The Major Arcana and Personal Growth
he first line of the Major Arcana takes us through the process of maturity. It shows the stages of a person's growth from a child, to whom mother is all loving and father all powerful, through, education, to the point where the child becomes an independent personality. At the same time these cards deal with a much wider development, of which the individual development is a microcosm. They depict the creation of human society, out of both the archetypes of existence and the chaotic energy of nature.
While they set the principles for the whole deck, the Magician and the High Priestess apply very specifically to the first line. The movement between opposites is the basic rhythm of the material world. Nothing exists absolutely in nature. In the words of Ursula Le Guin, 'Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light'. When we move from the two principles to the Empress we are seeing the opposites mingle together in nature to produce the reality of the physical universe.
The middle three cards of the line are a set. They show us a triad of nature, society, and the Church. They also signify mother, father, and education. In ancient Egypt the godhead was often viewed as a trinity. The persons changed from place to place and through the years, but they were usually a female and two males, with the female viewed as supreme. In the Tarot, nature, symbolized by the Empress, is the underlying reality, while her consorts, symbolized by the Emperor and the Hierophant,-are human constructs.
The last two cards of the line represent the problems of the individual, love and sorrow, surrender and will. At some point each one of us must learn to distinguish ourselves from the outer world. Before this time personality remains a vague and formless creation might have begun when a lightning bolt struck the primordial sea. Thus again, from the lightning of the Magician striking the waters of the High Priestess, comes the natural world.
The symbolism of the Wraite-Smith Empress reflects the idea of nature, with all its force and glory. The Empress herself, voluptuous and sensual, suggests passion. Her shield is a heart with the sign of Vrenus, the Roman version of the Great Goddess. Throughout the ancient world the goddess ruled, as Demeter, Astarte, Nut, until the patriarchal invaders demoted her to wife (and finally banished her altogether with an all-male godhead). At the Empress's feet grows a field of grain; the goddess ruled agriculture, and in North-Western Europe was called the 'Corn Goddess'. She wears a necklace of nine pearls, for the nine planets, while her crown contains twelve stars for the signs of the zodiac. In short, she wears the universe as her jewellery. The Great Mother is not the forms of nature, but the underlying principle of life. The stars are six-pointed, a symbol much older than its current use as a social emblem for Judaism. The six-pointed star combines two triangles; the upwards one symbolizes fire, the downwards one water. Again, the Empress combines trumps 1 and 2 in a new reality.
A river flows from the trees behind her to disappear beneath her seat. This river is the force of life, running like a great current beneath all the separate forms of reality, and experienced most fully when we give ourselves to unrestrained passion. Deep in our selves we can sense the rhythm of a river, carrying us forward through experience until, with death, our individual lives return to the sea of existence.
The river symbolizes also the unity of change and stability. The water in it is never the same, yet it always remains a particular river, with its own special qualities. Human beings change from day to day, the cells of our bodies die and new ones take their place, yet we always remain ourselves.
The number 3 produced by the combination of 1 and 2 brings out yet another idea. Just as the numbers 1 and 2 stood specifically for male and female, so the number 3 signifies the child produced by their joining together. The child is born as a creature of nature, unburdened with ego and personality, experiencing the universe directly, without controls or labels. It is only as we grow older that we learn to put barriers between ourselves and life. It is one of the goals of the Tarot to return us to that natural state of directly experiencing the world around us.
But if the Empress signifies the child she also stands for the mother. Motherhood is the basic means by which life continues throughout nature. And because the physical bond of the mother
Like the Cunning Woman, we see her reflected in our movies and novels as the exasperating female, who both frustrates and delights, because her thought processes follow no rational development. Many women find this image insulting, partly because it represents values and approaches judged as negative by our patriarchal society, and partly because people make the error of assuming that women and men should personally express these archetypal ideas. But the social images are crippling in another way as well. They are trivial. The Empress, along with such mythological counterparts as Aphrodite or Ishtar or Erzulie, represent something very grand. They signify the passionate approach to life. They give and take experience with uncontrolled feeling.
Until we learn to experience the outer world completely we cannot hope to transcend it. Therefore the first step to enlightenment is sensuality. Only through passion, can we sense, from deep inside rather than through intellectual argument, the spirit that fills all existence.
Many people see religion as an alternative to the natural world, which they view as somehow impure or dirty. Though our cultural tradition fosters this duality it is really an illusion, and the person who approaches spirituality with this motivation to escape will likely never achieve a very developed understanding. The body, and the natural world, are realities that must be integrated rather than denied.
In the mythology of Buddhism we find that the gods manipulated Prince Siddhartha's father into providing his son, Gantama, with every sensual satisfaction. The father believed that pleasure would prevent his son from renouncing the world and becoming a Buddha. The scheme backfired, because only after he had completely experienced sensuality could the prince leave it behind. After renouncing the world Gautama joined the ascetics, the other pole. But he reached enlightenment only when he had rejected both extremes for the Middle Way. Thus, we can see the Buddha in the World dancer who holds both the Magician and the High Priestess lightly in her hands.
As a combination of 1 and 2 the number 3 signifies synthesis and harmony. The natural world combines the Magician and the High Priestess in an indivisible unity of life and death, darkness and light. The idea of emotion also brings together the Magician archetype of activeness with the High Priestess archetype of instinct.
Consider as well the process of creation. The Magician symbolizes the energy of life, the High Priestess the possibilities of future development. The reality of the Empress results from their combination. Recently Carl Sagan demonstrated that life on earth
For each child its parents are archetypes. Not just mother and father, but Mother and Father. Because our mothers give us life and feed us and shelter us we tend to see them as figures of love and mercy (and get very upset when they act harshly or coldly). But the Father, especially in traditional times when the sex roles were stricter, remained more remote, and therefore a figure of severity. It was the father who bore the authority and thus became the judge, the father who punished (and the mother who intervened) and the father who taught us the rules of society and then demanded obedience. To the child the father is in many ways indistinguishable from society as a whole, just as the mother is nature itself. One of the painful moments of maturity for many people comes when they discover the limited humanity of their parents.
In Freud's scheme of the mental development of the mate the father and the rules of society become directly linked. The infant psyche demands constant satisfaction, particularly in its desires for food and physical pleasure from the mother. (Freudians may claim the child desires actual intercourse with its mother, but the situation holds even if the child seeks only the pleasure of being held against the mother's body.) By interfering in the child's relationship to its mother the father arouses the child's hostility, and for the still and child is so direct, mother love, in its strongest form, is pure feeling, given without intellectual or moral considerations. (This is, of course, an ideal, and in reality such love may come more from the male parent than the female, or sadly, not at all.) Throughout history people have identified motherhood with nature, so that the term 'Great Mother' for the earth itself appears all over the world, and even today we speak vaguely of Mother Nature.
In readings the Empress represents a time of passion, a period when we approach life through feelings and pleasure rather than thought. The passion is sexual or motherly; either way it is deeply experienced, and in the right context can give great satisfaction. In the wrong context, when analysis is needed, the Empress can mean a stubborn emotional approach, a refusal to consider the facts. She can indicate another problem as well: self-indulgent pleasure when restraint is needed. Usually, however, she indicates satisfaction and even understanding gained through the emotions. The reversed meanings of the cards also have their positive and negative contexts. On the one hand it can signify a retreat from feeling, either rejecting your emotions or attempting to suppress your desires, particularly sexual. However, just as the High Priestess, upside down, added the missing element of involvement, so the Empress reversed can mean a new intellectual awareness, especially the solving of some complicated emotional problem by calmly thinking it through.
In their right side up and reversed meanings trumps 2 and 3 are mirrors of each other. It sometimes happens that in a reading both will appear, upside down. This means that the person expresses both emotional and intuitive mental aspects, but in a negative way. Rationality comes as a reaction to excessive emotional involvement, while a feeling of isolation or coldness leads to passion. If the two aspects of the goddess can be experienced right side up the person will achieve a more stable and rewarding balance.
furthers spirituality is arguable); in some Eastern countries monks are free to pursue their studies because laymen fill their beggar bowls. Without this social custom they would have to spend their time working to get bread.
In its more negative aspects the Emperor represents the power of unjust laws in a society where stability takes precedence over morality. Once we establish law and order as supreme then a corrupt ruler becomes a disaster. But if the entire system is corrupt, producing only bad rulers, then stability becomes the enemy of morality. The value of the symbol of the Emperor depends a very great deal on time and place. In an unjust society the Emperor's power hinders, rather than helps, personal development. A great many people have gone to gaol for attacking unjust laws.
Even at its best, however, the Emperor remains limited. Over the spontaneity of the Empress he has laid a network of repression. If we lose touch with our passions then life becomes cold and barren. The Rider pack Emperor (see fig. 5a) is drawn as old and stiff, dressed in iron, representing the sterility of a life rigidly governed by rules. The river which flowed so powerfully through the Empress's garden has here become a thin stream, barely able to penetrate a lifeless desert.
The card's other symbolism reflects its dual aspects. He holds an ankh, Egyptian symbol of life, to indicate that under the law he bears the power of life and death, and will hopefully use it well. Four rams, symbols of Aries, adorn his throne while at the crown's peak he bears the sign of Aries (unfortunately resembling a propellor). Now, Aries symbolizes force, aggression and war, but as the first sign of the zodiac it also signifies the new life of spring, which can emerge from the stability of a just society.
As the middle card of the first line of the Major Arcana the Emperor represents a crucial test. In the process of growing up it is indeed the rules of society that many people find most difficult to surmount. We must absorb these rules, as well as our society's traditions and beliefs, then go beyond them to find a personal code of conduct. This does not mean the attitude 'rules are made to be broken'. People who feel compelled to flaunt all laws remain as bound to those laws as the person who follows them blindly.
Because of the father's role in teaching us acceptably social behaviour, people who are trapped at the level of the Emperor are often people who have never really accepted the ordinary humanity of their father. They may recognize it rationally but it disturbs and haunts them. Similar problems plague those people for whom the Empress remains their mother's, rather than their own, passions and sensuality.
The idea of the Emperor as that of the limited values of social unrepressed infant, this means a desire to do away with the interference altogether. The urge to destroy the father, however, cannot be consummated or even recognized, and so the psyche, to relieve the terrible dilemma, identifies itself with the Father image, creating a 'super-ego' as a new guide for the self (replacing the 'id' -the urges and desires which led to such a crisis). But what form does this super-ego take? Precisely that of the rules of society, traditionally learned under the father's guidance.
Trumps 3 and 4 of the Tarot represent the parents in their archetypal roles. But just as the Empress signified the natural world, so the Emperor carries the wider significance of the social world 'married' to nature. He symbolizes the laws of society, both good and bad, and the power that enforces them.
In ancient times, where the Goddess reigned, the king performed a special function. New life can only come from death; therefore, each winter, the Goddess's representatives sacrificed the old king, very often dismembering him and planting the pieces in the ground, thereby mystically fertilizing the earth. Later, when the male dominated religions took over, the king came to symbolize the rule of law which had clamped a lid of repression on what seemed to the patriarchs as the monstrous and chaotic darkness of the old order. We see this drama (much like Freud's substitution of super-ego for id) in many myths; such as Marduk, national hero of Babylon, killing Tiamat, the original mother of creation, because she is giving birth to monsters. Whether or not we see the old ways as monstrous or the new as civilized, the Emperor symbolizes the abstraction of society replacing the direct experience of nature.
In Rome, the concept of law versus chaos was carried to the point where stability, or 'law and order' to use the modern term, became virtues in themselves, apart from the inherent morality of those laws. No progress can be made in conditions of anarchy (runs the argument); bad laws need to be changed, but first the law must be obeyed at all costs. Any other approach can only destroy society. Today, we see this viewpoint embodied in an abstraction we call the 'system'. The Romans saw it more concretely in the personal figure of the Emperor, whom they described as the father of all his people.
In the Emperor's best aspect he indicates the stability of a just society that allows its members to pursue their personal needs and development. The natural world is chaotic; without some kind of social structure we could each spend all our lives fighting to survive. Society allows us both to work together and to benefit from the experience of those who lived before us.
Stability allows spiritual development as well. In many countries society supports the churches (though whether this arrangement
In most Tarot decks trump 5 is called either the Pope or the High Priest, terms which connect it by name as well as picture to trump 2, the archetype of inner truth. Waite wrote that he rejected 'Pope' because the title suggested a very specific example of the trump's general idea. The name 'Hierophant' belonged to the high priest of the Greek Eleusinian mysteries. Now, Waite describes his card as symbolizing the 'outer way' of churches and dogma. But his use of the mystery term suggests another interpretation, one more favoured by those who see the Tarot as a secret doctrine of occult practices rather than a more general embodiment of human patterns. This interpretation is dramatically portrayed in the picture of the Hierophant from Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth, drawn by Frieda Harris. Here the trump signifies initiation into a secret doctrine, such as the various orders and lodges which flourished around the turn of the century and which have undergone a revival in England and America. The Order of the Golden Dawn, to which Waite and Crowley at one time both belonged, possibly originated the term 'Hierophant' for trump 5.
These two meanings, 'outer way' and 'secret doctrine', appear contradictory on the most elementary level. In reality they are very similar. Whether the two acolytes are being admitted to the Church structure arises mainly from Waite and his followers. The picture on the right at the start of this section, from Paul Foster Case's Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) deck drawn by Jessie Burns Parke, illustrates another tradition. Here the Emperor symbolizes the sum total of spiritual knowledge. He is drawn in profile (this is much more common than the Rider pack full face image), linking them to the Qabalist image for God as the 'Ancient of Days', a seated king in profile. (The Ancient's face was never visible, only his crown with a radiance beneath.)
The Emperor's arms and legs form an equilateral triangle over a cross, the alchemical sign for fire. This figure is later reversed (in Waite as well as Case) in the Hanged Man. As mentioned above, the crossed legs are an esoteric sign, found also on the card of the World. The BOTA Emperor sits on a cube rather than a throne. Also an esoteric symbol, the cube symbolizes both the world and the Tarot itself, as well as the Hebrew alphabet and the paths of the Tree of Life. The symbolism arises from the fact that a cube contains twelve edges, six faces, three axes, and of course a centre, adding up to twenty-two, the number of trumps, Hebrew letters, and paths. And because the Tree of Life is held to represent all creation the cube symbolizes the universe.
In readings the Emperor indicates (following the Rider pack image) the power of society, its laws and especially its authority to enforce those laws. The appearance of the trump indicates an encounter with the law. Again, the good or bad qualities depend on the context.
More personally the Emperor can signify a time of stability and order in a person's life, hopefully opening up creative energy. He also can indicate a specific person who holds great power, either objective or emotional, over the subject. This is very often the father, but it can also be a husband or lover, especially for those people who treat their lovers as substitute fathers to whom they surrender control of their lives. I have seen readings so dominated by the Emperor that all of life's possibilities become stunted and unfulfilled.
Like the Empress reversed, the Emperor, when upside down, receives those elements complementary to his qualities when he is the right way up. He is, in Waite's terms, 'benevolence and compassion'; new life in a stony desert. But the pendulum can swing too far. The reversed Emperor can signify immaturity, and the inability to make harsh decisions and carry them through.
talent for communicating with people. Moreover, like the social institutions of the Emperor, the religious institutions of the Hierophant can easily become corrupted by the authority given them, so that the priests see their power as an end in itself, prizing obedience above enlightenment. Obviously, the position of defending a doctrine will attract doctrinaire people.
Perhaps, however, we reject the idea of a guiding priesthood for a more subtle reason. Ever since the Reformation a notion that has gained greater and greater force in the West is that of the individual's ultimate responsibility for him or herself. The whole idea of an outer doctrine, a code of rules and beliefs accepted on faith, depends on the assumption that most people prefer to have someone else tell them what to do and think. This may very well be true. To really discover God inside yourself you must undergo some uncomfortable confrontations with your own psyche. Similarly, to decide for yourself what is the moral thing to do in all situations might require a constant agony of choice. Nevertheless, many people today simply cannot accept either society or a Church bearing the ultimate responsibility for their lives.
Perhaps the interpretation of the Hierophant as representing secret doctrines suits our age better. For then the doctrine does not tell us what to do, but instead gives us direction to begin working on ourselves. And the Tarot, as we saw with the Magician, sets itself against all Churches by leading us to personal salvation in this life. For Crowley the Hierophant represents initiation as the means through which the individual becomes united with the universe. The form and doctrine of the initiation change with each world age; having lasted nearly two thousand years, the current Piscean Age is coming to a close, so that the Hierophant is due to change, as will all strictly human relationships. Crowley comments that only the future can tell us what the new 'current of initiation' will be. But the basic quality of initiation as a merging with the cosmos always remains the same.
In the BOTA version of the Hierophant (as in the Rider pack) the crossed keys at the Hierophant's feet are gold and silver, representing the outer and inner ways, the sun and moon, the Magician and the High Priestess, which the doctrine teaches us to combine. In the Rider pack card both keys are gold, indicating that the dark side is hidden from those who follow the outer doctrine.
In the Waite-Smith imagery no veil blocks the entrance to the Church, as in the temple of the High Priestess. But the pillars are a dull grey. Those who enter here may receive protection from personal choice, but they will not pierce the secrets of duality. The unconscious remains closed. In many Tarot decks, the High or to an occult society, they are still entering a doctrine, with a set of beliefs which they must learn and accept before they can gain entrance. There is of course a fundamental difference between say, the catechism and the rituals of the Golden Dawn. For both, however, the trump indicates an education and a tradition. Therefore, if we see the first line as describing the development of the personality then the Hierophant, coming after the natural world and society, indicates the intellectual tradition of the person's particular society, and his or her education in that tradition.
Following Waite's interpretation (and thinking specifically of the Western pope) we can see the Hierophant as a companion to the Emperor. The word 'pope means 'father', and like the Roman Emperor the Pope is seen as a wise father guiding his children. Together, they share responsibility for humanity, the one providing physical needs, the other guiding spiritual growth. In one of the earliest treatises urging separation of Church and State, Dantë argued that the two functions must not be combined for fear of corruption. However, he never questioned the idea that the Church is responsible for our souls.
Today, many people do not understand the basic idea of a priesthood. Our democratic age rejects the notions of an intermediary between an individual and God. Note, however, that the Hierophant can also symbolize the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or any other élite leading the masses where they cannot go themselves. Originally the special function of the priests was evident; they spoke to the gods through the oracles, an often terrifying practice, and most people quite happily let someone else do it for them. When Christianity rejected such graphic and immediate connection to God, the idea of the priest became, like the Emperor, more abstract. Basically it depends on the notion that most people do not really care much about God. The average person is happiest following worldly pursuits, money, family and politics. There are, however, certain people who, by temperament, feel very directly the spirit that runs through all our lives. Called to the priesthood by their own inner awareness, these people can speak to God for us. More important, they can speak to us, interpreting God's law so we may live proper lives, and eventually, after death, receive our reward of returning to God. After the resurrection we ourselves will dwell in sight of God. In life, however, we need the priests to guide us.
So runs the argument. Even if we agree with the principle, in practice it tends to break down. People become priests for all sorts of reasons - ambition, family pressure, etc. - while those who do feel a genuine calling to communicate with God may show very little society's ideas and codes of behaviour, as well as, more subtly, a surrender of responsibility. The Emperor symbolized the rules themselves and their official enforcers; the Hierophant indicates our own inner sense of obedience. Reversed, the card means unorthodoxy, especially mental - forming original ideas. It can also, however, mean gullibility and this idea suggests another virtue of the card when it is the right way up. A society builds its intellectual tradition over hundreds of years. Those who accept that tradition receive from it a standard by which to judge new ideas and information. Those who reject it must find their own ways and can easily get lost in superficial ideas. There are many people who, having given up the dogma forced on them as children, fall into some new dogma, a cult or some extremist political group, just as rigid and perhaps more shallow. Having rejected tradition they have not really rejected the Hierophant. They have not accepted the responsibility of truly finding their own way.
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