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Chaos and the Psychological Symbolism of the Tarot
by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. 1997


The Tarot deck contains archetypal symbols that can be related to the analytical psychology of the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung. The Tarot deck, especially the major arcana or trump cards, can be used effectively in therapy. The client, with the assistance of the therapist, conducts a reading or uses several cards to tell a story and then discusses possible meanings of the symbols in his or her own words. The therapist then relates the symbolic meanings given by the client to the client's problem in much the same manner as in Jungian dream analysis. This therapeutic process can be explained by using a chaos model. Using a chaos model of therapy, a period of psychic instability is deliberately induced by the therapist through stimulation of the imagination via the Tarot symbols. Concentration on the Tarot symbols induces bifurcation points that the therapist then uses to direct change toward desired attractors. This is similar to the well-known techniques of paradoxical communication, paradoxical intervention, and prescribing the symptom, all of which induce a temporary condition of psychic instability that is required for a bifurcation.


Loye and Eisler (1987) see the roots of modern chaos theory, as it pertains to social science, extending all the way back to the ancient Chinese Book of Changes or I Ching. The I Ching, the oldest oracle still in use today, (Bannister, 1988) was used to make predictions by casting stalks, straws, or sticks. Today, this is usually done by throwing coins (Cleary, 1986). In the West, the oldest oracle still in use today is the Tarot card deck.

The Tarot is a deck of cards which can be used for meditation, psychic stimulation, or divination. It also can be used as a psychological tool to look inside the unconscious (Bannister, 1988; Nichols, 1984). The Tarot is medieval man's equivalent of today's highly respected Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests (Schueler & Schueler, 1994). Wang (1978) describes the Tarot as "a system accepted by many respectable sources such as the school of Carl Jung, which views the Tarot images as agreeing perfectly with the archetypes of the collective unconsciousness" (p. 8).

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, saw all of the Tarot images as "descended from the archetypes of transformation" (Jung, 1959/1990, p. 38). These archetypes include several of the primary archetypes that are encountered during Jung's individuation process, a process of psychological maturation similar in nature to the aging of the physical body (Jacobi, 1942/1973). These include the shadow, the anima and animus, and the wise old man. The Tarot also contains symbols representing other important archetypes of transformative processes such as the hero, the sacrifice, rebirth, the mother, and the Self. In Jung's analytical psychology, these archetypes comprise the major dynamical components of the unconscious which affect the human psyche in many different ways.

Modern chaos theory addresses complex systems, which are systems with a large number of interrelated parts. It also addresses dynamic systems. Every complex system, and especially every living system (living systems are usually referred to as self-organizing systems), is also a dissipative structure. Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1977 for his work on dissipative structures, which he defined as any structure that takes on and dissipates energy as it interacts with its environment. A dissipative system, unlike one that conserves energy, gives rise to irreversible processes such as the growth of organisms (Nicolis & Prigogine, 1989). All systems that exhibit disequilibrium and self-organization are dissipative and have a dissipative structure (Briggs & Peat, 1989, p. 138). Dissipative systems are those which are able to maintain identity only because they are open to flows of energy, matter, or information from their environments (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984).

Not only is our body a dissipative system, but our psyche as well. Jung designated the ego as an ego-complex, because of the numerous components and processes with which it is comprised, and taught that the ego was one of many complexes that exist in the psyche. "The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does" (Jung, 1954/1985, p. 152). Designating the psyche to be a self-regulating system, Jung (1968) states that "Dreams are the natural reaction of the self-regulating psychic system" ( p. 124). By assuming the psyche to be a complex dynamic system, as well as a dissipative system, we can look at it through the lens of modern chaos theory.

Chaos, as an archetype, is well known in the Tarot where it is depicted fully in card 16, a trump card titled the Lightening Struck Tower. According to Wanless (1986), this card represents transformation. Jung taught that we can become conscious of the unconscious contents in our psyche by examining the symbols that come to us in our dreams. He details many of these archetypal symbols in his Symbols of Transformation (1956).

The Tarot

The traditional Tarot is a deck of 78 cards which are divided into two main sections: a major arcana and a minor arcana. The major arcana is a set of 22 picture cards which are also called the greater arcana, trumps, atouts (from the Egyptian atennu (Wallis Budge, 1920) meaning a book or part of a book), or triumphs. These cards are pictorial representations of various cosmic forces such as Death, Justice, Strength, and so on, and contain archetypal symbolism. Fifty-six cards of the minor arcana are divided into court and suit cards. The sixteen court cards are comprised of a King, a Queen, a Knight, and a Knave (or Page) for each of the four suits of the deck. The remaining forty cards are divided into the four suits called: Pentacles (also known as deniers, coins, or disks), Cups (coupes), Swords (epees), and Wands (batons or scepters). The French terminology stems from the famous Marseilles deck which originated in the late fifteenth century (Giles, 1992). The suit cards are numbered from 1 (ace) to 10 for each of the four suits. The suit cards represent specific opportunities and lessons (Wanless, 1986). The minor arcana cards are used to represent people, relationships, finances, action, energies, and forces (Schueler & Schueler, 1987).

The Tarot has been called the oldest book known to man (Papus, 1970). According to legend, (Schueler & Schueler, 1994) the original cards comprised "chapters" in a book known as The Book of Thoth. Thoth was the ibis-headed god of wisdom and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. At the founding of Egypt, unknown centuries ago, he is said to have given man the knowledge of medicine, astrology, language, art, and various sciences such as mathematics and engineering. The original chapters of The Book of the Dead are said to have been written by Thoth.

After several thousands of years, the Egyptian empire began to crumble. As things began to fall apart, the god Thoth again intervened. He desired to keep alive the knowledge and wisdom that he had provided his people. To save his contribution to mankind, he summarized all of the accumulated wisdom of the Egyptian empire onto a series of 22 tablets. He did this by using symbols and pictures instead of words. These tablets became known as The Book of Thoth. As the empire decayed into ignorance, the tablets found their way into a band of roving people later known as gypsies. The gypsies copied the symbols of the tablets onto cards which became the major arcana of the Tarot deck (Crowley, 1944; Papus, 1970; Schueler & Schueler, 1989).

Although several colorful theories exist today, there is no historical evidence to support any of them, and the true history of the Tarot is largely unknown. Whatever the actual origin of the Tarot deck may be, it is known that a deck of fortune telling cards were mentioned by a Swiss monk in 1377 AD (Giles, 1992). It is also known that Girilamo Gargagli wrote in 1572 about tarochhi cards being used to designate psychological types (Giles, 1992).

The Tarot later found its way into the Hebrew Kabbalah, probably because the 22 cards of the major arcana could be shown to correspond with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. During the nineteenth century, many occultists tried to demonstrate a higher use for the cards than divination (Papus, 1970; Levi, 1896). Eliphas Levi (1896) tried to show that the cards of the major arcana were connected to the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This idea was further carried out by a secret occult group in England known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Wang, 1978; Crowley, 1944; Regardie, 1937).

Aleister Crowley was initiated as a member of the Golden Dawn in 1898. He left it in 1907 to form his own magical organization. In 1944 his Tarot deck, illustrated by Frieda Harris, together with his explanatory book titled The Book of Thoth were published.

According to Wanless, (1986) a well-known expert on the Tarot deck, "The Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley is a classic tarot symbology ... Its symbolism is Egyptian, Greek, Christian, and Eastern. It is more useful than many contemporary decks which represent a particular cultural or philosophical point of view" (p. 1). He also points out the multi-dimensionality of the deck's symbolism, which has associations with the Hebrew Kabbalah as well as astrology, and credits the 22 major arcana or trump cards as representing "universal principles of life and 'archetypal' personality types" (p. 2). Giles (1994) says that the Thoth deck has "swirling backgrounds and haunting images" which "create a unique impression; those drawn to the deck find it a very powerful reading instrument" (p. 191). She points out that while many decks exist, with a myriad of minor variations, the Tarot has "core images" that are part of a "mental structure" that is fairly consistent across the different deck designs. Wanless (1986) notes that "The strength of tarot is that its symbolism is subject to constant redefinition and evolution" (p. 1). In short, the Tarot images can change or evolve over time, but otherwise they are quite consistent. This is in agreement with Jung's (1959/1990) concept of the archetypes of the collective unconscious which are consistent across humanity while slowly evolving with the body over time.

Jungian Dream Analysis

Jung (1956/1976) taught that dream images must be understood symbolically. Furthermore, the instinctual basis of these symbols are "primitive or archaic thought-forms" (p. 28). Jung differentiated a sign from a symbol. A true symbol can never be fully explained, while a sign can be fully explained insofar as the conscious ego is concerned. Symbols themselves are archetypal, and they are expressed verbally in terms of signs. We can say, then, that a sign is an individual's interpretation of an archetypal symbol.

"Symbols are the language of dreams. In dreams, the unconscious is revealed in symbols, and the key to understanding a dream is knowledge of the symbol" (Boa, 1992, p. 42). The color of a symbol is also important. Jung believed that the correlation between colors and functions varies between cultures and even between individuals. With Europeans, for example, blue is the color of thought, while red is the color of emotion, green is the color of sensation, and yellow is the color of the intuition (Jacobi, 1942/1973). Von Frantz notes that "dreams generally point to our blind spot" (Boa, 1992, p. 15). They seldom tell us what we already know. To understand a dream, she divides the dream content into thirds:

We compare the dream to a drama and examine it under three structural headings: first, the introduction or exposition -- the setting of the dream and the naming of the problem; second, the peripeteia--that would be the ups and downs of the story; and finally, the lysis--the end solution or, perhaps catastrophe. (Boa, 1992, pp. 33-34)

Jung (1968) states that "In our dreams we are just as many-sided as in our daily life, and just as you cannot form a theory about those many aspects of the conscious personality, you cannot make a general theory of dreams" (p. 124). He then points out that while personal dream symbolism varies with the dreamer, universal dream symbolism is possible of interpretation. "On the collective level of dreams, there is practically no difference in human beings, while there is all the difference on the personal level" (Jung, 1968, p. 124). When analyzing a dream, Jung (1954/1985) suggests that we "renounce all preconceived opinions, however knowing they make us feel, and try to discover what things mean for the patient" (p. 157). We must take into consideration the patient's personal philosophy, religion, and moral convictions whenever we discuss dream symbolism.

Jung (1953/1977) treats dream symbolism on two separate levels: the objective level and the subjective level. The first level is analytic. On this level, the dream content can be broken up into memory-complexes that refer to external situations. The second level is synthetic. In these situations, the dream contents are detached from external causes and must be treated in terms of archetypal symbols.

Nichols (1984) says that "The pictures on the Tarot Trumps tell a symbolic story. Like our dreams, they come to us from a level beyond the reach of consciousness and far removed from our intellectual understanding" (p. 7). According to this view, the Tarot Trump cards can be interpreted in the same manner as Jungian dream analysis.

A Chaotic Systems Model of Therapy

Therapy can be defined as "a systematic and intentional attempt, using a specific cluster of interpersonal skills, to assist another person to make self-determined improvements in behavior, affect, and/or cognitions" (Kottler & Brown, 1985, p. 44). Egan (1975/1990) describes a Helping Model of the therapeutic process which emphasizes action that leads to valued outcomes through a nine-stage process.

Goals must be the client's goals, strategies must be the client's strategies, and action plans must be the client's plans. The helper's job is to stimulate the client's imagination and to help him or her in the search for incentives. (p. 49)

A chaotic systems model is one that uses the findings of modern chaos theory. Such a model can be used to describe the therapeutic process. The chaos theory of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, for example, describes how small stimuli can evoke massive responses. This finding has been used to explain the functioning of the olfactory system wherein a very small amount of stimuli, received by the olfactory bulb, is detected and magnified until it can be interpreted by the brain as a distinct smell (Freeman, 1991). Furthermore, testing food smells on rabbits has demonstrated that undergoing new experiences can actually change memory of older experiences. These two findings have led to a new understanding of the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment (Flint, 1994).

The methodology used in EMDR is straightforward and relatively simplistic. The patient holds his or her attention on a particular trauma or bodily sensation while watching the therapist's fingers moving in a back-and-forth motion. About 20 to 40 back-and-forth motions constitute one repetition of the technique. After several repetitions, the pain of a trauma or sensation is often lessened dramatically. Theoretically, the memory of a painful traumatic experience causes a unique pattern of neurological activity in the brain. Watching a moving finger, while in the relative safety of a therapeutic environment changes, or modifies the pattern, producing a lessening of the associated pain in many cases.

In chaos theory, the behavior of a complex system can be shown graphically on a plot called phase space. Each point on this plot represents the state space or specific condition of the system using primary system parameters (the main parameters that describe a system's behavior). When a time history is used (when time is plotted along the x-axis), each point along the y-axis represents the state of the system at a given time. These plots are called trajectories and their shapes can tell us a lot about the behavior of the system. Sometimes several possible trajectories of a system will converge toward a point or region. Such points and regions are called attractors because they appear to attract a systems's trajectory. The surrounding region of an attractor is called a basin.

Using the chaos theory of attractors, we can define neurological responses in the brain as attractors which give rise to particular behaviors (Flint, 1994). In a complex system such as the psyche, many attractors can be found, some in series with each other, and some giving rise to bifurcations (changes in one's world view following periods of indecision). In a theraputic environment, these can be observed by the therapist in terms of their evoked sensory and motor responses.

In this model, we can define motivation, for example, as the state space of the psyche that exists within a specific environmental situation, in which the brain is destablized enough to evoke the low-level background activity of its neural networks or basins which correspond to previously learned activity that is meaningful in the current situation. In this state space, or phase space of the psyche, a small stimulus can generate a massive response resulting in information going out to all regions of the brain. In turn, this usually results in some kind of corresponding behavioral response. When the behavior results in beneficial situations (e.g., those that enhance survivability or that lead to pleasant or desired situations), the strength of the attractors is proportionally increased.

In this model, the client would describe one or more specific behavioral problems to the therapist who, in turn, would work with the client to form specific goals to work toward and measurable plans to reach those goals. These goals would become the desire attractors, and intermediate goals would be agreed upon as basins. The task of the therapist would then be to help guide the client from existing attractors to the desired ones through suitable bifurcations.

One of the tools that could be used in this process is the symbol. Tarot symbols, for example, can be used to stimulate the imagination of the client. During the short periods of instability (points of possible bifurcation) due to imaginative stimulation, small suggestions by the therapist would help drive the client toward the desired attractors. This is similar to the well-known therapeutic techniques used in family counseling described by Goldenberg & Goldenberg (1980/1991) of paradoxical communication, paradoxical intervention, and prescribing the symptom. All of these techniques use the paradox to induce periods of psychic instability in the client. However, the intended outcome of these interventions is not to create periods of uncertainty, but rather to allow for win-win outcomes for the client. Using the chaos model, the uncertainty can be used to perturb the patient's psyche into the basin of the desired attractor.

Tarot Symbolism

The primary symbolism within the major arcana is as follows:

1. The Fool. The Marseilles deck shows the fool as a court jester holding a baton and standing near a cliff. This symbolism suggests silliness, but perhaps a deliberate silliness. The popular Waite deck is more complex. It shows a young wanderer holding a rose and a walking stick, to which a bag is tied, walking off a cliff. A dog romps at his side. This suggests a happy and carefree attitude that could be dangerous. The Golden Dawn deck shows a naked child holding the reins of a wolf while plucking fruit from a tree. This symbolism suggests that the fool is innocence, and that pure innocence can check animal passions while surviving quite nicely on what nature provides. In the Deck of Thoth, the fool is shown in a green suit and gold shoes. A crystal is between his horns, and he is falling. He holds A Wand in his right hand (power) and a flaming pine cone in his left hand (purity). The card shows a tiger, a dove, a vulture, a butterfly, a rainbow, children, flowers, grapes, a crocodile, and ivy. This card portrays Jung's archetype of the divine child such as the infant Christ. The imagery also suggests the archetypal eternal youth or Peter Pan. Nichols (1984) calls the symbolism of the fool, the archetypal wanderer.

2. The Juggler or Magus. This is the Magician, the divine Messenger, Mercury, Hermes, and Thoth. The Marseilles deck shows a parlor magician going through a magic act of some kind with various `tools of the trade' on a table. This is the popular view of the magician -- one who does sleight of hand, and who employs gimmickery. The Waite and Golden Dawn decks are more sophisticated. They both show a magician in robes, with his four traditional weapons: a sword, a wand, a cup, and a pentacle. The Thoth deck shows him with a naked golden body, smiling, with winged feet standing in front of a large caduceus. In his right hand he hold a style and in his left hand, a papyrus. The card shows a monkey, swords, cup, wand, and pentacle. This card represents the will. The imagery portrays the archetype of the magician as described by Moore and Gillette (1993). It also suggests the archetype of the trickster.

3. The High Priestess. This is usually the goddess Isis or Artemis, the huntress. The Marseilles deck shows the goddess Junon (Juno), wife of the god Jupiter and a peacock. The symbols here are lunar and suggest a lunar vision (for example, the intuition as opposed to common sense). In the Thoth deck, she is shown naked, clothed only in a white Veil of Light, and seated on a throne. Her bow rests in her lap. Also shown are arrows, four crystals, a net (symbolic of the Egyptian goddess, Neith), a camel, flowers, and fruit. This card represents the intuition and the imagery suggests the archetypes of the unconscious in a general sense and the anima in a specific sense. Nichols (1984) calls the symbolism in this card, the archetype of the virgin.

4. The Empress. Most all decks agree that this card is symbolized by a mature woman wearing a crown and seated on a throne. This suggests the feminine side of the psyche or any strong feminine authority. She is the ultimate feminine creator and provider. In the Thoth deck she is shown clothed in a pink blouse, a long green skirt, a Zodiac belt, and a gold crown. She sits on a lunar throne holding a lotus in her right hand. Beneath her is a tapestry with fleurs-de-lys and fishes. Also shown are birds, bees, a shield, showing a white eagle, a mother pelican with her young, and revolving moons. Behind her is a door. This card represents nature. The imagery suggests Jung's archetype of the mother.

5. The Emperor. Most all decks agree that this card is symbolized by a mature man wearing a crown and seated on a throne. This suggests the masculine side of the psyche or any strong masculine authority. He is the ultimate masculine creator and provider. In the Thoth deck, he sits on a throne with right leg crossed over left. His arms and head form an upright triangle, while his legs form a cross. He holds a scepter (power) in his left hand and an orb, with a Maltese cross, in his right hand. The main color is red. The card shows a ram, a shield with a two-headed eagle, a flag, a lamb, coins, and bees on his blouse. The imagery of this card suggests Jung's archetype of the father as well as the hero.

6. The Hierophant. Like the Emperor, this card is usually shown as a mature man wearing a crown and seated on a throne. The Marseilles deck shows the god Jupiter. Some decks show this as the Pope or some other religious leader which clearly distinguishes the difference between the Hierophant and the Emperor; the former is religious while the latter is civil or social. In the Thoth deck, he is shown fully clothed sitting on a throne holding a wand with three circles. A priestess is shown standing before him together with a child dancing within a pentagram within a hexagram. Also shown is a five-petalled rose encircled by a snake, elephants, a bird, and the four fixed signs of the Zodiac. Nine nails are shown at the top. This card represents the conscience. The imagery suggests the archetype of the religious teacher or Christ. It also suggests the archetype of the king as described by Moore and Gillette (1990/1991). Nichols (1984) says that this card, as well as that of the Hermit, represent Jung's archetype of the wise old man.

7. The Lovers, or Twins, or Brothers. The Marseilles deck shows Cupid about to shoot one of his famous arrows into a young couple. All decks show a man and woman together, and the general theme is love. This card suggests the union of opposites, especially masculinity and femininity, anima and animus. Cupid is the symbol of romance, but one that is usually governed more by emotions than by rational thought. The Thoth deck shows the union of male/Leo/fire with female/Scorpio/water represented by a king and queen as well as a white child and a black child. The Hermit is shown blessing the couples. Cupid is shown symbolizing blind love. Also shown is a cup, a sword, an Orphic egg with snake, an eagle, a lion, Eve, and Lilith. Bars are shown in the background. This card represents what Jung called the soul. The imagery suggests the archetype of the lover (Moore & Gillette, 1990/1991).

8. The Chariot. Most decks agree that the main symbol of this card is a chariot. Usually a charioteer is also shown. The theme is powerful deliberate motion toward a fixed goal and thus a victory over space. The card symbolism suggests the spiritual impulse which sooner or later will drive man to seek his true nature. In the Thoth deck the canopy of the Chariot is the blue of the feminine Sephirah, Binah. The pillars are the four pillars of the universe. The scarlet wheels are fiery creative energy. The Chariot is pulled by four sphinxes (the four Cherubs). The charioteer wears amber-colored armor and he holds a Holy Grail of amethyst. On his head is a crab, and on his armor are ten stars. This card represents Jung's persona. The imagery suggests the archetype of the warrior (Moore & Gillette, 1990/1991).

9. Justice or Adjustment. The main symbol for this card is a balance or scale used for measuring weight. The scale is held by a goddess who holds an upright sword. The symbolism represents the law of cause and effect; those natural forces which seek a balance or moderation in all things. The figure shown in the Thoth deck is the feminine complement of the Fool, a young and slender woman. She is poised on her toes and crowned with the feathers of Maat, the goddess of justice. On her forehead is the Uraeus serpent. She is masked (Harlequin) and holds a magic Swords in both hands between her thighs. She is wrapped in a Cloak of Mystery. Before her is a large two-pan balance. This card represents the conscience. The imagery suggests the archetypes of justice, fairness, and balance.

10. The Hermit. Almost all decks agree that the symbolism of the Hermit is an older man in a robe holding a staff in one hand and a lamp in the other. The lamp is a symbol of the inner light of truth. The theme here is the wise old sage, the inner guiding light of conscience illumined by the intuition. In the Thoth deck he is shown in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod. He wears a cloak the color of Binah. He holds a lamp whose center is the sun. Before him is an Orphic egg with coiled snake. The background is a field of wheat. Also shown is a spermatozoon in the form of a serpent wand, and Cerberus the three-headed dog. This card represents withdraw and meditation. The imagery of this card suggests Jung's archetype of the wise old man (Nichols, 1984).

11. The Wheel of Fortune. The main symbol of this card is a wheel. The wheel is a symbol for cycles, and the card represents the law of cyclic manifestation. The original symbols of this card were probably meant to portray the doctrine of reincarnation, as well as other cyclic processes. In the Thoth deck stars line the top of the card through which lightning strikes into a mass of blue and violet plumes. In the center is a wheel with 10 spokes. On the wheel are a sworded sphinx (sulphur), Hermanubis (mercury), and Typhon (salt). The wheel is the Eye of Shiva. This card represents evolution and the imagery suggests the archetypes of fate and destiny.

12. Strength or Lust. Most decks use the symbol of the lion in this card. The lion, as the "king of beasts," is a traditional symbol for strength. Some cards also show a man, while others show a woman, who is controlling the lion in some way. The theme here is controlled strength, or inner resolve that is directed toward a goal. The Thoth deck shows a naked young woman riding on the back of a seven-headed lion. She is overcome with ecstasy. She hoLds the reins in her left hand and the Holy Grail in her right hand. In the background are the bloodless images of all of the saints. Along the top are shown ten serpents. This card represents courage and inner strength. The imagery suggests the archetypes of goodness and endurance.

13. The Hanged Man. The Hanged Man is just that, a man hanging upside down from a wooden scaffold of some kind, usually in the form of a cross. Most cards show the man with his left leg bent to form a cross with his legs. The cross is the traditional symbol for sacrifice. The theme here is the deliberate undergoing of a selfless sacrifice, usually for the purpose of helping others. The Thoth deck shows a naked man hanging upside down with his right leg crossed over his left to form a cross. His arms are outstretched to form an equilateral triangle. A green Disk is at each of his five extremities. He is suspended from an Egyptian ankh (symbol of life) and a serpent is wrapped around his left foot. The background is green air over green water shot with white rays from Kether. Beneath the man sleeps a coils snake. The imagery of this card portrays the archetypes of sacrifice and initiation. It also suggests the archetype of the dying gods such as Christ.

14. Death. This card symbolizes death by a human skeleton. Sometimes the skeleton is shown holding a sickle to suggest that death levels all living beings. The theme is the process of death, which is an ending or completion of something that we have known. Death also implies change of some kind, a transformation. The Thoth deck shows death as a dancing skeleton bearing a scythe. He wears the Crown of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and is shown in the waters of Amenti, an Egyptian after-death state. The sweep of his scythe creates bubbles which contain the seeds of new life. Shown is a snake, a fish, a scorpion, a lily, and an onion. This card represents death and sudden change. The imagery suggests Jung's archetype of rebirth.

15. Temperance or Art. This card is usually depicted by an angel who is pouring water from one vase into another. The water is the "water of life" and its being poured suggests that a necessary change of some kind is taking place. The imagery of this card not only imply the skill or ability that is required to 'get through' unwanted experiences, but those needed to turn such experiences to your advantage in some way. The Thoth deck shows Diana the Huntress, the Great Mother of Fertility, and the Many-Breasted. She wears a golden crown with a silver band and is shown split into two halves. Her left hand pours white gluten from a cup while her right hand holds a lance/torch dripping blood. The alchemical symbols of blood and gluten mix in a cauldron. At her feet are a white lion and a red eagle. This card portrays the archetype of the union of opposites as defined in Jung's Mysterium Coniunctionis (1963/1989).

16. The Devil. The main symbol here is a devil. The Marseilles deck shows a stereotyped, middle-age Christian concept of Satan complete with horns and a forked tail. The Waite deck is much more refined, showing the stereotyped version of a devilish black magician. Most cards also show a naked man and woman chained to a block. The theme is Black Magic and the card represents slavery or confinement. The imagery of this card suggests the wrongness of an overinflated ego. The Thoth deck shows a goat with large spiral horns and a third eye in his forehead who is the god Pan Pangenetor, the All-Begetter. Behind him is the trunk of a tree. Before him is a staff topped with a winged Horus. Below him are two globes each containing dancing human figures. The globes and tree together form a large phallus. This imagery here also represents bondage, and suggests the archetype of the libido or psychic energy, including sexual energy in the Freudian sense.

17. The Lightening Struck Tower. Almost all decks agree on the basic theme of this card. A stone tower is shown being struck by a bolt of lightening with two people falling from the destruction. The card suggests bad luck of all kinds, but especially destruction and ruination. In at least one sense, the card represents the Fall of Man, because the lightening bolt is a symbol of an "act of God" that forces man to fall from his protective tower, itself a symbol of a spiritual environment, into mortality. The Thoth deck shows the destruction of a tower by fire. Broken figures fall from the tower. At the bottom of the card is the destruction of the old by lightning and fire. In the bottom right corner are the jaws of a fire-breathing dragon. At the top is the Eye of Horus/Shiva. Also shown are a dove with olive branch, and the lion-headed Gnostic god, Abrasax. This card represents catastrophe. The imagery of this card suggests the archetype of chaos.

18. The Star. The main symbol here is a star. One or more stars is shown over the head of a goddess who is pouring water from two vases into a pool. The goddess is usually shown naked, although the Marseilles deck shows her partially clothed. She is Isis, the goddess of nature, and the waters are the Waters of Life. She is shown returning individual water into a collective pool, thus indicating that nothing in life is ever lost. The theme here is one of hope. The Thoth deck shows the naked Egyptian goddess Nut. Her right hand is held high, and she pours water from a gold cup onto her head. Her left hand is held low, and she pours the immortal liquor of life from a silver cup onto the junction of land and water. Behind her is a celestial globe on which is a seven-pointed Star of Venus. In the left-hand corner is a seven-pointed Star of Babalon. This card represents hope and promise. The imagery suggests Jung's archetype of the star. According to von Franz (Boa, 1992) Jung taught that the star symbolizes that part of the personality that survives death; the spiritual part of the psyche.

19. The Moon. The main symbol here is the moon, and the cards of all decks amplify the lunar theme with various symbols usually associated with the moon. Most cards show two towers with a stream running between them to illustrate the idea of relationships. A scorpion, lobster, crayfish, or scarab, is often included to represent the forces of regeneration. One or two dogs or jackals are often shown to suggest the idea of the subconscious and the underworld. The theme here is the astral world of the Kabbalists, the realm of illusions and dreams. The Thoth deck shows a Gateway of Resurrection. The bottom of the card shows the beetle-headed Khepera pushing the sun upward through the waters. Above stands dual Anubis-gods who guard the path that is a stream of serum tinged with blood. They stand before black towers at the threshold of life and death. At the path's end are nine drops of impure blood each in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod. This card represents the instincts. The imagery suggests the archetypes of dreams and the irrational as well as Jung's archetype of the moon. According to von Franz, the moon is an archetypal symbol for the anima (Boa, 1992).

20. The Sun. The main symbol of this card is the sun which is almost always shown with extending rays, and sometimes with a face to suggest solar intelligence. The Marseilles deck shows a young couple together under a sun. The Waite deck shows a naked child riding a horse under a sun. The Golden Dawn deck shows two naked children holding hands under a sun. The sun, as the generator of light and heat, is the symbol for life and the forces of conscious creativity. The Thoth deck shows a green mound beneath a flaming 12-rayed yellow sun. Two winged children dance together on the mound, but a wall prevents them from the summit. At the feet of each child is a rose and cross. Around the card are the signs of the Zodiac. The imagery of this card suggests the archetypes of growth, success, and abundance as well as Jung's archetype of the sun.

21. Judgement. Most decks represent Judgement with an angel blowing a horn above a group of people. The heralding of a trumpet call, as an act of divine judgement, is suggested here. The Waite deck shows people standing in coffin-like boxes which suggest that an after-death judgement is implied. The Golden Dawn card shows people chest-deep in water implying a renewal or regeneration. In the Thoth deck, around the top of the card is the body of the goddess Nut, the star goddess. The child-god Harpocrates stands beneath her in outline, and Horus is shown sitting on a throne. A winged globe is shown below him. At the bottom of the card is the Hebrew letter Shin containing three human figures. The imagery of this card suggests the archetypes of evaluation, reward, and completion.

22. The Universe. The last card of the major arcana includes the symbolism of the four animals of the Apocalypse and of the vision of Ezekiel. These are the bull, the lion, the eagle, and man. A naked woman stands within a circular wreath. In the Marseilles deck, this woman is the fourth animal, but in most decks she stands apart as a central figure. Her symbolism as the mother of the universe is clearly suggested in the Golden Dawn deck where the wreath is a ring of twelve globes which are obviously the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. In the Thoth deck, the universe is symbolized by a naked dancing maiden at the center of the card. Her hands manipulate a spiral active/passive force. In each corner is one of the four Kerubim. About the maiden is an ellipse of 72 circles. In the lower center is the House of Matter. Her right foot stands on the head of a snake. The card suggests a wheel of light within a yoni (a Hindu feminine symbol). The imagery of this card suggests the archetypes of wholeness, synthesis, and perfection.


The Tarot deck contains archetypal symbols that can be related to Jung's analytical psychology. Use of the Tarot in therapy can be effective by having the client conduct a reading under the guidance of the therapist, or tell a story based on the imagery of several trump cards drawn at random. Then the therapist encourages the client to discuss possible meanings of the symbols in his or her own words. The therapist can then relate the symbolic meanings to the client's problem in much the same manner as in Jungian dream analysis. Nichols (1984) suggests that the sensory nature of the imagery can be improved by coloring the pictures. To do this, the therapist would provide colorless images of the cards (a Xerox copy, for example) and crayons or colored pencils. The client could then color in the pictures as they tell their story.

The therapeutic process can also be improved by using a chaos model approach in which periods of psychic instability are deliberately induced through stimulation of the imagination via the Tarot symbols. The Tarot symbols are so rich that one or more are likely to produce archetypal stimulation in the client's psyche; a "drawing up from the depths" (Jung, 1956/1976, p. 234). Such previously unconscious contents can take the form of either attractors or repellors. In this way, concentration on Tarot symbols can induce psychic bifurcation points that the therapist can then use to direct behavioral changes toward mutually agreed upon attractors. Small stimuli by the therapist at such points can cause large changes in later behavior.


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