After the necessary Introduction to Tarot, we will slowly, very slowly, proceed to discuss the significance of all the trump cards of the Major Arcana. Considering that each of these 22 cards represent a major scene in the lives of humans, we will try to decipher the philosophical and psychological substratum that justify their inclusion there. We would like to thank the great web resources offered by Brigit in her page Biddy Tarot, which has been a fecund source of awakenings in our studies. We strongly recommend that you visit her page for that precious mentoring.
First of all, let us warn you that the interpretation of each card, besides relying on the opinion of experts of this esoteric discipline, will be unavoidably “tainted” by our own opinions, experiences and, pour quoi pas?, a little bit of prejudicing. After intensively sharing feelings and actions with our loved ones, friends, colleagues (friends and foes) and strangers galore, we know a thing or two about Life itself. Moreover, we are especially interested in exploring the cultural, sociological and psychological substratum behind each major card, for which we will make some “more or less” educated guesses about their importance for the whole deck, This will constitute our personal opinion and you are welcome to dissent and critique it.
Ladies and gentlemen, shall we make that scary first move and step into the Tarot realm? Hold our hand and let’s go.
I – THE FOOL
This card is traditionally numbered as O because it can be both the first and the last card in the sequence of the Major Arcana. It represents our journey through Life. The idea that a man (or a woman bien sur) is a naïve operator manipulated by hidden forces or individuals, that stay largely in the coulisses without expressing their aim, has been a constant concept in Philosophy since the times of Ancient Greece. The only three major plays of Sophocles that, sadly, have been successfully transmitted to us—Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone—are good examples of that disquieting premise: humans are influenced by decisive factors that often escape our volition.
Note – The above is a painting depicting Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Giroust_-_Oedipus_At_Colonus.JPG
Scared by a prophecy that their son would eventually kill his father and marry his mother, Laius and Jocasta entrusted a servant to take their infant away to get rid of him. Feeling pity for the boy, he passed him to a childless couple who raises him, without knowing his history. When he grew up, Oedipus became aware of that prophecy and runs away from his home, trying to put distance with his stepparents. At a crossroads, he encountered a noble man with an entourage of servants; they get into a fight and he killed him. It was Laius, his father, but he did not know it then. After solving the riddle of the Sphynx, he became the ruler of Thebes and married Jocasta, the widowed queen. When they learn the truth, Jocasta committed suicide and Oedipus blinded himself, before banishing himself from Thebes. At the end of the play, the chorus sings: “Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.” Can you possibly imagine a more depressing message to a very shocked public?
As we said in our previous article, The Fool is “a young man that, holding a walking stick with a small knapsack in his right hand and a white rose symbolizing innocence in his left one, is perilously standing at the edge of the precipice, with the company of a loyal little dog. Is it warning him of great danger if he makes another move forward? Or is it perhaps pushing him to quickly grab the big opportunity he has been waiting for? The answer is that both interpretations can be valid at some time.
The Upright Wisdom interprets the appearance of this card as a signal of a new start, in the labor, professional, financial, family or love realms; it also implies that the individual must take a leap of faith if he/she/ihr wants to have a radical change.
The Wisdom in Reverse interprets it as warning to pause in a specific endeavor or relationship. Danger lies eerily ahead, and the individual must re-evaluate options. If the individual stubbornly insists on moving forward, dire consequences come.
Strongly propelled by the vitality and enthusiasm of youth, Oedipus leaves his home to discover the world and make a name for himself. He resolutely pushes forward, without any misgivings, earning the ultimate prize in Ancient Greece: a kingdom. However, in hindsight he should have been wiser if he had paused for a brief moment to reflect on the succession of experiences that seemingly were all so successful. A word of caution for our readers: no durable victory comes so easily for mortals. The “easier it looks”, the more vigilant you must be. Don’t be a fool!
II – THE MAGICIAN
This is one of the more challenging cards to add to any scene because it always speaks of a new beginning (either under course or being sabotaged) that can change the whole life of an individual. It shows a man of wisdom raising his right hand to the Heavens above to receive Divine inspiration and re-transmitting it through his body to the left one pointing at the ground so it can be shared with other mortals. On top of his head we can clearly notice the sign of Infinity: infinite possibilities at work, studies, community activities, political affiliations, leisure, sports, and even love. We know form our Physics classes in High School that the Energy of the Universe is never lost, just channeled through different venues all the time, every time. He is signaling that we are at a critical junction of our lives and he is prodding us to act. Thoroughly empowered by the Divine inspiration, we must make a decisive move.
The Upright Wisdom for its interpretation when it is pulled in a reading is that the concerned individual must take advantage of the Divine inspiration to finally engage in doing what he/she/ihr has been quietly, discreetly ruminating for a very long time. No more procrastination. No more self-doubting. No more vagaries. Time to act.
The Wisdom in Reverse interprets the pulling of this card as a sign that the concerned individual should evaluate attitudes, beliefs, behavior, feelings, or fears that might be blocking the expression of that Divine inspiration ready to discharge. The stored energy must be quickly reclaimed for use in the family, labor, financial, community realms, etc., to achieve all the proposed objectives so intensively desired.
Let us go back to those somber, damp, eerie dwellings of our ancestors in the caves, gathering around a crackling fire and holding hands to fend off the Unknown outside. Facing some terrifying elements in their close environment, they clung to the hope that there would be “someone” or “something” that will rescue them as a last resort. Then and there we started to engage into magical thinking to change our Reality. For centuries, explorers and travelers have lit a camp fire when they decided to stop their journey for a night. It would “scare” beasts and bad spirits away.
Note – This picture was provided by: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campfire_(Albert_Bierstadt),_1863.jpg
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Magical Thinking is “the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words, or use of symbols can influence the course of events in the material world. Magical thinking presumes a casual link between one’s inner, personal experience and the external physical world.”
The advent of Sociology and Anthropology as sciences in the beginning of the 19th century consolidated the triumph of Rational-Cartesian thinking in the evaluation of human activities, including the practice of religions. Reasonably reacting against the asphyxiating religiosity of the previous centuries and the unabashed encroachment of the religious institutions in the civic space of the citizenry, the latter started to question their foundations as superstitious exercises in unbridled magical thinking. Moreover the Industrial Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century and the strides in scientific knowledge that improved the living standards of millions worldwide, had the effect of ascribing the “magical thinking” to a list of relics from our distant past.
Sigmund Freud argued that there are two basic processes of Human Thought:
- Primary processes: they are ruled by the Id, our pleasure principle, which frees them from the physical constraints of Reality, enabling magical thinking.
- Secondary processes: they are a more sophisticated development controlled by the Ego, which constantly monitors them for their rational bearings.
Freud considered that the intellectual development of human beings, from the early world of impulses and magical thoughts to the rationality of science-based evidence, mirrors the evolution of human societies from the magical-religious to modernity. Studying the evolution of children, Jean Piaget affirmed that children aged 7-8 years old believe that their individual actions have effects in the physical world; recent research questions it, coming up with data of a less pronounced egocentrism.
In spite of all our rational scaffolding, the result of years, even decades, of sustained studies and work experiences, we, the adults, might also engage in magical thinking. For example, after our mother Gladys passed away, my brother Gustavo told me:
-“You know that sometimes I speak with Mom in silence…”
-“Of course, I do that all the time. And with Dad too…After having the privilege of two outstanding parents, we must continue the ongoing conversation with them.”
One of the critical steps in managing the great grief of a family loss is the following:
Before you were here…Now you are there… But our loving bond stays
Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.