The Moon through the Minor Arcana

Astrologers recognize that the Sun and the Moon aren’t planets, but since they share so many functions with the planets, they’re usually grouped with them. The Moon is the fastest “planet” in the Chaldean order. In astrology, the Moon represents the emotions and instincts. Its placement in your natal chart shows what you need to feel safe and where you feel the most at home. Unlike the other planets, the Moon visibly changes shape in a regular cycle. By extension, the Moon is associated with cycles, and its related tarot cards often have meanings related to growth, loss, and change.

Nine of Wands (Moon in Sagittarius)

In any suit, the Nine is the next-to-last stage of development. By this point, the Wands project has been developed, tested, assessed, reworked, and tested again. The Nine of Wands—called Lord of Great Strength by the Golden Dawn and simply Strength by Aleister Crowley—has survived all its trials, but it’s showing some wear and tear. Sagittarius, the mutable fire sign, is not all that concerned with its personal safety when it’s pursuing the Truth, and the headlong rush shown in the Eight of Wands has resulted in a few injuries and the wisdom of experience. The Moon is not sure all that fiery passion is safe (it isn’t), and safety is one of the Moon’s primary concerns. So the man in the Nine of Wands is on the lookout for the next threat. Unlike the wands flying free in the Eight, eight wands of the Nine have been turned into a defensive line, while the ninth is at hand to be a crutch or a weapon as needed. The man shows an injury, but he’s alert and on guard against whatever might happen next. The tension between the Moon’s need to protect and be safe and Sagittarius’s need to be free to explore may not make the Nine of Wands quite the “bad card” that Waite calls it, but it’s not restful.

Four of Cups (Moon in Cancer)

The Moon rules Cancer and is at home in that sign, usually happier than when it’s in other, more exciting signs. Cancer is the cardinal water sign, and has a lot in common with the Moon: a focus on nurturance and care, a need for safety, and so on. And yet the Waite-Smith Four of Cups is not a happy card. Here, the Moon’s love of security and the rigidity stability of Four has produced a closed system in need of a little fresh air. This is the card of “familiarity breeds contempt:” often we don’t see the beauty in what we’re used to, taking it for granted. Pamela Colman Smith’s illustration shows a young man who has three perfectly good cups and clearly doesn’t care for any of them. The fourth cup is identical to the others, but why it hovers is magical…and totally wasted on him, since he’s too wrapped up in his discontent to notice. Think Dorothy Gale and how she had to be whisked away to Oz before she could really appreciate Kansas.

For the Golden Dawn, the Four of Cups was the Lord of Blended Pleasure, perhaps suggesting that there was some happiness to be had in the familiar, even if you were mostly bored with it. In the Thoth deck, this card is Luxury. In some respects, things are still good. The water flows between the cups and it’s clear. The cups are a bright, shiny gold, and the structure of cups and flowers looks stable. And yet, there are hints that things are starting to stagnate. The top two cups are resting on lotus blossoms, but they’re so heavy, the flowers have been squished flat underneath them. The water on the “floor” of the card is rippling and the sky is gray, as though a storm is gathering. The Moon in Cancer may be unwilling to change even as a situation begins to deteriorate, but change is likely to happen anyway.

Two of Swords (Moon in Libra)

The Moon symbolizes the emotions, and so it’s always at least a little at odds with its placement when it’s in a mental/intellectual/verbal air sign. That said, the Moon in Libra is not in a hostile setting. Libra, the cardinal air sign, desires balance and harmony. Calmness isn’t the same thing as security, but it’s far more soothing than the rambunctious energy of Sagittarius, and Libra gives the Moon a moment to collect itself, perhaps inspiring the Golden Dawn title Lord of Peace Restored and the Thoth title Peace.

But calmness really isn’t the same thing as security, and despite the titles, there’s tension in this card. The Moon is changeable by nature and the emotions it rules can be wild and messy. Libra’s sense of beauty and harmony can be more like a still life, perfect and unchanging. In the Waite-Smith deck, the woman is consciously seeking Libran peace and quiet. She has turned her back on the (changeable) moon and the rippling water. She has put a blindfold on—is it perhaps also covering her ears? Having cut herself off from the world around her, she can focus purely on her thoughts, for better or worse. However, the swords she holds look heavy, and she will have to put them down or drop them soon. The moon will eventually set, the sun will rise…the peace she has created cannot last.

Seven of Swords (Moon in Aquarius)

With the Seven of Swords, the Moon finds itself in the fixed air sign of Aquarius. Aquarius isn’t a congenial home for the Moon. The Moon’s need for emotional connection is at odds with the cool intellectual detachment of Aquarius, and the Moon is stranded in a cold, sterile environment. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Golden Dawn named the Seven of Swords Lord of Unstable Effort, implying ambiguity. In the Waite-Smith deck, a smiling man runs off with five swords, leaving two behind; off in the distance, silhouetted figures seem not to notice the theft. There’s a sense of unfinished business with the Seven of Swords.

In the Thoth deck, the Seven of Swords is named Futility. Six swords, bearing the glyphs of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are aimed at a much larger, nicked sword with the glyph of the Sun. (The Sun holds the solar system together in astronomy and it dominates the Moon and the other planets in astrology.) Whether the six weaker forces try to appease the stronger one, or a once-great force is slowly worn down by smaller ones, there will be no great and honorable victory here.

Six of Pentacles (Moon in Taurus)

Back at the Four of Cups, the Moon was at home in Cancer, the sign that it rules. But it was so much at home that this was a bit too much of a good thing. Like lounging around at home wearing any old clothes you feel comfy in, the Moon in Cancer tends to only do what feels good. With the Six of Pentacles, the Moon is in Taurus, the fixed earth sign. Cancer, a water sign, did nothing to stabilize the Moon’s changes, but Taurus is all about the stability. Now it’s less like lazing around at home by yourself and more like being a guest somewhere where you’re having a good time and you’re loved, but everyone expects you to get up, get dressed, and be ready to go every morning. Taurus’s stability tied Mercury down (Five of Pentacles) and its fertility was wilted by Saturn’s austerity (Seven of Pentacles), but it brings out the best in the Moon, leading to the Golden Dawn title of Lord of Material Success and the Thoth title Success. In Taurus, the Moon feels safe. And feeling secure, the Moon is willing to help others. In the Waite-Smith Six of Pentacles, a rich man gives coins to two beggars. The scale he carries suggests several different ideas: that he’s only giving the beggars what he thinks they deserve, that he’s making sure not to give so much that he impoverishes himself, that he’s giving what’s fair. He is successful, and in his prosperity, he reaches out to others.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

31 Days of Tarot 2019: Days 12-13

Day 12 is barely more than a tweet in its own right, so another combined post:

Day 12: Have you ever dealt with Impostor Syndrome in your Tarot practice? – Maria Alviz Hernando

No, as most of the time I read for myself. When I read for others, 99% of the time it’s for a friend, often one who reads tarot cards themselves and knows what’s involved.

Day 13: From the Major Arcana Cards, what card correlates to your sun, moon and rising sign? How has that resonated or played out in your life?? – Nya Thryce

Astrology is my first love: I began studying it years before I acquired a tarot deck. When I learned of the Golden Dawn astrological associations, I was thrilled for a while, because it looked like a way to combine two things I really liked. The problem was, I couldn’t get the two systems to mesh. To me, it feels as if the Golden Dawn forced astrology and tarot together because they were philosophically convinced that there had to be a near-perfect correlation, instead of respecting each system’s individual variations.

Devil and Chariot tarot cards

It’s the Devil twice over for my Capricorn Sun and Ascendant, and the Chariot for my Cancer Moon. I identify with many characteristics of Cancer and Capricorn. And I’ve gotten the Chariot and the Devil in a lot of readings over the years, usually pointing out issues in accordance with their standard meanings. I just haven’t seen those cards reflect the qualities of those astrological signs to any great degree, or vice versa.

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

Mercury through the Minor Arcana

And on to Mercury, the second fastest planet in the Chaldean order. In Roman mythology, Mercury was the god of commerce, communication, travelers, and thieves. He also guided souls to the underworld. In a natal chart, Mercury represents the conscious mind, communication, and perception. It doesn’t show how intelligent someone is in the sense of an IQ test, but it’s the main indicator of how someone thinks (concretely, in intuitive leaps, focusing on the details, etc.).

Eight of Wands (Mercury in Sagittarius)

Mercury in Sagittarius is energetic as all get-out. All three fire signs are associated with creativity, passion, and enthusiasm, but in addition to that, Sagittarius is mutable. The mutable signs are adaptable and flexible, but also restless and scattered. As a result, Mercury in Sagittarius has more energy than focus and may end up trying to do a gazillion things at once.

Eight of WandsMost Minor Arcana cards depict a situation, such as the aftermath of a battle (Five of Swords), walking in a garden (Nine of Pentacles), or a family celebrating together (Ten of Cups). In the Waite-Smith deck, the Eight of Wands is one of the only Minor Arcanum without people in it.* To me, because there are no people acting in this card, the emphasis is on movement and speed rather than any specific action. The Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Swiftness, and most standard meanings for this card don’t stray far from that concept. While some decks show the eight wands shooting towards the sky, Smith’s illustration shows them descending. They’re finishing their journey, and that’s also in keeping with Mercury in Sagittarius. Like the arrows of Sagittarius, it’s time to retrieve them and prepare them for their next launch. They’re like the arrows of Sagittarius.

Three of Cups (Mercury in Cancer)

When Mercury is in Cancer, thoughts and perceptions are shaped by feelings and instincts. Cancer is a water sign, and the water signs are emotional, intuitive, and subjective. Cancer is associated with nurturance and protection. It’s a sensitive sign, and Mercury in Cancer is attuned not only to the literal meaning of what’s being said, but to the tone in which it’s being said.

Three of CupsFriendship and celebration are obvious meanings of the Three of Cups. Three women dance together, in a clear patch ringed with fruits and vegetables, appropriate for the Golden Dawn title for this card, Lord of Abundance. The joy and celebration in this card are clear, but it’s a private party. Note that the women are facing inwards, almost entwined in each other’s arms. If anyone else were in the area, they would find it difficult to join in unless the women chose to let them in. Cancer’s sensitivity and protectiveness can lead it to take care only of those it recognizes as family, as part of its tribe. In the Three of Cups, the women support each other, but they may only support each other.

Six of Swords (Mercury in Aquarius)

Mercury is comfortable in Aquarius, an air sign that supports its natural inclination to be detached and approach life rationally and intellectually. But Mercury’s natural home in the air signs is flexible, mutable Gemini. In fixed Aquarius, Mercury becomes more committed to seeing ideas through to the end instead of flitting away to the next interesting thought. That can mean it’s open to hearing new ideas, but won’t necessarily change its mind until it’s rationally convinced that it should.

6SThe Six of Swords is another one of those cards that differ noticeably between the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. Smith’s image shows two people being ferried away by a third. Their destination may be a better place than where they came from, as there is calm water between the boat and the far shore and turbulent water between the boat and the viewer. There’s a feeling of sadness in the card, though. The adult passenger sits hunched over, shrouded in a cloak, the sky is gray, and that far shore is gray, not green with life and vitality.** One possible inspiration for this scene is dead souls being ferried across the Styx in Greek mythology. While that was Charon’s role, not Hermes’ (Mercury’s), this card does reflect Mercury as the god of travelers at the very least, and possibly in his role as psychopomp. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Earned Success, but I admit that’s not what comes to mind when I see this card. Common meanings for the Waite-Smith Six of Swords include  travel (especially by water), sadness, and moving on.

Six of SwordsIn the Thoth deck, the Six of Swords is called Science. Science goes well with Mercury in Aquarius’ intellectual focus, and the general meanings for the Thoth Six of Swords reflect this: intelligence, curiosity, insight, progress, perception, and rational thought. Honestly, these sound like the general meanings for Mercury in Aquarius. This is pretty much as positive as the Swords get, and Crowley describes it as “the full establishment and balance of intelligence with humanity.”

What the two versions of the Six of Swords have in common is the idea of progress and improvement. Mercury in Aquarius symbolizes innovative thinking, which is often associated with science. Less obviously, to make a complete break with your past and set off to an unknown future, as the passengers in the Waite-Smith Six of Swords are doing, also requires innovative thinking.

Five of Pentacles (Mercury in Taurus)

Mercury is even more stabilized in Taurus than in Aquarius. Earth, after all, is solidity and permanence, and fixed earth, symbolically, is as immovable as you get. All this immovability is counter to Mercury’s mobile nature, and in the tarot version of this combination, it’s mired.

Five of PentaclesAs Mercury is “trapped” in the material world, so are the people in the Five of Pentacles trapped in poverty and illness. In Smith’s picture, they trudge through snow, one barefoot, the other on crutches. They’re moving, but like Mercury bogged down in Taurus, they can’t outrun their problems. The Golden Dawn called this card the Lord of Material Trouble, and it’s Worry in the Thoth deck, both names doing a fine job of capturing the essence of this card. Are the two people even communicating (Mercury) with each other? They’re looking in different directions, lost in their own thoughts. They’re also cut off from anyone who might be inside the building and who might be able to help them; here, Mercury’s perception fails.

Ten of Pentacles (Mercury in Virgo)

Given a little wiggle room, Mercury’s outlook improves noticeably. Like Taurus, Virgo is an earth sign, but it’s mutable earth, with the flexibility that suggests. Mercury does quite well there: grounded, yet mobile.

Ten of PentaclesHere we have the opposite of the Five of Pentacles: the Golden Dawn name for the Ten of Pentacles is Lord of Wealth. Given the Golden Dawn’s distrust of materialism, however, this card isn’t necessarily entirely positive. Ever since I read Rachel Pollack’s explanation of the Ten of Pentacles in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, I’ve been wary of the apparent abundance of this card. I tend to read it as “money can’t buy happiness.” Certainly everyone here is better off than the people in the Five of Pentacles, and yet in Smith’s illustration, they’re just as disconnected, not looking at each other. The only exception is between the old man and the dogs. Still, they’re all close enough to touch each other; they’re not nearly as isolated as the people in the Five of Pentacles. Plus, the pentacles aren’t “in” the scene as they are in most of the other cards of this suit. They float between the viewer and the scene in the form of the Tree of Life, suggesting a spiritual meaning in the most material of the Pentacles cards.

*The others are the Aces, the Three of Swords, and the Four of Swords. Although the Four of Swords does have a human figure in it.

**Well, it’s gray in the Universal Waite Tarot, anyway!

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

Venus through the Minor Arcana

Venus went direct yesterday, after about a month of being retrograde. The timing is appropriate for this post, as we’re up to Venus in the Chaldean order. We’re past the halfway point now, and the planets are speeding up. Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Similarly, in astrology, the planet Venus represents love, beauty, pleasure, and relationships. The five Minor Arcana cards associated with Venus do say something about relationships and/or pleasure, although sometimes what they show is the downside or how these can go wrong.

Four of Wands: Venus in Aries

Aries is primarily a solo sign. Not that Aries shuns people, but it’s self-centered rather than other-oriented. It’s cardinal fire, a combination that initiates action and is high-energy. So it’s essentially compatible with Mars and the Sun, planets that are associated with action and personal identity. Venus, however, is other-oriented, the part of us that creates relationships, and that focus on relationships is at odds with Aries’s focus on the self. The combination suggests creating relationships mainly to see what’s in it for you. Traditionally, Venus in Aries has been viewed as being in a contrary environment, and not acting at her best.*

Four of WandsWith that kind of background, you’d think the Four of Wands would depict selfishness or a reluctance to be with others. Instead, the Waite-Smith card shows people celebrating together. Perhaps this is about the completion of a project or task, since the Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Perfected Work and Crowley called it Completion. One keyword I use for the Four of Wands is community, and that’s the antithesis of this textbook description of Venus in Aries. Now, sure, there are other ways to interpret the combination of Venus and Aries. Perhaps this scene of dancing outside on a warm, sunny day shows Venus’s sociability fueled by Aries’s energy. Dancing itself—beautiful, done for pleasure, often done with other people—has a lot of Venus to it, and as physical activity, could draw on Aries/fire energy.

Two of Cups: Venus in Cancer

Two of CupsLike Aries, Cancer is a cardinal sign, but its element is water, and cardinal water suggests that Cancer takes action emotionally. Already this sounds like a more compatible environment for Venus. Cancer has been traditionally considered friendly to the Moon (the emotions) and Jupiter (benevolence), but Venus, too, seems more at home here than in Aries. Cancer’s focus is on nurturance, which is necessary when something has just been “born”—a baby, a project, a relationship—Cancer’s energy shines at the beginning of things.

With the Two of Cups, we have the most romantic presentation of Venus in the Waite-Smith deck. Not surprisingly, the Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Love.  I don’t think it’s stretching to see the Two of Cups as the beginning of a relationship. Twos are towards the start of the Minor Arcana, suggesting an early stage. Beginning a relationship is in keeping with the symbolism of Venus in Cancer—it’s that taking the initiative in emotional matters.

Seven of Cups: Venus in Scorpio

From one water sign to another: but Scorpio is a fixed sign rather than a cardinal one. Instead of starting something, fixed signs are about continuing and maintaining what already is. Positively, Scorpio is emotionally steadfast and reliable, but if used poorly, planets in Scorpio become stubborn and obsessive. The Seven of Cups pertains more to Venus as a symbol of desire and pleasure rather than relationships. The drawback to Venus being in Scorpio is that Scorpio doesn’t necessarily restrain Venus’s desires. Its fixed nature suggests that once Venus in Scorpio decides it wants something, she will continue to want it, which can bring out Scorpio’s obsessive side. So like Aries, Scorpio is traditionally viewed as encouraging Venus’s less appealing traits.

Seven of CupsThe Seven of Cups is one of those cards that differs noticeably between the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. In the Waite-Smith Seven of Cups, the card is about being presented with a number of options and needing to choose one. The figure in the foreground faces multiple delights: riches, glory, power, and more. But the card is called Lord of Illusionary Success, suggesting that none of them will bring him true happiness. In pursuing one or more of them, will the man overlook genuine, if not nearly as flashy, happiness close at hand?

Seven of CupsCompared to the Thoth Seven of Cups, however, the Waite-Smith card is all sweetness and light. Crowley and Harris’s depiction of the Seven of Cups hits you over the head with what happens when pleasure goes bad. The card is called Debauch. It has the Thoth deck’s standard symbol set of flowers, cups, and liquids, but here the liquid is fluorescent green glop, likely poisonous—really, would you want to touch it, much less drink it? True, the lilies look healthy and none of the cups are broken: things are not as bad as they could be, but that’s not saying much in this card. Here is a particularly nasty manifestation of Venus in Scorpio: pleasure going well beyond the point at which it’s pleasant and sliding into debauchery. As the Thoth Six of Cups is called Pleasure, the path from pleasure to debauchery to indolence (the Eight of Cups) is a theme of the Cups suit.

Five of Swords: Venus in Aquarius

From fixed water to fixed air as we consider Venus in Aquarius. Instead of maintaining things in the emotional plane, Aquarius maintains them in intellect and communication. Although the combination of Venus and Aquarius is not traditionally considered negative, there’s a bit of a conflict here. Venus wants relationships and pleasure. Aquarius is an air sign, and up for communicating with others, but that communication is mainly going to be intellectual. Ditto for pleasure: Venus may want a good bit of sensual self-indulgence, but Aquarius is likely to be more interested in a new book than physical delight. Venus in Aquarius has a reputation for loving the human race, but not doing that well at loving individual human beings.

Five of SwordsIf there’s a relationship in the Five of Swords, it’s that between the victor and the vanquished, and the only pleasure is the pleasure of beating others. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Defeat, which pretty much sums up the Waite-Smith picture. Indeed, any existing relationships between the three people in the picture may be the casualties of this battle. The victor has control of the swords, and seems happy, but in a card with Venus as its astrological correlation, it’s probably not good that he’s cut himself off from the others in the picture. For that matter, the two who lost are turned slightly away from each other. They aren’t going off together to console each other or plot revenge against the victor, but are alone in their misery.

Nine of Pentacles: Venus in Virgo

Virgo is the mutable earth sign. Earth is the element of the physical world and the practical, logistical approach to life. Mutability neither gets things going as cardinal energy does or keeps them going as fixed energy does, but changes and adapts what is. Virgo’s awareness of its circumstances makes planets in Virgo sensitive to imperfection and drives them to correct it in a practical, tangible way. Customarily, Virgo is considered another sign that’s at odds with Venus. That need to continually improve things can be harsh on relationships, and it’s difficult to thoroughly enjoy something when you’re constantly aware of anything that isn’t quite right about it.
Nine of PentaclesThat said, the Nine of Pentacles doesn’t appear to be about pickiness and perfectionism any more than the Four of Wands was about selfishness in relationships. The Waite-Smith Nine of Pentacles shows a woman in a vineyard, alone except for the bird that she’s holding and a snail on the ground. Cards with just one person in them are common in this deck, but except for this card and the Seven of Cups, the Minor Arcana associated with Venus show people in relationship. Like the Seven of Cups, the Nine of Pentacles portrays the pleasure and enjoyment side of Venus rather than the relationship side. The Golden Dawn title of Lord of Material Gain reinforces the idea that the focus here is on earthly pleasures. But in this card, Pamela Colman Smith shows pleasure in moderation to be a good thing. The woman’s body language is relaxed: her hand rests lightly on top of a pentacle and she trusts the other eight to be there. Compare this with the Four of Pentacles where the man clutches one pentacle to his chest while pinning another two down with his feet. Venus and Virgo combine to show contentment in the Nine of Pentacles. Perhaps this is Virgo’s acute awareness of the material world: the woman knows what she has, knows that it’s enough for her, and knows how to appreciate it.

*And yes, this is a textbook description of Venus in Aries. Real people with Venus in Aries—or any other sign—will live it in all sorts of ways, and there’s more to a person than just one planet/sign combination anyway.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

The Sun through the Minor Arcana

The Sun is the midpoint of the Chaldean order of planets, with three planets slower than it (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars) and three faster (Venus, Mercury, Moon). Although we know the Sun is a star, it’s often called a planet in astrology, since for astrological purposes, it essentially behaves like the true planets do. Even so, the Sun is first among equals. As the physical sun is the center of the solar system, so the astrological Sun is the heart of the natal chart. In natal astrology, the Sun represents the sense of self, the ego, who you think of yourself as. The ego is independent but basically a solo act, and its aloneness is reflected in some of the Minor Arcana cards that have the Sun in their astrological correspondences. Many tarot cards depict people alone. Still, it seems notable that three of the five cards associated with the Sun show an individual set apart from others. The Sun is like the other astrological planets…and not.

Three of Wands: Sun in Aries

Aries is a sign that the Sun feels comfortable in. There’s a lot of overlap here, between the essentially solitary Sun and Aries, a sign of solo action. Aries is the cardinal fire sign, geared towards taking the initiative (cardinal) and expressing willpower and creativity.

3wWhichever sign the Sun is in shows the kinds of experiences that the self needs in order to grow. In Aries, that means taking risks and doing things that call for courage, usually as an individual rather than with others. In the Waite-Smith Three of Wands, we see a man looking out over a harbor in which three ships are sailing. One common way to interpret this scene is that the man is a merchant whose ships are either setting out on a voyage or returning from one. Either way, the success of the venture is not yet known. The man has put plans into action and committed himself, and this is risky. He’s far from the ships and the people on them, showing that he’s acting alone.

The Sun in Aries symbolizes the explorer or pioneer, someone who initiates a venture. Perhaps the man in the Three of Wands is sending his ships along a familiar, established trade route—although that can be risky—but he may be gambling on a new route into uncharted territory, where the risks and the rewards are even greater.

The Golden Dawn’s name for the Three of Wands was Lord of Established Strength, while Crowley went for Virtue. This is not virtue in the sense of goodness or the archaic definition of chastity, but an older definition of courage, valor, and strength. Either name, of course, reflects the courage and determination of the Sun in Aries.

Six of Cups: Sun in Scorpio

The Golden Dawn named the Six of Cups Lord of Pleasure. The differences between this card and its astrological association may leave one wondering what kind of pleasure they had in mind. The Waite-Smith Six of Cups seems to show the joys of innocence and nostalgia. A boy presents a cup filled with flowers to a smaller girl, while in the background, a man with a staff or spear walks away. Both children are heavily dressed for what looks like warm spring weather: they’re wearing hoods and we see a mitten on the girl’s hand. Some have observed that the boy’s proportions aren’t really that of a child, and have speculated that he’s more magical than human (a dwarf, perhaps). The slight unreality of the picture has led people to associate this card with nostalgia—a not-quite-accurate recollection of times past.

Waite-Smith Six of CupsOver on the astrological side of things, the association for this card is the Sun in Scorpio. Scorpio is fixed water: feelings that change slowly, if at all. Since those feelings are so stable, they have time to build in intensity and grow deeper. So the Sun in Scorpio shows that the sense of self grows through intense emotional experiences. Unlike the Three of Wands, there’s more than one person in the Six of Cups, and two of them are interacting with each other. This card isn’t about acting alone, but maybe that’s because it’s a Cups card, and emotions have so much to do with relating to others.

I’m having trouble seeing a connection between this card and its astrological association. The Six of Cups does not radiate intensity and passion; the Sun in Scorpio has little to do with innocence and nostalgia. Honestly, the Sun in Cancer seems like it would be a much better fit for the Six of Cups. Cancer, the cardinal water sign, also pertains to feelings and relationships, but it’s associated with nurturing and caring for others, and it’s known for its sentimentality. But the Sun in Cancer doesn’t appear in the astrological associations, and we don’t get it as an option if we’re going to follow the system faithfully. So I’m left guessing at the apparent mismatch here. Did the Six of Cups have a traditional meaning that simply doesn’t fit in the decan system? Or does the general association of the Sixes with happiness mean that the Six of Cups gets a happy scene even if that seems to go better with a different sign of the zodiac?

Ten of Swords: Sun in Gemini

The Ten of Swords is another card where the connection between the meaning of the card and its astrological association isn’t immediately obvious. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Ruin, which pretty much sums up the mood here: everything has fallen apart and it’s the end.  It seems odd that such a grim card is matched with the Sun in Gemini which hasn’t got nearly as bad a reputation as this card.

Waite-Smith Ten of SwordsThe Ten of Swords is the final result of the Swords suit: intellect taken to its conclusion. I’ve heard a couple of explanations for why the Swords suit ends so unpleasantly. One is related to the Tree of Life, saying that air and fire (Swords and Wands), are weighed down as they approach the earthiness of the final sephirah, Malkuth, while water and earth (Cups and Pentacles) feel more at home. Another says that the nature of the intellect is to dissect everything, until at last there’s nothing left to dissect except itself, and that’s the end. Whatever the reason, at Ten, the suit has bottomed out. A man lies facedown on the ground, with the swords stuck in his back. The sky above him is unnaturally black, although the clouds give way to a golden sky on the horizon. However horrible things have gotten, this is as bad as it gets, and there’s nowhere to go except up.

When the Sun is in Gemini in real people’s charts, it has as many positive and negative qualities as any other planet/sign combination. The Golden Dawn seems to have decided to emphasize the negative in their system, however, perhaps to go with the idea that the intellect eventually dissects itself if there’s nothing to balance it. The Sun tends not to feel comfortable in the air signs: the fiery life force can find cool detachment and analysis jarring. This is more of an issue with Libra and Aquarius than Gemini, but as with Cancer, there aren’t cards that represent these combinations, so the Sun in Gemini ends up standing in for the Sun in any air sign. The Ten of Swords appears to warn of one way in which the development of the self can go awry. In Gemini, the mutable air sign, the worst-case scenario is that all humanity evaporates into an ice-cold rationality that kills the passions, the life force. (Note that the man is wearing red and orange, the colors of fire and life.) But the Sun doesn’t stay in any one sign forever, hence its reappearance and revival on the horizon.

Four of Pentacles: Sun in Capricorn

The Four of Pentacles, the Lord of Earthly Power, is paired with the Sun in Capricorn. Capricorn is the cardinal earth sign, taking the initiative to be productive in the material world. At the same time, 4 is the number of stability. So here, movement and growth slow. This is shown fairly literally in the Waite-Smith Four of Pentacles. To maintain control of his pentacles, the man cannot move. He’s seated outside a city, separated from the human contact that suggests—yes, this is another one of the cards in which the individual is separated from the community—but he doesn’t look unhappy.

Waite-Smith Four of PentaclesThere are several ways to interpret this card. Perhaps it’s the love of material goods and power that limits your life to acquiring and keeping. Perhaps it’s maintaining useful and necessary boundaries with others. I like Barbara Moore’s observation that this is a card of “gathering power,”* which makes me think of batteries, savings accounts, and other earthy ways to store reserves. To me, that fits with an oddity in the picture: the way the man is holding one of the pentacles. If you wanted to hold a large coin, wouldn’t it be natural to hug it to your chest with your arms across it? Instead, his arms encircle the pentacle, reminding me of energy circling and building in power.

Thoth Four of DisksThe Crowley Thoth Four of Disks (Power) focuses more on the security and stability aspects of this card than the inflexibility and rigidity. Or rather, how those qualities are depicted can alter their interpretation. Rigidity and inflexibility in a person are generally seen as negatives, which may be what was intended in the Waite-Smith picture. Rigidity and inflexibility in a fortress, on the other hand, are usually considered selling points. (That’s a picture of a fortress as seen from above, with a moat surrounding it, and one road leading in.)

Eight of Pentacles: Sun in Virgo

It’s pretty easy to see the Sun in Virgo in the Eight of Pentacles. Like Capricorn, Virgo is an earth sign, mutable in this case. Both signs are responsible, dutiful, and willing to work hard, but Capricorn is the more ambitious of the two, and it often works with an eye towards earning recognition and reward. Pamela Colman Smith took the time to give the man in the Four of Pentacles a crown, suggesting he’s a king in some sense of the word. Virgo, however, is associated with service. In the Eight of Pentacles, the man is more likely an apprentice working to improve his skills. This is the third card in this group in which the main character is shown apart from others, and here it can mean that he’s not working for admiration or recognition. He’s working to make a better pentacle, which is totally in keeping with Virgo, which values improvement and attention to detail.

Waite-Smith Eight of PentaclesThe Sun in Virgo suggests that the self develops through diligence and material service. Although this man is as isolated as the one in the Four of Pentacles—both sit alone, with a distant city in the background—the man in the Eight of Pentacles is using the material energy instead of saving it up, and the pentacles he’s making may someday be put to practical use.

Thoth Eight of DisksAlthough both the Waite-Smith and Thoth cards are called (Lord ofPrudence, the Eight of Disks has a different feel to it. A plant doesn’t have to practice flowering to get it right—that comes naturally. This plant protects its flowers with its leaves so that they won’t get knocked off before it’s able to fruit. The meaning of the Eight of Disks goes more with the definition of prudence as “caution or circumspection as to danger or risk” while the Waite-Smith Eight of Pentacles seems more in keeping with “skill and good judgment in the use of resources.”**

*Barbara Moore, Tarot for Beginners: A Practical Guide for Reading the Cards, pp.201-203.

**Definitions of prudence from Merriam-Webster.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

Mars through the Minor Arcana

The next planet in the Chaldean order is Mars. With Saturn and Jupiter, we were dealing with semi-abstract ideas like restriction, expansion, limitations, and generosity. But starting with Mars, we are dealing with the faster-moving planets that represent personal characteristics and traits. Mars symbolizes the way you assert yourself and how you get angry. It shows how you defend yourself and how you go after what you want. And yes, it’s associated with the sex drive (despite the Mars symbol also being the male symbol (♂), that’s anyone’s sex drive, not just men’s).

Two of Wands: Mars in Aries

Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the cardinal fire sign. Cardinal signs initiate action; fire signs are energetic, enthusiastic, and lively. Together, they show that Aries represents the need to take action and assert yourself. Yes, that pretty much sounds like a description of Mars itself, and yes, Mars is comfortable in Aries. At its best, Aries initiates things and is courageous and confident, although it can also be rash, impulsive, and selfish. So Mars in Aries acts in a direct, assertive, and bold manner.

2wWith all of that energy behind it, you might expect the Two of Wands to show an action-filled scene like the Five of Wands does, but the Waite-Smith deck’s illustration is deceptively still. A man stands on a rampart, looking over the lands below him. In his right hand, he holds a globe; in his left, a wand. The other wand of the card is bolted to the wall behind him, which stabilizes the wand, but at the same time, restrains it. The man is dressed in shades of brown, suggesting pragmatism and groundedness; his red hat symbolizes thinking about action. The Golden Dawn title for this card is Lord of Dominion, and it seems as if the man is surveying his domains. “Dominion” itself is a neutral term, but the device of flowers on the wall suggests that this is a positive card. The red roses signify action and desire, which might be problematic on their own (as in a lust for power), but they’re paired with white lilies, signifying purity. With the drive of Mars in Aries, the man has achieved much in terms of wealth and power, but his energy seems constrained (his still pose, the wall that separates him from the rest of the world, the wand bolted to the wall, the white lilies crossing the red roses). He may be restless, planning his next project and preparing to take action.

Seven of Wands: Mars in Leo

Here, the drive and assertion of Mars is shaped by Leo’s need for self-expression and recognition. Leo is fixed fire. Aries’ cardinal fire is targeted towards one goal, and Sagittarius’ mutable fire wanders away in any and all directions, but fixed fire burns steadily where it is. Which is what we see in the Waite-Smith Seven of Wands, where the man defends himself against unseen opponents. Holding one’s ground in battle is a good illustration of Mars in Leo.

7wSomewhere along the line, I’d learned “self-defense” as a keyword for this card, and I still think it’s a fair summary of this scene. But in reading about this card, I happened upon Joan Bunning’s description of it as “going after what you want” and “asserting yourself.”* These are fine descriptions of Mars generally, but it wasn’t what I expected for the Seven of Wands. After all, isn’t the man backed up to the edge of a cliff? Why would you challenge someone from such a difficult position? But Bunning explains that taking a stand triggers resistance in others. To assert yourself, to express yourself, to do anything that makes you stand out from the masses—the essence of Mars in Leo—is to draw attention to yourself, and some of that attention will be hostile. The moment you take a stand, the cliff’s edge and the opposing wands will appear.The Golden Dawn’s title for the Seven of Wands, Lord of Valor, makes it clear that you will need courage and strength to defend yourself, but stand firm (fixed fire) and you could very well succeed.

Five of Cups: Mars in Scorpio

The similarities between Mars and Aries are clear. Yet Mars is also comfortable in Scorpio. While Aries brings out the direct and headstrong warrior side of Mars, Scorpio highlights the strategist: the aspect of Mars that pauses long enough to plan its approach, calculate the best way to get what it’s after—and prepare an alibi.

That’s a good starting point for considering Mars in Scorpio in someone’s birth chart, but it’s not all that relevant to the Five of Cups. I think we get further by taking the combination apart and seeing how Mars and Scorpio play off each other. Like Leo, Scorpio is a fixed sign. But it’s a water sign, so it stands firm emotionally, rather than in self-expression and action. Positively, this gives Scorpio its qualities of emotional depth, intensity, and complexity, although it can also produce obsession, possessiveness, and vindictiveness. Mars in Scorpio is the combination of a planet that triggers upheaval, change, and disruption in a sign that lacks flexibility. This can mean a refusal or inability to compromise, and this all-or-nothing approach can result in destruction, followed by grief and regret…and that is relevant to the Five of Cups.

5cIn the Waite-Smith Five of Cups, the person (man? woman?) is isolated in their grief and loss. The ground around them is brown and lifeless. They could walk over to the city on the far side of the river and be with other people, but for whatever reason, they have chosen not to. They are focused on the three cups that have spilled, not the two upright cups behind them. Most people have an opinion about those cups, perhaps that the person should stop dwelling on the spilled cups and remember that they still have upright ones, or that the person needs to grieve the loss right now and deal with what remains at a later time. I tend more towards the latter interpretation. With the upright cups so close to the mourner, I suspect they know perfectly well the cups are there, but the time isn’t right to pick them up and move on. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Loss in Pleasure, but Aleister Crowley called it Disappointment. Neither seems quite strong enough to me; maybe if the Golden Dawn had called it Lord of Loss and left it at that?

Ten of Cups: Mars in Pisces

At the other end of the emotional spectrum is the Ten of Cups. Ever since I learned the astrology of the Ten of Cups, I’ve wondered about assigning Mars in Pisces to this card. I mean, even in Pisces, Mars isn’t a planet you normally associate with emotional/spiritual happiness. After all, this is a planet named after a god of war.

10cPisces is a mutable water sign; emotional flexibility and pliancy to the max. Scorpio dealt with conflict by refusing to budge, even if it broke; Pisces flows away and avoids it, which can sometimes mean escaping into fantasy and illusion rather than coping with reality. The Ten of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck shows a happily-ever-after ending for the Cups suit. The adults admire a rainbow, while the children dance, all in a picturesque landscape. The Golden Dawn title, Lord of Perfected Success, fits this scene well. Perhaps we’re supposed to realize that this is an ideal, not reality—after all, rainbows are optical effects, and cups don’t appear in them any more than pots of gold sit at their ends. Also, this is one of the Waite-Smith deck’s “stage cards.” The happy family isn’t in the landscape they’re admiring, but on a plain floor in front of it. Perhaps the lush countryside is no more than a painted backdrop. This possible illusion may connect the Ten of Cups to Pisces, but I admit I just don’t see Mars in this card.

10cthothThe Thoth deck is noticeably less romantic about the Ten of Cups. The Cups suit peaked at the Nine; the Ten is overstaying its welcome. The card is called Satiety, a word that can simply mean full and satisfied, but also means having had too much and the resulting feeling of revulsion. At first glance, all seems well: the ten cups are streaming light and are symmetrically spaced in the card in the form of the sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that several of the cups are tilted slightly and the structure is somewhat unstable. The force of Mars is a bit too much for Pisces, it would seem.

Nine of Swords: Mars in Gemini

The Nine of Swords reveals Mars’ capacity for viciousness. Gemini is no more brutal than any other sign of the zodiac, but in the context of the tarot, Mars brings out its worst. Sure, Gemini can be inquisitive, clever, and communicative, but in the Nine of Swords, we’re seeing its potential to be detached, scattered, and overly intellectual in its approach. Mars’ aggression, shaped by Gemini’s whirlwind nature (Gemini is the mutable air sign: ever-changing thoughts and communication), becomes a mental death of a thousand cuts: anxiety.

9sIn the Waite-Smith Nine of Swords, the Lord of Despair and Cruelty, someone sits up in bed at night, suffering through anxiety-fueled insomnia. Nine swords hover near them, and there’s a scene of murder carved into the bed frame. Perhaps this person woke up from a nightmare, or perhaps they never fell asleep in the first place, kept awake by racing thoughts. But the nine swords are no more real than those ten cups floating in a rainbow. The worry and suffering is entirely in the person’s head: the whirling, sword-sharp thoughts of Mars in Gemini.

The card is not 100% dread and misery, however. The quilt on the bed is made of squares with planetary and zodiacal symbols as well as squares with red roses. The person is not truly alone, because the astrological symbols suggest the universe itself is with them. Like the red roses in the Two of Wands, the roses in this card symbolize desire and action, and here, nothing restrains them. This points to the positive use of Mars (in any sign): acting to defend yourself. Being able to act often reduces anxiety, although in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to do anything constructive.

Three of Pentacles: Mars in Capricorn

3pAs you might expect, putting Mars in an earth sign produces tangible results. Capricorn is cardinal earth, a sign that builds in the real world, with structure and ambition. Used constructively, Capricorn is productive, industrious, and accomplishing, although it can also be controlling, rigid, and miserly. Mars does well here, with its energies turned towards material achievement. Glancing at the numerology of this card, 3 is the number of manifestation, and in the Three of Pentacles, what’s being manifested are real things.

It’s pretty easy to see this in the Waite-Smith Three of Pentacles. A craftsman is putting the finishing touches on a church, while a monk and another person (an architect?) consult with him. In the Lord of Material Works, what we’re seeing here is material accomplishment: a building. The three pentacles, earth symbols in their own right, are joined by a crossed circle which is another symbol of earth. The craftsman’s tools are in his hands; we see that this was achieved by physical labor. And this isn’t the mass production of the Eight of Pentacles, but a work of art by a master, someone who’s being recognized for his work (he’s important enough for the others to deal with him directly).

*Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners, p.172-173; online at SEVEN OF WANDS.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

Jupiter through the Minor Arcana

The planet Jupiter is a complement to Saturn in many ways. While Saturn is associated with limitation and loss, Jupiter symbolizes growth, optimism, abundance, wisdom, faith, luck, and generosity. (Yes, the largest planet in the solar system is associated with things like exaggeration and increase.) And while Saturn isn’t truly a “bad” planet, Jupiter isn’t always “good” either, even though we tend to like Jupiter’s associations more than what Saturn represents. So it may not be a surprise that the five cards of the Minor Arcana that have astrological associations involving Jupiter aren’t all cheery and bright but have a wide range of meanings. Still, in keeping with Jupiter’s basic nature, the sign that Jupiter is in shows what it idealizes, like Saturn’s sign shows what it feels insecure about.

Again, when you look at a planet from the perspective of the tarot, you’re not seeing it completely. These meanings of Jupiter are similar to the sorts of interpretations astrologers use for Jupiter in people’s charts, but these are simpler, less nuanced. Astrology and tarot have correspondences between them, but they’re not identical.

Six of Wands: Jupiter in Leo

Jupiter is optimistic, expansive, and generous, qualities that go well with Leo. Leo represents the need to creatively express  yourself and to be recognized and appreciated. At its best, it’s confident, commanding, and magnanimous, although it can also be narcissistic, dictatorial, and overbearing. In Leo, Jupiter grows and expands in the oh-so-Leonine way of being creative. Appreciation from others fuels Jupiter’s optimism and faith in life, and it’s with Leo’s confidence, that Jupiter dares to go further, see more, and understand more.

6WJupiter in Leo idealizes grandeur, drama, and attention, and this is what’s shown on the Six of Wands. In the Waite-Smith illustration, a man rides forth triumphantly, accompanied by followers. He wears a wreath on his head and another one hangs from the wand he’s carrying. Whether he’s departing to face a vital challenge or returning home, he’s the center of attention. The Golden Dawn named this card Lord of Victory, but the card itself is deliberately ambiguous about what this victory may be and if it’s occurred yet. In Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, he says, “The card has been so designed that it can cover several significations; on the surface, it is a victor triumphing, but it is also great news, such as might be carried in state by the King’s courier; it is expectation crowned with its own desire, the crown of hope, and so forth.” Perhaps Our Hero is returning in triumph, but it’s also possible that he’s being sent off with great fanfare to what everyone hopes will be victory, but which isn’t guaranteed. Sometimes, confidence and faith in victory are what’s needed for victory: “expectation crowned with its own desire.” And that would fit Jupiter, which cannot conceive of defeat because it has never reached its limits. Limits, after all, are a Saturn thing.

Nine of Cups: Jupiter in Pisces

9CIt might seem odd that Jupiter, a planet that is comfortable in fiery, expressive Leo, feels at home in sensitive, retiring Pisces. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, though. Both Jupiter and Pisces are idealistic (and unrealistic). Influenced by Pisces’ compassion, Jupiter’s benevolence can be true charity towards the unfortunate, although this can also be a gullible combination. And Pisces dissolves boundaries, its infinite qualities a good match for Jupiter’s constant need to expand.

Jupiter in Pisces idealizes universal love and compassion. I have trouble seeing that in the Waite-Smith take on the Nine of Cups. It shows a man sitting in front of nine gold cups that presumably signify his wealth and material security. Jupiter can be excessive, and there’s a hint of that in this card: how many cups does a person need for a comfortable life, anyway? In many Waite-Smith clones, the man or woman in the card appears ready to offer a cup to others, but in this, the original illustration, the man’s arms are crossed and he seems prepared to keep all the cups for himself. (See Nine of Cups: I’ve got mine for more on the Waite-Smith illustration.) Regardless, his happiness is evident, and the illustration fits the Golden Dawn title Lord of Material Happiness. The Nine of Cups is often called the “wish card.” Supposedly, if it shows up in your reading, you’ll get what you wished for. That, at least, fits Jupiter’s associations with luck.

9CThothThe Waite-Smith Nine of Cups anticipates a “better” (immaterial) happiness in the Ten of Cups. In the Thoth deck, the Nine of Cups is the peak of the suit. Crowley calls the card Happiness and leaves it at that. Nine cups are arranged in a neat and symmetrical 3 x 3 grid. Nine flowers pour water into the cups, which are overflowing. The card is mostly purple and gold, much livelier colors than the heavy dark greens of the Eight of Cups. As a more positive card, this seems a better match to Jupiter in Pisces.

Four of Swords: Jupiter in Libra

4SIn Leo, a fire sign, Jupiter was able to express its enthusiasm; in Pisces, a water sign, it was able to express its compassion. But Libra is an air sign, and air is emotionally detached, neither passionate like fire nor empathetic like water. When Jupiter is in an air sign, it gets no support for its natural exuberance. Planets in Libra behave harmoniously, pleasingly, and diplomatically, which tends to mute Jupiter, as though Libra were always telling Jupiter to use its inside voice and walk, don’t run.

Jupiter in Libra magnifies and values peace, calm, and harmony. The Waite-Smith Four of Swords depicts this as a silent mausoleum. Despite the tomb in the illustration, the card isn’t about death (no Four is that permanent!). As the Golden Dawn title Lord of Peace from Strife suggests, the Four of Swords has to do with rest and recuperation, retreating from the everyday world until you’re ready to deal with it again. No matter how much you might want to be energetic and active à la Jupiter, this card advises you that it’s time to back off and take a break.

4SThothThe Thoth Four of Swords—Truce—differs a bit in meaning from the Waite-Smith version, yet it fits the astrological symbolism as well. As I mentioned, Jupiter idealizes peace and harmony. One of Libra’s weak points, though, is that it can be willing to accept the appearance of peace, even if the real thing is missing. The combination of Jupiter’s optimism and Libra’s reluctance to disturb the balance can result in a temporary “truce” rather than true peace. At first glance, Harris’s illustration is nicely symmetrical, with four swords meeting in the center of a large rose. But the center motif is a distraction from the jangled patterns in the background.

Eight of Swords: Jupiter in Gemini

In the Minor Arcana, Jupiter is in two air signs, Libra and Gemini. If Libra shushed Jupiter, Gemini scatters it hither and yon. Gemini is mutable air, a sign that at its best is curious, versatile, and communicative, but can also be superficial, capricious, and detached to a fault. Jupiter doesn’t feel all that comfortable in Gemini: it’s hard for it to throw itself wholeheartedly into anything when Gemini is pushing it to look at everything, do everything, have an opinion about everything(!).

8SHowever out of place Jupiter may feel, its nature is to idealize and exaggerate the qualities of its sign, so here it magnifies Gemini’s love of details and rational approach to life. Unable to really commit to any one thing, Jupiter is lost in an ever-growing storm of facts, points of view, details, and trivia. There’s no organization here, just random thoughts, fragments of ideas, scattered data, etc. It’s a brainstorm rather like the Great Red Spot on the astronomical Jupiter: large and apparently never-ending.

All that sounds exciting and high-energy. By comparison, the illustration on the Waite-Smith Eight of Swords is static, but there’s a connection nonetheless. The picture is of a woman bound and blindfolded, standing outside with eight swords stuck in the ground behind her and to one side. She’s not tied tightly and no one is guarding her, so she could wriggle free and get away if she only believed that she could. Belief is a Jupiter thing, but it’s hampered here. The card means being trapped in familiar but unhelpful patterns, unable to think outside of the box, stuck in a rut. The woman can’t get the perspective to see her way out of her predicament in much the same way as Jupiter in Gemini loses the ability to see the big picture and see its way to a clear course of action. The Golden Dawn title for the Eight of Swords, Lord of Shortened Force (force that falls short of what’s needed), and Crowley’s title of Interference both point at the complications and insufficiency that handicap this card.

Two of Pentacles: Jupiter in Capricorn

In Capricorn, Jupiter escapes the detachment and rationality of air, only to come up against the reality and practicality of earth. It’s not a improvement from Jupiter’s point of view. Capricorn is a cardinal earth sign which represents the need for achievement, accomplishment, and structure. It’s both organized, realistic, and ambitious, as well as controlling, repressed, and calculating. Left up to its own devices, Jupiter’s natural expansion would take it in all directions, but Capricorn really only recognizes two directions: up (achievement) and down (failure). In Capricorn, Jupiter idealizes the ability to manage everything, to get stuff done, and to show practical results.

2PIn the Waite-Smith Two of Pentacles, a young man dances while juggling two pentacles connected by an infinity symbol. Behind him, in the distance, two ships ride the crests of high swells of water. Now this is one of those times that my interpretation of the card differs from other people’s. Some descriptions of this card (not all) give the card a lighthearted interpretation of fun and pleasure: the man is juggling and dancing, after all. The Golden Dawn named this card Lord of Harmonious Change, which sounds pleasant enough. But I’ve always figured Smith put those ships in the picture for a reason, and it seems as if their survival in in doubt. The expression on the man’s face looks like worry to me, although maybe it’s just concentration. To me, this card symbolizes a juggling act in the metaphorical sense: managing several things at the same time. In this case, the juggling act distracts people from noticing that things are barely holding together behind him. So far, the man hasn’t dropped the pentacles. Indeed, at the moment captured in the illustration, he’s got a firm grip on both of them. (Is it truly juggling if you never let go?) But in the card Crowley simply called Change, it seems that sooner or later this will come to an end. Jupiter in Capricorn tries to expand within limits, and this could mean having to juggle more and more until, inevitably, there’s too much to manage. Jupiter’s promise of infinity is not delivered on: the infinity symbol itself limits the movement of the two pentacles and makes it harder for the man to juggle them. All together, they look like cogs and a belt: a machine that doesn’t allow for true spontaneity—and the ships struggle on.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

Saturn through the Minor Arcana

There are five Minor Arcana cards that have Saturn in common. Okay, so you know how there are no truly bad tarot cards. In the right context, even cards as scary-looking as Death, the Tower, and the Ten of Swords can mean something positive. The same is true of astrology, where there are no completely horrible planets. But as with those tarot cards, there are planets that make a grim first impression, and Saturn is one of them. Before the discovery of Uranus, Saturn marked the outer limits of the solar system. It was the farthest known planet and the slowest. This has a lot to do with its meanings in astrology. Saturn is the planet that represents limitations, reality, responsibility, form, loss, restrictions, time, solitude, fear, insecurities, and slowness. As you can see from that list, it’s not that Saturn is evil, but it represents things that aren’t fun. Saturn brings rewards, but they’re the kind that come from hard work and genuine effort. There’s no luck where Saturn is concerned; it’s all “no pain, no gain.”  Saturn is anathema to rose-colored glasses, and a lot of the time we mere mortals don’t appreciate that.

When looking at Saturn through the tarot, it’s not possible to see it in its entirety. People are living, complicated beings who have all the planets interacting with each other and who could have Saturn in any of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Pairing Saturn with Minor Arcana cards makes for only five isolated snapshots without context. If you’ve got Saturn in one of these five signs, or you know someone who does, and you’re thinking this doesn’t really sound like them, this is likely to be the reason.

Five of Wands: Saturn in Leo

Saturn is never really a happy planet, but there are signs in which it feels more at home, signs that match its austere, cold nature. Leo is not one of those signs. Leo is a fire sign and it represents a need for creative self-expression and appreciation. This sign is often described as self-assured, playful, flamboyant, and generous—and sometimes as childish, melodramatic, and full of itself. Saturn in Leo shows Saturn’s qualities with a Leo flavor: an aversion to pleasure and luxury, fears of being insignificant, and a forced, dutiful creativity. Saturn can squelch Leo’s creativity like smothering a fire. But there’s also potential here for the creative impulse (Leo) to be made real (Saturn).

5WThe Waite-Smith Five of Wands shows five boys waving large sticks around, perhaps in a mock battle. In keeping with that picture, the Five of Wands generally means conflict, competition, and arguing. Both the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley named the Minor Arcana; the name for this card is Lord of Strife. That’s certainly an apt name, given its usual meanings. But “strife” is related to “strive” which doesn’t just mean to argue, but also to put a lot of energy into something or to endeavor. Are the boys fighting, horsing around, or trying to achieve something? Someone had an inspiration back at the Ace of Wands and they’ve taken the first steps to make it real, but they’ve hit the first serious challenge at the Five. The boys in the Five of Wands are neither very young children nor grown men: the process is off to a strong start, but it hasn’t reached the end and the boys haven’t achieved Saturn’s maturity. Their efforts could fail: victory is never guaranteed. Right now, there’s just the struggle.

Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius

10WThe Five and Ten of Wands share a suit and an element, but Leo and Sagittarius are different kinds of fire. Leo is fixed fire, “fixed” meaning a sign that’s stable, resistant to change, and inertial. Sagittarius is mutable fire: adaptable, ever-changing, and flexible, and it’s always on the move, seeking to expand its horizons. Sagittarius is religious/philosophical, optimistic, and open-minded, as well as tactless, restless, and self-righteous. Saturn in Sagittarius worries about being corrupted by new ideas and generally disdains everything foreign or strange. In constantly-moving Sagittarius, Saturn is a lead weight. But because Saturn is so thorough, it has the potential for wisdom and deep learning in Sagittarius.

In the Waite-Smith Ten of Wands, a man is carrying a bundle of wands towards a distant city. The wands are pulling him into an awkward position and they block his view of where he’s going. It’s an excellent illustration of the combination of Saturn and Sagittarius: the man is moving towards a distant horizon (Sagittarius), but his burden is slowing him down (Saturn). The Ten of Wands often means working too hard, taking responsibility, and struggling. Lord of Oppression, the Golden Dawn’s name for this card, is a good fit. This is the end of the Wands sequence and the fiery inspiration which was a struggle in the Five has now been made real. Whatever it became, it’s not as beautiful as that first idealistic vision back at the Ace, which is a disappointment. But this card suggests a certain success: the man is making slow progress and will have something to show for his efforts, if not as much as he might want.

Eight of Cups: Saturn in Pisces

8CThe conflict between planet and sign is less dramatic in this card, where realistic, pragmatic Saturn meets the water sign of Pisces. Fire expresses its frustrations explosively, but water chooses the path of least resistance and drains away. Pisces is sensitive, empathetic, and imaginative, as well as escapist, prone to addiction, and martyred. Like Sagittarius, Pisces is idealistic, and we’ve already seen that idealism and Saturn are a bad combination. Nor is Saturn comfortable with Pisces’s mutability any more than it was with Sagittarius’s. In Pisces, Saturn flounders, looking for solid ground and fearing being swept under and dissolving. So it shies away from Pisces’s selflessness, mysticism, and deep emotion. But there’s still the potential for selfless love and sensitivity to others through empathy.

The Waite-Smith Eight of Cups shows a man walking away from the eight cups stacked in the foreground. The cups are solidly placed, but the man has had to pick his way across narrow ridges of land surrounded by water, and has only just found secure footing, although he’s still close to the edge. The Golden Dawn named this card Lord of Abandoned Success. Here, the emotional connection that has been growing through the Cups suit has failed. Saturn tries to pin Pisces down, and while water generally takes to form better than fire does (ice, anyone?), Saturn is too rigid for Pisces. In the Ten of Wands, the Sagittarius man struggled on regardless, but here in the Eight of Cups, the Pisces man abandons a hopeless situation and lets go.

8CThothI haven’t been discussing cards from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck because its Five and Ten of Wands have essentially the same meaning as the Waite-Smith’s. But the Thoth deck was also designed with astrological correspondences in mind, and its Eight of Cups has a distinctly different feel to it. In Indolence, we have eight damaged cups balanced on the leaves of a sickly white lotus in a stagnant pond under a sky of ominous thunderclouds. Pisces is symbolized by moving (mutable) water, but the water in this card is almost entirely still except for a bit flowing from two cups. Perhaps the Thoth Eight of Cups is a depiction of what could happen if the man didn’t leave his unsatisfactory situation: Saturn deadening all feeling until little is left except someone going through the motions of living.

Three of Swords: Saturn in Libra

3SOf the five Saturn cards in the Minor Arcana, this one has given me the most trouble in seeing the connection between the astrological associations and the card. Libra is one of the signs in which Saturn is on its best behavior. The air signs motivate planets to act rationally. This is fine with Saturn, which prefers objectivity to intuition or feeling. Libra can be just, harmonious, and compromising, but also indecisive, superficial, and passive. It’s the sign most associated with one-on-one relationships and partnerships, and planets in Libra are concerned with relating to others. Because Saturn is Saturn, and there’s always some fear and opposition where it’s concerned, this isn’t a completely blissful combination. After all, air isn’t much more amenable to taking solid form than fire is. Saturn in Libra resists compromise and wonders if other people have earned consideration—or whether it itself deserves consideration from others. Still, Saturn is generally comfortable with Libra’s emphasis on justice and fairness, and Saturn in Libra has the potential for an excellent sense of justice and the ability to have fair and gracious relationships with others.

And yet this comparatively benign placement of Saturn is paired with the Three of Swords, one of the gloomier cards in the tarot. This is the simplest illustration in the deck: in the rain, three swords pierce a heart. Not surprisingly, the Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Sorrow, and the meaning of the card follows that, covering betrayal, loneliness, and pain. It’s taken me a while to make some connections between the card’s meaning and the astrological association, and I’m still not sure about them. In some circumstances, Saturn’s solitude is just being alone. But Saturn’s solitude combined with Libra’s focus on relationships may result in loneliness. Even when relationships have been established, they’re never static, and sometimes they fail, which can lead to betrayal, infidelity, or divorce (the last a legal process that fits Saturn in Libra’s association with justice, but is usually painful). It may be that the meanings of the Three of Swords are better explained by the Kabbalah or some other system than astrology.

Seven of Pentacles: Saturn in Taurus

7PYou know how I’ve said that Saturn tries to bring things into form and reality, and that fire, water, and air really don’t care for that? Well, now Saturn is in the most solid of the earth signs, and I find the Seven of Pentacles to be one of the least negative Saturn cards, at least if you’re considering the Waite-Smith version. Taurus, a fixed earth sign, is practical, stable, and persevering, with a love of the sensual, although it can also be materialistic, stubborn, lazy, and reluctant to change. That’s not a perfect match for Saturn, which prefers austerity to sensuality and hard work to laziness, but there’s a comfortable overlap. The struggle for Saturn in Taurus isn’t getting earth to take form—earth does that naturally—but holding onto it. Here Saturn fears loss, both of security and of material goods (which Taurus tends to see as the same thing). Saturn in Taurus disdains luxury and it doesn’t trust simply enjoying life. But it’s possible for Saturn here to develop a good sense of self-worth and to learn to enjoy material rewards in moderation.

3DThothIn the Waite-Smith card, a farmer leans on his hoe, gazing at six pentacles on a bush and a seventh on the ground. He has put in the work, and now could be waiting for them to ripen enough for harvesting. The bush looks healthy, so it seems to be just a matter of being patient, and patience is one of Saturn’s lessons. This fits some of the traditional meanings of the Seven of Pentacles, which can mean evaluating your efforts and expecting a reward for your efforts. But perhaps the pentacle-bush doesn’t meet the farmer’s standards and he’s resigning himself to failure. That seems more in keeping with the Golden Dawn’s name for the card, Lord of Success Unfulfilled, and it’s Crowley’s name for the card, Failure. This is another card in which the Crowley-Harris version has a noticeably different feel to it. Against a background of dead gray leaves are seven gray disks with symbols of Saturn and Taurus on them. Even the sickly lotus in the Eight of Cups had more life than this; the Thoth Seven of Disks is a dead end. Taurus is normally a fertile sign (both versions of the card feature plants), but the poisonous lead weight of Saturn is more than it can deal with in the Seven of Disks.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

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.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

Review: Tarot Beyond the Basics

I like tarot. I like astrology. So when a book comes along promising to tell me about tarot and astrology together, I get all excited and read it as soon as possible. This was how I connected with Tarot Beyond the Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Meanings Behind the Cards by Anthony Louis. While the book and I weren’t a perfect fit, I learned a lot from reading it, and there are parts I want to study further, and that’s pretty good in my experience.

Tarot Beyond the Basics by Anthony Louis

First off, this is not a beginner’s book.* In fact, I wondered if the astrology had gone beyond what could overwhelm someone who only knew the tarot. Louis invites the reader to skim the chapter on astrology and come back later to reread it if it gets to be too much, and I suspect the reader new to astrology will have to do just that. That said, I appreciated the amount of material he included on the decans. I’ve picked up some information about them from my own astrological studies, but I run into them more often in tarot than astrology. Several other tarot books I’ve read mention the decans, but Louis goes into more depth about why they mean what they mean. For instance, I’ve known for years that the Ten of Swords is matched with the Sun decan of Gemini, but since the Sun and Gemini aren’t an unusually nasty combination in astrology, I’ve never understood why it was paired with one of the tarot’s more alarming cards. Louis provides that explanation. This is inspiring me to look up more of these associations and try to puzzle out their meanings. Louis also demonstrates using the tarot to add detail when interpreting a natal or horary chart, and I’ve definitely got to try that technique at some point.

I’ve been fascinated with the four elements since childhood. This was magnified a bit a few years ago when I learned about the qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry) and how they combine to form the elements. Now, matching the elements to the court cards is fairly standard, but in this book, Louis writes about the court cards with both the elements and the qualities factored in. He devotes an entire chapter to this, so there’s no way I can summarize it adequately in a paragraph, but I’m hoping that studying this will help me get a better grasp on these cards, whether they’re representing people, situations, aspects of my own personality, or whatever.

Other chapters focus less on looking at how other systems interact with the tarot and more with aspects of the tarot itself. Louis has included in-depth discussions of the Celtic Cross spread, reading reversals, and the role of intuition in readings. That last chapter concludes with a survey of other ways to read the tarot besides intuition. We’re often taught that the intuitive approach is the “right” way to read the tarot (let go of that LWB!). I’m not planning to drop that approach any time soon, but I think practicing some of those other methods would be good. Indeed, I suspect that’s what I’ve been doing while learning how to read Lenormand cards.

No, some parts just didn’t interest me as much. Louis has a good long chapter on numerology, and that’s definitely useful when you’re working with the Minor Arcana, but numerology has never been one of my favorite systems, and I found myself skimming this chapter more than most. Ditto for the chapter on the Major Arcana. And even though I generally like Louis’ writing style, sometimes I felt like some points had gone past explanation and were being belabored. Plus, the book hit one of my pet peeves: no index. You can only get away with no index if you have a detailed table of contents, and Tarot Beyond the Basics doesn’t. Aargh!

This isn’t the only book that moves beyond the basics of tarot, of course. Corrine Kenner’s Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac (my review) does an excellent job of explaining, uh, tarot and astrology. Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings is almost 500 pages of numerology, symbolism, and historical meanings in addition to new spreads. Nor are they the only ones. But at this point there’s room for more, and Tarot Beyond the Basics is worth adding to your “advanced tarot” bookshelf.


*There are many excellent books for beginners out there. One happens to be by Anthony Louis as well: Tarot Plain and Simple.