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The Tarot of Dreams Guidebook

by Lee Bursten
Art by Ciro Marchetti
For Lawrence H. Katz

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Diane Wilkes for invaluable editorial advice, and to Mark McElroy for
permission to quote from his work. And of course to Ciro, for giving me the opportunity to
write about his inspiring images.

About the Author

Lee Bursten is the author of the Zodiac Tarot, the Gay Tarot, and the Universal Marseilles
Tarot Companion.

The Tarot of Dreams Guidebook © 2005 by Lee Bursten. All rights reserved. No part of
this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage,
without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied
in critical articles and reviews.

Artwork © 2005 by Ciro Marchetti.


Table of Contents

Introduction
Esoteric Symbol Systems in the Tarot of Dreams
Reading the Cards
The Story Spread
Introduction to the Major Arcana
The Major Arcana
Introduction to the Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
INTRODUCTION

A charioteer coalesces out of sea foam. A hooded tree-woman holds a glowing infant. An
emperor looms over an unreal city, grasping poles of light. A sun god juggles planets.

If we are new to tarot, what do these beautiful – but odd – images mean? If we are familiar
with tarot, how do these images fit into standard tarot paradigms? What do they bring to the
table, besides appealing artwork? Why should we use this deck and not another?

Asking these questions is like approaching a closed, locked door. To open the door and
explore the vistas behind it, we need a key. In this case, the key is the title: The Tarot of
Dreams.

First, we should define what is meant by “dreams.” We don’t mean daydreams or fantasies.
We mean real dreams – the ones which take you literally into another world when you
sleep.

According to modern dream theory, what we perceive as dreaming is caused by activation


or electrical stimulation of certain centers of the brain when we sleep. Those centers which
control visualization and emotion are activated, but not the ones which control reasoning
and orientation, and this accounts for the bizarre and fragmentary nature of our dreams.
According to this theory, the reason we dream is to allow our memory systems to perform
a sort of self-maintenance, dumping old memories and integrating new ones. So, dreams
need not be interpreted as our subconscious trying to send us messages, but instead can be
seen as fragments that have been randomly activated out of the complex web of visual and
emotional associations which belongs to each of us.

Those who look to dreams for divinatory insights might find such an explanation highly
unsatisfactory. But there is actually a very interesting parallel between this theory and the
tarot. According to the theory, the content of dreams isn’t the result of deep psychological
processes. But we can certainly use the vivid and irrational content of dreams as a means
with which to gain a new perspective on ourselves and the world around us, to examine
that web of associations which lies just beneath the surface of conscious thought. In fact,
the vividness and irrationality of dreams makes them ideal tools for this purpose, because
they shock us out of conventional thought patterns. These reasonable, rational, “normal”
thought patterns help get us through the day, but aren’t much use if we want to deeply
examine ourselves and our lives. And so we turn to dreams – and the tarot – for a fresh
look.

The tarot deck presents us with 78 ready-made dream images, which are more efficient self-
exploration tools than the difficult-to-remember and fragmentary episodes which populate
our sleep. And because tarot cards remind us of fairy tales, myths, legends, persons, places
and things which are familiar to us because of our shared experiences as humans, they are
more deeply and universally satisfying than dream fragments could ever be.

Another advantage is found in the structure of the tarot deck, as opposed to the
characteristic lack of structure found in dreams. Twenty-two images to represent major life-
changing forces and irresistible archetypes; 16 images to provide personality types, patterns
of behavior, and methods of approach; and 40 images to show us the ups and downs of
daily life. And then there are the patterns to be found between cards. As an overarching
pattern, we will focus on the 22 Major Arcana as a journey of discovery, beginning with
the Fool (card zero) starting out on his journey, and ending with the World (card 22),
where the Fool integrates and synthesizes all he has learned in the intervening cards.

By laying out a random selection of cards and contemplating the result in light of the
particular situation you wish to examine, the potential for wisdom and insight is limitless,
restricted only by the natural resistance we all have to plumbing our own depths.

So far we have referred to the tarot as a tool for self-exploration. But the universality of the
tarot also allows us to use it to counsel others and assist them in their own self-exploration
and self-empowerment. When a tarot reader and a querent experience a reading together, the
tarot images are not specific to either person’s psyche, as dream fragments would be, but
rather are universal to both; and thus a therapeutic dialogue can be established, a story can
be woven together which will have input from both parties and which will be meaningful to
each.

The driving force behind the Tarot of Dreams was not the desire to illustrate a specific set
of esoteric ideas or to draw parallels to specific cultures or mythologies. Instead, Ciro
wanted to express what each card means to hiim in an intensely personal and electrically
intense way, which would allow the reader to experience a more immediate, visceral
response than is generally possible with tarot decks. Put another way, the desire was to
create a set of tarot images which would have the same impact as a suddenly-remembered
dream.

For this reason, you will find many elements which are puzzling or which don’t yield to
rational analysis. In this book we’ll discuss various possible interpretations for these
elements, but their final interpretation lies with you, the reader. You’ll find that some
elements will be best left uninterpreted, and treated as a dream would be, as a numinous
element in a story whose function transcends the rational.

Nothing in tarot is absolute, and the answers are to be found in your own mind and heart…
and in your dreams.
ESOTERIC SYMBOL SYSTEMS IN THE TAROT OF DREAMS

The Border Symbols

In the borders of each of the 78 cards you’ll see several symbols. These refer to
correspondences with esoteric systems, specifically Kabbalah and astrology. While these
systems have been used since the 18th century to provide an esoteric context and
framework within which to view the tarot, they have historically been used in different
ways by different people.

The artist and author of the present work do not believe that there is a single “correct”
system of esoteric attributions, and we encourage interested readers to experiment with
different systems. However, it can sometimes help to have a base line from which to start,
and for this reason we have provided specific esoteric symbols on the cards. You may
decide to study our correspondences and to use them when reading the cards or meditating
with them. You may decide, after a while, to experiment with different systems. Or you
may decide to ignore them altogether in favor of some other system, or no system. Each of
these is a valid choice, and we hope that you won’t hesitate to experiment and find what
works for you.

For the Tarot of Dreams, we decided after careful consideration to use the system of
Kabbalistic and astrological attributions assigned to the cards by the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn. It is this particular system which was used by the creators of the Rider-
Waite-Smith deck and the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, which are two of the most well-
known and popular decks, and we felt this would provide a level of comfort and familiarity
which would be welcome and useful when working with the Tarot of Dreams.

Thus, you will find the familiar astrological and Hebrew-letter attributions for each card.
We have made two changes from the standard Golden Dawn assignments. First, the three
“modern” planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) were not used by the Golden Dawn; they
used elements on three of the Majors instead of planets. For the Tarot of Dreams, we have
used the three modern planets rather than the elements used by the Golden Dawn.

Hebrew Letters

Each card is given a Hebrew letter which corresponds to the Golden Dawn assignment.
Besides serving as letters of the alphabet, Hebrew letters are also words, and each word can
be used to elucidate the meaning of a tarot trump.

Here is a list of the Hebrew letters and their assigned trumps:


0 Fool – Aleph (Ox)
I Magician – Beth (House)
II Priestess – Gimel (Camel)
III Empress – Daleth (Door)
IV Emperor – He (Window)
V Faith – Vau (Nail)
VI Lovers – Zain (Sword)
VII Chariot – Cheth (Fence)
VIII Strength – Teth (Serpent)
IX Hermit – Yod (Hand)
X Wheel – Kaph (Palm)
XI Justice – Lamed (Ox-goad)
XII Hanging Man – Mem (Water)
XIII Death – Nun (Fish)
XIV Temperance – Samekh (Tent peg)
XV Devil – Ayin (Eye)
XVI Tower – Peh (Mouth)
XVII Star – Tzaddi (Fish-hook)
XVIII Moon – Qoph (Back of the head)
XIX Sun – Resh (Head)
XX Judgement – Shin (Tooth)
XXI World – Tau (Signature)

A description of each Hebrew letter as it relates to its assigned card can be found in the
Cards section.

Astrology

For the Majors, each card is assigned either a sign or a planet. There are 12 signs and 10
planets, so assigning a sign or a planet to each card results in one symbol for each of the 22
cards. As mentioned above, the Golden Dawn did not use the three modern planets.
Instead, for those three cards they used three of the four elements. They had Kabbalistic
reasons for doing so, as follows (those who are new to these subjects may wish to skip the
following paragraph):

The Hebrew letters Aleph (Fool), Mem (Hanging Man) and Shin (Judgement) are what are
referred to as Mother Letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and are correlated with Air, Water,
and Fire. At the same time, there are seven Double Letters, which correspond to the seven
planets of antiquity (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). That leaves
the 12 Simple Letters to represent the 12 signs of the zodiac. After much consideration, I
decided to violate this system in order to make use of the three modern planets, which will
be more immediately useful to beginners than the Kabbalistic correspondences between
astrology and Hebrew letters. For those who prefer the traditional attributions, feel free to
ignore the astrological glyphs on the Fool, Hanging Man and Judgement cards. Those
readers may also wish to note that the traditional elements are, by design, prominently
featured in the images of those cards – Air (sky and clouds) for the Fool, Water for the
Hanged Man, and Fire for Judgement.

Here is a list of the signs and planets and their assigned trumps:

0 Fool – Uranus
I Magician – Mercury
II Priestess – Moon
III Empress – Venus
IV Emperor – Aries
V Faith – Taurus
VI Lovers – Gemini
VII Chariot – Cancer
VIII Strength – Leo
IX Hermit – Virgo
X Wheel – Jupiter
XI Justice – Libra
XII Hanging Man – Neptune
XIII Death – Scorpio
XIV Temperance – Sagittarius
XV Devil – Capricorn
XVI Tower – Mars
XVII Star – Aquarius
XVIII Moon – Pisces
XIX Sun – Sun
XX Judgement – Pluto
XXI World – Saturn

For the numbered Minors (Two through Ten), the ancient system of the Decans has been
used, in accordance with the Golden Dawn. The Decan system divides each sign into three
equal parts, then assigns each part to a planet. Thus, each Decan consists of a sign and the
planet which rules over that portion of the sign. Here is a list of the Decans and their
assigned numbered Minors:

2 of Wands: Mars in Aries


2 of Cups: Venus in Cancer
2 of Swords: Moon in Libra
2 of Coins: Jupiter in Capricorn

3 of Wands: Sun in Aries


3 of Cups: Mercury in Cancer
3 of Swords: Saturn in Libra
3 of Coins: Mars in Capricorn

4 of Wands: Venus in Aries


4 of Cups: Moon in Cancer
4 of Swords: Jupiter in Libra
4 of Coins: Sun in Capricorn

5 of Wands: Saturn in Leo


5 of Cups: Mars in Scorpio
5 of Swords: Venus in Aquarius
5 of Coins: Mercury in Taurus

6 of Wands: Jupiter in Leo


6 of Cups: Sun in Scorpio
6 of Swords: Mercury in Aquarius
6 of Coins: Moon in Taurus

7 of Wands: Mars in Leo


7 of Cups: Venus in Scorpio
7 of Swords: Moon in Aquarius
7 of Coins: Saturn in Taurus

8 of Wands: Mercury in Sagittarius


8 of Cups: Saturn in Pisces
8 of Swords: Jupiter in Gemini
8 of Coins: Sun in Virgo

9 of Wands: Moon in Sagittarius


9 of Cups: Jupiter in Pisces
9 of Swords: Mars in Gemini
9 of Coins: Venus in Virgo

10 of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius


10 of Cups: Mars in Pisces
10 of Swords: Sun in Gemini
10 of Coins: Mercury in Virgo

For the Courts, each of the Kings, Queens and Knights are assigned a zodiac sign. The
Pages are assigned three signs each, according to the element of their suits. However,
according to the Golden Dawn system, the Kings, Queens and Knights are not assigned a
single sign, but rather are two-thirds one sign, and one-third another. As far as I know, the
Tarot of Dreams is the first tarot deck to actually show this concept on the cards. Here is a
list of the signs and their assigned Court cards:

King of Wands = two-thirds Sagittarius - one-third Scorpio


Queen of Wands = two-thirds Aries - one-third Pisces
Knight of Wands = two-thirds Leo - one-third Cancer

King of Swords = two-thirds Gemini - one-third Taurus


Queen of Swords = two-thirds Libra - one-third Virgo
Knight of Swords = two-thirds Aquarius - one-third Capricorn

King of Cups = two-thirds Pisces - one-third Aquarius


Queen of Cups = two-thirds Cancer - one-third Gemini
Knight of Cups = two-thirds Scorpio - one-third Libra

King of Coins = two-thirds Virgo one-third Leo


Queen of Coins = two-thirds Capricorn one-third Sagittarius
Knight of Coins = two-thirds Taurus one-third Aries

In the Golden Dawn system, the Pages were assigned quadrants of the Zodiac. The Page
of Coins was assigned the first three signs, Aries, Gemini, and Taurus, the Page of Wands
was assigned the next three signs, Cancer, Leo, and Virgo, et cetera. These attributions
seem to have been made for organizational purposes, and don’t seem to help us in the
process of interpreting the cards, and therefore the Golden Dawn attributions for the Pages
have not been emphasized in the Tarot of Dreams.

A description of the astrological glyphs as they relate to their assigned cards can be found
in the Cards section.

As a final note, we encourage interested readers to explore these esoteric systems, both for
their own sake and for their possible connections to tarot, with an open mind, and to avoid
becoming locked into a particular viewpoint. These systems should be seen as tools only, to
be used or discarded according to their usefulness.
READING THE CARDS

The procedure of laying out the cards and interpreting them, for oneself or for others, is a
very personal process. Everyone has their own way of doing it, and when you read a
particular author’s method, it’s important to keep in mind that that is only that author’s
method, and it has no greater validity than another author’s, or your own. Some readers like
to use elaborate rituals; some simply throw the cards down unceremoniously on the kitchen
counter. Some turn over and interpret one card at a time; others turn them all over at once.
Some like to use reversals; others keep all the cards upright. Some use large spreads; some
use small spreads; some don’t use spreads at all. None of these methods is intrinsically
better than any other; the best advice is simply to try them all, and use the ones which you
feel most comfortable with. Even after you find a method you like, experiment with
something new every once in a while. This will keep your reading style fresh.

When I read the cards, after formulating a question and shuffling, I generally lay them out
in a preselected spread. I turn each card face up as I lay it in its position, so that the card’s
image is visible. Then I survey the lay of the land. I note the proportion of Majors to
Minors, and the predominance or lack of suits within the Minors. I look for several cards
of the same rank or number (three Knights, for instance, or four Sevens). These factors can
lend a tone or perspective, something to keep in mind which will help make sense of the
reading.

My next step is to go through the cards one by one, interpreting each card in light of its
spread position and in light of the question. The spread position meanings are
predetermined as part of the spread you select, and the question is of course predetermined.
So, when you examine each card, it is as if you were looking at it through two filters; a) the
spread position meaning, and b) the question. Of course, connections with neighboring
cards should be taken into account as well.

To the beginner, this process can seem overwhelmingly complicated. People who are new
to tarot often think that a card layout is like a coded message or cipher, and that if they
simply knew the code, they could decipher the message. It certainly would be easy if it
worked this way, but it would also lack the depth and sophistication that you get when you
let your mind play with ambiguities and subtleties. Some beginning tarot books give you
very simplistic and limited fortune-telling meanings for the cards. If you try to do a reading
this way, you will quickly discover that the resulting message has little if anything to do
with your life. It’s like the proverbial round peg (the book’s meaning) and the square hole
(your life).

The only way you can get it to make sense is to begin to play with the meanings, adapt
them, massage them so that they start to make sense in the context of your life. So if you
receive the Sun card, and some book gives you a meaning of “Optimism,” and optimism
has nothing to do with the situation you’re doing the reading on, you can think about how
you can make it fit. Perhaps the card stands for too much optimism, or the rosy scenario,
seeing life through rose-colored glasses (card meanings are often very well expressed by
clichés and truisms). Perhaps the sun is too hot – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the
kitchen. Maybe it refers to someone’s warm and friendly manner. Perhaps it augurs a
sunny day.

It is this kind of shoe-horning or “making-it-fit” procedure that is the very essence of tarot
interpretation. As you look at the card from different angles, trying on different
interpretations as if you were trying on shoes, you’ll begin to access that intuitive pool of
meanings that underlies every good tarot reading. After you gain more experience, you’ll
begin to do this automatically, without having to make it such a conscious process. You’ll
find after a while that as your interpretive choices become more intuitive, it will seem as if
the cards are speaking to you.

As you can see, there is no one correct meaning for a card. The meaning will vary
according to the reader, the querent, the question, the spread position, and the neighboring
cards. Some people are dismayed when they realize that the cards don’t contain simple
messages waiting to be decoded. But although we miss the short-lived excitement of
receiving an easy answer, we gain so much more – the entrance into a world of discovery,
as we use the cards as keys with which to explore our own or a querent’s psyche. This
doesn’t mean that every reading has to be a heavy, serious psychotherapeutic event. Rather,
readings should be undertaken with an attitude of adventure and discovery, and a
lighthearted sense of play (after all, historically, tarot decks were first used for card games).

So, during a reading, I attempt to gather the various strands of symbolism in the cards and
weave them into a story. I approach the layout with a loose and relaxed attitude. I have
general definitions for each card in my mind, but if the general definition doesn’t fit into the
reading, I cheerfully jettison it and look for some other way to tie the card into the
developing story. I may spot one object in the card image which I had never focused on in
previous readings. If it seems significant, that then becomes the meaning for that card in
that reading, even if it is very different from, or even contrary to, my usual meaning for that
card.

There are many sources of possible meanings for each card. You can look at (in no
particular order):

The card image


The card title
The “In Brief” phrases in the book
The “In Depth” section in the book
Divinatory meanings from other books
Numerological associations
Astrological associations
Combinations of cards
Which way the figures on the card are facing

To clarify the last two choices, the interaction between two adjoining cards can create a new
meaning. The Chariot next to the Eight of Wands could mean a fast car – or someone
determined to act swiftly. Likewise, significance can be found in a figure facing towards or
away from a figure on another card. A court card facing away from the Wheel of Fortune,
for example, might mean that the person in question is in denial and doesn’t want to face
the fact that circumstances change.

Since there is no “right” interpretation for a card, don’t get stressed out if you’re not
considering every single possible source of meaning. For beginners, you’ll probably want
to start with the image on the card, its title, and the meanings listed in this book or in
another tarot book. How many other factors you look at is entirely up to you. Many readers
never consider astrological or Kabbalistic attributions, and if you don’t feel comfortable
with them, you shouldn’t either – although at some point down the road you may find
you’re curious enough to take a look at them.

Reversals can be a contentious subject in tarot circles. If you lay down a card in a reading
and the image is upside-down, that’s a reversal. Those who use reversals give the card a
different meaning, either the opposite of the right-side-up meaning or some kind of
alteration of the right-side-up meaning. There are many possibilities, and there are now
entire books available about reading reversals. Since reversals can be read in several ways,
I’ve only provided upright meanings in this book, and I’ll leave it to the reader to
experiment with different ways of reading reversals.

People often expect a tarot reading to describe specific future events. How one feels about
prediction is yet one more factor which will vary between readers. Some are convinced that
tarot readings reveal the future. Others feel that general future trends may be discerned, but
only as probabilities, if one continues on one’s present course. Still others feel that the tarot,
or a tarot reader, has no power to predict the future, and that a focus on the here and now is
more valuable.

This leads to the issue of ethics, another contentious subject. When reading for others,
serious matters should not be treated cavalierly by the reader, because your words may
have more of an effect than you realize. After giving a prediction of gloom and doom, you
might think no more about it, while the querent may be profoundly affected, even
traumatized by the reading. Generally it would seem wise to avoid negativity, and to
express yourself to the querent in such a way as to accentuate the positive and provide
options for action, rather than simply informing them that such-and-such an event will
come to pass. If you see something negative in the querent’s future, express it more as a
warning, something to keep an eye on, rather than something irrevocable. The key is to
approach the information gained in a reading as a roadmap or guide, so that unpleasant
futures can be avoided. For me, the ideal reading is one where the reader and the querent
engage in a dialogue and together work out strategies and solutions for the querent.

If you read for others often, you may find yourself facing specific ethical dilemmas, such as
whether you should read for third parties (i.e., if the querent wants to know what is going
on with someone else in his life), or whether you should give specific medical or legal or
business advice. My own approach in these areas is a very cautious one. Reading for a
third party who is not present, and who did not consent to being read for, raises privacy
issues. Offering specific medical or legal advice during a paid reading may leave you open
to legal liability. If you want to read professionally, I suggest researching the subject by
searching for and studying various statements of ethics for tarot reading which can be
found on the internet. Christine Jette’s book Professional Tarot: The Business of Reading,
Consulting & Teaching and Teresa Michelsen’s The Complete Tarot Reader are thoughtful
and thorough resources.
THE STORY SPREAD

There are several books available that provide tarot spreads, and you can try several until
you find some that you like. There are also books which explain how to design your own
spreads, a procedure which has many advantages over a spread someone else has designed.
It’s easy enough to create a spread for a specific reading; simply write out a number of
questions revolving around the situation you want to explore, and then lay out a card for
each question. Or you can try reading with no spread at all: simply lay out some cards in a
line and start interpreting them in order from left to right. Tarot author Michele Morgan
advocates a method of tossing down several cards on the table in no particular pattern, with
no particular care as to where they end up, and then interpreting the pictures entirely
intuitively, with an emphasis on how the cards seem to relate to each other.

Here is a spread designed especially for the Tarot of Dreams. It’s called the Story Spread,
and it encourages you to think of your life and your situation as a story. It also provides a
method of investigating and challenging the stories told to us by our conscious minds.
Often, our ultimate happiness depends on our willingness to constantly question these
egocentric stories and see if they are really true, or if our ego is telling us something which
only serves to cause us more stress.

The first card position is called the Story, and this card is a microcosm of the reading as a
whole. The remaining cards are the Rest of the Story, and serve to amplify and expand
upon themes which will be found in the first card.

The Story

Position 1: The Story. This card provides an overview of the chapter of the story which
you are presently living.

The Rest of the Story

Position 2: What You Think. This card describes your conscious mind or your ego, what it
thinks about the story, and what it thinks the story is, in the final analysis.

Position 3: What You Get. This describes the physical circumstances in which you will
find yourself if your story continues on its present path.

Position 4: What You Feel. This card explores the emotional roots and foundations of your
present circumstance. This is where you’ll find hidden emotional motivations.
Position 5: What You Deserve. This card shows what you expect on an emotional level.

Position 6: What You Tell. This shows how you present yourself to others and how you
express yourself.

Position 7: What You Are. The parts of yourself which have been determined by the
physical circumstances of your upbringing.

Position 8: What You Need. This card shows what you feel you need to be happy on a
physical level; in other words, what level of physical comfort or security you need, or what
level of risk.

Position 9: What You Expect. This shows what your conscious mind or ego expects for the
future.

Unlike many spreads, the Story Spread does not progress from the past (first position) to
the final outcome (last position). Thus, Position 9 shouldn’t be considered as the outcome
or the final word. The cards which could be looked at as “future” cards are Positions 1, 2
and 3.

Those who are interested in examining the spread in greater depth may want to learn about
the spread’s underlying structure. The column on the left (6-4-7) shows Assumptions; the
middle column (2-1-3) shows Answers; the right column (9-5-8) shows Expectations. Put
another way, the left column shows the Past; the middle column shows the Present; the
right column shows the Future. It might seem strange that the Present column corresponds
to Answers, and that the Future column corresponds to Expectations. The reason for this is
to emphasize the fact that while we may speculate about the future, the only reality that we
actually experience is in the present, and any answers about the future can only, in the final
analysis, be found in our present actions and decisions.

The rows have meanings as well: the top row (6-2-9) is Mental; the middle row (4-1-5) is
Emotional; and the bottom row (7-3-8) is Physical.

Thus, you can see that the position meanings were determined by combining each
position’s column and row. For example, Position 8, What You Need, can be seen as
physical expectations.

The columns and rows can be used to focus in on specific issues. For example, if you want
to know about mental or intellectual concerns, you could look to the first row to get a
snapshot of your mental assumptions, conclusions, and expectations. If you want to learn
about various assumptions you’ve been making about yourself, you can look at the first
column and see your mental, physical and emotional assumptions.
Although I’ve described the first card as the basic situation and the remaining cards as
amplifying and clarifying, another method would be to see the first five cards (Positions 1
through 5) as a general description of the situation, while the remaining four cards
(Positions 6 through 9) would then perform the clarifying or amplifying function.
INTRODUCTION TO THE MAJOR ARCANA

A tarot deck has two parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana (“arcana” means
secrets). The Minor Arcana (which we’ll discuss in detail in another chapter) is composed
of four suits, each of which contains ten numbered cards (Ace through Ten), and four
Court cards. The Minor Arcana is comparable to a modern playing card deck, except that
the suits are different (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins instead of Clubs, Hearts, Spades,
and Diamonds), and the Court cards are four to a suit (Page, Knight, Queen and King)
instead of three (Jack, Queen and King).

The Major Arcana, sometimes referred to as the “trumps,” is a different animal altogether. It
consists of 22 picture cards. The cards bear numbers (0 through 21, with all but the first
card expressed as Roman numerals, I through XXI), but unlike the Minors, the Majors are
not associated with suits (although some tarot commentators have referred to them as
comprising a fifth suit, the suit of Spirit). Instead, each has a suggestive title and image. The
particular set of concepts which are shown by these titles and images has been intriguing
people for centuries. The reason is that, like dreams, they can’t be categorized and sorted
out and placed into boxes and labeled. There are some cards which show traditional
medieval characters and scenes (the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune); there are classical scenes
(the Chariot); there are mythological deities (Justice); there are scenes typical of Christian
concepts and art (the Tower, Judgement, the World); there are obvious astrological
references (the Star, the Moon, the Sun).

While at first glance this smorgasbord of ideas and images appears to be as fragmentary
and disparate as parts of a dream, the really fascinating thing about the tarot is that, as with
dreams, one can find all kinds of patterns and stories and rationales and thematic
progressions and connections. Some have seen in the 22 cards a presentation of a calibrated
spiritual progression from the lowest (the Fool, seen in the earliest decks as a humble
beggar) to the highest (the World), an idea which would have seemed reasonable to
someone living in the Renaissance, when the tarot was created. Some early commentators
postulate a similar scheme but in reverse, starting with the earthly World card and ending
with a heavenly Fool, wise in his foolishness.

Other commentators have sought inspiration in geometrical arrangements of the cards. In


their books, Rachel Pollack and Sallie Nichols have described a three-by-seven layout, in
which cards I through XXI are laid out, starting from the top, in three rows of seven cards
each, with each row underneath the previous row, so that seven columns are formed, with
the Fool placed above the pattern, striding over all.

Joseph Campbell favored a five-by-four layout, in which cards II through XXI are laid out,
starting at the bottom, in five rows of four cards each, with card I to the left of the first row
on the bottom and card 0 at the right of the last row on the top. In these kinds of
arrangements, a story can be uncovered by following the rows horizontally, and meaning
may also be found by comparing cards in the vertical rows.

Modern tarot interpretation (that is, in the last few decades) has placed great stock in seeing
the Major Arcana as a sequential journey or voyage of consciousness, from the Fool in his
innocent and undifferentiated state, to the World as the epitome of self-awareness. In this
model, the voyage does not end with the World. Instead, like the circle described by the
shape of the Fool’s number (0), the journey starts at the beginning again, but on a new
level, so that in three-dimensional terms the journey would be seen more as a spiral. This is
the interpretive model we will follow, and in fact the Fool and the World cards of the Tarot
of Dreams are specifically designed with this in mind, as we shall see.

As for the geometrical patterns (i.e. laying out the cards in columns and rows), I’ll leave
that for the reader to experiment with. Much insight can be drawn from such exercises, but
I believe that any card can profitably be compared with any other card, and I would rather
avoid forcing the tarot into a straitjacket by declaring that one particular geometrical pattern
is more valuable than another. But, by all means, try laying out the Majors in various
patterns and compare the stories which reveal themselves vertically and horizontally, and
observe which, if any, resonates most strongly with you.

In a reading, a Major Arcana card may at that moment represent something very mundane –
the Chariot symbolizing your car, for example. But it’s very important to understand that,
on the whole, each Major card symbolizes an entire structure of archetypal ideas, concepts
which form the basis of your psyche.

Seen in this light, the Chariot may stand for your ability to put together a sturdy, road-
worthy personality with which you can go out and make your way in the world while
keeping a firm grip on the unruly emotions which would otherwise threaten to unseat you
(an example of this would be the role of a hypothetical hero on a televised adventure series,
who bravely overcomes his own weaknesses to wrest victory from the hands of defeat in
every episode). Or, the Chariot may symbolize your tendency to run roughshod over
others’ feelings through your arrogance, pigheadedness, and insecurity (here the example
would be the actor who plays the aforementioned role, who may be notorious for insisting
that scripts be rewritten so that he appropriates most of the supporting actors’ lines – and
screen time).

Let’s consider another card – the Empress. In a reading, this card can symbolize your own
mother. It could symbolize your father, if he took on a more maternal role. It could
symbolize your own maternal, nurturing instincts, whether you’re male or female. Or it
could show your creative side (bringing a project to birth). It could mean Mother Nature. It
could mean having a green thumb. It could represent someone who is completely
emotional, as opposed to the Emperor, who structures the world along rational lines.
In the Introduction, we discussed how the dreaming mind takes as its raw material the
complex web of thoughts, feelings, memories and associations which underlies our
personalities. Each Major Arcana card is a miniature version of this process, and represents
a smaller subset of this web. Thus, the archetype of the Empress can mean any of a whole
host of related concepts. But remember, everyone’s web of associations is different, and
this means that the specific elements of your web of Empress associations will vary from
someone else’s.

This is the great benefit of the tarot. It also explains the tarot’s ultimate fascination. The
symbols are universal: we all have a Mother archetype in our personalities. But the
particular web of elements associated with that archetype will differ between individuals.
This means that no one can interpret the tarot in the same way as another, and this is why
it’s a useless exercise to memorize someone else’s list of associations for any card (even
mine!).

Your task is to use each Major Arcana card as a key with which to begin your exploration
of your own web of associations surrounding that card. Just as the Fool embarks on his
journey of consciousness, so you, too, are embarking on a journey to explore your own
consciousness, using tarot cards as a map to guide you. The more territory you explore of
this inner terrain, the better you’ll be at reading the cards.

There are two Major Arcana cards which often give pause to those new to tarot: Death and
the Devil. Any uneasiness about these cards should be quickly dispelled once one
considers that these cards, like all the Major Arcana, are metaphors, and are not to be taken
literally. To use cards we’ve already discussed as examples, the Chariot appearing in a
reading obviously does not mean that a horse-drawn chariot driven by Charlton Heston will
pull up to your door. Likewise, the Empress does not mean you will soon gain an audience
with Queen Elizabeth II.

In the same way, the Death card does not mean the someone is going to die. In a reading,
the Death card indicates the death of something; in other words, a situation, a phase of life,
is dying or passing out of your life. Put another way, Death is about the experience of loss.
The Devil does not presage an encounter with Beelzebub, but rather is an invitation to
examine those parts of your personality whose existence you would prefer not to
acknowledge: the greedy, selfish parts which we try to hide from others and from ourselves
in everyday life.

These two cards, like the others, are stand-ins for a sophisticated pattern of associations.
When they come up in readings, the wise reader will resist the temptation to gloss over
these cards, and instead will linger over them. By examining our hidden fears (Death) and
desires (the Devil), we can increase our self-knowledge dramatically.

What follows is one possible version of the Voyage of the Fool:


0 Fool is our protagonist. With complete faith in himself and the world around him, he
clothes himself in bright satin and prepares to embark on his journey. He is the very picture
of foolish optimism. He is us.

In I Magician and II Priestess, the Fool meets his inner guides. The Magician represents
that part of him which looks out for opportunities to learn and to navigate the world to his
advantage. The Priestess is his intuitive sense, that inner voice which we must quiet
ourselves to hear. Without these two, the Fool would be incapable of proceeding on the
voyage.

III Empress and IV Emperor are the Fool’s archetypal parents. While the Magician and
the Priestess tell the Fool about himself and his abilities, the Empress and Emperor teach
him about the world and ways of perceiving it. The Empress shows the Fool how the
world can be seen as a never-ending bounty of life and love. The Emperor shows him the
world as a blank slate, ready to have order laid upon it.

V Faith (called the Pope or the Hierophant in other decks) and VI Lovers demonstrate
different ways of relating. In Faith, the Fool begins developing a sense of meaning, which
enables him to place his own and others’ actions into context. In the Lovers, he begins
learning to relate to others on a one-to-one basis.

VII Chariot shows the Fool in his adolescence – confident in his power as he ventures
forth into the world.

In the next six cards, the Fool encounters and learns from various challenges which life
throws at him. In VIII Strength, the Fool begins to be aware of an inner reserve of
strength and self-preservation which he can draw upon in times of need. In later cards, he’ll
encounter the darker sides of this energy. In IX Hermit, the Fool finds that his childish
need for companionship and approval gives way to a need for solitude, the time and space
required for inner development, rather than the outer adventuring shown in the Chariot.

X Wheel gives our Fool a vision of the world as a machine, and himself as a small cog in
the wheel. XI Justice reminds him that in the face of the determinism revealed by the
Wheel, there must be absolutes of right and wrong if life is to have meaning.

Times turn rough for the Fool in the next two cards. In XII Hanging Man, the Fool
encounters delays, obstructions, and the necessity for patience and self-sacrifice. In XIII
Death, the sacrifice increases as the Fool finds himself forced to surrender old self-images
and to adapt to changing circumstances. In this troubled state, XIV Temperance appears
like an angel, showing the Fool how to accomplish the necessary adaptation.

In the next two cards, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. In XV Devil, the Fool
must face his shadow self – a greedy and insatiable taskmaster who will imprison the Fool
in his desires, if allowed to. In XVI Tower, the recognition and acknowledgement of this
terrible truth about himself brings about a catastrophic destruction of the illusions he has so
carefully built up step by step in the previous cards.

In the Fool’s darkest hour, XVII Star appears, soothing his pain and fear with the cooling
waters of grace and hope. XVIII Moon shows a landscape which is disturbing and
frightening but which ultimately embodies the creative potential which the Fool will need in
order to rebuild his assumptions into a more self-aware pattern. In XIX Sun, that new self-
awareness shines forth. In XX Judgement, the Fool uses this self-awareness to open his
eyes to a new, brilliant perception of the universe he inhabits.

Finally, in XXI World, the Fool has come full circle. He is now fully aware of how naïve
he was at the start of his voyage, yet how necessary that naiveté had been in order to start
him on his way. He now acknowledges his place in the universe, his existence as a part of a
larger pattern. Soon he will be ready to embark on another voyage, and the sequence will
begin anew.
THE MAJOR ARCANA

0 Fool

Fool in brief

Being foolish, playing the fool, making fun of something. The beginning of an endeavor or
journey. An unorthodox or nonconformist approach. Being a catalyst for change.

Fool in depth

The key to the Fool card is its subversive quality. In older decks, the Fool is shown as a
bearded vagabond, forsaking the familiar and the comfortable in favor of the open road. In
those decks, as in this one, the Fool wears traditional fool’s motley, identifying him as a
court jester, whose role, like a modern-day television comedian, is to entertain us while
satirizing the status quo. Shakespeare exaggerates this quality in King Lear, in which the
mocking and sarcastic king’s jester, named “The Fool,” tells the king truths he would
accept from no one else.

In dreams, our minds discard the everyday thought patterns and stylized behavior imprinted
on us by society, leaving us with startling juxtapositions and illogical conclusions.
Likewise, the Fool announces the start of the journey like a trumpet call from the land of
dreams. In the Tarot of Dreams, one glance at the Fool lets us know to expect the
unexpected. At the same time, the Fool is the protagonist of our story, the hero who will
travel across the landscape of dreams and encounter each of the characters of the Major
Arcana in turn.

The first thing we notice is the Fool’s odd anatomy. His wide hips give him a strangely
androgynous quality (although in this book we’ll refer to him as masculine, following
tradition). Next, we see that his face is not there, except for the eyes behind the mask. We
might almost suspect him of being simply an empty set of clothes, except that he clearly has
hands. He is simultaneously present and absent, making him a perfectly appropriate lead
character in the series of dreams which is the Major Arcana. We might imagine that if we
were to keep watching, various parts of him would appear and disappear, rather like the
grinning Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, who slowly fades away, leaving behind
nothing but a grin, floating in the air.

The Fool is literally nothing, as shown by the empty face; and everything, as shown by the
medals on his breast pocket – the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. The three astronomical
bodies echo the sequence (Star, Moon, Sun) of the 17th through 19th cards of the Major
Arcana. They also suggest the World card, which, as we shall see, is the mirror image of
the Fool card – the beginning and end of the journey.

The Fool holds in his hand a hoop and a crystal sphere containing the world. In his
innocence he believes them to be merely stage-magic tricks. A metal hoop is a standard
piece of equipment in a stage magician’s repertoire, and the Fool holds it at his midsection,
as if he has just produced the crystal globe out of it, suggesting that he could use it to
produce all manner of things.

Although the Fool is less than nothing, he carries within him the seeds or potentials of
everything, and brings them forth in endless supply. He is the catalyst who brings about
change in the world. As such, he must necessarily be considered subversive, for one can
only create the totally new by ignoring or rebelling against the old.

The crystal globe suggests, again, the potential for everything which is hidden within the
Fool, and is another reminder of his twin card, the World. The fact that the globe is made of
crystal indicates the fragile quality of a new idea – how powerful, yet how easily crushed.

The shape of the Fool’s waistcoat suggests a fish. Fish have often been used as symbols of
thoughts and feelings coalescing out of the murky depths of the ocean of the subconscious.
Perhaps this fish is about to leap off the Fool’s chest, swim through the hoop, and manifest
on the material plane as an idea or a feeling that comes to us seemingly out of the blue.

The Fool’s posture is quite determined, yet he stands on a ball (decorated with the same
celestial bodies seen on his breast pocket medals). This is a precarious stance at best, but
all the more so considering that the Fool’s confident balance could be so easily undone as
the kitten stretches playfully for the butterfly. If it reaches too far, then kitten, ball and Fool
will plunge into the waters below, with easily-imagined consequences for the fragile crystal
world he holds. Given the likelihood of this undignified outcome, the Fool’s set-in-his-
ways posture is all the more ridiculous. The precariousness of the Fool’s position mirrors
the precariousness we often feel when we strike out into the unknown.

The Fool’s balancing act reminds us how precarious the balance is between existence and
non-existence. This delicate dance of thing-ness and no-thing-ness is shown by the misty,
evanescent city rising up out of the water, and by the Fool’s differently-colored eyes (also
shown on the card backs), reminiscent of the Taoist yin-yang symbol illustrating the
interplay of opposites.

The butterfly which so fascinates the kitten is also a symbol of change and emergence into
the unknown, just as the caterpillar must break through the cocoon before it can stretch its
wings.

A rainbow encircles the orange ball, like the rings of Saturn. This provides yet another link
to the Fool’s twin card, the World, whose astrological attribution is Saturn.
There is another reason for the absence of a face. The Fool’s face is your own. The Fool’s
voyage is your voyage, and his journey through the sequence of the Majors is only an echo
of your own journey through life. It’s your own eyes which you see behind the Fool’s
mask.

Hebrew Letter

Aleph means Ox. The ox is used to till the fields, preparing them for the introduction of
seeds, which will eventually grow.

Astrology

Uranus, the planet of eccentricity, originality, and anarchy.


I Magician

Magician in brief

Education, training, knowledge, common sense, opportunities. Translating thoughts and


plans into action.

Magician in depth

As the Fool embarks on his voyage, the first personage he encounters is the Magician.

As soon as we are born, our minds immediately begin processing sensory input, drawing
conclusions about it, and learning from it, and it is this function which the Magician
represents. In the language of archetypes, he is the Wise Old Man (variations of which we
will encounter in a few different cards). As the Magician, he is the Teacher, the Mentor,
who gives invaluable advice as we set out on our individual quest. Some examples would
be the centaur Chiron, who in Greek mythology was entrusted with the education of
various heroes, including Asclepius, Theseus, and Achilles; Merlin, who teaches the young
Arthur and thereafter serves as his advisor; Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, who aids the
hero’s quest with advice, instruction and guidance; Yoda in the Star Wars films, who trains
the hero to attune himself to the Force; and Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.

Thus, in a reading the Magician can represent a person who performs this function in our
lives. On a more personal level, we rely on our inner Magician to help us learn new skills
and abilities and to recognize opportunities. Often, this happens on such a deep level that
the realization or learning seems to come in a flash of inspiration, as if a real live Magician
had zapped it into our heads.

And that’s one way to begin to approach the Tarot of Dreams Magician. His sphere of
power illuminates for us the four suit symbols, signifying different approaches to problem
solving. Lightning crackles around the sphere, illustrating that very flash of inspiration
which seems to leap into our minds just when we are at wit’s end. His eyes are tired and
kind, yet they also display a steely determination to shepherd the recalcitrant student toward
the insights which await, if only we can apply the will and self-discipline needed to attain
them.

The four suit symbols – Wand, Cup, Sword and Coin – symbolize different ways of
perception, or different methods of action. Wands alert us to take an active role, to be
creative, and to forge ahead despite difficulties. Cups murmur to us to consider others’
feelings and to examine our own, and to take an intuitive approach. Swords propose that
we analyze the situation. And Coins tell us that we need to consider the consequences to
our actions, the material results that we will be left with. Any situation will require a
combination of some or all of these modes of action, and the Magician, whether as another
person or as our own inner faculties, can help us choose the right mixture for the job.

The necessity to be flexible in choosing one suit energy over another and combining them
according to the task at hand is shown by the pink infinity symbol (the sideways 8) floating
between the suit symbols. Like the shape of the symbol itself, we must be able to bend and
twist our approach as circumstances change (this theme will reappear in more depth in the
Temperance card). The infinity symbol also tells us that the ability to learn from our
mistakes and to find inspiration is always with us, even in the darkest times.

The Magician’s throne sits on a stone disk which floats above the clouds, showing us that
he is not grounded in any particular place or time. On an inner level, we can always learn
from our surroundings and circumstances and devise new ways of dealing with them. On
an outer level, our capacity to learn from a teacher or mentor does not stop at childhood, but
rather can be invoked at any time, no matter our age, whenever we meet someone who
knows something which we would like to learn. The floating disk also reminds us to avoid
being too set in our ways, and to remember the flexibility and adaptability needed in order
to fully implement the Magician’s teachings.

In his hands he holds a long staff, topped with a complicated curling design. If the curls are
seen as snakes, then the staff is reminiscent of the caduceus, which in ancient Greek
symbology represents a herald. The Magician could certainly be seen as a herald, bringing
us word of conclusions reached by subconscious processes in our minds. The caduceus is
also a common symbol for Hermes, messenger god of the ancient Greeks, whom the
Romans called Mercury. Mercury is the astrological symbol assigned to the Magician in
this and many other decks. In astrology, the planet Mercury symbolizes communication and
the actions of the mind. Hermes also serves as a guide of souls or psychopomp, who upon
our deaths escorts us to the afterlife. This theme is echoed in several examples of the Wise
Old Man/Teacher archetype in popular culture, where at the end of the quest, the teacher
reappears to guide his former student to a new plane of existence.

If you look closely at the curling figures atop the staff, you see that there are three comma-
shaped creatures with distinct heads. They could also be seen as seahorses, which in Native
American mythology symbolize confidence and grace. These are attributes which are
bestowed upon us when we pay careful attention to our outer or inner Magician.

Finally, if one subtracts the three seahorse-like creatures from the image, one is left with
two serpentine figures which intertwine like the numeral 8, which echoes the infinity sign
floating among the suit symbols, reminding us that no situation is stagnant. There is no
“end of the road.” There is only change, and new opportunities to react to that change by
using it to teach ourselves to be better than we are.

Hebrew Letter
Beth means House. The Magician allows us to begin building a rudimentary mental
dwelling from which we can observe and learn from the world.

Astrology

Mercury, the planet of thinking and communicating.


II Priestess

Priestess in brief

Intuitive insight. Reconciling of opposites. An indirect approach. Withdrawal from


everyday activities.

Priestess in depth

Under a hazy night sky, the Priestess sits in her temple and draws down some mysterious
force from the moon. As he watches her, the Fool can see the moonlight literally
descending upon her, and stars, suns, and moons nestle in her hair. Her moon-shaped
headgear provides a powerful sympathetic magic.

The contents of our subconscious minds cannot be perceived directly – otherwise those
contents would be conscious, not subconscious. We all know that there is more to our
selves than our conscious minds can perceive. When we find ourselves making an
unexpected emotional outburst, or when an image that we come across seems to speak to us
in startling ways (as tarot cards can do), then we know that there are currents beneath the
surface of our conscious minds. But the structure of our minds prevents us from
apprehending these currents directly. How can we ever hope to see that which we are
incapable of seeing? The answer is the Priestess. She allows communication to travel back
and forth between the conscious and unconscious worlds, and she maintains the integrity of
both worlds by sharply limiting and filtering that communication. This is why the material
we receive from our subconscious speaks in riddles, dreams, and metaphors.

The subconscious must be approached delicately. It will not do to march up to it and


demand answers. Like the motes which swim at the corners of your eyes, if you try to look
straight at the subconscious, it will avoid your direct gaze and retreat back to the dark
corners. Instead, if you approach it indirectly, meditating on your question and opening
yourself to whatever your intuitive senses might to tell you, then you may receive a glimpse
of insight from your subconscious.

The two pillars on the card represent duality, as do the differently-colored spheres atop the
pillars (which echo the Fool’s differently-colored eyes). Duality is the way our conscious
minds are structured, and how our minds, in turn, structure our perceptions. From the time
we are born, we learn to categorize everything we perceive: good and bad, pleasurable or
painful, light and dark. Later in life, the categories grow more sophisticated, but the
dualities remain: responsible or carefree, well- or ill-intentioned, passive or aggressive.
These distinctions make it possible for us to live in and make our way in this world. But
they are a hindrance if we want to navigate our way through the subconscious, whose
nature reflects the primordial, murky waters of oneness rather than the sharply delineated
opposites of everyday, waking life.

The Priestess’s eyes are closed, shutting herself off from the sensory input which threatens
to seduce her back into the conscious world. She has her back to the pillars, indicating that
she has gone beyond the dualities. She has stepped through them, as if they were merely a
doorway to different kinds of perception, rather than the be-all and end-all of reality as they
are usually thought of. Significantly, she holds her intricately-tooled lens so that it frames
her heart chakra. The heart chakra reconciles opposites, bringing them together into an
organic whole and healing the rift between them. Thus, we experience the Priestess’s
energy as a calming one. Her cooling moon-waters heal the tensions caused by our
continual structuring of reality as a series of opposites and dualisms.

The night and the moon on this card symbolize the uncertainty and uneasiness which our
conscious minds feel when faced with evidence of the existence of the subconscious. In
order to enter the waters of the subconscious, the Priestess (or that part of our mind which
she represents) must embrace (or call down) the symbols of night and moon. Then, when
she has relaxed and allowed subconscious material to permeate her being, she will turn to
us and hold up her magic lens, through which we can catch a few hints of intuitive insight.

Sometimes the stresses and conflicts that we experience throughout the day can accumulate
until we feel ready to explode. At these times, the Priestess can act as a safety valve,
reducing the pressure by releasing it, and letting in a bit of cool air from that other,
nighttime world. If this glimpse of that world intrigues you, don’t worry – we’ll get a
deeper look at it later on.

The text on her scroll is from the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

Hebrew Letter

Gimel means Camel. A camel is used to cross desert regions, in the same way that the
Priestess helps us cross the gulf between the conscious and the subconscious.

Astrology

The Moon, planet of the subconscious mind.


III Empress

Empress in brief

Motherhood and the mothering principle; nurturing, protecting, raising, growing. Giving
birth to a child, a project, or an idea. Creation. Self-care.

Empress in depth

After his stay in the Priestess’s quiet temple, the Fool emerges into the light of day and
finds the Empress. She is a dryad or wood nymph, a female spirit who inhabits a tree. In
the card she seems half-woman, half-tree, and the change from woman to tree is so gradual
that one can’t define precisely where the one leaves off and the other begins. In her hands
she reverently holds a glowing infant.

The best way to approach the Empress is to contrast her with the cards on either side of her
in the sequence – the Priestess on the one side and the Emperor on the other.

While the Priestess’s temple sits in perpetual twilight, the Empress dwells in a forest
clearing in the daytime, although the light is still a bit muted as it filters through the trees.
The Priestess needs silence before she can attune herself to the mysteries of the unseen, but
the Empress enjoys the activity of the forest, the hustle and bustle of the various woodland
creatures which inhabit it. While the Priestess integrates opposites into a whole which can
only be intuitively sensed, the Empress brings forth her creations into the light of day. In
terms of childbirth, the Priestess would represent conception and gestation, when the
strands of being begin to knit together in their mysterious fashion, hidden in the womb. The
Empress is the birth, where that which was only sensed in the Priestess is finally made
manifest.

The Emperor, on the other hand, represents the stabilizing effects of civilization: straight
roads, buildings, monuments, armies in formation. While the Emperor is the ordering
principle, the Empress is the growing principle. Life emanates from the Empress, in the
same way that it emanates from the Fool’s hoop. The Emperor takes that life and gives it
shape and form so that it may exist efficiently. The Empress symbolizes the simple fact of
wheat growing in a field. The Emperor provides the orderly planting of the seeds in rows,
and the harvesting of the stalks when they are grown. Both energies are necessary if life is
to exist.

The Empress represents a very strong and easily understood archetype: the Mother.
Anything maternal would fall under its purview, both your mother and your own
mothering abilities. And this energy applies as much to men as women. (All the cards, in
fact, can apply to anyone regardless of differences in age, gender, or sexual orientation.)
But it need not apply only to literal motherhood. It could indicate gardening or landscaping.
It could represent a creative project which must be carefully nurtured and protected.

As Mother Nature, the Empress has been worshipped since before recorded time as the
source of nature’s bounty, and at the same time feared for her destructive rages. Thus, this
card (like every card) has a dark side. That which has the power to create also has the
power to destroy. And while the Empress always encourages growth, she does not always
encourage individuality. Her maternal instinct is to keep her creations close to her forever.

On the card, the glow emanating from the infant makes us pay special attention to it. Who
or what do you feel maternal towards? Are you doing all you can to provide a nurturing
and protective environment? Perhaps the child represents an inner part of yourself. Is there
some part of yourself which you’ve been taking for granted and which needs some tender
loving care? If the child symbolizes a person or a project, are you ready to give them or it
the freedom they will need when the time is right for them to declare their independence?

Sometimes this card can simply mean that you need to take better care of yourself, and to
make sure that you aren’t denying yourself the creature comforts we all need occasionally.

For the Fool, the moment when he can give Empress-energies to others, instead of simply
receiving them, represents an important milestone on his journey.

Hebrew Letter

Daleth means Door. A creation must pass through one or several doors, literally or
metaphorically, as it leaves its place of gestation and manifests in the world.

Astrology

Venus, the planet of marriage and female reproductive organs.


IV Emperor

Emperor in brief

Fatherhood and the fathering principle. Authority. Laws and regulations. Social and
government institutions. Social responsibility. Tyranny.

Emperor in depth

As the Fool saw in his encounter with the Empress, life is not orderly. Instead, life is a
great, glorious mess. While we can appreciate its nurturing abundance and respect its
tremendous force, we cannot live in it unless we can find some way to regulate its energy.

And so we need doctors with medical degrees to help improve quality of life, and machines
built to institutional specifications to help gather the harvest, and scientific organizations to
help foster intellectual curiosity, and laws, lawmakers, and judges to prevent us from
attacking each other, and even armies to protect us from attack from outside. Some people
see all of these things as inherently bad. Of course they all can be misused, and often are.
But we must always remember that without such societal structures, we would not have
what we need to grow and to evolve. We would not, in fact, be human.

On the Emperor card, we see a dream city, complete with buildings, towers, and avenues
lined with trees. Looming over the city is a powerful male figure, who holds two scepters.
Each of these is topped with a glowing spiral, which shows us the object of his allegiance
and also the ultimate source of his power: the regenerative power of life itself. We can also
deduce this from the sun-like spheres atop the spirals, and from the sunburst pattern on his
breastplate.

The Emperor is quite a solid-looking figure, yet at the same time he seems a bit unreal,
almost as if he is being projected onto the night sky from the city below. Thus, he doesn’t
really represent one specific person as much as he does a concept – perhaps we could call it
a civic concept. The Emperor is a graphic and archetypal representation of the civic
functions of society, just as carvings and statues of deities often adorn public buildings.

The Emperor asks us to examine the role of power in our lives. How effective are we in
dealing, as we all must, with institutions and powerful people? In what parts of our own
lives are we exerting appropriate power, and in which areas are we abdicating our proper
roles through a reluctance to use power?

As we all know, power can be misused. The laws can be biased, the institutions can be
self-serving, the army can engage in wars whose sole purpose is to increase the size of the
army. In the end, a nation can be reduced to a barren wasteland if the Emperor goes too far.
Likewise, in our own lives, we can become tyrannical or dictatorial – or allow others to
wield this power over us.

On a deeper level, we must acknowledge that power is neither all good nor all evil, but is
always a mixture of the two. Yesterday, the military action which protected the public also
resulted in civilian casualties. Tomorrow, the miracle cure with the power to prevent the
suffering and death of thousands will be accomplished by the suffering and death of
animals used in scientific research. To be a leader is to perpetually make judgments about
who or what should benefit, and who or what should sacrifice – or be sacrificed. But a
leader’s role is not simply to increase the power of the powerful. He or she is also a
steward for the powerless and vulnerable. All too often, a leader who is too isolated in the
halls of power turns a deaf ear to those in society who have no voice, thus sowing the
seeds for his own downfall.

As the Emperor of the Tarot of Dreams holds out his scepters of power to us, he seems to
be encouraging us to take hold of and use our own power, and to carefully consider the
ramifications of that use.

Hebrew Letter

He means Window. Just as a landscape appears more ordered and organized when seen
through a window, so the Emperor sees the potential for organization and structure in all
things.

Astrology

Aries, the sign of pioneers who venture into untamed territory in order to impose
civilization and structure.
V Faith

Faith in brief

Believing deeply in something. Finding meaning above and beyond the material world.
Ethics and morality. Philosophy. Religious teachings and traditions. A conceptual
framework against which things can be placed in context.

Faith in depth

In the preceding cards, the Fool has discovered the underpinnings of consciousness. The
Magician and the Priestess provide mechanisms which enable him to function in the world,
while the Empress and Emperor teach him rudimentary ways of seeing that world. But as
these mechanisms grow in sophistication and complexity, they also present multiplying
challenges. Under the Magician’s tutelage, we may fall prey to unscrupulous mentors. The
Priestess may mislead us with illusions, chimeras and wishful thinking. The Empress can
smother and stifle our individuality, and the Emperor can exemplify the worst that humanity
has to offer, as evidenced by mankind’s tragic history.

To avoid succumbing to the endless dangers inherent in the previous four cards, the Fool
must now develop a larger sense of meaning which supercedes the imperatives of the
Empress and Emperor. This sense is usually thought of as religious in nature, although, as
we shall see, it need not encompass a specific religious ideology as those in the West
generally think of it. This sense of meaning is what allows us to develop a feeling for
concepts of right and wrong, which can help keep the worst excesses of the previous cards
at bay. It gives us a sense of balance, so we can apportion the energies of the previous
cards even-handedly. All Magician and no Priestess would give us one set of headaches,
and all Priestess and no Magician would give us another. The sense of meaning shown by
the Faith card can comfort us in difficult times, by giving us a higher ideal to believe in, to
make us feel as if our lives have a larger purpose.

On the card, a robed figure (it could just as easily be a woman as a man) clasps his or her
hands in contemplation. Please note that I have not used the words “monk,” “nun,” or
“prayer.” This card includes those concepts, but isn’t restricted to them. In most other tarot
decks, this card is called the Pope, Hierophant, or Priest, and shows a specifically male
leader, often of a specific religion. In this card, a generic figure was chosen to represent the
concept of faith, without tying it to a specific gender or religion. The figure’s robes could
be emblematic of any of several religions – or none. One may have faith in a code of ethics
or an ideal way of being without necessarily believing in the supernatural. Although some
religious orders require shaving one’s head, in this card the baldness may simply have
occurred naturally, and, in any event, symbolizes an openness to larger considerations than
the mundane world.
The Faith card represents that part of ourselves which is capable of placing the events,
thoughts and emotions of our lives into a greater context, giving pattern and structure to
them and providing a framework with which to place them in a context. This can include
traditional religions and their trappings, but can also include personal philosophies and
beliefs which are unconnected with what we usually think of as “religion.”

While this card helps us deal with the shadow elements of the other cards, Faith has its own
shadows. The human tendency to avoid change leads us to invest our moral frameworks
with the aura of infallibility, thus leading to bias, which leads to prejudice, which leads to
bigotry. Much insight can be gained by carefully observing the actions of the leaders of
organizations with even the most enlightened-seeming goals. Undoubtedly, you’ll find that
at least a few of them demonstrate intolerance, inflexibility, and a desire to use others’ faith
as a pawn to gain personal power.

It is partly for this reason that the nine symbols shown on the card are spaced evenly
around the image and are connected by a glowing circle. No one outlook or framework can
possibly define or explain the whole of reality. Each religion or philosophy is one facet out
of endless possibilities, and none can lay claim to infallibility or exclusivity.

The symbols are intended only as examples of different kinds of philosophies/religions,


with no disrespect intended for traditions not shown. Proceeding clockwise from the
figure’s forehead, here are the symbols and what they represent:

Chinese ideogram meaning “Joy Together,” representing Confucianism. This is a


philosophy which puts great emphasis on reverence for and constant attention to tradition
and ethics as a means for self-cultivation.

Star of David, representing Judaism. Judaism is a monotheistic religion which stresses


reliance on communication from God as manifested in its holy texts (the Torah) and on the
history of the Jewish people.

Crucifix, representing Christianity. Like Judaism, Christianity is a monotheistic, historical


religion, but unlike Judaism, the Christian holy texts (the New Testament) continue from
the Torah and deify Jesus as the Son of God who redeems mankind.

Crescent moon and star, representing Islam. A monotheistic and historical religion relying
on holy texts (the Koran) which stress adherence to moral teachings and the equality of all
in the eyes of Allah.

Dharmachakra (wheel of life), representing Buddhism. A philosophy of attaining


enlightenment by overcoming certain kinds of desire, Buddhism encourages reliance on
experiential realization rather than dogma or tradition.
The three Sanskrit letters aa, au, and ma, combined to form Aum or Om, representing
Hinduism. Hinduism seeks to help liberate the soul and cultivate consciousness of the
Divine which resides within us all, through a variety of spiritual practices.

Pentagram (five-pointed star) representing Neo-Paganism. Several belief systems are


included under the umbrella of Neo-Paganism, including Wicca, Shamanism, Druidism and
many others, generally characterized by respect for ancient beliefs, use of magic, and
reverence for nature.

The “happy human,” representing Humanism. A life stance as opposed to a religion or a


philosophy, Humanism seeks to understand the universe in naturalistic rather than
supernatural terms, and emphasizes a secular ethics based on human values and intellectual
integrity rather than dogma or tradition.

Yin-Yang, representing Philosophical Taoism. An approach or attitude rather than a


religion, Philosophical Taoism stresses the relativity of values and the benefits of creative
non-action, spontaneity, and naturalness.

Hebrew Letter

Vau means Nail. In the Faith card we seek to “nail down” philosophies and beliefs through
intellectual means. As a nail penetrates, so we attempt to penetrate the unknown through the
power of conscious thought.

Astrology

Taurus, the sign of creating practical, conservative routines. This relates to the aspects of
Faith which deal with creating and then remaining faithful to frameworks and structures of
meaning.
VI Lovers

Lovers in brief

A relationship of any kind, or specifically a love relationship. Sharing one’s viewpoint with
another, successfully or unsuccessfully. Revealing vulnerabilities. A partially-revealed
mystery. Attraction of opposites.

Lovers in depth

Having assembled the building blocks of his personality in the previous cards, the Fool is
now ready for the final building block – that part of ourselves which enables us to interact
with others. In the Tarot of Dreams, that interaction is symbolized by an intimate pair of
lovers. Of course the entire gamut of relationships may be referred to, not only the
amorous. Any situation in which two or more people are dealing with each other can be
represented by this card.

A love relationship is used to illustrate this concept because a love affair encompasses all
the tendencies and feelings which occur in any human relationship, but in a heightened and
more dramatic way. Thus, all the small and large kindnesses, sacrifices, petty jealousies,
and insecurities which characterize a platonic friendship or business relationship are
magnified to an epic degree in a romance.

Any sharing of oneself with another can be painful; we’re forced to consider someone
else’s point of view rather than our own. But each time we do so, we emerge with a
broadened consciousness and a deeper and more sophisticated worldview. There is a
spiritual consideration here as well, for if we can work with, like, or love one person, then
we can, at least potentially or theoretically, work with, like, or love everyone and everything
that exists.

On the card, we see the eponymous Lovers in a scene of physical intimacy. They do not
look at each other; both the woman’s and the man’s eyes are closed. Thus, even though
they are pressed together, there is still a barrier between them. No matter how close two
people may feel, they still have two different minds locked away inside two different heads,
and thus there will always be a barrier between them which they can never breach. The
story of human relationship is imbued with a certain heroism, because despite these
barriers, we still manage to work with, like, and love each other. While the wall cannot be
breached, it can be transcended; and this is the miracle and the poignancy of the human
condition.

The Lovers are nude. Nudity itself can symbolize being honest with each other, the “naked
truth,” exposing one’s vulnerabilities and dropping one’s defenses. Again, this need not
relate to an amorous relationship; in a business relationship, for example, it could simply
refer to the two parties being honest and above-board with each other.

In the background is a stone wall. Part of building any relationship is creating a space
which is somewhat isolated from the outside world, in which the two people can feel free to
explore each other, whether platonically or romantically. A relationship, however, always
runs the risk of becoming too isolated and insular, which is why it’s always a good idea to
make sure there’s a window cut into the wall, so that input can be received from and given
to the outside world.

Our Lovers are seen through diaphanous curtains which are blown open by a breeze. The
seed or heart of a relationship, particularly a love relationship, is difficult to examine in
strictly rational terms. Like the glimpses and hints of the subconscious which the Priestess
delivers to us, this seed or heart will wilt and vanish in the cold light of clinical observation.
The mystery of love is just that, a mystery. We can appreciate it, talk about it, use it as
inspiration for art, be thankful for the sense of grace it bestows upon our lives; but at a
certain point, we must let the gauzy curtains close back over it, so that we don’t chase it
away altogether.

Through the window we can barely see the beginning of dawn breaking. Day and night are
opposites, and any relationship must contain a certain amount of opposition in order to
succeed. The “attraction of opposites” is a cliché, but a true one (as so many clichés are).
Even when two people seem to be very similar, there are always differences under the
surface to provide depth and an opportunity for growth.

There are six lit candles on the card. The couple has lighted these candles as a way of
creating a sacred space for themselves. To the more spiritually inclined, the candles could
represent divine grace, a generous blessing upon the couple from a higher reality. Older
decks show an angel hovering above the couple, and the same set of associations could
apply to the small, warm pools of light created by the candle flames.

In any relationship, it’s interesting to see how the previous cards in the sequence make their
appearance. We learn (the Magician) from our relationships, and we are aware of the
unknowable heart of the connection (Priestess). We nurture and encourage each other
(Empress), and we provide a solid support for each other – and sometimes bully each other
(Emperor). Finally, we learn to trust and have faith in each other (Faith). The archetypal
characters of cards I through V enact their dramas against the canvas of card VI, the
Lovers. And, as we all know, human relationships provide plenty of opportunities for us to
play the Fool!

Hebrew Letter

Zain means Sword. The sword represents that aspect of human relationships which always
maintains a barrier between any two people, so that complete union seems always in reach
yet is never quite attained.

Astrology

Gemini, the sign of communication between people, and of understanding the relationships
between things.
VII Chariot

Chariot in brief

A confident approach to life. Willpower. A youthful, inexperienced energy. Pride and


arrogance. Anger caused by insecurity.

Chariot in depth

Now that the Fool has explored each major personality component in turn, he is finally
ready to set off on his voyage. His vehicle is his personality, or “persona” (Latin for
“mask”), the term used in archetypal psychology to denote how one presents oneself to the
world. In the Chariot card, this vehicle is a literal vehicle – a chariot. Each of the previous
cards serves as a plank in the chariot’s construction.

However, the previous cards are not simply static concepts. They are also energies, and
these energies have their own preferred directions and agendas, which often contradict each
other. The cards as concepts are represented by the chariot, but the cards as energies are
represented by the horses. Together, these energies pull the chariot forward – but left
unguided, they would pull the chariot apart. Therefore the charioteer, representing that part
of you which is most quintessentially You, must hold fast to the reigns and use the horses’
energies to move the chariot forward in the direction he chooses.

In the Tarot of Dreams, chariot, charioteer, and horses all emerge from an ocean wave.
White horses arising out of sea foam are frequently used as a poetic image, and in fact
“white horses” is a meteorological term for white-capped waves. The image is perfect for
the Chariot card, because we actually see the personality in the very act of coalescing out of
a turbulent sea (a common symbol for the subconscious).

The charioteer’s stance effectively shows his attitude of strength, pride, adventurousness,
and perhaps a bit of arrogance as he sets forth on his journey. Depending on how you see
the card in the specific context of a reading, either the strength and adventurousness could
come to the fore, or else the pride and arrogance could predominate. If the latter, then
perhaps one could see the charioteer’s pose as just that, a pose for the audience. His
attention, we might suppose, would be more effectively focused on driving the horses
rather than preening like one, lest the reigns slip from his hands.

It must be remembered that the charioteer has only just recently assembled his personality
and decided on a direction for his journey, and he is certainly not a seasoned or mature
traveler. He might be likened to an adolescent, confident in his new-found stature but
lacking in the experience which leads to wisdom. Perhaps the best definition of a mature
person is one who knows that he does not know. The charioteer has not yet attained this
self-knowledge of his own ignorance. Or perhaps he does have a clue to his own
inadequacies, because we do occasionally catch him expressing anger, due possibly to
insecurity. In any event, the true value of the charioteer lies in his indomitable willpower,
his belief in his own ability to move forward and succeed, despite obstacles and his own
insecurities. His is a powerful, optimistic energy which is always available to us.

In older decks, the horses or other animals which pull the chariot are shown as different
colors, representing the conflicting inner drives which threaten to pull the chariot apart. On
the Tarot of Dreams card, if you look carefully you can see that while both horses are
white, the one on the left is darker than the one on the right, thus illustrating the tension
between them. In order to keep a forward momentum, the charioteer must pay careful
attention to balancing their energies.

The structure in the background symbolizes the Fool’s first attempts at constructing his
own mental framework. He does not yet have the power of the Emperor to create an entire
city, yet the structure is still impressive in its own way. These are the Fool’s first attempts
at placing things in context, at assembling a mental map which will enable him to navigate
his way through life. The structure is slightly reminiscent of an offshore oil rig which
mines the waters of the subconscious and brings intuitive insights into the light of everyday
consciousness so that they may be used to progress toward the goal.

A blue jewel shines atop the structure, like a sun. This is a clue that the scene we are
witnessing is not meant to illustrate concrete reality, but is rather, like all the cards, a
dreamscape illustrating the inner workings of our own psyches.

Hebrew Letter

Cheth means Fence. Like the chariot, a fence is a structure which is designed to contain and
give shape and protection to that which is inside.

Astrology

Cancer, the sign of domestic security. This might seem a poor fit with the martial image of a
chariot, but not when one considers that patriotism and protection of the home are often
motivating factors behind the desire to venture out into the world.
VIII Strength

Strength in brief

Adrenaline, the “fight or flight” response. Channeling inner desires into positive outlets. A
balance between civilization and the inner beast.

Strength in depth

After the first seven cards, the Fool’s voyage now enters a deeper phase. The Fool must
now take all the lessons he has learned so far and apply them to the problems and
challenges that we all face at some time in our lives, some of them over and over again.

In Strength, the Fool must acknowledge the existence of a power within him which
embodies great strength but which also seems to have a mind and desires of its own. This
theme is familiar from the previous card, the Chariot, with its powerful yet willful horses.
In fact, the Chariot, Strength, and a third card, the Devil, form a triumvirate with a common
theme. Each deals with an ambivalent inner force which can help us but which also has the
potential for great harm if we don’t harness it properly. In the Chariot, the horses are
simply an element in a larger scene. In Strength, the camera zooms in, as it were, on this
wild energy and shows it as a tiger which has been mastered by a woman. And in the Devil
we’ll see the negative side of this energy: here we have succumbed to it to the point where
it is now the master and we are the slave.

In biochemical terms, the tiger would represent adrenaline, a hormone which increases heart
rate and blood pressure, triggered by mental or physical stress. This helps us deal with
crisis situations by putting the body in a “fight or flight” mode, where it can perform feats it
would normally be incapable of. The end result may be fortunate or unfortunate, depending
on the circumstances. In one case, you might find yourself lifting the front end of a car into
the air to rescue someone trapped underneath. In another case, you might find yourself
physically attacking someone simply because you’re angry at them. It’s important to
understand that the inner tiger doesn’t make a moral distinction between these two
situations. That’s why we have a counterbalancing element in our psyches – the woman on
the card, who controls the tiger (as shown by the chain which encircles it) and is able to use
its energy constructively, while keeping it reigned in when appropriate.

Balance is a key issue when dealing with the energies shown on this card. If we let the tiger
have its way, there will obviously be many unfortunate outcomes, as we’ll see later in the
Devil card. On the other hand, if we keep our tiger always bottled up, then we become an
ineffective, Walter Mitty-esque figure who will always wonder what would have happened
had we taken the risky step.
The woman on the card is a person of great beauty, self-possession, and strength of
character. She is adorned with stars and bears on her face the elemental sign of Fire. The
moon hanging from her ear suggests she controls the tiger from her intuitive center, and
connects her to the Priestess and Moon cards. We should try to avoid seeing the woman as
a schoolmarmish type who is always preventing us from having any fun. She is not simply
a negative presence. In fact she is a powerful figure, as she would have to be, in order to be
able to dictate terms to a tiger. She dominates the tiger not by brute strength, but by
intelligence, sympathy, and love, and provides a civilizing influence to smooth the beast’s
rough edges. The two figures, lady and tiger, are symbiotes – the existence of each is
dependent on the other.

In Frank R. Stockton’s story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”, the king of a mythical land has
devised an odd form of justice. The accused must face two doors. If he chooses the right
door, the beautiful lady within will be offered to him in marriage. If he chooses the wrong
door, he must face a hungry, vicious tiger. The man doesn’t know which door is which.
Which will he choose? The Strength card is about knowing when to choose the lady and
when the tiger.

Hebrew Letter

Teth means Serpent. The serpent here represents the same untamed, animal energy
symbolized by the tiger.

Astrology

Leo, the sign of physical strength, as well as dominating and dramatic energies.
IX Hermit

Hermit in brief

Self-imposed isolation and seclusion. Separating oneself from a situation so that one may
get perspective on it. Meditation and self-examination. Seclusion as a form of escapism.

Hermit in depth

At this point in the sequence, the Fool realizes that there are so many voices clamoring
inside his head that he needs to halt his journey and sort out the confusion. And so he finds
a place where he can perform his inner explorations undisturbed.

At its most basic level the Hermit means isolation, usually self-imposed. Even the most
gregarious and socially-oriented among us need some “down time” in which to recharge
their social batteries. Then there are those who are introspective by nature, and for them this
card is more an illustration of their essential being.

This card has some superficial similarities to both the Priestess and Faith cards, so it might
be helpful to discuss the differences. All three cards at a basic level show an individual who
is alone and who is searching for enlightenment. The kinds of enlightenment they search
for, however, differ. The Priestess ritualistically opens herself up to receive input from the
irrational, subconscious parts of ourselves, rather like a radio tuning in to a certain
frequency. The figure on the Faith card endeavors to place his or her observations into a
moral framework, whether religious, spiritual or ethical, and to find some guiding principle
or ultimate truth to believe in.

The Hermit, on the other hand, is engaged in a strictly rational, empirical activity. He is
contemplating his own actions, thoughts and feelings, in an effort to gain wisdom
therefrom. He isolates himself in order to gain perspective on his situation, since, as we all
know from personal experience, it’s often easier to understand something when we
separate ourselves from it and thereby gain perspective on it. The isolation is usually more
effective when it requires some effort to achieve it, and thus on the card we see that the
Hermit must have gone to some trouble to attain his position. A perfect analogy for the
Hermit’s activity can be found in Buddhism. There are certain Buddhist methods of
meditation in which the object is to quiet the mind and to focus entirely on one’s own
experiences as one sits, including bodily functions (breathing, itching), as well as watching
thoughts and emotions arising, the object being to gain an understanding of how the mind
actually works from moment to moment.

On the card, a bearded man in robes sits on a rocky promontory. His long beard suggests
that he has been sitting there a long, long time. His robes are white, which signifies the
purity of his attention as he focuses it on his own psyche. Significantly, the rock he sits on
juts out over a deep valley, which shows us that while he probes his own mind with a
surgeon’s skill and focus, he also holds himself apart from it, unlike the Priestess who
submerges herself in it.

The Hermit’s lantern is a wand topped with a radiant jewel. The jewel represents the
illuminating power of the conscious mind. With this lantern, the Hermit brings light to the
shadowy corners of his mind and penetrates its mysteries.

As with all the cards, the energy shown on the Hermit can be overdone. When one finds
oneself using seclusion or meditation as an escape rather than an exploration, then it is time
to use our Hermit energy to discover why we’re behaving this way. This card should be a
tool which helps us on the road of life, but it’s not the end of the road.

Hebrew Letter

Yod means Hand. The Hermit has left behind devices and tools, and instead relies wholly
on himself to reach his goal, just as there have been actual hermits who forsake the use of
man-made tools and rely only on their own hands for survival.

Astrology

Virgo, the sign of careful, deliberate and prudent thought and action.
X Wheel

Wheel in brief

Change. A mechanistic view of life. Abdicating responsibility by railing against the fates.

Wheel in depth

The Wheel contains a very simple metaphor: the wheel of fate, the feeling that our destinies
are determined by the turnings and clickings of some cosmic machine.

Interestingly, counterparts of this concept occur in both science and religion. In the
scientific revolution of the 17th century, the doctrine of mechanism was widely accepted.
According to this view, everything that occurs in the universe is determined by the laws
governing the motion of matter, and theoretically it should be possible, given an intellect
vast enough to gather and analyze the necessary data, to predict every occurrence from the
beginning to the end of time.

Likewise, in religion, specifically Calvinist Christianity, we have the doctrine of


predestination, according to which God has predetermined the ultimate destiny of every
soul, that is, whether it will be saved or damned, regardless of what we may have to say
about the matter. Both the religious and the scientific versions of this doctrine subtract
personal choice and potential from the equation.

We often allow ourselves to succumb to this kind of thinking, sometimes without even
realizing it. How often do we abdicate responsibility for our lives by railing against the
fates or other impersonal authorities such as the government? The lesson inherent in the
Wheel is that this kind of thinking is only an attitude, although certainly a seductive one.
The truth is that although there is much in our lives which is beyond our control, there is
also much which is well within it. And there is much which seems out of our control but
which in reality we can have some degree of effect over, if we apply creative thinking and
determination.

In a reading, the Wheel card can represent feeling helpless on Fate’s wheel. On the other
hand, it might simply represent change. If things aren’t going well, the Wheel can be a
source of comfort, for it can signify that things will be changing for the better.

On the card we see a complex mechanism. In the Tarot of Dreams, devices and machinery
often represent the complicated structures built by our minds, and this once again suggests
that the mechanistic view of the world is more a construct of our own minds than an
accurate picture of reality.
Around the main wheel we can see the signs of the zodiac. At present, mainstream
astrology does not see the planets as controlling or strictly predicting human life, but such
was not always the case. For most of astrology’s history, it was thought that our activities
and destinies could be read in the planets’ motions without fail.

In the bottom half of the image, symbols appear on white balls, suggesting a Las Vegas slot
machine. Indeed, Vegas is another example of people voluntarily submitting themselves to
the vagaries of fate – or, more precisely, to the skills of the programmers employed by the
casino owners to rig the machines to the owners’ advantage. This suggests that by
believing too strongly in the power of fate and choosing not to exercise our own personal
power, we leave ourselves vulnerable to be taken advantage of by others.

The four symbols at the bottom of the wheel are ancient alchemical symbols representing
the seasons: from left to right, Autumn, Summer, Spring and Winter.

The presence of the two dolphins can be used to ameliorate the mechanistic qualities of the
card. Dolphins are playful creatures, and one can hardly think of anything less mechanistic
than a dolphin gliding through the waves. According to Richard Wilkerson, director of the
Dream Education Center, dolphins in dreams can often symbolize protection, serenity, and
guidance to unknown worlds. If we begin to feel too much like a cog in a wheel, perhaps
the antidote is to imagine ourselves allowing the two dolphins to guide us out of the
machine and into a delightful ocean of adventure and potential.

Hebrew Letter

Kaph means Palm. The Wheel of Fortune spins and proclaims our destiny, which some
believe can be foreseen by divination such as palm-reading.

Astrology

Jupiter, the planet of optimism and abundance (things we hope the spin of the Wheel will
bring us).
XI Justice

Justice in brief

Justice. The principle of fairness. Being too judgmental. Fighting for the disenfranchised or
the dispossessed. Lack of bias.

Justice in depth

In the Faith card, the Fool searches for a moral compass, a belief system about the nature of
right and wrong which he can use in order to reach conclusions and make judgments about
the things that happen in everyday life.

In Justice, the Fool will use that belief system and the conclusions and judgments which
flow from it in order to change the world around him and make it a better place for its
inhabitants. In other words, he will take the concepts he learned in the Faith card and put
them into action.

Justice is one of those cards whose titles are good descriptions of their meaning. In contrast
to the Wheel, where the world seems to be governed by an impersonal, uncaring
mechanism, in Justice the world is governed by belief in an underlying fairness. That
fairness can be established by a deity or organizing intelligence, or it might be up to
humankind to provide whatever fairness there is in this world. Either way, fairness, equity,
and justice become the overriding principles by which we live our lives. Without this
energy, life would be reduced to pure savagery. In many ways, this card represents the
essence of what it means to be human.

The image shows an armored woman who floats in the sky, and who seems to be half-
machine. Rather than holding a scale as in other decks, in the Tarot of Dreams she actually
is the scale. As in other cards, devices or mechanisms signify mental activity. Thus Justice
is seen as a rational, intellectual force, which sets itself in opposition to the intuitive or the
instinctual. In matters of fairness or law, it is the rational side of our minds which must
rule, if we wish to avoid bias in our judgments. Of course, if we take the concept to its
extreme, we have overly cold judgments which lack any human considerations. The mind
loves to make judgments, and in a reading this card may indicate that someone is being too
judgmental.

The woman is armored because often in life we must fight to be treated fairly, or to win fair
treatment for the disenfranchised or dispossessed. Participants in our systems of law must
often themselves fight to avoid being influenced by the powerful. She holds the two pans
of her scale with complete equilibrium. The ideal of Justice is that it be applied
evenhandedly. Although this ideal is rarely achieved, the fact that it is still the ideal among
the majority of the world’s populations is cause for hope.

The most striking feature of this card is that the figure of Justice is eyeless. Traditionally,
Justice wears a blindfold to indicate that she applies the law without bias. The eyelessness
of the Tarot of Dreams figure tells us that in this deck, the figure of Justice is so
committed to this concept that it has become a part of her, rather than merely a blindfold
which she can take on and off at will. We know that this Justice will judge us fairly, and
not be peeking out from beneath her blindfold to favor the rich or well-connected. It also
reminds us that figures illustrating archetypal concepts need not be perfect physical
specimens. Those who lack sight or hearing or who have other disabilities can serve as
powerful graphic representations of basic life energies just as effectively. In fact, this idea is
in keeping with the whole point of the Justice card.

Hebrew Letter

Lamed means Ox-goad. The doctrines of Justice will remain purely theoretical without the
means for some kind of discipline (the ox-goad) to enforce them.

Astrology

Libra, the sign of the balanced, harmonious environment which is the natural goal of the
laws of Justice.
XII Hanging Man

Hanging Man in brief

Self-sacrifice. Ignoring societal expectations. Gaining new perspectives. Playing the martyr.

Hanging Man in depth

Up until this point, the Fool has identified the primary archetypal functions of his own
mind, as well as larger moral and ethical considerations, as he sets out on his voyage. Now,
he comes to the conclusion that at this stage of the journey, these personages and
experiences are not enough to carry him to his destination. He must engage in the self-
exploration that he began in the Hermit card, but this time he must go deeper. It is not
enough to explore the hidden caves and crevices of the inner landscape. Now he must
relinquish the conscious world, and dive deep within himself.

It is the relinquishing which forms the main concern of this card. The corresponding card in
the earliest decks shows a clothed man hanging upside-down by one foot, which is tied to a
gibbet. This image, according to historians, is derived from the 15th century European
pittura infamante, “pictures of infamy” or shame paintings, which depicted specific
criminals or traitors hung upside-down, and which were displayed in public until the
miscreant was captured, surrendered himself, or paid the judgment. The ultimate goal, to
shame or humiliate someone, can contribute to our present-day interpretations of this card.
As the Hanging Man (called the Hanged Man in traditional decks), the Fool no longer
concerns himself with the approval of society or of the people around him, but instead
sacrifices his social standing in order to more fully explore his inner self.

Presumably the shame paintings were also meant as a not-so-subtle threat to the person
pictured. Seen in this light, we can assume that the man in traditional Hanged Man cards
has been strung up by one foot as a punishment, and has not submitted voluntarily to this
indignity. Here the Tarot of Dreams parts company with the image’s cultural origins,
because it is clear from the card that the figure has deliberately placed himself into this
unusual position. Thus the meaning shifts away from being sacrificed by others and toward
self-sacrifice.

The man is nude, and is bald. As in the Lovers, nudity suggests honesty and voluntarily
exposing one’s vulnerabilities. As in Faith, baldness implies an openness to other points of
view and a broadening of horizons. When we examine the figure’s feet, we find that instead
of being bound to a gibbet, the feet are unbound, with the toes pointed as if to suggest a
competitive diver who has just launched himself from the diving board. All of these
elements suggest a voluntary giving up of one’s present position in life.
The machinery at the top of the card, as in other cards, represents the workings of our
conscious minds. The water at the bottom, also as in other cards, suggests the depths of the
subconscious. Our Hanging Man is seen in the act of diving from his conscious into his
subconscious. At the same time, he retains hold of two blue neon rods which emanate from
the machinery at the top. The Hanging Man is not simply plunging off the deep end into his
subconscious mind, but rather is making a deliberate and well-planned foray into new
territory. The rules of the waking mind and the everyday world won’t work in this inner
landscape, but he is still making an essentially rational decision to go there. Like Theseus,
who enters the labyrinth of the monstrous Minotaur with a ball of thread which he unravels
in order to find his way out again, the Hanging Man will retain hold of his conscious mind,
symbolized by the rods which emanate from the machinery above, so that he doesn’t
become trapped in his inner world forever. He may, however, find this more difficult than
he expected – the blue rods become fainter as they near the water, and may vanish entirely.

The Hanging Man’s tattoos provide another interesting clue. Obtaining a tattoo involves
undergoing a painful procedure, so there is certainly an element of sacrifice there. Since
tattoos are also generally thought of as permanent, a person who gets one is forever and
indelibly allying themselves with an ideological or artistic statement, thus sacrificing their
status as a person with no such immediately recognizable identifications.

The tattoos themselves are worth examining. First of all, they’re completely symmetrical
between the right and left sides of his body. This could suggest that the Hanging Man is
leaving behind the prejudices and biases of his conscious mind to enter a world where there
are no such distinctions. Secondly, the tattoos are of stars, moon, and suns, bringing to
mind the medals on the Fool’s breast pocket, which symbolize the goal of the Fool’s
voyage, which is to attain a larger, more complete, and more cosmic awareness and
integration.

The Hanging Man, unlike previous decks, is not only upside-down but also backwards, in
other words facing away from us. He is literally turning his back on societal expectations
and on the mental structures he has already created for himself. In a reading this card may
simply mean that someone is seeking a new perspective on things.

The energy shown in this card can be taken to extremes. Sometimes we find ourselves
being self-sacrificing to a fault, in other words playing the martyr. At other times, we may
swim against the tide simply because we like to play the role of the nonconformist.

The Hanging Man is one of the most mysterious and evocative images in the deck. Any
attempt at interpretation will fall short of the visceral impact of this deceptively simple
image. When dealing with this card, written interpretations can help, but in the end, the best
way to unravel the image is to use its own mystery.
Hebrew Letter

Mem means Water. The Hanging Man hangs over the deep waters of the subconscious.

Astrology

Neptune, the planet of separating oneself from individual distinctions and merging with the
collective unconscious.
XIII Death

Death in brief

Something has outlived its usefulness. A situation or condition ends, in order to make way
for the new. Sadness at the ending, yet hopefulness for the concomitant beginning.

Death in depth

What can we say about Death? This subject above all others has fascinated and perplexed
us from before recorded time. The mystery of what (if anything) happens to us after we die
has prompted philosophical speculation and religious fervor alike, and thus has done much
to shape human affairs.

A strange figure looms on the card. Its skin is smooth, yet one can discern the outlines of
the skull beneath the skin. Its gaze is dead yet oddly intent. Its mouth is open, revealing a
blackness which threatens to engulf us. A tree spreads its bare limbs crazily across the
dusky sky. Its leaves litter the ground like bones, and among them twines a snake, a
symbol of all that is inhuman. Yet at the same time, because of its ability to shed its skin,
the snake is a symbol of new life. And this is the paradox and the key to interpreting the
Death card. It encompasses our terror of change and our emotional reactions to the
irrevocability of death, and simultaneously it heralds new potentials and opportunities.
Simply put, something must die in order to make room for new life. Although we prefer to
see ourselves as unchanging beings, we are in fact subject to life as a series of cycles of
death and birth, ending and beginning, symbolized on the card by the zodiacal signs on the
snake’s skin.

This card, like all the others, is allegorical and not to be taken literally. Thus, as countless
tarot readers have discovered, it rarely refers to the physical death of the querent, although it
can sometimes refer to the querent’s feelings regarding physical death of self or others.
When the Death card comes up in a reading, it generally indicates that some situation has
outworn its welcome or outlived its usefulness. As an example, let us imagine a mother
whose only child is about to leave home to go to college. The way of life she has become
accustomed to is about to die; her role as the matriarch of a home unit which includes a
child is over. Doubtless the mother will feel a sense of loss as her child leaves the nest. At
the same time, the situation heralds a new beginning for both mother and child. The child is
certainly looking forward to a new and exciting chapter in life, while the mother will in her
own way be starting down a new road. She will now have time and energy to pursue
ambitions or interests which she may have put aside for her child-rearing years.

While we may certainly see this card as an ultimately positive one, we must nevertheless
not lose sight of the fact that there will always be an air of melancholy involved. The Fool’s
experience at this stage of the game is bittersweet. While he looks forward to the next
chapter, his heart aches for the passing away of what was.

Hebrew Letter

Nun means Fish. Fish symbolize fertility and regeneration, which always occur in the wake
of Death.

Astrology

Scorpio, the sign of death – and birth.


XIV Temperance

Temperance in brief

Finding a balance between active and passive. Combining elements to create something
new, whether in life or in art. Moderation. A middle course between extremes.
Experiencing a healing presence, or embodying that presence for others.

Temperance in depth

After undergoing a symbolic death in the previous card, the Fool now experiences a
moment of grace – a gentle touch of angel wings. A beautiful winged woman hovers within
a rainbow disk, controlling the movements of two golden hoops, perhaps similar to the one
held by the Fool on his card. In one, a purifying fire burns; in the other, water ripples. As
the two hoops orbit the angel they create a rainbow path, outlining a zone of perfect balance
and moderation.

Fire and water have long been seen as two elements which “don’t mix.” Water
extinguishes fire, and fire will turn water to steam. Yet in order for the universe to exist, we
need both fire’s aggressive yang energy and water’s receptive yin energy. The trick is
finding the proper balance between them, and it is this balance that the Temperance angel
symbolizes.

The traditional image for this card is a winged, clothed woman who pours liquid from one
cup to another. Together with the title, it refers to the ancient practice of watering down, or
tempering, wine. It may also have alchemical significance, as the alchemist carefully
extracts, purifies, and mixes compounds in her search for spiritual gold. The Tarot of
Dreams Temperance card is a development of the traditional image. Here the angel is
almost nude, which, as we have seen, indicates a lack of human artifice. Instead of the two
cups, the angel juggles the two hoops. And taking the place of the liquid is the rainbow, an
artful blending of the fire and water energies.

The concept on this card can be applied to many different areas of life. On a mundane level,
the ability to successfully combine different elements is vital to all sorts of endeavors, from
cooking a meal to building a better mousetrap. Emotionally, in life one hopes to
demonstrate a proper balance between initiative and sensitivity. And the card shows the
very essence of artistic creation, as we attempt to temper our fiery enthusiasm with
inspiration culled from the waters of the subconscious. As well, an artist combines
disparate elements to create something unexpected and new.

To temper also means to moderate, and thus the card can refer to moderation, a middle
course between extremes. The angel can serve as a reminder for us to hold in our hearts the
idea that for every fiery desert, there is a cooling oasis; for every cold, rainy day there is a
roaring fireplace ready to comfort us. Hopefully, we will not only enjoy these creature
comforts, but use them as models of behavior, so that we may act as a warming fireplace or
a cooling oasis for others.

Hebrew Letter

Samekh means Tent-peg. As Lon Milo DuQuette writes in The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi
Lamed Ben Clifford:

“In biblical times, the tent peg was a most important and potent symbol because it was an
absolutely indispensable tool for the proper erection of the tent. Not only did it ensure the
tent would rise toward Heaven, but it also and simultaneously secured it to Earth.”

The tent-peg as a device which simultaneously contacts Heaven and Earth is an apt symbol
for the balancing properties of Temperance.

Astrology

Sagittarius, the sign of broadening one’s mind through religion and philosophy, which
potentially can help us achieve the balance and harmony of Temperance.
XV Devil

Devil in brief

A primitive, savage inner energy. Hidden desires and aggressions. Addiction. Obsession.
Anger. The result of repressing one’s vital energy. Avoiding responsibility by pretending
one is helpless in the face of inner desires. Materialism.

Devil in depth

Throughout the sequence so far, the Fool has taken advantage of an energy which he dimly
perceived to be within him, a primitive or even savage force which is invaluable when
trying to accomplish difficult tasks, but which is troublesome if not carefully monitored. He
first became aware of this energy in the Chariot, as he struggled to control the willful
horses which he needed to carry him forward on his journey. In Strength, the Fool focused
more precisely on this energy and worked to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with
it.

In the Devil, the Fool must face the true enormity of this voracious entity which is,
distressingly, a part of his own personality. What had been a mostly benign if rambunctious
helper is now in the driver’s seat, imprisoning our poor Fool, who cowers in fear and
helplessness. The Fool’s own hidden desires and aggressions have become his masters.

Analogies to everyday life are easy to find. Have you ever felt yourself in the grip of an all-
encompassing rage, so potent that you lost all control? Has your fondness for a substance
(food, drink, drugs) or an activity (shopping, mountain climbing, surfing the internet) ever
crossed the line and become an addiction? Have you ever been so enamored of someone
that you thought about them night and day, to the point where your friends tell you it’s an
unhealthy obsession? In each of these situations, the inner, savage, primal energy has
gained control of your life and is running the show, and all you can do, it seems, is watch
the train wreck your life is about to become.

On the card, the Fool is shown in two different ways. The persona – the normal, everyday
consciousness of the Fool – is inside a cage. He huddles in a fetal position, incapable of
functioning or even of raising his head. He is nude, his conscious artifices and pretensions
stripped away. Above the cage floats the Fool’s inner devil. Seen as a sort of horror-movie
version of the Fool, he holds the chains to the Fool’s cage.

The Devil bears a reversed pentagram on his forehead, and another reversed pentagram is
outlined in fire in the background. More reversed pentagrams decorate the bottom of the
Fool’s cage. The pentagram is a symbol of humankind, and the five points of the star could
represent the five senses, or the four elements with the added element of spirit. Reversed,
the pentagram symbolizes the baser instincts taking over, so that the pentagram’s top point
– representing sight or the element of spirit – is thrust to the bottom.

The Devil’s eyes are closed. He represents a force which can be tamed but cannot be
taught. He will not learn from experience or from what he sees around him. He simply
desires, and, if given the opportunity, he will take what he desires.

But all is not nearly as hopeless as it seems. The Devil’s main power is that he is able to
convince us that we have no power. As soon as we see through the illusion, we are free.
It’s all a matter of perception. Obviously this doesn’t make it any easier a problem to deal
with. Changing one’s perceptions can be devilishly difficult. But it can be done.

Let’s look at the image more carefully. The first thing we notice about the cage is that its
door is open. Of course, the Fool can’t see the open door because he hides his face in
despair. Then we notice the chains, which are attached to the cage but which don’t actually
touch the Fool, and which wouldn’t prevent him from diving out of the open door. And see
how the Devil holds the chains loosely, even more loosely than the Charioteer holds the
reigns of his unruly horses. Finally, if all those reversed pentagrams get you down, look
carefully and you’ll see the faint outline of a larger upright pentacle superimposed over the
reversed one.

The Fool seems to have abdicated responsibility for his life and placed the reigns in the
hands of his inner Devil. In all such situations, there is a hard road and an easy road. The
hard road is to lift up one’s eyes, take the helping hand, and extricate oneself from the
loosely bound chains. The easy road is to simply continue the status quo. The Devil is
powerful and weak at the same time; powerful because his illusions are so convincing, and
weak because all we need do is open our eyes.

All of the cards, including this one, show extremes in order to make their points. Even the
title, “Devil,” is a melodramatic tag for a concept which doesn’t refer to the Devil of the
Christian religion at all, but rather an archetype which is part of each of us, or what Carl
Jung referred to as the “shadow.” In a reading, the Devil may refer to obsessions and self-
delusions, but it may also simply signify that you are being tempted to reach for something
not because you really want it, but because your inner Devil wants it, and that taking it may
set you on a road which ends in the Devil’s cage.

In reality, the archetypes are not so sharply categorized as they appear in the Major Arcana.
Several of the cards show different facets of the same archetypal energies. The Devil, for
instance, can be seen as one face of our inner child. The inner child is the source of our
innocence and ability to trust, but it can also be the source of greedy desires and temper
tantrums when it doesn’t get its way. Thus, the Devil can signify anger, especially
uncontrollable anger. Also, the greedy inner child tends to value only the material, ignoring
philosophical or spiritual considerations. For this reason, this card has often been
interpreted as materialism.

It’s important to note that the more one works at repressing the Devil’s energy, the stronger
and more uncontrollable that energy will grow. One example of this could be seen in
Victorian England, where repression of sexuality often resulted in obsession with sexuality.
The best antidote for the Devil card is a card we have already seen, the Strength card, where
the woman befriends her ravenous inner tiger and develops a relationship with it. Without
this symbiotic relationship, she would soon find herself within the tiger’s jaws.

We don’t need to look at the Devil, or rather the psychological truth which he represents, as
an inherently frightening thing. We need this hidden and difficult-to-deal-with part of our
personality for survival and for strength. He is, after all, a part of us, and he will serve us
well if we treat him gently but keep him on a short leash. He only becomes frightening
when we try to deny his reality, thus giving him more power than is good for him.

The Devil may also suggest a retreating from personal responsibility, as when we say “the
Devil made me do it.”

Hebrew Letter

Ayin means Eye. Focusing on the materialism interpretation, usually the visual perception
of material things is what instigates the desire to own them. Or, to be more precise, the
visual perception of other people owning these things sets us to wanting them for our own.
The Hebrew letter also brings to mind Sauron, the arch-villain of The Lord of the Rings,
who is only ever seen in the novels and films as a giant eye.

Astrology

Capricorn, the sign of materialism.


XVI Tower

Tower in brief

A sudden revelation of the inadequacy of our thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, and


worldviews. Creative inspiration. Realization of a new way to solve a problem.

Tower in depth

Traditionally in the tarot, the Tower card always meant calamity and destruction. This
interpretation is confirmed by the usual image of two people falling through the air, head
first, from a lightning-blasted tower. In the Tarot of Dreams the hapless victims are
absent, which is one indication that we need to take a deeper look at this dramatic card.

At this stage of his voyage, the Fool has seemingly reached rock bottom in the Devil card.
By following certain clues on that card we can deduce that the Fool will eventually free
himself of the traps which his inner Devil has set for him. It would seem this should be a
cause for rejoicing, and one would expect that the next card in the sequence would be a
happy, celebratory image. But as it turns out, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for
our poor, beleaguered Fool. Instead of a celebration, he’s presented with a lightning storm,
and flames licking the rooftops.

In the previous cards, machinery and architecture have been used to symbolize the complex
structures created by our conscious minds or egos. On this card, the tendency of these
structures to feed on themselves and grow ever more complicated is taken to its logical
conclusion: a towering edifice which looms over the landscape, dwarfing trees and other
natural elements. Likewise, our minds often create ever more intricate rationalizations and
justifications which in the end entrap us quite as much as the Devil does with his desires
and ambitions.

On the largest dome, we can see a repeating heart-shaped design. These hearts symbolize
both positive and negative emotions. We often distinguish between thoughts and emotions
(and in fact they are seen as two different categories for the purposes of the Minor Arcana),
but in actuality many of our emotions are based on assumptions made by our intellect.

The tower is built of gold, which shows how materialistic and acquisitive our conscious
minds are. It also shows how the mind tends to value itself above all else, thinking of itself
as being not only the highest value but the only value. The tower seems secure, just as our
thoughts and our attitudes seem rock solid to us. In fact they may be built on very shaky
assumptions indeed. They are the result of years and years of calcification, which can only
be penetrated by intense self-examination – or by a flash of inspiration.
And that is what this card is really about: a lightning flash of revelation, in which the true
nature of our thoughts, attitudes, and worldviews is seen for what it is, a poor construct of
the mind based on faulty assumptions. The old interpretation of calamity is still valid,
because emotionally, this kind of awakening can feel like quite the disaster, as we watch
our cherished assumptions, attitudes, prejudices, and biases go up in flames. Like the Death
card, the Tower is about change, although rather than the gradual evolution suggested by
the Death card, the Tower brings us change all at once, whether we’re ready or not – and
usually we’re not. For this reason, the card can be seen as ultimately a positive one. The
mental structures, now that they are seen for what they are, are no longer useful to us and
must be abandoned, and a clearer, more sophisticated worldview will take their place. Still,
the ripping away of one’s veils of ignorance could never be considered a pleasant
experience.

In a reading, the Tower doesn’t have to mean a total change of worldview, although of
course it may. Like all the cards, it can be seen on several levels. It might just mean that the
querent suddenly sees the error of their ways in one particular subject (how they relate to a
specific person, for example).

Another valid interpretation would be a flash of inspiration. This meaning fits well with the
above interpretation, because usually creative inspiration connotes something radically and
excitingly different, as in the case of an artist who paints a scene in a way which no one has
quite done before. In this interpretation, as in the previous one, the status quo is ripped
away in order to allow for a new perspective. And, of course, the inspiration needn’t be
only artistic. You may have a sudden realization of a new way to handle a problem at work
or a difficulty in communicating with someone – in other words, the proverbial light bulb
over the head.

The shaft of sunlight which beams down across the card gives us cause for optimism and
prefigures the Major Arcana card XVIII (Sun).

Hebrew Letter

Peh means Mouth. One function of a mouth is for speech. Speech and communication are
some of the ways we get so tangled up in our own cleverness that we start to topple over.
One is reminded of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which the united peoples of
Earth, who all spoke a common language, began building a tower that would eventually
reach the heavens, until God caused them to suddenly begin speaking in different
languages, causing confusion and chaos, so that the project was abandoned.

Astrology

Mars, the planet of rage, conflict and war, which all serve to break down the status quo.
XVII Star

Star in brief

Calmness. A meditative state, quieting the mind so that one may gain clarity of perception.
Hope. Seeing clearly the next appropriate step.

Star in depth

After the frying pan of the Devil and the fire of the Tower, the Fool at this point surely
deserves some comfort, and in the Star he gets it. A gentle, quiet and serene picture: a nude
woman pouring water from two pitchers. In the traditional image, water flows from one
pitcher into a stream and from another pitcher onto the land on which the woman kneels.
On the Tarot of Dreams card, the woman instead hovers over a boundless body of water,
and rainbow streams emerge from her pitchers.

One can glean much about this card by simply immersing oneself in it. Imagine yourself
floating at night under a starry sky, above the ocean. Before you, a beautiful woman
gradually fades into view. Stars sparkle like fireflies around her, on her forehead, and in her
hair. The waves are calm, and the rainbow streams converge to form a shining star. How
does this picture make you feel?

This card, more than any other in the deck, has a quality of timelessness which serves to
quiet the mind. It could suggest a meditative state, or simply the peaceful feeling that comes
after a huge upheaval (such as that pictured on the previous card, the Tower). The cool,
crisp air, the starlight, and the transparent pitchers suggest clarity and clear-headedness.
These are crucial concepts, because it’s important to understand that the atmosphere evoked
by the Star isn’t one of fantasy or escapism, but rather a cool-headed alertness and
aliveness. If you’ve ever meditated, you know that after you’re done, your mind feels calm,
at rest, yet clear, with your perceptions sharpened. For at least a little while, your mind has
shed both its grandiose daydreams and its irrational fears and insecurities, and instead is
able to look at life as it is.

This kind of clear perception is necessary for the meaning which most readers give this
card, which is hope. The kind of hope addressed on this card is a realistic hope, where your
calm state of mind and your clear vision are able to discern possibilities available to you,
possibilities which are difficult to spot amid the mind’s usual fog and chatter. It’s
interesting to note that the woman’s pitchers are adorned with flower designs, which gives
an earthy, practical element to this light and airy card. But “realistic” doesn’t mean we
should only hope for small things. If your hope is to become a rock star, this might be a
very realistic goal indeed – if you have the talent, temperament and self-discipline for it. The
Star card encourages you to take the next logical step, for example signing up for music
lessons, rather than simply daydreaming about who you’ll thank at the Grammys.

The energy represented by this image, for all its timelessness, gives us what we need –
clarity, calmness and hope – in order to be able to take the next step toward our goals. This
inspiration is often felt as a kind of grace, as if we had been touched by an angel’s feather –
or by a rainbow stream from a Star-woman’s pitcher.

Hebrew Letter

Tzaddi means Fish-hook. An angler must maintain a quiet demeanor when he casts his line,
so that he doesn’t scare away the fish.

Astrology

Aquarius, the sign of unconventional thinking, which enables you to perceive options and
opportunities not usually discernible.
XVIII Moon

Moon in brief

Creative gestation. Changes, cycles, evolution. Illusion.

Moon in depth

The 17th through 19th cards in the Major Arcana sequence form an obvious progression –
Star, Moon and Sun, all astronomical objects, from smallest to largest and from weakest to
brightest, when seen from the Earth. This sequence suggests that the Fool is nearing the
end of his voyage, and that the focus is shifting away from mundane affairs and
psychological verities to a more cosmological viewpoint.

In the Moon, as in the previous card, a timeless mood is evoked, but with a very different
flavor than that of the Star. Towards the beginning of the sequence, in the Empress, a regal
female figure displays her infant child, the product of her womb. Now, in the Moon, we’ve
been transported into the womb itself, a fetus’s-eye-view, so to speak. Before anything can
be born, whether it be a living thing or a concept, it must undergo a period of gestation
before it can be birthed into the light of day. By definition, gestation must occur in a dark
place, hidden away from conscious awareness or interference. The Moon shows a deeper
part of the psyche than we’ve seen in the Priestess and Hanging Man cards. Creation,
whether physical or conceptual, cannot rely solely on the intellect, but must also draw on
subconscious, instinctual energies in order to attain true life. A work of art produced only
by the conscious mind will be an arid and bloodless creation.

But if one’s waking mind were indeed to be suddenly transported to this cool, dark place,
imagine how uneasy that mind would be. The Moon card is a place of mysterious changes,
slow evolutions, unfathomable cycles, and tectonic shifts in perception. The conscious
mind is worse than useless here. In fact, for our waking mind, the Moon can be a terrifying
place, the home of disquieting dreams and nightmares. Thus, in a reading, besides
suggesting creative gestation, the Moon card could also suggest a general feeling of
uneasiness and difficulty in distinguishing truth from illusion.

On the card, the mountain stream, like other bodies of water in the tarot, represents the
depths of the subconscious. The stream is active, crashing over rocks, because in this card,
unlike others which show water, we aren’t looking at the smooth, unruffled surface of the
subconscious, but instead are plunged into the roiling depths.

The dog and the wolf stare at us from the card. The wolf’s gaze is baleful, the dog’s kindly.
These animals symbolize the different ways we relate to the subconscious. As we saw on
the Strength and Devil cards, at times the subconscious manifests in our lives as a wild,
uncontrollable thing, but at other times it enters our lives as an energy which can be tamed
and used to help further our goals. The animals watch us expectantly, as if asking us how
we will react to them, which will in turn determine whether it will be the wild wolf or tame
dog which will leap at us from out of the card.

The moon itself could suggest many things. One might see it as the luminous self which
shines from within, and which cloaks itself with the dreams, visions, and intuitions that
reach out to us from the subconscious. As we saw in the Priestess card, we cannot see this
self if we look at it directly. Thus, a huge lens has been erected between two columns. This
lens allows our conscious minds to have some awareness of the inner self. In a sense, this
lens is a graphical representation of the “valve” between conscious and subconscious which
the Priestess symbolizes. But remember, what we see in the lens is not an accurate image of
the self, but simply something constructed by our conscious minds to give us a rough
approximation or a guess as to how the inner self would appear. Because of the limitations
of our conscious minds, this is the most we can expect to perceive of the elusive, and
illusive, inner self. According to Buddhist philosophy, it is the “finger pointing at the
moon,” in other words a device which helps us to perceive the unperceivable, as long as we
remember that what we are observing is the finger, or in this case the lens, and not the
moon itself.

However, even an image or a rough approximation or a guess can have a profound impact
on our lives. Thus we see the bats which originate on the far side of the lens and seem to
fly toward us across the barrier of glass as if it were air.

On older decks, the Moon card usually includes a crab or lobster or crayfish struggling out
of the water. The Tarot of Dreams image drives home the idea that you are the crustacean.
After having your pretensions and assumptions ripped away by the Tower and Devil cards,
you have become a small, vulnerable, primordial creature which must struggle out of the
waters of the collective unconscious and build a new self-identity. Guarding the way are the
dog and the wolf. You must somehow, in your devolved state, approach them in just the
right manner in order to be allowed to continue on your way. Then, like a salmon, you must
navigate the waterfall and swim upstream so that you may finally find your way back to the
sunlight. If you succeed, just imagine what insights and creative inspirations you’ll bring
back from the Moon.

Hebrew Letter

Qoph means Back of the Head. “Back of the head” can clearly be taken as a metaphor for
the subconscious.

Astrology
Pisces, the sign of transcending ordinary reality.
XIX Sun

Sun in brief

Awareness, consciousness, reason, order. Confidence, optimism. Intelligence.

Sun in depth

After the disruption of the Tower, the enslavement to the Devil, and the uneasiness of the
Moon, the Fool finally emerges into the Sun. He has undergone the dismantlement of his
personality, and by virtue of his recuperation in the Star scene and his struggle through the
Moon landscape, he has constructed a new personality, one which is more sophisticated,
more reflective of his inner self, and more effective. The inner self, which in the past
appeared to him as a dimly-perceived moon, now glows with the incandescent power of a
sun.

On the card we see a bright, powerful figure suggestive of Apollo, the god associated in
later Greek myths with the sun (in early Greek myths, the sun-god was Helios).
Significantly, Apollo was thought to represent, among other things, light, healing, order,
and reason. Thus this card signifies the ultimate flowering of consciousness, in sharp
contrast to the Moon, which illuminates the depths of the subconscious. But the awareness
and intellectualism shown in the Sun is quite different than the mental machinations and
justifications which have been represented in previous cards by machinery and architecture.
Now, those mental constructs are seen for what they are, only artifices built by our ego
upon shallow sands, and easily collapsed by circumstances or inner doubts, as we saw in
the Tower. The order and reason shown in the Sun are built upon the hard-won,
unshakeable connection between the Fool’s conscious mind and his inner self which he
forged by virtue of his experiences in the previous cards.

This new, more structurally sound awareness gives the Fool a deep-rooted confidence and
optimism which contrasts strikingly with the paper-thin arrogance he displayed in the
Chariot. In that card, the Fool acted as if he could juggle planets. In the Sun, he really can.
The image of the sun god juggling planets suggests that although on one level the universe
is governed by physical laws, on a deeper level the universe’s motivating forces are actually
our own attitudes and actions.

The planets which the sun god juggles can be identified as follows, counterclockwise from
the ringed planet at the bottom right: Saturn, Mercury, Neptune, Uranus (held aloft), Pluto,
Jupiter (with single ring), Mars, Earth, and Venus. The two crescent-shaped bodies are
moons.

Below the sun god, we see a sundial. The ability to tell time can be taken in a wider sense to
suggest the ability to orient oneself in time and space, and has often been used as a symbol
of capability and intelligence, as, for example, in the 1939 Rodgers and Hart song “I Didn’t
Know What Time It Was,” whose last line is:

I’m wise
And I know what time it is now.

Hebrew Letter

Resh means Front of the Head (or Face). Things which face the back of the head are hidden
and out of sight. Things which face the front of the head, i.e. the face, are in full view and
we can be fully aware of them. While the Moon is esoteric (available only to the initiated),
the Sun is knowledge and awareness available to all.

Astrology

The Sun, planet of self-esteem and self-integration.


XX Judgement

Judgement in brief

The gaining of a higher or wider perspective. Seeing oneself as part of a larger whole rather
than as an isolated individual. Heeding a call to follow a path or take an action.

Judgement in depth

The Fool might reasonably have thought that his voyage through the tarot trumps had
ended upon attaining new awareness and confidence in the Sun. But there are two more
cards to go. The deeper and stronger consciousness must now be broadened to encompass
more than simply individual concerns. Simply put, the Judgement card shows the Fool’s
awareness undergoing this broadening process; and in the World card, the Fool abides in
the boundless enlightenment that results.

Older decks show an angel blowing a trumpet while resurrected corpses emerge from their
coffins, a scene right out of Christian iconology. This refers to the Resurrection and Last
Judgment, when the souls of the dead will be reunited with their physical bodies prior to
receiving their final disposition in Heaven or Hell. In the Tarot of Dreams card we still see
an angel, but here she represents the Fool’s inner self, who is after all only a part of the
awareness or motivating force of the universe. Usually we think of ourselves as individuals
with no connection to the world around us. On the Judgement card, the angel calls on us to
widen our perspective and to awaken to our existence as a part of all that is. We are called
upon to identify ourselves with the universe as a whole rather than as a solitary ego.

On the card, the angel stares out at us expectantly, with infinite wisdom and patience.
Beneath her, two golden men hold up a golden hoop, through which we see the progressive
stages of a woman’s ascension. The circle as a transformative symbol is seen on several
previous cards: Fool, Magician, Priestess, Priest, Lovers, Strength, Wheel, Temperance,
Devil, Moon, and Sun. On the Judgement card, the circle is seen in its ultimate incarnation.
Passing through it, we finally cross the boundaries of our egos to join the world
consciousness which awaits.

The four female figures show a progression of awareness. At the lowest position, the
woman floats (you can see by the position of her feet that she isn’t standing on anything),
and her attention is directed downward. At the middle positions, she feels herself being
tugged upward and through the transformative hoop. Finally, she passes through the
transformative circle, ready to face the purifying fire of universal awareness.

In the tarot, gender is often used as a symbol, and it can be instructive to consider the
gender of the figures on each card, as long as we remember that those genders are meant to
be thought of in a symbolic sense only, and do not refer to anyone’s actual gender. On the
Judgement card, the two male figures might signify the same kind of reason, order and
intellectual harmony which we saw on the Sun card. This solar reason acts to channel the
lunar, subconscious energy of our inner selves (the female figures), in order to bring it into
a more cosmic awareness. Thus what we see is essentially an energy diagram, one which
shows a pleasing symbiosis between the yang or solar energy and the yin or lunar energy.
Each needs the other; neither can attain the goal without the other.

In a reading, as with the other cards, we must often bring the cosmological or spiritual
implications down to earth in order to relate them to a querent’s situation. The Judgement
card can simply refer to gaining a wider or higher perspective, or heeding a call to follow a
particular path or take a particular action.

Hebrew Letter

Shin means Tooth. As the shedding of baby teeth and the growing of adult teeth signals a
new phase of maturity, so the Judgement card initiates us into a new phase of awareness.

Astrology

Pluto, the planet of transformation and regeneration.


XXI World

World in brief

Enlightenment. Attainment. Completion – but at the same time, a new beginning. Seeing
things as they really are. Chopping wood, carrying water. Something which had seemed
silly, but now is seen as profound. Being inured to life’s inequities. Dancing on your
limitations.

World in depth

Here the Fool finally reaches journey’s end. The state of ultimate enlightenment which he
has now attained is of course unimaginable for us mortals. It can, however, serve as a
symbol for the accomplishment and awareness which we do experience in our lives, albeit
fleetingly. As the final card in the sequence, it naturally signifies endings and completions.

We see the Fool in the same position he was in on card number 0. What had seemed then to
be ridiculous posturing can now be seen in a different light. With a flourish, the stage
magician reveals, to our surprise and wonder, those miracles which had seemed on card 0
to be empty promises. The potential for fulfillment was of course present from the very
beginning, but without the experiences of the intervening cards, we were unable to see it.
And it was those very experiences which have now enabled the Fool to produce the
proverbial rabbit from out of the hat. The Earth, which the Fool had held in his hand,
encased in a crystal globe, has grown huge and now holds the Fool within it, and is itself
held secure by the golden frame.

In the four corners of the card we see the four elements: fire, earth (symbolized by a tree
which grows from the earth), water, and air. These are the same four elements which are
symbolized by the wand, coin, cup, and sword which appear on the Magician card, and
which comprise the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Here we see the reality behind the
symbols, or the symbols translated into their real-life counterparts. In the World card, our
vision is so all-encompassing that we no longer need the symbols. Instead, we see things as
they really are.

The inclusion of the elements also suggests that ultimate enlightenment does not mean that
we will be literally pulled into the sky (like the woman on the Judgement card), nor will
those around us see us simply vanish. Instead, enlightenment brings us back into everyday
reality. We are as we were, only with some kind of indescribable, subtle difference. Or, as
the Zen proverb (with an oddly Yiddish inflection) has it:

Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.


After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
The many transformative circles which we’ve seen on previous cards are echoed once more
on this final card by the Earth itself. Here is another indication that enlightenment does not
carry us to some cloud-covered Olympus, but instead simply returns us to daily, or earthly,
life. Yet at the same time it reminds us of the vision of the Judgement card, which
encouraged us to enlarge our meaning of “self” beyond the individual to encompass the
universal.

Most decks show the World as a nude woman dancing within an oval-shaped wreath, with
symbols of the four Evangelists in the four corners of the card. There is, however, a
precedent for showing something other than the standard image of a dancing woman. In the
oldest extant cards, a floating city is shown inside a circle which is held aloft by two male
cherubs. Early versions of the Tarot de Marseille pattern show the traditional wreath and
Evangelical symbols, but clearly show a man (probably Jesus) rather than a woman.
Placing the Fool on the World card seems a natural stage in the tarot’s evolution, especially
given the modern tendency to see the Major Arcana as a sequential voyage or journey of
conscious undertaken by the Fool.

The Fool is surrounded by an intricate metal frame. One who has truly reached
enlightenment is often seen as somehow protected or inured against the slings and arrows
of outrageous fortune. The winds may blow, the fire may blaze, but the sage rests secure in
his knowledge that his innermost self is not reliant upon the physical body for its existence.

While the metallic frame protects the Fool (and the Earth), it can also be seen as a limiting
agent which restricts him. Part of being enlightened is the knowledge that one cannot do
everything. The truly enlightened person does what they can within the confines that life
hands them. Author Mary K. Greer refers to this as “dancing on your limitations.”

The circular form can suggest an egg, thus leading us to the implication that the Fool,
having attained limitless enlightenment, is at the same time merely an embryo, and will
eventually hatch, thus beginning the journey again on the Fool card. In this way the voyage
never really ends, but rather spirals ever onward and outward, through successive stages of
existence and awareness, just as the circular frame never ends but rather continues around
and around. The circle also suggests the Fool’s signature numeral, 0, which, as we now
see, symbolizes nothing, and, simultaneously, the potential for everything.

Hebrew Letter

Tau means Signature (or Seal). The universe bestows its diploma – signed, sealed and
delivered.

Astrology
Saturn, the planet of restriction.
INTRODUCTION TO THE MINOR ARCANA

As noted in the Introduction to the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana consists of 56
numbered cards in four suits of 14 cards each. The 14 cards in each suit are Ace through
Ten, followed by four Court or Royalty cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King).

Unlike the Majors, which each represent a complex of mythological, psychological and
spiritual associations and profundities, the Minors give us an opportunity to examine the
mundane, down-to-earth realities which comprise our daily life. If the Majors are
comparable to vast sagas with limitless depths, like Homer’s epics, the Minors would be
more like a simple clay bowl or jar found in an ancient Greek home. The Majors show
macrocosms; the Minors, microcosms. In readings, which usually include both Majors and
Minors, the Minors help humanize the Major concepts and bring them down to a level
where we can more easily explore them and identify with them. Put another way, the Minor
cards are how we generally experience the profundities of the Majors. The Minors, though,
contain their own profundities, and have their own stories to tell. In fact, playing card
readers are able to give satisfying readings without using Majors at all.

The Numbered Minors

The 40 numbered cards (Ace through Ten) show us the objects, the passing thoughts and
feelings, and the situations we frequently encounter in our daily lives. Each card illustrates a
basic energy, which may be experienced in several ways. The Six of Wands, for example,
shows a victorious battle leader. We might see ourselves as the leader, or perhaps as one of
the unseen followers who pay him homage. Or the leader may represent someone we
know, who has gained an advantage or a victory – perhaps at our expense. We might even
identify ourselves with the crystal-topped wand he brandishes like a scepter; in this case,
perhaps someone has used us as a tool to advance their own interests.

The four suits of the tarot are Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins, based on the traditional
Italian suits of the first tarot decks (Batons, Cups, Swords and Coins), which in turn were
based on the suits of Arabic playing card decks called Mamlûk decks (Polo-sticks, Cups,
Scimitars and Coins). In modern tarot traditions, each suit covers an area of life, while each
number within that suit represents a particular stage in a cycle of that area of life. Since the
19th century, the areas of life assigned to the suits have been based on the correlation of the
suits with the four ancient elements, as follows:

Wands = Fire
Cups = Water
Swords = Air
Coins = Earth

There have been authors who use different suit-element attributions, but this set of
attributions is the most common and was used by the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Thus, the suit of Wands represents fiery energy and the spirit of endeavor; the suit of Cups
represents watery emotions and intuitions; the suit of Swords represents airy thought; and
the suit of Coins (called Pentacles in some decks) represents earthy material reality.

The sequence of Ace through Ten in each suit can be seen as a complete cycle in that area
of life, from its beginnings as an idea (Ace) to its ultimate conclusion (Ten). Seen in this
way, no card represents a final and unchanging state of affairs, but rather simply a stage in
the cycle or a step on the journey. Even the Tens, representing completion or conclusion,
are simply a way station on the way to the birth of a new cycle in the Ace.

Having assigned meanings to the suits and to the numbers, we now see that we can begin
to interpret the cards by combining the suit meaning with the number meaning: we are
experiencing THIS energy (number) in THIS area of life (suit). Some tarot readers can give
fully developed readings using this method, as, for example, when they read with decks
whose numbered Minors contain only suit symbols (i.e., five cups) rather than an
illustrated scene, or when they read with playing cards.

The founders of the Golden Dawn, however, added another layer of symbolism: the
astrological Decans, in which the Two through Ten cards of each suit are assigned a planet
and a sign each. The Eight of Wands, for example, is assigned Mercury in Sagittarius. In
his book Mystical Origins of the Tarot, Paul Huson presents convincing evidence that the
Golden Dawn incorporated Decan interpretations from Picatrix, a book of astrological
magic dating from the 14th century or earlier. In Picatrix, each Decan is assigned a
talismanic image, and each image is given an idiosyncratic interpretation. In a rather bizarre
mixture, the Golden Dawn combined these ancient interpretations of the Decans with
numerological meanings derived from the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and with fortune-telling
meanings created for playing cards and tarot cards by Etteilla, a French cartomancer, to
synthesize a set of divinatory meanings for the numbered Minors. A.E. Waite drew from
this set of meanings when he directed Pamela Colman Smith in the design of the Rider-
Waite-Smith Tarot Deck in 1910 (previous to the RWS deck, most decks lacked scenes on
the numbered Minors).

Thus, if you find yourself wondering how the sign-planet combination for a particular card
results in that card’s illustration, the answer lies in the added factors of the Etteilla fortune-
telling meanings and the medieval Decan interpretations from Picatrix.

Waite’s and Smith’s evocative scenes took on a life of their own, beyond the tradition
established by the Golden Dawn, and established a standard for illustration for the
numbered Minors which continues to this day, and the Tarot of Dreams for the most part
adheres to this standard. In fact, most people read the decks which follow the RWS
standard by referencing only the illustrations, without regard to their astrological
attributions, much less the medieval Decan interpretations. Using only the pictures is of
course a perfectly valid way to read tarot, but Ciro and I have chosen to put the astrological
attributions on the numbered Minors so that the reader who is interested in astrology has
the choice to take these correlations into account when interpreting the cards. If you’re
interested in exploring how the Picatrix Decan interpretations and Etteilla’s divinatory
meanings influenced the Golden Dawn system, Huson’s book is a good resource.

The Court Cards

The Court cards are a little more difficult to deal with than the numbered Minors. What are
we to make of all these Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings? An approach more oriented
toward fortune-telling will treat these cards as representing other people in the querent’s
life, often according to physical characteristics (i.e., Coin cards are red-headed, so the King
of Coins is a red-haired man, the Queen of Coins a red-haired woman, et cetera). Currently,
in an era when we tend to read the cards with a more psychological approach, the Court
cards can be seen as aspects of our own selves, or of subpersonalities within us. Many
readers nowadays interpret the Court cards as representing both people around us and our
own selves, according to the context of the other cards and of the question.

In this book, I’ll be discussing the Court cards from three different perspectives: a) as
specific personalities; b) as stages of development; and c) as specific approaches to life and
to situations.

For the “personality” approach, we’ll uncover each Court figure’s personality by exploring
the images and traditional meanings. Keep in mind that the people shown on the cards
represent “pure” personalities, but this purity doesn’t exist in real life. Real people embody
a complex mixture of traits and characteristics. Each of us might be represented by any of
the cards in one particular context, and at the same time by any other of the cards in a
different context. For instance, I might be the King of Wands as I successfully lead a
business meeting at work, while during lunch I’m the Page of Cups as I take a childish
delight in losing myself in the science-fiction book I’m reading.

The “stages of development” approach looks at the Court ranks (Page, Knight, Queen and
King) as a sequence or hierarchy of development. The Page is seen as undeveloped and
immature; the Knight, as focused, determined, and headstrong; the Queen, as a mature and
serene “power behind the throne”; and the King as the authority figure. (I should point out
that I don’t assign significance to the genders of the figures. In other words, a woman is
just as likely as a man to be the authority figure represented by a King card, and a man is
just as likely as a woman to be the “power behind the throne” represented by a Queen
card.) In this approach, the Page of Swords could mean an idea which is still in its infancy
or which hasn’t been completely thought through.

For the “specific approaches to life and to situations” perspective, I’ve borrowed (with
permission) tarot author Mark McElroy’s categories (although not his individual card
meanings) from his Bright Idea Deck and Putting the Tarot to Work. He calls the Court
cards “Approach Cards,” and in his system, Pages are Learning, Knights are Doing,
Queens are Feeling, and Kings are Controlling. According to this approach, if you were
doing a reading about a conflict with another person, the Page of Swords could be
suggesting that you take the approach of trying to learn about that person’s mindset, where
they’re coming from, which might help defuse the conflict.

In a reading, of course, you may find yourself using any of these approaches, or, more
likely, a combination of all of them. Readings also offer an opportunity to draw connections
between different Court cards which may appear in a layout. Pages are sometimes seen as
heralds or messengers, perhaps sent to accomplish some purpose of the willful Knights,
who in turn are given directions by the Queens and Kings.

The Palace Cards

After the first edition of the Tarot of Dreams was published, Ciro created four “palace”
images, one for each of the suits. He described them as “Tarot of Dreams real estate”and
speculated on how they would appear in real estate agent listings: “Cups, prime waterfront
property. Coins, offering mountain views, and close to protected parkland. Swords, the
ultimate penthouse. Wands, glorious sunsets, in warm lush garden settings.”
“Unfortunately,” Ciro noted, “there are no vacancies at this time.”

Fortunately for us, Ciro had decided to include these four cards in this new edition of the
Tarot of Dreams, thus expanding the deck to 82 cards. There are now vacancies, it seems,
and we can explore each of the Palaces at our leisure.

I like to think of each Palace as a fifth Court card, an opportunity to give the King, Queen,
Knight, and Page a place to interact and a context in which to express themselves. In a
reading, the Palace cards indicate the energies of the suit expressed as an environment. It
could be an environment where you currently find yourself, or it could show a potential or
opportunity for you to create that environment. For example, in a spread position relating
to the future, the Palace of Swords could indicate that you will find yourself in an
environment where you’ll be intellectually challenged (and that you’ll rise to the challenge).
Alternatively, it could show that your negative attitudes in the present will cause you to find
yourself in an overly judgmental environment in the future.
If a Page, Knight, Queen, or King appear in a layout with a Palace of a different suit, it
could signify that the qualities of the Page, Knight, Queen or King are modified by the
environmental effects of the Palace’s suit.
THE MINOR ARCANA

Ace of Wands

Ace of Wands in brief

Energy. The desire to change something in our life or in our environment.

Ace of Wands in depth

A volcano erupts, tinting the sky red. Lava flows towards us across the rocky plain. A
lizard perches in the round metal hoop of creation. A crystal-topped wand glows with a
yellow light.

The Wands cards tell us a story about energy and its use. Life in general is about change,
and often when we speak of wisdom, we refer to acceptance of the transitory nature of life.
But with Wands energy, we get to turn the tables and effect our own changes on our
environment. In the Ace of Wands, we become aware of a desire to change something, and
the rest of the suit describes our efforts and experiences as we apply energy to make the
change.

The Ace of Wands may be experienced at differing levels of intensity. Sometimes, you may
get a small niggling of dissatisfaction and desire to make something in your environment
different than it is. At the other end of the spectrum, you may find yourself overwhelmed
with the desire to save the world or to run off and join the Foreign Legion. Either way, the
Ace represents an opportunity to feel this fire running through your veins, like the lava on
the card. When involved in a project or endeavor, success will often depend on your ability
to remember this primal feeling which inspired you to begin in the first place.

The lizard on the card is reminiscent of the salamander, the elemental creature of Fire. The
Wand-ish desire to effect change is suggestive of the Roman god Janus, who governs
beginnings, endings, and transitions from past to future or from one condition to another.
Two of Wands

Two of Wands in brief

Power held in reserve while evaluating options.

Two of Wands in depth

Marble steps climb into a starry sky. Two wands float against the stars, each pointing
towards a window. Through one window, we see pink-tinged clouds; through the other, a
sky tinged with blue.

The Two of Wands is a card of power, which we were given in the Ace. But the power
isn’t being used yet; instead, we hold it in reserve, weighing where it will be best put to
use. We know we want to change or create something, and we have an idea of the general
direction, but the full plan of exactly how and where we will effect the change is not yet
clear. We know we want to go forward, but have not yet chosen the pink window or the
blue. Like a branch heavy with blooms, we feel heavy with power, a power which hangs in
the balance, and we wait for the perfect moment of ripeness before we put it to use.

Astrology

Mars in Aries. The tremendous energy of Mars is in its initiatory stage in Aries.
Three of Wands

Three of Wands in brief

Waiting for the first signs of success after having taken initial action. Waiting for a return
on one’s initial investment of energy. Replaying one’s initial success and thus failing to
progress to the next level.

Three of Wands in depth

A naked man sits on a rocky promontory, watching a fabulous sailing ship which floats
among the clouds, shining with an uncanny light.

After considering possible directions in the Two of Wands, in the Three we have given
form to our desires, taken an initial action, given the first shove against the resistance of
apathy, and now wait to see what results will occur so that we can plan the next step in the
campaign. The project or endeavor is shown as a floating ship with a sun pattern on its
sails, thus illustrating the miraculous nature of Wands energy as it heroically struggles
against the complacency and inertia which drag us down. The ship could be seen as
embarking, symbolizing the project or endeavor set in motion, or alternatively as returning,
so that the man is waiting for his ship to come in, so to speak, or waiting for a return on his
initial investment of energy. The man is nude because he is sincere and honest in his
motivations.

A negative side to this card can be seen when people set something in motion and then
become obsessed with their initial success, replaying it over and over, without progressing
to the next stage. In this light the floating ship brings to mind the legend of the Flying
Dutchman, a ship which glows with a ghostly light, whose crew is doomed to sail forever
after the captain swears he will succeed in rounding the Cape of Good Hope despite any
storm. (In the legends the ship doesn’t actually fly; “flying” is used as a metaphor for
“wandering”.)

Astrology

Sun in Aries. You take charge of the situation (Sun) by taking direct action to influence
events to your liking (Aries).
Four of Wands

Four of Wands in brief

Safety, security. Taking concrete action in order to create the changes you desire.

Four of Wands in depth

As we stand in a forest, we see looming above the treetops a striking vision: four towering
wands or columns reaching to the sky, and an enormous wooden door swinging slowly
open, revealing a blinding light. Behind the columns and the door, a huge red moon hangs
in the sky.

The columns suggest sturdiness and stability, especially when we consider that there are
four of them, since the number four traditionally symbolizes solidity and security. The
doors also suggest stability, since they imply a structure which provides safety from the
elements and from attack.

All of this safety and stability is juxtaposed in the card with elements of extreme unreality.
This demonstrates that all endeavors and projects, which begin as dreams or visualizations
of change, must, at some point in their progress, begin to manifest themselves in the real
world, or else be doomed to remain as airy visions. When this card appears in a reading,
now is the time to open the door, in other words to take concrete action to create the change
you desire.

Astrology

Venus in Aries. You create an environment to your liking (Venus) in a direct and forceful
way (Aries).
Five of Wands

Five of Wands in brief

A battle or struggle. Teaming up against a common foe. Cooperative creative work. People
who are isolated from each other yet work toward common or opposing goals.

Five of Wands in depth

Against a fiery dawn sky, four male figures wield wands. In the center of the card, two
disembodied hands wield a fifth wand.

Five is typically a number of instability and also of great opportunity. The five men on the
card can most easily be seen as fighting with each other. Thus, the most obvious meaning
would be a battle or struggle.

However, there are other possibilities. The men could all be on the same side, for example,
teaming up against a common foe which surrounds them. In this case, the meaning would
be a team of allies under attack.

Another possibility is that the men aren’t fighting at all, but rather are constructing
something together. Cooperative creative manifestation would then be the emphasis.

If you look carefully, the men seem to each inhabit their own world and are not relating to
each other. In this interpretation, the card could mean several people who are working
alone, isolated from each other, who are nonetheless working toward the same goal – or
opposing goals, depending on if you see the men as cooperating or fighting.

Any of these meanings could apply, depending on the context of a specific reading.

Astrology

Saturn in Leo. The creative and self-confident Leo faces restrictions from the limiting
effects of Saturn.
Six of Wands

Six of Wands in brief

Victory.

Six of Wands in depth

A battle leader appears on a balcony, proclaiming his victory. Five wands are being held up
below him in obeisance; the sixth, held as a scepter by the leader, is the only one topped by
a glowing crystal. On his breastplate are dragons and the elemental symbol for Fire. The
dragon motif is repeated on the banners overhanging the balcony’s edge.

This is a straightforward and simple card: it means victory. Victory itself, however, is far
from straightforward and simple. The man has won his battle, but notice how his face, set
in lines of determination, already shows some of the hardness which makes us wonder
how long it will be before he starts exhibiting some of the more negative sides of the
Emperor. And how long will it be before the five lower wands, and their bearers, begin to
covet the majestic light of the crystal brandished so confidently by their leader? And we
may also notice that that crystal provides the only light in the scene. For the moment, all is
seen in the light of the battle and the victory. For a split second, the earth stands still and the
victory is the only reality. Only later will the Wheel of Fortune’s inevitable motion be felt
once again, and then the battle leader may see his fortunes change.

Astrology

Jupiter in Leo. Upon attaining long-sought goals, we feel a heady rush of pleasure and
confidence (Leo) as we receive the universe’s bounty (Jupiter).
Seven of Wands

Seven of Wands in brief

An extreme situation. The need for courage and resolve. You have the power to change
circumstances in your favor.

Seven of Wands in depth

A man wielding a wand holds off six attacking wands, whose bearers are beyond the frame
of the picture.

The protagonist of this card could be the same person as in the Six of Wands. The soldiers
who banded together to vanquish a common enemy now turn on their leader – or perhaps
he has turned on them. Either way, he now finds himself in a fight to the death with the
very forces whom he had led to victory.

When you receive this card in a reading, you are in an extreme situation. It could be because
you let things develop in the way they have, or it could be because of circumstances over
which you had no control. Courage and resolve are called for now. While the odds may
seem stacked against you, there is still a chance you can prevail. Notice on the card that the
protagonist still retains the wand with the giant yellow crystal. He is still connected with the
source of his power.

The floor on which he stands is composed of a checkerboard pattern of dark and light tiles,
representing the eternal conflict of evenly-matched forces. But directly underneath him,
there is a starburst pattern, showing that through fortuitous action and faith in ourselves, we
can change the equation in our favor.

Astrology

Mars in Leo. A proud and authoritative leader (Leo) will inevitably find that being under
attack (Mars) goes with the territory.
Eight of Wands

Eight of Wands in brief

Great energy and speed. Efficient and productive mental processes. Inspiration. A great
uprush of energy.

Eight of Wands in depth

Eight upward-pointing wands appear against a cloudy sky. The tops of the wands pierce
the clouds and emerge into space. The flight of the wands has disrupted a flock of birds,
which circles confusedly in the wands’ wake.

The Eight of Wands is a card of great energy and speed. The wands are shooting up from
the earth’s surface and attaining space flight. The energy and speed could refer to things
going on around you, but more likely they refer to your own mental processes, which at
this moment are remarkably efficient and productive. The wands are cooperating with each
other, moving in the same direction, so that they become a single entity, a fleet of wands.
Inspiration strikes, and you suddenly see the path that will take you over, around, under, or
through your obstacles. All your cylinders are clicking, and your goals appear to be within
your grasp.

As an alternative, you may be experiencing a great uprush of energy. Now is not the time to
hesitate; rather, take advantage of this newfound energy to take you closer to your desires.
Be careful, though; your energy may prove disrupting to others, as the wands have
disrupted the flock of birds.

Astrology

Mercury in Sagittarius. The far-ranging and expansive effects (Sagittarius) which are felt
when your mind is working at its peak capacity (Mercury).
Nine of Wands

Nine of Wands in brief

A great struggle nears its conclusion. Stay alert for unforeseen weaknesses. Defensiveness.

Nine of Wands in depth

Here we see a soldier, sitting on a series of steps which float in the air and ascend into the
heavens. He has removed most of his armor, but not all; although the battle is almost over,
he remains in a state of readiness, in case the situation changes and the struggle resumes.
He guards nine wands, and holds one as a weapon to warn off marauders. Behind him, the
sun begins to set in an expansive sky.

In this card, some great struggle is nearing its conclusion. The final victory is yet to be
achieved, but the goal is in sight. Now is the time to stay alert; inattention at the crucial
moment has proved the downfall of many an endeavor. Rejoice in having come so far, but
take a moment to examine the battlefield for unforeseen weaknesses. Is your desire to
achieve your goal blinding you to the one thing which could prevent you from doing so?

Or, you may be taking watchfulness to an unhealthy extreme. The situation pictured on the
card is appropriate at certain important junctures in the course of an endeavor, but you don’t
want to live this way permanently. You might drive others away, and ultimately prevent the
fulfillment of your own goals, if you make defensiveness a way of life.

Astrology

Moon in Sagittarius. Having invested so much time and energy into cultivating your
dreams (Moon), you now go to extraordinary lengths to guard and protect your cherished
goals (Sagittarius).
Ten of Wands

Ten of Wands in brief

An endeavor has progressed to the point where complications, obstacles and pressures
weigh you down. Being a slave to one’s ambitions. A project has run its course and it may
be time to progress to something new.

Ten of Wands in depth

A man kneels, head down. He bears on his back the weight of ten wands in a criss-cross
pattern. A triangle, the elemental symbol of fire, casts a yellow light.

There comes a point in every endeavor or project when it simply collapses under its own
weight. The original fire and inspiration which sparked the endeavor are all but
extinguished under the weight of the complications, obstacles, and intricacies needed to
keep the endeavor going.

In the Ten of Wands, the man seems to be overcome with despair. His ambition and vision
have brought him to an honored place. But that position, while exalted, is also quite
uncomfortable, and the pressures represented by the wands press down on him.

Alternatively, the man could be seen as bowing in obeisance to his goals, which have
become his taskmasters. He is no longer an autonomous individual, but instead has become
a slave to his ambitions.

Implied in all of this is a growing conviction that the endeavor has run its useful course and
has now become more trouble than it is worth. It may be advantageous to start thinking
about bringing this project to a close and letting something new spark your interest.

Astrology

Saturn in Sagittarius. The expansive and freedom-loving tendencies of Sagittarius are


limited by Saturn.
Page of Wands

Personality

The Page of Wands has a mischievous twinkle in her eye. The checkerboard floor and the
four columns suggest a stage set or a chessboard, indicating that she enjoys drama, whether
as an audience member or as an instigator. She is easily bored, and like to stir up the pot
wherever she can. She looks as if she has just hatched some improbable plot which will no
doubt provide her with much amusement.

Stage of Development

The Page heralds a new beginning in an endeavor or project. It is the nature of energy to
exist not as a constant but rather as cycles or waves. Thus, just when the current crisis is
over and we finally settle down to enjoy some stability, invariably a new idea will pop into
our heads and whisper seductively to us, and the cycle begins anew.

Approach

Pages are Learning. The Page of Wands suggests that you learn as much as you can about
your project or endeavor before diving into it head first.
Knight of Wands

Personality

The Knight of Wands is the essence of impetuosity. He is headstrong and impulsive. He is


single-minded; he only has room for one focus, one cause at a time. This is not to say,
however, that he will always be faithful to that particular cause. Just as the Knight of Cups
is in love with being in love, so the Knight of Wands is in love with being something or
someone’s champion, and possibly cares more about his role than whatever it is he’s
championing. Notice how he bears a standard which is blank, showing that it could just as
easily represent one cause as another.

He pursues his passions with a tremendous amount of energy, indicated by the dragon he
rides, but he has a short attention span, and we often find him abandoning one cause for
another, which he champions with just as much energy as he did the first one. Without this
intense but short-lived commitment, we probably would never rouse ourselves to
accomplish anything.

Stage of Development

A precarious stage of a project or endeavor, where we must invest our complete attention
and loyalty if we want to have a hope of succeeding.

Approach

Knights are Doing. The Knight of Wands suggests that you put your plans into action so
that they take on a greater reality than simply as daydreams.

Astrology

Two-thirds Leo, one-third Cancer. The Knight loves his flamboyant role (Leo), and he will
go to any means to protect that to which he owes allegiance (Cancer).
Queen of Wands

Personality

The Queen of Wands is a strong personality. In the picture she looks like an actress, posing
for a publicity photograph. With her proud, charismatic demeanor and intense gaze, she
challenges us to give our all in whatever field of endeavor we choose to explore. Her
costume, with its red silk, red jewels, gold headdress, and repeated motif in gold of the
elemental sign for Fire, is very dramatic, but she has the aristocratic bearing to carry it off.

The mask suggests that behind her very public face, the maintains a small part of herself
which she keeps private.

The life of an actor or actress is not an easy one and requires determination and
perseverance, qualities which are necessary if we are to see a project through to its
conclusion.

Stage of Development

Something is left on the back burner, a flame which is kept lit in the background to be
accessed in the future, allowed neither to die out nor to flame out of control.

Approach

Queens are Feeling. The Queen of Wands suggests that you pursue your goals by
following your heart. If things look bleak but your heart tells you to keep going, then keep
going. Stay loyal to your own intuitions.

Astrology

Two-thirds Aries, one-third Pisces. The Queen of Wands is able to maintain a direct and
forceful commitment to her goals (Aries) because of her belief in the validity of her
intuitions (Pisces).
King of Wands

Personality

The King of Wands makes a difference in the world. He does whatever is necessary to
change his environment into what he thinks it should be, and this includes winning others
over to his vision so they can help bring his ideals into reality. Any kind of leader, ruler, or
politician would fall into this category. The picture shows an Egyptian leader. In his gaze
we see a steely determination, and his face is set in lines that have been etched by long
experience.

Like the Queen, he has a tremendous amount of charisma; but while she uses her charisma
for self-expression, the King uses his to convince others to help him remake the world in
his own image. He has a large ego, a necessary ingredient in someone who wishes to
replace existing structures with those of his own design. This is shown by his imposing
crown, which symbolizes lines of power radiating from his mind into the world.

Stage of Development

A project or endeavor has reached a stage of peak strength and is ready to have its results
manifested in the real world.

Approach

Kings are Controlling. The King of Wands seeks to control his environment and others in
his life so that he can realize his ideals.

Astrology

Two-thirds Sagittarius, one-third Scorpio. The King of Wands uses his powerful and
intense charisma (Scorpio) to accomplish his expansive and idealistic goals (Sagittarius).
Palace of Wands

A warm environment which encourages creative inspiration and the launching of plans and
projects. The structures are built into a mountaintop, suggesting both the long climb ahead
and also the attainability of the goal. Butterflies symbolize transformation of dreams into
reality, and red roses signify passion. The structures are lit from within with the fires of the
heart. Statues portraying the Knight of Swords, symbolizing forward momentum and
focus, look down on the scene.
Ace of Cups
Ace of Cups in brief

A new emotion or relationship surfaces. The potentials and opportunities that such
emotions can bring us. A gift of goodwill in the middle of a conflict.

Ace of Cups in depth

An elaborately-designed cup is seen floating on an endless expanse of water. The cup is


composed of four golden mermaids who support the crystal bowl. A metallic ball, bearing
the elemental sign of Water, floats in the sky like a sun.

Emotions often burst into our consciousness like a bolt from the blue. In the Ace of Cups,
we are presented with a gift from the subconscious, like a cup being handed to us. The cup
may contain love, happiness, jealousy, fear, even hate. We generally can’t stop ourselves
from feeling an emotion, but we certainly have something to say about how we will act or
react, and how we see ourselves as a result of the emotion. The rest of the cards in the suit
of Cups describe these different ways of acting or reacting to the gift handed to us in the
Ace.

In a reading, the Ace of Cups tells us that we are about to experience the beginning of a
new emotion or relationship. It also stands for the potentials and opportunities that
emotional considerations can give us. If we are in conflict with someone, the Ace of Cups
tells us that good will can always prevail. We do not have to search for it; it is always there,
an inexhaustible supply, waiting for us to take up the cup of loving-kindness.

The mermaids on the cup are reminiscent of Venus, the Roman goddess of love who is
seen rising from the sea in the famous painting by Botticelli.
Two of Cups

Two of Cups in brief

The beginning of a relationship, whether love affair, friendship, or business partnership.


An equal relationship. People who are comfortable, easy and warm with each other.
Sharing.

Two of Cups in depth

Two cups float in the air, against a dramatic dawn sky. Below them, two swans meet face
to face, the curve of their necks forming a heart shape.

After receiving the cup handed to us in the Ace, we seek others with whom to share it. In
the Two of Cups, emotional energy is expressed as relationship. It could be any kind of
relationship – a love affair, a friendship, a business partnership. Every relationship has its
own cycle, and this card shows the beginning of that cycle, when both parties are still
getting to know each other. The most important thing to know about this card is that it
describes a relationship, or a phase of a relationship, in which the people consider
themselves to be equals. They feel comfortable and make no demands of each other, and
they do not take themselves or each other too seriously. Their relationship is stable, and
they feel free to express themselves and share with each other. The red base of each cup
shows the warmth and optimism of the couple, and the stars at the top of the picture remind
us of the wonder inherent in all human relationships, that together we can create what
would be impossible for one person alone.

The two cups seem to toast each other in celebration of their shared affection.

Astrology

Venus in Cancer. Your impulse to relate (Venus) tries to find a home port, a secure and
dependable focus for its attention (Cancer).
Three of Cups

Three of Cups in brief

Good times, celebrations, parties. Good fortune. Forced cheer. Too much partying.
Overindulgence.

Three of Cups in depth

Three wine-filled cups form a pyramid within a golden gazebo. Masks, golden stars, and
multi-colored strands of pearls are draped and scattered over the scene.

Good times are obviously in progress. This card symbolizes celebrations, both formal ones,
such as a wedding or a party, or informal ones, as when we treat ourselves to something
special just for the enjoyment of it or to celebrate good fortune. In this card, the sun is not
seen in the sky, but rather its warmth and optimism are ritualized in the tiles on the floor of
the gazebo, suggesting the ritualized aspects of formal celebrations (for example, the many
small rituals enacted during a wedding). The masks also suggest ritual; for a brief while, we
lay aside our cares and concerns as individuals, and wear the face of merriment (the face
mask on the left). Parties and celebrations also help us place in context the mysteries of life
(the domino mask on the right) by providing comforting social rituals to humanize such
unfathomable passages as birth, maturity, joining, and death.

The masks might also suggest a forced cheer, as when we smile so that others won’t see
our pain.

As in all the cards, the good times shown on the Three of Cups can be taken to extremes, as
when someone tries to cram as much partying into their lives as possible. Or it could
simply indicate overindulgence.

Astrology

Mercury in Cancer. The setting of a celebration allows you communicate to others


(Mercury) your feelings of well-being and rootedness (Cancer).
Four of Cups

Four of Cups in brief

Dissatisfaction. Focusing on what you lack. The desire to better your circumstances.
Inability to appreciate that which is available to you.

Four of Cups in depth

A nude man sits in a field. Three empty cups are on the ground before him, but his attention
is fixed on a wine-filled fourth cup which hovers in midair. Behind the airborne cup, the
sun is breaking through the clouds, so that the cup appears to shine with an unearthly light,
mesmerizing the man.

When this card appears in a reading, you are dissatisfied with your lot in life. Regardless of
whatever benefits you may enjoy from what you presently have, your attention is focused
on what you lack. Seen in a positive light, the card could represent the desire to better your
life or your circumstances. In a negative light, it could mean an inability to appreciate the
good things in life which are now available to you.

Astrology

Moon in Cancer. Having attained a secure and comfortable environment (Cancer), you have
an instinctual tendency (Moon) to begin looking for greener pastures.
Five of Cups

Five of Cups in brief

Disappointment and dejection, with a hint of exaggeration and self-dramatization. A


learning experience. A negative attitude.

Five of Cups in depth

A dejected woman sits against a wall, with her head in her hand. On the ground before her
are three cups, broken and in disarray. Behind her float two wine-filled cups.

In our various endeavors and adventures in life, there always comes a point when the
reality of the situation clashes with our hopes and desires. There is always a tension
between how things are and how we would like them to be, and the result is the
disappointment and desolation which we see in the Five of Cups. This effect is heightened
by our tendency to exaggerate and dramatize, so that we feel, like the woman in the picture,
as if the end of the world is at hand. In fact, such disappointments are learning experiences,
the cornerstone of emotional growth, and without them life would lack sophistication and
depth.

The three cups on the ground certainly give a gloomy impression. They are empty, and one
of the glass bowls is broken. The mermaids on the cups appear tumbled and chaotic, as
opposed to their cool orderliness on the other cards.

This woman could be the poster child for the Negative Attitude. She is so busy being
miserable that she has failed to notice the two full cups floating behind her.

Astrology

Mars in Scorpio. Like a bull in a china shop, reality stampedes across your fragile map of
reality (Mars), painfully forcing you to re-examine and redraw the map (Scorpio).
Six of Cups

Six of Cups in brief

Fond memories. Child-like simplicity and innocence. Living in the past. Avoiding a painful
reality by seeing it through rose-colored glasses.

Six of Cups in depth

We see two children, a young girl and an older boy. Before them are six cups, brimming
with flowers.

In this card, after the disappointments suffered in the Five, a measure of contentment and
pleasure is found in the quiet contemplation of happy memories. Of course, not all
childhood memories are happy, but children tend to look on the world with a simplicity and
directness which as adults we might envy. So the Six of Cups refers not only to nostalgia,
but also to applying this same child-like clarity, simplicity and innocence to our lives today.

Negatively, we may be living too much in the past, or else we may be avoiding dealing with
a painful reality by seeing it through rose-colored (or flower-filled) glasses.

Astrology

Sun in Scorpio. You have an intense longing (Scorpio) to feel once more the self-
confidence and optimism (Sun) which you felt in the past.
Seven of Cups

Seven of Cups in brief

A significant decision. Indecision. Inaction, daydreaming. Addictive behavior.

Seven of Cups in depth

Seven cups float in a rose-colored sky. Each cup holds different contents.

This card may have a few different meanings. First, it can indicate that you are facing a
myriad of choices. Each cup represents a different path, and the choice you make could
have far-reaching consequences.

Another interpretation is that you are so bedazzled with the possibilities that you are
hypnotized into indecision. Each cup is so beguiling that you cannot choose one, for fear of
shutting out the others. It is as if you were standing before a signpost, with a sign for each
of seven roads. If you do not decide which road to walk, you will stand there forever.

In yet another interpretation, the card represents inaction. You may be idly daydreaming,
letting your mind drift in pretty but empty fantasies. A certain amount of daydreaming is
healthy, but you may be using fantasy as an escape hatch to avoid the more difficult sides
of life. In extreme cases, you may be indulging in addictive behavior to avoid dealing with
things.

Finally, any of the cups’ contents can be focused on in the context of a specific question or
reading. Just as examples, the nautilus shell could mean you need to come out of your shell.
The snake could mean immortality. The crossed keys could mean a search for wisdom. The
wings could mean freedom. In folklore, ladybugs often symbolize good luck. The fruit tree
might represent abundance. The jewels can symbolize spiritual richness. All the symbols
could just as easily have entirely different meanings. Go with what your intuition tells you
for that particular reading.

Astrology

Venus in Scorpio. Venus governs preferences, and Scorpio suggests that those preferences
are rooted in deep-seated and intense feelings.
Eight of Cups

Eight of Cups in brief

Abandoning a path, and using your intuition to help determine a new path. Returning to the
source. Examining hidden aspects. Restlessness. Feeling called to abandon something.

Eight of Cups in depth

Any time we choose a path to follow, of necessity it means abandoning another path. On
the card, a figure walks away from an orderly collection of eight cups. He walks on a series
of columns which climbs into the sky and ends (or begins) on the moon.

The cups which he abandons could stand for a project, endeavor, relationship, or situation,
which began with a hunch or intuitive leap, represented by the moon. The chessboard
pattern on which the cups rest represents the conscious plan or strategy he followed and is
now abandoning. The game of chess suggests strategizing, while the squares denote the
mind’s tendency to separate experiences and observations into black and white categories.
The man is nude, indicating he has left behind the trappings of rational justifications and,
like the figure on the Star, has returned to a primal connection with his intuition.

When this card appears in a reading, it indicates that you have traveled that path as far as it
will take you, and you are now turning about and once again facing the moon, in other
words returning to the source of your intuition, so that you can be inspired anew, this time
to follow a different path.

In more general terms, the card can mean returning to the source of something, or turning
your attention to the hidden or less obvious aspects of something rather than its physical
manifestations. It can also mean simply restlessness or feeling an inexplicable call to
abandon something.

Astrology

Saturn in Pisces. Something, you’re not sure what, an ephemeral, hard-to-pin-down feeling
(Pisces), guides you to bring your current activities or preoccupations to an end (Saturn).
Nine of Cups

Nine of Cups in brief

Enjoyment of simple pleasures. Simplicity. Self-indulgence.

Nine of Cups in depth

Nine wine-filled cups surround a joyful young man. From a cornucopia spill grapes,
apples, oranges, and a loaf of bread.

Like the Three of Cups, the Nine focuses on enjoyment and good times. But while the
Three has an element of forced cheer and can suggest an overly determined partier, the Nine
is more honest and down-to-earth. This card advocates the enjoyment of simple pleasures –
fruit, bread, wine, anything which refreshes us. It could be a walk through the
neighborhood, or a trip to the movies. Don’t forget to take time out and do things you
enjoy, for no other reason than that you enjoy them.

The card could also mean simplicity. Are you making things too complicated? Focus on
the essentials.

Again, like the Three, this card can be taken to extremes of self-indulgence.

From the abundance of grapes on the card, and the crown of laurel leaves, we can surely
identify the young man as Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, civilization and agriculture.

Astrology

Jupiter in Pisces. Pisces allows us to glimpse deeper realities behind the simple abundance
we receive from Jupiter.
Ten of Cups

Ten of Cups in brief

Peak emotional fulfillment. A happy family life (whether a biological family or simply a
group of friends). Happy family occasions or interactions. Pleasant home activities. Having
too high expectations. Wishful thinking.

Ten of Cups in depth

Ten cups line a path made of flagstones. They lead to a door which is swinging open. The
image of a joyous family glows in the doorway, filling the card with a warm light. A
friendly dog greets us on the path.

In this card we find the experience of peak emotional fulfillment – a happy family life. Of
course, it need not be a biological family. Whenever we form lasting bonds of friendship
and love with others, we forge another link in the daisy chain of human solidarity,
stretching from the distant past to the distant future. No matter what wars or prejudices may
divide us, in the end we are all human. We are all one family. Thus, forming emotional ties
to others is, in a way, a sacred act.

In a reading, this card could simply mean happy family occasions or interactions, or
pleasant occurrences related to the home.

The image on the card can also be seen as a somewhat idealized one. Perhaps you’re setting
your expectations too high, or indulging in wishful thinking. Family life can be messy as
well as joyous, and you will probably be better off if you have realistic expectations rather
than assuming everything will always be rosy.

The dog serves a similar purpose as the kitten on the Fool. He brings us down to earth, and
reminds us that no matter how much we plot and plan and assume and categorize, real life
is always more varied, more intense, and more alive than we can possibly imagine it.

Astrology

Mars in Pisces. The drive to establish one’s domain or territory (Mars) is tempered by
compassion and an awareness of a higher reality (Pisces) underlying everyday family
events.
Page of Cups

Personality

The Page of Cups is a young woman who is sensitive to emotional and intuitional
undercurrents. Although she is too inexperienced to grasp the full meaning of these
undercurrents or to put them to practical use, she can perceive that something is there. Thus
in the picture she floats underwater but still near the surface. Her hat acts as a sort of
antenna or sensing organ which allows her to pick up on vibrations which others might
miss. Likewise, the cups seen on the other Cups cards have here evolved into columns,
conveying psychic messages from the water’s depths to the surface. These messages can
sometimes be disturbing, but the Page, while vulnerable, faces them with bravery.

Stage of Development

The Page augurs beginnings in emotional matters. A new relationship, or a new phase of a
relationship, is often indicated.

Approach

Pages are Learning. The Page of Cups is suggesting that you remain open to the possibility
of learning something from an emotional experience. If an emotional situation seems
hopeless, try approaching it with the heart of a child. Be flexible and see if you can learn a
new way of relating.
Knight of Cups

Personality

While the Page floats near the surface, the Knight plunges straight into the depths. A figure
of fantasy, he rides a seahorse, and on his shield he bears the Cup motif. He is a champion
of love. He lives and dies for love. He is in love with love. Many think this Knight would
be the perfect lover, but a steady diet of his romanticism would probably become tiresome
after a while. Nonetheless, without his energy the world would be a dull place indeed.

Stage of Development

The Knight of Cups represents a stage when one’s focus is on emotional matters. Care
must be taken that this focus does not turn into obsession.

Approach

Knights are Doing. The Knight of Cups recommends that you take emotional matters into
your own hands. All too often we find ourselves paralyzed in relationships, indecisive and
incapable of responding. The Knight tells us to dive into the deep end of the pool.

Astrology

Two-thirds Scorpio, one-third Libra. The Knight of Cups appreciates the beauty of his
beloved (Libra), which he worships with an extravagant intensity (Scorpio).
Queen of Cups

Personality

The Queen of Cups is a creature of pure emotion. A water nymph, her gold dress suggests
fish scales and her headdress a clamshell. Unlike the Page, Knight and King, who all
maintain some connection to the surface, the Queen lives entirely in the depths, pacing the
ocean’s floor. Everyone knows someone like this, who is completely non-rational in their
thinking, and who sees things only in emotional terms. She is attended by dolphins, who,
as creatures who live both above and below the water’s surface, are able to relay the
Queen’s messages to those who live in air.

She wears as a pendant the sign of Pisces, a dreamy, watery, non-rational sign.

Stage of Development

The Queen of Cups indicates a period when an emotional matter has become so entrenched
that it takes on a life of its own and must be dealt with on its own terms.

Approach

Queens are Feeling. Cups is the suit of feeling, and thus the Queen of Cups is doubly
emotional. While the Knight of Cups is focused on feeling, the Queen is completely
immersed in it, and therefore is somewhat mysterious to the rest of us. Because the Queen
inhabits the realms of emotion, she is not thrown or startled by feelings the way most of us
are. She calmly takes them in her stride and rides them like currents or waves to help her
get to where she wants to go. The Queen suggests that for the moment, we forget about
rational plans and analyses and instead live with our hearts instead of our heads.

Astrology

Two-thirds Cancer, one-third Gemini. The Queen of Cups thinks (Gemini) only in
emotional terms (Cancer).
King of Cups

Personality

Unlike the other Cup Courts, the King must live both below and above the water’s surface.
In the picture, he seems to be emerging from the waves, yet we can still see the water’s
surface above him. It is his job to take the feelings and intuitions received from the depths
through the columns behind him, and translate them into actions in the real world. He acts
as a mediator or a counselor in emotional matters. His extraordinary ability to empathize
with those who come to him, and to place himself in their shoes, makes him an invaluable
member of society. Unlike the other Kings, the King of Cups wears a circlet but no crown,
because he emotionally identifies with those he seeks to help.

He stares intently at a single empty cup. He knows that we can have all the emotional
fantasies we want, but unless we take concrete actions and encourage others to do the same,
those fantasies will never emerge into the real world and will never become part of our lives
in a significant way.

Stage of Development

An emotional matter has reached a stage where it is ready to manifest itself as a relationship
or a stage in a relationship. You are ready to communicate something that you feel. You are
mature enough to counsel or help mediate others.

Approach

Kings are Controlling. The King of Cups suggests you take charge of your emotional life.
Don’t be afraid to communicate your feelings or to offer advice to others in need.

Astrology

Two-thirds Pisces, one-third Aquarius. The King has a full understanding of the non-
rational and non-linear patterns of emotional life (Pisces), yet desires to use this
understanding to help society in general (Aquarius).
Palace of Cups

A cool, serene environment where subtle moods can be explored. The plants on the sea
floor represent mysterious processes in our subconscious which can only be revealed in
quiet and gentle circumstances, in the light of the soft, eerie, bioluminescent glow from
within the structures. The jellyfish indicate messages and dreams which slowly rise from
the ocean’s depths. Knights of Cups stand guard to protect the vulnerable, delicately-
formed flora and fauna.
Ace of Swords

Ace of Swords in brief

A new idea or inspiration. An “aha!” moment which brings tremendous opportunities.

Ace of Swords in depth

Here we see a composite figure – a woman who is also a sword. She brings to mind
Minerva, the Roman goddess of reason and wisdom. Minerva was well-known for her
clear-sightedness and fairness, as is indicated by the sun gleaming through the sword. The
wings represent the freedom of pure thought, as does the elemental glyph of air. No matter
how weighted down we may be by heavy emotions or confining circumstances, we are
always free to let our thoughts soar. However, Minerva was also known as a goddess of
battle, and this is reflected in the combative and uncomfortable mood of several of the cards
in the Swords suit.

In a reading, the Ace of Swords suggests a new idea, an inspiration that strikes us out of
the blue, an “aha!” moment which suddenly lights the way to a new and revolutionary
understanding of our world and what path to take in it. As an Ace, it betokens tremendous
opportunity for change and growth.
Two of Swords

Two of Swords in brief

Taking a new idea and comparing and contrasting it with other ideas or contexts in order to
determine its validity. Overanalyzing or overintellectualizing a situation. Blinding oneself to
that which is truly important.

Two of Swords in depth

A woman stands blindfolded, grasping a sword in either hand. Behind her, the sun beams
out from behind the clouds that partially obscure it.

In this card, the idea which we received in the Ace is compared and contrasted with
competing ideas and contexts. The woman weighs two ideas, having blindfolded herself so
that she can more readily determine the subtle differences between them without distraction.
In Buddhist philosophy, clouds are often used as symbols of the mind obscured (or
clouded) by self-perpetuating thoughts. As we take an idea and weigh it against other ideas
in order to test its validity, we also run the risk of overanalyzing the idea and rationalizing it
to death before it has a chance to grow and flourish.

When this card appears in a reading, you are at a turning point. You are balanced on the
razor’s edge – you might find just the right combination of factors to allow the idea to go
forward, or you might go a bit too far and overintellectualize the situation so that the mental
clouds overcome the clarity of the original idea.

Another danger is that the woman’s blindfold, originally donned in order to concentrate her
mind on the matter at hand without distraction, can become a crutch. All too often we retreat
from difficult or unpleasant situations which require our attention, by choosing to focus our
minds inward on some unimportant and nonthreatening matter. The ideas represented by
the two swords may be less important than some larger issue which the woman is refusing
to see.

Astrology

Moon in Libra. Our natural tendency (Moon) to weigh, compare, and analyze everything
(Libra).
Three of Swords

Three of Swords in brief

Heartbreak, disappointment, and suffering which results when a person, thing or situation
acts according to its own nature rather than how we expect or desire it to. Projecting our
own desires and assumptions onto others, and then being surprised and hurt when we
discover that the world doesn’t always work the way we might wish it to.

Three of Swords in depth

Under storm clouds, an elaborately furred and bejeweled woman weeps and holds her
hands to her heart, while three swords hover, also pointed toward her heart.

This woman is suffering heartbreak. The suit of Swords signifies mental activity, and the
elaborate patterns of her jewelry also suggest that her problems are of a mental nature rather
than an emotional one. Unlike the comparing-and-contrasting action shown in the Two of
Swords, in the Three the woman has become too invested in a particular viewpoint. In a
reading, this card signifies that you are facing disappointment and grief because your
experience of a person, thing, or situation has turned out to be quite different than your
mental picture of it. You projected your own desires and attitudes onto the person, thing or
situation, and you are suffering because whatever it is you were making assumptions about
is now behaving according to its own nature rather than the fantasy you made up for it.
This is a lesson we often find ourselves learning in life – and for some reason,
unfortunately, we find ourselves learning it over and over again.

Astrology

Saturn in Libra. Limitations (Saturn) are experienced in a fair and balanced way (Libra), i.e.
no one is exempt from disappointment.
Four of Swords

Four of Swords in brief

Mental rest: sleep, meditation, turning the mind elsewhere. Allowing intuitive processes to
take over.

Four of Swords in depth

A warrior has laid aside his helmet and laid himself down to rest, with his sword tucked
beneath him. As he sleeps, he floats in a starry sky.

In any mental endeavor there comes a time when the mind must stop working and rest
itself, thus allowing one’s intuitive processes to take over. There are countless anecdotes of
scientists and artists going to sleep, or turning their attention to something else, and
suddenly being struck with an inspiration which solves the very problem they had been
struggling with. When this card appears in a reading, it is time for you to back off and rest.
Sleep, or meditate, or go for a walk, or engage in a pastime which takes your mind off
whatever it is you’re preoccupied with. The starry sky on the card suggests that one’s
creative potential is limitless if one observes this basic rule of human nature.

Astrology

Jupiter in Libra. Creative abundance (Jupiter) will flourish in a peaceful and harmonious
environment (Libra).
Five of Swords

Five of Swords in brief

A humiliating defeat, either our own or one which we inflict on someone else. The kind of
person who must always be right. A defeat which life or circumstance hands us, which we
are helpless against.

Five of Swords in depth

An apparition appears before us, looming out of the mist, bearing an upraised sword. His
expression suggests contempt and mercilessness. In most battles or disagreements, there is
a winner and a loser. Here, the sword bearer has won a victory – and the small stricken
figure has suffered inexorable defeat.

This card is about the person who always needs to win. Everyone knows or has met this
kind of person. In fact, you yourself may exhibit this tendency on occasion! The man’s
face tattoos suggest that he is operating from a more primitive, savage instinct. When this
card comes up in a reading, someone has defeated you handily and has taken great pleasure
in doing so – or you yourself have defeated someone else. In this card, the fact of winning
has become more important than the prize that was won. Such a victory is likely to become
ephemeral, and will eventually vanish into thin air, like the fog and mist out of which the
victor on the card emerges.

Sometimes it is not another person but life itself which hands us a humiliating defeat. This
interpretation is supported by the planetary symbols on the man’s fingers, as if the stars
themselves have conspired to do us in. In this case we can do nothing but accept our loss
and move on.

Astrology

Venus in Aquarius. Venus shows what we value. In Aquarius we value the cause we are
championing, with little or no empathy or compassion for the individuals whose lives are
affected by our actions.
Six of Swords

Six of Swords in brief

Quiet, steady, cautious progress. Diplomacy, tact, guile. Calmly exploring the subconscious
mind.

Six of Swords in depth

A masked and hooded figure stands in a red boat, which quietly slips through the water,
carrying her through a golden archway.

In this card, progress is being made. But this is not the heady victory of the Six of Wands;
instead, it shows a slow, steady, thoughtful advancement. Rather than jumping into the
fray, the woman is proceeding cautiously, having learned the harsh lessons taught by the
Five of Swords. She is hooded and masked to hide her identity, which suggests the use of
diplomacy or even guile. The boat is well-protected with the six interleaved swords.

In a reading, this card suggests you may be better off proceeding slowly, cautiously, and
discreetly, rather than declaring yourself openly and loudly. If you are in disagreement with
someone, a bit of tact is called for. Perhaps the situation calls for you to not reveal the
whole truth about something (as opposed to outright lying).

On a deeper level, the boat floats securely on the waters of the unconscious, indicating that
you are on an even keel and not subject to precipitous moods. The filigreed archway
suggests the conscious mind, and the woman on the boat has passed through this archway
and is well-positioned to explore her subconscious mind. At the front of the boat we see
another mask. This represents our inner or higher self, which dependably guides us
through the sometimes rough waters of emotions and the subconscious.

Astrology

Mercury in Aquarius. We create effective and inventive strategies (Mercury) to accomplish


our goals in unorthodox and non-direct ways (Aquarius).
Seven of Swords

Seven of Swords in brief

Sneakiness, cleverness, audacity and dishonesty.

Seven of Swords in depth

A cat burglar is climbing a stone edifice, burdened by the five valuable swords he has just
stolen. His hold on the stone is precarious; he is taking great risks and employing great
cleverness to attain his goal. He’d better hurry, because the sun is swiftly rising and will
soon expose him in his vulnerable position. Two unclaimed swords hover nearby, mocking
him.

The figure on the card is simply being too clever for his own good. He has taken the
strategies and guile from the Six of Swords to an unhealthy level. He wanted the swords so
badly that he developed elaborate strategies to steal them. In truth, he took the easy way out,
by stealing them as opposed to working and saving for them. But taking the easy path has
led him to a more difficult path than he bargained for. He may get away with it, or he may
drop the swords (or himself) in his attempt to escape undiscovered.

This card suggests sneakiness, cleverness, audacity and dishonesty. The degree of the
dishonesty depends on the context of the reading. It could range all the way from a white lie
to a major deception.

Astrology

Moon in Aquarius. We all have a tendency (Moon) at times to rebel (Aquarius) against
ethical laws by simply appropriating what we want, despite the fact that deep down, we
know better.
Eight of Swords

Eight of Swords in brief

Being restricted by one’s own assumptions, biases and prejudices.

Eight of Swords in depth

A woman floats inside a bubble, which rests upon eight sword points.

Here we see someone who has constructed such an inflexible mental map of reality that she
is now restricted by it. She is a prisoner of her own biases and prejudices. She is naked,
which suggests that she has let herself become too dependent upon the false security of her
assumptions. Perhaps she has decided she doesn’t like someone, and so now she always
sees that person in a negative light, thus denying herself the opportunities and potentials
that could result from establishing friendly relations with the person.

The bubble looks fragile, with its crystalline or cracked-eggshell surface, but it holds her as
steadfastly as if it were an iron chain. If, however, she were to challenge her own
assumptions and try to see things from a different point of view, the bubble would pop and
the swords would vanish.

Astrology

Jupiter in Gemini. The mind has been too active (Jupiter) and has woven the complicated
web (Gemini) which now imprisons it.
Nine of Swords

Nine of Swords in brief

Stress, tension, anxiety, all caused by the obsessive tendencies of one’s own mind.

Nine of Swords in depth

A woman reclines in a darkened room, which opens out onto an ominous night scene. A
tree limb looks almost like threatening claws. The woman obviously has a long, anxious
night ahead of her.

When this card appears in a reading, it signifies that you are occupying a mental landscape
full of tension and anxiety, and it is your own mind which has taken you there. Step by
step, thought by thought, your conscious mind has constructed a maze to entrap you, a
nightmarish funhouse in which even something as innocent as a tree limb takes on an
ominous aspect. The nine swords which are mounted on the column seem to be channeling
the negative energy directly at her head, specifically at her eyes, suggesting that how we
think about things directly affects how we perceive them. Or perhaps the negative energy is
being channeled upward and outward from the woman’s mind, through the swords and
into the scene, graphically demonstrating the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy – if we
expect bad things to happen, then they probably will. The obsessive tendencies of the
human mind which bring us to this bleak landscape can be avoided, if we exercise
vigilance.

Astrology

Mars in Gemini. An overactive imagination (Gemini) becomes preoccupied with conflict


and struggle (Mars).
Ten of Swords

Ten of Swords in brief

Anguish and pain, but also relief. An hysterical overreaction.

Ten of Swords in depth

A man kneels and covers his head in anguish. On his back he bears a circular tattoo, and
ten swords surround the tattoo, barely piercing the man’s skin.

In this card we see the limits of the conscious mind. We can plan, strategize and rationalize
to our heart’s (or our mind’s) content, but in the end, true satisfaction is to be found not in
pure mentality but rather in a balance of mind, heart, soul, and body. Here, the mind has
become so enraptured with its own convolutions that they actually appear on the man’s
skin, in the form of the circular tattoo (suggestive of circular reasoning). In the Eight of
Swords, we allowed our attitudes to calcify, but the situation was still manageable, if not as
fulfilling as it could have been. In the Ten of Swords, the situation is not manageable.

The ten swords can be seen as the mind in the process of carving the tattoo. Or they could
also represent the larger mind or higher self at work, pricking the conscious mind’s
pretensions and releasing the negative energy which has been built up. While the image is a
dire one, this can be seen as a positive card. In a reading, it suggests that you have come to
the end of the road, and are now ready to become aware of new opportunities and the ever-
present potential for change and growth.

In some cases this card can represent an hysterical overreaction, which is yet another
symptom of the extremes to which our conscious minds can go.

Astrology

Sun in Gemini. Here we see the end result of identifying too closely with our ego
consciousness (Sun), what Buddhists refer to as the Monkey Mind, which chatters
endlessly and obsessively so that true perception is obscured (Gemini).
Page of Swords

Personality

The Page of Swords is a quick-witted, somewhat mercurial young woman. She’s curious
about the world around her, but she lacks the Page of Coin’s patient and responsible
attitude, and instead her attention playfully hops from one focus of interest to another. She
has an insatiable hunger for knowledge, and is not above a little discreet snooping in order
to gain that knowledge.

On the picture, her elaborate headdress, and especially the white feathers, symbolize the
airy qualities of her mind. The hilts and tips of the four sword blades are hidden from view,
indicating that her thought processes are not grounded in empirical evidence (the hilts), nor
are they yet developed to the point where she is able to glimpse overlying structures and
motivations (the tips).

Stage of Development

The Page represents a stage or phase of an idea or of a strategy that is in its infancy. The
basic outlines are there, but it will require much fleshing out and adaptation before it can be
put to use.

Approach

Pages are Learning. The Page of Swords recommends you focus your attention on gaining
knowledge or learning information about the matter at hand. This could include receiving
information by messages, newspapers, television, or e-mail.
Knight of Swords

Personality

The Knight of Swords is mounted on a white, winged steed. He represents the soaring
flights the mind is capable of, whether they be flights of fancy or of invention. To
accomplish these flights, he must put aside the restrictions and inhibitions which his
conscious mind has placed on him, so that he can develop the original and unorthodox
patterns necessary for his flight. He must also focus entirely on his goal, without being
distracted, for he is defying gravity (that is, the inertia against which we all struggle) by
sheer force of will.

His ability to focus is shown by the winged helmet, in contrast to the Page’s hat, which
bore only feathers. Of course, such single-minded focus means that he won’t be the most
tolerant or empathetic person you’ll ever meet. He may be quick to jump to conclusions or
to take offense.

In Greek mythology, a spring would well up out of the ground wherever the hoof of the
famed winged horse Pegasus touched the ground, symbolizing the inspirational qualities of
the Knight of Swords and how one realization can lead to others, whether in oneself or in
other people.

Stage of Development

Knights represent a stage or phase where focus, attention and determination are necessary.
In the Knight of Swords, this means a focus of the mind, where success depends on your
ability to patiently and carefully work out a solution to the problem at hand.

Approach

Knights are Doing. The Knight of Swords suggests that you take action based on your
plans and ideas. He also recommends that you let your mind take wing, like the horse on
the card, so that you can escape earthbound modes of thinking. In other words, try thinking
“outside the box.”

Astrology

Two-thirds Aquarius, one-third Capricorn. The Knight of Swords narrows and limits
(Capricorn) his focus so that he can obtain unconventional results in intellectual matters
(Aquarius).
Queen of Swords

Personality

The Queen of Swords is an interesting character. She bears white wings, like those of the
Knight’s steed, indicating her considerable intellectual abilities, and her headdress includes
wing shapes over the ears. Yet where the headdress covers the head, it resembles a net
which seems to be restricting her freedom, so that she seems almost like a hooded hunting
bird. This tells us that the Queen is a perfectionist, and thus to some extent she restricts
herself with the exacting standards to which she holds herself and others. When these
standards aren’t met, the Queen responds ruthlessly, whether the object of her scorn is
herself or another. Where the headdress covers her eyes, it resembles a mask, showing that
she is in some ways isolated from those around her.

With her left hand she holds the hilt of a sword, showing that she has a firm grasp of the
subject at hand. With her right hand she grasps the sword’s blade, indicating that she is
unstintingly honest, most of all with herself. The Queen’s honesty and perfectionism may
make her seem like a stern taskmaster, but this energy is necessary in any plan or endeavor.
It is what drives us to be better than we are.

Stage of Development

A plan or endeavor has reached a stage where it runs of its own accord and no longer needs
tremendous willpower to launch it into the world. One should keep the integrity and purity
of the original idea in mind, however, to serve as a guiding light for the future.

Approach

Queens are Feeling. The Queen of Swords suggests you use your intuition when deciding
whether something adheres to or measures up to your original plan. If you feel like
something doesn’t make the grade, don’t be afraid to jettison it. People may call you picky,
but you’ll be remaining true to your ideals.

Astrology

Two-thirds Libra, one-third Virgo. The Queen of Swords can be meticulous (Virgo) about
adhering to her refined ideals (Libra).
King of Swords

Personality

The King of Swords is himself a symbol of the fully-developed mind. Unlike the Page,
Knight, and Queen, his head needs no hair, wings or feathers, and is instead completely
bald, so as to allow for maximum mental input and output, illustrated by the complex
metallic swirls and shapes which surround him. Notice how the swirls radiate into space,
and together with the four sword blades form a sort of temple to the mind. Such a solid and
elaborate mental structure is quite an achievement, but it can have its drawbacks too. The
King must be vigilant lest his mental structure calcify into narrow-mindedness. He must
strive to maintain the Page’s childlike curiosity and mental flexibility.

The King could be a scientist, someone who changes the world by studying it, analyzing it,
and reaching new conclusions about it. In contrast to the Page, whose swords lacked tips,
the tips of two of the King’s blades are visible, indicating that he has the capability to
follow lines of thought to their logical conclusions. The two remaining blades still lack tips,
to show that there is always something more to learn.

Stage of Development

A plan or strategy has reached a peak stage of effectiveness and is ready to be put into
practice.

Approach

Kings are Controlling. The King of Swords suggests that you establish and authoritatively
state your beliefs and attitudes, rather than simply going with the flow or letting others do
your thinking for you.

Astrology

Two-thirds Gemini, one-third Taurus. The King of Swords studies and understands the
relationships between things (Gemini) in a thorough and painstaking way (Taurus).
Palace of Swords

An environment which promotes clear thinking in the cold, crisp air. The structures rise
above the obscuring mists which usually cloud our thinking, and are built as observation
decks, for the purpose of efficient perception rather than luxurious living. The many wings
suggest the mind’s ability to overcome emotional biases and attain a global perspective.
Ace of Coins

Ace of Coins in brief

A new opportunity or interest in material matters (money, health, exercise, food,


constructing something physical, etc.). Finding or being gifted with the raw materials to
allow progress in these areas.

Ace of Coins in depth

An immensely strong, bearded man coalesces out of the mist in a forest setting. On his
breastplate is the elemental glyph for earth. He holds up a huge coin. In the foreground
stands a deer.

Coins in general stand for material values, and the Ace of Coins represents a new start in
material matters. Perhaps you have developed a new interest in something having to do
with money, or health and exercise (suggested by the muscular figure on the card), or food,
or gardening (suggested by the forest scene), or constructing something physical
(suggested by the mountain on the right side of the card). Aces often indicate unexpected
opportunities, so you may find or be gifted with the raw materials which will allow you to
make progress in these areas. The image suggests Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge,
who created physical objects out of raw materials mined from the earth.
Two of Coins

Two of Coins in brief

Juggling many things at once. Having too many balls in the air. Awareness of the cyclical
patterns of life, and using those patterns to one’s advantage.

Two of Coins in depth

A man stands on a wave, juggling two coins. Before him, a great filigreed metal sphere
(which also appears on the Ace of Cups) floats on the water, and the man walks on a path
toward the sphere, his heart’s desire, as he juggles.

In a reading this card indicates that you are juggling many things at once. The man could be
seen as effectively handling the different facets of his life, or, contrariwise, we could see
him as having the proverbial “too many balls in the air.” The metal sphere suggests the
cyclical patterns of life and how it is often necessary to be aware of these cycles, to lightly
dance among and between them, and to use them to one’s advantage rather than being ruled
by them.

The man is taking the raw potentials and possible directions seen in the Ace of Coins, and,
preparatory to working with them, as he will in the Three, he begins to investigate them,
weighing them one against the other, and testing them to see which will serve his needs
best.

Sometimes keeping the balls in the air can seem an arduous task. Yet the man on the card is
miraculously accomplishing the impossible, and is even walking on water while he does it.
We are capable of more than we know, and the only way to test the limits of our potential is
to continually challenge ourselves.

Astrology

Jupiter in Capricorn. Channeling the unlimited potential of Jupiter through the structure and
discipline of Capricorn so that you may accomplish more than you had thought yourself
capable of.
Three of Coins

Three of Coins in brief

Attaining mastery and knowledge of a particular field. The act of creation. Making
something refined out of rough, raw materials.

Three of Coins in depth

A glassblower works at his furnace, creating beautiful, refined forms from rough raw
materials.

Like the Ace of Coins, this image brings to mind the god Vulcan at his forge. This card
shows a master craftsman, someone who had paid his dues and now commands respect as
an expert in his field. He takes pride in his work, and is eager to pass on his knowledge to a
new generation. In a reading the card indicates that you have attained mastery of a particular
subject. It could also represent the act of creation, taking the raw materials discovered in the
Ace of Coins and transforming them in the crucible of human experience into new and
exciting shapes.

Astrology

Mars in Capricorn. You have the power (Mars) to harness (Capricorn) transformative
energies (like the fire in the craftsman’s kiln) to give shape to refined creations.
Four of Coins

Four of Coins in brief

Good fortune. Alternatively, a high price paid for good fortune. Fears that what one has
will be stolen. Miserliness or greed.

Four of Coins in depth

In a castle courtyard, a richly-dressed man displays the contents of a wooden box, the key
to which hangs around his neck.

Four is the number of material manifestation, and Coins are the suit of the material. Thus,
before we even look at the picture, we know that the Four of Coins will be a materialistic,
heavy card. Our attention shifts from creation (as seen in the Three of Coins) to acquisition
and maintenance.

The card shows simply a rich man with his acquisitions. How we interpret this image
depends on the context of the reading. It could mean simply good fortune. Our ship comes
in, we hit the jackpot.

But look closely at the man’s face. His lips curve in a slight smile, because he is pleased
with his hoard. But there is strain around his eyes, as if attaining and maintaining his riches
is more difficult than he thought it would be. Perhaps he has had to pay a price for his good
fortune, a price which for many would be too high. Perhaps the key around his neck is a
burden which weighs him down. The mere fact that the box requires a lock tells us that he
lives in fear that the coins will be stolen. Perhaps the fear is justified, perhaps not; either
way, it has become clear to him that these coins have two sides.

We can also detect a hardness to his expression, as if in the effort to hold onto his spoils,
his humanity has drained away. In this light, the card might suggest miserliness or raw
greed.

Astrology

Sun in Capricorn. Your ego (Sun) can all too easily find itself creating its own prison
(Capricorn).
Five of Coins

Five of Coins in brief

Misfortune. Going to extremes to protect loved ones. Being let down by social institutions.
A “poor me” frame of mind.

Five of Coins in depth

A woman dressed in rags stands outside a church in a driving snowstorm. In one arm she
holds a bundled-up infant, and with the other she holds out a cup with which she begs for
alms. The enemies whom the rich man in the Four of Coins had feared have gained the
upper hand; his box has been upended, his coins have been scattered in the street, and he
himself has been kicked to the curb. He is now the infant, squalling helplessly in his
mother’s arms.

This is a complex card which can have several interpretations. It could simply mean
misfortune. No matter how well-off we may be at present, the possibility always exists that
the Wheel of Fortune will turn and leave us disenfranchised. And the misfortune need not
be physical; we could be dealing with emotional, mental or creative misfortune.

On the other hand, we could see the image in a positive light. The woman is doing
everything in her power to provide for her child, even if it means accepting assistance at the
expense of her dignity.

We might focus on the church window. Here again, there are several possibilities. The card
could be seen as in indictment of the church, or, more generally, of social institutions which
often fail to fulfill their mandate to help the disadvantaged. Or we could place the blame on
the woman, who begs for physical help yet refuses the spiritual assistance offered just a
few steps away. In this case, the woman insists on seeing the glass as half-empty rather
than half-full, and cultivates a “poor me” frame of mind in order to garner sympathy from
those around her. This interpretation implies that our success or failure in life can often be
due more to our own attitudes than anything else.

You will need to carefully examine the card in the context of the question and other cards in
the spread to determine which meaning is the most appropriate.

Astrology

Mercury in Taurus. Your mind (Mercury) is placing too much emphasis on physical
comforts (or the lack thereof) (Taurus).
Six of Coins

Six of Coins in brief

Charity. Sharing. Establishing balance. An unequal relationship in which one person gives
and the other takes.

Six of Coins in depth

A richly-dressed young man holds a set of scales in one hand, and with the other hand
offers us the astrological glyph for Libra, also representing scales.

This card means charity, or an effort to reestablish fairness and equity in an unfair world. In
material endeavors, we often get caught up in the effort to acquire as much as possible. In
the Six of Coins, we experience the pleasures of sharing what we have acquired. The
evenly balanced scales show us the importance of balance and fairness in material matters.
Do we have too much? Does someone else not have enough? Is it possible to have a
balanced personality if we have abundance while our neighbor lacks the minimum to get
by? The answers to these questions will differ for everyone, but this card encourages us to
at least ask the questions.

On an intrapersonal level, this card might suggest an unequal relationship in which one
person always gives and the other person always takes. While the man seems to be handing
out equality with one hand, notice that the scales in his other hand are still unbalanced.

Astrology

Moon in Taurus. We all have a natural tendency (Moon), which can be either encouraged
or resisted according to our personalities, to express our maternal, compassionate, and
protective instincts in a patient and tireless way (Taurus).
Seven of Coins

Seven of Coins in brief

Patience. Evaluation. Something you have nurtured can now grow on its own.

Seven of Coins in depth

A woman sits on a bench with her empty baskets, beneath a tree laden with ripening coins.

This card is about the virtue of patience, i.e. waiting until the right moment before taking
action. The woman in the picture has undergone the dynamic and exciting creative
processes shown in the previous Coins cards, and is now prepared to harvest the fruit of
her labor, but is waiting until the perfect moment of ripeness. Often, the proper timing can
make all the difference in our endeavors. The card could also indicate that you have
nurtured something and it has now grown to the point where it no longer requires your
constant attention, and now you can sit back and watch it grow. Alternatively, the woman
could be seen as at a crossroads, evaluating the situation to determine what her next move
will be. Will she pick the fruit? Will she fertilize the tree? Will she cut the tree down and
plant something else? She stares out of the card at us as if asking, “What would you do?”

The woman’s companion sits in her lap – eager to help with the harvest!

Astrology

Saturn in Taurus. Taurus wishes to immediately enjoy the sensual experience of eating the
fruit; but Saturn cautions patience and self-discipline.
Eight of Coins

Eight of Coins in brief

Slow, steady work. A labor-intensive project. A sincere and committed effort.

Eight of Coins in depth

A wizard (or scientist, depending on your point of view) sits in his library, busily
constructing an orrery (a clockwork device that replicates the relative motions of the solar
system).

The man shown on the card has a goal, and is working slowly and steadily to achieve the
goal. This is not the time for impetuous moves or grandiose schemes. Instead, now is the
time to buckle down and get one’s hands dirty, doing all the tedious but necessary tasks
that can no longer be avoided. He is carefully following his written plans and delicately
fitting together the jewels and gears which will make his orrery run smoothly and
accurately. Although he seems to be quite the expert, we know that he is still an apprentice
rather than a master, because despite his capability, he still requires an instruction manual in
order to build his machine.

Despite his obvious ability to create in reality what he sees in his mind, he must also rely on
seemingly supernatural inspiration, as evidenced by the coins and crystals, which suggest
that the man-made mechanical components are driven by some undefined energy which lies
outside the scientist’s direct control. Thus, the machine is essentially a mystical one that
straddles the physical world of science and reality on the one hand, and the mystical world
of magic on the other.

In a reading, this card describes a labor-intensive project. This is not a time to look for
instant gratification, but rather the rewards that come from a sincere and committed effort.

The scientist on the card may gain additional insight from the books on his shelf,
particularly the one in the upper left corner.

Astrology

Sun in Virgo. The best way to get through a labor-intensive project is to identify oneself
(Sun) with the work, to become one with it, to place oneself in its service (Virgo).
Nine of Coins

Nine of Coins in brief

Enjoying the results of hard work. Creating a satisfying environment. Peace. Retreating into
your own shell.

Nine of Coins in depth

A young woman is in her garden. She caresses a dove, while another flies above. The
flowers are heavy with blooms, and a trellis gateway shuts out the outer world.

This card suggests that you have succeeded in creating an environment around yourself
which is truly satisfying. You have worked hard, and now you deserve to enjoy the results
of that hard work. The woman is alone, indicating that she has accomplished this feat on
her own, relying on no one else. Doves traditionally symbolize peace, and when this card
appears in a reading it indicates that you have attained the peace you sought.

In a negative sense, you may be shutting the world out and retreating too much into your
own shell.

Astrology

Venus in Virgo. A perfectly-ordered environment (Virgo) contains its own beauty


(Venus).
Ten of Coins

Ten of Coins in brief

Sensing the magic which resides in the ordinary. The beauty and potential hidden in the
material things around us. The light at the end of the tunnel.

Ten of Coins in depth

In a dark forest we see a stone archway covered with ivy, and an open gate, through which
we can glimpse a scene filled with golden light. A stone path wanders through sunlit trees
and ten coins float down from the sky. Two carved faces adorn the archway.

The theme of this card could be condensed into a single phrase: “Magic in the Ordinary.”
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy magically transports herself home by clicking her heels and
repeating “There’s no place like home.” Now older and wiser after her fantastic journey,
she realizes that ordinary life is full of the same magic and wonder which she encountered
on her adventure. The material things around us, both those provided by nature and those
we build ourselves, including our own bodies, are things of beauty and potential, although
we too often take them for granted. The image on the card is really a quite ordinary scene –
a stone path viewed through a stone archway – but we see it through an artist’s eye, which
reveals to us a magical wonderland bathed in grace.

When you receive this card, you are indeed fortunate. You are being reminded of the
ineffable beauty and goodness inhabiting the world around us. Of course, life is difficult,
and of course, we must all struggle at times. This card reminds us of what it is we struggle
for.

The card may also be seen as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, a spark of hope
and optimism which presages an end to a gloomy situation. The stone faces reflect back to
us our own fears and resistances. But the gate lies open; all we need do is step through.

Astrology

Mercury in Virgo. A mental attitude (Mercury) of appreciation for the humble, the modest,
the ordinary (Virgo).
Page of Coins

Personality

The Page of Coins is a young woman who gazes at the world with curious eyes. Having
not yet attained practical experience in the world, she strives instead to study what
resources she can find which will prepare her for her future endeavors. She has not
wandered yet in the green meadow pictured on the card, but is studying it from afar. The
two pillars behind her represent knowledge which so far exists only as abstract concepts.

Her serious expression and her cool, even gaze denote a professional and responsible
attitude toward her studies and an analytical scientist’s approach to the world and to those
around her.

Stage of Development

This card represents the beginning stages of a material endeavor. You could be starting to
construct a physical object, or beginning a project involving gardening, nutrition, diet or
exercise. You could be thinking about becoming a parent. Taking the suit of Coins more
literally, you could be embarking on a new savings plan or investment.

Approach

Pages are Learning. The Page of Coins is learning about material reality. The approach
suggested would be to learn about the physical processes going on around you.
Knight of Coins

Personality

The Knight of Coins is ready to rush in and tackle the task at hand. Unlike other decks
which show this Knight sitting quietly on his horse, the Tarot of Dreams Knight of Coins
is charging into the fray, thus staying true to the impetuosity of the Knights. He is capable
of patience when engaged in long, tedious projects, as is evidenced by the huge red rock
mountain which his horse is about to climb; but once he decides on his direction, he is
anxious to begin. Knights are completely focused on their tasks. The Knight of Coins takes
pleasure in his work for the work’s sake, and thus is often found fully engrossed in what
might seem to others to be a menial or tedious chore. He could be an athlete who has the
patience and determination and self-discipline to succeed at his sport.

Unlike the other Knights, the Knight of Coins is completely encased in his armor, which
indicates that he is not motivated by personal glory or ego. The antlers on his helmet show
a connection to the deer on the Ace of Coins, and also show his affinity for working with
growing things.

Stage of Development

A stage in a task or project when one must buckle down and get one’s hands dirty.

Approach

Knights are Doing. Rather than desiring, planning, or directing that something of a physical
nature be built, changed or worked with, the Knight of Coins suggests that you actually go
out and do it. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Astrology

Two-thirds Taurus, one-third Aries. Slow, steady, and responsible (Taurus), the Knight is
nevertheless eager to begin (Aries).
Queen of Coins

Personality

Richly dressed and bejeweled, the Queen of Coins obviously enjoys the finer things in life.
She enjoys them not because of status or the admiration of others, but because she truly
appreciates such things for their own sake. She could be a gourmet chef who loves to enjoy
her own and others’ culinary creations, or someone who exercises for the sheer pleasure of
the physical sensation of challenging the body. She enjoys nurturing others as well as
herself; she holds a spray of flowers, with which she intends to decorate her home for the
pleasure of her family.

Like all Queens, the Queen of Coins is a mature and serene presence. She is more likely to
try to train a branch to grow in a different direction rather than to lop it off. Without making
a fuss, she quietly plans her environment and nurtures her loved ones.

Stage of Development

A period of quiet enjoyment of material pleasures. A time to give to others and allow others
to give to you.

Approach

Queens are Feeling. The suit of Coins deals with the material world, and the Queen
suggests that you appreciate and enjoy physical things and sensations, including sensuality
and sexuality.

Astrology

Two-thirds Capricorn, one-third Sagittarius. The Queen applies gentle discipline (as when
training that branch) (Capricorn) in order to provide the ideal home base from which her
loved ones can expand their horizons (Sagittarius).
King of Coins

Personality

The King of Coins appears as a tribal chieftain, his face showing his long years of
experience in working with and sometimes wrestling with his physical environment for the
benefit of the tribe. The two pillars behind the Page, representing abstract knowledge, are
now closer to the King, thus becoming the wisdom of experience. The King uses this
experience to guide him, as we can see from the guiding light which shines from the top of
the left tower. He could be a merchant or a businessman, able to use his long experience to
create a secure environment. His intuitive understanding of the cycles of growth permits
him to look with a tolerant eye on the foibles of others and on the ups and downs of
commerce.

Kings are mature and decisive. The King of Coins must sometimes make hard decisions,
and would be more likely, for example, to lop off that branch that the Queen of Coins
would have simply trained to grow in another direction.

Stage of Development

A task or endeavor reaches a peak stage of operation. An example would be a business


which has grown to the point where it can basically run itself.

Approach

Kings are Controlling. The King of Coins suggests that you do not simply accept the
physical environment and constraints you are given, but that you take the initiative to
change them to suit your own goals.

Astrology

Two-thirds Virgo, one-third Leo. The King works quietly and patiently to build up his
resources (Virgo), while at the same time willingly taking his place as a leader in the eyes
of those he leads and cares for (Leo).
Palace of Coins

The other palaces are fun places to visit, but the Palace of Coins is where we live. Here is
where we feel safe and secure, where we can tend to our earthy needs, where we can be
kings and queens of our own castle. Here also we can experience the four elemental
energies as fully human attributes: the intellectual (owl), the impetuous (deer), the moody
(frog), and the mundane (mouse). The mountains in the background are more distant than
in the Palace of Wands; the dreams and goals remain, but home is always waiting when we
need a rest from the journey.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SUGGESTED READING

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