illuminati. This may be thought of as a secondary or even administrative truth. It is not the truth that leads to salvation, but it is a core belief which generally distinguishes occultists and mystics from rationalists. This message is alluded to by, among other things, Intelligentibus Veritatem, Judicet, Intellectus, quo potest capere capiat, Luke 11:52, and so on.

The Davidic Covenant

The universe manifests in multiplicity, but unity is possible. More specifically, God, the Cosmos, and Man are distinct but may be reconciled and reunited. The covenant of David promised that his line would produce the Messiah, the Deushomo, and from a mystical perspective, this applies not merely to Jesus but to all those who may achieve God-union or become gods in this life. This is alluded to by, among other things, the triangle-circle-square motif, Deus-Homo-Rota, the square-circle associated with Christus, the circle-triangle associated with Ens, the triangle associated with the Trinity, triangle-“per”-square, exi ut introeas, Luke 11:52, and so on.

To close, here is Postel’s comment on the Rota or wheel, indicating the fundamental Christian mysticism that is the context of his Key.

In the end, at the same vortex [Eden] is another, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, clearly the sacrament of communion, that is a wheel in the middle of a wheel. In infinite divinity, encloses the soul of souls, the major angels being included in soul, with glorified body, the broad and capacious heaven, in body, soul and divinity it is the center of everything, the Holy Sacrament... (Meador)

Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeySome Images Related to Lévi’s Key

Tarot-related Images (Papus, Levi, Zain, Waite)
From Papus, Tarot of the Bohemians From Levi, Transcendental Magic From Zain, The Sacred Tarot From Waite, Pictorial Key to the Tarot


Chi-Rho: The Monogram of Christ (ΧΡ w/ΑΩ)


Images of Ezechiel’s Wheels/Cheribum
Bible Illumination of Wheels of Ezechiel Joachim of Fiore’s Diagram of Ezechiel’s Vision
cf. Betts ch. 9 Raphael’s Painting of Ezechiel’s Vision


Franckenberg’s Key to Postel’s KeyNotes and References

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