Chaos and the Psychological Symbolism of the Tarot
by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. © 1997
The primary symbolism within the major arcana is as follows:
1. The Fool. The Marseilles deck shows the fool as a court jester holding a baton and standing near a cliff. This symbolism suggests silliness, but perhaps a deliberate silliness. The popular Waite deck is more complex. It shows a young wanderer holding a rose and a walking stick, to which a bag is tied, walking off a cliff. A dog romps at his side. This suggests a happy and carefree attitude that could be dangerous. The Golden Dawn deck shows a naked child holding the reins of a wolf while plucking fruit from a tree. This symbolism suggests that the fool is innocence, and that pure innocence can check animal passions while surviving quite nicely on what nature provides. In the Deck of Thoth, the fool is shown in a green suit and gold shoes. A crystal is between his horns, and he is falling. He holds A Wand in his right hand (power) and a flaming pine cone in his left hand (purity). The card shows a tiger, a dove, a vulture, a butterfly, a rainbow, children, flowers, grapes, a crocodile, and ivy. This card portrays Jung's archetype of the divine child such as the infant Christ. The imagery also suggests the archetypal eternal youth or Peter Pan. Nichols (1984) calls the symbolism of the fool, the archetypal wanderer.
2. The Juggler or Magus. This is the Magician, the divine Messenger, Mercury, Hermes, and Thoth. The Marseilles deck shows a parlor magician going through a magic act of some kind with various `tools of the trade' on a table. This is the popular view of the magician -- one who does sleight of hand, and who employs gimmickery. The Waite and Golden Dawn decks are more sophisticated. They both show a magician in robes, with his four traditional weapons: a sword, a wand, a cup, and a pentacle. The Thoth deck shows him with a naked golden body, smiling, with winged feet standing in front of a large caduceus. In his right hand he hold a style and in his left hand, a papyrus. The card shows a monkey, swords, cup, wand, and pentacle. This card represents the will. The imagery portrays the archetype of the magician as described by Moore and Gillette (1993). It also suggests the archetype of the trickster.
3. The High Priestess. This is usually the goddess Isis or Artemis, the huntress. The Marseilles deck shows the goddess Junon (Juno), wife of the god Jupiter and a peacock. The symbols here are lunar and suggest a lunar vision (for example, the intuition as opposed to common sense). In the Thoth deck, she is shown naked, clothed only in a white Veil of Light, and seated on a throne. Her bow rests in her lap. Also shown are arrows, four crystals, a net (symbolic of the Egyptian goddess, Neith), a camel, flowers, and fruit. This card represents the intuition and the imagery suggests the archetypes of the unconscious in a general sense and the anima in a specific sense. Nichols (1984) calls the symbolism in this card, the archetype of the virgin.
4. The Empress. Most all decks agree that this card is symbolized by a mature woman wearing a crown and seated on a throne. This suggests the feminine side of the psyche or any strong feminine authority. She is the ultimate feminine creator and provider. In the Thoth deck she is shown clothed in a pink blouse, a long green skirt, a Zodiac belt, and a gold crown. She sits on a lunar throne holding a lotus in her right hand. Beneath her is a tapestry with fleurs-de-lys and fishes. Also shown are birds, bees, a shield, showing a white eagle, a mother pelican with her young, and revolving moons. Behind her is a door. This card represents nature. The imagery suggests Jung's archetype of the mother.
5. The Emperor. Most all decks agree that this card is symbolized by a mature man wearing a crown and seated on a throne. This suggests the masculine side of the psyche or any strong masculine authority. He is the ultimate masculine creator and provider. In the Thoth deck, he sits on a throne with right leg crossed over left. His arms and head form an upright triangle, while his legs form a cross. He holds a scepter (power) in his left hand and an orb, with a Maltese cross, in his right hand. The main color is red. The card shows a ram, a shield with a two-headed eagle, a flag, a lamb, coins, and bees on his blouse. The imagery of this card suggests Jung's archetype of the father as well as the hero.
6. The Hierophant. Like the Emperor, this card is usually shown as a mature man wearing a crown and seated on a throne. The Marseilles deck shows the god Jupiter. Some decks show this as the Pope or some other religious leader which clearly distinguishes the difference between the Hierophant and the Emperor; the former is religious while the latter is civil or social. In the Thoth deck, he is shown fully clothed sitting on a throne holding a wand with three circles. A priestess is shown standing before him together with a child dancing within a pentagram within a hexagram. Also shown is a five-petalled rose encircled by a snake, elephants, a bird, and the four fixed signs of the Zodiac. Nine nails are shown at the top. This card represents the conscience. The imagery suggests the archetype of the religious teacher or Christ. It also suggests the archetype of the king as described by Moore and Gillette (1990/1991). Nichols (1984) says that this card, as well as that of the Hermit, represent Jung's archetype of the wise old man.
7. The Lovers, or Twins, or Brothers. The Marseilles deck shows Cupid about to shoot one of his famous arrows into a young couple. All decks show a man and woman together, and the general theme is love. This card suggests the union of opposites, especially masculinity and femininity, anima and animus. Cupid is the symbol of romance, but one that is usually governed more by emotions than by rational thought. The Thoth deck shows the union of male/Leo/fire with female/Scorpio/water represented by a king and queen as well as a white child and a black child. The Hermit is shown blessing the couples. Cupid is shown symbolizing blind love. Also shown is a cup, a sword, an Orphic egg with snake, an eagle, a lion, Eve, and Lilith. Bars are shown in the background. This card represents what Jung called the soul. The imagery suggests the archetype of the lover (Moore & Gillette, 1990/1991).
8. The Chariot. Most decks agree that the main symbol of this card is a chariot. Usually a charioteer is also shown. The theme is powerful deliberate motion toward a fixed goal and thus a victory over space. The card symbolism suggests the spiritual impulse which sooner or later will drive man to seek his true nature. In the Thoth deck the canopy of the Chariot is the blue of the feminine Sephirah, Binah. The pillars are the four pillars of the universe. The scarlet wheels are fiery creative energy. The Chariot is pulled by four sphinxes (the four Cherubs). The charioteer wears amber-colored armor and he holds a Holy Grail of amethyst. On his head is a crab, and on his armor are ten stars. This card represents Jung's persona. The imagery suggests the archetype of the warrior (Moore & Gillette, 1990/1991).
9. Justice or Adjustment. The main symbol for this card is a balance or scale used for measuring weight. The scale is held by a goddess who holds an upright sword. The symbolism represents the law of cause and effect; those natural forces which seek a balance or moderation in all things. The figure shown in the Thoth deck is the feminine complement of the Fool, a young and slender woman. She is poised on her toes and crowned with the feathers of Maat, the goddess of justice. On her forehead is the Uraeus serpent. She is masked (Harlequin) and holds a magic Swords in both hands between her thighs. She is wrapped in a Cloak of Mystery. Before her is a large two-pan balance. This card represents the conscience. The imagery suggests the archetypes of justice, fairness, and balance.
10. The Hermit. Almost all decks agree that the symbolism of the Hermit is an older man in a robe holding a staff in one hand and a lamp in the other. The lamp is a symbol of the inner light of truth. The theme here is the wise old sage, the inner guiding light of conscience illumined by the intuition. In the Thoth deck he is shown in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod. He wears a cloak the color of Binah. He holds a lamp whose center is the sun. Before him is an Orphic egg with coiled snake. The background is a field of wheat. Also shown is a spermatozoon in the form of a serpent wand, and Cerberus the three-headed dog. This card represents withdraw and meditation. The imagery of this card suggests Jung's archetype of the wise old man (Nichols, 1984).
11. The Wheel of Fortune. The main symbol of this card is a wheel. The wheel is a symbol for cycles, and the card represents the law of cyclic manifestation. The original symbols of this card were probably meant to portray the doctrine of reincarnation, as well as other cyclic processes. In the Thoth deck stars line the top of the card through which lightning strikes into a mass of blue and violet plumes. In the center is a wheel with 10 spokes. On the wheel are a sworded sphinx (sulphur), Hermanubis (mercury), and Typhon (salt). The wheel is the Eye of Shiva. This card represents evolution and the imagery suggests the archetypes of fate and destiny.