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The power of symbols, and a glide through the Major Arcana...

I love teaching and writing about Tarot, and I am delighted that it forms a large part of my working life.

It's easy to slip into key words and associations, and I am aware that these do make Tarot easier to get the hang of. BUT if you focus too much on keywords, associations and crib-sheets then you forget one of the most important parts of a Tarot reading- stopping to look at the cards!

As I teach (for the first time in a while) a Tarot beginners' course I am trying to focus on symbols and imagery, rather than just keywords- so I have created this list reflecting the minor arcana. It is (obviously) designed as a starting place, a tool for thought, rather than anything definitive.

As a Tarot writer I much prefer the long and lengthy, I love diving deep into all the symbols in an image and exploring what they could mean in a reading (which lead to my book being a long read rather than a short focus). But it is always good to challenge ourselves- so here is the briefest of introductions to the symbolism of the Major Arcana- it hurt me to write this, to focus on one point, but it was an interesting intellectual exercise- and I'm sharing, curious to see what you love, and what you disagree with!

Magician “I will”

· The red roses and white lilies represent the blending of spiritual/inner life (white lilies) with the physical world (red roses) magic happens when you can be centred equally in both worlds. Always pay attention to red roses and white lilies in the Rider-Waite deck, look at a spread and see if they are represented in different cards.

High Priestess “I am”

· The two pillars (repeated in the Hierophant and Justice). These mark “sacred” space, and show that these cards are connecting with universal laws, and that quintessential something that is more than human existence.

Empress “I create”

· The fast-flowing water. Life does move fast- nothing perhaps makes that clearer than a child- how they can seem to grow and change daily.

Emperor “I organise”

· He has no weapon- he does not hold power by aggression or force, but by words and mindset.

Hierophant “Voice of the divine”

· Yes, a card connected to the spiritual (2 pillars), but also the mundane. The red roses/white lilies, both feet being clearly seen, and the keys of heaven and earth. Translating inner/spiritual connection into something than is meaningful in the everyday world.

The Lovers “I choose”

· The triad are all aware of each other (compare to the Devil!). There is an openness about this card, communication, awareness, a conscious choice.

The Chariot “I succeed”

· How this card includes symbols from all 6 previous cards! It is a breaking free, a moving on, an early sense of completion.

Strength “Fortitude”

· The yellow background and infinity symbol above the head link this to the Magician, yet we see a very feminine energy. I have come to see this card as the “female magician” where nurturing and kindness are as strong as will and determination.

The Hermit “Individuation”

· His golden staff, not black (like the Fool, 6 of swords or 10 of pentacles), but golden. As if he is supported somehow by his own inner light.

The Wheel of Fortune “Centre”

· So much going on, so much business, yet my eye gets drawn to that centre point like an optical illusion. Dead centre of the card, dead centre of the wheel, dead centre of the 8 points is the still point in all the madness!

Justice “Karma”

· The scales. WOW! What a symbol for justice- every action in life has an equal reaction.

The Hanged man “Surrender”

· Never overlook the obvious- he is upside down! Whether this is things suspended for a while, or the need to approach from a different perspective- it’s a key part of this card.

Death “Change”

· So many symbols I love (especially the white rose!) but notice the sun. rising, or setting. Either way a sense that this is an ending, rather another change on the journey. Life runs in cycles, not in a linear path- you have to learn to adjust to endings to allow beginnings.

Temperance “Balance”

· The red triangle on the angel’s shirt. This is a very fire/masculine symbol, balancing the water that is clearly represented in the card.

The Devil “Trapped”

· The eye contact (and how weird are the Devils eyes!). Unlike The Lovers no one is quite engaging with anyone else-Adam and Eve seem blissfully unaware of the “elephant” (Devil) in the room.

The Tower “Breaking free”

· The crown. A symbol that is surprisingly lacking in the deck! It is notable in the ace of swords and the 4 of pentacles. A sense that something you had planned for and worked hard to create is no longer sustainable (OK, is tumbling down around you).

The Star “A hope, a dream, a wish”

· The star is 8-pointed, like a compass. In the Northern hemisphere this would link it to the North star- the star that stays in the same place and allows us to navigate by it. A long-held wish by which your life is centred.

The Moon “Illusions”

· The moon does not shine, it reflects. Reflected light is always distorted (try reading in a mirror), and so often I have seen the moon reflect not understanding the full situation.

The Sun “integration”

· My favourite symbol is the Sunflowers (also on the Queen of Wands). I link these to the solar plexus, the seat of the ego, and being totally comfortable with who we are.

Judgement “A wake up call”

· The horn! It is one of the few times that sound is used in the Ride-Waite deck (we do have a bell in the 5 of pentacles). After light used as a symbol- lightning, fire, moon, star, sun, then sound is a change. A feeling of you really need to listen now.

The World “successful completion”

· The laurel wreath (not branches, not leaves, a wreath). The wreath is woven by human hands- a reminder that our success is in part a reflection of our own input, our own focus, our own work.

The Fool “pure potential”

· The white rose (repeated from Death). There is a Norse kenning “death makes a man pale” reflecting how with death the blood stops flowing. The red rose is life, vital and full of colour. The white rose is death, but also the pure potential of our spiritual self between death and birth. I see the Fool as our soul, or spirit, the part of us that lives even between death and re-birth.


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