May 21, 2024
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spiritual unfoldment in the major arcana

Spiritual Unfoldment in the Major Arcana of the Tarot

The Tarot is a symbolic language by which we can communicate with a level of consciousness that is different from the every-day mode. Tarot provides the key to a range of human ability that is not limited by the perception of the five physical senses. Quite the contrary, these mysterious cards offer a way of evaluating those dynamics of a situation that may are not readily available to the rational mind.

Tarot, when used properly, cultivates the intuition, awakening archetypal powers of the higher spheres by drawing them up from the deeper reaches of the human mind. By intelligent use of this system, we can discover more about ourselves and more about the Universe, as the sequence of twenty-two interlocking images reveals the inner workings of the human mind as well as what we might call the Universal mind, or Logos.

These cards return us to our psychological roots, revealing how the forces activated within us blossom into the events and developments of our lives. By isolating the elements of our lives into archetypes, it enables us to see them in their pure forms, as aspects of psychological truth. From there, we may see how, mysteriously, the Universe itself operates according to these same psychological patterns.

The Spiritual Journey

When taken as a sequence, the trumps of the Major Arcana show a trajectory of spiritual unfoldment, enlightenment, or individuation— a journey toward wholeness, with each Trump representing an aspect of the human psyche which must be balanced and reconciled into the unity and wholeness of an individuated or enlightened being.

There are many ways of analyzing the Major Arcana. Many people take the Major Arcana as a sequence of pairs, with each card complementing or “marrying” the preceding card to create the succeeding card. We may see this as the alternation of yin and yang or active and receptive, ultimately resulting in the complete wholeness of the World dancer.

Another way to break down the spiritual unfoldment path of the Major Arcana is by dividing the sequence into thirds which correlate to Self-Consciousness, Subconsciousness, and Superconsciousness.

Self-Consciousness

Trumps I through VII correlate to the Self-Consciousness— that is to say the arena of ordinary social and physical life and the outer world. This is the realm of the persona, so to speak— man as an active occupant of a certain role in society, preoccupied with things like love, education, career and social status. Many people live their whole lives only concerned with these more or less material aspects, without probing into the deeper mysteries of the human soul.

Subconsciousness

Trumps VIII – XIV correlate to subconsciousness, or the search within. In ancient texts this realm is represented as the journey through the underworld or the dark night of the soul— the quest to find the answer to who am I really?

Many of us are driven to this quest by dramatic events upon the plane of Self-Consciousness which shatter our self-conception. Radical upheaval or unexpected change make us painfully aware of how tenuous our sense of identity really is. Sudden career changes, relationship upheaval, health afflictions throw our lives into chaos and we discover that the foundation we had been leaning on was quite superficial.

This set of cards indicates the process of spiritual death and rebirth; all the “dead wood” of the personality is burned off, and we are left with only those parts of ourselves which truly belong to us. Having caught some glimmer of our true self, we may return to the upper world of life and re-enter society, more consciously defined and less arbitrarily sculpted.

Superconsciousness

The final set of Trumps XV – XXII reveal the plane of Super-consciousness, the ultimate forces of the Universe which, at this ultimate stage of the spiritual journey, the individual becomes one with.

This is the realm of the eternal which provides the background for the ephemeral world of the five senses and even the integrated or exalted identity of the individual. At this stage one identifies with those parts of himself that are eternal.

The Four Elements

Another way of dividing the sequence of the Major Arcana is into quarters, setting aside the Fool and the Magician, the complementary halves out of which the entire deck evolves. In this way we may integrate the Major Arcana with the four suits of the Minor Arcana, which mirror the four elements of the ancient world: Fire (Wands), Air (Swords), Water (Cups) and Earth (Pentacles).

These Four Suits or Four Elements are the building blocks of life. As applied to the human mind, they correlate to Jung’s functions of Intuition, Intellect, Feeling and Sensation. As applied to the human being as a whole, they correlate to Spirit, Mind, Heart and Body. As applied to society, they correlate to varied interests of organizational activity (Wands); justice and law (Swords) ; love and pleasure (Cups) and finance, property and manifested existence (Pentacles). These relate to the four cardinal virtues of Strength, Justice, Temperance and Prudence.

The cards of the Minor Arcana are understood to represent the mundane world and prosaic activity, while the twenty-two Trumps are major principles or archetypes that affect and control these activities “from behind the scenes”. In this way, each suit has a ruling card in the Major Arcana which represents the cardinal virtue of the element. These four cards rule over the remaining 16 cards of the Major Arcana as well, dividing the sequence into quarters.

Strength

The Strength Card rules over the Wands suit, and Trumps II – V. These first four Trumps of the Major Arcana represent principles of power— spiritual or inner power, in the case of the High Priestess and the Hierophant, and physical or outer power, in the case of the Emperor and Empress.

Justice

Justice rules over the Swords suit and Trumps XII, XIII, XV and XVI.  This rather intimidating set of the Devil, the lighting struck Tower, Death and the Hanged Man indicate something of the severity which keeps us upon the straight and narrow path.

Justice, like the edge of a sword, is definite, not subjective. There is a right way and a wrong way to behave in life, and experiences which these cards represent, while sometimes unpleasant, can serve to clarify our sense of orientation, direction, identity and purpose in ways that mollycoddling, and self-indulgence never will.

Temperance

Temperance rules over the Cups suit and Trumps VI, VII, IX and X. These Trumps represent the happier conditions of human life: Love, Victory, Wisdom and Fortune. Like the angel on the Temperance card who holds two cups, if we are to maintain any of these states, we need balance.

Prudence

The final virtue, Prudence, is represented by the World card: the hermaphroditic dancer balanced between the four principles or elements.

The World card rules the Pentacles suit as well as Judgment, the Star, the Moon and the Sun. These cards represent classifications of ancient wisdom: Heavenly, Celestial, Sub-lunar and Solar, and in this way are themselves recapitulations of the Elements, correlating to Spirit, Mind, Heart and Body.

The dancer hangs in blissful suspension, at the highest stage of spiritual development, perfectly balanced amidst the four primordial forces. The paradox represented by this card is that it is only on the “lowest” plane of Earth that we may consecrate and make real that which is heavenly or spiritual. Without manifested works and deeds, spiritual illumination is inconsequential.