XVII – Tzaddi – Aquarius – Faithful
Guiding Light, Eternal Renewal, Serenity, and Hope
The Star corresponds to the Hebrew letter Tzaddi, roughly meaning those who are faithful to God. Tzaddi’s literal meaning is that of capturing – such as the light of the Lord captures the hearts of mankind. The shape of the original pictograph is that of a man bent down in humility, who has yet been crowned (in the more recent book-script) – the symbol of the attitude and rewards of the faithful. The letter Tzaddi also is associated by some kabbalists with the mate of the letter Aleph, which in the Tarot pertains to the Fool – implying that the Fool is trusting in the Star’s guiding light.
The Star represents the calm after the storm; the faithful (Tzaddik) have passed through the terrors of the Tower and survived, and are rewarded with a vision of peace and serenity. Astrologically, the Star is equivalent to Aquarius, which is one of the Stable Sun Signs, signifying security after growth. Aquarius is also the sign of creativity and originality, which come as a result of being able to apply what you’ve learned to reality through the granting of peace and quiet.
The images on the card illustrations evoke a sense of calm and serenity; both of them feature a woman pouring water out of two cups – one in each hand – into a pool of water (a sea in the case of the Thoth art) before them. The pool of water is still, save for the water running into it from the cups. Stars dot the background of both cards, with one large, yellow star in the background of the Rider-Waite card, and a planet dominating the background of the Thoth card. The Thoth card’s colors are a blue hue, associating it with calmness and passivity.
The idea of flowing permeates the Star. The cups of water seen in the illustration – which in the Thoth art at least appear to be bottomless – represent the transfer of energy, specifically from the realm of the spirit (the upper cup to the planet) to the mortal realm (the lower cup to the sea). This energy can be any kind you can think of; creative, spiritual, emotional, and even physical. The most potent energy this card refers to, though, is that of life; the Star represents the heavens pouring life down onto the Earth. This life that flows from the heavens is infinite, and so this card symbolizes eternal renewal, as well. This is a very Taoist card, like the Hanged Man, urging you to go with the flow. It represents calm, peace, and serenity. It asks you to step back and take a break – and as you rest, a new source of inspiration (like the muse of an artist) will come to you, a sort of guiding light – like the north star is. It asks you to trust in your inner spirit – the same inner guide that Tarot readers rely on to read the cards. The Star advises you to listen to your instincts, and not to let yourself get too worked up about something. Just let it happen; if you have faith, then everything will turn out alright. It provides a sense of hope for all who heed its call, and reminds us that there is always a solution to all of our problems.
On the Tree of Life, the Star sits between Netzach (Bliss) and Yesod (Essence of Being), representing the guiding light achieved through experience helping one to discover who they truly are, channeling the energies of blissfulness in order to help you become all that you can be.
In a reading, the Star encourages you to take things slowly, and to rest after a large disturbance. It asks you to examine the role that the calm after the storm has had in your life, and recommends that you follow your instincts and go with the flow. It advises you to be calm about everything, and to have faith that everything will be alright in the end. Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or twisted somehow; perhaps your guiding light is leading you astray, and you should watch its advice more carefully, or perhaps the calm is only on the surface…
XVI – Pei – Mars – Mouth
Ruin, Destruction, Crushing of the Old, and Momentous Change
The Tower corresponds to the Hebrew Letter Pei, representing the breath of God and the power of words. The previous letter, Ayin, represented the eye – understanding – and Pei represents the mouth, which is verbal expression. This order indicates that it is necessary to understand and think before one speaks. While the eye allows one to understand, the mouth allows one to speak and bring things into being. When one speak’s of the Devil’s will, ruin is sure to follow. This letter also represents speech and words, and the power that they can hold; words can topple a nation or bring it up high. The original pictograph of Pei is also a mouth, emphasizing the idea of the power of words to bring things into being – or remove them from being.
The astrological equivalent of the Tower is a planet not known for its words – Mars, the god of war. Mars represents male power and virility, as well as action, violence, war, drive, energy, and ambition. These are all things that, in the context of the Tower, are accomplished through the power of words. The Tower itself is a card of ruin and toppling, and represents the wrath of Mars as seen from the side of the victims – for inherent in the idea of Mars is that of competition, and in a competition there is always a winner and a loser.
The Tower, then, represents momentous changes brought on by powerful forces that topple empires and overthrow dynasties. This is a card that represents a change in the order of things – the crushing of the old to make way for the new. The Tower is often called the Lord of the Aeon, for this is a card that initiates the changing of the Aeons, which inevitably is accompanied with strife and the toppling of the existing order. World War I is a prime example of the Tower in action; it occurred ten years after the Aeon of Horus began in 1904, toppled the existing order of Europe – and therefore of much of the world – and was fueled on by propaganda and words. The Tower is also a card of ruin and downfall, as well as destruction. Drastic upheaval is what the Tower represents, as well as the failure of endurance. The Tower can also represent breaking free of one’s imprisonment (such as that you were put into by the Devil) do to a calamitous or huge event; the clearing of the old is necessary to make way for the new, and so the prisons of the old order must be torn asunder.
The Rider-Waite art emphasizes the aspect of downfall and the failure of endurance, as the proud, strong, tower is brought down in a single cataclysmic event – the lightning bolt. It topples the crown (symbolizing power and the Aeon), overthrowing the old order, and sends people literally falling to the ground. Chaos reigns as the tower – the bastion of strength – fails and falls to disaster. The Thoth art shows a tower literally toppling, while emblems of fire surround it. Above it all is the eye of Horus, symbolizing the new Aeon (and the preceding eye of Ayin), emanating rays of power as it establishes its domain. In the lower portion of the card is a mouth, breathing out fire – the breath of God and the power of words that topples the tower.
On the Tree of Life, The Tower stands between the Sefirot of Netzach (Bliss and Degenerate Weakness) and Hod (Knowledge and Intellectual Weakness). It is the path between the two weaknesses, emphasizing the idea of the weaknesses that bring down the stability of Tiphareth – the Tower is what happens when both weaknesses appear at the same time, leading to ruin and downfall.
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role of upheaval in your life. Has something previously rock solid in your life suddenly been toppled, making way for the new? Have you – or anyone you know – been ruined? Have your words hurt more than you would have thought? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or twisted somehow; perhaps the toppling was only superficial, and nothing has really changed…
XV – Ayin – Capricorn – Eye
Rebellion, Freedom, Ignorance, and Imprisonment
The Devil corresponds to the Hebrew letter Ayin, which means eye (and its original pictograph also bears this shape). The eye referred to here is the eye that allows one to see the light of God, and also to understand it and obey it. The letter Ayin, then, refers to one’s ability to see the divinity in everything and do what must be done. However, keep in mind that divinity and the “right” thing to do can be seen as being relative – and so there are many ways in which one can see the world (leading to the almost contradictory meanings of the Devil). The other eyes this card can represent are the eyes looking for the guidance of God – and sometimes they find it, and sometimes they don’t, and instead fall prey to the Devil. This letter can also represent the watchful eye of God, and the watchful eye of a shepherd over his flock. This eye looks downwards (towards the realm of the Devil), in an attempt to care for others – or in what they perceive as an attempt to care for others.
The Devil represents this eye that we all have, and what can happen should the eye fall upon the wrong object and mistaken discern the Devil as having divinity. When you fall into the Devil’s trap, you suddenly become chained to him, and imprisoned within hell. The Devil is for the most part a dark card, representing this imprisonment and sense of being tied down. He blinds you, causing you to live in ignorance, inhibiting the ability of your eye to discern the truth of things.
This card is a very Earthy card, as the Devil seduces you with the material, turning your eye away from the spiritual. This is the card of rejoicing in the things you have in the material world, and of the ability to manipulate the material world to your will, and to create things in it. The Devil is roughly analogous to the Greek God Pan, lord of the wilderness; the Devil is the Lord of Earth and wildness, and the patron of wanton creation; he creates for the sake of creating, seduces for the sake of seducing, and blinds you for the sake of blinding you. He lives in the present, and it is this constant focus on the present that blinds and seduces people into his chains.
Astrologically, the Devil is analogous to the Sun Sign of Capricorn, signifying order and accomplishment, as well as initiating actions (such as wanton creation). Specifically, the Devil corresponds to material order and material accomplishment; the completion of great Works and the will of the Emperor imposed on those below. The Devil – and Capricorn – can also be opportunistic, taking advantage of others for one’s own gain; this then is also a card of selfishness.
However, at the same time, this is a card of freedom. It is the second half of the heavenly dichotomy of heaven and hell; and just as the Devil and hell restrict you and chain you, so do the rules laid down by heaven. One can argue that the laws of heaven are good and will make you happier in the end, but the point still stands that there are laws and rules and regulations. The Devil represents freedom from all of these things, and also rebellion; Lucifer revolted against heaven, did he not? This card represents resisting authority, and something breaking the chains holding one down; in this way, the Devil can mean either being blinded to the truth and so in a prison of your own making, or breaking free of oppression to create a new future for yourself. It all depends on one’s perspective.
A way to synthesize all of this is the idea of a dynastic cycle: the old, oppressive dynasty spawns rebels, who rise up and topple the existing order – or secede from it – and then as they themselves grow in power, they become the oppressors, and eventually are toppled as well.
The spiraling horns of the Devil also symbolize an idea of universal energy that pervades all things – particularly the material. The horns mentioned above are seen on the Thoth card, which also prominently features the eye in the center of the Devil’s forehead, encouraging the reader to see with eyes unclouded by bias, and to see things – like Lucifer’s fall – in a new light. The Thoth devil closely resembles the Greek Pan, emphasizing the idea of a wanton creator, and a progenitor of sorts, having children just because he can and likes to. Below him are two groups of people who appear imprisoned by him on his whims, representing the idea of ignorance and chains. The Devil himself looks smug – but is he really the villain? This card asks you to think and decide for yourself.
The Rider-Waite art is much less ambiguous, as the Devil there is clearly malign, and has a male and a female imp chained below him. The Rider-Waite art strongly represents the idea of imprisonment and chains.
On the Tree of Life, the Devil lies between the Sefirot of Tiphareth (Balance) and Hod (Knowledge and Intellectual Weakness), representing the fall from balance that comes when one’s eye is blinded and fed knowledge that changes their perception of the world, leading to a weakness of the mind and a step taken off the beaten path – into the realm of the Devil.
In a reading, this card asks you to perhaps look at things from another perspective, and asks you to examine the roles that imprisonment and freedom might play in your life. Are you imprisoned? Have you thrown off the shackles of oppression lately? Have you been blinded by something, and remain ignorant of something? Have you been living in the present for a long time? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or twisted somehow; perhaps those things you’ve been creating with abandon actually will become useful soon, or your prison is weaker than it appears.
XIV – Samech – Sagittarius – Support
Moderation, Inner Balance, Completion, and Growth
Art (Temperance in the Rider-Waite tradition) corresponds to the Hebrew Letter Samech, which symbolizes the support that God gives to everyone in order that they may live to their fullest, if they so choose. Samech represents the inspiration from God that gives us the ability to reason and to make art. The letter Samech is a circle, symbolizing the idea that all thinks come to an end, and then a new beginning will start – what difference is there between a beginning and an end? In this way, the ouroboros and infinity come into play through this letter, representing the divine truth and whole of God. This letter represents the rightness of the universe, and some of the forces seen in the card Adjustment make themselves known in this card as well, but on less abstract terms; Samech represents helping those in need, who have fallen, and welfare. The original pictograph of Samech is a shield, symbolizing the protectiveness and support of the letter.
Astrologically, Art is represented by the Sun Sign of Sagittarius, representing exploration, wisdom, and adapting to learning. The card of Art, then, represents wisdom (that attained by realization of the infinite nature of God) and kindness. One of the first things a truly wise man will learn is that too much or little of something can be disastrous. In the Rider-Waite tradition, this idea of moderation comes to the forefront, as the card is called Temperance. The card shows an angel, one foot in and one foot out of the water, pouring liquid in between two vessels, balancing it out. The idea of balance then comes into play, but on a different level than seen in Adjustment; this is not the divine balance of the universe, but rather the need to have a stable equilibrium in one’s own being and existence. The Thoth art shows a two-headed figure – representing two parts of a personality in balance (reinforced by the lion and eagle) – mixing an alchemical brew. Alchemy is the perfect example of the kind of personal balance this card alludes to, and also has an element of crafting something, and of art – the very name of the card!
This card, then, represents inner balance, moderation, and temperance. It also represents two (or more) things coming to their fullest selves in the company of one another – the completed lovers, and the consummated marriage (think of the circle). The card also shows two women, and so represents the fertility and potential for growth of any individual, as well as wisdom and art. This is the card of small-scale equilibrium and homeostasis; it represents creativity and the ability to adjust one’s own destiny. One having balance within oneself allows one to have harmony with others. The alchemical element of this card alludes to the ability to dissolve and combine things to make them something greater, so that 1+1=3.
On the Tree of Life, this card lies between the Sefirot of Tiphareth (Conscious Harmony) and Yesod (Essence of Being and Crystallization). Essentially, Art is the card that allows one to apply conscious harmony and balance to achieve one’s greatest essence of being.
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role of self-regulation and inner balance in your life. It asks you to think about your relationship to the rest of the world, and to those you care about most. Is your life full? Are your relationships full? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or twisted somehow; perhaps your moderation is only on the surface, or is a temporary thing, or perhaps your harmony is false…
XIII – Nun – Scorpio – Fish
Inexorable Forces, Rebirth, Imperfection, and Transition
Death corresponds to the Hebrew letter Nun, which means fish. Fish (Nun) swim in the water (Mem), and so one of the things the Hanged Man comes to terms with and learns about is Death. The fish is also the symbol of resurrection and of Christ himself. Taking this metaphor further, this letter then also represents the state of the world once it has been fixed by Christ; it represents the way things should be – and Death is a part of existence just as much as life is. This letter also represents the wisdom that comes from accepting the knowledge gained from swimming in its sea, and a lack of self-consciousness. As fish live under the water, this letter represents the hidden life in unexpected places; beneath the surface.
Astrologically, Death corresponds to the Sun Sign of Scorpio, which itself symbolizes the cycle of life and death; a very fitting symbol, for the card Death does not just symbolize Death, but also implies by its existence the existence also of life. Scorpio is the Sign of transformation and change, and so too is Death the card of transformation and change. Death rarely, if ever, signifies physical death, and instead usually means metaphorical deaths. This card also reminds us to not look at death as purely an ending, but also a beginning; for rarely do endings not have a new beginning that follows them. The Fool, however, emphasizes beginnings, while Death emphasizes endings – though both phases are implied by both cards.
Death is a force in all of our lives, and so like Fortune, this card represents powerful, inexorable forces in our life. These forces change us greatly, and also transform us – and transformation is the key to this card. Death is not just the ending of life – it is the beginning of what comes after life. Death represents endings, yes, but also rebirth, and moments of transition. Transition and transformation are the key aspects of this card.
On the Tree of Life, Death lies between the Sefirot of Tiphareth (Conscious Harmony) and Netzach (Bliss and Degenerate Weakness). This position places Death as being the destroyer of perfection (he already has destroyed the Hanged Man’s perfection, as he is twelve – the number of signs in the Zodiac), taking the balance of Tiphareth and weakening it. It is the force of Death that prevents Tiphareth’s balance from becoming stagnant, and it is through Death – and the fear of it – that sin arises. Death represents the movement stirred on by powerful forces, and the imperfection that is a part of existence.
The inexorability of Death is seen in the Rider-Waite art, as he rides his horse steadily forward, ignoring the pleas made by those around him, killing them anyway. He is a menacing figure, towering over those before him. In the distance, the sun rises, hinting at a new birth. In the Thoth art, Death appears to be locked in a dance, surrounded by lost souls. A scorpion appears by him, symbolizing transformation (through Scorpio), and also a fish, symbolizing rebirth and resurrection. An eagle also flies above his head, signifying the last part of the cycle of life and death (rebirth, change, and realization – this is my own personal take on it) – the realization of one’s new life.
In a reading, this card never (or at least, almost never) means actual, physical death. Rather, it asks you to examine transition or transformative stages in your life, and eras that might be ending. It asks you consider giving yourself a chance to be reborn, to examine imperfections in your life, and warns you of powerful forces out of your control headed your way. Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden or twisted somehow; perhaps one’s transformation is only on the surface, or the forces coming for you can be controlled.
XII – Mem – Water – Waters
Paradox, Suspension, the Wisdom of Patience, and Stillness
The Hanged Man corresponds to the Hebrew letter Mem, signifying waters and knowledge from the Tanakh and Torah. It represents the ocean of knowledge about God and the world. This ocean contains not only secret knowledge, but also knowledge available for everyone to see. This letter also represents the idea of knowledge coming to someone, as opposed to him (or her) actively seeking it out. The letter Mem represents the wisdom that comes through experience, patience, and waiting. It symbolizes the dependence of all life upon water, and so also the dependence of every living being on the love of fellow beings and of God. As water is present in our very body, this letter also represents the entirety of one’s being, and the meditation and contemplation that can bring one wisdom. The original pictograph of this card means water, and depicts ocean waves. The letter Mem also has a second connotation: the coming of the messiah. This theme is evident in both the Thoth and Rider-Waite illustrations of the Hanged Man, which show a man hanging upside down in a way that brings to mind a crucifixion. This is also seen in one of the meanings of the card: the idea of waiting patiently for knowledge to come to you (or salvation), and the idea of sacrifice becoming salvation.
The Hanged Man is associated with the element of water (Mem even means waters), which represent passivity, emotion, and intimacy. The aspect of water reflected most strongly by the Hanged Man is that of passivity; this is the most passive card in the deck. The hanged man is not a martyr, contrary to what many believe; far from it. He seeks his own salvation, and to discern how to best do this, he has stopped doing everything and is waiting for the answer to come to him. He is not hanging or being crucified; he is merely paused, waiting. This card does not represent matryrdom in any significant way; that meaning belongs to Oppression and Ruin. However, sacrifice is a theme in this card, but to make things more complicated, a paradox is thrown in; the Hanged Man represents sacrifice that allows you to be saved. He is the dying god, who rules the realm of paradoxes. He represents stillness and the wisdom that comes from patience.
He also represents accepting one’s fate and the inevitable, and letting them wash over oneself. He represents the idea of losing to win, and of suspension. He represents taking a break from the stresses of life in order to turnabout and set off in a new – or the same – direction. Both cards show a man hanging upside down, with one leg bent at an angle, suspended from something. In the Rider-Waite art, he is suspended from a tree, and has a halo about his head, hinting of the divine knowledge he gains through his patience. The Thoth art shows the man suspended from an Ankh, symbolizing eternal life, and his hands are nailed down, hinting at the idea of a messiah. He also has snakes about his heads and feet, representing danger and temptation ignored. If you turn the two cards upside-down, instead of a hanging man we see a dancing man – he has sacrificed what he had in order to gain a new perspective – something else that this card represents: new perspectives gained from slowing down everything in your life, stepping back, and taking a deep breath.
On the Tree of Life, the Hanged Man is the path between the Sefirot of Geburah (Instability) and Hod (Knowledge). This represents the knowledge that comes out of instability; the Hanged Man steps back from the instability and chaos of his life, giving up all that he has, in order to attain wisdom and knowledge.
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role of stillness and passivity in your life. It advises you to step back and take a break, letting life wash over you. Accept your fate; some things are inevitable. What new perspectives will you gain from doing so? It also asks you to see if there is a messianic-like figure in your life, who has given up everything in order to become someone far greater. Reversed, this card’s energies can be twisted and blocked, but not necessarily. This card (for me in my own readings, at least) can be read the same both reversed and upright, for he represents multiple perspectives. However, reversed, this card can be read as an inability to rest and contemplate one’s life, or as an anti-messiah figure in your life. It could also be seen as an inability to accept one’s fate passively.
XI – Lamed – Leo – Goad
Inner Mastery, Divine Drunkenness, Union of Man and Woman, and Ecstasy
Lust (Strength in the Rider-Waite tradition, in which it is also numbered VIII) corresponds to the Hebrew Letter Lamed, the symbol of learning and teaching. Its pictographic symbol is that of a goad, or shepherd’s staff, which was used to keep the flock in line and teach them how to properly behave. The letter Lamed represents this teaching, particularly being taught how to control one’s animal instincts. It also symbolizes the union of man and woman; especially man’s intellectual knowledge with woman’s heart and emotional instinct, resulting in completeness. It represents taming one’s inner beast, and the inner mastery that comes from it (the Rider-Waite art depicts this idea of inner mastery and taming the beast very well, literally showing a woman taming a lion, exerting soft control over it).
This idea of union is central to this card, in its representation as sex – the divine union between man and woman (it is important to keep in mind that this card represents the physical, unformalized union of man and woman, not the formalized union seen in the Lovers). Along with the idea of sex is the idea of ecstasy, passion, and abandon; what can be called the “divine drunkenness,” like the wild revelries of Dionysus and Bacchus. In this regard, this card represents also a lack of self-control, and the joy that comes when one exercises one’s will or power. This card also symbolizes the idea of acceptance of one’s weaknesses and coming to terms with them.
But, as the letter Lamed’s secrets state, this card is not just about lust itself, but also about controlling that lust; the coin has two sides. This card then also can represent strength, soft control (controlling through kind and gentle force and caring), and inner mastery. On the Tree of Life, this card is the path between Chesed and Geburah – between stability and instability. This card, then, represents the constant motion (yes, there is an innuendo here) associated with lust, as stability becomes instability, and back again. It represents controlling one’s instability in order to make it stable. If the energy is flowing towards Chesed, then one’s lust has been mastered. If flowing towards Geburah, the instability of one’s inner animal is becoming dominant. This card can go either way.
Astrologically, this card is the Sun Sign of the animal dominating both forms of the card; Leo the lion. It is an interpersonal sign, representing the interactions between others, and it is also a sign of love and pride; the love that leads to union and sex, and the pride that leads to using one’s power, and that pride that comes with inner mastery.
The Thoth art combines all of these ideas, showing a woman in the process of taming her inner beast, in the form of a lion-like figure, while she herself looks to be in ecstasy, possibly also engaging in an act of sex with said lion. This art represents the delicate balance between one’s inner animal and one’s ability to control the beast.
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role of the baser, animal instincts in your life; do you have them under control? Do you not have them under control? Have you been giving into your inner hedonist lately? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden, blocked, or twisted somehow; perhaps your inner beast is concealed but not controlled, or you do not control it but merely direct it.