Astrology in Tarot: Golden Dawn Correspondences

Meet Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  Their fashion sense may not have caught on in a big way, but their work in the realm of the occult remains hugely influential today...
Meet Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Their fashion sense may not have caught on in a big way, but their work in the realm of the occult remains hugely influential today…

More than a century ago, a group of brilliant occultists came together in the British Isles to generate a body of work that still informs modern metaphysics today. This small secret society called themselves The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (often referred to today as simply, “The Golden Dawn,” or abbreviated as “GD”). Nowhere is their influence more apparent than in the realm of Tarot.

While today’s Tarot landscape bristles with hundreds of decks, two of these stand out as the most popular and acclaimed by far: the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (“RWS”) and the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck (“Thoth”)…and as it happens, the creators of these two decks were members of the Golden Dawn. Their work reverberates through virtually every deck published to this day, and their systems of correspondences have been so widely accepted that Tarot readers often seem to adopt them without the slightest question. One such system attempts to map the essentials of Astrology onto Tarot.

Aleister Crowley: the self-styled "Wickedest Man in the World," circa 1929.  One of the more renowned members of the Golden Dawn, Crowley's work is still vital today.
Aleister Crowley: the self-styled “Wickedest Man in the World,” circa 1929. One of the more renowned members of the Golden Dawn, Crowley’s work remains vital even now.

Now, whether the Golden Dawn astrological correspondences are flawless in their conception or not is a valid question…but whatever your own answer to that question may be, it’s still extremely valuable to learn the GD system, as it gives the Tarot practitioner some common ground for discussion when interacting with other readers and students. And then there’s also that commonly held notion that it’s best to understand the existing rules of any discipline before attempting to break them…

So with all of that in mind, here, then, is a handy breakdown of which Planets, Signs, and Elements from Astrology – according to the Golden Dawn – correspond with which Major Arcana cards in Tarot (and please note – this table uses the RWS template; the Thoth correspondences are essentially the same, though, allowing for Aleister Crowley’s renaming of various cards, and his swapping of his versions of the Strength and Justice cards in the numerical sequence):

Major Arcana Card

Astrological Correspondence

0 or XXII – The Fool Air (modern Tarot assigns Uranus here)
I – The Magician Mercury
II – The High Priestess The Moon
III – The Empress Venus
IV – The Emperor Aries
V – The Hierophant Taurus
VI – The Lovers Gemini
VII – The Chariot Cancer
VIII – Strength Leo
IX – The Hermit Virgo
X – The Wheel of Fortune Jupiter
XI – Justice Libra
XII – The Hanged Man Water (Neptune in today’s Tarot world)
XIII – Death Scorpio
XIV – Temperance Sagittarius
XV – The Devil Capricorn
XVI – The Tower Mars
XVII – The Star Aquarius
XVIII – The Moon Pisces
XIX – The Sun The Sun
XX – Judgment Fire (Pluto for modern Tarot users)
XXI – The World Saturn

So once you have these associations all committed to memory, the next big question is: what do you do with them?

Give The Devil his due: he's one complex character, and he represents a truly wide array of concepts...and astrological correspondences can help the Tarot reader keep track of them.
Give The Devil his due: he’s one complex character, and he represents a truly wide array of concepts…and astrological correspondences can help the Tarot reader keep track of them.

Well, if you already know your Astrology, and you like the GD correspondences, then they can really add a lot of depth to your readings. For example, take a look at The Devil: the Jungian “shadow” is one of the first concepts that pops into my own mind whenever I see this particular card, and I see Tarot’s Devil as primarily a psychological and metaphysical archetype. The Golden Dawn, however, chose to link it to the earthy Sign of Capricorn. If you’re familiar with some basic Astrology, you’ll know that Capricorn is less concerned with the subconscious mind, and more focused on the physical side of reality. And in line with that idea, The Devil is also quite often about the hardships inherent in being a physical creature: limitations, weaknesses, vices. It sometimes helps me, then, to keep these astrological correspondences in mind, so that I don’t fall into deep interpretive ruts – they can remind me about those aspects of a card that don’t stick as firmly in my head as others tend to do.

This woodcut by Erhard Schoen, created in 1515, illustrates a natal horoscope for Leonhard Reymann, and includes astrological concepts populated with figures extremely reminiscent of Tarot archetypes.  The urge to intertwine the two disciplines has been present in metaphysical thought for centuries...
This woodcut by Erhard Schoen, created in 1515, illustrates a natal horoscope for Leonhard Reymann, and includes astrological concepts populated with figures extremely reminiscent of Tarot archetypes. The urge to intertwine the two disciplines has been present in metaphysical thought for centuries…

You can also use the correspondences “in reverse,” so to speak. That is, if you look at your own astrological birth-chart, you can figure out which Signs and Planets are the big movers and shakers in your own individual make-up…and then you can translate that into Tarot terms to determine which Major Arcana cards would ride along with those astrological symbols. For instance, using the more modern approach to Astrology that I tend to favor, the heaviest hitters in my own birth-chart are the Signs of Scorpio and Virgo, and the Planets Neptune and Pluto. You can double-check the table above to see that if the GD correspondences are on-point, then the Majors that serve as the most primary contributors of energies to my own unique character would be Death, The Hermit, The Hanged Man, and Judgment. And to be honest, that’s probably not very far off the mark as far as describing the essential me (although I’m a little more fun at parties than that line-up of cards might have you believe…).

So as even these quick examples show, using correspondences to link Astrology and Tarot together can both enhance your Tarot readings and illuminate a person’s psychological make-up for you. Of course, while the Golden Dawn system is very widely employed, that doesn’t mean it’s the only possible way of doing things. Once you have a firm grasp on it, you can then start to question it, and even begin to modify it to suit your own understandings. The GD way is a terrific starting point, though, in combining the two great disciplines of Tarot and Astrology…

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