History of Tarot
Structure of the Tarot
Reading the Cards
The Tarot and Divination
Tarot Cards - Death
The Arthurian Tarot
Tarot Decks
Tarot FAQ

Symbolism and the Unconscious

Recognition of universal symbolism happens through the sub- and unconscious parts of our psychological make-up. We do not have to consciously think of certain symbols identified as "universal" to understand and comprehend their meanings.

An example of this at work is the tarot. It would seem that the reader of the tarot cards during a session will intuitively chose the correct cards to read unconsciously, and then interpret them using both knowledge learned and universal. Even without reading a book on tarot or having previous understanding of the subject, a person receiving a reading will choose cards relevant to their situation. There is no "magick" involved with tarot cards that isn't already within us, which makes it one of the easiest forms of divination to learn and use. Because we already know and understand the tarot picture symbols on an unconscious level, a person only needs to practice and learn how to recognize the symbols consciously to begin reading the tarot for themselves.

The Major Arcana of the tarot contains pictures and symbols that will elicit an emotional or mental response upon looking at them. You will find that in most cases, with a good deck that has correct symbology, that your intuition on the meaning of the card and symbol will be correct. Each card or symbol in the Major Arcana is an archetype that is present in everyone's psychology, whether in personality or as a subconscious understanding. Different cards represent different levels of spiritual and emotional evolution and awareness and none are intrinsically good or bad.

For example, imagine the card called "The Fool". The Fool is happy, walking along, and about to fall off of a cliff. He may be foolish and impulsive, as well as downright "foolish" for not looking where he is going. However, he is also trusting, refreshingly childlike; an inner child so to speak. As the Fool, we may go in and tread where others fear to go, if only out of naiveté.

Another example is Death. The thought of getting the "Death Card" might make you shiver and shake if you have seen too many scary movies. In reality, death in a symbolic sense (which is how it is portrayed in the Tarot) is not "evil". Death is the ending of the old to bring in the new. While the card is awfully surreal-looking and almost fear-inspiring, it is actually symbolic of change. Change and the death of an idea or way of life can be a scary thing for many people. Change brings with it the unknown. But it also brings forth regeneration and growth.

Most symbols act in the same way as the tarot, neither being good or bad in essence. We, as a people, have assigned good and bad traits to symbols and ingrained it into our faith and have made it the dichotomy of our lives. Symbology and the unconscious teaches us that all things, whether they seem good or bad at the time, are actually positive in their own way. All things teach us and help us grow in a forward direction. The Tarot is only one of the many forms of pictorial forms of symbology that allows us to communicate with and understand the power of our unconscious mind a little more.

Symbolism and Psychology
{From Byzant Tarot}

Carl Jung founded analytic psychology in response to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. This differs from the Freudian model in downgrading the importance of sexuality and childhood conflicts in the treatment of neuroses, and concentrates more on a patient's current conflicts. Jung made the significant step of defining the unconscious of a person as comprised of both a personal unconscious (proceeding from the experiences of the individual) and a collective unconscious (issuing from the inherited structure of the brain, and common to humanity). This is important to esoteric study in that it goes some way towards explaining the power of archetypal, symbolic systems like the Tarot. Indeed, the concept of archetypes - potent universal symbols appearing in myths, fairytales and dreams - is an important part of Jung's concept of the unconscious.

Jung classified people as introverted and extroverted types, but more importantly from the point of view of the Tarot, further classified them according to four functions of the mind: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. In his final work, Man and His Symbols, Jung wrote:

"These four functional types correspond to the obvious means by which consciousness obtains its orientation to experience. Sensation (i.e. sense perception) tells us that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not; and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going."

He considered that, in each person, one or more of these functions predominate, and that the others require development through application if that person is to become whole. Jung put it like this: "For complete orientation all four functions should contribute equally." These functions can help enrich our understanding of the Minor Arcana:
Jungian Function Tarot Suit Element
Intuition Wands Fire
Feeling Cups Water
Thinking Swords Air
Sensation Pentacles Earth

Three of the attributions look exactly right, but does Intuition really correspond to Wands and Fire? Intuition as creative, perceptive insight and initiator of action fits the bill very well. Jung himself wrote, "Intuition is not mere perception, or vision, but an active, creative process that puts into the object just as much as it takes out."

The occultist Dr. Arthur Edward Waite expressed the following, distinctly Jungian, view of the Tarot: "The Tarot embodies symbolical presentations of universal ideas, behind which lie all the implicits of the human mind, and it is in this sense that they contain secret doctrine, which is the realization by the few of truths embedded in the consciousness of all."

....more on Jung & Tarot


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