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The Jewish mystical tradition called the Kabbalah has become a part of the tarot tradition, and helps to illumine what I call "the tarot journey" explained in this article. So here's a brief introduction.
The Kabbalah created a model of the process of creation and the relation of Spirit (or God) to Earth (or worldly manifestation). The world emanates from the Spirit through seven levels, an idea explained by the neo-platonic philosopher Plotinus and elaborated in the Kabballah and other mystical traditions such as the chakras. These levels exist in the universal Mind of God or cosmic mind, and are reflected, so the tradition says, within each one of us, as well as in the seasons, the solar system, the seven planes, etc., according to the law "as above, so below."
In the Kabbalah (or Kabballah, Kabalah, Cabala, Qabala, etc.) the model of this process of creation is called the Tree of Life, named after the tree in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, the story of Creation. According to aiwaz.net, "The Tree of Life is an excellent interpretative tool for any concept imaginable, because the scheme is simple enough in its structure, but also enough complex that even the most difficult relations can be studied with ease once the system is grasped." Click HERE to see a small picture of the Tree as conceived and illustrated by Paul Foster Case and his BOTA organization. There are three major divisions and seven levels on the Tree of Life, and ten spheres or circles called Sephiroth or Sephirot (Sephira, singular). These are phases in the process of Creation from God or ultimate spirit down to the manifest world, and are numbered one through ten. Above the Tree is the void out of which creation comes (Ain/Ain Soph, Ain Soph Aur), and it can't be described or numbered. The highest circle or sphere on the Tree itself is called the Crown of Creation, for which the original word is Kether. This represents God as pure being, the thought of His own existence, the oneness of universal Mind, etc. It is Sephira number One. On the next level down there are two Sephiroth, number Two or Hokmah (or Chokmah), and number Three or Binah; which represent the Father and Mother aspects of God respectively. Hokmah represents Wisdom, and Binah the Understanding and fertility from which universal forms come. Together these three represent the Mind of God, the highest major division of the Tree.
HERE and at right is a simpler drawing of the Tree of Life and Sephiroth by Morgan Leigh:
The next level down (the third) on the Tree of Life also contains two circles: Sephira Four, called Mercy, the outpouring of creation into the world (Hesod), and Sephira Five, called Strength, Severity, Justice, Power, or Will (Gevurah is translated in all these ways), which divides the world from Heaven. On the fourth level down is number Six, Tipareth or Beauty and balance. Like Kether, it is placed in the center while the other circles connected to it (Mercy and Severity) are placed on the right and left sides of the Tree. Tipareth unites the two circles above it on each side, Mercy (representing that which flows abundantly into the world, kindness, unconditional love) and Severity (which divides the world and enables us to make decisions), and these three together represent the middle division of the Tree, the level of the human soul.
On the fifth level are two more Sephiroth, number 7 called Victory (Netzach), generally representing the feelings and attractions of the senses, and number 8 representing the Glory or Splendour of creation (Hod), which generally is linked to the mind. On the sixth level in the center is Yesod, called Foundation, representing the generative sexual power and life force of nature, and sometimes the subconscious mind, dreams and emotions, and on the lowest or seventh level is Malkuth, or the Kingdom of the world, the material plane. These four circles comprise the third and lowest level(s) of the Tree of Life, which are related to mundane or instinctive experiences.
In addition, the spheres on the left under Binah are called the pillar of Justice or Severity and considered feminine (like the left hand), and the spheres on the right under Chokmah are called the pillar of Mercy and considered masculine (like the right hand).
The Tarot has not always been connected to the Tree of Life. But starting in 1781 (a very significant date astrologically, since it was the year Uranus was discovered, the first invisible "occult" planet to be known), occultists seized upon similarities in the number patterns between the Tarot as it had come down to them, and the tradition of the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life as they had received it; as well as similarities to astrology and alchemy. These occult subjects are also called Hermeticism, after the legendary god who is credited with creating them back in ancient Egypt (originally he was called Thoth; Hermes is the Greek name).
The tarot is a deck of cards consisting of playing cards in four suits, with a fifth suit added called the trumps. It was originally created in the Italian Renaissance in about 1420 CE to play a game which is the forerunner of Bridge. Bridge also began to be played soon afterward with regular playing cards, with one suit designated as the trump suit, instead of using the extra fifth suit. So although the Tarot was originally called the Cards of Triumphs (trumps), the name had to be changed in the 1500s because Bridge was also played with regular playing cards. Thus the name Tarocchi, or Tarot; although noone knows for sure where the name came from (one theory has it that the name means "discard," since one move used in the game is to discard a card). The word trump, though, means "triumph," which was originally a kind of parade held in many cities in Italy. In a triumph parade, one figure or character would triumph over (or trump) the previous one, and this device was often used by Renaissance artists to tell a moral or spiritual allegory. The allegory presented in the Tarot’s colorful parade of numbered trump cards represents, many believe, a spiritual "hero’s journey" similar to the universal tale described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, told with 22 characters. Although originally the number of trumps in the Tarot’s fifth suit varied, by the 17th Century in France the number had been fixed at 22, which was the number most often found in previous decks. Today the trump parade has 21 numbered cards, with an extra wild card called The Fool (number zero), representing the character who takes the journey.
Ordinary playing cards originated in China, where paper was invented, and migrated through Western Asia and the Middle East where the Mamluks further developed the deck. In China there were nine cards to each suit, but by the time they reached the Middle East there were ten. In this form, playing cards reached late Medieval Europe, before Tarot was invented, with four suits of ten cards each plus royal face cards. These suits were called staffs, coins, cups and swords. These suits have been preserved in the Tarot, as well as in playing cards in southern Europe, while in France the suit names were later changed to clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades respectively. It is an interesting coincidence that there are also ten Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, just as in the numbered cards in playing cards and the Tarot.
By the 16th Century at least, without any connection to the Tarot, the Tree of Life had also come to be pictured with 22 paths running between its pattern of circles or Sephiroth; same as the number of Tarot trumps. The original basis for this Tree of Life pattern came from the first book of Kabbalah, the Sefir Yetsirah (circa First Century C.E.), which laid out the original correlations of the 10 Sephiroth (without describing what they mean), and the 22 Hebrew letters, to the 3 elements, 7 planets and 12 signs. Both Sephiroth and letters were already called pathways.
Another coincidence is that there are also 21 possible number combinations on two dice, just as there are 21 numbered trumps; and like dice, playing cards and the Tarot have been used for both games of chance and for divination and fortune telling.
Because there are 22 Tarot trumps and 22 sacred Hebrew letters, the occultists began to link each Tarot trump with a Hebrew letter, which has its own simple pictorial symbol. And because the Hebrews in the Sefir Yetsirah had already correlated their letters to an astrological sign, planet, or three of the four elements (air, water and fire), they were linked to the tarot trumps as well. Later these three "elemental" cards (The Fool, Hanged Man, and Judgement respectively) were also linked to the three known invisible planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto respectively), so that each card is related to one sign or planet; 22 in all. Here is a table that includes these correlations.
There is another interesting fact I have found that is related to this scheme. All the letters in the Hebrew alphabet (from which several other alphabets, including Greek and English, are derived) are considered to be consonants; the vowels are added by the speaker. I also noticed that among all the various languages, when you take out combination vowel sounds (like long I = ah-eee, or long U = eee-ooo; or ah-ooo, as in "out"), there are exactly 10 vowel sounds. From the top down, from high sounds to low, these are:
1. long E or i (eeeeeeee) (as in bee, peak)
2. short i (ih) (as in win or bitter)
3. long A (without the eeee on the end; as in babe or make)
4. short e (as in better or said)
5. short a (as in batter or back)
6. short o or ah (as in father, top)
7. short u (as in butter, love)
8. long O (as in pope, hope)
9. double o (as in book, look)
10. long U or oooo (as in boo!, or do/dew, or Malkuth)
So you could say that on the Tree of Life there are 10 vowel tones, representing the 10 Sephiroth, and 22 consonants, representing the Paths:
Sephirah 1, Kether/Crown = long E = aces or ones (each number in four suits: wands, cups, swords, coins)
Sephirah 2, Hokmah/Wisdom = short i = deuces or twos
Sephirah 3, Binah/Understanding = long A = threes
Sephirah 4, Hesod/Mercy = short e = fours
Sephirah 5, Gevurah/Justice = short a = fives
Sephirah 6, Tipareth/Beauty = short o/ah = sixes
Sephirah 7, Netzah/Victory = short u = sevens
Sephirah 8, Hod/Glory = long O = eights
Sephirah 9, Yesod/Foundation = double o = nines
Sephirah 10, Malkuth/Kingdom = long U = tens
Sephirah 10 is divided into the four elements (fire=wands, water=cups, air=swords, coins=earth), and four kinds of court cards: kings, queens, knights, pages.
Path 11 = aleph/ox = Fool/trump 0
Path 12 = beth/house = Magician/trump 1
Path 13 = gimel/camel = Priestess/trump 2
Path 14 = daleth/door = Empress/trump 3
Path 15 = heh/window = Emperor/trump 4
Path 16 = vav/nail = Pope/trump 5
Path 17 = zain/sword = Lovers/trump 6
Path 18 = cheth/fence = Chariot/trump 7
Path 19 = teth/serpent = Strength/trump 8
Path 20 = yod/open hand = Hermit/trump 9
Path 21 = kaph/closed hand = Wheel of Fortune/trump 10
Path 22 = lamed/ox harness = Justice/trump 11
Path 23 = mem/water = Hanged Man/trump 12
Path 24 = nun/fish = Death/trump 13
Path 25 = samekh/tent peg = Temperance/trump 14
Path 26 = ayin/eye = Devil/trump 15
Path 27 = peh/mouth = Tower/trump 16
Path 28 = tzaddi/fish hook = Star/trump 17
Path 29 = qoph/back of head = Moon/trump 18
Path 30 = resh/front of head = Sun/trump 19
Path 31 = shih/tooth = Judgement/trump 20
Path 32 = tav/cross = World/trump 21
Another interesting fact about the vowels is that short vowel sounds correspond to the Sephiroth circles called "masculine," and the long vowels plus short a (as in back) correspond to the "feminine" Sephiroth. And yet the short vowels sound more feminine, and the long vowels (and the powerful short a sound) more masculine. Notice that in my table of the 4-fold archetypes and in many other symbolic schemes, the feminine Sephiroth are correlated with masculine symbols. In modern pictures of the Tree the masculine Mars corresponds to "feminine" Severity. The gender difference between these symbols and the Tree might lead us to suppose that it is incorrect. Actually, the Tree of Life is correct as originally given, but we have to interpret it from an ancient perspective. Before the patriarchy arrived (including the Jewish one), it was the goddess who was considered the creator of "form." As Joseph Campbell mentioned in his famous "Power of Myth" interviews with Bill Moyers in 1987, the new male God has now "taken over her role" and become the creator of form. But it is the idea of "form" itself (meaning dividing the world, decision-making, rational intellect, generally "left-brain" functions; or in alchemy "coagulation" as opposed to "dissolution") that is represented by the feminine left side of the Tree of Life (Binah/Understanding/left-brain, Gevurah/Severity or Power, Hod/Glory-intellect). This is contrasted with the free-flowing right side of the Tree whose symbols (Wisdom or right-brain, Mercy, and Victory-- symbolizing sensuous feeling) we now consider feminine, but were originally considered masculine. The symbolism of the Tree of Life evidently reaches back to how things were considered in the days around 2000 BCE when the original patriarch Abraham left the goddess-worshipping land of Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and went to Canaan with his family; the days when it was the Goddess who brought form into the world, just as women generate life by bringing children forth into the world from their womb.
With this background given, I can now relate the Tarot Journey as I see it now. The first four suits, with cards numbered one through ten, plus the four royal face cards in each suit, represent the ten Sephiroth. The Sephiroth represent the sequence in which God created the World, in the mystical interpretation of Genesis. Sephira Ten, the Kingdom of the World, is itself often pictured as divided into four parts, representing the four elements of the world. The four elements are also reflected within each Sephira. In fact, Kabballists speak of the Four Worlds, which are not only a division of the 10 Sephiroth into four parts, but which are also found within each of the Sephiroth (that is, each phase in the creative process). So each of the 10 Sephiroth contains the "four worlds" or four elements, and each element is represented by one of the four tarot suits (wands, cups, swords, pentacles or coins). What’s more, the ten vowels are said to represent the Spirit that creates the world. So it is the four original suits of 10 cards each, plus royal court cards, and the 10 vowels, which represent the story of God creating the world from Heaven down to Earth.
These 56 regular cards were all given symbolic pictures for the first time by the artist Pamela Smith, who drew the "Rider Pack" deck designed and supervised by occultist and author Edward Waite. Before this, these cards usually only showed the number and suit symbol. This deck created in 1909 influenced most future Tarot decks. On these cards, we can see some similarities across the suits between cards of the same number. Aces show the descent of God energy from Kether, and do not show full human figures. The deuces show strength and confidence like the Sephira Hokmah, although the pentacles card (Waite’s name for coins) shows indecision. Fours stand for energy coming into form, like the flowing energy of Hesod. Fives often show conflict or division, like Gevurah which divides creation. Sixes, like Tipareth, show harmony and generosity. From number seven on, the burdens and weight borne by the figures in the cards increase, as if being weighed down by the world. On the "yin" suits (cups and pentacles/coins) there is also wealth and success shown, but these achievements also have their burdens! The court cards represent success in the world, or full development of ego and personality. By the time we get to these royal cards, God’s energy is now fully manifest as people in the world who are successful and in charge. In fact, though the Sephiroth and numbered cards represent God's process of creation, they also represent stages in human development. The court personalities of Malkuth, the kingdom of the world, represent "human society," the familiar world we know and too-often conform to; with all its distractions and delusions; it is the "race consciousness" that keeps us trapped in narrow material concerns. As we'll see below, the fifth suit of trumps represents the 21 stages on the "path" of awakening taken by "the Fool" to move beyond this predicament.
When a card reading is given, clients are often asked to pick out a court card to represent themselves, according to the type of card. In the Tarot there are 16 of these court or face cards (in contrast to the regular deck which has 12, plus 2 jokers). The fact that there are 16 Jungian types elucidated by the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and the fact that Jung himself was an occultist who knew of the four elements from alchemy and astrology, makes me think that each court card can represent an MBTI Type. The tarot court card can't be a full "scientific" description of a psychological type, but a powerful, essential mythical symbol of it.
As I see it, Introvert types (Type I) are those who by turning inward become investigators, inspectors, and self-reflective, self-reliant, self-directing masters of creation. Introvert types are rarer than Extravert types too, and kings and queens are both rare as well as detached and remote from the people they rule. So the Kings and Queens are the Introverts, while the Knights and Pages are Extraverts (Type E), who are more active in the world, serve the rulers, and depend on others for their energy. The Judging Types (Type J) focus their energy well and make decisions, and are considered active, rational or assertive, while the Perceiving Types (Type P) are open, unscheduled, easy-going, and considered passive, non-rational and receptive. Since these types have the same nature as masculine (J) and feminine (P), or yang and yin respectively, therefore the Kings and Knights, the male figures, are J types, and the Queens are P types. The pages on the cards are young people, and since youth is carefree and open-minded, the Pages are also P types.
The four functions (INtuition, Feeling, Thinking and Sensing, or N,F,T,S) are the most essential aspect of the personality within each of the 16 types, because they are the ways we receive and process information. In their book Gifts Differing, Myers and Briggs said there are four types of people: enthusiastic and inspired (NF), logical and ingenious (NT), practical and matter-of-fact (ST) and sympathetic, people-oriented (SF). It seems clear to me (especially with my background in astrology) that these types correspond to fire, air, earth and water respectively, and these four elements are usually linked to the four suits of the Tarot in this way: fire (NF) is staffs or wands, air (NT) is swords, earth (ST) is coins or pentacles, and water (SF) is cups. Noone has only one function mentioned in their MBTI type, but always two. Regardless of which function may be considered "dominant" by many MBTI experts, both are considered the two most preferred functions in any type. Therefore, the 16 MBTI Types line up with the 16 Tarot court cards in this way:
King of Wands - INFJ (the prophet)
King of Swords - INTJ (the mastermind)
King of Pentacles - ISTJ (the inspector)
King of Cups - ISFJ (the conservator)
Queen of Wands - INFP (the monk)
Queen of Swords - INTP (the architect)
Queen of Pentacles - ISTP (the craftsman)
Queen of Cups - ISFP (the artist)
Knight of Wands - ENFJ (the teacher)
Knight of Swords - ENTJ (the field marshall)
Knight of Pentacles - ESTJ (the supervisor)
Knight of Cups - ESFJ (the provider)
Page of Wands - ENFP (the enthusiast)
Page of Swords - ENTP (the inventor)
Page of Pentacles - ESTP (the entrepreneur)
Page of Cups - ESFP (the performer)
So next time you have a reading, and the reader asks you to pick a court card to represent yourself, you can pick the card that corresponds to your MBTI Type, if you know it. But if men are uncomfortable being represented by a Queen, or women by a King, they can switch to the other royal card of the same suit. After all, the original Tree of Life has the genders switched too!
The type titles in parentheses in the list above I saw at Dr. Robert Winer's site (among other places), and may be largely based on those of Keirsey, and/or others; a few were revised by myself. Obviously, no single word can fully summarize a type.
If the 40 numbered cards one through ten plus 16 court cards represent God’s process of Creation emanating down through the 10 Sephiroth, plus the 16 royal rulers of
Malkuth’s Kingdom (human society), and he used the vowels or 10 tones of spirit to create with, then the 21 trump cards and the Fool represent something else: the
spiritual path from the world back to God. It is the path of the successful person, who has already taken on the burdens of the world, giving up these burdens in order to journey the path up to spiritual realization or enlightenment. These are what are represented by the 22 Paths on the Tree of Life and the 22 consonants of the Hebrew alphabet.
The 22 paths are the spiritual "path" which seekers are said to follow. Also you can say the paths represent God "creating" with the letters, but going backward from the future, (like Teilhard de Chardin's omega point that beckons us toward God; that is how God really "creates").
But the tradition established at the turn of the 20th Century by the occult societies known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the same tradition which produced the Tarot decks of Waite-Smith, Aleister Crowley and Paul Foster Case, links the Tarot cards with the Paths and Letters going from the top down. The 16th Century Kabballist Kircher established this sequence in his map of the Tree of Life by placing the first path (which is numbered Path 11, to come after Sephira 10) to run between Kether and Hokmah at the top of the tree. The 19th Century occultist Eliphas Levi then linked the Tarot cards with the Hebrew letters in that order, linking trump 1 (the Magician) with the first path #11, and so on. With one important revision (placing the Fool first and Magician second), Paul Foster Case and his organization Builders of the Adytum (following the sequence established by the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley) used this order in their famous poster of the Tree of Life, which places the Tarot cards on the Tree of Life from the top down, in order, from the Fool (path 11) down to the World (path 32). This repeats the same journey of emanation which the spirit of God has already taken down the Tree. Here is a diagram of the 32 paths
But why should this cosmic symbol repeat the same thing twice? What about OUR journey? I find it cogent and coherent to see the Paths as leading from the world back to God instead of vice-versa. Thus the 22 Tarot trumps represent the Seeker (The Fool) on a journey to enlightenment. It is the hero's journey described by Joseph Campbell. I propose therefore that the map and poster of the Tree of Life should show Path numbers 11 and 12 at the bottom of the Tree, starting from Malkuth (Sephira number 10). The Fool (trump zero) and The Magician (trump 1) should be placed there on those Paths, and the other cards on the other paths numbered upward from there (see my diagram at right). Ironically, the final trump, representing enlightenment and God realization, is called The World, (or sometimes Universe), but this means that the seeker has become enlightened and thus knows that s/he IS the world (cosmic consciousness, as Paul Foster Case called it), whereas at Malkuth (Sephira 10, which is also linked to the first chakra of worldly survival), the court personalities are IN the world and rule OVER the world.
I should also point out that the first occult writers on the Tarot (deMellet and deGebelin) put the final Hebrew letter and The World card at the top of the Tree, as I do. In metaphysical terms, the Sephiroth and the four regular suits stand for involution, or God coming "down" the Tree and emanating into the world, while the Paths and the trump suit represent evolution, the human journey of liberation back "up" the Tree to a new realization of God. The 22 Tarot trumps, described by Robert M. Place in his 2005 book The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination as an allegory of the soul as it travels the mystical path from worldliness to divine realization, based on Platonic teachings, also seems to fit much better with the idea of a journey UP the Kabbalistic Tree from the material plane of Malkuth to the spiritual consciousness in Kether. This would also fit better with the Chakras, which are the seven centers within us that are stepping stones on that same journey. Place has described how the tarot journey moves through the 3 parts of the soul, from appetite to will to reason as Plato called them, which is also a journey from material, worldly concerns to spiritual awareness. At the same time it is clear to me that the tarot journey moves up the seven levels that correspond to the 7 chakras. Here is a table that shows how the tarot corresponds to the journey UP the chakras and soul levels.
Moving on the path of the seeker’s quest up the Tree of Life, The Fool represents the foolish naivete of the seeker at the start of his/her quest, still blissfully unaware of the challenges it involves, but eager for the adventure. The seeker may also foolishly refuse to enter it at first. Looking at the Tarot trumps series as a journey from lower to higher, we start up the Tree again, and at the bottom we once again see worldly rulers and masters, like those on the royal face cards. But this time they are more powerful and unique. There are many kings and queens, but only one Emperor or Pope. The journey starts with the seeker ambitious for greater power, like the imperial rulers have, but also hungry for real fulfillment. S/he will discover that power in the world alone is not the way to happiness. Remember that the seeker starts out not only as a Fool, but as a potential King; just as the Buddha did (see Robert Place's article on his Buddha Tarot).
If the 16 royal face cards represent the 16 types of human personality, the four greater rulers in the trump cards or Major Arcana, I think, represent the four functions individually within all of us. Paul Foster Case in his Tarot book says the first group of seven cards represents "powers and potencies" (p.24). This description of the first seven cards suggests that they represent the inherent powers or functions within us that we need to develop on our spiritual path. As kings and queens in the world of Malkuth, the "ordinary" manifest world from which we begin our quest as "normal" human personalities, some of our functions are dominant and developed, while others lie dormant. That is how most people function in the world and society today, but as mystics on the quest we are to do more than this. The position of the four imperial rulers here suggests that, through opening to our Higher Self, we can develop and balance all 4 functions, which we need to do if we are to ascend the Tree and find enlightenment. Each of the four rulers clearly represents one of the four functions, and Case's descriptions of the 4 cards in his book The Tarot clearly confirms this.
Each of our functions are one of the 4 ways in which we receive and process information. The Emperor represents Thinking, the function that enables us to understand cause and effect and thereby master and engineer worldly forces. The Empress represents Sensation, with all its productive, seductive and life-giving powers, and its glorious and sensuous attractions in the physical and emotional spheres. The Pope or Hierophant represents knowledge of the eternal truths and essential values (often seen as "given" in The Bible or an equivalent text) which he preaches to his faithful. This corresponds to INtuition as Jung defined it: awareness of archetypal general principles and ideals, invisible to our 5 senses. The Female Pope/High Priestess of esoteric religion represents Feeling, which is how we receive information by tuning in to subtle, psychic, hidden and subconscious realms and by empathizing with other beings. The Magician as guide and mentor helps us to integrate the 4 functions, and thus represents the Jungian function of Individuation, the process of spiritual growth within the individual. Symbols of the other 4 elements often appear together on the Magician's table.
The male functions (Emperor/Pope) are left-brained or dominant (as we commonly understand the meaning of "left-brained"), while the female functions (Empress/Priestess) are right-brained or receptive. The secular rulers (Emperor/Empress) are masters of the world, while the sacred rulers (Pope/Priestess) interpret the more spiritual realms. Developing all 4 functions is thus part of our mystic journey, a prerequisite for the entire quest. At first, early in the quest, they are experienced separately. But they all appear again together on the Wheel of Fortune and the World cards (as the Bull, Lion, Eagle and Man), showing that by then they are integrated within us. Sometimes Thinking (Emperor/Man) is linked to air, Sensation (Empress/Bull) to earth, INtuition (Pope/Lion) to fire, and Feeling (Priestess/Eagle) to water. The function of Individuation (which can be represented by The Magician) is like the 5th element of spirit. On the World card this has become the dancing lady of wisdom in the center of the card.
It should be noted that in his tarot book Robert Place switches Intuition and Feeling and their meanings and elemental correlations. In other words, Place gives the general meaning of "intuition" to what is also described as "feeling" (empathy, and knowledge of the subconscious and the mysteries) (water), and the general meaning of "feeling" to what Jung and the Western tradition commonly mean by "intuition" (direct knowledge of first principles, of right and wrong, archetypes, etc.) (fire), although Place correlates feeling to a decision of what is "good and bad" for an individual.
See a table of the four-fold world HERE
Paul Foster Case said the first five trumps stand for "powers." They are divine energy which we can direct into manifestation, if we master the 4 functions or powers pictured in the 4 imperial cards. The 4 rulers (and we the seekers) have not arrived at the stage where they can do this ourselves with full understanding, but by learning at the feet of the masters and authorities and by participating in their rituals. Through these teachings the seeker gains more subconscious access to Nature's powers within us.
Thus the Magician can summon higher truth, beauty and/or magical powers for us through his rituals, using the symbols on his table. He is often the mentor or guide for the seeker, and may be the first archetype that s/he meets on the journey. The Emperor can initiate and command actions in the vast and distant worldly realm he controls, and become its master, and the Empress through magical feminine or motherly powers can generate wealth and release Nature's fertility, ruling through seductive sensuality. The Pope or Hierophant (High Priest) can say mass and instruct the faithful in the higher moral principles of society, while the Papess or High Priestess transmits esoteric and intuitive, felt knowledge, unknown to herself, through ritual and wise counsel.
At this stage, it is as if the seeker attends worship services, is devoted to the leader, and performs rituals, but has not yet entered into the spiritual practices and paths that lead to actual experience of truth and enlightenment. The Tarot Journey proceeds through three main phases of 7 cards each (as well as through seven levels), and during this first phase the seeker is still dependent on worshiping the spiritual powers, as presented and conferred upon him/her by powerful world leaders and gurus, rather than finding those powers within. The 5 rulers may also represent spiritual or parental authorities which the seeker may either unthinkingly obey, or rebel against. They may represent parents or grandparents as well as teachers. They may be useful guides to what lies ahead on the path, or they may represent traditions or obstructions which the seeker must understand, forgive, defy and/or overcome, or which tempt the seeker to confuse the spiritual path with a route to worldly power and success.
The Tarot allegory is based on a late Medieval European story of a man who became Pope, but gave up his position to become a seeker and hermit out of a need for greater fulfillment. In the same way, Jesus Christ gave up his successful carpenter trade to go into the wilderness, and it is a fact that the Hebrew letters corresponding to the 7 Tarot cards from the first phase of the journey plus The Fool, all represent parts of a house-- a house which might be built by a CARPENTER (whom Jesus was)-- plus two beasts of burden and a sword to defend the property. Similarly, Buddha gave up his status as the son and heir of a king to become an ascetic and seek enlightenment to understand the suffering he discovered outside his palace. The story is consistent.
|So the 5 rulers and ritual-keepers are trumped by the Lovers card. According to Tarot designer and author Robert M. Place, the fact that the rulers are trumped by The Lovers shows how they are still dominated by carnal appetites. But the issue presented by this card is also to find out what truly fulfills and drives us. Is it the love of the world, with its successes and comforts? Is it what the authorities (Emperor, Pope) say? Is it the sensual love that the two pairs of mated rulers (Emperor and Empress; Pope and Papess) may enjoy together? Is it the sensual joys of the body? Or is there a greater love and fulfillment we seek as well? In older cards the choice is illustrated as the choice between two lovers that urge opposite paths. Case says the Lovers card represents discrimination, the power to choose; like Gemini and the sword, thus explaining the odd correlation of these symbols to the Lovers card. Place says that Gemini the Twins were originally male and female like the Lovers. Many authors describe them as the original lovers, Adam and Eve. But Case in his book on the Tarot denounces the notion that this card represents a choice between two paths-- sensuality and comfort, or spiritual victory. But this choice is clearly implied by Case’s own links of the card to the symbols of choice (like the sword), and it is clearly shown by earlier versions of the card. The Waite and Case versions of the Lovers card can also be seen to present this choice, since the man symbolizing Adam on their card looks to Eve, the choice of sensuality; while Eve herself looks up to the Angel, the path to God.|
The Lovers card can depict Adam and Eve, or Gemini the Twins; in either case we are at the level of Yesod (Sephiroth 9) on the Tree of Life, which in the Kabbalah represents Adam and Eve in the Garden, and stands for generative and procreative capacity, just like the second chakra that corresponds to this level of the Tree. The seeker discovers love and romance, which may be forbidden within the imperial courts or by social authority. It also represents the hard and irrevocable choice whether to leave the Garden, in order to pursue the difficult spiritual path to wisdom. Yesod also represents the subconscious mind, of which the Lovers, the Empress and the Priestess are the masters. Robert Place says that the Lovers card represents the many kinds and levels of love, just as Plato in the Symposium described how sensuous love leads us to seek the love of truth. The question is what will fulfill us, and the card gives us this question only when it is placed as number 6 in the series of numbered cards. It also represents contacting the subconscious (Eve) in order to reach the superconscious (the angel),-- useful knowledge indeed for those seeking to master the laws of mind. Love is the guiding and motivating force for our quest up the Tree, and we find this love in our subconscious mind. The Lovers card thus shows the need to access and apply the lower parts of ourselves to the quest of the higher parts. In that sense, the card represents the wise use of all the parts of our being.
|Powered by our desire, we mount our Chariot and confidently move up into the second of the three levels in the journey upward that starts with the next card. It is a journey up from the "soul of appetite," as Plato described the lowest of the three levels. This level is represented in the Tarot by worldly success and rulership (Emperor, Empress, Pope and Priestess), pleasure (The Lovers), and the Magician who goes to the Fair to gamble for wealth. We have reached the "soul of will;" also called the "passion" of the Christ (Plato’s name for this middle soul level is also often translated as "passion"). The charioteer now commands both souls, appetite and will, represented by the two steeds on the card, one black and one white. But he still needs to learn how to coordinate and direct them properly. As a warrior, he represents Plato’s middle soul. As the Buddha in his chariot, as Place points out, he discovers the world of suffering and spiritual quest that lies beyond the protective walls of the imperial palace.|
|God sends down the Tree to the seeker three virtues to aid in the quest. Love gives the seeker Strength and willingness to continue the path. This is the first virtue the seeker receives to help on the quest (originally Justice was the first, but the Golden Dawn switched the position of these two cards; I think rightly). The seeker now has Love energy and cosmic power (both represented by the Lady) which can tame and direct the primitive energies of the lower soul represented by the Lion, and dedicate these energies to the quest. The seeker recovers the Will, instead of being dominated by primitive energies within (the lion). S/he can be centered, and develop the skills of the martial artist, who learns to focus on the third chakra, which is the level we have now reached on the Tree.|
|With this strength and energy, the seeker becomes the ascetic Hermit, the student of inner knowledge and spiritual discipline, and s/he also becomes a teacher who can light the path for others. S/he climbs and reaches the heights. From these the Hermit can look down with greater detachment on the worldly quest below, and can divine people's Fortune. S/he can now see that worldly success is temporary, while lasting "fortune" is found through developing the soul and its wisdom. Like the Magician, the "hermit" can also learn to direct the "current of manifestation" to bring more good fortune into the world. Fate does not tempt the seeker now; s/he has learned freedom and sees the way to fulfillment. (S)he is not disturbed by the cycles of life and fate, knowing that fortunes change. This card can indicate a time of decision in the seeker's journey.|
|The seeker can next receive and learn the next virtue, Justice, which allows a view of the world as an ordered whole. The seeker can now see what is best for all, instead of just ourselves or a favored few. Holding a sword, as well as the scales, Justice represents the power of choice, just like the Lovers card (symbolized by the Hebrew letter of "the sword"). With this card we enter the heart chakra, where we can weigh and discern from the true center of our being, which balances all and knows our own authentic heart's desire. We have arrived at the center of the journey, the eye of the storm. We may need to settle our karmic debts and understand the consequences of our actions in the world of fate and fortune. We learn true values, and therefore have a basis for making decisions and taking action based on principle and balance. We can see what is fair and just for ourselves and everyone. We settle old debts, or recognize the ways we have been unfair.|
| Now in touch with our real self, we can defy the world’s ridicule and convention. We might endure the world’s anger and opposition, and we may get ourselves strung up like
Jesus or Socrates. The world views us now as a rebellious traitor, and we are willing to sacrifice our own life for the truth and justice we know from our heart. We stay true to
our values and accept the world’s judgement. We are connected to and "hung" from cosmic life, the larger Self; symbolized on the card by the Tav shape of the post from which we
hang (Tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet which represents the World card or cosmic consciousness). Since we are "hung" from it, by the way, this implies that the World card is indeed above us at the top of the tree. Our values are now reversed from those of most people, who look upon us as hanging upside down. Another connection to the World card is that the legs of the dancing figure in its center make the same cross gesture as the Hanged Man does; except rightside up.
The Hanged Man is the other side of the heart from Justice. The two sides of the heart are connected to Mercy and Justice on the Tree of Life, to Perceiving and Judging in MBTI, or to dissolve and coagulate in alchemy, and are represented by the colors pink and green. Astrologically Justice is Libra (where Saturn is exalted) and the Hanged Man is Taurus (where The Moon is exalted). The Hanged Man is open to the manifesting energy flowing down from the Crown to the Base of the Tree. We hang loose, and "hang out," realizing that being strung up, rejected and apparently powerless, we can only let go. The Hanged Man card is also connected esoterically to Water, as well as to The Moon. It represents the heart’s compassion for those who suffer the world’s rejection, injustice and cruel fate. Caring is the true heart’s value. The seeker sacrifices a worldly position for the sake of the values of the heart. In this sacrifice s/he is connected to humanity, and seeks like Christ to redeem.
The Hanged Man is the card of initiation, and of learning through loss and pain-- even willingly so, in obedience to inner guidance. Knowing Justice, the seeker sees a higher order and purpose for human suffering. By hanging ourselves from the Tree and the Cosmos, we discover we can depend on (the word depend is related to the word hang) a greater power than our personal or social selves, a power which can defeat the world’s opposition and ridicule. The Source of All alone sustains us. Rejecting the world, or rejected by it, the Hanged Man depends totally on the inner source. The false social self is "surrendered." Authenticity is our only option. Impure motives are dissolved and phoniness dispelled. Action is suspended, forcing the seeker to look within for wisdom. The Hanged Man is also known traditionally as "the traitor" undergoing punishment, but he is a traitor to the phony social self imposed by society’s conditioning. He confronts his "hang-ups." His "initiation" is like the deliberate arousal of "hang-ups" by a Zen master so he can confront his phoniness and see the separate self as a social convention. Then this social self "dies" to authenticity. We discover that our authentic self, our true heart's desire, is love. Loving energy flows through us into the world. We let go of the need for status and approval which the personal self so desperately craves.
|After mastering fate (Fortune) and rejection (Hanged Man), now we confront the ultimate fear. The seeker has now reached the most difficult phase of the journey. For unless s/he is willing to die for the quest, s/he is not truly dedicated to it. The next two cards are interchangeable in the order, but traditionally Death comes first, and then the last virtue Temperance. Both represent adaptability to change.|
Strung up and hung up on the Tree, we might die. Symbolically, our false self dies on the Tree, or on the Cross, but this means we are reborn and transformed constantly from now on. Death is the next step for the "old" Hermit, who was shown as Father Time in the older tarot cards (who is always pictured as a very old man), and now the seeker is asked to master not only pain, fear and old age, but death itself. Mr. Death is, like the Hermit, a very challenging and exacting teacher for all who fall into his path. Death/Daath means change. Awareness of death also helps to keep our most urgent priorities clear and focused. Now we are at the 5th chakra level, ruled by mutable (adaptable) signs Gemini, Virgo and Sagittarius. Death is even connected to the Hebrew letter for fish (nun), like Pisces the Fishes (also a mutable sign), and the Temperance card is connected to the letter samekh, symbolized by a tent peg, which is a temporary tool to hold up a tent for shelter. So unlike the house built by the young Jesus or the masonic Magician (the card linked to the letter for "house"), a tent is soon taken down in order to adapt quickly and move on, as mutable signs do.
|The word temperance originally meant the "correct mixture" of alcohol and water that would create a balanced temperament if we drink it. It represents the best mixture of temperament that enables us to adapt to circumstance and calm our fear and our anger, so we can get through this darkest section of the trumps, which on the Tree of Life can be represented by the dark circle known as Daath, "the abyss." Case describes Temperance as "the coordination of vibratory activities" like sound, and vibration is also according to him another meaning of the letter samekh that corresponds to this card. It is thus connected to the 5th chakra of the throat, where we create sound. Indeed, Jesus in Matthew 15:11 says "it’s what comes out of our mouth that defiles us," hence the need for temperance to regulate what comes out of our "abyss." Now that we know a greater self, since the false social self has died, the higher angels of our nature, pictured on the Temperance card, can blend the aspects of our psyche to obtain the "correct mixture," the "middle path" of good health and a calm temperament. In my scheme Temperance is placed on the Path between the red circle Gevurah or Severity and the blue circle Hesod or Mercy, balancing them. According to Case, red and blue also represent fire and water, which are pictured on his Temperance card as a lion (fire, as in fire sign Leo) and an eagle (water sign Scorpio).|
Now we also see how the 3 virtues in the middle of the tarot align with the 3 middle chakras and middle sephiroth on the Tree. Just as Strength aligns with the Sephira Victory on the third chakra level of the Tree, and Justice with Justice or Severity at the 4th chakra, so Temperance is represented by Daath at the 5th chakra, which Kabbalist Will Parfitt called the "rainbow bridge." The Temperance card features either a rainbow, or the irises of the rainbow goddess, and these are linked to the "bow" (rainbow) of Sagittarius the Archer. We can picture in our mind the Temperance path on the Tree of Life running between the blue Mercy and the red Severity as "arching" up through the black Daath circle between them.
|Balanced and transformed, we may feel our journey complete. Well, at least the middle part of the journey is over. So we enter the third and highest division of the spiritual ascent. But we may get stuck here, becoming spoiled and complacent in our achievement; or we may even fall into boredom and despair. For it's now that the final temptation and final battle comes to us. In restrospect we know this means that we are actually near to our goal. It might not feel like it yet though. The Devil guards the gates to our spiritual attainment. Once the highest Angel, we meet our adversary now because we are ready to confront him. Ruler of the world and its sinful powers, The Devil tempts the seeker with all the power or security which the material world has to offer, if only s/he will give up the quest and go with him instead. This final test may seem like an impasse. We have come so far now. Will the journey ever end? Maybe I should give in to the Devil and give up. But if we continue the battle, we get to see our weakest link, our own ogre within.|
But we needed to feel these chains of ignorance grate against us painfully in order to be aware of them, and thus free ourselves of them. In the battle with our own inner demons, we gain strength and transform them into our allies. Since in fact, our chains were always loose enough to escape from, as they are pictured on the card, we only had to see through the Devil's delusions in order to be free. Just like we get 3 virtues on the quest, we also need to heal ourselves from what Buddha called the "3 poisons" (each one at the same 3 soul levels as the virtues), and transform them into their opposites: (greed = Wheel of Fortune into generosity, anger/rebellion = Hanged Man into compassion, and ignorance = Devil into wisdom.
| Finally, armed with the three liberating virtues we developed (Strength, Justice and Temperance), we rise up and overthrow the Devil’s authority. Both of our lower souls, our appetite and our will, are pictured on the card as falling from the Tower, because we are now going to rise beyond them to the higher soul of wisdom. The Tower card is a turbulent upheaval that topples the Devil from the heights of power. As he falls we are freed from the Devil's bondage to addiction. Pretentious human structures and superficial ideas are struck down. We get Satan behind us. We see things from a greater perspective now.
Suddenly the battle is over. Peace comes, as spiritual vistas open up to us in breath-taking discovery. The Devil could only deceive us with superficial views. Now we can see both the heights and the depths, and the view is spectacular. The two lower souls, which we transcended in the previous cards, are now integrated within us like yin and yang. As The Star comes out in the sky and shines on the Earth below, we nourish the world with our new life-giving waters. The Temperance Angel returns to pour forth the healing liquid on the land and the sea alike, representing our two souls acting together in counterpoint. The pathway to heaven becomes visible, symbolized by the seven stars of the stairway to heaven (or the seven heavens), and by the 8th Star of the whole Universe. Our perspective is clear and bright, as brilliant revelations come to us. We are hopeful again.
|Then the Moon rises. Our chariot of ascension, our merkabah vehicle, is now ready to take us up. We had been given our Chariot back at card #6, and now we have learned to drive it. The Chariot card is linked by occultists to the sign Cancer. But The Moon, card #18, is the Chariot too, because the Moon in astrology is Cancer's ruling planet. So it represents our vehicle; our ability to receive God's grace, the Holy Grail. The two white and black (or trained and untrained) horses from the Chariot card are now the wolf and the dog howling at the Moon. Our 6th chakra of imagination has opened to receive divine inspiration and guidance for all our journeys, because we have purified now ourselves of all reaction and addiction (The Devil). The corresponding Hebrew letter meaning "the back of our head" represents this receptive, intuitive lunar wisdom, like when we perceive something "in the back of our minds."|
|Then, as The Sun comes up, we feel the exhilaration of victory, and we radiate its energy and joy to all. The "divine marriage" of the Sun and Moon, or masculine and feminine powers, has been completed, represented by the two young figures on the card. Now they prepare to leave this tarot garden to experience final liberation, ready to join together time and movement with the timeless and eternal Now that underlies all time, which we measure by the Sun and the Moon. At the Sun stage, we feel liberated and successful. We are ready and eager to reach our goal soon to come, confident of glory.|
| And there it is! The final Judgement. We reach the Crown, rising from the grave of mortal life, and summoned by Gabriel’s trumpet to immortality. Realizing our eternal nature, we experience the awesome bliss of resurrection. This means that the mystical goal has been attained, where the highest truth is known. Words cannot describe it; perhaps only Bach does it justice in the crowning glory that concludes his great organ Toccata in F Major! And the organ is creation’s most finely crafted set of sacred trumpets!
It is thanks to Bach, as well as to Robert Place and his predecessors such as O'Neill and Dummett, that I can relate the story of the journey in this humble essay in the way that I do.
My thanks also to Rev. Christine Emmerling for her classes on the Tarot and Kabbalah at Divine Science Community Center, which helped me on my quest. It was also while studying Case's approach to Tarot in her class that someone providentially stuck a copy of Place's Tarot book in my mailbox at the radio station, soon after which I interviewed him on my program Mystic Musings.
|After the blissful celebration shown on the Judgement card, we get back to work. Only now, we dance. Like D.T. Suzuki said, enlightenment is just like normal life-- except 3 inches off the ground. This is because we have reached the top of the Tree! We become the teacher again; now a Master and leader who returns into the World like a bodhisattva to help all other seekers until every sentient being is free and immortal. We bring back the gifts and talents we discovered and developed on our journey back to the world to help others on their journey. Four divine creatures from the Book of Revelation surround the Lady of Wisdom in the center of the card. These are also the four evangelists in Christian or Buddhist tradition who send out the Master's teachings to the four winds in the four directions of Earth. Within ourselves, now self-realized as divine beings, the 4 creatures are our 4 functions, now integrated as one. At the start, the World had been our domain. Now as spiritual Master, we ARE the World. As such we become carefree, like The Fool again, but we won’t get fooled again, because now we are wise and strong. Fulfilled and at peace; we have attained our heart's desire, the ultimate boon. The Master's Heart is connected to his Crown, so that divine guidance flows freely. Perhaps we may even be ready for another challenge! God (ourselves) is always sending His creative energy down the Tree again, into further creations and forms. But as far as the Tarot is concerned, the journey is complete. Read more about the world card here, on my Bach/tarot page|
Also compare the Tarot Journey with Campbell's description of The Hero's Journey. In the first of the journey's three parts The Fool answers "the call" of the heart (Lovers), meets guides (Magician, High Priestess) and confronts authorities (Emperor, Empress, Pope). The Seeker then crosses the threshold into the unknown, the 2nd part (where The Chariot takes you), enters upon tests (The Hermit), and meets helpers, who are often women companions (the virtues, represented by women on the tarot cards, are also given to the Seeker by grace from above, according to Tarot). As the Seeker continues The Journey, the tests get harder, and s/he is initiated (The Hanged Man, Death). Finally, the head villain or father figure meets the Initiate face to face for the ultimate battle (The Devil). Having passed through the abyss, the Initiate experiences At-Onement and Apotheosis (Judgement), and takes flight (climbing the ladder of planets-- Star, Moon, Sun). The 6th chakra, in fact, is symbolized by wings, and there is a bird on the Star card. In the final part the Initiate, now Master, returns (The World card) to bring his gift back to the people, facing new challenges in that adventure.
Many other stories and works of art are examples of the hero's journey archetype, just as the tarot journey is. For example, be sure and see the page on Bach's Toccata for more insights.
How about a Prisoner tarot deck? See how the story of The Prisoner (a modern hero's journey) matches The Tarot Journey HERE.
Larger pictures of the tarot trumps (major arcana) (in order, more or less)
You Tube video by eameece (me) correlating the tarot journey to the Toccata in F
Bach's Toccata in F, The Tarot and the Chakras by E. Alan Meece
Toccata in F LINKS page, with lots more links to tarot and esoteric-related subjects
Tarot and The Prisoner TV Series
The Ultimate Gift, a contemporary movie version of the hero's journey.
Click here to read the amazing parallels of The Ultimate Gift movie with the tarot and see links to the movie on you tube.
Neo-Platonism and Alchemy by E. Alan Meece
Summer Solstice Essay by E. Alan Meece
Philosophy on a Circle, by E. Alan Meece
Philosophy and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Robert M. Place, author of The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, and Tarot deck creator
Builders of the Adytum founded by Paul Foster Case
Tarot, by Wikipedia
Tarot History, from tarotpedia
Aeclectic Tarot, with info on 1000s of decks
What tarot court card are you? personality quiz
Which major arcana tarot card are you?
Good introduction to "The Fool's Journey" story shown in the Tarot cards with music by Stewart Copeland of The Police
The Fool's Journey by Joan Bunning
The Fool's Journey by Dalexandria
Introduction to tarot history on you tube
American Tarot Association, with card meanings by James Rioux
Tarot Teachings by Avia Venefica
TarotVision journey along the path of the Major Arcana
Biddy Tarot card meanings
Tarot Card Meanings, based on "It's All in the Cards" by Kim Farnell
Paul Hughes-Barlow on tarot meanings. etc.
How to read tarot cards
Visit Bonnie Cehovet's tarot room, with lots of info and links
Intro to Kaballah on You Tube
Anodea Judith and the Wheels of Life, best book on the chakras
teachers' guide to the Hero's Journey
Hero's Journey in Gestalt Therapy
The Hero's Journey Outline, including Christopher Vogler's
The Hero's Journey as explained by Christopher Vogler on you tube
Osho Tarot, popular among new age readers, adds Zen insights to the Marseilles/Waite-Smith pattern
Horoscope for the New Millennium