Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opening the Tarot, Part II

Picking up on the discussion about “the magic of opening” and images of openness in the tarot:

A certain degree of openness can also be seen in the postures and other body language of the human figures portrayed in the cards. This is particularly noticeable with some of the characters in the Major Arcana. For example, the figures in The Magician, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, and Justice are all viewed frontally, they meet the gaze of the viewer, and their arms are outspread, (i.e., not crossed or in other closed-off positions). In card interpretation, this can indicate that if they represent different people in your life, they are likely to be approachable, and also aware of your concerns. If these cards stand for general principles rather than individuals, the knowledge and experience they pertain to is more accessible.

Those of us who are into tarot often like to engage the cards as personal teachers, (and the idea of the Major Arcana as teachers [at a magical academy] has been elegantly developed in Corrine Kenner’s “Wizards’ Tarot”), so we might experience these more open figures as the kind of teachers with whom we might enjoy more of a rapport, (just as, when you look back on your student days, you can probably recall some teachers who you could relate to more than others). Of course, if you are using card decks other than the classic RWS, the artists may have changed some of these details, so that then becomes meaningful when you are pondering the cards you have drawn. (Synchronicity factors are at work in the particular deck of cards you choose to work with on a given occasion.)

Some figures in the tarot are viewed frontally and have an open gaze, but in other ways, their posture or other imagery is closed off. A classic example is the High Priestess, who sits wrapped in an enfolding cloak and holds a closed book, showing that she has knowledge to offer, but you won’t penetrate her secrets easily. Even The Magician card, which I have just cited as an example of openness, has a slightly equivocal quality, because he stands behind an altar table as well as a bed of flowers which form something of a barrier. So, one might interpret this to mean that you may have a better chance of establishing a rapport with him by focusing on a common interest, perhaps by asking him about the lessons of elemental Fire, Earth, Air, or Water, as symbolized by his magical tools. Another card whose figure has a frontal stance and gaze, but where there is a barrier between the character and the viewer, is The Chariot. Likewise, although Justice has an open gaze and posture, her raised sword can keep the viewer at a distance. In fact, in cases like Justice and the Emperor, where both of the character’s hands are occupied, there is the suggestion that their duties keep them somewhat at remove. Contrast Justice and The Emperor with The Magician, The Empress, and The Hierophant, who, although they hold different wands or staffs in one of their hands, have the other hand free, which suggests a greater ability to reach out to you, the Querent.

To better appreciate different figures’ qualities of openness, accessibility, and awareness of the Querent, we can compare certain Major Arcana figures to Minor Arcana figures with which they have an affiliation. So, the Emperor is a “High King” to whom the kings of the Minor Arcana owe fealty, and likewise, the Empress has a certain relationship with the Queens. So, we see that while the Empress is one of the most open figures in the deck, (because of her position, gaze, and other body language), none of the queens meet the viewer’s gaze, and only one, the Queen of Wands, has a full frontal posture, (though her head is turned to the side). The fact that the four queens are either looking off in different directions, or looking down at the symbols of their elements, shows them as being more concerned with the duties, contingencies, and worries of their respective suits. Also, it is interesting to note that the Queens of Swords and Wands, representing the more ethereal elements, gaze off to the right, (the direction of the future), while the Queens of Cups and Pentacles, representing the heavier elements, gaze downward, with their bodies oriented to the left, (the direction of the past).

By the way, if oftentimes happens that with these little graphic nuances that I write about, I only first become aware of them because I am writing about them. This is an example of “writing for discovery.” Also, the more I explore these details in the cards, the more I appreciate the level of thought and intuition that Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith put into these cards, (even though some purists have accused them of junking up the tarot by adding superfluous symbolism).

Well, I still have more to say about the body language of tarot characters, but I will have to pick that up in the next post. TO BE CONTINUED.


  1. I think I would love to drive up to Michigan and visit with you at the bookstore this year in 2011. I have a copy of your
    Everyday Guide. The awards and accolades it garnished were well deserved. I am excited and hoping to learn more from someone like you, who obviously has a depth of insight and expertise. will you be there every sunday in april, may, june? It is a four hour drive each way from Chicago, so i'll need to do some advance planning. Thanks, Connie Good, Author

  2. Hi! Sorry I'm so slow to respond--for various reasons, I went for a stint without getting to my computer. I'm delighted to hear that you're thinking about making the arduous trip from Chicago, but I'm sorry to say that I've just realized I won't be able to do my workshop in June, because I have to go to California to attend to some family business. However, as far as I can see, the other first-Sunday-of-the-month weekends are still on. I would love to meet you!