Symbology in Tarot – Major Arcana Part II

We will continue to patiently analyze the trump cards of Tarot’s Major Arcana. We will discuss two cards that symbolize the decisive influence of the Divine Feminine in our daily lives and its significance for Mankind.

III – The High Priestess

This card shows a woman of great authority majestically sitting in front of a thin veil that is decorated with pomegranates, discreetly separating the Conscious and the Unconscious parts of our minds. It marks the boundary between what is evident in our daily lives from what is hidden in the same; in order to cross that threshold, we must acquire wisdom and knowledge. The pomegranate is an old symbol of fertility and thus epitomizes the Divine Feminine that assures the survival of our species. The access to the temple of wisdom has two pillars—one black with the letter B and one white with the letter J. The first one represents Boaz, i.e. “in his strength”, and the second one represents Jachin, i.e. “he will establish.” The juxtaposition of colors implies that both “the feminine” and “the masculine” halves are essential for Life. On her lap she has a partially concealed scroll dubbed as Tora, which represents the divine knowledge that will only be totally revealed to the truly capable for that task.

Note – This picture shows the sculpture called The Rape of Proserpina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rape_of_Prosepina_September_2015-3a.jpg

One of the oldest myths from the beginning of Human Civilization in the stretch of land spanning between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (located in what is known today as Iraq) is the Sumerian narration of an abduction. Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the foremost experts in Ancient Mythology, stated that the fair maiden Ereshkigal was abducted by Kur, the fierce demon that ruled the Underworld, and forced her to become his queen, ruling together their dark realm. Almost all the old civilizations had a version of this tale but the most famous one has been the Myth of Persephone.

In Greek mythology, Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, was madly in love with the beautiful Persephone but Demeter, her mother, was adamantly opposed to the bond. One day when Persephone was innocently gathering flowers in the field with Artemis and Pallas, Hades burst through a cleft in the terrain and abducted her. Demeter searched for her missing daughter everywhere until Hellios, the Sun, that could see everything told her what had happened. The grieving mother pleaded with Zeus, who received the pleas of other deities, and he forced Hades to release her. However, before he complied with his superior’s order, Hades tricked Persephone into tasting the pomegranate; hooked on that fruit’s unique taste, she was obliged to return to the Underworld a fourth of the calendar year, in Wintertime, and to go back to the surface when Spring came. The arrival of Persephone heralded soil’s fertility.

Upright High Priestess – This scene announces a period of unusual growth and fertile creativity in the life of an individual. For the eventual accomplishment of that goal., he/she/ihr must take some distance from the material and pedestrian world in order to healthily re-connect with the inner spirituality that we all carry, in different forms and levels, inside us. Only after we perform that “inner cleansing” will the truth be revealed to us and, therefore, pave the way for our open success in society.

Reversed High Priestess – This scene indicates that there might be some serious stumbling blocks in our path to creative expansiveness and personal happiness. If it appears in the context of a sentimental relationship, it means that there are some hidden or camouflaged issues that are damaging our relationship with other persons. It is our duty to pause and make an introspective analysis to find and remedy them.

IV – The Empress

This card shows a gorgeous blonde with a crown of twelve stars on her head—the symbol of her connection to the twelve months of the year and the twelve planets. With a robe adorned with the ancient symbol of fertility—the pomegranate, the fruit of Persephone—she is sitting on a comfortable cushion that has the symbol of Venus. In the background there is a glimpse of a thick forest that would most likely be teeming with animals, plants, etc. This scene epitomizes the growth and fertility potential of the Feminine Divine. In ancient civilizations, which were mostly agrarian in nature, women were enthroned as the symbol of human presence in their environment; only when marauding bands of hunting men started to conquer these settlements, did the idea of Patriarchy rise. The concept of Mother Nature, or Mother Earth, is the embodiment of the life-giving and nurturing capabilities of Nature by representing it as a woman and a mother.

Note – This well preserved mosaic from a Roman villa in the Marche region depicts Aion, the God of Eternity, standing inside a celestial sphere decorated with the twelve zodiac signs, between a green tree (representing the Summertime) and a bare one (representing the Wintertime) In front of him, Tellus (the Roman counterpart of Gaia, the Greek goddess of Mother Earth) is lounging with her four children, each representing a season of the year. Glyptothek, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Johann Jakob Bachofen was a Swiss antiquarian, jurist philologist, anthropologist, and professor of Roman Law at the University of Basel, that proposed the still controversial concept that in the beginning of human civilization, the matriarchate was the predominant form of social order in most communities. His seminal book Das Mutterrecht—”Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the Ancient world”—was published in 1861and even though it was largely ignored in his own times, it became one of the philosophical foundations of Modern Feminism in the 1970s. Bachofen proposed that by shunning the raw promiscuity of our prehistoric times, women started to efficiently organize their communities around the concept of family and parental obligations for the kin.

Upright Empress – This scene represents the personal period of renewed growth that will eventually spawn the emergence of new projects and new accomplishments. Following the guidance of our natural instincts, we should open our hearts and minds to new possibilities in the labor, professional, study, financial and romantic realms. For women, this card calls for a renewed bonding with their femininity—sensuality, eroticism, creative energies, and generous nurturing—in order to bring much more harmony to their environment and family relationships. The creation of Beauty. It represents an ancient allegory to the “birthing phenomenon”, personal or social.

Reversed Empress – This scene represents the actual blocking of our inner creative energies and deepest emotions by certain phenomena or persons standing in our way. The apparition of this card for a lady may mean that it is time for her to stop caring so much for the feelings and needs of her close ones and to dedicate a little bit more time to herself for a change. What to do? She should try to re-connect with her old girlfriends, make new friends, go back to school or the arts, change jobs, etc. If this card appears for a gentleman, it might be an indication that he “should open up more” in his couple ,without waiting for others to explicitly demand for a change. Do not procrastinate.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Symbology in Tarot –  Movement, Subconscious and Collective Memory

As we have already discussed in our previous article titled Introduction to Tarot, the traditional deck is divided into two types of cards, which are basically different:

  1. Major Arcana: these special cards represent the major milestones and critical junctions of our life cycle: birth, education, work, love, death, etc.
  2. Minor Arcana: these cards represent the multiple vicissitudes in our lives.

In this article, before we address the significance of the combinations, we would like to discuss some basic concepts, which are of critical importance for novices like us. Let us first recommend the excellent book Truly Easy Tarot by Mantis, which has clarified many concepts and turned out to be a springboard in our Mystical Quest. The Major Arcana are the trump cards of a tarot pack and they were initially used in the 17th century as a special deck for gambling. There are 22 of these in a traditional 78-card pack; they are numbered with Roman numerals from 0 to 21. Each one depicts a scene with one or more individuals, with a clearly defined symbology.

According to the experts, each trump card has a divine interpretation, which appears to the sensitive individual when it is laid on the table in a straightforward manner. However, when the cards show up inverted, it means that the particular feature alluded by the symbology is, at the present time, “blocked” or “restrained” in that life. Some experts never read in the reverse mode, but others consider that reading to be highly complementary in our lives, similar to the Ying and Yang of the I Ching. The concept of matching of the opposites is fundamental to our understanding of it.

The flourishing of esoteric endeavors and secret societies in 19th century Europe did propel Tarot to a greater diffusion in the popular classes and its use as a divination tool. But there was a pioneer in Psychology that valued it as a good tool to explore the tenebrous depths of our Subconscious and Collective Memory. According to Mary K. Greer, Karl Jung said in a 1933 lecture that the Tarot deck was “really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism.” He believed that the different combinations of scenes are in fact archetypal ideas related to “the playful development of mankind.” He daringly claimed that if we understand how we evolved from our past (collective and personal) into our present coordinates, we might be able to “grasp the flow of life” and, hopefully, predict part of our future. He instructed his pupils to study esoteric disciplines but warned them to approach them, not with the arrogance of the Cartesian discourse, but with the raw intuition that our ancestors used to great advantage in those dangerous times in dark caves.

We would like to humbly recommend two tactics that have eased our learning process of Tarot. They are:

  1. The importance of Movement in the interpretation of the combinations.
  2. We should tap into our Subconscious and Collective Memory.

Movement

For many, many years we have cavalierly disdained Tarot in general because, as a physician long trained in scientific certainty and aversion to quackery, we suspected that, besides any intrinsic values, it had been used by charlatans to reap easy money. Indeed it has, and still is, manipulated by callous individuals that prey on innocents. However, the preparation of this blogging series—the necessary scaffolding for a book—prodded us to seriously tackle all these esoteric activities with an open mind.

The various combinations of the deck can be considered as a snapshot of an ongoing motion in the life of an individual (or a group of them) that started in the past, arrives at our present and will project into the future. The Major Arcana cards depict a scene where someone is doing something or being the subject of somebody else’s actions. Let’s look at the example of Card Number 0 The Fool. What is he doing? Find the meaning of movement.

He 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 will come.

Are you slowly getting the drift of what we are, perhaps rather clumsily, trying to convey in our words?

Subconscious and Collective Memory

Since we sought refuge in those dark caves in the beginning of Mankind’s presence on Planet Earth, we have cozied up to our loved ones besides a crackling fire and fallen asleep to give a necessary pause to our Conscious minds. That is precisely when the Subconscious takes over center stage in the theater of our lives to act upon. Slowly, we play past experiences, our present fears, our hidden traumas, our hopes. The Subconscious is the reservoir of all the experiences that are deemed to be part of the hidden human experience— good ones, bad ones, and the ones in between. Moreover, ever since we start our life in the depths of our dear mothers’ wombs, we are already receiving their filtrations. Every minute of our lives, we are hoarding many souvenirs and interpretations that we will readily re-transmit to our kindred, for better or worse. It is never a choice. We get them, like it or not…Can’t escape it.

In order to shut off the tremendous bombardment of noise and unsolicited messages that our excessively digitalized society throws at our senses, we must take a pause. After carefully looking at the cards laid on the table, we should close our eyes for a few seconds and seek the help of our Subconscious mind. Toc. Toc. Toc. Need help.

Take the necessary time to sit down at the majestic library of our accumulated Human Knowledge and calmly pore over the dusty manuscripts and manuals of the ones that preceded us. They are still talking to us through them. Then you may find some critical clues of what is happening today and, hopefully, what will happen tomorrow.

In the next installment of this series, we will start to analyze those scenes together. Do not panic. We can do this.

Note. The featured image is the painting Fortune teller by Albert Anker, 1880. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fortune_teller,_Albert_Anker,_1880.png

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.