the mythic journey...

The true origin of the Tarot is not fully understood. The cards have come to draw meaning from many different religions and cultures. However, the basic underlying function of the cards has remained unchanged.

The cards are a means of divination: the foretelling of the future or discovering of that which is hidden [The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, 1981]. The cards consist of 22 Major Arcana cards and the four suits which comprise the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of a series of images which portray the different stages of a journey: life. Each of these cards represents a rite of passage as we embark on the journey. These are the cards which portray the familiar images of The Fool, The Devil, The Lovers, and the other familiar faces of Tarot. The Minor Arcana, consisting of the suits of The Cup, The Wand, The Sword, and The Pentacle, are pictorial descriptions of experiences in four different facets of life. The cards of the Minor Arcana are less vivid and are sometimes omitted from a Tarot card reading, leaving only the cards of the Major Arcana to tell the story.

The Tarot cards themselves are not magic nor do they possess any psychic powers. The cards are a tool which we use with our own intuition to guide our paths and give spiritual insight. Just as we seek God through prayer and meditation, we also seek the infinite wisdom and guidance of the Creator through tools of divination such as the Tarot. As a question or problem is considered, cards are dealt and placed in one of various configurations or spreads. The position of each card in the spread signifies a particular area of life where a certain influence and inner and outer situation are occurring as relates to the question/concern at hand. An overall interpretation of the cards is given, based on the entire spread. Using the wisdom of divination and meditation, we can attain guidance and shed light on the path as we journey into self-discovery.

Following is a description of the meanings associated with each of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

The FoolThe Fool represents the irrational impulse toward change and toward opening life's horizons into the unknown. The Fool stands at the beginning of his journey, and when we are struck by the mysterious impulse which he represents, we too stand at the threshold of a journey. These irrational impulses can sometimes be destructive, and sometimes creative; and often they are both together. In this way, amidst ambiguity and excitement and fear, begins the great journey of life portrayed by the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

The MagicianThe Magician points to potential skills and creative abilities which have not yet been manifested. He may appear as an upsurge of energy and an intuition of exciting new opportunities. He presages insight and an awareness of unexplored possibilities. It becomes clear that the journey is possible, and that one has capacities that have yet to be developed.

The Empress The Empress suggests the onset of a more earthy phase of life. A marriage or birth of a child might occur; or the birth of a creative child, an artistic offspring, for this too requires the patience and nurturing of the Great Mother. Through this card we enter the realm of the body and the instincts, as a place of both peace and stagnation, life-giving and life-suffocating. The child of heaven discovers that he lives in a physical body and is a creature not only of spirit but also of earth.

The Emperor The Emperor augurs a confrontation with the issue of the father principle in both its positive and negative forms. We are challenged to make something manifest, to concretize a creative idea, to build something in the world, to found a business perhaps, or to establish the structure of a home and family. We are asked to take a standpoint, to become effective and powerful, to formulate our ideas and ethics. We are also asked to consider where the creative young king has become the rigid, oppressive tyrant, and where our idealogies are interfering with life and growth. There is something higher in which to believe and whose authority we can now embody.

The High Priestess The High Priestess signifies the heightening of the powers of intuition, and implies that there will be an encounter of some kind with the hidden inner world. The individual may be drawn inexplicably to this world through an interest in the occult or esoteric, or through the effects of a powerful dream or the uncanny sense that 'something' is at work in one's life. This silent figure embodies Mother on another, deeper, subtler level--the womb of the unconscious in which the secret of our real purpose and the pattern of destiny are contained.

The Hierophant The Hierophant implies when he appears that the individual will begin to actively seek answers of a philosophical kind. This may emerge as the study of a particular philosophy or system of belief, or as a deep commitment to a quest for meaning in life. The Hierophant may appear in the form of an analyst, psychotherapist, priest or spiritual mentor in outside life to whom we turn for comfort and help. This signals an encounter with that part of yourself which can begin to formulate and express a personal philosophy, an individual vision of the spirit, which guides one as he leaves his childhood behind and ventures out into life's challenges.

The Lovers The Lovers foretell the necessity of a choice of some kind, usually in love. Values are now put to the test. Sometimes this means a love triangle, but it can also mean the problem of too hasty a marriage, or a choice between love and a career or some creative activity. This card implies the necessity of looking carefully at the implications of one's choices, rather than being driven blindly, thereby inaugurating a great conflagration.

The Chariot The Chariot signifies conflict and struggle which can result in a stronger personality. One may come face to face not only with aggression in others, but with one's own competitive and aggressive drives. This conflict cannot be avoided, but needs to be faced with strength and containment. Thus one comes to harmony through learning the handle his own contradictions, and passes from the world of adolescence to the next stage of his journey.

Justice Justice implies the need for balanced thought and impartial decision-making. But like a sword, this card can be double-edged. There are spheres of life where one can be too idealistic and too destructive to the warmth of personal relationship. The sword can cut the heart with general truths which are inappropriate for a particular situation. Thus Justice is, like all the Major Arcana, an ambivalent figure. We must develop what Justice represents, but cannot stay forever in her pure temple, and must pass on to the next moral lesson.

Temperance Temperance implies the need for flow of feeling in relationship. It suggests the potential for harmony and cooperation resulting in a good relationship or a happy marriage. We are challenged with the issue of learning to develop a balanced heart, while also being gently reminded that we cannot remain forever even with beauty and harmony, having to continue on the journey.

Strength Strength implies a situation where a collision with the lion within is inevitable, and where a creative handling of one's own rage and senseless pride is desirable. Courage, strength, and self-discipline are necessary to battle with the situation. Through such an experience we can come in contact with the beast, but also with that part of us which is the hero, can subdue it. Having developed the faculties of mind and feeling, we now learn to deal with our own ferocious egotism, emerging from this contest with trust in ourselves and integrity toward others.

The Hermit The Hermit suggests a time of aloneness or withdrawal from the extraverted activities of life, so that the wisdom of patience may be acquired. There is an opportunity to build solid foundations if one is willing to wait. Thus, one arrives at maturity, having developed a deep respect for one's own limitations in the great passage of the round of time.

The Wheel of Fortune The Wheel of Fortune shows a sudden change of fortune. This may be 'good' or 'bad', but whichever way the Wheel turns, it brings growth and a new phase of life. We cannot predict what will come to meet us--or rather, what we will turn to meet. But behind these changes stands an image of the center within. Thus, we are thrown from complacency, and begin the decent to our own source.

The Hanged Man The Hanged Man signals the need for a voluntary sacrifice for the purpose of acquiring something of greater value. This might be the sacrifice of an external thing which has previously provided security, in the hope that some potential can be given room to develop. Or it can be the sacrifice of a cherished attitude, such as intellectual superiority, or unforgiving hatred, or a stubborn pursuit of some unobtainable fantasy. We respond to the challenge of the turning of the Wheel with a willingness to put trust in the unseen workings of the unconscious, and wait--often with fear and anxiety--in the hope of a new and better life.

Death Death implies that something must come to an end. Whether or not this experience is painful depends upon the person's capacity to accept and recognize the necessity of endings. The card of Death can foretell an opportunity for a new life, if one can let go of the old one. So, we enter the underworld, leaving behind us our previous life, to prepare for an unknown future.

The Devil The Devil suggests the necessity of a confrontation with all that is shadowy, shameful and base in the personality. One must free himself by gaining knowledge and honest, humble acceptance of The Devil, for then one can release the creative power which is held in chains by his own panic and self-disgust. Thus one comes to the heart of the labyrinth and faces his own darkness in the essential darkness of his body, in order to become what he always was--merely natural.

The Tower The Tower indicates the breaking down of existing forms. This card, like the cards of Death and the Devil, depends a great deal upon the attitude of the individual in terms of how difficult or painful it is to deal with. Obviously it is more creative to ask oneself where one is constricted or bound by a false persona or image, because a willing effort to break through this pretense can spare a great deal of anguish. But it seems that the Tower will fall anyway, whether we are willing or unwilling, not because some malicious external fate decrees it, but because something within the individual has reached boiling point and can no longer live within such confines.

The Star The Star portends the experience of hope, meaning and faith in the midst of difficulties. Although the Star too can be ambivalent, and can warn against blind hope without the necessary action to build upon it, the card of the Star is an augury of promise, an altogether welcome experience for the one who has passed through the collapse of everything which he believed to be of value in his life.

The Moon The Moon suggests a period of confusion, fluctuation and uncertainty. We are in the grip of the unconscious and can do nothing but wait and cling to the elusive images of dreams and the vague sense of hope and faith. Rebirth awaits us in the waters of a greater womb, as we are dimly aware that our journey of personal development in only a small fragment of a vast, unknowable life which spans millennia and which remains eternally fertile yet eternally unformed.

The Sun The Sun indicates a time of clarity, optimism and renewed trust. It is possible to understand the pattern, to plan for the future, to move forward. The curses of the night and dispelled, and one is now armed with foresight, purpose and a faith in the striving human spirit. Thus one encounters that great masculine principle in life, working through both men and women, which moves forward toward the goal.

Judgement Judgment tells of a time when rewards of past efforts appear. This is a period of summing-up, of a realization of what we have been doing and where we ourselves have created the future which now awaits us. It is a an ambiguous card, for it can also imply a disturbing confrontation with all our own evasions and self-betrayals. The reward is not always a pleasant one. We must now answer for our journey, for the time of harvest has arrived, and the mistakes and creative efforts of the past are gathered together to form the future. Whatever occurs to the individual in terms of experiences, the card of Judgment heralds the end of a chapter in life. But unlike the card of Death, it does not imply mourning. Rather, it is a clear perception of the extent to which we have been able to be true to ourselves.

The World The World shows a time of achievement and integration. This is a period of triumph at the successful conclusion of a matter, or the reaching of a goal which has been worked hard for. But this peak is merely a glimpse of something mysterious and elusive, and the great cycle of the Major Arcana ends where it begins, for The World also represents the unborn potential of the personality which ultimately leads to the birth of The Fool. And so the circle is complete.

Interpretations derived and adapted from "The Mythic Tarot: A New Approach to Tarot Cards" by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene.

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