XX - Judgement

XX - Judgement - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

With the great journey at its end, our lives pass on, and into the next plane we will venture, but before we can take that step, we must be judged. The Judgement card represents our conscience, guilt, criticism, and analysis. Echoing the Justice card which sought to emphasis the neutrality of the judiciary in moral affairs passing judgement based on justification rather than moral absolution, it is worth remembering that no court finds the defendant innocent, they only ever find the defendant guilty or not guilty.

For those who enjoy video games, the story of Undertale mirrors that of the Major Arcana, with Sans standing in judgement of the player at journey’s end, when even if the player chose true pacifism, he does not find the player innocent but rather praises them for not succumbing to temptation.

In the upright state the Judgement card calls upon us to consider the life we have lived and whether we feel guilt or remorse where we admit fault, or whether we feel justified and able to defend ourselves and our actions when they are called into question. Analysis and criticism of the self is the skill we are implored to utilise in this moment, for they are our best hope at achieving objectivity. Judgement is our last chance to make amends, lest we accept fate and give ourselves over to whatever sentence is passed.

In the inverted state the Judgement card represents delay, indecision, a lack of clarity, and our efforts to bargain. In the inverted state our focus shifts from justifying our actions where our conscience has been decided, and turns to the ambiguity of our actions; we are called to reflect upon the decisions we have made that we do not understand, no man can see beyond a choice he does not understand, and no soul can pass beyond this life without first making peace with it, in popular culture this belief informs the concept of unfinished business, which is employed as a narrative trope to explain the persistence of the spirit in the form of ghosts and apparitions after death, representing souls that are not capable of releasing their attachment to the Earthy plane.

XIX - The Sun

XIX - The Sun - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

The final card in our trilogy of celestial bodies, the Sun represents the warmth, safety, protection, and the constancy of life. The Sun is the antepenultimate card of the Major Arcana and represents the period of tranquillity and jubilation that we seek in life when we reach the end of the great path, before we prepare to venture beyond the limits of the Earthly plane.

In the upright state, the Sun asks us to embrace the life we live in all of its glory and in all of its imperfections. The Sun represents our attempts to release ourselves of burdens, to rest and relax in order to prepare the soul for the next stage of our existence. At this point in our journey our job is done, or work is met, and we have wrought all that we can. The circle of life begins again in the generations that will follow in our footsteps, here we pass on what we have learned to that new generation, whether they be our kin or kindred.

In the inverted state the Sun represents solitude, loneliness, and severity of being. At the end of the great journey the pill of acceptance is bitter and hard to swallow when we have not achieved what we sought to do in this life. The Sun in its inverted state calls upon us to make peace with our past failures and to find solace. The celestial object within our skies sits alone in solitude bathing Earth in radiant beauty and nurturing the lives of those who follow the path it illuminates before us.

XVIII - The Moon

XVIII - The Moon - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

The Star, the Moon, and the Sun represent a trilogy of celestial bodies, each with its own focus, this is the second trilogy of cards to appear within the Major Arcana, with the first being formed by Justice, the Hanged Man, and the Tower. The first trilogy deals with the corporeal being, our actions within the Earthly plane and their repercussions within it. The second deals with the ethereal being, our life and approaching death, and the repercussions for the soul.

Where the Star emphasised, our introspection enacting our self-determination, the Moon serves as a warning. Cyclical in nature, the phases of the Moon represent the repetition of the cycle of life, the promise that no pain will last forever and the warning that no joy can be sustained in turn for eternity.

In the upright state the Moon is a warning to consider unseen threats and pitfalls, to reflect upon the transient nature of our existence and understand that we should live for the moment but not fall ignorant to the future and what it may hold. Our lack of preparation today will impact our present in days to come.

In the inverted state the Moon represents diversions, annoyance, and the revelation of threats. What is unseen in the present will be revealed to us in the future, and whilst it is unfair to judge our present self for failing to compensate for what we do not know, our future self will find no hesitation in judging us with hindsight.

XVII - The Star

XVII - The Star - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Where Temperance asked us to find balance between our emotions and our thoughts, to understand the difference between want and need, and to stride the conscious and unconscious mind in order to find discipline in our pursuit, the Star compliments this symbolism once more in turn representing the balance between conscious and unconscious desires.

Where Temperance asked us to show patience and understanding to the world around us and those within it, the Star is much more introverted and introspective. Here the focus is on self-improvement, navigation, counsel, and hope above all else.

In the upright state the Star asks us to look inward when we feel lost, and nourish our spirit with self-reflection. Whilst there are times to seek guidance from others, in the upright state this card represents the assertion that direction can be found from within, to know where we should go or what we should do next, we should look inward in an attempt to gain a greater understanding of our desires. When we find ourselves at one extreme of the scale, either completely content with our environment, or completely disaffected by it, we can find it hard to convince ourselves that we are capable of movement and experiencing anything other than the status quo; we can also convince ourselves through self-doubt that our torment and tantra are part of our identity and can’t be changed. This belief is ignorant to the reality of life, all things change in time, life ebbs and flows, and whether we are able to flow with it determines how much disruption is caused when the current shifts.

In the inverted state the Star asks us to seek the help of others in the pursuit of understanding our desires. It is important to make a distinction here, we are not asking others to give us direction, we are asking for insight that we can use to better understand ourselves so that we may make that choice.

XVI - The Tower

XVI - The Tower - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Where Justice focused on justification of our actions, and the Hanged Man confronted the consequence of those actions, the Tower serves as the final card of this trilogy representing sentencing or penance. It serves to represent the completion of our journey through procedural justice. At the end of this sentencing our sense of routine and repetition that had been established is disrupted suddenly and our lives change as a result. Whilst this change has the opportunity to bring us to a place of novelty, it can lead us full circle back to the start if we do not experience personal growth in the process. Finding yourself back at square one is a clear indication that your life experience was meant to teach you a lesson, the Hanged Man placed significant importance on self-reflection for the purpose of identifying this lesson or lessons.

The whilst Justice is often misunderstood to mean just desserts, it is in fact the Tower which is more closely linked to the traditional concept of Karma; representing the repayment of the debt we create, whether that be a debt of happiness or a debt of sorrow, Karma repays us in kind. In occult traditions this belief is enshrined in the Rule of Three also known as the Law of Return, what you give you shall receive in turn threefold in time, you will not know when this repayment will be made but it will come eventually.

XV - The Devil

XV - The Devil - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

One of the most misunderstood cards of the Major Arcana the Devil represents temptation, scrutiny, respect, and the recognition of authority. By nature, the Devil is a figure who holds dominion over every human being as consequence of original sin; beyond the Christian symbolism it is worth remembering here regardless of your religious beliefs that humanity was never taught to be evil, it is in our nature, when left unchecked humanity commits acts of unbridled cruelty with an infinite capacity to harm. What we have done in our name throughout history is the consequence of our own free will.

It is our choices that determine the calibre of our being, not our nature, being evil is easy it requires little conscious effort, whereas goodness requires effort and sacrifice both of which conflict with our desire to stagnate and pursue paths of least resistance. This is one of the reasons why we are encouraged not to attempt to eliminate all negativity from our lives, as the proverb goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” – we must recognise that struggle in life and resistance from the Universe attempts to guide us not to encourage us to fall idle.

XIV - Temperance

XIV - Temperance - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Representing benevolence, charity, patience, and training, the card of Temperance is once more concerned with the concept of balance. In contrast to the Justice card which left the wider Universe and divine will as responsible for achieving this balance, Temperance calls upon us as individuals to act and remedy the imbalances we perceive that are within our power to change. Temperance calls upon us to serve as tools of the Lord to act as a hand of God within the Earthly plane to serve as levers of power and influence that he may call upon to influence the Universe.

In the upright state Temperance asks us to observe the world around us and consider how we can make it better for others. This does not mean we have to give up our worldly possessions and all that we own in an effort to create equity but rather to serve as a net contributor of goodness to the Universe.

In the inverted state Temperance asks us to consider that which we take from the world and ask whether it is what we truly need or merely what we want and to understand the distinction between the two.

XIII - Death

XIII - Death - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Whilst often mistaken as an omen of forthcoming sorrow or of literal death, the Death card rarely if ever represents either of these. Grief is a transformative process through which we pass when we lose someone or something we love, it is for this reason the Death card represents transformation, endings, and new beginnings. When we experience the death of another, our world changes, leaving behind an old order and replacing it with a new order with no way to return to the way things were.

In the upright state the Death card portends to a period of change where old routines and priorities will shift significantly. Like the Justice card it can relate to any of the four domains of the Tarot and relies upon its placement for context. Death almost never represents a literal death; it is not malicious in nature it is indifferent and serves as a part of life that all humans will eventually meet. Death serves as a sign that we should prepare for change and be willing to embrace the potential in that transformation focusing on the potential destinations rather than the period of tumult during transformation.

In the inverted state the Death card represents a warning of stagnation, asking us to prepare for the possibility that the change we sought may not come, or that it may not come in the form we first expected and must be willing to adapt to this reality.

XII - The Hanged Man

XII - The Hanged Man - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Where Justice focused on the justification of our actions, the Hanged Man embodies the consequence of our actions. Representing consequence, revelation, closure, stagnation, and reflection, the Hanged Man serves as a stopping point, a cessation of movement if only for a short period of time.

In the upright position the Hanged Man asks us to stop and reflect upon our current position and consider the path that led us to this point, and what actions or inactions we have taken that brought us here. It is easy to blame our circumstances on others and our environment but human beings are remarkably adaptable as evidence by our continued existence despite the many threats that are posed to us as a collective. Our ingenuity shines brightest when we are faced with insurmountable problems and must seek solutions that at times may seem unorthodox or counter intuitive.

In the inverted state this point of reflection is maintained but its focus shifts outward to our environment, and the impact we have had upon it and to consider whether the adverse impacts upon us that we attribute to our environment have been amplified or mitigated by our own actions. We may be in a precarious position but whether or not we deserve to be there, our actions and our response can make that situation better or worse depending on how we compose ourselves, reacting to anger directed at us with anger in turn, will only amplify and escalate that situation, regardless of whether we consider that escalation justified, we must take ownership of that consequence.

XI - Justice

XI - Justice - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Returning once more to the concept of Justice, taking the place of the eleventh card in the Major Arcana by Rider-Waite convention, here the Strength card would be placed in other conventions.

Justice is yet another card of the Major Arcana that is often misunderstood, Justice does not represent good triumphing over evil or morality bias, it instead represents equilibrium and balance. It is better to separate the modern concept of the justice system as a means of punishing others for perceived discretions and instead to turn to the word “justified” which descends from the Latin word “ius” which serves as their root; to this end the question asked by the Justice card is not one of righteousness and virtue but instead whether our actions can be justified.

It is important here to remind ourselves that equality means treating everyone the same regardless of circumstance, for example giving the same amount of money to every person regardless of their income – it differs significantly from the concept of equity. Equity as opposed to equality does not treat everyone the same but rather it attempts to compensate for imbalances to bring everyone back to the same level. It is still equality that is the focus of Justice however not equity which despite our desires ultimately preserves the existing system by treating everyone as equal whether that is perceived as fair or not within the context as opposed to reforming the system to be more equitable.

X - The Wheel of Fortune

X - The Wheel of Fortune - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Often mistaken to portend good luck and fortitude, the Wheel of Fortune itself is indifferent representing the neutrality of chance and opportunity. Whilst heavily associated with the concept of luck, the Wheel of Fortune ultimately serves as a reminder that we create our own luck by creating opportunities for the Wheel of Fortune to influence our lives further underpinning the free will paradox and the belief that God’s influence can only be felt by those who are open to receiving it by creating opportunities. We cannot gain or lose wealth without gambling; just as we cannot win or lose in any game without playing.

In the upright state the Wheel of Fortune asks us to consider the elements of uncertainty and capacity for change that exist in our life. Where we seek to change our world or change our situation, we must first create paths to change that open ourselves up to the influence of God or the Universe.

In the inverted state the Wheel of Fortune asks us to consider the elements of certainty and the static nature of our existence. Where the upright state focuses on creating opportunity, the inverted state asks us to consider what works against us by remaining fixed in place. This is our opportunity to consider whether we are being obstinate and holding ourselves back. Much in parallel with Strength where the emphasis was placed on our determination and will, here the emphasis is placed on our flexibility, or lack thereof.

IX - The Hermit

IX - The Hermit - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Standing as a lone figure, often considered to be antisocial or reclusive, the Hermit represents self-assurance, independence, solitude, and if not rather conversely it can also represent counsel given to others. A Hermit is a lone figure who devotes their life to the study, reflection, and ultimately their dedication to a particular cause.

In the upright state the Hermit represents our pursuit of wisdom and our efforts to reflect and understand with greater depth that which we have already experienced and our efforts to expand our knowledge beyond that which we know. A sign of independence, the Hermit does not necessarily indicate loneliness but rather the lack of desire for external validation. A hermit does not seek reassurance from others in their efforts to gain understanding but instead relies on their own instincts and intuition.

In the inverted state the Hermit represents our role as counsel to others, and in turn their pursuit of wisdom. Where the Hermit does not seek validation, their judgement may be prized by others therefore in the inverted state we are asked to consider what we choose to impart of our wisdom and consider whether the recipients of that wisdom are ready and able to hear our message. It is worth remembering as readers of Tarot it is not our responsibility to ensure the querent accepts what they are told, only to convey the message, their openness and receptivity is important to recognise for this very reason, you cannot speak to closed ears.

VIII - Strength

VIII - Strength - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Worthy of note here, the Strength and Justice cards take positions 8 and 11 in the Rider-Waite deck and those derived from it, whilst other decks swap these positions to place Justice in the eighth position of the Major Arcana and Strength in the eleventh position.

Here Strength does not refer to physical strength but rather to strength of will, determination, reliability, and longevity. Strength has a particular focus on our willingness to commit to endeavours that may take time and patience and ask for much personal sacrifice to be made in order to assure their success.

In the upright state, Strength asks us to consider the possibility that our endeavours may take longer to achieve than we had first thought and to commit to the direction of travel more than the destination. Much like the Chariot which emphasised movement in any direction as a means to escape a situation, the Strength card emphasises the distance between us and our final destination and the stamina required in order to reach it.

In the inverted state, the Strength card asks us to look inward and consider our shortcomings, where the upright state places emphasis on the determination needed to see our efforts through to completion, the inverted state asks us to consider our capacity for patience and whether we have been too hasty in judging others or ourselves for not maintaining pace.

VII - The Chariot

VII - The Chariot - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Representing escape, freedom, liberty, and our saving grace; the Chariot is often interpreted as a way out of our current situation and subsequently serves as a means rather than a destination. The Chariot can signify change after a long period of stagnation, but crucially whilst the place the chariot delivers us to is often assumed to be better this is not a guarantee. A word of caution should be given and the querent should consider the consequences of their actions before making commitments.

In the upright state our focus should be placed on the creation of exit strategies and fall-back positions; we are asked to consider our goals and plan ahead by identifying alternative paths that can be taken if necessary.

In the inverted state this card instead shifts our focus away from the desire to escape and to consider the merit of staying put; to that end we are asked to consider the potential risks that could unseat us and plan ahead once more with strategies instead aimed at maintaining our position.

VI - The Lovers

VI - The Lovers - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Representing connection, friendship, emotion, and obligation; The Lovers card rarely pertain to a romantic connection, much like the Death card the immediate significance is not literal. Typically depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as the first human connection to exist, this card represents the social nature of humanity.

In the upright state The Lovers calls upon us to consider our relationship to others, although it can also be interpreted as self-love, it is almost always external in nature. The Lovers represent our attempt to form connections with others, platonic or romantic. This card asks us to consider those relationships and what external powers or influences are affecting the quality of those relationships.

In the inverted state the focus remains on our relationship to others but our focus changes, recognising the internal factors influencing those relationships instead, looking inward to consider the impact we are having on those relationship ourselves and how much energy we have devoted.

V - The Hierophant

V - The Hierophant - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

The Hierophant represents ritual and ceremony, hegemony and dogma, by extension, the concept of the Establishment. Ritual and Ceremony whilst often conjuring images of a religious nature can be interpreted in much more benign terms as the recognition of repetition and routine in our lives. Hegemony by definition is the combination of dominion and power coupled with Dogma which represents authority beyond question, taken together these elements all combine to focus our attention on the question of blind faith.

Just as the Maternal Nature is divided between the High Priestess and the Empress, the Paternal Nature is divided between the Hierophant and the Emperor; whilst this division can be hard at first to divide for beginners, it’s best to think of this dividing line in terms of the opposing sides of the nature versus nurture debate with each division attributed to one position; the establishment represented by the High Priestess and the Hierophant deal with overcoming Human Nature, whereas the Empress and Emperor focus on the act of Nurturing desirable behaviour.

IV - The Emperor

IV - The Emperor - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Whilst the Empress represents the maternal nature, in contrast the Emperor represents the paternal nature, as the embodiment of the Patriarchy. The Emperor represents nobility, sacrifice, leadership, and the pursuit of righteousness in the name of the collective nature over the individual nature.

Where the Empress focuses more on collective benefit, the Emperor focuses more on long-term gain, with a particular emphasis on making decisions that will ultimately benefit everyone but that those same people might not want to make, primarily because they fear the short-term loss or pain of the period of transition. It is the role of the Emperor to look beyond what people want and recognise what people need.

The Emperor is a leader and embodies the proactive nature and serves as an effective reminder not to wait for permission to make changes that you can already make, there is no authority higher than you when it comes to making decisions about your own life.

III - The Empress

III - The Empress - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

The Empress sits in contrast to the High Priestess; where the High Priestess embodies some of the traditional elements of the maternal nature, the purpose of these elements is to highlight her role as a guardian, or figure of authority not as a mother in the familial sense. In contrast the Empress serves to embody the remaining aspects of motherhood, nurturing, inspiring, and elevating.

In the upright state the Empress serves to encourage benevolence by recognising our capacity to grow and shape the minds of those we mother. In the inverted state this external projection of our own maternal instincts is drawn inward and can either represent self-love or the recognition of those who nurture us and inspire us, helping us to elevate ourselves.