Welcome to the Inside Tarot Series. If you’re a tarot novice, I hope this provides some insight into the artwork on the cards. If you’re an experienced reader, I hope this gives you an opportunity to further examine the various symbology included in different tarot decks. In part 1 of this series, we’re taking a look at the possible meanings and symbolism found in the first four cards of the Major Arcana: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, and The Empress.
The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana. The Fool represents that youthful optimism when embarking on a new adventure. The Fool is untried. He/She is naive, inexperienced, optimistic, and carefree. The first card shown above is from the well known Rider-Waite tarot deck. Our Fool is shown standing on the precipice, about to take a step without a safety net. A leap of faith. The white flower he holds symbolizes purity and innocence. The shining sun provides a sense of optimism, and the little dog in the corner indicates blind faith and loyalty. The Fool is the epitome of youthful exuberance.
The other cards above obviously follow the same theme but with minor changes to the details. Aside from the Rider-Waite deck, the other cards shown above come from the following decks (in order): Crystal Visions Tarot, Tarot of the Sacred Feminine, and Shadowscapes Tarot. The Fool in the Crystal Visions deck is sounded by butterflies which can represent messages or ideas. Unlike the more traditional depiction of The Fool, The Fool of the Tarot of the Sacred Feminine isn’t standing on the edge of adventure, but is running headlong into it at full speed! She’s not afraid of anything! The Fool depicted in the Shadowscapes deck is a fanciful young lady surrounded by birds (instead of butterflies) and a fox (rather than a dog) at her feet. She stands on her tip toes with both arms extended as though she is preparing to fall forward into the great unknown. The sun in this card is depicted as a tattoo on the top of the young Fool’s right foot. The details in the Shadowscapes deck are numerous, and the more closely you look at it, the more you can decipher from it’s message.
Again, we start with the Rider-Waite depiction of The Magician. The Magician is the alchemist. The sorcerer who can alter objects, situations, and perceptions. He’s a grand manipulator, for better or worse. He has the Midas touch, and he can also be a control freak. The tools he uses are laid in front of him: chalice, sword, and pentacle. He is holding his wand, a symbol of creation. The infinity symbol over his head is a reminder that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it is simply transformed. His red robe is a symbol of power.
The second card, which depicts Isis, is from the Dark Goddess Tarot. Isis, of course, if you’re familiar with your ancient Egyptian mythology, is the ultimate Magician archetype. Isis reassembled and reanimated her husband Osiris after he was killed and dismembered by Set. It doesn’t really get more magical than that. Again, we see the power color of red. Her headpiece is a sun disk representing the sun god Ra, who was believed to have created all life. The Eye of Ra, an extension of Ra’s power, is shown at the bottom of the card.
The last two cards are from the Pagan Cats tarot and the Angel Tarot, respectively. There isn’t much more that can be said about The Magician depicted in the Pagan Cats tarot, as much of the symbolism is the same as it is in the Rider-Waite deck. However, The Magician in the Angel Tarot deck is depicted as Archangel Raziel whose persona has been likened to Merlin by Doreen Virtue. He imparts esoteric wisdom and encourages us to control our own power.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS:
The High Priestess is often thought of as the female counterpart to The Magician. She is the keeper of spiritual secrets. She represents hidden knowledge and intuition. Our first card, from the Rider-Waite deck, shows The High Priestess sitting on a simple throne between two pillars. The pillars, which stood in King Solomon’s Temple, are inscribed with a B and a J. The B stands for Boaz (Hebrew for “in Him strength”), and the J stands for Jachin (Hebrew for “He will establish”. Him/He meaning Yah or God.) The pillars form a gateway. Looking into this gateway, behind where The High Priestess sits, we see pomegranates with their seeds exposed. Pomegranates are a symbol of ‘forbidden’ knowledge. The High Priestess guards these secrets.
The second card, from the Infinite Visions Tarot, shows our High Priestess holding secrets within the scrolls and box in her hands. The moon, a symbol of intuition, shines brightly through the window. The third card, from the Fairy Tale tarot, depicts The High Priestess (The Sorceress in this deck) wading through water. Water is a symbol of emotional and/or spiritual matters. The starlight shines through the bare trees (symbols of knowledge) behind her to reflect off the water. There are also lotuses in the water, which are a symbol of hidden depths, rebirth, and spirituality. The last card is from the Crystal Visions deck. This High Priestess stands with her sceptre, a symbol of power, which is topped with a crystal ball, a symbol of foresight. The sceptre is also decorated with an ankh, a symbol of eternal life. She is surrounded by butterflies, again depicting messages and/or ideas, and stands atop a crescent moon.
The Empress is the mother archetype. She is the nurturer, and she also represents abundance, fertility, and creativity. She is often, but not always, depicted as pregnant. Sometimes she is shown holding an infant, but I have seen very few of those. Common symbols shown on The Empress cards include a sceptre, a symbol of empowerment, and a cornucopia or basket full of fruit/food (nourishment.) Many depictions also include the female (Venus) symbol somewhere in the artwork. The first three cards above come from the Rider-Waite tarot, Crystal Visions tarot, and the Sacred Rose tarot, respectively.
The last card shown above comes from the Animal Totem deck. I included it here as an example of how the same theme can exist with entirely different imagery. The Empress in this deck is depicted as a Highland Cow (coo!) (Sidenote: I LOVE Highland Coos, and I need to get my hands on this deck!) Cows are a symbol of nourishment (we drink their milk, don’t we?), and in some cultures, such as Hinduism, cows are considered sacred. The cow is also a symbol of fertility and abundance. (Note: Highland cattle are one of the few breeds in which the females of the species have horns as well as the males. The image depicted on the card above is NOT a bull.)