The Lovers

consider your choice and commit to it

from Hirajeta Tarot

In The Lovers, we’re at a crossroads and cannot stay where we are. A choice must be made; and, after examining the teachings of others with The Hierophant, we are better equipped to make decisions from a place of moral reasoning. While contemporary practice often portrays a more superficial or even shallow aspect of this card as romantic lovers, the scene on the Smith-Waite card clearly depicts the Garden of Eden – the biblical original choice. The issue to be confronted here is considering our choice and its broader implications. Do they eat the fruit and enjoy sensual earthly pleasures, or do they abstain and ascend up the tree to Divine enlightenment? This quandary has historically been portrayed on this card — a man, a woman, and a cleric. Which does he love more? Which can he truly commit to? While we have evolved beyond the limiting beliefs of Christian doctrine depicted on ancient Italian and TdM decks (and their reflections in Smith-Waite), the archetypal choice between good and evil is timeless.

The card becomes more complex with the additional dimension of the duality that is formed when a pairing is combined. As in the Royal Marriage in alchemy, the process involves dissolution into two component parts, followed by the union of opposites (which involves the loss of ego identity and therefore quite threatening), but will ultimately result in the solution to the problem of opposites. In The Lovers card, we may be invited to examine the integration of dualities within us (e.g., anima & animus, conscious & subconscious). Our emotional response to the outside world is directly linked to our subconscious; we respond favorably to reflections of those golden qualities that lie dormant within us, and are annoyed by those we’ve suppressed as undesirable. It is here that we see the similarities with The Devil card (note the Smith-Waite imagery of the couple) and, in this respect, it is the card of the mirror — how do we respond to those qualities which are reflected back to us by others? It is in these encounters with ‘the other’ that drive our choices. As in the alchemical process, the goal is union into one integrated whole.

(-) In resistance, we hesitate to engage with others to avoid what is being reflected. This can manifest as difficulty in making choices, and certainly an inability to commit. In the inner landscape, we may want to examine our projections and how they drive our decision-making process.

(+) In excess, we simply go with our temptations. In considering the intertwined connection this card has with The Devil (compare the couple rendered in each card by PCS), this is where we forego our moral reasoning in the decision-making process and indulge in our desires.

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

  • How do you choose between something you desire but feel morally wrong and something more ethically sound but less appealing?
  • What are the long-term implications of your decision? Will you take responsibility for it?
  • What past choice(s) do you regret? Why?
  • What of your inner landscape are you projecting onto others?
  • What internal part is driving this decision, and what purpose is it serving?

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 Hierophant

follow the wisdom of your own moral compass

from the Leonardo Da Vinci Tarot (Lo Scarabeo)

As the mediator between the divine and the mortal in matters of ethics and integrity, The Hierophant is our own voice of conscience in our belief systems. From the Greek for “revealer of sacred things,” The Hierophant is yang to the High Priestess’s yin, reminding us that we can turn outward to a spiritual elder or other teacher, but we must question what The Establishment expects us to believe in light of what we know is our truth. In Tarot as a Way if Life, Karen Hamaker-Zondag writes “Thus The Hierophant is our desire to experience an extra dimension of life, the feeling that there is something more than the mundane.” As long as we lack an appreciation for creation and no sense of oneness with it in our own psyche, we look outward to some religious organization. In seeking to develop an outlook based on this sense of oneness with Earth and her inhabitants, it’s interesting to note that some of the earlier decks included the lady pope or La Papesse.

As we evolve in our philosophical or spiritual growth and understanding, traditional or societal teachings must sometimes be questioned, updated, or abandoned, and we must trust our own moral compass.

(-) In resistance, we behave contrary to our values. We know in our heart what is right, but we choose to forego it out of timidity or uncertainty.

(+) In excess, we adopt the values of others with unquestioning conformity and dogmatism, with perhaps an unwavering devotion to one teacher or way of thinking. We may become intolerant of those with differing views or employ a holier-than-thou stance — traits which often go hand in hand with hypocrisy. At its best, we may simply follow social norms blindly. At its worst, it becomes fanaticism.

Conversely, we may become the rebellious non-conformist merely for the sake of it. While non-conformity is a healthy expression of critical thought in the arena of principles, are we merely casting off the religions and traditions of our childhood in their entirety without exploring their doctrines? Are we bashing them broadly and loudly at any given chance? This may speak to our own repressed feelings. What are you reacting to? What internal part needs to be heard?

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

  • Are you making choices out of alignment with your own moral code? What internal parts are driving this?
  • What is your relationship with religious teachings?
  • What of your beliefs (and dogma?) is borrowed rather than inspired?
  • Are you looking outward for wisdom which you already possess? Why don’t you trust it?
  • Are you ready to step into the role of teacher or spiritual mentor? Are you resisting it?
  • Do you take exceptional pride in being the non-conformist, wearing it as your persona? What are you trying to prove?
  • Where is the line between not conforming to an unjust system and rebelling just to be disruptive?

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 Emperor

stand in your power

from Murder of Crows Tarot (Lo Scarabeo)

As The Empress gives forth from the creative principle, The Emperor builds upon it in an active and structural sense, establishing order. Yang to The Empress’s yin, he has traditionally represented the masculine end of the spectrum and the archetypal father figure, and we may be invited to explore our relationship with our own father. As we reflect on the qualities of leadership in our life, is The Emperor us (stepping up, taking charge, creating order, leading a group) or someone else (the father, the employer, the govt)? As Paul Quinn writes in Tarot for Your Life, “a secure and balanced emperor creates no opportunity for being manipulated, bullied, or taken advantage of and rejects employing such tactics with others,” and we are reminded to stand securely in our power and authority, and to simply take the space we need.

(-) In resistance, we are submissive. With a lack of solid boundaries, we yield to others and, in doing so, we give away our power.

(+) In excess, our need to take an active part in controlling matters becomes rigid and domineering. Where the energy of The Emperor is constructive, his shadow is obstructive and critical. Where The Emperor is the essence of stability and security, his shadow’s smugness and self-importance is rooted in insecurity, so that when his authority is challenged, he responds with anger or excessive force. While many associate this card with the Patriarchy, this is instead its shadow. It’s here, in excess, that his demand for power is an unbalanced one requiring the oppression of others in order to ensure his continued dominance. In the extreme, he is a tyrant representing authoritarianism.

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

  • What internal parts are acting from a complex or dysfunctional relationship with your father?
  • Is it challenging for you to assert yourself? Are you uncomfortable in situations where you need to stand up for yourself?
  • Are there identifiable patterns in your life of establishing dominance and/or submission?
  • Where have you experienced toxic masculinity? How did that make you feel?
  • What is your relationship to authority?

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 Empress

receive so that you may create from a nourished well

from Dali Tarot (Taschen Books)

From the out and in of The Magician and The High Priestess, respectively, we get the creative principle of The Empress. She is the fertility of the Earth Mother, fruitful and abundantly creative. She is the essence of yin to The Emperor’s yang (and with an awareness of binary gender labeling, we can again think in terms of a spectrum, with each at either end and the majority in various places in between, or always containing elements of the other as in the yin/yang symbol). In this capacity of yin, the deep knowledge of this card lies in receptivity. We cannot create without rooting to a source of nourishment. While she shares the receptive quality of The High Priestess before her, she is not passive but symbolizes the flowing richness of birthing to material form and nurturing growth. Her element is earth, and we reconnect through her to the ground and our roots, our gateway to Divine Receptivity.

(-) In resistance, we cannot create because we’re not open to receiving. Sometimes, receiving can feel really confronting, and we may want to explore the roots of that.

Since the first line of the Major Arcana portrays egoic identities, might this card also pertain to the culturally dictated identity of women as childbearers– especially to those who are not nor ever will be mothers? (Not just unable to receive, but unable to conceive.)

(+) In excess, the archetypal mother figure may represent the obvious “mother issues” (as The Emperor may relate to father issues), and we’re invited to explore the remnants from our relationship with our own mother which may be at the root of the issue. In another aspect, we may be overprotective in our nurturing capacity, smothering and preventing others from achieving their own individuality. In our constant attempt to nurture others, do we fail to acknowledge our own needs? Or are we so focused on our own self-nurturance that we fail to recognize the needs of others?

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

  • What internal parts are rooted in your complex or dysfunctional relationship with your mother? When is the inner voice hers?
  • How is your relationship with self-nurturance?
  • Are you blocked in your creative project(s)?
  • What do you find difficult to receive? Money? Attention? Nurturance? Where is that rooted?
  • Is there a part of you in conflict with the culturally dictated identity of women as childbearers?

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 High Priestess

listen deeply to your intuition

from New Orleans Voodoo

As The Magician invited us to bring something within us out, The High Priestess as the guardian of The Mysteries and of the unconscious invites us to go within. Embracing the receptive power of intuition, we are asked to listen. There is an element of secrecy here (sacred = secret); but in the stillness of silence, we can tune in to the unconscious, where the Mysteries are held and can be accessed. In the Smith-Waite card, the Torah is half hidden in her robe, indicating that esoteric knowledge cannot simply be handed over but must be experienced to be understood. The pillars of her gates are not unlike The Chariot’s balance of light and dark and, although she holds both, she remains detached from the outcome.

(-) In resistance, we doubt our intuition, or block it. We may have difficulty accessing our dreams, memories, or the depths of our psyche.

(+) In excess, our challenge lies in passivity, of holding back when engagement is needed, of emotional detachment. Taken to an extreme, we risk withdrawing from daily life; contained so much in the magical realm that we have difficulty living in the mundane physicality of our day-to-day.

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

  • Do you find it difficult to access your inner realms? Can you not relax into meditation? What holds you back?
  • Can you hold the secrets of others? What are you hiding from others?
  • Do you refuse to face your own deep truths? Are you avoiding shadow work? How can you honor your inner parts?
  • Are you resisting spiritual knowledge or experience? Why?
  • Do you withdraw from the daily grind into the spiritual realms as a form of escape?

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

The Magician

direct your will to bring forth

from Paracelsus Dreams

The Magician has goals to bring forth and the power to make them a reality. What is in us is being called out, and we realize that we have the tools needed to manifest our desires. Smith-Waite decks often depict The Magician with one arm pointing up and the other down, signifying “as above, so below.” A catalyst, it’s the quick mental force that initiates where we direct our will.

In resistance, when we doubt our sense of purpose, we are aimless in our pursuits or we overcompensate, overdoing things in an attempt to hide our blocks or aimlessness from ourselves.

In excess, we become too active, and as our aims disappear, we find ourselves engaging in activity for activity’s sake. We become restless and blame others for our lack of success. We’re scattered, starting many projects but not completing them.

We may overestimate our power, or use it irresponsibly (such as those drawn to the dark arts) or deceitfully (like the charlatan). Traditionally, Le Bateleur was a trickster, a street-wise con man with his table of tricks

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

  • Is your energy scattered and unfocused? What is one thing you can do to harness and direct it?
  • What do you feel called to bring out? Are you stifling the inspiration? Why?
  • How could you trick your fears?
  • Where have you overused your power, or used it irresponsibly?

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

The Fool

follow the heart of your true Self

from 1JJ Swiss (U.S. Games)

The Fool is the unnumbered trump linking the first and last cards of the major arcana. Zero is the potential in the void; it’s both nothing and everything.

The Fool may be considered to represent the Self and the process of individuation; your pure potential. Often portrayed walking along a mountain path, the Fool is following the guidance of the inner voice. We are implored to “jump and the net will appear,” but that demands trust. Might we have some trust issues?

(-) In resistance, self-doubt prevents us from trusting that inner voice of the soul. Risk-averse, we take ourselves or the situation too seriously and deny our inner kid its expression. Where The Fool should be creative energy, it becomes instead the avoidance of those experiences which may further growth, resulting in rash, impetuous behaviors or clowning around to avoid taking direct action. Perhaps we have a resistance to starting a new cycle of development.

(+) In excess, we leap impetuously without regarding the consequences, maybe believing that everything we encounter is “meant to be.” While spontaneity shouldn’t be suppressed, our actions become irresponsible, reckless, thrill-seeking.

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

  • Do you trust your own judgement?
  • What’s stopping you from living your best life?
  • What leap would you take if you knew you couldn’t fail? What prevents you?
  • Where have others taken advantage of you?
  • Where have others discouraged your interests or pursuits?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you fail?
  • Do you tend to take yourself too seriously, or not seriously enough?
  • What is the most important thing you’ve never done?

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

King of Pentacles: The Provider / Miser

walk your soul’s path, offering your mastery to others

Kings exercise maturity and leadership in their element + Pentacles represent the material world and how we as spirits navigate it

from The Relative Tarot by Carrie Paris

The King of Pentacles has learned to truly walk the path of their soul’s work, and therefore able to help others. Their down-to-earth nature prefers a certain humanity and is responsive to others and their needs. There is a grounded wisdom to this king, and their material security may be financial, or it may be their trade or their family or something else far more meaningful to them than money or material possessions. Kind and pragmatic, they will mentor others in their field (“field” being a carefully chosen word, here; it may be literal!). Their grounded nature tends to be more practical and realistic, with an eye for what is necessary and the patience to see it through. Their persistence has paid off and they enjoy success and respect, though a conservative nature may guard it cautiously.

In personality typing, the King of Pentacles fits neatly into the ESFJ description, which seeks stable lives rich in contact with friends and family, and are happiest when serving others. Their supportive and sensitive nature makes others feel good about themselves. Dependable, they may see what needs to be done before others do, and see that it gets done. They do have a need for structure and organization, they enjoy being in control of their environment, and may need to be careful of controlling those who do not need or wish to be controlled. As providers, they not only indulge in good food and wine, but are generous in sharing it. They are genuinely kind and generous– the type who would give you the shirt off their back. Traditionalists, they respect the established system of rules and authority rather than wade into unchartered territory — which may cause them to blindly accept these lines without questioning (or even understanding) them.

(-) In resistance, they hold their resources close to home, gaining the reputation of the miser. Their avarice applies not only to money, but to their wealth of talent or other knowledge that they withhold.

(+) In excess, their conservative and stubborn need to control creates rigid structures and resists change. An overimportance on material wealth and possessions may show in an ostentatious display of luxury. They may exploit the labor or resources of others.

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

  • Where are you fixed in controlling your environment?
  • Do you keep your resources tightly secured, unwilling to share?
  • Do you feel the need to display wealth in a fancy car or designer clothes? What insecurity is this masking?
  • Conversely, do you deny yourself things that could make your life easier?
  • Do you feel that you balance the material with the spiritual? How are you walking your path?
  • What would you like to be known for? How are you passing that on?

What else? Court cards are complex and multifaceted, including more than these labels, and you may have other insights. What historic or fictional characters does this king remind you of? What part of yourself is represented, here?

King of Swords: The Judge / Bigot

speak what must be spoken

Kings exercise maturity and leadership in their element + Swords represent the mental realm with its words and our sense of justice

from Leonardo Da Vinci Tarot (Lo Scarabeo)

King of the suit of logic and reason, they are concerned mostly with truth and knowledge, and the rules of society. Knowledgeable, philosophical, impartial, strategic, responsible, direct, and judicious, they use their position to speak truth, including truth to power. They offer good, clear advice more fairly than the Queen; although Swords lack the compassion seen in other suits, they are able to see the complexities of situations more abstractly and is more apt to compromise. (Note that in Smith-Waite the Queen sits confined by her throne on a block of immovable stone, whereas the King’s throne is more open, and rests on the softer earth.)

As the master of the Thinking court, they are the quintessential ESTJ, which are the honest rule-followers who value competence and efficiency with a clear sense of how things should be and enjoy creating order according to these standards and beliefs. Impersonal and straightforward, they view the world through reason rather than emotion with little tolerance for the dreamers and rebels of the world, and have no problem disciplining those who do not abide by the standards they uphold.

(-) In resistance, they lack the principle of fairness, becoming the bigot intolerant of differing beliefs and opinions, and inflexible in their reasoning. The truth they speak is skewed to suit their own bias.

(+) In excess, they are judgemental and unforgiving in their standards.

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

  • Where are you inflexible in your beliefs? Where are your prejudices? Can you ever consider the other perspective, or do you remain rigid?
  • Do you judge others based on some criteria that you hold?
  • When do you feel judged?
  • Who establishes the rules in your life?
  • What is your relationship with authority and it’s rules?
  • Are there rules of order that you expect others to follow? Are you the only one who knows these rules?

What else? Court cards are complex and multifaceted, including more than these labels, and you may have other insights. What historic or fictional characters does this king remind you of? What part of yourself is represented, here?

King of Cups: The Teacher / Savior

hold space for others to support their growth

Kings exercise maturity and leadership in their element + Cups represent our emotional life and how we relate to others

from Shakespeare Tarot

Focused on understanding, supporting, and encouraging others’ growth, the King of Cups provides emotional support from a position of strength. The most sensitive of the kings, their watery nature allows them to be intuitive and gentle, though more discreet with their own feelings, appearing aloof and hiding their own vulnerability. They enjoy helping others and are excellent group leaders. Diplomatic, they maintain harmony and are most apt to act from a place of emotion than cold logic or authority, and may be viewed by the more masculine kings as impotent. Drawn more to spirituality, counseling, and the arts, they are more likely found in academia, faith circles, or private practice.

Leadership is not being in charge; it’s about taking care of the people in your charge. Simon Sinek

With water / Cups correlating to the NF personality types, this king is the ENFJ, whose understanding and love of people makes them fun to be with. They are likely to interact with others on their level, chameleon-like, and tend to define their life’s direction by other people’s needs, unaware of their own. Do not force them to deal with logic and facts without any connection to a human element. They have a strong need for close, intimate relationships, and put effort into creating and maintaining them. Those who have not found their place in the world may be extremely sensitive to criticism, may worry excessively, and feel guilty.

(-) In resistance, they are emotionally unavailable, detached; perhaps hiding behind the facade of a caring role. Disloyal, they violate our trust.

(+) In excess, they may be melancholy, maudlin, wearing their heart on their sleeve — or perhaps they’re wearing our heart on their sleeve, taking great pride in their humanitarian nature and of their role as savior.

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

  • Are you always the one holding emotional space for others? Are you also tending your own emotional needs?
  • Does the Wounded Healer archetype hold special significance to you?
  • Is it difficult for you to tap into your own emotions?
  • Do you showcase your tendency to help others, proud to be their savior? Do you think it, privately? What part is served by that?

What else? Court cards are complex and multifaceted, including more than these labels, and you may have other insights. What historic or fictional characters does this king remind you of? What part of yourself is represented, here?