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Symbolic Connections Between Tarot Cards of the Major Arcana

Updated on January 23, 2015

The Fool and the Sun

One Tarot publication, published in the first decade of the twentieth century, has become the model in which other tarot decks follow, namely the Rider Waite Tarot or Waite-Smith Tarot. Arthur Edward Waite was the author and Pamela Smith was the illustrator. Both of them were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. As a result there are plenty of symbolism throughout the Waite-Smith deck, and many cards have a symbolic connection between them.

In the Fool and the Sun both wear a red feather pointing towards the Sun. The feather is symbolic of ascension and spiritual evolution to a higher plane. The Sun is symbolic for enlightenment. In a reading both cards speak of joy and happiness, and making good decisions.

Ouroboros
Ouroboros

The Magician and the World

The Ouroboros

The Magician has a belt of an Ouroboros seen around the woman in the World. An Ouroboros symbolise eternal life. The wand in the Magician hands and in the woman's hand are magical wands used to turn dreams and desires into reality.

Crown of Isis
Crown of Isis

The High Priestess and the Empress

Goddess Isis and Mother Mary

The High Priestess symbolises the Goddess Isis, the patroness of nature and magic. The Empress symbolises Mother Mary, the universal Mother. Both Women sit on a throne, representing female archetypes.

The Hierophant and the Devil
The Hierophant and the Devil

The Hierophant and the Devil

Benediction

The Hierophant is performing a benediction. The Devil is performing a perverted sign for the benediction mocking the Hierophant. This symbolise that the Hierophant and the Devil are opposite in their values and beliefs. The Hierophant card stands for doing what will benefit the people on a group level, traditions and values for the greater good. The Devil is for success on a personal level and does not care about social traditions and values of virtue.

The High Priestess and Justice
The High Priestess and Justice

The High Priestess and Justice

The Veil between the Pillars

The High Priestess and woman in the Justice card stand between two pillars that has a veil between them. What is behind the veil is quite a different matter. Behind the veil behind the High Priestess is the sea of the subconscious. Behind the veil behind the woman on the Justice card is the glow of dawn, indicating the victory of logic, reason, justice and truth.

Temperance and the Star
Temperance and the Star

Temperance and the Star

One foot on land and the other foot in water

Both on Temperance and the Star card appears a person with one foot on land and one foot in water, symbolising the outer and inner world, and the harmony and peace that comes from balancing the two.

The Devil and the Tower
The Devil and the Tower

The Devil and the Tower

Dark matter

The background is black, linking them together as both cards have the same dark setting, symbolising dark matter and eventually shattering of illusions.

The Hanged Man and the World
The Hanged Man and the World

The Hanged Man and The World

Fylfot Cross

The Hanged Man and the woman in the World both form a Fylfot cross with their legs, representing the direction of the sun. While the Hanged Man is opposite down with his hands at his back, the woman is right side up with her hands reaching outwards. The Hanged Man is in dispense, symbolising seeing the world from a new perspective. The World symbolise that which we truly desire.

Death and the Moon
Death and the Moon

Death and the Moon

The two towers

The two towers in the Death card and the Moon card are the same two towers. The sun rising between the towers symbolising a new dawn. In the Moon card, the Moon is rising between the two towers. The towers on the Death card were on the other side of the water. We have now crossed the water and our experiences has been reduced to a primitive state. It can be argued that we are now in a fearful state due to the territory is new or seems new. It is time for rest and for preparation, as the Sun will rise again and the darkness will be over.

Wheel of Fortune and the World
Wheel of Fortune and the World

Wheel of Fortune and World

The Four Corners

The four living creatures in the corners of the Wheel of fortune card and the World card symbolise the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They also represent the four fixed signs in the Zodiac, Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo and Taurus. They also make link with the four elements: air, water, fire and earth.

the Fool, the Hanged man and Judgement
the Fool, the Hanged man and Judgement

The Fool, the Hanged Man and Judgement

The three stages of the mystical quest

In Golden Dawn's Correspondences, the Fool, the Hanged Man and Judgement are linked to the elements air, water and fire, while all the other Major Arcana cards are linked to planets in the Zodiac. The elemental associations rather than celestial symbols suggests that they are a unique group of three cards. They symbolise the three stages of the mystical quest.

The Lovers, the Devil and the Towers
The Lovers, the Devil and the Towers

The Lovers, the Devil and the Tower

Adam and Eve

The mystical vision of Adam and Eve symbolised first through the Lovers card, being blessed by an angel, secondly in The Devil card, chained by their ego and addictions and thirdly in the Tower card, freed from the chains by a lightening bolt of truth and enlightenment.

The Lovers, Temperance, the Devil and Judgement
The Lovers, Temperance, the Devil and Judgement

The Lovers, Temperance, the Devil and Judgement

Angels

Four winged creatures are displayed in the tarot cards, the angel in the Lovers, the Baphomet in the Devil, the angel in Temperance and the angel in Judgement. It is not exactly clear who the angels are. Some believe the angel in Lovers is Raphael, the angel for the planet Mercury and Air. In the Golden Dawn's ritual the angel in Lovers is the great angel of solar fire, Michael. The Baphomet in the Devil card has been argued to be the angel Uriel in disguise. The angel in Temperance is believed by some to be the angel Gabriel, the angel of messages. He is also believed to be archangel Michael. The angel in Judgement is believed by some to be Gabriel, though the Golden Dawn would identify the angel as archangel Michael.

The High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Lovers and Justice
The High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Lovers and Justice

The High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Lovers and Justice

The Three Pillars of the Tree of Life

The three pillars in the Kabalistic Tree of Life are symbolised throughout the deck on four cards. The High Priestess sits between two pillars becoming a human form of the middle pillar of the Tree of Life. We see the same display in the Hierophant and Justice card. In the Lovers card Adam and Eve are the two pillars and the mountain the middle pillar, creating a sacred center.

The Magician, the Hierophant, Strenth and the Hanged Man
The Magician, the Hierophant, Strenth and the Hanged Man

The Magician, the Hierophant, Strength and the Hanged Man

Christ consciousness

Christ consciousness is found throughout the tarot deck mainly in 4 cards, namely the Magician, the Hierophant, Strength and the Hanged Man. The Magician and the woman in Strength have a lemniscate above their heads, a symbol for eternity. The Magican also has a belt forming an ouroboros, another symbol for eternity. The Hierophant has three nails projected from the top of his crown, a symbol of Christ's passion and sacrifice. The Hanged Man hangs from a Cross of Tao and represents all the symbolism of the Cross. The halo around his head indicates a holy and enlightened person.

The Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, Death, the Moon and the Sun
The Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, Death, the Moon and the Sun

The Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, Death, the Moon and the Sun

Enlightenment

The Sun is a symbol for enlightenment and displayed on six cards; the Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man, Death, Moon and the Sun. In the Death card the Sun symbolise the Dawn of new opportunity. In the Moon card the Moon is engulfed by the Sun, reminding us that the Moon is dependant on the Sun for light, and it reconciles between for subconscious (the Moon) and the conscious (the Sun).

The 13 Stage Cards in Tarot
The 13 Stage Cards in Tarot

The Emperor and the Chariot

Armor

The Emperor and the man in the Chariot are both wearing armor, symbolising preparation, courage and steeling yourself for what is to come, not backing down even if it gets uncomfortable. This card says you must follow thorugh with your dreams even if others might disagree with you.

The 13 Stage cards
The 13 Stage cards

The 13 Stage Cards

A hidden detail

A hidden detail within the original Rider-Smith cards are the often overlooked 13 stage cards. A stage card is a card that is drawn if the action on the card were taking place upon a stage, with the characters playing out an act in front of a theatrical backdrop. The double horizontal lines seen in the cards are where the scrim meets the stage. Ms. Smith was by trade a theatrical backdrop designer and created sets that appeared on London stages. The reasoning behind the stage cards are unclear, however each stage card has an extra special meaning. When a stage card shows up in a reading you might want to ask yourself: What drama is playing in my life right now, and am I at all enjoying it? Am I the lead character in my own life, or am I falling into others agendas and games? Are you entertained by your life or are you bored by a tedious routine? Do you care to much about the opinion and applaud (approval) of others. Are you allowed to be yourself to freely express yourself?

The stage cards are:

2 of swords

5 of swords

7 of swords

4 of wands

9 of wands

10 of wands

2 of cups

10 of cups

Page of cups

2 of pentacles

4 of pentacles

6 of pentacles

8 of pentacles

The Fool
The Fool

Ms Smith's protest

There are no coincidences in the symbolism seen in Pamela Smith's illustration. Waite placed the Fool second last in the Major Arcana, as the card between Judgement and the World. The French occult author Eliphas Levi, who had a deep impact on the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn placed the Fool in the same penultimate order. A story of uncertain origin recounted by the Tarot scholar Rosemary Guiley explains how Pamela Smith was said to protest Waite's placement of the Fool. Smith was said to prefer the Fool placed as the first card in the Major Arcana and refuses to sign this illustration. Smith's monogram does however appear intertwined in the crosshatched shading in the lower right corner of the image. In all other cards Smith has left a clear space for her signature and it is on the Fool card the only card she hid her signature in this way. Is this detail proof of her protest?

Robert M.Place
Robert M.Place

The Mystical Artist

Research for this article has been done by reading the work of the world renowed Tarot Scholar Robert M.Place; the designer and author of:

The Alchemical Tarot

The Angels Tarot

The Tarot of the Saints

The Buddha Tarot

The Vampire Tarot

The Tarot of the Sevenfold mystery.

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