The Tower

Re-evaluate the structures in your life and rebuild where needed

from The Relative Tarot by Carrie Paris

When we resist confronting the shadow in The Devil, we get a cosmic whack which shatters our little world and our ego illusions, forcing permanent change. We must push through this upheaval; we cannot go back (and we probably won’t be the same afterward.). As the saying goes, “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” We can avoid the more chaotic Tower events by proactively re-evaluating the structures and beliefs we’ve established (whether personal, professional, spiritual, etc.) and rebuilding where needed so that we are enlightened rather than exposed. The Tower comes in various states and stages and forms; it doesn’t have to be a disaster.

It may feel like divine intervention, and the crown often included in the card signals the involvement of our higher self, with the lightning bolt as illumination. The ego must submit to the divine, which can be traumatic (a blow to the ego isn’t easy for anyone), but it invites us to shift, realign, and grow in its wake. While it may appear suddenly, Jung explained that the inner workings of this archetype “have been at work for a long time in the unconscious, skillfully arranging circumstances that will lead to the crisis.” This is an invitation to re-evaluate the structures we have built and clear out what we’re not meant to carry anymore so that we may rebuild with a stronger foundation.

(-) In resistance, as with The Devil (and a continuation of it), the shadow of The Tower appears as we refuse to confront destructive patterns or structures, and the stagnation that comes with that. The pressure condenses and eventually blows. We may be trying to maintain a facade. A fear of falling (or failing) may be indicated, here, as well.

(+) In excess, it can hint at the need to create catastrophes and drastic eruptions out of everything — and, perhaps, chaos in the lives of others.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Where have you been complacent?
  • What structures or habits have you outgrown? What is ready to be released?
  • Do you tend to ignore the advice of the cards when they’re not saying what you want to hear?
  • How does your authentic self differ from the persona you project to the world?
  • What fear keeps you locked in safety, afraid of exploring your full potential?
  • What societal structures are you ready to break down?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Devil

confront your personal demons

from Touchstone Tarot by Kat Black (trimmed)

The Devil is that Christian construct designed to shame and guilt us with all that our ‘better judgement’ deems undesirable about our choices and actions. It leads us into temptation then aims to restrict us from pleasure with its finger-wagging, and represents those things which we would rather not know about ourselves — much less reveal — instead projecting them onto others in the outside world. The Devil represents our shadow.

I hesitate to demonize anything about the workings of our inner parts, since their true motive is always our safety, and we want simply to engage with our shadow parts to understand them and integrate them (hopefully with a new role or task). Sure, this card is about the lust, the greed, the deceit; but here, we’re invited to confront our guilt, shame, and fear. Do they really belong here? These limiting beliefs are meant to protect us and keep us safe, but we can escape this by understanding what part is driving it and what purpose it’s serving. Have we wronged another? Correct it. Otherwise, we must ask whether that shame is justified, or if this is just the protector part’s narrative to keep us safe by keeping us down. Identifying that is a profound opportunity to liberate ourselves from the shackles of self-destruction and guilt.

(-) In resistance, we lack the desire to change or to correct our behaviors and remain in patterns of materialism, oppression, addiction, and other drives which are concerned only with our own pleasure and gain at the expense of others. We are enslaved in our shadows, powerless, which leads only to a continuation of self-destructive patterns and the constant need of approval from others since we cannot find it in ourselves.

The failure to confront our demons leads to The Tower.

(-) In excess, we condemn ourselves for things that don’t warrant it. Stuck in shame or fear, we desire to change our perceived wrongdoings but are bound to them, which affirms and perpetuates the loops of harmful self-talk and self-loathing that accompanies them.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • What do you allow to bring out the worst in you?
  • What decisions have you made based in fear?
  • Can you identify your self-destructive patterns? In what ways are you sabotaging your own success and well-being? How are your protector parts keeping you safe?
  • How is the past influencing your decisions?
  • Where you feel shame or guilt, what action can you take to correct it?
  • What stops you from reaching your greatest potential? What are you making more important than your self-empowerment?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

Temperance

blend disparate elements to create something new

from The Housewives’ Tarot

To temper is to mix or modify to create something new, as in alchemy, and it’s in the Temperance card that we move from the loss of Death to a process of change through transformative growth where the parts of the psyche are combined or integrated and refined in preparation for higher stages of consciousness. As The Empress creates from nothing into matter (mater), Temperance transforms matter to create something new. As an artist, I think of mixing paints (not necessarily ‘tempera’ paints, but the name does fit, here) to create just the right color. As an herbalist, I consider the art of formulation to create a compound tincture of a specific quality or essence by combining just the right proportions of compatible plants in certain combinations — and there can be an element of healing in this card, by the harmony of the parts.

The figure on the card is often portrayed as a hermaphrodite (symbolizing the unification or blending of parts into a new whole) turning water into wine (again, the transformative process of parts). This blending of the light and dark to become more than the sum of its parts is a work in progress, ending line 2 with a bridge between the Self and the Higher Self to better flow into line 3, where we expand into a new awareness. Here, in the union between Above and Below, our souls are aligned and we’re in communion with Spirit, learning to follow the soul’s path instead of the ego’s as we head for The Devil.

(-) In resistance, we are uncompromising, denying ourselves the ability to adapt. Our internal parts are in conflict. Rather than harmony, there is a sense of being uncooperative, or competing.

(-) In excess, we are over-accommodating in an effort to avoid conflict. Does our need for a peaceful state cause us to take on the role of the mediator or peacekeeper in situations, determined to bring factions together? Are we forcing elements together that may not coalesce harmoniously? Perhaps we’re over-mixing something that is just right as is.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Do you jump into the role of peacekeeper during conflicts?
  • Are you able to access Self or Spirit without parts interrupting?
  • Do you resist adapting to new situations?
  • Are you trying to force together some things that may not actually blend well?
  • Do you tend toward extremes rather than find a harmonious balance?
  • How are you integrating the various parts of your life?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

Death

let go

from the Deck of the Bastard, by Tarot by Seven

The Death card reminds us that it’s time to say goodbye to the identity / situation / attitude / behavior / thing that will hinder us if it continues to be a part of our lives. Time’s up. We probably don’t want to let go, and we don’t know what will take its place, but the more calmly we come to terms with this fact, the better it will be. We may also feel called to work with our ancestors or The Mighty Dead, or identify with this type of work (e.g., psychopomp).

Some interpretations of this card pussy-foot around the subject with butterflies and framing it as transformation; but death is a major archetype of the human condition, and there is no card better suited to its theme than the one labeled “Death.” While it’s true that all matter and energy is transformed by the death process, and that our own transformation can begin when we shed that which doesn’t serve us, we must also avoid the tendency toward sticky-sweet positivity so prevalent in much of the tarot community. Endings are hard. Saying goodbye can be very difficult. But the true gold in tarot can be found in the growth we experience by confronting these challenges rather than painting them in glittery rainbows and slapping a positive label on them so that we don’t actually have to look at them. That’s what we call emotional (or spiritual, in some cases) bypassing.

(-) In resistance, we hold ever more tightly to what we should be leaving behind, which just prolongs the pain. What results is stagnation — or, worse, mental deadlock, fatigue, apathy, and depression. Physical symptoms such as an illness may compel us to rest for a while.

(+) In excess, an attitude of non-attachment causes us to end things prematurely as a defense mechanism against the fear of loss.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What are you afraid to let go of? Why is it so difficult to do so? How can you ease the transition?
  • What past loss are you still grieving?
  • What is your relationship with mortality?
  • What belief is no longer in your highest and best? Is there something you can replace it with?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Hanged Man

surrender

from the Shakespeare Tarot, by Chris Leech

The Hanged Man teaches us to integrate the humility of Justice by moving from ego to soul through surrender into it, which allows us to see things from a new perspective — things which perhaps others can’t. We may not believe what soul is telling us, and this topsy-turvy reorientation may be uncomfortable while we’re suspended in it, but an attitude of acceptance can foster a state of peace, which opens new awareness, allowing us to proceed, finding meaning in this discomfort and allowing us to transform it into power.

There is often a halo around The Hanged Man’s head, representing spiritual illumination or the higher self. “Let go and let God” is one way of advising surrender to the wisdom of the Godself.

(-) In resistance, we are unable to see from this new perspective and are left feeling ungrounded and vulnerable. Stifled and unable to adjust, this sense of powerlessness may create a reliance on others.

(+) In excess, we tend toward self-sacrifice, or a pattern of resentful submission. We may risk self-sabotage in the sense that we subconsciously undermine our own position. Here we have an intersection with The Emperor in giving up our power, and The Chariot in control issues — but where The Chariot is driven (or fails) to gain control, The Hanged Man feels it taken from him. This may be accompanied by victim mentality in a continuation from Justice.

The martyr is also an obvious element here, enduring great suffering for our principles; which also relates back to Justice, and sets us up for our next stop with Death.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Where are you getting hung up? Might it be time for a new perspective?
  • How do you allow for new perspectives?
  • Are you always sacrificing for others?
  • Where do you feel powerless?
  • Do you easily submit to the will of others? Does this leave you feeling resentful?
  • Are your egoic convictions in opposition to the guidance of your wiser parts?
  • How do you connect with your Higher Self?
  • Is there somewhere you may need to give up control?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of spiritual evolution?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

Justice

face your own truth to rebalance the scales

from Deck of the Bastard, by Tarot by Seven

At card 11, we find ourselves squarely in the balanced center of the Major Arcana as the scales of Justice assure us that all is in divine order. As the Wheel of Fortune’s lesson of realizing our own part in matters rolls into Justice, we must face our own truth. Justice cannot abide dishonesty. Its karmic nature asks us: What choices have we made, attitudes adopted, expectations held to get us to this moment? True justice brings with it true humility, and asks us to confront it so that we may rebalance where we’re able. Where there is injustice, how are we available to change it? How may we rebalance the scales?

(-) In resistance, we are blind to other sides of an issue. Biased in our beliefs about what is just, we are always in the right and can justify our actions; well-intentioned while others are always to blame. Angry, we may become victims in a wicked world when we allow obscurities, emotions, and incriminations to build up. It’s wise to remember that there is no room for emotion in justice.

(-) In excess, we are riddled with guilt over past actions or beliefs. We may compensate for this in self-righteousness, eager to display our moral superiority by correcting others.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Is your truth in harmony with justice?
  • Is there something for which you need to accept responsibility?
  • Are you able to see both sides of an issue?
  • Do you always feel the need to justify your actions or beliefs?
  • What anger are you holding from some past injustice?
  • Do you correct the beliefs or actions of others as a way to hold yourself up as exemplary?
  • Are you experiencing the consequences of a past action? How can you compensate to balance it?
  • Where do you feel guilt? What part is carrying this, and why? What action can you take to release it?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Wheel of Fortune

identify the cycles that we create in our lives

from Spiral Tarot
from Spiral Tarot

As the Wheel of Fortune spins, we’re invited to look at the cycles and patterns that we create and consider that what we perceive as fate is, in fact, our unresolved complexes perpetuating. After The Hermit’s introspection, this is an opportunity to create change from a place of presence and in co-creation with our best selves in an evolution of our soul’s path, rather than wait for change to happen to us.

The turning of the Wheel may also refer to the natural cycles of the seasons, the wheel of the year, biological life changes, generational patterns or wounds, seasonal disorders, memories held by the body or mind, and other cyclical occurrences (there is an element of time in this card). We may find ourselves at a turning point, ready to change the cycle if we’re in the center rather than clinging to the outer rim.

(-) In resistance, we’re stuck in a rut, failing to see how the seeds we are sowing today will affect our future. Blind to the part that we play in the cause & effect of our lives, we resign ourselves to fate.

(+) In excess, the consequences of our actions continue to perpetuate as we fail to identify our projections, unaware of their repetition in the patterns of our lives, and we cling to the outer wheel with increasing anger and resentment.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What pattern is repeating?
  • What factors are outside of your control? How would you change them?
  • Is there a challenging seasonal cycle that you can plan for (rather than endure)?
  • Are there painful memories that your body holds?
  • What ancestral baggage are you carrying?
  • How may your current actions or choices affect future outcomes?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Hermit

pause deeply in solitude

from Tarocco Soprafino by il Meneghello

As The Hierophant prompts us to connect with an outer or greater divinity, The Hermit’s search is internal; a union with the spiritual self. Note that The Hermit falls in the same vertical line of the majors as The High Priestess; but where she recedes into the unconscious and intuition, The Hermit pauses deeply in reflective but conscious solitude. Here, we are asked to withdraw to a pace that is slower than we’re used to in order to connect with the wisdom of the internal master and our place in the greater whole (or, to connect with the pureness of Self uninterrupted by activated parts). We sometimes see The Hermit portrayed as a guru we seek to learn the answers to the great questions of life, but this archetype’s lantern guides the inner journey. The guru is the Self.

This card denotes a period of non-activity, but is temporary.

(-) In resistance, we may not want to take the time to pause, or resist a more deeply-seated fear of being alone with our thoughts.

(+) In excess, our reflex is to cut ourselves off from the outside world; to run away. Here in the safety of our solitude, we do not make room for others or their ideas. Where the true hermit is introspective, the maladjusted hermit needs only to convert the world to his own point of view. As a shut-in, we risk losing contact not only with the outside world, but with reality.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Is there a situation on which you need to gain some perspective?
  • Are you avoiding being alone? What need does external stimulus or the company of others provide for you?
  • Do you prefer to always have background noise? Is it difficult for you to quell internal parts (such as the critic) and to connect with your true self?
  • Do you withdraw from others, avoiding contact with the outside world? Is this coming from a place of quiet introspection and self-discovery, or fear?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

Strength

approach your fear with patience and tolerance

from Cary-Yale Visconti, by U.S. Games

Strength carries forward the lesson of the Chariot’s efforts to control our impulses as we head into line 2, which takes us through tests of spirit and surrender — but here, it’s through inner strength and confidence. We learn to conquer fear not by force, but by listening to our animal nature (symbolized by the lion) and working with it, not against it. It is through approaching our fear with an undefended heart that true strength is experienced. Though the process may be dark and ugly, the appearance of this card may prompt us to examine the integration of opposites or of parts that we had been working on in Line 1, leading to wholeness.

(-) In resistance, we allow fear and timidity to take over, and we turn away rather than face our fears, continuing the loops our brain gets into because we’re afraid to confront it. We often think of Strength’s shadow as overbearing force (we’ve all seen the cards showing defeat of the lion through brute force), which speaks to the more aggressive and egoic aspects of the shadow; but consider here the denial of your subconscious — or even the lion as an exiled part. We aim for integration, but fear in the face of this integration can lead to stifling these needs and desires in self-denial, to flight reflexes that hinder rather than facilitate contact with the subconscious. Keeping our heart carefully shielded, we may then fall into overprotectiveness.

(-) In excess, we display aggression in an abuse of power, perhaps overcompensating for perceived weakness or overestimating our abilities. From a place of ego rather than heart, and in the opposite of the flight reflex we saw in resistance, we fight.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • where are you being called to show courage?
  • What fear prevents you from acting? What internal part is it protecting?
  • What parts have been subdued into exile which may be better understood and integrated with a compassionate approach?
  • How do your protector parts tend to react when exiled parts are threatened?
  • Are you struggling with a challenge that may be overcome with understanding rather than force?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Chariot

control your impulses and thus your direction

from Arcana Full Tarot Playing Cards, by Dead on Paper

If we divide the majors (sans Fool) into three lines of seven, The Chariot ends the first line, which revolves around our egoic identifications. It’s also, interestingly, the first card that isn’t represented by a persona, but a concept or thing. It’s The Chariot, not The Charioteer. The Chariot holds the driver (or ego) protectively in the vehicle as he maneuvers through the transformation from line 1 to line 2. We’re in alignment, driving toward our goal; the lessons learned thus far have provided us with the ability to navigate through challenge. So, here we have drive, but the need to control is a huge part of staying on course. While the black & white sphinxes (in the Waite-Smith deck) represent the conscious and unconscious (or opposing forces of the psyche) to be balanced or controlled, the charioteer must cast off the protective shell of the chariot, which the ego uses to remain safe, and progress into line 2 where true strength controls without force.

(-) In resistance, we’re unable to control the opposing forces of our will, resulting in inner conflict. Do we lack direction? How is our self control?

(+) In excess, we see a strong ego that demands to be in control — or believes itself to be in control when, in fact, the horses are bolting in either direction. This force of will may be all bravado, or going off the rails. It may also indicate a compulsive drive to achieve, perhaps becoming the overachiever. Was there earlier conditioning that love comes only through achievement?

Questions that may be prompted when this card comes up include

  • Where do you feel the need to be in control?
  • What internal parts take control, and when?
  • What are you struggling to control?
  • How does your persona protect you?
  • Where are you driving? In which direction are you going? Are all of your parts on board?
  • What is distracting you?
  • Do you feel a compulsive need to achieve / to prove yourself?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?