Odd Couples

I’m still plowing my way through Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Way of Tarot and have reached the section where he proposes a few obvious (and more than a few off-beat) “duets” between the cards of the tarot. Anyone with a shred of card sense can clearly see the logical ties between the Emperor and Empress, the High Priestess (Popesse) and the Hierophant (Pope) and the Kings and Queens of the suits as Jodo explains them. Those with an awareness of standard numerological reduction can recognize what Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm call “numerological counterparts” between trump cards that reduce to the same number (for example, the Sun (19) and the Wheel of Fortune (10) are related to each other and also to the Magician (1) through addition of their digits (1+9=10; 1+0=1). Then there are the less apparent parallels between the images, such as the Moon and the Hanged Man as reflections of the Subconscious; the Hermit and the Fool – both standing on a precipice – as polar opposites expressing Wisdom and Folly (the former is watching his step and the latter isn’t); and Temperance and the Star both bearing vessels, one conserving and concentrating the waters of Spirit and the other dispersing them.

But Jodorowsky (who dismissed the usual numerological methods in favor of what he called the “decimal” approach) draws some of his conclusions from rather forced visual cues between the cards that it would be charitable to call “dubious.” Strength and the World are symbolically yoked because both have a Lion on them? The Hanged Man and the World connect because both figures exhibit crossed legs? The Fool and the figure on Arcanum No. 13 are both walking in the same way? The Hanged Man has his hands behind his back and so do the imps on the Devil card? While these are indisputable and obliquely pertinent observations, I think that in their shallowness they amount to  overreaching when used to make core assumptions about the collaborative import of these cards in general reading. Although he was making his comparisons between the cards of the Tarot de Marseille, similar observations apply to those of the Waite-Smith deck (which will be the subject of my comments here).

I do agree with Jodorowsky that, depending on the context within which we’re working,  the cards yield their most useful insights when read in combination. But I don’t concur that they should be formally paired in discrete sets based on anything other than their place in the sequence of cards, whether in the series of the 22 trumps, the hierarchy of the courts or the consecutive numbering of the minors; certainly not in the often surrealistic ways that Jodorowsky conjures up. That said, some of his associations make perfect sense. Yes, the Lovers and Judgement both feature a large, apparently angelic central figure presiding over two or more smaller figures below, and both suggest divine intervention. But why stop there? the Hierophant and the Devil both display a comparable scenario, and the same might be said of the Moon and even the Tower, but Jodo is silent on those facts, intent on developing his personal paradigm. My point is that so much visible commonality in the card designs seems to dilute Jodorowsky’s main argument. In short, he’s cherry-picking from the images only what fits his model and ignoring the rest. To his credit, he does admit that the purportedly shared traits he relies on to build his case are “not absolutely binding.”

Before encountering Jodorowsky’s fanciful correlations, I had made a few of my own;

While some people link the Magician to the Devil due to the similarity in their gestures, I think the Devil is a better partner for the Hierophant; both are ministering to a pair of acolytes, both are making a sign of benediction with the right hand (although that of the Devil is considered infernal) and both wield the emblem of their office in the left hand: the triune scepter of Christianity and the Luciferian torch, respectively showing different ways of seeking the Light. Each is dogmatic in its own way, and they are locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy.

Numerologically, the Hierophant relates to Temperance through reduction (14=1+4=5), which makes sense since both appeal to a higher authority as symbolized by the elevated crowns; the Devil and the Lovers share more than a numerological connection (15=1+5=6) because obsession is the flip-side of aspiration.

Both the High Priestess and Justice are seated between columns (which we might think of as the “Pillars of the Solomon”) and in front of screens that convey the veiled nature of spiritual wisdom. The Hierophant is also positioned between pillars, but the way behind him is unrestricted, indicating that he is the channel to higher truth, whereas the others are its gatekeepers. The pillar-like towers bracketing the Moon are dark and forbidding, with windows but no doors; they imply that the way ahead is fraught with uncertainty. Coping requires that we either learn to swim in those waters or find our way back the way we came.

The Wheel of Fortune and the World both display the “four holy living creatures” of the Vision of Ezekiel: the Ox, the Lion, the Eagle and the Man (or Angel). This seems fitting since the Wheel of Fortune, as the eleventh trump card, represents the line of demarcation between the first half of the series and the second half.

The Magician and the Hierophant both represent conduits between the “above” and the “below,” the difference being that the former offers to freely enlighten the seeker who asks the right questions while the latter charges admission in the form of unquestioning faith.

The Wheel of Fortune and the Chariot both depict wheels emblematic of rotational force and therefore movement.

Strength and the Sun are “solar” in nature, while the Moon and the High Priestess are “lunar.” The first two are expressions of  “force” and the second pair embodies “form.”

The Emperor, the Tower and the Chariot are martial in nature, while the Empress, the Hierophant and the Hermit are more composed.

In any confrontational situation, Justice signifies “the trial” and Judgement “the verdict.”

In my previous posts about the Major Arcana, I examined the cards as sequential pairs, while in a handful of other posts I explored in greater detail some of the observations made above. You may find them informative in this regard.

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