My August 25 inteview with the tarot on its own structure was short. The cards seemed to want to get to the point. Let’s flesh things out a bit, shall we?
Today, I’ll touch on the possible structures of the 22 Major Arcana (big mysteries), also known as the trumps, the keys, and the universal theme cards. I say “possible structures” because there are so many ways to group these 22 cards. Ultimately, I believe that Life’s Great Mysteries defy categorising, but pegging them onto systems and structures helps us to remember what the big cards can be about.
Some people group the Majors by having the Fool (card 0) be the journeyer through the deck and dividing the other 21 cards into three rows of seven cards each. Cards I – VII in the top row depict the outer journey, cards VIII – XIV in the middle row depict the inner journey, and cards XV – XXI on the bottom are about the transpersonal journey.
There are esoteric groups that contemplate and live out the last seven trumps, XV through XXI, as a process of initiation, moving from bondage into cosmic consciousness.
Other people find it helpful to think of the Majors as eleven pairs, each pair adding up to XXI, the World card, the ultimate goal of being a tarot practitioner. 0 (Fool) and XXI (World) belong together in this system. So do I (Magician) and XX (Judgement), II (Priestess) and XIX (Sun), and so forth. Each pair is a path to fulfillment.
The Hero’s Journey as outlined by mythologist Joseph Campbell is another template that is applied to the tarot keys. The innocent soul goes forth into the world, experiences challenges and triumphs, and returns to hir community with skills and gifts that benefit all.
Jungian achetypes are also perceived in the Majors. The Empress is a symbol of the Mother and the Emperor of the Father. The Hermit points to the Senex (Wise Old One) while the World is the Anima Mundi (soul of the world).
The late Jean-Claude Flornoy structured the trumps by having the Fool stand alone, cards I – V represent childhood, cards VI – X represent apprenticeship, cards XI – XV represent membership in a fraternity, cards XVI – XX represent mastery. XXI (the World), in the centre of them all, is wisdom.
In one workshop I offered last year, I invited participants to create a timeline of their lives from birth until the present day and to write down important events along that timeline. Beside each event, they laid a Major Arcanum, ignoring any traditional order. Some people clustered cards that seemed to belong together. Some cards stood alone. Some were upright, others tilted to the side or arranged in pairs. Each person ended up with an order for the trumps that made sense to them because it was rooted in their own experience.
All of these structures, and the many more that I didn’t mention, are valid. They assist the ones meditating on and/or using the cards to remember things about the cards and about themselves. There comes a point, however, at which whatever structure we’re using falls away, allowing Life’s Great Mysteries as illustrated in the tarot to stand one their own terms, free from the construct that helped us forge our understanding of them.