I was making coffee earlier, and because coffee makes magic things happen, I was suddenly struck with this analogy from nowhere, explaining how Major and Minor cards in Tarot relate to each other overall. Try this on for size:
In many bodies of classical mythology, you have your humans living on the mortal plane, and then you have some pantheon of Deities inhabiting a higher, more elevated realm. By way of examples, in Greek Mythology, you have Zeus and the other primary Goddesses and Gods headquartered atop Mount Olympus, while the humans run around way down below at sea level…in Norse Mythology, Odin and his fellow Deities reside in the lofty domain known as Asgard, and again, the humans are scattered about far below. Deities and humans being what they are, the Goddesses and Gods are free to come and go as they please, entering the mortal plane at will, and stirring things up in human affairs as they desire…but the same is not true in reverse. Humans can’t simply gate-crash their way into the godly realms. In fact, it’s a pretty rare event when a human can even find the godly realms, much less travel there and gain entry. For mortals in general, the godly realms are Invite Only, and those invites are about as rare as birds’ teeth.
So the point is that while individual cards do work together in readings, a convincing case can be made for the notion that outside of readings, when the cards are just sort of existing in conceptual space…the Majors are like those Deities, inhabiting some rarefied stratum of existence way high above, and going wherever they like, while the Minors are much more limited, and are largely confined to a more mundane realm somewhere far down below. This goes hand in hand with the commonly trumpeted dictum that Majors represent big, cosmic forces, while Minors deal with everyday affairs…my coffee-epiphany just puts the notion into a more mythology-centric context. I don’t know, it fits into my own brain real nice, anyway…
Last night, I watched episodes of two different prime-time TV shows. One was a comedy, and one was a drama…yet in each one, the main plot hinged on an incident in which one of the characters tricked others with a bit of sleight-of-hand in a very critical moment, swapping out one item for another, without anyone else noticing until it was too late.
Only when I got up this morning did it suddenly strike me that these two very different shows were both treating us viewers to Magician moments! The Magician in Tarot is very capable of pulling off even high-level deceptions, and will probably be charming and likable all the while… And then I realized that I’ve actually been seeing similar riffs on illusion and bait-and-switch gambits playing out in other shows I’ve been watching lately (“Orphan Black” – finally watching this! – and, maybe not surprisingly…”The Magicians!”) and in some of the mythology I’ve been looking at (like Rhea tricking Cronus into swallowing a stone instead of baby Zeus…). Just based on these stories alone, it’s very obvious how Magician-energy can have sweeping effects.
And yet, I also have to admit – to you, to myself – that I tend to like The Magician. In the privacy of my own mind, I lean toward viewing it as a “good” or “positive” card most of the time, even though when I read for other people, I’m careful to always remember that all cards cover a range of meanings, and that I need to factor in the context and the surrounding cards and all before I leap to any conclusions, etc. But in my heart…I’m always already halfway to buying whatever it is that The Magician is selling.
How about you? Would you buy snake oil from The Magician at the drop of a hat…or does this character arouse your immediate suspicion…or do you have no set baseline response at all…?
I’ve loved Greek Mythology since I first discovered it in childhood, courtesy of the big orange-colored book you see here at the center of this photo: d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.
It’s an endlessly fascinating body of lore, bursting with complex characters, gripping plot-lines, profound symbolism, fabulous creatures, and colorful settings. I love other bodies of mythology, as well, but I’ll never tire of the Greek tales. It’s been a while, though, since I really steeped myself in this reservoir of classic, archetypal imagery.
After I polish off the Bhagavad Gita, then, I’ve decided to schedule a reading/studying phase for myself that’s very, very intensely focused on Greek Mythology. I’ve been there plenty of times before, but it’s time to revisit, and in a big way. In fact, this time, I’m planning to dive into it so deeply that I’ll need Poseidon’s help to swim back up and make it to shore…
Like some kind of conceptual ore, Mythology is a rich vein of material that runs mostly hidden through the bedrock of Tarot. In many ways, you don’t need to know any of it in order to be a skillful, happy, and fulfilled Tarot practitioner…but it can seriously enrich your Tarot game if you do enjoy the study of it. If you know what to look for, you can find references in Tarot to Greek, Egyptian, and Norse Mythology (among others) without straining.
In fact, Anubis — the jackal-headed God shown here, alongside his mother, the glorious Goddess of Nighttime and Magic, Nephthys — appears outright on the Wheel of Fortune card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, the most widely-used deck in the world. The second most popular pack of Tarot cards, the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, is named for another Egyptian God…
Elsewhere, the Greek Goddess and eventual Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, is often cited as a correlation for The High Priestess, while Odin, the King of the Norse Pantheon, is widely associated with The Hanged Man. These are just a few of the most prominent examples. Other Deities from various bodies of World Mythology can be seen in many of the other Tarot cards.
So do you use Mythology very much in your Tarot practice? Do you know it but not really draw on it? Do you keep track of the Goddesses and Gods who correspond with the Planets, whether for use with Astrology or for Tarot? Or if you don’t know much about Mythology, is it something you’d like to learn more about?
Studying Tarot can be like gazing into a fractal: the deeper you peer into it, the more it just goes right on opening up new facets of itself like an infinite flower…
Case in point: the Chariot card. I’ve generally thought of this card as signifying things like willpower, struggle, combat, travel, armor, and whole things that are greater than the sums of their parts.
Recently, though, while prepping for parts of the Tarot Toolkit course section on the Majors, it occurred to me that The Chariot has a far more spiritual overlay than I’d ever really given it credit for in the past. Multiple bodies of Mythology tell of the Sun and the Moon (and sometimes the Dawn) being ferried daily across the sky in Chariots, and a great many Deities travel across existence in Chariots pulled by various creatures.
Also, Chariots seem to serve as vessels through which Deities can interface with us mere mortals. When Chariots are utilized in this fashion – almost like the spiritual equivalents of airlocks – we see encounters such as Ezekiel’s meeting with Divinity in the Bible, or Arjuna’s face-time with Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. But when no Chariot is present, and a direct interface occurs, we see results such as Semele being incinerated when glimpsing Zeus in all his unfiltered Glory.
It’s probably not coincidence that the RWS version of this card shows a charioteer who wears the Stars on his cloak and his brow, and a pair of crescent Moons on his shoulders: The Chariot is a safe space where the earthly and the Celestial can safely mix and mingle.
Astrology is one complex field, no question about it. Not only is it bristling with all manner of symbols to keep track of – Planets, Signs, Houses, Aspects, Points – but not a single one of these symbols is cooperative enough to have just one single meaning. Instead, each one is more of an overall “umbrella” of sorts, with a menagerie of various meanings peeking out from beneath its conceptual boundaries. This makes each of the symbols much more difficult to summarize, and much harder to memorize and use. Don’t despair, though – it can be done! It just requires a methodical approach, and more of a longer-term view…
First, before even attempting to get into lists of the specific meanings that dwell under each Planet’s definitional umbrella, it’s helpful to note that these Planetary meanings can sometimes be traced back to two very robust sources. In other words, if you find yourself failing to retain a given Planet’s primary meanings at any particular moment, you can return to either one of these wells for a refresher:
1) Astronomy. I touched upon this in an earlier post about the varying orbital speeds of the Planets, but it’s well worth considering again here. Each Planet is different – that may go without saying, but I’m saying it here anyway – and those differences have been studied and catalogued with exhausting scientific rigor.
If you’re having trouble remembering what a certain Planet means in the astrological context, then, go read up on its astronomical factoids. How big is it? How big is it as compared with the rest of the Planets? How long does it take to rotate (i.e., what amount of time makes up its own “day?”), and how long does it take to revolve around the Sun (= how long is its planetary “year?”). Is it visible to the naked eye from Earth? When was it discovered by humankind? Does it go into retrograde motion often…and if so, how long does it tend to stay that way? What materials is the Planet composed of? What’s its temperature? Does it have moons of its own, and if yes, how large is its own little planetary “family?”
The answers to all of these questions can help to shed light on what each Planet represents in the greater astrological context…
2) Mythology. The less scientific of the two wellsprings of Planetary meanings within Astrology, Mythology still manages to provide extremely helpful information when determining a Planet’s meaning. As a general rule of thumb, our solar system’s Planets are all named for Roman Deities – the exception is Uranus, named for a Greek God who was the embodiment of the sky (and even this fact is helpful here, as Uranus is all about the exceptional, the innovative and the unconventional, and it loves to break rules when it can…so this peculiarity in its naming process only reinforces its astrological meaning). Studying the Roman Goddesses and Gods (and the Greek Deities from which they all evolved) can shed just as much interpretive light on the Planets as can the “vital statistics” characterizing them that are drawn from the realms of science.
For example, Venus is the Roman Goddess of Love…and our love-function is one of the provinces captured in Astrology by the Planet, Venus (which also speaks to relationship capacity in general, and to our individual leanings in terms of what we find peaceful, sensual, beautiful). Similarly, Mars is the Roman God of War, and Mars the Planet informs the astrologer about a person’s penchants for things having to do with battle and conquest (including passion, anger, impulsiveness, courage, and sex drive). All of the Planets can be reverse-engineered to some extent in this fashion of looking at the myths that surround whichever Deity it was that lent the Planet its name…
Next time around, I’ll start looking at the individual Planets, and discussing their sets of meanings in Astrology. For the moment, though, this notion of reviewing the astronomical facts about each Planet, and of examining the mythological profiles of the Deities for whom the Planets are named, will hopefully prove to be a useful tool in trying to get your head around the Planets’ personalities and interpretive meanings…
What if you were the main character in a Myth? Imagine your life story being recast in archetypal form, like you were a figure in some tale out of something like Greek or Norse Mythology, or Egyptian, Aztec, Slavic, Yoruban…you name it. Your life is a hero’s journey… But exactly what tale is it??
1 = Hero. This describes you in mythic terms. Orpheus was a great musician. Atalanta was a speedster, and a “woman in a man’s world.” Odysseus was a thinking hero, relying more on wisdom than on pure brawn. Heracles was brawn incarnate, and operated as a bit of a monster-slayer… So what kind of hero are you?
2 = Benefactor. Many great heroes have had Divine support in their various campaigns: Jason most likely would never have gotten his mitts on that Golden Fleece if not for the Olympian aid of the great Goddess of Wisdom Herself, Grey-Eyed Athena…while Perseus would have been tapped out before his own quest ever got underway if not for the interventions of both Athena and Hermes, the brilliant Messenger-God. So which Mythic Figure or Archetype is your patron, guiding you and watching your back?
3 = Magic Item. King Arthur had his magic sword, Excalibur. Wonder Woman has her golden lasso. There are Odin’s enchanted spear, Zeus’ thunderbolts, Thor’s hammer, the tridents of Shiva and Poseidon… There’s Hades’ Cap of Invisibility, and Idunna’s apples of youth, and Frey’s magic boat that always finds a friendly wind, and can be folded up and put away in his pocket when not in use… What are your magic implements? Are they weapons? Is it clothing? Is it books or plants or transport? What’s up with your magic paraphernalia…?
4 = Road Ahead. What is the nature of your quest? What are you attempting to do or learn? What is your overriding, defining mission? Oedipus was trying to escape a dark prophecy. Inanna and Persephone were both forced to descend into the Underworld. Paris wanted to steal beauty. Stephen Strange sought to become the greatest sorcerer in the world… What’s your own hero’s mandate?
5 = Nemesis. A hero can often best be evaluated by the quality of their greatest enemy. Holmes has his Moriarty, Batman his Joker, and Little Red Riding Hood her Big Bad Wolf. The children of Derry had Pennywise the Clown. The Roadrunner has the Coyote, and the Spy In Black and the Spy In White have each other over in the pages of “Spy Vs. Spy.” Who do you have as a dark reflection of yourself? Who’s your arch-foe? What monster were you put on Earth to slay (or die trying)…?