Exploring the symbols, metaphors, motifs and archetypal patterns found in pop culture, literature, songs, religion, psychology, Tarot, art and history--and why they matter.
Tarot Major Arcana Archetypes
You’ve just put down yet another Harry Potter book, relishing the time spent among wizards, house elves and boggarts. Or maybe you’ve had the privilege of watching Criss Angel’s live show, BeLIEve, at the Luxor in Vegas, or reserve a front seat on your couch every week to watch his TV show Mindfreak. Alternatively, you may be a fan of the beloved Oz books by L. Frank Baum, or an avid devotee of the Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland.
Guess what? You’ve just spent time in the presence of the Magician archetype.
As a part of your spiritual path, devotion to Kwan Yin, Mary, Gaia, or other goddess energy may guide and comfort you. Or, perhaps you are called to nurture others and disseminate compassion to the world—or are drawn to others who live this example.
You are in the presence of the Empress, or Mother, archetype.
Maybe you’re intimately acquainted with addiction, either as a counselor to, or a relative of, one who is addicted. Drugs, food, sex, gambling, spending, porn or video games—perhaps you’re the one caught in the web of addiction.
This is the realm of the Devil archetype, the energy of bondage.
An archetype is a template, a universal pattern recognized in virtually any epoch and in every culture. When I wrote “Magician”, “Mother” and “Devil”, an image of some sort immediately came to mind—whether via a movie, story, character or personal experience.
If I were to convey “Lovers”, “Death”, or “Justice” to any person—whether through word, art, music or film—most, if not all, would have a point of reference to identify with these universal themes, regardless of age, social standing or country of origin.
This is the power of archetypes—to transcend the specific to the collective, from the individual to the world. And because archetypes are a common language, wisdom, meaning, feelings and teachings are conveyed through these “larger than life” molds—reinterpreted by writers, artists, and sages for fresh application. Still, no matter how many spokes on the proverbial wheel emanate from the stories among us, the hub remains the same: the universal realm of an archetype.
One extraordinary vehicle containing a myriad of these “wheels” is a picture book called the Tarot. Disguised as a pack of 78 cards, the Tarot contains universal stories that map and reflect the twists and turns, joys and sorrows, of life here on Earth. From the naiveté of The Fool, sometimes portrayed as the Puer/Puella Eternis (the Eternal Boy/Girl that never “grows up”) or the clown, to the World (often depicted as a globe or the Earth as seen from space), the first twenty-two cards of the Tarot are known as the Major Arcana, or “larger secrets”.
Some Tarotists contend that the twenty-two Major Arcana, also called Trumps, portrays universal archetypes while the forty Minor Arcana cards shows how these archetypes play out in everyday life via relationships or feelings (Water/Cups), communication or conflict (Air/Swords), drive or vocation (Fire/Wands) and the material world—money, health and physicality (Earth/Pentacles). The sixteen Court Cards of each of the four suits show how particular people and personalities affect and modify each. For example, the energy of the Knight of Swords (“racehorse”) is different from the Knight of Pentacles (“plow horse”).
0 Fool - Clown; Court Jester; Magical Child; “Beginner’s Mind”; Idiot
I Magician Wizard; Illusionist; Shaman; Snake Oil Huckster
II High Priestess Psychic; Witch; Crone; Grandmother; Librarian
III Empress Mother Earth; Pregnancy; Gardening; Mommie Dearest
IV Emperor Father; CEO; President; Principal; Government; Dictator
V Hierophant Organized Religion; Clergy; Tradition; “Shoulds”; Moral Authority
VI Lovers Marriage; Contracts; Garden of Eden; Choices; Mergers
VII Chariot Cars; Speed; Will; Focus; Merkaba; UFOs; Tanks
VIII Strength Courage; Poise; Hero; Warrior; Survivor; Bully
IX Hermit Sage; Loner; Scholar; Solitude; Isolation; Teacher
X Wheel of Fortune Lady Fortune; Luck; Fate; Vagary; Roulette
XI Justice Scales; Judge; Legal System; Earthly Laws
XII Hanged Man Crucified Christ; Odin; Suspension; Sacrifice
XIII Death Transformation; Grim Reaper; Butterfly; Crypt; Skull
XIV Temperance Mediation; Blending; Middle Path; Yin/Yang
XV Devil Scapegoat; Pan; Satan; Addiction; Materialism; “Evil”
XVI Tower Disaster; 9/11; “Aha” Moment; Shock; Sudden Obliteration
XVII Star Hope; Optimism; Fame; Renewal; Highest Good; Aquarian
XVIII Moon Dreams; Monthly Cycles; Feminine; The Unknown
XIX Sun Birth; Sun God; Masculine; Children; Vitality; Risen Christ
XX Judgment Harvest; Karma; Hearing a Call; NDE; Annunciation
XXI The World All That Is; Humanity; Totality; Completion; Unity; Brotherhood
Of course, the fact that these are archetypes means that their manifestation and permutation in myth, art and life take myriad forms. For example, a variation of the Devil archetype would be Voldemort (“He Who Shall Not Be Named”) from the Harry Potter novels. It’s no coincidence that the parsel-tongued villain is associated with Slytherin and represented by a snake; after all, in Christian mythos, a serpent embodied “the devil” when tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden story.
From Ben Hur to Speed Racer, The Chariot—and the “need for speed”—is yet another archetype embedded in our consciousness. The star-crossed Romeo and Juliet aptly portray The Lovers, while blind Lady Justice, King Solomon and Ma’at exemplify Justice.
Archetypes surround us, often appearing in our own relationship dynamics, emotional reactions and career choices. By becoming familiar with archetypal patterns, we can better understand the world, others and ourselves. Through this increased awareness, we can then take a “big picture” view of circumstances, inviting fresh perspectives, compassion and equanimity.
While many utilize the Tarot for divination or even fortunetelling—especially in terms of random selection—these mystical cards can also be used consciously for meditation, contemplation, problem solving, brainstorming, spiritual nourishment, journaling, dialogue, creative writing, inspiration, affirmation and manifestation.
When you immerse yourself in the realm of archetypes, your world will become richer--and the Tarot remains one of the most reliable (not to mention portable!) tour guides around.
Card images from the Snowland Deck
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