Major Arcana

Here is a discussion of the various Major Arcana cards from the Rider-Waite deck. I initially learnt from a 99p charity shop book accompanying the Mythic Tarot deck. The Major Arcana were explained as steps along a kind of spiritual journey, and I’ll take a similar approach as the story aspect is helpful in remembering each card as a rite of passage of sorts. For each, I give a brief description of the image, talk about underlying meanings, then make some suggestions for relevance in a card reading. Contributions most welcome as an opportunity to learn and develop this resource!

0. The Fool | 1. The Magician | 2. The High Priestess | 3. The Empress | 4. The Emperor | 5. The Hierophant | 6. The Lovers | 7. The Chariot | 8. Strength | 9. The Hermit | 10. The Wheel of Fortune | 11. Justice | 12. The Hanged Man | 13. Death | 14. Temperance | 15. The Devil | 16. The Tower | 17. The Star | 18. The Moon | 19. The Sun | 20. Judgement | 21. The World

0. The Fool

Although actually card number zero (or un-numbered), the fool heralds the start of the journey. The image depicts the sun shining on a youth in travelling attire who is holding a flower and singing as he merrily walks towards the edge of a cliff. A dog follows faithfully at his heels.

With age and experience comes cynicism, and we marvel at the naivete and idealism of youth. However, without this fresh energy and boldness, this ignorance that shields from stark reality, we would fall into stagnation. The Fool draws us irrationally towards change, taking risks and exploring the world with a delight that can quickly turn sour, but can also be glorious. While the fool walks the cliff edge, wise men avert their eyes and shudder at the imminent catastrophe, yet we were all young once. Without the freedom to take such risks how could we ever learn to become something greater?

In a card spread, this can mean innocence, bravado, risks, delight and beginning a new stage in one’s life. Reversed, it warns of naivete, cowardice or excessive caution, humiliation and cynicism. The very ambiguous nature of the Fool makes it hard to isolate either positives or negatives, as it is very much a matter of perspective whether he was ever actually going to step off the cliff at all!

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1. The Magician

With the Magician we see reference to potential and skills yet to manifest. The card depicts a man wielding a rod and pointing to heaven and earth, a halo of infinite potential crowning him. Before him are the tools of magic as instantiated in the Minor Arcana suits: A wand, cup, pentacle and sword (ritual athame blade).

This card resonates with the power of ingenuity over the world. All things are possible within his dominion, and with his direction we find ourselves a guide. However, just as his tools (suits of the Minor Arcana) embody and channel the power stemming from within, the Magician’s potential does too. The Fool starts to become empowered, but has yet to learn of responsibility and the nature of power.

In a card spread this can mean a teacher or guiding force, within or without, creativity, ingenuity, potential and opportunity. Reversed it warns of wasted opportunities, undeveloped skills and potential, charlatan who leads astray and reckless use of power.

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2. The High Priestess

The High Priestess sits at the gateway to the land of dreams, between gates of horn and ivory. She bears the symbols of several religions on this threshold to the subconscious mind. At her feet a crescent moon nestles in her trailing robes as they turn into the water of the tides.

The subconscious is a very powerful and mysterious place for the uninitiated. The moon influences the tides with very real consequences. Though we may occasionally catch flashes of insight and inspiration through the gateway, attempts to master the subconscious with intellect are frustrated. The moon is constantly changing, and frequently obscured in darkness. Both creative and destructive aspects of our potential reside in here. The Fool enters this twilight land every time he rests his head to sleep, yet is only starting to awaken to awareness of this intuition, though the process is often confusing.

In a card spread this can mean the subconsious, intuition, initiation, mystery, spiritual stirrings and destiny, secret influences and rhythms. Reversed it warns of confusion and deception, suspicion, writer’s block, subconscious repression and spiritual lack. Oh, and symptomatic bad dreams!

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3. The Empress

The Empress sits on a cushioned throne in the middle of a field, wielding a barley-corn scepter and a 12 starred crown. The field and sceptre show her power over life, and the crown refers to her dominance over the months of the year. The symbol of Venus, associated with beauty, love and the feminine; is inscribed on what could be a bolster or box of chocolates(!) but also subtly worked into the roses covering her gown.

She (this card) epitomises the sterotypical feminine and mothering experience. Not only the physical processes of gestation, birth and nurturing but also the body as precious vessel. Also, to quote from the Mythic Tarot companion, she represents the internalising ‘experience of being part of nature and rooted in natural life, the appreciation of the senses and the simple pleasures of daily existence.’ She teaches gentle respect for natural rhythms and patience. As Great Mother she brings a sense of connectedness with the world, safety and trust. However she can sometimes be over-protective, binding her children too tightly with her apron strings such that they cannot even begin to take the journey of the Fool, resulting in stagnation of spirit. She can also be vengeful and cold as the winter months, mourning the losses and conflicts that life necessitates. The Fool encounters the feminine and masculine archetypes early in the journey in the form of the Empress, and Emperor soon to come. Indeed, for most, this will be as mother and father. The Fool learns to take care of himself and others in daily life.

In a card spread she embodies the physical and practical side of life, health, marriage and birth, fertility, nurturing and patience, instinct, protection and peace. Reversed, she warns of stagnation and suffocating protection, barrenness, nepotism, ignorance of higher laws, impatience and mourning.

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4. The Emperor

The Emperor sits, stern and bearded, in a throne of stone with carved ram skulls. He wields a golden orb and sceptre. He symbolises the archetypal masculine dominant ego, ruler and absolute secular authority. Armoured greaves are revealed through his robes, relating to dominance by force. The orb and sceptre relate to his right to rule and the duty demanded of others. The grand yet cold mountains in the background mirror the power yet harsh lack of frivolity and comfort.

He (this card) epitomises the stereotypical maculine and fathering experience. In contrast to the physicality of the Empress, the Emperor instantiates our more spiritual ideals, ethics, resolve, authority and ambition which externalise and sculpt the world in our image. Rather than a sensitive and receptive perspective, we see a forceful and penetrating one. The Emperor demands discipline and duty, but also commands self-respect and confidence. In balance, though wrathful and vindictive towards transgressions of law and challenges to authority, these same laws protect and champion the weak and needy. His stony demeanour reflects the stern resolve that a ruler must possess to uphold the law. The Fool learns the active and idealistic principles of his Father to accompany the receptive sensuousness of his mother the Empress. He stands up for himself and what he believes in.

In a card spread he enforces a more spiritual and idealistic side of life, rationality, duty and law, responsibility, self-respect and confidence, tradition, creative force and the struggle to achieve. Reversed, he warns of overbearing suppression, rigidity and inflexibility, impatience, abandonment, ignorance of natural cycles, neglect and insensitivity.

Note: At this point I would stress the stereotypical nature of the Empress and Emperor cards relating to the masculine and feminine archetypes. In reality these are most unusual extremes. Without giving too much away, the two are conceptually reconciled and integrated at the end of the Fool’s journey with the World card!

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5. The Hierophant

The Hierophant sits in audience, right hand raised in benediction, left hand holding a sceptre with three cross bars. He wears a triple crown, again echoing the triune aspect of divinity, but not necessarily just the Judaeo-Christian one as all religions involve the threefold form of the knowable, unknowable and the bridge between them. In this sense, the Hierophant is truly the bridge between man and the divine, with the cross keys to heaven at his feet. His throne rests between two pillars, and before him are two of the faithful in attendance. The pillars have been taken to represent Law and Liberty, or obedience and disobedience on the Wiki.

As the High Priestess may be seen to represent the deep internal mysteries of the feminine archetype embodied by the Empress, the Hierophant represents the divine external mysteries of the masculine archetype enforced by the Emperor. Though the Emperor’s domain includes the secular law, his is the human endeavour to instantiate the word of the divine. In more down to earth language, the Emperor tries to put the highest ideals of the Hierophant into practice. The Hierophant is a very complex card as theologians are likely to attest, but in summary the card refers to the inner spiritual teacher, reaching beyond the mundane world for guidance, yet still sharing the limitations and imperfections of humanity.

In a card spread the Hierophant can mean a spiritual calling, questioning, search for deeper meaning in life, education, analyst/psychotherapist/priest or other spiritual teacher, touch of divinity. Reversed it warns of dogma, prejudice, lack of meaning, persecution and heresy, overburdened with the mundane, anti-spiritual sentiments.

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6. The Lovers

The Lovers depicted are Adam and Eve, palms upturned as if in confusion. Looming overhead is an angel signifying their banishment from Eden for their actions. In the background behind the couple is the evil influence of the serpent coiled around the Tree of Life, and divine influence in the form of the burning bush.

The Lovers are quintessentially about choices, often of the heart and relationships, but not exclusively. These choices derive from the influences that draws us forwards towards making connections and relationships with people and things in the world. To make these choices without consideration of the consequences is a recipe for disaster, as is a failure to understand and develop the desires and motivations within us that guide our decisions. A lot of confusion and comedy derives almost theatrically from the initial burgeonings of sexual desire and love, which over time can be refined and understood by the individual, at least a little! We cannot always hedge our bets and sit on the fence, so we must also learn to understand and accept the consequences of our choices. Trying to avoid a choice is a choice in itself and sometimes we need to learn these things the hard way, especially as a choice usually involves sacrificing one thing for another.

In a card spread the Lovers refers to an impending choice, usually in love, which necessitates careful examination of consequences, motivations and desires to get to best outcome. There can be overtones of sexual attraction and desire, but also more generically relationships, possibly in business or conceptually as in academic research. It may also be an affinity for something or someone. Reversed it warns of rash or hasty decisions, immaturity, hesitation or inability to choose, complexity, temptation, difficult sacrifice.

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7. The Chariot

A powerful princely figure steers a chariot pulled by two steeds of opposing natures, a black and a white sphinx. He holds a wand, symbol of masculine authority.

The steeds are powerful and mysterious, but the charioteer must exert his own influence and direction over them to bend their wayward inclinations to his will. If he can, the Chariot is a powerful force to overcome adversity. The Chariot emphasises the power of the masterful suit of Wands to resolve conflict. The nature of the struggle may be an internal one, between desires and impulses, or between external influences. However, the Chariot expresses the power of the will to unite apparent discord under a guiding force, and also the resulting empowerment from doing so. The Fool must now discover the strength of will within himself to take charge and direct not only his instinctual urges, but also the forces at play in the world.

In a spread, the Chariot can mean struggle and conflict which strengthens through experience, competition, aggression, willpower, confidence, motivation. Reversed it can mean weakness of will, a weak authority, excessive force, loss of control, powerlessness, repressed desires, contradictions.

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8. Strength

A woman, appearing calm and gentle, nonetheless exerts dominance over a lion. She clasps it by the jaws with ease. Above her head the symbol of infinity, as seen with the Magician card, represents potential and empowerment. Her robes are virginal white and adorned with foliage in an almost druidic manner.

Historically, this card was named Fortitude, emphasising a physical empowerment and one of the cardinal virtues. As with the Chariot, we encounter a struggle but here the matter is not won through willpower so much as through physical moderation and self-discipline. Not Wands but the suit of Pentacles is key to this conundrum. In the Mythic Tarot this card is about inner strength where the lion represents the Freudian primal and selfish ‘id’ and the woman as ‘ego’ wrestles to integrate it. The id is part of us, the bad tempered child within, and to deny or destroy it is a form of self mutilation. Rather, the card Strength represents the grail of harnessing and identifying with our inner self, channeling our urges so they are productive and not destructive. The very earthy references in the card remind me of the old Hippocratic system of Humours where good health was based on a balance of four basic substances in the body, and imbalance resulted in a particular behavioural disposition. I find this card, especially as Fortitude, makes reference to the physical balances of diet and lifestyle as well as psychology. The Fool having started to wield the directive force of his will in the Chariot, now discovers the vitality of having fundamental Strength of self as a platform from which to act.

In a spread, this card can mean similar things to the Chariot, but with greater emphasis on inner conflict and balance: Integration, grace and mercy, strength of character and willpower, confidence, motivation, resiliance, self-discipline. Reversed, it warns of excess, greed, lust, repressed desires and loss of self-control as with the Chariot reversed, ill health and weakness, starving the self spiritually and/or physically, cruelty.

Note: I added lust to the reversed card meanings, but am quite aware of the Crowley deck renaming this entire card as Lust. I think lust is often construed as an excess of desire, hence I count it as a warning; but equally if one manages to fully integrate and reconcile potentially great sexual desires within then the negative aspects of Strength do not apply! i.e. The Whore of Babylon astride the great Beast is not a symbol of internal conflict, though it may well fall afoul of the test of mind when we reach card 11. Justice.

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9. The Hermit

An old man with journey staff holds aloft a lantern atop an icy pinnacle. The lantern shines with the light of the Star of hope (card 17), although the gaze of the old man does not appear to be looking outwards, but rather down from the lonely pinnacle or inwards in meditation. The background is desolate wasteland and a mountain range.

This card has a dual nature in that it refers to the need for isolation and privacy, but then also the return from such a state to the world, refreshed with inner wisdom. Deeper than that, it can be seen to refer to the necessarily isolation inherent in all language as a group construct, where the meanings of words remain private and personal to the individual, yet language is dependent on interaction with others to arise at all. Yet another aspect of the card is that of time, reflecting the cardinal virtue of prudence. Recall the famous phrase, ‘everybody dies alone’. Time steals away youth and beauty and isolates us all at the end, but as we see the world pass us by we learn wisdom, patience and endurance. By withdrawing from the river of time the Fool accepts that which must change beyond his control, finds that part of himself which endures, and returns to daily life with newfound patience, shrewdness and high hopes for the future.

In a spread, the Hermit can mean solitude, withdrawal, meditation, patience, wisdom, endurance, silence. Reversed, it warns of loneliness, isolation, captivating obsession, clinging to the moment, impatience, stubborn resistance to change, distraction.

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10. The Wheel of Fortune

A card brimming with symbolism related to the wheel itself, the inscribed alchemical symbols corresponding to earth (and the suit of Pentacles), fire (and Wands), water (and Cups), air (and Swords). The four winged animals corresponding to the four Evangelists, On the wiki the letters ‘TARO’ on the wheel were intended by Waite to mean “Rota Taro Orat Tora Ator,” which he “translated” (this term used loosely) to: “The Wheel of Taro[t] speaks the Law of Ator [Hathor, or Love].” Godly entities are raised and brought low by the wheel turning, and we see Anubis and snakelike Typhon but also the Sphinx poised atop wielding a Sword representing intellect.

On the face of it, fortune is a matter of luck and chance, but most of us have heard the saying ‘I prefer to make my own luck’. The Wheel actually speaks of destiny, a great guiding principle that makes and breaks all from the great to the lowly. Even more than that, it is about owning our own influences on the world around us, deep influences that may initially be hidden from us and seem strange and whimsical. The position of the Sphinx reflects the role of perception in making this transition: Rather than focus on concrete instances that seem good or bad, we can take a wider view of the holistic and interconnected nature of such events, and our own part in their genesis. Rather than promoting the myth of omnipotent conscious will, the Wheel breaks us into accepting the influences of the shadowy subconscious parts of ourselves that drive it. With this, the Fool confronts the Wheel of Fortune, recognises his own fingerprints on it, and owns his personal destiny even though it may often be a mystery to him.

In a spread, the Wheel of Fortune can mean a change for the better or worse, luck or some string of misfortunes, but the power of the card is in the nature of our perception of this. Whatever happens we move towards change and growth, opportunities and development if we approach it in the right way, heeding the timely warning of the Hermit card. Reversed, it warns of this personal blindness, an ‘inauthentic‘ existential outlook, whereby in failing to see our own role in crafting our destiny we are enslaved by it.

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11. Justice

A female figure, perhaps a queen, is seated wearing crown and robes. Her finery is in contrast to somewhat austere stone surroundings with little decoration, lending gravity to her situation. She holds a sword aloft in her right hand, and a pair of scales in her left.

The female is often taken to represent Athena, the Greek goddess of Justice. She also bears close links with the Queen of Swords in the Minor Arcana. Having seen the triumph of will (Wands) in the Chariot and the triumph of fortitude (Pentacles) in Strength; we encounter the triumph of mind (Swords). Justice embodies the cardinal virtue of reflective judgement and rationality, the ability to act with foresight, and careful consideration based on higher ideals. Faced with pragmatic demands and uncertainties, Justice tends towards jurisprudence, but also exhorts impartiality, truth and fairness. Justice can seem cold and brutal, as with the judgement of Solomon, but sometimes this is necessary in order for an impasse to be surmounted – a resolution of the blade which cuts through the Gordian Knot to achieve closure. There are also times where Swords are inappropriate, and though cutting away personal concerns can simplify and clarify a situation, they may also risk mutilating it by removing reference to feelings which are essential parts of compassion and mercy. Justice seeks to embody important ethical principles, but it should be remembered that such principles are at best human attempts of artistry to capture the depth and intricacy of the human condition in the medium of language. The Fool learns to sort truth from falsehood and achieve balance with his own intellect and judgment, but must also learn the weight of the Sword in dispensing punishment and to test its limitations. Justice, when blindfolded, is limited by the information she receives.

In a spread, Justice means a need for balanced thought and impartiality, decisions, mind, analysis, logic, foresight, clear vision. Reversed, it means imbalance, bias, lack of forethought, excessive idealism, insensitivity, criticism, misinformation.

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12. The Hanged Man

A man hangs from a tree or wooden gallows by an ankle, hands tied behind his back, yet with a look of serenity and a nimbus of enlightenment about his head.

There are some obvious references to the ideas of sacrifice and enlightenment, a conjunction seen in many places such as the Crucifixion of Christ, Egyptian stories of Osiris, Persian tales of Mithras, and Norse tales of Odin hanging from the tree of life Yggdrasil, for instance. The concept of sacrifice is a powerful one, involving an evaluation of what is given up against what is gained. However, given the countless tales of deceit and trickery at the bargaining table, there must also be an element of trust or faith to broach the limitations of language. Words will never completely satisfy the rigours of the deal by themselves. What is to be sacrificed can be concrete and/or abstract, like giving up the security of a comfort-blanket to achieve confidence and independence. Also, when the sacrifice must be made before the reward is even received, the trial of faith becomes even more daunting. In some cases, the sacrifice may seem completely insane, as with the Bible tale of Abraham being called to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s will, and it is only with hindsight that we may ever actually see the wisdom or lack of it! The Fool is called to take a leap of faith, placing his old life on the line for the hope of attaining something great but unattainable/incomprehensible given the constraints of his former self. In that moment of weightlessness, hanging between life and death, anything can happen.

In a spread, the Hanged Man means sacrifice for enlightenment, faith, letting go to achieve greater things, acceptance and martyrdom. Reversed, it can mean fruitless sacrifice, error of judgement, lack of faith, inaction and conformism, delusions of grandeur.

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13. Death

A skeleton in black armour embodying Death sits astride a white steed. Death holds a banner aloft, bearing a white flower, symbol of rebirth. A king is trampled beneath the horse’s hooves whilst a child looks on entranced. A maiden kneels swooning or dying beside it. A Bishop stands in prayer, facing the fearful apparition. The Sun rises or sets in the distance behind twin towers, seemingly the towers of card 18. The Moon. A river, perhaps the Styx, divides the land of daylight from the shadowlands and a solitary vessel crosses it.

For many misunderstanding the Tarot, this card is frightening as a memento mori reminding them of a physical end. The central meaning is actually that of change or rebirth. However, there cannot be change without the death of old ways and the birth of the new. The direction of Death’s gaze is appropriately vague – like that of the Mona Lisa! – coming to all in time regardless of rank. I can imagine a look of complicit understanding passing between the child and Death at their close interrelationship in the cycle of rebirth! The pain and resistance to change is partly due to the familiarity and relationships that accrue with time and age, so children may be the best positioned to accept it with open eyes. A very powerful symbol, we see transitions between places, traditions, phases of our life, concepts and perspectives, some great and some small. We saw Death in the distance with the Hermit and the Hanged Man cards, but now it is here. The Fool must pass through the shadow of Death, accepting its necessity as part of life in order to move on.

In a spread, Death means change, transitions, rebirth, acceptance, enduring faith. Reversed it refers to negative responses to this process, hesitation, pain of loss, stagnation. At any rate, the biggest question posed by Death is not necessarily what it IS, but how we choose to face it and respond to it as a great personal mystery.

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14. Temperance

A winged androgynous figure stands one foot in water and one on land, pouring liquid from one cup to another. Lilies grow nearby. The sun in the distance is a curiously foreshortened oval, reminiscent of the mouth of a chalice or even a crown. On the figure’s chest we encounter a triangle symbolising synthesis of feeling. As with the 5. The Hierophant bridging the gap between known and unknown, Temperance performs a similar role within in matters of the heart.

Finally we encounter the triumph of emotion (Cups), dealing with relationships between things and the synthesis of opposites into union. One of the four cardinal virtues, dealing in moderation and historically associated with the dilution of wine with water. The lilies make a symbolic connection with the Greek goddess Iris, a figure tasked with varying duties of care and vengeance, necessitating a perpetually fluid readjustment of feeling (from the Mythic Tarot). As the figure straddles water and land, solid and liquid, conscious and subconscious, this card represents a powerful union of the two realms. By releasing himself to the change of Death, the Fool finds himself freed of the restraints of the mind and self; and dipping into the unconscious, he discovers harmony of feeling. The Mythic Tarot polarises the virtues of Justice and Temperance as mind and heart, contrasting abstraction vs feeling, conceptual division/clarity vs harmonious unity, individuality vs solidarity. Of course, they need each other as an excess of Temperance calls to mind the Doldrums where not even a breeze disturbs the becalmed water.

In a spread, Temperance implies harmony through rebalancing of feeling, health through moderation, equilibrium and synthesis. Reversed, it warns of imbalance, disharmony, ill health through excess, or even boredom and stagnation.

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Note: I find it odd that the four cardinal virtues do not match up exactly with the triumph of the four suits of the Minor Arcana. i.e. Strength (Pentacles) = Fortitude, Justice (Swords) = Justice, Temperance (Cups) = Temperance but it is the Hermit which correlates with Prudence. The triumph of will exhibited in the Chariot (Wands) is ignored. On reflection though, this reminds me of the Nietzschean philosophical encouragement of will in contrast to what he perceived as a predominant slave-morality where strength of will and empowerment was not respected. If we are too fixated on avoiding conflict and competition in today’s society, then we risk losing willpower and motivation. Without will there is no direction, and we drift onwards with apathy.

15. The Devil

The humanoid yet bestial Devil sits in darkness, goat head reflecting the inverted pentegram, right hand raised and left pointing a flaming torch downwards. Chained to his seat are two nude figures, male and female, incubus and succubus.

The Devil can be identified closely with the Freudian Id and our intimate relationship with it. It represents the most instinctual desires, sexuality and fears, held deep within the psyche and hidden away from the light of day. There is great energy within these fundamental drives if they can be integrated into the personality, as with card 8. Strength, rather than denied. After all, denial does not render the Devil impotent, and just makes his unrelenting and insidious temptations more powerful. There is danger in becoming enthralled by these powerful instincts, as addictions can lead to much suffering. However, as the somewhat loose chains of bondage around the two nude figures suggests, the entrapment is ultimately self inflicted. We can see perversions of three of the four Tarot suits depicted, with the inverted pentegram (earth and pentacles), downpointed wand (fire and wands) and inverted wings (air and swords). Cups are visually absent. The Devil resides deep in the waters of the subconscious, but without the Freudian super-ego of 14. Temperance to moderate, the Devil is left out of control. The Fool, journeying deep into his subconscious, encounters his deepest self. To be freed and move on, the Devil must be faced with humility. Accepting that the hideous apparition is actually a twisted reflection of himself, the Fool may decide to light the path back to the surface with the very tools that ‘the Devil’ supposedly wielded in the first place.

In a spread, the Devil means an encounter with the shameful and instinctual aspects of the self and related temptations. This involves self-awareness, honesty, humility, sexuality. Reversed, it warns of obsession and vice, shame, hedonism, anxiety, weakness of will, clouded judgment.

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16. The Tower

A tall stone tower topples and burns, struck by a bolt from the heavens. A crown falls from the top. Two figures plummet in a rain of fire, one wearing a crown.

A card of disaster and tumultous change, the Tower is the equivalent of a demolition in action! There are echoes of the Tower of Babel here. The deep consequences of encountering the Devil within ripple outwards, effecting great change and dramatic transformation elsewhere in our lives. All the public personas, affiliations, daily routines and established constructs can become too rigid, as a restrictive shell. These must be abandoned or deconstructed to permit growth. The process can be absolutely terrifying and painful – cataclysmic even – as all the work and effort we have instilled is apparently lost. Kings lose their crowns, our tall towers burn and crumble such that the bigger they are, the further we fall. Nonetheless, this can be an exciting period of change and possibility if we can only embrace it and let go of the old. Our sense of shock as the world spirals out of control can indeed feel like the weightlessness of the depicted figures plummeting to earth. The problem is, such changes often take time to accept, and not all old patterns and ways are so easy to abandon. The Fool’s world has been rocked and broken apart, but in recognising that the upheaval originates from change within himself there is solace.

In a spread, the Tower means cataclysm, downfall, chaos and disruption, period of weightlessness, shock, disillusionment and revelation. Reversed, it warns of much the same, but more of a futile struggle against the process and without the positive outlook granted by acceptance of the necessity.

NOTE: A recent Celtic Cross reading placed the tower in the position of ‘How others see you’. A friend insightfully suggested that this might refer to the querent having built emotional walls around themself.

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17. The Star

A nude woman empties two pitchers of liquid onto land and water. As she gazes into the water, perhaps she sees the reflection of the 8 stars overhead, one much bigger and brighter than the others. A bird, possibly an ibis, is perched atop a sapling in the fertile and growing landscape.

The Star is about hope, light in darkness, growth from desolation. Both sides of our nature, land and water, physical and spiritual, are nurtured and renewed. The ibis is a reference to Thoth, Egyptian god credited with the role of guiding the motions of heavenly bodies. Hope, though powerful, can at times seem far off and distant when viewed directly and analytically, and at others within reach as when seen reflected or intuited in the waters of our subconscious. It is this uncertain and fluid part of our perceptions that enables us to see the world differently when it becomes a hostile place, transforming the world with a glimmer of promise. There are many accounts of an underlying sense of faith and hope sustaining people in times of great hardship. After encountering the Devil and the ensuing cataclysm of the Tower, the Star leads the Fool back to life with a sense that a meaningful future can still grow from the unhappiness of the present.

In a spread, the Star means hope, optimism, faith, trust, peace of mind, renewal. Reversed, it warns of despair, pessimism, loss of faith, mistrust, plagued by concerns, foolish wishes.

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18. The Moon

The Moon with a frowning face hangs low in the sky between two towers, glimpsed in the background of card 13. Death. Illuminated drops of moisture fall to earth as dew. In contrast to the foreground, the land is dark beyond the towers of the Moon. A wolf and dog howl at the Moon, and a crayfish emerges from the water at the start of a long path stretching into the distance.

The long night glimpsed through the gateway card of the 2. High Priestess is here, as we find ourselves adrift in the vast subconscious realm. This card marks an experience of the unfathomable, disturbing, cryptic and dimly illuminated realm of the imagination. The distant Moon with changing faces nonetheless has powerful tidal effects on earth and we will see the effects of the stirring subconscious more often than the workings within. The natural fears represented by the animals howling are our instinctive responses to these influences, and the even deeper alien responses manifested by the crayfish. The imagination’s dew seeds and fertilises the land, and sometimes meanings are scattered through dreams. The Fool has travelled far, clinging to 17. The Star for guidance, and must walk a long, dark and shifting path of confusing dreams and symbols; his sense of self abandoned to the whims and mercies of his imagination. A time of patience, for eyes to adjust to the darkness!

In a spread, the Moon means the subconscious, imagination, fluctuation and uncertainty, going with the flow, gestation and dreams, artistic creation. Reversed, it warns of confusion and anxiety, stifled intuition and expression, insignificance and alienation, nightmares, undue haste and stumbling blindly.

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19. The Sun

The Sun fills the sky, with human features and piercing eyes staring ahead. Sunflowers tower over the top of a wall. In the foreground a naked infant wearing a crown of sunflowers rides a white steed, and bears a red banner.

With dawn the Sun heralds the end of the long night of the Moon, championing the conscious mind. As the sunflowers grow tall they rise above intellectual obstacles and the world is illuminated with clarity. The Sun’s gaze sees far and with great foresight. Uncertainty is banished, and confidence returned. After the period of darkness and gestation with 18. The Moon, the ‘brainchild’ is finally born as a concept or ideal given flesh – an avatar. However, though the child prodigy may be truly awesome, it still seems too small to be riding steeds and wielding banners! Too much too soon, and even the light of the Sun can burn eyes used to darkness. The infant’s crown reflects the accolades awarded to the victors of contests of skill and achievement. The banner reflects the unifying and inspirational qualities of a new idea, as well as championing the struggle against superstition, ignorance and despair (from the Mythic Tarot). The Fool finally returns into the light, with renewed confidence and personal wisdom, and sees the end of this particular life journey is close at hand.

In a spread, the Sun means the intellect, consciousness, confidence and enthusiasm, clarity and foresight, optimism, ideals realised, progress. Reversed, it warns of arrogance, intellectual presumption, overconfidence and haste, even lack of confidence and hesitation, ignorance and oversight, and impediment to the creative process.

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20. Judgement

An angelic figure with flaming hair, probably Gabriel sounds a trumpet with the banner of St. George hanging from it. People of all ages and both genders arise from graves, arms raised. The background is tumultous, possibly mountains, glaciers or a tidal wave.

This card is pretty literal in name, but deep in meaning. It is indeed about a time of Judgement, but this can come from without and within. Also, as the dead are called from the graves, so Judgement can be a very complex accounting for a host of tiny sins and blessings, errors and prudence. Much of this internal accounting happens in the subconscious, where regrets and triumphs may fester and shine until some final reconcilement is achieved. It takes the angel sounding its trumpet to unify the cacophany of ancient voices praising and chiding. The Mythic Tarot cites the notion of karma here, as each person must ‘reap the harvest which springs from his own sowing’, for better or worse. Though we may try to fool ourselves about our responsibilities and choices, our conscience must still bear the weight. We cannot forgive ourselves until we accept responsibility for our actions. Finally, Judgement permits a new beginning as it signifies the end of a journey. As to the nature of life after this particular change, that depends on the Judgement! The Fool looks back over the events of the Major Arcana, the trials and successes, and lets it all sink in.

In a spread, Judgement means self-realisation, candour, reconciliation, renewal, reaping what you sow, acceptance, absolution. Reversed, it warns of many of the negative connotations involved with 6. The Lovers, as the fundamental act of choosing; and also of 11. Justice which governs proceedings. i.e. hesitation or inability to choose, complexity, and imbalance, bias, lack of forethought, excessive idealism, insensitivity, criticism, misinformation. Essentially, it cautions us to be true to ourselves and beware of temptations or conceits that may distort our self-image, but also that refusal to accept Judgement prevents us moving on.

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21. The World

A naked woman floats above the Earth holding a rod in each hand, encircled by a green wreath, being watched by various creatures.

The encircling wreath celebrates the themes of the Egophage project, the eternal circle which unifies opposites. In the Mythic Tarot, the figure is deliberately hermaphroditic to emphasise the possibility of ‘personal integration of the opposites within the personality’ which rests within us all regardless of sex. This seems related to the concept of Metrosexuality. It also makes identifies the wreath with an egg within which the Fool is reborn into the next stage of his existence. The Rider-Waite deck image incorporates the blatant symbolism of the four evangelists as in 10. The Wheel of Fortune, which could allude to the harmony of the human spirit with the divine presence, or even symbolically with the other 4 elements from Greek philosophy and hence the natural world. The Fool has travelled far, learned and lost, changed in many ways, and at the end all these aspects of his experience and identity are integrated within himself. Soon the next cycle of life will begin, and as the Fool is renewed so too his experience of the World must change with him, born afresh.

In a spread, the World means fulfillment, integration, wholeness and unification, celebration and accomplishment. Reversed, it warns of dissonance, rifts, impediments to reconciliation, self-denial and polarised extremes.

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