The Psychology of Tarot

I often mention that tarot isn’t especially effective for probing the psychology of an individual or a situation, such as occurs when we’re trying to penetrate the thoughts and feelings of someone who isn’t present at the reading. If Carl Gustav Jung hadn’t laid the groundwork with his exploration of archetypes, I doubt the major (or “trump”) cards would ever have taken on anything beyond a purely literal meaning. Furthermore, it’s tempting to see the court cards as variations on a mental-emotional theme, mainly tied to their suit qualities and relative level of maturity, but I tend to think of the Kings and Queens as narrower expressions of the archetypal Emperor and Empress (in essence, their “little brothers and sisters”), the Knights as a reduction of the energy of the Chariot (this is most apparent in the Thoth Princes), and the Pages as the flesh-and-blood equivalent of that “wild and crazy guy,” the Fool. (Number theory gives us 3 [Empress] + 4 [Emperor] = 7 [Chariot], a “Mother-Father-Son” scenario; although it seems sexist to say that the Pages as avatars of the “Daughter” add nothing to the equation [Fool = 0], it might in fact be instructive to see them as something of a youthful “wild card” when they appear in a reading.)

The 40 minor cards are best read as practical statements describing routine activities and behaviors, particularly when using decks with non-scenic “pips.” The urge to draw conclusions about attitude from the human figures on the Waite-Smith minor cards can lead to unreliable assumptions. The man on the Waite-Smith 4 of Cups might look thoroughly bored, but that may have nothing to do with the querent’s sense of emotional security and stability as emphasized by this card. I find suit and number theory to provide a more useful tool for gauging the impact of the minor cards, although I will occasionally draw intuitively on the visual images when something strikes me about them within the context of the reading. It’s where my growing store of vivid metaphors and analogies comes from.

My primary objective in reading the cards is divination and its less dignified step-sister, prediction (aka “fortune-telling”). I’ve long grown past the stage of self-analysis and self-definition that preoccupied me during my early years with the tarot. To be honest, I’ve used natal and predictive astrology to much greater effect for that purpose, and still find them more precise and accurate than the tarot for psychological examination. Reading the cards is largely anecdotal, relying much more heavily on inspiration, imagination and ingenuity (my less mystical stand-ins for “intuition”) than on observable characteristics encoded in patterns of cosmic energy, and as such it doesn’t have the historical database of semi-empirical evidence that one finds with astrology. I’m far more comfortable exploring the “what,” “who” and “how” of any forecast shown in the cards, and accord less significance to the “why” when the answer seems to indicate the querent’s involvement with other people. Doing otherwise is tantamount to wandering into a minefield of unsubstantiated suspicions, presumptions and misconceptions, and I choose not to add fuel to the fire.

7 thoughts on “The Psychology of Tarot

  1. I couldn’t not relate to your article more if I had written it myself. In every word you say you express clearly the way I feel and think about Astrology and Tarot. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. I, on the other hand find almost the opposite. I have no difficulty determining character traits, habits, patterns and traumas in readings. Natal Astrology does provide much similar information, however, predictive astrology seems to generate largely unusable and patently incorrect information. This is after some 30 years studying both fields.

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    • I have to agree that predictive astrology (transits and progressions) is largely futile; horary astrology, however, produces some remarkably accurate results. Regarding tarot and psychology, it’s not that I can’t, I just choose not to. I’m usually examining situations rather than psyches when I read the cards.

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    • I typically use horary to help people find lost items, and I occasionally do some electional work (selecting the best time to do something). I haven’t used it in a large-scale mundane sense the way William Lilly did to predict the Great Fire of London.

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