TYPICAL PERSONAL CARD MEANINGS
Note - web version:
I have stored the cards of the Major Arcana on a separate page which you can access by going back to the Contents page and then choosing the Cards page. This saves storage space on the book pages. The best way to read the following pages is to print out the cards first and have them to hand. If you can't print them, simply load them on a second browser and flip between the two web pages.
Having talked so long and so feelingly about the lack of meaning in giving out long lists of the precise qualities of the various cards, I am now going to disappoint all those of my readers who expect unwavering integrity, i.e. I am about to issue such a list. But first I shall explain why.
Firstly, as was discussed in the previous chapter, it is necessary to build up a vocabulary by reading and comparing a fair number of other people's vocabularies. As long as it is understood that the list is not an authoritative one, then reading another person's ideas may well prove to be very fruitful.
I am going to begin with the Major Arcana. This is the area with the most profound meanings, and it is also the hardest range to understand, to make one's own. In my own case, I started by memorizing the Major Arcana; it took me something like six months to get a working knowledge sufficient to be able to use the cards, but then I have a bad memory. The Minor Arcana, by way of contrast, took me only a week. A major part of the difference comes from a fact which was not being discussed in the books on the subject then at my disposal, namely that only with understanding do the cards become one's own. And the Major Arcana is much more difficult to understand.
One of the more interesting aspects of human beings is their ability to remember only after they understand. A computer or a memory-perfect idiot can take in things and repeat them word for word. You can tram a dog to salivate when a bell is rung, the classic reflex so well demonstrated by Pavlov. You can do the same thing with a human being, and this happens all the time, and not just to prisoners-of-war. But the ability to understand comes only to human beings, and then only to their higher centres of experience. Once you understand something, there is little danger of forgetting it. I may well forget the capital of Bolivia, or the date of the Diet of Worms; but once I have understood the difference in essence between the Empress and the High Priestess, I won't confuse the two ladies.
The process of understanding is individual and each person must make his or her own pilgrimage. The journey is exciting, there may be fellow travellers on the way with interesting stories, and occasionally one conies up against a sign-post or a barrier; the final goal is something each pilgrim must reach on his own. The following pages are some of the stories I can tell about my pilgrimage. They apply only to my journey, and I emphasize again, you must find your own unique path.
The twenty-two cards which follow are my Major Arcana. As I grew to understand them better and they became more personalized, each card came to have a meaning which is unique to myself. This personalized meaning I will put down in words, but in so doing I will be creating an image which will depart in some way or another from the images which other people hold of the card. In some instances my meaning will be very different, in others only the emphasis will change. In order to show the difference such a personalized vision gives, I collaborated with an artist with whom I have a very close contact in producing a series of drawings of the cards. These drawings give a visual image of my feelings towards the cards in so far as I was able to describe these to the artist. Because of our close contact, in some ways the artist was able to capture unspoken ideas from my subconscious in order to create an even more accurate image. So both the drawings and the descriptions that follow are the visualization of one person's feelings concerning the attributes of the cards. You are very welcome to use them, but in no way are they to be regarded as authentic, traditional, accurate or universal. Disregard this small print at your peril.
The Fool is the wisest idiot in Christendom. He is unable to take things seriously that other people take seriously, because he sees the petty-minded blindness in such matters. He takes seriously things that other people regard as unimportant. He is someone who does not feel that a fixed home or outlook is necessary, and who travels in hope. I see him as a person who has set off on a new path, not because he knows where it is going, but because he wants to go further than the village where he was born.
Look at him. He has a Jester's cap, and he probably earns the odd meal or night's rest by entertaining the bourgeois in their own homes. But the next day he travels on - jesting for a salary is not for him. He carries his possessions in his little bag - he still feels the need for a few reassuring beliefs and old ideas, even though he has cut off most of them. In his hand he carries a rose, the symbol of love. We cannot see anybody whom he loves, so we can guess that he just has a lot of love in his heart, enough love to care for any person or creature he meets on the way. He is strong enough to be able to love without needing to be loved in return. The rose is held, almost magically, at the tip of his fingers. Here we get another glimpse of an aspect of the Fool - his almost supernatural ability to produce what seem magical effects. The Fool doesn't work hard, or scheme, or trick people, or gamble, or any of the other things that people do in ordinary life in order to get what they want. The Fool says or does the right thing at the right moment, and not until then, to procure all the things that are necessary.
The Fool has an old patched pair of trousers and shoes?which are coming apart. He doesn't care enough to be particularly unhappy; if he needs another pair of shoes or trousers, they will turn up in good time. People worry too much about appearances, comfort and security - these things are not for the Fool. So perhaps one day he gets caught out and freezes to death in a snow storm, but until that day he has a carefree existence. He doesn't have to look after his clothes, or send them to the dry-cleaners.
The Fool is walking, he is going somewhere. I don't know where, and neither does he; but he isn't standing still, his Soul is aware that we don't reach perfection by standing still. Lastly, there is no background to the drawing. The Fool just exists in a space all of his own, being his own self without any visible means of support. He is accompanied by a cat, one of the most independent creatures that ever shared this world with Man. The cat likes the company of the Fool as long as the cat is not on a lead, and as long as the Fool doesn't become trapped. As soon as the Fool 'settles down* then the cat is off into the wilderness to lead an exciting existence in the present.
I feel the Fool stands for magical abilities in people, for the part of them that is not trapped by responsibility, taxes and life insurance. It is the part which is in touch with their own potential or with God, if you like. Call it Soul, or a Sense of Humour; it is the bit which makes jokes in a concentration camp, it is the innocence of a small child who wants to be a bus conductor. Picasso is said to have wished to be able to draw like a small child. The Fool stands for people who have cast off the conventions of their peer-group (and that applies just as much to 'Flower-People' as to stockbrokers in the City); they don't know where they are going, but they don't want to stay where they were.
Here is the medicine man, with his snake-oil, his veritable Elixir, infallible against measles, gout, old age and pregnancy. He comes and gathers a crowd with his arresting clothes and travelling dispensary; he bamboozles them with jokes and fast talking, and eventually, despite their innate common sense, members of the crowd buy his medicine. We all love to be fooled.
The Magician brings excitement into our lives, a touch of the exotic. There's an element of the circus in his performance, and small boys are tempted to run away and become cowboys and Indian fighters. The Magician wants us to believe that he's seen more, done more and come into contact with more 'special' people than you or me. His language is strange and wonderful, he tells stories of people he's met and things he's done; we listen with open mouths. He makes us laugh while telling us how he cures Kings and Crowned Heads; we cry as he tells us of cures to angelic little girls. As someone once said, why spoil a good story with facts.
The Magician stands for fast talk and little action; it stands for manipulation, i.e. making people act the way you want them to, using psychology. The Magician also stands for people who have gifts but use them for mundane purposes. This is symbolized by the objects lying on the table in front of the Magician. If you look carefully, you will see a small knife, a cup, a leafy twig and some coins - these are the symbols of the four suits of the Minor Arcana. The point is that the Magician uses them for making money for food, whereas he could use the symbols as a means of reaching understanding of himself and others.
The Magician cheats people, and lies to them. He also plays tricks on people, fools them and generally can be regarded as a small-time crook or confidence trickster. But at the same time he can cheer people up, cure them of illnesses that 'straight', professional doctors cannot cope with, and teach them things about themselves. The lesson may cost them some money, and they may object that they didn't want that particular lesson just then; nonetheless they may well have needed that piece of insight. It may teach them to stay clear of much greater mistakes.
I think the tag-line about the Emperor's new clothes is known to most people, but I suspect far fewer people know the whole story. Very briefly, a confidence trickster talks the Emperor into ordering some very expensive clothes, which are special in that only people with pure, noble blood can see them; if you can't see them then your blood is impure. Nobody is going to admit to such an inability, so everyone has to pretend they admire the clothes. Finally, the Court Fool protests he really can't see them, and eventually the confidence trick is exposed. Well now, in terms of the Tarot, the Magician is the confidence trickster who profits by people's little inadequacies; the Fool is the Court Jester who is willing to look silly, and in the process 'innocently' rubs the lesson home. So finally we realize that we can only be taken in by the Magician if we want to be taken in.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS
Robert Graves in his book,77ie White Goddess, and Sir Hugh Fraser in The Golden Bough both described early matriarchal civilizations where the spiritual power lay with a woman; men came and went but the Queen ruled both in Heaven and upon Earth. With the advent of war-like tribes from the North, these early Mediterranean civilizations were overrun, and patriarchy became the standard way of organizing the tribe. The Empress represents the Queen who rules the destiny of men in her own right; the High Priestess is the Queen because she is the wife of the King. The High Priestess cannot rule directly, so she guides indirectly to achieve the results which she deems necessary.
The drawing shows a young lady; she could be a virgin, and she certainly has had no children. In fact, I described her to the artist by saying she should smile as if she has just found out she is pregnant but doesn't want to tell anyone as yet. She does smile mysteriously; there is an inner joy. Her dark hair is an indication of her mystic powers, as is the crux ansata which hangs round her neck. She carries a tray on which rests a book, a glass of wine and a small cake. She is offering hospitality, refreshment and knowledge. She sits in a posture which indicates that she is used to meditating, and might well have finished some five minutes ago. To each side, and slightly behind, are two plants which reach for the heavens; these might stand for balanced aspiration.
I feel that the High Priestess stands for the woman who intuitively sees what you need to grow and develop. She provides knowledge, support and food or comfort when you need it, not when you ask for it. Her silence is golden, and her speech is silver. She is the type of woman who will bear children for her husband because she feels he needs the security of having a son to continue his name and to become what he himself failed to be. She will deny herself in order that her man and her children can grow and develop to their full extent.
The crux ansata round her neck is a key to knowledge, the knowledge that also exists in the book she has ready. You need the key to read the book, the food and wine to strengthen you while you learn. She represents the part of a woman that connects directly to the Fool just as the Hierophant represents the same part in a man. You may call it the Anima, the ideal of womanhood. In a woman it is the spiritually developed human (as against animal) parts of herself; in a man it is his ability to find and understand the magic in a woman.
The High Priestess pays for all this by having to deny herself. Often she doesn't get enough attention, sleep, food, money or whatever for herself; she can get bitter or sour because of it. She also doesn't always resolve the conflict between giving and receiving -she knows how to give, but not always how to receive.
The Empress, as I mentioned in the previous card, is the ruler of men. She needs men to father her children because she wants children; the men are only tolerated because they amuse and are useful. If they do not amuse, or become useless, they are discarded. There is a no-nonsense toughness about the Empress.
She is firmly seated on a bench with Lion's feet on the legs (the Lion is the symbol of the Male part of humanity); she has broad thighs and hips, big breasts. She looks luscious and fertile; her body invites lascivious thoughts. The animal passion for propagating the human race shines out. She holds a Horn of Plenty in one hand (or is it the most enormous phallus?) from which she pours thoughtlessly all the goodies of our wants. In the other hand she holds a bunch of keys; she keeps a tight control over her domain, and leaves no doors casually unlocked in her house of goodies.
At her feet plays a small baby; I think it is a little boy. He is faced with more fruit than he could possibly eat, and yet he stretches out his hand for more. The Empress isn't watching him, but continues to pour out more. I like to think she has masses of blonde hair and a skin of peaches and cream. Altogether a tasty bit of alright.
I think the Empress stands for the ability to enjoy life and the good things in it. She stands for fertility, abundance and the mindless production of ever-increasing amounts of consumer goods. The Empress is an empty-headed dolly who knows what she wants, and is going to ge t it too. Whether it is what she needs is another matter.
The Empress is pragmatic, practical, determined. She often stands for something that is too big to tackle, like a mountain or a bureaucrat determined to go by the form. She is like Mother Nature - 'I ain't asking you, I's telling you.' You have to go round her, or give up, or simply ignore her and let her have her way - the original immovable object.
The Empress isn't interested in what people around her need. She gives or takes away according to what she decides is right. In the old matriarchal societies she married the King for a year, and decreed his death after one year so that his body could symbolically (and actually) fertilize the soil. It was for the good of the tribe - the good of the man chosen to be King for the year simply didn't enter into it. The Empress simply doesn't care about individuals, though she may be concerned about the tribe, or the family. That is, if she is intelligent. If she isn't, she'll simply be in it for what she can get out of it, the archetypal gold-digger.