The Wildwood Tarot was designed by Mark Ryan and John Matthews and illustrated by Will Worthington. The deck is a rethinking of the Greenwood Tarot (designed also by Mark Ryan), with redesigned images and a slight changing of the theme. The deck draws on natural pre-Celtic woodland symbolism to help us get in touch with our inner guide. The deck is based on the idea that as a species, humans have lost our connection with our subconscious, which in turn reflects our race becoming out-of-step with our planet. The deck encourages caring for our environment and reminds us that (at the moment), we have only one planet to live on, and we would be foolish to throw it away. Readings with this deck, then, often reflect also on one’s relationship with their surroundings, and the symbolism of the deck strongly relies on themes relating to nature and Man’s relationship with it.
The Wheel of the Year
The Minor and Major Arcana of the Wildwood Tarot are structured in such a way that while it reflects traditional Tarot structures (i.e., the Fool’s Journey and the flowing energy ofEinSof through the Sefirot), it is primarily based on the very natural idea of the passage of time and the cycle of the year. The edge of the Wheel is made up of the Minor Arcana, which divide then the wheel into four parts, or seasons: Arrows/Spring (Air), Bows/Summer (Fire), Vessels/Autumn (Water), and Stones/Winter (Earth). The Minor Arcana define the edges of the Wheel, and tell directly of the life-cycle associated with each season within the year. The Major Arcana are divided into three different wheels inside the Minors: The Outer Conscious Level, the Inner Human Level, and the Heart of the Wood. The Trumps represent the Fool’s Journey as seen in the frame of the passage of a year. The Major Arcana themselves are numbered in a way that corresponds roughly to the way they are numbered in more standard decks, but are more meaningful when looked at in terms of their position on the wheel.
Spring – The Time of Arrows
The Time of Arrows represents the start of the new year, the beginning of journeys, the potential of the future, and a time to celebrate coming out of the cold of winter. It is the season of Air, and represents the awakening of intellect, concepts, ambitions, and communication.
Minor Arcana: The Time of Arrows begins with the Breath of Life (Ace), coming from the mouth of the Uffington Horse. We start a new journey and begin to think of ideas for the coming year, putting them into practice and beginning to think about our potential. It represents renewed vitality and a knowledge of where you want to go and how to get there. It is the start of life itself.
Following the Breath, one is often disappointed when reality comes out to spar with one’s potential, and Injustice (Two) follows – for where there are clashing wills and life, there is injustice and the distortion of truth. The truth is obscured by multiple opposing views, and one must pierce through the haze to find the truth. As Spring goes on and Injustice exists, the lives of people become unbalanced, and the feeling of Jealousy (Three) comes to the fore. Emotions become tense, and fear, resentment, and disharmony begin to spread as people disagree on the truth and what to do with the new year. Negative feelings and emotions, often spurred by a loss in a time of plenty, often come in Spring.
Eventually, wounds are healed as time and people move on, and everyone reaches a state of Rest (Five). Rest is a second period of renewal, in which one puts aside their feelings of Injustice and Jealousy, emerging from a period of stress and entering one of peace. But feelings of peace, like any other feelings, are quickly shattered by Frustration (Five), as they emerge from their rest revitalized and full of energy, seeking to use their energy and put it to good use. However, an excess of energy misapplied leads to failure, disappointment, and frustration, and a squandering of resources.
Frustration, if handled properly, results in one stepping back and rethinking their actions and situation – which leads to a Transition (Six), in which one gives up the old path to try something new, whether it be to solve the frustrating problem or move away from it entirely onto a new plane of thought and personality. Drastic transitions often bring with them feelings of Insecurity (Seven), as (often unfounded) doubts and fears lead to confusion, anxiety, false impressions, and personal fragmentation. A lack of self-discipline is required in order to keep one’s identity and personality intact through their life, elsewise Insecurity will result.
One then will Struggle (Eight) with their feelings of Insecurity on their journey of Transition, and reminds us that the cold breath of winter has not yet left the year as the snows return for a brief period. One may have failed in some task or other, but the darkness will not last forever, and perseverance is needed to make your way out of the darkness of impending doom and defeat. Dedication (Nine) is also necessary to emerge from the dark days of despair, and the planting begins as summer nears, and the seeds are sown for a new harvest. The card Dedication represents focused energy, as one learns a particular skill and keeps to it, bettering both themselves and the community.
As the Time of Arrows draws to a close, the community draws together again and the elders teach the younger members what they need to know, and so begins a period of Instruction, and the passing on of life, knowledge, and wisdom to those who shall need it next. This card represents harmony and love between generations, as well as patience, tolerance, and good communication.
Major Arcana: The Wanderer‘s (0) journey begins in the Time of Arrows, as he steps forward from the realm of the known into the edge of the Wildwood, full of curiosity and an adventurous spirit. The Wanderer is the reader’s – or querent’s – significator, and represents the person themselves. He makes a leap of faith, jumping into the dark, following his heart and heeding the call that pulls him forward, his innocence allowing him to do what the more experienced cannot. They begin the journey with many questions and a desire to learn more about themselves and the Wood before them.
The Wanderer then begins to travel through space and time, along the Wheel (10) of time. The Wheel itself is placed at the Autumn Equinox, and is a reminder that Winter approaches, and that all things change, and that cycles are a part of nature. The Wheel also represents the Wheel of the Year that the Wanderer journeys through, and so holds a special place among the Trumps.
As Winter ends and Spring begins, the Wanderer steps into the Wildwood, and after a short trek inside encounters the Ancestor (5) on his inner level, representing ancestral wisdom and shared memory. She stands as the guardian of the inner secrets of the forest, and all who enter must meet her approval. She is nature’s patience and nature’s wisdom, to help others understand how they relate to themselves on their deepest level, and to the Wildwood.
As the Ancestor turns and leads the Wanderer forward, the Pole Star (17) manifests on the outer level reminds him to keep his bearings and to remember where he is. The Pole Star represents the higher will of God as seen in the creation of the heavens, and also the laws of the universe. The Pole Star will guide the Wanderer and keep him grounded, and reminds him of the natural laws of existence, and tells him of a hidden, unseen power that watches over everything.
As the height of Spring – the Equinox – approaches, the Wanderer experiences an enlightenment, the Wildwood stirring him from his unconscious state of being, and he awakens for the first time into the Archer (7). His mind blossoms and he is able to keenly perceive all that surrounds him, and knows that he has a will and can direct and focus it, like an arrow loosed from a shaft. The Wanderer learns to control his energy and will, and is able to calm himself both physically and mentally in order to do so. The Wanderer is filled with new life and purpose, and a new spring enters his stride as he follows the Ancestor onward.
On the conscious level – as the transformation into the Archer is unconscious – the Wanderer encounters also the majesty and grandeur of the Wildwood in the form of the Stag (8), king of the forest. He represents the strength of the forest, and also the laws of karma – one gets what one gives. Nature’s terrible beauty is revealed, and the unforgiving yet fair nature of the Wildwood is revealed. The Stag represents justice and continuation, and a return to balance and peace, sometimes kept through force of arms.
Court Cards: The four Lords of Arrows are birds, emerging as the Winter snows melt and Spring rears its head. The four Court Cards represent the four aspects of Spring, and the personality of the season. The Kingfisher (King) rules the spring, its dazzling plumage the admiration of all. The Kingfisher is powerful, willful, and able to judge wisely. It has no bias and sees everything clearly, and is not afraid to use its strength and maintain its freedom. He is strongest following the Imbolc.
The consort of the Kingfisher is the Swan (Queen), who is graceful, beautiful, and lonely. She is separate from everything that surrounds her, and lives often in solitude. Her beauty marks her also for destruction, and her own purity may bring her down. She has little, but she never loses her faith in her suffering, and is able to move on proudly. She is strongest before the Spring Equinox.
The Hawk (Knight) is swift, courageous, and eagle-eyed. He often acts without thinking, and is quick to anger and slow to forgiveness. He sees everything clearly, but understanding often eludes him. He brings messages, and his eyes can pierce through illusion and shadow. He is subtle and unafraid to do what he thinks must be done. He is strongest after the Spring Equinox.
Strongest before Beltane, the Wren (Page) is the guardian of mysteries, and alone holds the secrets of Winter, having lived through it, unlike many other birds. It is a studious creature, learning quickly and gaining great wisdom. It is determined to survive, and will gain all of the knowledge it can in order to do so. It works hard and reaps a bountiful harvest.
Summer – The Time of Bows
The Time of Bows represents the blooming of the Earth’s fertility, coming into its fullest, and the long, hot months of the beginning harvest and the prime of hunting. It is the season of Fire, of creativity, development, and will.
Minor Arcana: The Time of Bows begins with the Spark of Life (Ace), which adds on to the Breath of Life, and allowed for Life to come into its fullest potential. Life had begun to exist in the Time of Arrows, but now it has begun to exist with a purpose in the Time of Bows. It is no longer the tool, it is the wielder.
Coming with this new role in life, people must learn the art of how to make a Decision (Two). A confident course of action must be decided upon and taken, and there can be no looking back. One must strike out on their own and be unafraid. The gate is opening and the possibilities are endless. Once the decision is made, hopefully this helps one experience Fulfilment (Three). One’s goals are reaches and one’s desires satisfied, as one’s spirit rejoices in security. One knows who and what they are, having decided that, and are confident in themselves, having learn to use the bow to loose the arrow.
One then enters into a state of Celebration (Four) in order rejoice in this Fulfilment, and give thanks for good health, wealth, life, and safety and security. It is a time in which everyone is harmonious, blessing the warmth of summer, and when everyone sits back to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Honored by the community and by himself, the fulfilled individual feels a sense of Empowerment (Five), for they have succeeded in their endeavors, and are fertile and full of potential. They are ready to make more decisions and fully take charge of their own destiny.
As the Summer Solstice approaches, the community is filled with Abundance (Six), in which the first harvest is taken in, and joy can be taken in the success of one’s work. It is the best time of the year, when warmth kisses everyone’s face and the times are not hard. There is more than enough to go around, and the world is at peace.
But Autumn approaches, and soon after the Solstice clouds can be seen gathering and a chill felt in the air. The community realizes that its bountiful harvest will not last forever, and begins to put some things away, being careful not to squander resources, careful to prioritize things correctly and making decisions about the times ahead, giving the future some Clearance (Seven). As the chill seeps more and more into the air, the community gathers around the Hearthfire (Eight), enjoying one another’s company and purring inwardly with satisfaction. One knows the greatest peace with one’s close friends and family, and a sense of belonging pervades the scene and the card.
As one continues on the journey of the Year towards Winter, they will encounter obstacles again, and will have to learn to Respect (Nine) the wilds and those around him. This card is a reflection of respect given, not respect earned. The flipside of Respect is Humility, which is a virtue that must be learned so that one can truly Respect the world around him. And with great Respect comes great Responsibility (Ten), which one must learn before the Winter comes. One must learn to be stoic, determine, and develop stamina, for the tasks ahead will not be easy; everyone must be able to pull their load.
Major Arcana: As time passes and the Wanderer continues to travel his path through the Wildwood, he encounters the Forest Lovers (6) – Marian and Robin reborn. He feels the stirrings within himself as he longs to experience a union with another, joining forces with someone else to create a third force: life and a new state of being. He sees and understands how two polarized forces join together to make something new, and understands the attraction. He begins to view his relationship with the Wildwood in much the same vein, and understands the power of mutual love and respect, and sees how one must balance oneself.
And so then, on the conscious level, the Wanderer learns Balance (14), and sees how both light and dark are necessary, and how that without opposites there would be no vitality to life. Furthermore, he understands how important it is to balance his wild, natural nature with his refined, human one. It reminds him that every living thing has a connection to the planet, and that by not acknowledging this connection one will become doomed. The key to tranquility is being at one with oneself and perfectly balanced.
The Midsummer Solstice fast approaches, and the Wanderer encounters two spirits of the forest – the Green Man (4) and the Green Woman (3). They are the father and the mother of the forest, respectively. The Green Man is stern and watchful, the Dagda of the forest, and is virile and powerful. He protects his charges, the wild beasts of the forces, with great force and reminds the Wanderer that the king and kingdom are one and the same. He is stoic and ever-watching, and yet also has within him a great merriment and is exceedingly generous. Those who take advantage of him or his kingdom, however, soon find themselves wishing they hadn’t. The Green Woman is caring and nurturing, as fertile as the Green Man is virile. As the Green Man is active and filled with primal energy, the Green Woman is reserved and peaceful, guiding her charges forward. She is the challenger of the forest, and all who can meet her demands are blessed with love, warmth, and meaning.
In the sky above the Wanderer, the Sun of Life (19) reaches its fullest height, and the natural energies of the Wildwood – and of the Green Man and Woman – are at their highest height as well. The Sun brings warmth and light to the world, and allows for existence. It represents primal, raw power that fuels the world and keeps it going. It also represents clarity and moving into another, more aware state of mind and being. The Sun is also a star, and so also serves as a guide and reminds us that we are all made of the stars, and are part of the great circle of life.
Court Cards: The Lords of Bows are the masters of Summer, watchful and vigilant in their time of plenty, to ensure that what they have is not taken from them. The Adder (King) is strongest after Beltane, and despite the warmth of the weather, does not lose any of its seriousness. It is constantly competing for survival, and is extremely mature and intelligent. It is unerringly honest and has the greatest integrity, for it has nothing to hide its true nature. It is determined, wise, and strong, and will not give up its claims. The adder also, despite its venom, heals and helps bring balance and magic into the world.
The Hare (Queen) is the eternal partner and prey of the Adder, constantly engaged in a natural dance with it. She is extremely fertile and represents the potential of Spring carrying on into the Summer. She is kind and makes a marvelous companion, and brings with her success, courtesy, and a willingness to help. She is generous and understanding, but also is ever-vigilant, for she knows that many will take advantage of her and she is constantly hunted. The Hare is strongest before Midsummer.
Another predator, the Fox (Knight) rules in Summer during the Time of Bows as well.The Fox is cunning, able to move stealthily and silently to find its prey. He is both playful and wise, like a child mature beyond his or her years. He is constantly adapting and changing, and serves as a reminder that while change can be good, it often has a cost attached to it. He sees into the future and anticipates his opponents’ moves, and constantly moves himself, never remaining in one place for too long. He is strongest during Midsummer.
The Stoat (Page) rules after Midsummer and before Lammas. He is a fierce hunter and ferocious and flexible. He is associated strongly with the land, and will not move from it so long as he can. The Stoat is an ambassador and possesses regal splendor, and yet is mysterious and full of secrets. He is a prodigy and a very free spirit, unwilling to ever bow its head. He is a stranger to most, and rules the realm of dreams and vision.
Autumn – The Time of Vessels
The Time of Vessels represents the chill creeping back into the Earth, and the drawing together of the community and the preparations for Winter. It is a time of high emotion, great instinct, compassion, forgiveness, and romance and love. It the season of Water.
Minor Arcana: The Time of Vessels begin with the Waters of Life (Ace) filling the vessels of the suit and season, reawakening wisdom and the all-encompassing memory of the universal soul, ready to inspire the people to begin their quest anew, for rough times lie ahead. As the community begins to work together again, emotions of intimacy and Attraction (Two) are kindled in the people, and opposites begin to attract as opposing polarities draw together in friendship and love. Attraction is the spark that begins all relationships, and is tempered, refined, and strengthened by the need to work together to prepare for the coming Winter.
As two people attracted to each other work together, they experience Joy (Three) at their intimacy, and also at the unity of the community and the family. It represents rejoicing at the safe and successful return of a group of people, and welcoming them back into the community, with the promise of new lives and bounty. As the community continues to work hard, some begin to suffer from Boredom (Four) and a lethargy of the soul, unable to bring themselves to do anything, and missing the point of the labor. The individual begins to waste resources and energy, and becomes trapped in a cycle of inaction and squandering. They have lost their momentum, and it must be regained.
And when it is, they experience a sense of Ecstasy (Five) at the return of purpose, and are renewed and revitalized when the drums of the universe sound, calling them back to their duty. Others in the group hear the drums as well and take a short break, letting themselves surrender to the dance of Life for a short while, reveling in their existence. The lethargic soul then experiences a Reunion (Six) with the active souls, and the two soon-to-be lovers of before are reunited, and the secrets of reincarnation is taught, in which the lovers learn that they were meant to be and had united over past lifetimes and aeons. Ancestral memory from the Waters of Life returns also, reuniting the community with the world and universe.
The summer has, by this time, largely left the world, and Winter now looms over the forest and its inhabitants. The time has come for Mourning (Seven), to bid farewell to summer and let it go. It is a time to mourn all that is lost, and to also put the past behind and move onward with life at peace with what has passed. With this Mourning comes then also Rebirth (Eight), in which one learns from one’s mistakes and gains new insights and wisdom. The lessons of the past inform the future, and we move forward in our lives, putting our new knowledge to good use and connecting all times: past, present, and future.
One of the lessons learned from the past is that of Generosity (Nine) – both in terms of giving and receiving. One reaps what one sows, and if one is compassionate, respectful, and generous to others and to nature, they will receive the same in kind. When one gives, one also gains, and as one gives and gains, they experience Happiness (Ten). One receives the benefits of one’s kindness, and their heart’s desire is fulfilled. They become pure and clean, and understand the true meaning of life and what to best gain from it, and so are able to ignore the dark shadow of Winter that looms overhead.
Major Arcana: The Wanderer’s journey continues, and fall approaches. Energy begins to recede from the Earth, and he must rely on his own inner stores in order to survive. As Lammas arrives, a drastic change takes place in the Wanderer’s life as he encounters the Blasted Oak (16), and he is reminded that nature destroys as well as creates, and that things can come out of the blue. He is awakened suddenly from a state of half-slumber by the brilliance of the bolt, and breaks away from the traditional path in his shock. The Blasted Oak demonstrates the primal power of nature, and a clean break from the old and into the new. But just as the oak burns and his destroyed, new plants will feed on its ashes, and it will rise up again in the form of its successors
As he moves on onto a new path, the Wanderer encounters next the Woodward (11). The Woodward is strong and wise, filled with a practical knowledge that allows him to survive in the wilderness. He is the cat of the forest, and knows precisely where he is going. He is both the hunter and the protector of the forest, acting as a warden and guard. He points the way for the Wanderer, and accompanies him for a time, lending him strength. He is mature and understands the balance of nature, and teaches the Wanderer what he knows. He is fierce and in control of his emotions, and is also merciful in those times when the Stag is not. The Wanderer consciously learns from the dweller of the forest.
The Wanderer then comes face to face with himself, and he looks at his life and self through the lens of the Mirror (12). He sees the approach of Winter and looks deeply at himself to understand what he can do to prepare. He rests after the shock and trauma of the Blasted Oak, using the guidance of the Woodward to reflect and think on what has happened. He begins to grow inside, developing his spirit and mind, and heals his wounds. He begins to truly understand the nature of the Wildwood by looking at himself, and understands that he is merely a microcosm of the world and universe. He sees clearly the influences of fate in his life, and begins to regain his virility and vitality. He is also reminded by the mirror of the passage of time and the Wheel (10) on a more conscious level, and he reminds himself that all things change and so he will move on with the seasons.
Court Cards: The Lords of Vessels are the master of Autumn, wise and frugal, preparing for the long Winter that lies ahead. The Heron (King) rules the Autumn, and is the first to wake and greet the changes coming into his life. He is the guardian of esoteric knowledge, and serves as the guardian of the gates of life and death. He speaks on behalf of the deceased as they journey to the afterlife, and welcomes them upon their reincarnation. He is fair, honest, and responsible, having great hidden power. He always considers others and is often affectionate. The Heron is strongest after Lammas.
His prey, the Salmon (Queen), is also a master of the Time of Vessels. The Salmon is virtuous, devoted, and single-minded. She sees things simply, understanding that complexity sometimes is meaningless, and understands the heart of the matter. The Salmon is a symbol of recovery and security, and is caring and loving, devoted to and pampering of her charges, whom she cherishes. The Salmon is strongest before the Autumnal Equinox.
The Eel (Knight), another fish, is wise and is happy to spread its wisdom. It is welcoming and seductive with its sinuous curves, and represents the attraction found in life. It represents union and induction as well, and is very agreeable and a broker of peace. The Eel is also strong and is able to conquer that which it wishes. It is strongest during the Autumnal Equinox.
The Otter (Page) is the ultimate hunter of fish, and is also unerringly loyal and devoted. She is perceptive and happy to help and serve others; the perfect vassal. She is a great thinker and dreamer, able to see things that others don’t. She studies and learns, and is more than happy to cooperate with others. The Otter possesses also the ability to move between worlds without effort, gaining insight from this movement. She is strongest before Samhain.
Winter – The Time of Stones
The Time of Stones is one of using what was one has stored, practicality, frugality, and a material focus in a time of hardship. It is the end of the journey, and also the start of a new cycle, as it leads directly into spring. It is a season of gain, possession, achievement, and physical and worldly ambitions. It is the season of Earth.
Minor Arcana: The Time of Stones begins with the Foundation of Life (Ace), in which the existence, drive, and wisdom of the previous three seasons are put into practice and become something tangible and real; for what use are ideas if they cannot help improve existence? Inevitably, when one brings something new into the lives of the community, there will be a Challenge (Two) from someone else that will have to be met head-on. One’s position will be challenged and they will have to fight for their selves and the sake of the community. Competition breeds success in moderation, and one must learn how to compete and fight for dominance without becoming emotionally involved.
Competition breeds also Creativity (Three), as the artist, the inventor, and the leader listen to the whisperings of the forest and let themselves be inspired. This is the card of Afflatus Divine, of listening to one’s inner self and finding in there new ideas and creativity.
As Winter approaches its height, it becomes necessary to seek Protection (Four) from its wild ravages, seeking shelter from the snows and cold. The vulnerable are protected and allowed to grow, while the hope of warmth and the sun remains to keep us going. In order to make it through the end, though, we need to learn Endurance (Five), and take strength from our inner self. Both physical and emotional resilience will be necessary of one is is to endure.
Exploitation (Six) speaks of the dangers of squandering resources and energy, and reduces people to beggars, left with nothing but the ability to wither away to nothing and die. When one overuses the Earth, or takes without giving back, they lose all they have and so have nothing in the harsh months of Winter. In order to survive, one must not be selfish or inconsiderate. When one realizes the error of their ways, Healing (Seven) can begin as a period of rejuvenation, inner calm, and rest, with the purpose of making oneself whole and healthy again. This card reminds us that emotional and physical wounds will heal, and that the healing of the spirit is the only way to truly become whole once again and recover completely.
As one lives in the harsh snows and temperatures of Winter, one gains much Skill (Eight) and experience in the ways of Life, and has learned skills that allow one to survive: practical tasks and labor necessary for the continuation of both life and love. The passing on of skills from generation to generation lead to the establishment and carrying on of Tradition (Nine), and a respect for the past and the sacrifices one’s ancestors made to gain wisdom and knowledge. This card also represents the passing on of said knowledge and wisdom, and the connection between all peoples of all times.
Throughout the long months of winter, one thing remains constant: Home (Ten). Home is not just a physical place, but an emotional one as well, representing the supportive community that surrounds the individual, supporting them and rising them up above the masses. Home is where the heart is, and it is the home that allows one to endure and see the blossoms of Spring.
Major Arcana: Winter has come, and the Wanderer is cold. The night of Samhain approaches, and as the chill suffuses the air, the Guardian (15) greets the Wanderer, posing riddles and taunting him, laughing and mocking they who try to carry on through the cold months. Appearing as the skeleton of a cave bear, the Guardian stalks forth from the cave holding the secrets of ancestral memory, and forces the Wanderer to realize his own inner darkness with harsh words and terrible insights. He causes the Wanderer to fear himself and everything around him, even when there might be no reason for fear at all. He challenges the Wanderer before he can enter the cave of ancestral memory, and grows stronger on the Wanderer’s fear and paranoia. The Wanderer cannot pass until he has conquered his own paranoia, fears, and suspicions, for otherwise the Guardian will be too strong. The Guardian represents all that is dark within us, and also symbolizes the wild wilderness within us all, that which we fear to let come to the surface: until we realize the dark secrets of the Guardian, we are lost to ourselves.
Encountering the Guardian prepared the way for the Wanderer’s new Journey (13), as the Wanderer’s world is turned once more upside-down. The Wanderer is reminded of the inevitability of death, change, and transitions, but also comes to accept that there is nothing he can do to alter it, and that these transformations are a vital and necessary part of life. The Journey is a reminder that there are paths that all things take through time, and that the cycle goes on and on, as things die and are reborn. The Wanderer again takes a step out into the darkness, trusting that he will arrive where he needs to go, and that he will be purified by it.
As the Midwinter Solstice approaches, the cold sets in long and hard, and the Wanderer retreats into himself and a hiding place to wait out the snows, becoming the Hooded Man (9). The Wanderer reflects on himself without any other around, and realizes many things about his own existence. Knowledge becomes illuminated and he begins to truly understand himself and the world around him, and his place in it. He becomes calm and tranquil, suspending himself from the wild and waiting calmly for the Winter to end, while life goes by without.
As the Wanderer reflects in the form of the Hooded Man, he sees a vision of the Great Bear (20) appear before him, come to judge him and give him what he deserves. The Great Bear stands before the gates to the realm of the dead and spirits, that realm which the Wanderer ultimately has realized that he seeks to understand. The Great Bear judges our lives through the eyes of nature, and its eyes are unclouded by morals and divinity. It thinks merely of balance and practicality, and rewards you with what you have done with your life, whether it be good or bad, helpful or harmful. The Great Bear represents nature’s final judgment of oneself, and none can escape that final truth of cosmic law. The Bear also represents renewal and reincarnation, as well as a passage into the realms of the mystical.
The Moon on Water (18) is its highest at the Midwinter Solstice, and the primal power of nature as seen on Earth rears its head and roars. It is at this point that the Wanderer’s consciousness is at its height, and the path to illumination, knowledge, and wisdom becomes clear, as the rest of the world goes still, quivering with potential power. The world around the Wanderer is reborn as Winter begins to end, new life arising from death, fertility coming from decay. Potential is hidden within the moon, the light waiting to come out of darkness, the egg from the womb, and with this realization of the constant nature of the circle of rebirth, the Wanderer walks the path of the Moon, and enters the Heart of the Wildwood.
Court Cards: The Lords of Stones are masters of Winter, untroubled the cold and snows. The ruler of Winter and the Time of Stones is the Wolf (King), whose communal spirit and ruthless hunting and tracking skills allow him to survive in the dead of winter. He guards the dead as they pass on to the underworld and a new life. He is logical and reasoning, loyal and determined. He is healthy and practical, able to compute, calculate, and appraise. He is also a very good and fair barterer. He is most powerful after Samhain.
The Cave Bear (Queen) sleeps during the winter, and so survives through inactivity, as the King survives through activity. The Bear is generous and has more than enough, and has no fear of the Winter that lies ahead. She is honest and always keeps her promises, filled with power. She is also protective, and trusts in the land to protect her as she protects the land. She is successful and reassuring, and her power waxes before Midwinter.
The stubborn and indomitable Horse (Knight) also reigns over the Winter, persevering through the cold months through sheer force of will. The Horse is healthy and strong, able to quickly understand what is needed, and able to get a lot out of a little. The Horse is kind and helpful, and makes a good friend and ally, who brings profit to those around it. The strength of the Horse is strongest during Midwinter.
Master of cats, the Lynx (Page) sits at the top of the food chain, ever watching, ever hidden. She is a great teacher, and teaches and learns by example. She is careful and cautious, reflecting on everything around her and watching others to learn about them and herself. She represents learning and apprentices, and reminds us that we are always learning and always teaching. She survives through the winter because of her ability to learn from those around her, studying the forest. She is strongest after Midwinter and before Imbolc, at which point her power waves and passes on to the Kingfisher (King of Arrows).
The Heart of the Wildwood
Major Arcana: In the Heart of the Wildwood, there are no seasons ad time passes differently, as the memory of all living things merges into one at the foot of Yggdrasill. The Wanderer first encounters the Shaman (1), who reaches out to embrace and protect the Wanderer as he enters the Wildwood’s Heart. He is the master of the elements, able to manipulate them to his will, and he teaches the Wanderer to do the same. He represents the different levels of consciousness and energy within the Wanderer, and helps him come to terms fully with his entire being. He represents the knowledge gained by the Wanderer after his time spend with the Woodsman. The Shaman teaches the Wanderer also empathy and the ability to communicate with all life, and is at one with the living universe. He is magical and a master of intellect and knowledge, knowing all there is to know about the Wildwood. He is the wild man of the woods, and the primal knowledge within us all. He is Air.
The Seer stands before Wanderer next, ruling the realm of intuition and emotion, as the Shaman rules intellect and reason. She is as mysterious as the Shaman is open, and represents the “dark” side of his “light.” She sees into the future as the shaman learns from the past. She is wise and patient, and advises the Wanderer in the realms of instinct. She represents the wisdom gained from the Wanderer’s period of solitude as the Hooded Man. She represents inner knowledge and wisdom, and coming into oneself, as the Shaman represents coming into one’s surroundings. She is in control of her emotions and is perfectly balanced. She is Water.
The Wanderer (0) then is finally at peace with himself and the universe, and he becomes Earth. Having known well and understood the lessons of the Shaman and the Seer, the Wanderer finds the last obstacles before him falling away, and steps forward through the labyrinth to embrace the World Tree (21). The Wanderer must make use of the skills he has learned to traverse the labyrinth before the World Tree and enter its open door. He becomes complete and blends in with the world, and sees the divinity and sacredness within all life and all existence, understanding fully the complexity and simplicity of the universe. He understands his place within existence, and so becomes one with everything. The World Tree represents both the end of the Wanderer’s Journey and the beginning of something greater, passing into the realm of the other and understanding it all.
The Dark Grimoire Tarot, published by Lo Scarabeo, is arranged like a traditional Tarot deck. The images are all fully illustrated, and the cards correspond roughly to their Rider-Waite counterparts. The illustrations or given a sepia wash and are very dark in their nature, which leads a reader to interpret the cards in a darker, more pessimistic may than they might have normally. The deck is based on the assumption that authors of horror – and particularly H. P. Lovecraft – have managed to have visions of a forgotten world that intersects with our own, and bases its symbolism around supernatural elements of horror.
In particular, the deck is based on the forbidden teachings of dark grimoires of magic, such as H. P. Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon – or is it fictional? The deck is designed to be a grimoire in and of itself, providing forbidden knowledge and insights into a forgotten world of magic. The deck’s illustrations and scarce explanations force the reader to rely more on intuition and individualized interpretation of the images than most other Tarot decks.
The Minor Arcana
The four suits of the Dark Grimoire Tarot are the typical ones, but with slightly altered meanings, referring to different aspects of the conscious self: Wands are Lights, representing Fire, creativity and sexuality, Chalices are Dreams, representing Water, emotions, and feelings, Swords are Demons, representing Air, thoughts, and control, and Pentacles are Shadows, representing Earth, matter, and needs. The numbers from one to ten also each represent a different aspect of each of the four elements, and each act as part of their own grimoire:
Ones: The cover of the book, telling and hinting at what is inside, and indicating the suit in its entirety.
Twos: The book opens, and begins to be read. The energy of the book and the energy of the reader collide, creating an obstacle and contest of wills.
Threes: The reader advances beyond the introduction, and sees the purpose of the grimoire, and he and the book are at peace, and unify. The reading becomes natural.
Fours: The reader begins to understand the grimoire, and he is fulfilled and in a stable frame of mind.
Fives: The reader stands upon a cusp: whether or not he should advance to a higher level of understanding, or remain in his current, comfortable mental state.
Sixes: The reader ponders his dilemma, and thinks of the possible consequences.
Sevens: The reader begins to take physical and mental actions to see if they wish to move forward.
Eights: The reader decides to hold back for his own safety, but experiences stagnation and a lack of completion.
Nines: The reader is driven on then, and experiences the full text, and so is completed but perhaps also conflicted, and may never be the same again.
Tens: The grimoire ends, and a new one must be read. The reader reflects.
The Court Cards
The Court Cards each also reflect the energies of their suits, and are set up in a standard fashion with a King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. However, the cards represent different aspects of the same personality, rather than four distinct ones. The Kings represent having achieved control over one’s shadows, demons, emotions, or creative light. The Queens represent the ones who guard the sources of these four elements, and represents one’s outlook and perception of the four forces of life. The Knights represent impulsive urges to act on the drives given to them by their shadows, demons, emotions, or creativity. The Knaves represent one beginning to understand themselves and how their four centers of consciousness relate to them, and seek to learn more about them.
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana are typical of a Tarot deck, and reflect meanings almost exactly like those of the Rider-Waite deck, albeit with a warning embedded in each one, as well as giving a darker view of each of the meanings than is normal. The symbolism used is overtly taken from the works of Lovecraft and other dark horror writers, and the use of grimoires and forbidden knowledge is key in the events occurring in the scenes depicted.
The Necronomicon Tarot was designed by Donald Tyson, using the characters of H. P. Lovecraft (and others) as a means of exploring the deck. The deck assumes that the works of Mr. Lovecraft were inspired by a sort of astral projection that the man did in his dreams, and so actually represent glimpses into a real reality beyond our own. The deck is based on the Necronomicon that Tyson wrote, based in turn off of Lovecraft’s own fictional grimoire. The deck is then incredibly dark and gives a bleak outlook on things, and the cards all represent some aspect of a hidden reality that lies just behind the veil, out of our sight. The illustrations were done by Anne Stokes on a computer, and all of the cards are incredibly detailed.
This deck is most useful when you are trying to find some secret, forbidden knowledge that perhaps you should not know. This is not a deck completely of looking inwards and meditation, but also of revelation and dark secrets; this is a deck to use when you are looking to uncover things that you should not know, or secrets best left alone. Its dark artwork inspires pessimistic readings, and so this is not a deck for those unable to face the dark truths that lurk within us all.
The Minor Arcana
The Suits of the Minor Arcana are the four standard ones found throughout most Tarot decks: Wands for Fire and energy, Cups for Water and emotion, Swords for Air and abstraction, and Disks for Earth and practicality.
In addition to the Suits, each of the Minor Arcana has an associated number from one through ten, as is standard. What is not standard, however, is that the ten cards, when put in order, tell a very clear story from beginning to end, exploring the highs and lows of each suit (similar to the journeys undertaken by the energies in the Thoth deck through the Tree of Life). The meanings of most of the cards are similar to the standard ones. Each story uses characters seen in the suit’s Court Cards to get across the themes of each suit.
The story told in the Suit of Wands is one of power, domination, clashes of wills, and energy. It tells the tale of the union – and then war – between the Atlanteans and the Deep Ones, an inuman race that dwells deep below the waves. The Ace of Wands is called the Matrix of Fire, and represents this energy in its pure form, and the matrix from which the energy of the story comes from: it is the origin of the story. The tale starts with the Exaltation of Fire, and reflects the Atlanteans dominance over the world and seas, and the ideals that go with dominion and dominannce. The Deep Ones then make themselves known to the Atlanteans as seen in the Establishment of Fire, and a noblewoman meets a male Deep One and reaches an understanding with him, establishing an optimistic future. The Manifestation of Fire follows then, and the Deep One and the noblewoman are due to be married in an act of union and completion. The Bitterness of Fire makes itself known then as the Atlantean Empire expands, both strengthened and cursed by intermingling with the Deep Ones, and they conquer lesser races and enslave them, experiencing war and strife on a scale not before seen. The Atlantean Empire reaches its full height with the Rule of Fire, and now most of the Atlanteans have been mixed with the Deep Ones. Atlantis has worked hard and achieved its place in the sun. But divisions occur, and the last pureblood humans are scorned by the Deep Ones and the half-breeds, and the empire begins to fracture as Atlantis suffers the Ordeal of Fire. A sudden war begins then, as the Energy of Fire reaches it height, and competing willpowers clash in an outburst of fiery energies. But the Stability of Fire is restored as the Atlanteans use their knowledge to push back the half-breeds and Deep Ones, providing some measure of safety. In the end, however, the war is destructive for both sides, and Atlantis falls prey to its own struggle, and the Deep Ones take over what remains of Atlantis, leaving the dead Atlanteans to rot, having experienced the Burden of Fire, never having let themselves back down when it could have been for the best.
The Tale of Fire is a tale of excessive energy and fanatical energy. It is a tale of the extremes of war and union, of passion, love, hatred, and death. It is a tale of competitive relationships.
The story told in the Suit of Cups is one of acceptance, emotions, and inner discovery. The tale is set against the backdrop of a young man seeking initiation into the cult of the cat goddess Bast. It begins with the Matrix of Water, representing the web from which the tale is spun, and represents the energy of the Suit in its purest form. The tale begins with the Devotion of Water, as the High Priestess of Bast initiates the young man into the cult. It moves on then to the Abundance of Water, as the young man enjoys his new status and position among the cult, spending some quality dancing time with his new priestess companions, enjoying the good things in life. The Indulgence of Water follows, as the young man has had enough of his excesses, and has become dissatisfied, hungering after something more. He then experiences the Frustration of Water as his three companions – the priestesses and another young man – lie asleep drunk, content with what they had, while he feels dejected and alone, unable to fully enjoy what he has. The whole experience had not been what he had been expecting. The next day, he returns to the temple, shaven and clad in the linens of an acolyte, the initiation overwith, ready to start his new duties as a servant of Bast. The High Priestess accepts his service and gives him an empty silver chalice as a sign of his service beginning. He experiences then the Satisfaction of Water and a renewed hope. The acolyte then steps into the temple, and is shocked when Bast herself appears before him. Awed, he holds his chalice forth to be filled, but Bast denies him her milk, and though the acolyte yearns for her blessing he does not receive it. Angered at her refusal, the acolyte turns about and does not accept her denial turn into a welcome, and experiences then the Stagnation of Water. He shows disrespect to the goddess and throws away his success. Eventually the acolyte realizes his mistake and turns and accepts the Benediction of Water and of Bast, who in her wisdom forgives him. He has achieved that which he sought to. The Fulfillment of Water is the last step in the acolyte’s journey, and he finally comes to terms with himself and his relationship the Priestess (and Bast herself). bast has helped him realize who he is, and he is able to finally be content with his life.
The Tale of Cups is one of intimacy, revelation, and acceptance. It tells the tale of emotional relationships and one’s role in the world.
The story told in the Suit of Swords is one of betrayal, conflict, thoughts, ill-conceived plans, and the principles of love. It is set in Damascus, with a young nobleman falling for a harlot. The Matrix of Air, representing victory, intellect, and ideology provides the basis for the tale, which starts with the Reconciliation of Air, as the harlot and nobleman cease fighting and make-up, restoring peace to their relationship. The harlot has other contenders for her affection, however, and she and the bearded nobleman find themselves standing over the corpse of one of these suitors, and experience the Regret of Air at having killed someone, and in a dishonorable fashion. The slain man had friends, who find him and hold a funeral service for him, carrying his coffin through the streets of Damascus, and allow themselves the Repose of Air before their hunt for vengeance begins, taking a moment to rest and plan. They soon find the nobleman responsible, and humiliate him, stopping just short of killing him due to his powerful family, and the nobleman experiences the Weakness of Air. Angered at his humiliation, the nobleman hires an assassin and schemes to kill the other four mercenaries, performing the act of the Scheming of Air. The harlot is angered as well, and steals a sword from a swordsmith with the intention of avenging her lover with it. She experiences the Instability of Air, as unlike her lover’s plan, she has not thought far ahead and is letting passion cloud her judgement. The harlot rushes to the barracks where the slain man’s friends sleep, and finds them all already dead, each with a dagger in their body. Her course of action has suffered the Constraint of Air, as she is unable to fulfill her plan, as unforeseen events have stopped her. The Despair of Air follows as she meets again with her lover. The nobleman is irritated as the woman despairs, for she realizes that her lover will have to face justice now. The two of them are fighting, and doom seems imminent. The story ends with the Abandonment of Air, as the nobleman faces execution, having ruined his life.
The Tale of Swords is one of sorrow, justice, and the truth coming out. It involves relationships as well, in the abstract fashion that suits the Suit of Swords.
The story told in the Suit of Disks is one of practicality, power, secrets, and forbidden knowledge, and perhaps best represents the dark themes of the deck. The tale is in the form of a clandestine deal made between a necromancer and a sorceress. The Matrix of Disks provides the basis for the story, representing practicality, wealth, and power. The tale begins with the Inversion of Earth, as a ghoul extracts a woman from her grave under the watchful eye of a necromancer, amused at the cycle of life and death and his mastery over it. Meanwhile, a young sorceress takes the severed arm from a criminal hanging in a gibbet, having the Purpose of Earth within her. She knows what she is doing, and good at what she does, able to produce great works. Back in her study, the sorceress coats the hand in wax to make a Hand of Glory, lighting the fingertips, causing a Generation of Earth, and reveling in her power. In a nearby town, the necromancer stalks through the streets, experiencing the Trouble of Earth as he is taunted and stones are thrown at him. He darkly promises vengeance in his mind. he had been on his way to meet the Sorceress, and he gives her a payment of a child’s heart – possibly the heart of one of the children who taunt him endlessly – while she hands him the Hand of Glory she had made. In this way, they both experience the Reception of Earth. The Squandering of Earth comes next as the Hand of Glory fails in its desired role, the resources going into it being wasted. He has raised the woman he took from the grave back from the dead in, in spirit-form, and attempts to send her spirit back into her corpse through use of the Hand, which has no effect. He feels betrayed by the sorceress and is also frustrated. Admitting failure, he then performs an Analysis of Earth, looking over the woman’s corpse in an attempt to understand what went wrong. He then experiences the Fulfillment of Earth as he conquers the dead woman’s ghost, and she leads him to where a strongbox filled with a source of power. He finally then comes into Possession of Earth as he uses his gains to summon forth a terrible spectre that he shall use to rule the world.
The Tale of Disks is one of gain, sorcery, the material, and the pursuit and achievement of power. It too has an element of relationships in it, and looks at the practical side of them, and how they benefit the individual.
The Court Cards
The Court Cards of the Necronomicon Tarot are the standard four: the King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. They each represent powerful personalities emphasizing different aspects of the Suit’s energy: the King is a mature man, the Queen a mature woman, the Knight an immature male, and the Knave an immature female. The meanings roughly correspond to standard Rider-Waite meanings. The Necronomicon deck also names each Court Card:
King of Wands – Lord (willful, impulsive ruler)
Queen of Wands – Lady (strong, confident charmer)
Knight of Wands – Commander (fierce, rash officer)
Knave of Wands – Overseer (ambitious, courageous overlord)
King of Cups – Priest (sensitive, naive scholar)
Queen of Cups – Priestess (dreamy, calm introvert)
Knight of Cups – Monk (determined, scheming underling)
Knave of Cups – Scribe (gentle, loyal friend)
King of Swords – Assassin (clever, flighty dominator)
Queen of Swords – Harlot (graceful, perceptive dancer)
Knight of Swords – Mercenary (self-centered, intelligent problem-solver)
Knave of Swords – Thief (aggressive, reliable doer)
King of Disks – Necromancer (patient, industrious mechanic)
Queen of Disks – Sorceress (generous, reserved psychic)
Knight of Disks – Shaman (practical, humorless manager)
Knave of Disks – Auspex (caring, enduring decision-maker)
The Major Arcana
The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana carry their traditional Rider-Waite meanings, albeit with a darker twist, but have all been assigned to an element of the Cthuylhu Mythos:
0 – Fool – Azathoth (Simplicity, Journey, Beginnings)
I – Magician – Nyarlathotep (Will, Manipulation, Skill)
II – High Priestess – Bast (Mystery, Wisdom, Guidance)
III – Empress – Shub-Niggurath (Fertility, Life, Sensuality)
IV – Emperor – Amun (Virility, Determination, Passion)
V – Hierophant – Dagon (Tradition, Religion, History)
VI – Lovers – Deep One & Bride (Love, Commitment, Trust)
VII – Chariot – Beast of Babylon (Conquest, Command, Glory)
VIII – Strength – Shoggoth (Perserverance, Defiance, Valour)
IX – The Hermit – I’thakuah (Discipline, Examination, Wisdom)
X – Wheel of Fortune – Yog-Sothoth (Change, Luck, Fate)
XI – Justice – Spawn in Sphere (Balance, Fairness, Rightness)
XII – Hanged Man – Well of the Seraph (Suspension, Delay, Sacrifice)
XIII – Death – Tsathoggua – (Transformation, Rebirth, Ordeal)
XIV – Temperance – Reanimators (Renewal, Health, Harmony)
XV – The Devil – Cthulhu (Rebellion, Arrogance, Animalism)
XVI – The Tower – Great Ziggurat (Monument, Disaster, Glory)
XVII – The Star – Ishtar (Hope, Cleansing, Renewal)
XVIII – The Moon – Hounds of Leng (Illusion, Danger, Deception)
XIX – The Sun – The Empty Space (Clarity, Purification, Vitality)
XX – Judgement – Guardian of Eden (Forgiveness, Restoration, Judgement)
XXI – The World – Yig (Completion, Conclusion, Fulfillment)
The major difference in meaning is the Tower, which Tyson interprets as either being a great monument or having a great monument topple, depending on its inversion. He also takes the common beginner’s approach of interpreting a reversed card as negative and an upright one as positive, which limits interpretations.
The Rider-Waite Tarot is the most popular deck in use today. The deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (who had a fierce rivalry with Thoth deck designer Aleister Crowley), and consists of the Order’s imagery, drawn mainly from Renaissance European symbols, though the structure of the deck itself is Kabbalistic in origin. The symbolism present in the deck is a watered-down version of that used by the Order itself, in order to not give away its secrets. Pamela Coleman Smith, another member of the Golden Dawn, illustrated the deck.
The Minor Arcana
The Rider-Waite Tarot has the four suits standard to Tarot decks: Wands representing Fire, will, and drive, Cups representing Water, emotion, and intuition, Swords representing Air, reason, and justice, and Pentacles representing Earth, practicality, and the material. Each numbered card represents a different aspect of the energy of the suit. Unlike many other previous decks, the Rider-Waite’s Minor Arcana are fully illustrated, with almost the same attention to detail given to them as to the Major Arcana. The cards depict human figures, as well as a number of the suit’s item equal to the card’s number, in such a way that the card’s meaning is clearly shown in the scene.
The Court Cards
The Rider-Waite deck uses the traditional Court Card setup: a King, Queen, Knight, and Page are the four cards. These four cards in each suit represent different personalities influenced by that suit’s energies: the King’s represent the wise, ruling figure in control of his suit’s energy, and acts as a sort of father-figure. He is also bold, and represents the Suit’s qualities outwardly. The Queen represents a mother-figure, also having mastered the Suit’s energies, but in a different way; her Suit-like qualities are displayed inwardly, through passive qualities. The Knights are courageous and active, not yet in control of their Suited impulses, and represent unbalanced applications of the Suit’s energy. The Pages represent personalities who have the desire to go out and do things in the way of their Suit, but are not yet ready, and so serve to urge the reader on to become more like the appropriate Suit.
The Major Arcana
The Rider-Waite deck, being the quintessential deck, has the standard Major Arcana set-up; twenty-two cards that focus around the theme of the Fool’s Journey, telling the story of life as an adventure, from the journey’s beginning as a young, naive child to becoming one with the world, and everything else in between. Each card represents one stage on this journey, and represent the experiences one goes through during their life.
The Thoth Tarot was designed by Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley had a bit of a rivalry with Arthur E. Waite, a fellow member and designer of the popular Rider-Waite deck. Crowley sought to surpass Waite’s deck with his own, and used as much symbolism as he possibly could in it, borrowing from many cultures and disciplines. He renamed (and re-ordered and re-associated) some of the Trumps, and altered slightly the traditional meanings of several of the Minor Arcana, in order to be better reflect his own views on the Tarot.
Like all occult Tarot decks, the Thoth deck is based on Western Esoteric practices such as Astrology, Alchemy, Numerology, and Kabbalah. The Thoth deck, however, emphasizes the Kabbalistic aspect of the Tarot, and is very clearly based off of the Tree of Life and the ten Sefirot. In the book he wrote describing the deck, The Book of Thoth, Crowley spends a good deal describing the Sefirot and Naples Arrangement, as well as his views on the placements of the cards.
The Naples Arrangement and the Ten Sefirot
Just as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life has ten Sefirot, the Naples Arrangement has ten stages of existence, from the Point to Reality. Each Sefirot corresponds to a stage in the Naples Arrangement, and they share similar meanings:
1 (Kether): Spiritual Perfection – Point
2 (Chokmah): Original Harmony – Line
3 (Binah): Potential – Plane
4 (Chesed): Stability – Matter
5 (Geburah): Motion – Motion
6 (Tiphareth): Conscious Harmony – Experience
7 (Netzach): Sensitivity – Bliss
8 (Hod): Intellect – Knowledge
9 (Yesod): Crystallization – Essence of Being
10 (Malkuth): Reality – Reality
Just as the energy of EinSof flows through the ten Sefirot, existence passes through several stages: pure existence is represented by the point, which develops into the line and finally has distance, which then becomes the plane and begins to see its potential, and when the next dimension in added, matter appears. The matter then moves, creating motion, and with this motion the existence of time is implied, and so also the idea of an object having experiences that teach it. Emotions and thoughts are then implied by the existence of experience, represented by bliss and knowledge respectively. The idea of an ‘Essence of Being’ refers to the state of awareness of one’s own existence through knowledge of the previous states of being. Reality is, of course, the whole sum of the parts before it.
The Minor Arcana
In the Tarot, each number in the suits of the Minor Arcana correspond to their number in the Naples Arrangement and among the ten Sefirot of the Tree of Life, as can be seen here. The Aces represent perfection, the twos original harmony, the threes potential, the fours stability, the fives motion, the sixes conscious harmony, the sevens degenerate weakness, the eights intellectual weakness, the nines a crystallization of the suit, and the tens what happens when the suit is applied to reality. Each of these paths is interpreted individually for each suit, and so four different evolutions of energy are seen, that in theory cover most events that might occur in one’s life.
The four Suits are the standard Tarot ones: Wands representing Fire, willpower, and creative force, Cups representing Water, emotion, and passivity, Swords representing Air, logic, and principles, and Disks (often seen as Pentacles or Coins) representing Earth, practicality, and the material.
Each Minor Arcana card is named by Crowley according to its broad meaning, and each card has many different meanings that can be used when appropriate. The art on each card features the number of items of the suit equivalent to the number of the card, often with a background reinforcing the meaning. There are no other objects in this images, especially no living beings, which sets the Minor Arcana apart from the Court Cards and the Trumps.
The Court Cards
There are, as is standard in Tarot decks, four court cards for each suit. However, the Thoth deck has a different take on these cards. The four cards Crowley uses are Knights (normally seen as Kings), Queens, Princes (normally seen as Knights), and Princesses (normally seen as Pages or Knaves). The meanings of the Court Cards differ from other decks, in that each Court Card represents an association with a particular element. The Kings are Fire, the Queens are Water, the Princes are Air, and the Princesses are Earth. When combined with the element they represent, then, each Court Card represents one elemental aspect of another element, like so:
Knight of Wands: Fire of Fire
Queen of Wands: Water of Fire
Prince of Wands: Air of Fire
Princess of Wands: Earth of Fire
Knight of Cups: Fire of Water
Queen of Cups: Water of Water
Prince of Cups: Air of Water
Princess of Cups: Earth of Water
Knight of Swords: Fire of Air
Queen of Swords: Water of Air
Prince of Swords: Air of Air
Princess of Swords: Earth of Air
Knight of Disks: Fire of Earth
Queen of Disks: Water of Earth
Prince of Disks: Air of Earth
Princess of Disks: Earth of Earth
Through this system, the four court cards explore four different types of each element, to better understand the whole. As is normal in Tarot decks, these cards also represent personalities – and in the Thoth deck, these personalities are defined in relationship to the elements. The art on each card shows a single figure, as well as their surroundings. The Knights are always riding horses to indicate their willpower, and the Princes ride chariots to indicate their aloofness and forward progress. The Queens are always reclining on thrones as suits their passivity, and the Princesses are usually standing on their feet, being practical and down-to-earth.
The Thoth Major Arcana each correspond to a one of the paths between the Sefirot of the Tree of Life. Each card is also associated with either an element or astrological symbol, as well as with a Hebrew letter, linking together many disparate esoteric schools. The Major Arcana for the most part also carry standard meanings as seen in the Fool’s Journey, but have the added depth of also being associated each with two of the Sefirot and the connection between them. Aleister Crowley also made some changes in the ordering and associations of the Major Arcana; in his deck, he switches the cards Justice and Strength from the standard Rider-Waite setup, and also renames them both: Justice becomes Adjustment and Strength becomes Lust. these new meanings and names better suit their placement on the Tree of Life.
Crowley also switches the normal interpretation of the Major Arcana’s positioning on the Tree of Life (the association with the paths between Sefirot is not a new thing; Crowley merely emphasized it strongly). The Emperor, normally the connecting path between Chokmah and Tiphareth, he places between Netzach and Yesod, while the card normally there, the Star, he places in the Emperor’s normal place. This switch also serves to change the Hebrew letters associated with each card. This switch is very controversial, and not all agree with it.
Crowley also changes the names of many of the Arcana from the traditional; the Magician becomes the Magus, the High Priestess becomes the Priestess, Justice becomes Adjustment, the Wheel of Fortune becomes Fortune, Strength becomes Lust, Temperance becomes Art, Judgement becomes the Aeon, and the World becomes the Universe. This is in keeping with Crowley’s own interpretation, as well as his grand ideas, and incorporates elements of the religion he founded, Thelema.
The art on each card depicts usually a figure of the object in question, and is full of symbolism and very detailed.
The Major Arcana, or the Trumps, are the twenty-two Tarot cards that do not belong to one of the four Tarot suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks. The Major Arcana are sometimes referred to as the suit of the “Spirit” (as the four suits correspond to the elements Fire, Water, Air, and Earth). The Major Arcana can then, in a way, be connected with the Sefirot of Daath, which lies above the plane of the Tree of Life. However, Kabbalistically, the Major Arcana are usually thought of the paths connecting the ten Sefirot, linking them together. Each Major Arcana card corresponds to one of the connections between the Tree of Life, and shares characteristics of both of those points, and represents energy flowing from the lower-numbered one into the higher-numbered one.
The Tree of Life represents the flow of energy from the divine realm of EinSof into reality (Malkuth). It is a form of Kabbalistic Theosophy; an attempt to examine the what God might look like. The energy of EinSof passes through ten points to arrive at reality, in an order corresponding with the Naples arrangement – from original spiritual perfection to reality. The energy does not just flow strictly in this order, and indeed connects many of the other Sefirot, joining them all to make the Tree of Life.
The Major Arcana cards that lie on the “numbered” and “ordered” path of the Sefirot are The Fool, the Empress, a blank spot (Binah and Chesed are not connected), Lust (in the Rider-Waite tradition, the card in this spot is Justice), Adjustment (numerically Strength in the Rider-Waite tradition), Death, The Tower, The Sun, and the Universe (the World in the Rider-Waite tradition). These cards form the “natural” path of the energy of EinSof, and reflect the most important aspects of the Fool’s Journey (see below for full details on this). Kether is connected to Chokmah by the Fool, who begins his journey inspired by his spirit and ready to leap into action. He is guided initially by his mother (the Empress), who helps him realize his full potential. Following that, he is hesitant to leave the home and the safety of his mother for a little bit (hence the blank spot), but eventually summons up the courage and goes. He is initially strong and focused on his journey, but quickly realizes that he has to learn to master himself and control his impulses now that his mother is no longer there to help him (Lust). He then learns how to balance himself and reach an accord with the rest of the world through his new ability to adjust himself (Adjustment). However, his satisfaction is disrupted by a traumatic event and a drastic change in his life (Death). He feels as if all is lost (The Tower) and that he can never recover, and then sees the light of the Sun, and realizes that in every ending there is a new beginning. He picks himself up and moves on, finally realizing who he is and how he fits in with the universe (the Universe/World).
The Major Arcana, when looked at numerically, also tell a story known as The Fool’s Journey. In this journey, the reader is the Fool (O), about to set out on a journey, a naive young man or woman ready to unlock his full potential. The journey the Fool is setting out on can be any journey, and mirrors the journey of life. The Fool represents the start of the journey. The first few Major Arcana represent the early personalities that he encounters that influence his life, just as a young child is strongly influenced by the personalities around him. The Magus (I) is one of the most powerful personalities to come to him first, and represents the teacher who may have initially aroused the Fool’s interest, and who guides him initially in his quest, giving him knowledge from above, and telling him what his purpose is. The Magus encourages the Fool to go forth, and gives him the tools necessary to succeed. Interested in the Magus’ words, the Fool seeks out the advice of the Priestess (II), who tells him what will happen, again channeling divine knowledge, and showing the Fool the mysteries of life he shall discover on his quest.
The Fool then prepares to leave, and says goodbye to his mother, the Empress (III). She is the nurturing, caring figure who raised the Fool to be the way he is, and she does her best to make sure the Fool is ready for what is coming. As he leaves the home, he bids farewell to his father the Emperor (IV) as well – the stern man who made the Fool’s life possible and who taught the Fool the basics of how to live through his example.
As he leaves the house and passes into the village, he encounters the Hierophant (V), who blesses him and his journey, and formally initiates him into the community and into the wider world. He educates the Fool and teaches him how to survive in the world beyond, and then wishes him well and sends him off. The Fool is eager to finally be off, and needs no urging.
As a young man, he quickly becomes overpowered with passion for another individual he meets on his way, and becomes one of a pair of Lovers (VI). He feels a sense of true intimacy with someone outside of his parents for the first time, and he exalts in it, feeling compelled to do all he can in this person’s honor. Filled with a fervor, he decides that he will make the world a better place through his strength, and so embodies the spirit of the Chariot (VII). However, he soon is dragged back to reality and sees that he can’t do everything by himself, and learns how to balance his urges with practicality through a state of constant Adjustment (VIII). He begins to learn how to balance his own needs with that of his lover and the rest of the world.
Intimacy can be stifling, however, and eventually that period ends as the Fool seeks to balance out that aspect of himself, as well. He retreats into the wildnerness and lives alone as a Hermit (IX), unsure of who he is, and wanting to be separate from his lover. He ponders and meditates on the meaning of life, and when he emerges from his solitude, the Fool has changed, and has a greater understanding of who he is.
However, in his absence, the world has changed. Time passes and fortunes change, and those that the Fool knows are no exception. The first Decade (Trumps O-IX) has ended, and things are about to change drastically. The wheel of Fortune (X) affects us all, even the Fool, and his life suddenly takes a drastic and unexpected turn, as everything around him changes. He must learn then to master his inner emotions that react strongly to these changes, and discover for himself when to give into them and when to control them, channeling the power of Lust (XI). He finds this harder to do than he thinks, and as the changes of Fortune run through his life, decides to again just step back from society and reassess his position – and he realizes that the only way he can win and get what he wants is by giving everything up. He has realized the secret of the Hanged Man (XII), and decides to just go with the flow.
As the wheel of Fortune has shown, life is anything but stable, and a second, even more drastic change sweeps through the Fool’s life, and a period of his life ends as another begins: he has experienced the power of Death (XIII). Not necessarily in the physical sense of the world, but in the metaphorical sense; he undergoes a time of transition as he wrestles himself back into control, and sees for the first time with open eyes the power of forces beyond his control, and the inevitability of drastic change. He becomes serene and calm at this realization, and finally manages to control his Lust and manage the massive changes that have affected his life. He learns that he must do things in moderation, and learn to balance himself. He begins to grow and mature, and sees that he is not alone, and that by combining himself with others, he can make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. He has learned the secrets of Art (XIV) as he achieves once again harmony with the world.
Or has he? The Fool, in his quest for harmony, eventually falls into the trap of the Devil (XV), and is blinded by his ignorance and chained. He might not realize it as he blunders through his life, but he does not see the full picture – until he learns to see everything from a new perspective. As he does so, his prison is shattered and his life flips topsy-turvy, throwing him completely off course again. He suffers the unfortunate fate of the falling and toppling Tower (XVI), and sees ruin and the changing of an era before him. However, he also has broken free of the prison that held him, shocked out of it by a traumatic event that also leaves him in pieces.
But he slowly puts himself back together, and experiences the calm after the storm: the Star (XVII). He sits back and reflects, and sees that there is hope after all as energy from the heavens pours down into his life. Encouraged by the (seeming, at least) immortality of existence, he gets back up and moves on. Perhaps, though, he was not ready, as he is still disoriented and confused, and the shocking re-entry into reality may have been too much for him. He is misled by many and becomes confused and lost as the light of day is eclipsed by the Moon (XVIII). He no longer knows what is real and fears the return of the Tower. However, a moment of clarity eventually reaches the Fool’s mind, and the Sun (XIX) bursts into its full glory, banishing the ambiguity of the Moon and showing the Fool what he needs to know, allowing him to see his life with clear-cut vision. He rejoices and dances for he has emerged finally from some dark times indeed.
As time passes, the Fool ages, and he sees the Aeon (XX) change. He notices how things never remain constant, and that time inexorably rolls forward and everything grows – including the Fool. He has had a long journey, and finally sees how it has helped him grow a little bit at a time, teaching him lessons he needed to know. Finally, with that realization, he completes his journey and becomes one with the world, having realized who he is and what his role in it shall be – he now understands as much as he can about the Universe (XXI) – and is ready then to begin a new journey as he finally integrates with everyone around him and accepts his existence fully for the first time as he is.
The Major Arcana are also each associated with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and share there numerological and Kabbalistic meanings. Additionally, the twelve cards associated with Hebrew single letters are also associated with astrological sun signs (whose meanings the cards reflect), the seven cards associated with Hebrew double letters are also associated with astrological planets, and the three cards associated with Hebrew mother letters are also associated with the three elements above Earth – Fire, Water, and Air.
The Major Arcana are the most extensively studied and the most complex of the Tarot cards, having many different meanings. The true secrets of the Tarot lie hidden in the Major Arcana, which tell of our journey through life and EinSof‘s journey to reality.
XXI – Tav – Saturn – Sign
Experience, Fulfillment, End of a Journey (and the Start of a New One), and Actualization (of Potential)
The Universe (the World in the Rider-Waite tradition) corresponds to the Hebrew letter Tav, symbolizing a stamp or seal. Tav is the last letter of the first word of the Torah, symbolizing the ultimate origin, and the end process of creation. It is also the last letter of the Aleph-Bet, causing it to act somewhat like a seal, capping the end of existence and providing it with the authority of truth. However, as the letter Tav is only the last letter of the first word in the Torah, it is implied that there is continuation after the end. So while this is a letter of endings, it is also a letter of new beginnings. It is a sign of righteousness symbolizing life eternal, and the continuation of existence even after the end (such as the World continuing on after the Judgement).
This letter is extremely appropriate to the last of the Major Arcana. The Universe means all of these things that the letter Tav does; it represents both the end and the beginning, as one journey ends and another begins, and also represents the state of the world at the end of things, summing up all that came before it.
Astrologically, the Universe is equivalent to Saturn, which is the Planet of limitation and discipline. It represents slow growth through experience, and getting exactly what you deserve; no more and no less (a form of righteousness). It represents coming to your full self along with the rest of the world, simply by living in it.
And the Universe as a card represents very much this ideal. It represents harmony and the world, and absolute completion and fulfillment; the zenith of one’s life. The Universe is the card that comes at the end of the Fool’s journey, and represents his spiritual being at that point, full of experience. He has learned the ways of the world and has become fully integrated into it, accepting his place there. The journey has ended, but a new one will soon begin. This card represents one being at peace with themselves in the world, finally realizing who they are and how they should live. It represents combination and fullness, and the whole picture coming together. It is the realization of the Fool’s potential.
On the Tree of Life, the Universe stands between the Sefirot of Yesod (Essence of Being) and Malkuth (Reality) – it represents what happens when one comes into Reality having fully realized who they are themselves (Essence of Being), which allows them to accept their place in the larger world (Reality).
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role that you sense of self-identity and the world play in your life. It asks you if you are sure of who you are and where you should be. It advises you to start looking for a new beginning, for the journey you have been on may soon be ending. Are you well-integrated into the world? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden, blocked, or twisted somehow; perhaps the universe you are integrating to is smaller than you think, or your fulfillment is hollow – or perhaps you have gotten more or less than you should have out of your recent journey.