Gender (Im)Balance in Tarot Cards

IMG_4520Tarot is so profound because in so many, many ways, it serves as a sort of microcosm for the entire human experience.  78 cards somehow manage to capture the infinite possibilities of our days…

But then again, Tarot does fall down in one certain area: gender balance.  In the real world, we have an almost eerie near-balance of females to males.  Meanwhile, in the most hallowed and widely-used decks out there, things devolve a bit into what some leading sociologists refer to as a “sausage party.”  That is, Tarot imagery is artificially skewed toward being seriously dude-heavy.  For every 3 of Cups or 9 of Pentacles showing female figures in action, there will be another dozen cards or more that focus solely on guys.  The deck also largely ignores such realities as transgenderism, and the hermaphrodite experience (although to be fair, many people do regard the Dancer in the World card as a hermaphrodite).

The point, though, is that Tarot could stand to be more balanced in its depictions of gender-energies.  But all is not lost…

In the famed Thoth deck, one of the many bits of retooling engaged in by Aleister Crowley involved a transformation in the subset of the deck known as the Court Cards.  This is highly significant, as these cards are often viewed as being the most clear-cut and direct representations of real people in the Tarot.  And Crowley chose to transform the Pages — arguably androgynous until this point, but pretty undeniably male – into Princesses.  In one fell swoop, the Court cards went from having 4 of 16 cards being female (i.e., the Queens) to having 8 of the 16 figures being female.  Say what you will about Crowley, but the man did at least strike a blow for greater gender equality and accuracy within the world of the Tarot card images!

So is this a big issue for you, this gender imbalance that’s built into Tarot?  Or do you not think about it at all?

…and by the way, there’s a really interesting deck out there called the Manga Tarot that makes a point of gender-swapping as many traditional assignments as it can.  For example, The Magician — virtually always male — becomes The Sorceress.  The Hermit is an elderly woman.  The Hanged Man is reworked as The Hanged Woman.  It’s a really interesting twist on the deck as a whole, and worth a look!

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