The astrology of the Minor Arcana

I’ve been getting back into the tarot lately. (Maybe it was the tarot conference.) Sure, that means doing more readings, but I’ve also been reading more tarot books. Which got me thinking about the tarot’s astrological associations, because it never takes much to get me thinking about astrology, and this way, I could think about both astrology and tarot: whee!

I’ve only learned one system of tarot-astrology correspondences: the one created by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Apparently that was like imprinting; I’ve never felt a strong urge to learn another system. It’s a multi-layered system. Each of the Major Arcana is paired with a planet, an element, or a sign of the zodiac. In the Minor Arcana, the Aces are matched to the elements, while each card from Two to Ten has a planet-in-sign association. The Court Cards are associated with elements and with zodiac signs.

Eight of Wands card with astrological glyphs circled.
The glyphs for Mercury and Sagittarius shown on the Thoth deck’s Eight of Wands.

What’s been catching my attention lately are the planet-in-sign associations with the Minor Arcana. In a system that’s complicated to begin with, this is the part that makes intricacy into an art form. I love an intricate system as much as the next tarot geek, but I also want that system to have a practical use. If the astrological correspondences don’t add to my understanding of the tarot cards, I don’t see much point in having them. And honestly, the usefulness of this system hasn’t been obvious to me so far. Combinations that are considered positive or negative in traditional astrology—and I’m guessing the Golden Dawn was using traditional astrology, not its modern psychological descendant—don’t seem to be matched with positive and negative tarot cards, at least not consistently. So I’ve decided to look more closely at these associations and see if I can find meaning in them, or if they’re just interesting, but useless, extras. In the spirit of these pairings and traditional astrology, I’m following the Chaldean order. I’m beginning with all the cards associated with Saturn, studying their “Saturn-ness,” and then moving to Jupiter, Mars, and so on. Stay tuned.

For the curious: how the planet-in-sign combinations work

(I didn’t figure the following out on my own. Every now and then, someone writes it out in a tarot book. But I decided another version of  the explanation wouldn’t hurt anything.)

Traditional astrology uses seven planets, including the Sun and Moon. If you list these planets in order of their apparent speed as seen from Earth, from slowest to fastest,  you have the Chaldean order of the planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. The Golden Dawn used this system combined with the signs of the zodiac to create their planet-in-sign associations for the Minor Arcana.

Start with Aries, the first sign of the zodiac. Aries is a fire sign and the Golden Dawn associated fire with the suit of Wands, so their system begins with the Two of Wands. The first pairing is Mars in Aries with the Two of Wands. To continue, keep all three factors in order: the numbers of the Minor Arcana, the planets in Chaldean order, and the signs of the zodiac. So the next pairing is the Sun in Aries with the Three of Wands, followed by Venus in Aries for the Four of Wands.

Thirty-six cards divided between twelve signs means each sign gets three cards, so now it’s time to move to the next sign. In Wands, that would be Leo, the next fire sign after Aries. But Leo isn’t the next sign of the zodiac; that’s Taurus. Taurus is an earth sign, so the next three cards come from the suit of Pentacles. But use the Five, Six, and Seven of Pentacles, not the Two, Three, and Four, because the numbers have to stay in order as well. The next three pairings, then, are Mercury in Taurus with the Five of Pentacles, the Moon in Taurus with the Six of Pentacles, and Saturn in Taurus with the Seven of Pentacles (starting the Chaldean order over again from the beginning).

After Taurus comes Gemini, an air sign. The next three cards are from the suit of Swords: Jupiter in Gemini with the Eight of Swords, Mars in Gemini with the Nine of Swords, and the Sun in Gemini with the Ten of Swords, which finishes up the numbers. Gemini is followed by Cancer, a water sign. Go back to the Two, and now Venus in Cancer matches the Two of Cups, Mercury in Cancer goes with the Three of Cups, and the Moon in Cancer is paired with the Four of Cups. Leo comes after Cancer, so finally it’s time to return to the suit of Wands, and now you see how we leaped from Venus in Aries for the Four of Wands to Saturn in Leo for the Five of Wands. And around and around, until the system winds up with Mars in Pisces and the Ten of Cups.

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4 thoughts on “The astrology of the Minor Arcana

  1. Very interesting post! I started learning tarot in 2009 and astrology really helped me in the process. I feel like I would like to go back and deepen my knowledge in tarot a little so will be taking a look at this system. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 ♡

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  2. I’m a little puzzled as to why the sign-planet pairings start with Mars, if the Chaldean ordering begins with Saturn. Is it because we’ve already established to begin with Aries (for fire-related suit Wands) and Mars is Aries’ ruler?

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