(Revised June 27, 2002)
The major arcana of the Tarot cards are widely viewed as being symbols of significant metaphysical principles, not reducable to prosaic explanations. They're often utilized as meditational aids, projective devices which are capable of being interpreted in many different ways. In other words, the Tarot presents symbols of twenty-two principles of wise living.
The Major Arcana Viewed as Hints for Creative LivingOne way to appreciate these is to imagine that all are needed as components for a full life, and, to use the dramatic metaphor, the idea that, as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage...," consider that life is a play to be staged well, a work of art, with complexity and richness. From this perspective, consider each of the Tarot cards as a reminder of one of the vital principles that must be included in any major creative enterprise, such as the production of a play, if it is to be ultimately successful.
As instruments of contemplation, Tarot cards don't provide a fixed lesson that should be interpreted in the same way for everyone and every situation. The meaning must be individualized to fit each person's learning style, temperament, personal background, and especially, goals. Furthermore, there are many different Tarot Decks, and many more different interpretations, so I am not presuming to be authoritative, by any means. Rather, my purpose is to simply be thought-provoking, or more, that mixture of intuition, imagination, and thought which attends the contemplation of any symbol. Drawing on the images in the most widely used Ryder or Waite Tarot decks, I will offer some of my own interpretations of the twenty-two cards called the "major arcana," working from the aforementioned frame of reference: What does a successful dramatic producer need to keep in mind? My own ideas are meant to be evocative rather than authoritative. I am assuming the reader is either familiar with the cards or has a pack available. In turn, ask yourself what the symbols of each card means to you?
0. The Fool. This represents the emptiness of potentiality, the empty stage, or even the potential for there being a staging area established. It is the meta-role state of no-role, our essence, prior to birth and after death. It suggests the attitude of ultimate humility, of keeping open, acknowledging our ignorance. This attitude of openness allows the creative subconscious to exert its influence in the form of guiding intuitions, images, or impulses. The fool is open to mystery and unfolding process.
I. The Magus. This role is that of the essential director, also a meta-role. Using the four dimensions of the psyche, s/he takes responsibility to most consciously balance and create in the world. The four dimensions of the psyche are the four suits:
II. The High Priestess. This role represents the spiritual muse, the connection with the deepest resources of spirit. Beyond any creed or dogma, beyond any capacity to put the experience into words, there is the potential for mysticism in every human psyche. This often subconscious awareness of our wholeness and interconnectedness contains the potential for identification with other life forms.
- wands (clubs): imagination, intuition, spirit, fire
- cups (hearts): compassion, emotions, "heart," water
- swords (spades): intellect, discriminating mind, air
- pentacles (diamonds): "coins" (money), practical materials, earth
III. The Empress. This is the archetypal mother, beyond all humdrum household duties. She represents the principle of nurturance, of concrete support, of helping. There's also the root of commitment, as the highest principle of nurturance implies fruition.
IV. The Emperor. Another meta-role, this suggests that of the theatrical producer, the one who must take responsibility for putting on the show. He lays down the map, chooses the general directions, chooses the script. This principle implies purpose, the laying out of the four corners of the kingdom, direction, goals.
V. The Hierophant, or "Pope." This is the symbol of the psychological and social grounding, in history, in coherence, in language, and philosophy. This role can and must be expressed, the verbal or articulated belief. These are the underlying assumptions, the mythic foundations. The hierophant's role is to help us retain the best of the past in the recreation of the future.
VI. The Lovers. This represents the process of co-creation, the need for different parts of the self and/or different people to merge their insights for the greatest degree of creativity. It also suggests the encounter, the interplay of dualities and the variations of potentials that can arise from this dialectical process. Catharsis operates as the two separated elements reunite.
VII. The Chariot. Life consists of being drawn along by one's inner desires, impulses, and archetypal processes and also by the demands of external circumstances. There are times, as indicated on the card, when one has no grip on the reins, and that may or may not be appropriate for the situation. This card is a reminder of the quality of the challenge of choice, the need for the ego to act as a discriminating and self-disciplined mediator, coordinator, judicious control.
VIII. Strength. Is the person opening the lion's mouth or trying to keep it closed? I am reminded of all the wiles one needs when training an animal, chief among them being clear-minded, single-minded determination. This is slightly different from the previous quality: The dramatic producer needs stamina, perseverance, confidence and seriousness, in contrast to uncertainty, excuse-making, wheedling or appeals for help. The discipline of one's own tendencies toward procrastination, sentimentality, and other excesses requires equal determination.
IX. The Hermit. This represents the role in any creative process to access one's own vision clearly, and to do one's own work. This is true even in team situations, and it needs to be mentioned because many people fail in this regard--unconsciously depending on others for that which one should appropriately take personal and solitary responsibility, such as the actor memorizing the lines.
X. The Wheel of Fortune. This is another aspect of otherness, a recognition that ego and will are far from being "in control." Yet we can learn increasingly to find a point of balance in the wheel, at the center, as witness, less identified with any single position in the cycle. We can learn about cycles, the phases of a group's development, the creation of a play, the medicine wheel, etc. Things are born, come to fullness, then decay, require transformation, and proceed again into another cycle. We learn and replay.
XI. Justice. This really refers to judiciousness, keeping balanced, and is related to the astrological sign of Libra. More specifically, it refers to an alertness or special attention given to the other beings--more than mere aesthetic harmony, here, but ethics, fairness, the balance of commitment, and also allowing others to experience the consequences of their own behavior.
XII. The Hanged Man. This startling role is in a way a play off the fool or the jester, the operation of surprise, crazy wisdom, the way that wisdom is often the opposite from "common sense." At a deeper level, for the producer of the play of life, there is also a recognition and acceptance of the fact that one's chosen path may seem "upside down" to most of society. The artist may seem to suffer or sacrifice for art, and so too at some point the principle of sacrifice becomes not masochism, but a deeper kind of wisdom.
XIII. Death. Every role dies, every play closes, and life itself may be a work of art- not the essence of the deeper life, but the downward point in a ripple on the sea. The death of ego-just the death of a whole cast of inner characters. Any magus, producer, needs to remain aware of the transitoriness of roles and plays and life, needs to develop and practice the skill of "letting go."
XIV. Temperance: While card VI, the "Lovers," refers to the dramatic interplay of the characters, Temperance refers to the art, the "how" of the overall production, the way we as producers organize the play of our lives. There is an art in remaining balanced and carrying that principle into action in specific directions. Complexity and simplicity, order and disorder, intensity and mildness, familiarity and novelty, the general and the particular, abstract and concrete, these and other dualistic dimensions can artfully be utilized, so that the applied aesthetic is not a still point, but rather an excursion, playing with the combinations in some varied pattern of excess, now this way and now that, yet maintaining a larger view of a harmonious whole.
XV. The Devil. The magus must become vigilant to the forces within his own psyche that would impair his or her capacities. Here the forces of mental laziness, cliché, slogan, habit, tradition, and the like serve to combat the spontaneous and inclusive. Ever and always this tension exists in the psyche and heart, luring towards the comforting darkness of illusion, the illusion of stability, the illusion of power, the illusion of ignorance--the complacency that what one knows and believes is sufficient. There is a reversal here of who is to be served, this deceptively alluring ideal of stability, drawn from cultural conserves, or the vigor of continual challenge in encountering an ever creative Holy Cosmos.
XVI. The Tower (Struck by Lightning). The meta-role director also must be prepared for the unexpected, and that this may indeed be powerful. Truly profound insights can be at times profoundly decentering. Some of the most useful lessons at first my be experienced as devastating or overwhelming. There is wisdom in knowing this happens.
XVII. The Star. Dare to dream the impossible dream, to reach for the unreachable star. A measure of aspiration to "push the envelope" adds an interesting type of passion to the creative challenge of life. It's good for the soul to envision, to intuit possibilities. This too must be woven into the whole.
XVIII. The Moon. Here the imaginal realms of dark and light flicker, paradox, good and evil, cool mind and hot passion, romance and despair, mystery and dreamscapes, surrealism has its own power.
XIX. The Sun. Choose the light over darkness, look on the sunny side, affirm joy, accentuate the positive. Weave this into your life's production.
XX. Judgment. Not so much justice in sense of balancing ethics, but life review, taking stock, becoming your own critic and audience, and adding not just approval or disapproval, but compassionate insight, greater understanding, and underlining the lessons--hey, that worked! Do that some more! Not so much of this, though.
XXI. The World. Don't just write the play, stage it, put it on, get the people interacting. Manifest your inner aspirations and ideas. Write the book and more, live the life. Make it so, deeds, not words, manifest your purpose, your dreams, your ideas, your hopes, your intentions. Find out what happens in the laboratory and school called the "real world." This is the testing ground. Based on the effectiveness of your final action, you'll get feedback, that's real, too, and then you begin again (the Fool).
If you're building an organization, putting on a theatrical production, deepening a relationship, writing a book, whatever, you'll find that the challenge of wisdom is complex. It's not just one or even a few simple rules. All of the aforementioned principles need to be employed, and each of them, in turn, involve dimensions of consciousness that must be practiced. Each card could be an thick volume with many chapters by different authors, with many viewpoints. Indeed, books have been written about these lessons, singly and in combination. Still, they must be lived, not just read about. Twenty-two is a workable number. A hundred, or even forty, borders on the overwhelming, but twenty-two has just enough structure and cross-reference to be practical, yet expresses much of the actual complexity of life's challenge.
Don't use the Tarot as a pre-adolescent divination trick--that's like pulling off the petals of a daisy in a "he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not" childish game. Rather, consider that this early picture book is meant to evoke associations, images, stories. Let them evoke your own interpretations, variations, imaginations. The real value is not in my words specifically, but in the gestalt--the idea that there are such lessons, such categories, and that they can speak to the life-long challenge of personal transformations, through many stages and roles in a given life, yet beyond any particular vocation or activity.
These cards are archetypal images because they have no clearly defined, simple lesson about them. Rather, the kinds of lessons are whole states of mind, frames of reference, perhaps, operating from a more general desire for wisdom. Use them well.
For responses, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org