The Tarot provides a framework or language for describing the world from a human perspective. This is an attempt to describe that in a diagram – at least, in relation to the suits of the Minor Arcana.
We start with a blank page, everything and nothing in the world. Up and down are relative, and there is no intrinsic value bias to any particular postion on the page.
I divide the page into Mind and Body. This distinction identifies the mental and physical aspects of the world.
I divide the page into Internal and External. This identifies our inner lives and the external existence we encounter. It also relates to traditional feminine/receptive and male/active imagery.
(Disclaimer: I do not fully support the Mind/Body distinction, or Internal/External either, but as they are so commonplace and entrenched in language they make communication a bit easier!)
I place the four suits in position, Cups and Pentacles as Internal (more about the subjective world) and Swords and Wands as External (more about the objective world).
Cups and Swords are placed up in the corresponding Mind sections, with Pentacles and Wands down in the Body sections.
Each suit is then linked to each other suit by a line, creating a polarity or tension bewteen the two. Then, drawing on the position in the Mind/Body and Internal/External frame, I try to describe the 6 tensions that ensue.
Not easy to do! I have tried to choose the words I think most appropriate, but there are some others that also occurred to me.
I started with the opposites, hoping that they would be the easiest to understand as they cross the quadrants:
Cups/Wands = Desire/Will
I felt this tension related to motivation, as with the question ‘What do I want?’. At the internal/mind end, we have desires, where we are personally motivated from external sources. At the external/body end we have will, where the external is motivated from internal sources. Other possible descriptive pairs that occurred to me were Reaction/Action, where the Wands are placed as active and Cups placed as Reactive.
Pentacles/Swords = Concrete/Abstract
This tension related to identity, as with the question ‘What am I?’. At the internal/body end we have the concrete, where things are defined clearly and statically. The Pentacle describes its limits, a clear identity. At the external/mind end we have the abstract, where definitions and identities are changed. The Sword cuts across boundaries, Alexander’s Gordian Knot, changing and creatively re-evaluating the rules. Of course, as with all these tensions, the resolution rests in dissolving the boundaries. Can any physical identity (outside the mental realms of maths and logic) be absolute and immutable? Can pure abstraction be meaningful when not applied to entities and differentiated? The fundamental binary code of information, 0 and 1, Pentacles and Swords, are interdependent otherwise they lose their meaning.
The other tensions are a little more tricky, and I’d appreciate some help clarifying them.
Cups/Swords = Intuitive/Rational
This tension, purely in the Mind divide, describes the quality of our internal awareness. Where we can speak to others about it, engaging in discourse in the interpersonal world, we encounter the rational. Where we cannot, and the subconscious works behind the scenes in the private world, we have the intuitive. This tension dissolves on realising the nature of meaning and symbols used in language that straddles the two areas. Language is partly rational and partly irrational as it contains a necessary private aspect where it dips into basic descriptive words – e.g. what does ‘red’ mean to you?
Pentacles/Wands = Power/Force
Purely in the Body divide, this describes the difference between (Internal) potential energy and (External) applied energy. The body and resources give us the power to accomplish many things, but to do that we must employ this energy towards a specific purpose. At that point, the raw untapped power becomes a force to be reckoned with. Of course, power has its own properties, and tendencies. The threat or promise of power can be very effective.
Cups/Pentacles = Emotion/Sensation.
Purely in the Internal divide, this describes the difference between the experiences of our emotions – feelings – against the experiences of our senses – sensations. The contrast suggests the demands of the heart against those of the body, as with Wants/Needs, Dreams/Reality, Wishful/Pragmatic. This tension dissolves with the psychosomatic link where our health and mental wellbeing are connected both ways. e.g. Hunger makes me grumpy. Worries make me sick.
Swords/Wands = Perception/Action
Purely in the External divide, this describes the ways in which we can change the world around us with thought – perception – and force – action. I can transform the person in front of me in a queue into a pig, thinking of him as selfish and ignorant. I can also push him out of the way. This tension dissolves as the way in which we perceive the world is closely linked to our actions. For example, if I perceive someone negatively as with a prejudice, there is a tendency to act negatively towards them. If I spend my time forcing someone into a position of subservience, say, I will tend to perceive them (and they may also perceive themselves) in that way.
The 5th Element
Every system should acknowledge its incompleteness for flexibility and improvement to be possible. I would love to hear suggestions for modifications and alternative descriptive pairs that people feel are more appropriate.
Also, in the diagram we have a square base. As we dissolve the tensions, the different suits draw closer and closer towards unification. Just as if we take a horizontal cross section of a square based pyramid and travel up towards the vertex. At this unification point the model breaks down and we have the limit of the system. This is the position of the 5th element, the quintessential, absent from the Tarot as it is the unknowable. Not even our deepest subconscious imaginings or most advanced technology can touch this void. In a sense, this is the divine – and is sometimes called spirit – for the divine cannot be directly known without it becoming mundane (of the world). Some claim that the deepest subconscious can provide a link to this, as with mysticism. I’m of the current opinion that the subconscious may rearrange and reimagine the fundamental images and experiences of our senses, but it is still limited by them. Obviously, I can’t be sure!
There is another sense in which this divine point of unity is significant, with the emphasis on the breakdown of the tarot suits, Mind/Body and Internal/External distinctions, and underwritten thematically by the ‘World’ card of the Major arcana: Effectively a kind of divine grace is manifest, where the individual’s will is expressed in the world, and their awareness is similarly complete. This does not necessarily mean that they can blast mountains to dust at will(!), but that the way they choose to act and can act coincides perfectly with the world around them so they do not need to struggle. It becomes less and less meaningful to draw the boundaries of identity around that individual as they become more interconnected and involved within the world; but how close to this point any of us can get in practice remains to be seen. It also seems a pretty good expression of the Egophage project.
So, why did I bother with this map? I hoped it would clarify the meanings of the different tarot suits, and it has raised some interesting puzzles for me to work through. If it is to be useful, I want it to be complete. Also, if there are any suggestions for changes to the Tarot lexicon – i.e. new cards to be added say – then this might help work out where this supposed gap came from.