Over a century ago, there was this group of mystics in England who called themselves the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (often shorthanded by us modern types into just the “Golden Dawn” or even the “GD”). Their work still pervades almost every corner of present-day Tarot, and one of the more interesting things that they accomplished was the creation of a system of occult correspondences that mapped a semi-staggering amount of symbols onto Tarot.
Want to find the four seasons or the four primary compass point directions in Tarot? The GD paired each one with one of the four Tarot Suits. Care to work with principles drawn from Qabalah? You’ll find that the GD has Tarot and the Qabalistic Tree of Life gloriously intertwined. Do you prefer working with various plants and animals? The Golden Dawn got there ahead of you, pairing all manner of flora and fauna with different cards.
They also worked with Astrology. If you study your Astrology, you’ll come across this notion called Planetary Rulership. The idea is that each Planet “rules,” or exhibits a very powerful affinity for, one or two of the 12 different Zodiac Signs. The GD employed only the seven visible “Planets” in their system, but modern Tarot people have since woven in some of the bodies that humanity discovered after the creation of the telescope (notably Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto).
It occurred to me that we might pull some real value out of a careful inspection of the card that the GD paired with each Zodiac Sign and the card that the GD paired with the Planetary Ruler of each of those Signs. Surely there must be some enlightening connections running between each pair, right?
Here are the the GD astrological associations marrying each Planet or Sign to one of the Major Arcana cards (and I’ve added in the three “modern Planets” name-checked above):
Major Arcana Card
Major Arcana Card
|Aries||The Emperor||Mars||The Tower|
|Taurus||The Hierophant||Venus||The Empress|
|Gemini||The Lovers||Mercury||The Magician|
|Cancer||The Chariot||Moon||The High Priestess|
|Virgo||The Hermit||Mercury||The Magician|
|Sagittarius||Temperance/Art||Jupiter||Wheel of Fortune/Fortune|
|Capricorn||The Devil||Saturn||The World/The Universe|
|Aquarius||The Star||Uranus||The Fool|
|Pisces||The Moon||Neptune||The Hanged Man|
Because Astrology to this day still doesn’t have a completely neat and efficient system of Planetary Rulership such that we enjoy a one-to-one set of correspondences – i.e., we do not yet have a system in which each Planet rules one Sign, with no Planets doing double duty and no Signs having more than one Ruler – we see a couple of Planets, and therefore a couple of Major cards, being referenced more than once here.
Specifically, astrologers still credit Venus with ruling both Taurus and Libra, and Mercury is deemed to rule both Gemini and Virgo. This state of affairs then lends itself to the possibly mistaken impression that – within the context of this exercise that I’m trying to undertake here – the cards associated with Venus and Mercury (The Empress and The Magician, respectively) are somehow more important or more influential than any of the other cards in the Major Arcana.
Then again, if we were to rejigger the distribution of associations somehow, by, say, relieving Venus and Mercury of their added Rulership burdens, we’d solve one problem, but in doing so, we’d be creating another.
By way of example, let’s say we decide to usher in a couple of additional entrants into the category of what we consider valid astrological Planets. There’s some support among modern astrologers, for instance, in viewing the Planetoid called Chiron as maybe working as the modern Ruler for Virgo. Cool…
But what if we wholeheartedly endorse that assignment, and bump Mercury from Rulership of Virgo in favor of Chiron? That does eliminate the double-presence of Mercury and The Magician card in the mix here that we’d been facing…but we don’t have a card to represent Chiron at all. The Planetoid wasn’t discovered by humanity until decades after the Golden Dawn had peaked in its activity and influence and then basically subsided. So reworking the system like this would mean that for one thing, we wouldn’t be able to examine a given birth-chart’s Chiron placement through the filter of Tarot, because no card is available to serve as Chiron’s Tarot-y stand-in.
And we have another issue. Part of the appeal of working with the chart above is that we have the opportunity to study the pairs of cards created in each row of the table. It feels likely that if the astrological associations are on point, then we should be able to find some real value in the synchronicities and synergies flowing within the pairs of cards that are formed when we line up Sign-analogues with their matching Ruling Planet-analogues.
To illustrate, if Aries is ruled by Mars, then we should be able to find some fairly deep and illuminating connections when we look at the Aries card (The Emperor) and the Mars card (The Tower) together, right? And it’s not hard to make this work at least to some extent. It’s pretty arguable that a good Emperor, along the road to Empire, will be tasked with toppling a Tower or three…or conversely, that in the wake of a Tower-crash, there will be a considerable need for an Emperor-figure to step in and take command of the rubble-clearing and rebuilding efforts. Some resonance between these two cards is there if you look for it. In some of the cases, that resonance may be even stronger than this, and in others, it might demand a bit more effort on our parts to see it (or…manufacture it, even…?).
But look at what happens to The Hermit if we do replace Mercury with Chiron as the Planetary Ruler of Virgo. Instead of looking for connections between The Hermit (the Virgo card) and The Magician (the Mercury card), we’re left with trying to analyze The Hermit with a Chiron-analogue card that doesn’t exist. We have no Major card that Tarot people will agree is “the Chiron card.” So The Hermit will basically be swindled out of having a card-partner to play off of in this analysis. And if we try to address this shortcoming by simply declaring one of the Majors to be that Chiron-analogue card, then we’re back where we started…because if we give each Zodiac Sign a distinct and unique Ruler, we have 24 astrological symbols to capture (12 Signs plus 12 different Planets), but only 22 Major Arcana cards to do the capturing, and we’ve already assigned astro-symbols to all of them. Admitting a Chiron or a Juno or a Black Moon Lilith onto the playing field will just create another case of a card appearing twice in our table in the same way that The Empress and The Magician are appearing twice now.
But so with that one nagging issue in mind, it might still prove to be a worthwhile exercise to run through the table above one row at a time, and see if you can squeeze some new insights out of the operation. Do The Chariot and The High Priestess actually share some previously unguessed at but informative connective tissue running between them that might help you to better understand these two cards, or to more helpfully work with them in readings? Do The Moon and The Hanged Man have some enriching observations to make about each other that you’ve never noticed before…?
Try taking a few minutes to ponder each row’s pair of cards, and see if you come away with any new understanding that had been escaping your notice until now…