Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Jung and the Tarot

Within the cards of the tarot many of the analytical psychological motifs of Carl Jung’s concepts and understanding of the personality can be found — often with remarkable clarity and insight. His theories on the Self, Shadow, Extraversion, Introversion, Conscious, Unconscious, Centering, and Compensation This also merges well within the right and left poles as indications of masculine/active or feminine/passive energies via a cognitive exploration through the right/left hemispheres of the brain.  

Jung's rediscovery of the Western alchemical tradition unearthed a  previously lost cannon of psychic personal self realisation which was practically identical to his theories concerning the process of Individuation as specific stages of psychic development leading to the 'rounding out' of ones personal life story. Jung put forth the idea that on one hand there is the natural process of growth which takes place in every living thing, and which occurs unconscious. This can be further augmented with consciously processed stages of inner development according to precise doctrines and practices — that being, the conscious mind monitors what is happening, and strives to manipulate the life-stream into a kind of heroic self adventure and exploration of the universal journey of the hero which resonates in all cultures through various of myth and legend.  

I found it very useful integrating the language and framework of Jungian concepts to process the tarot system within the popular understanding of the nature of the unconscious mind. The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcarna present the reader with crucial stages of the journey of life. Through  direct personal engagement with the mysteries revealed in each tarot card the development of the reader's personality moves ever closer to Individuation. 

Individuation encompasses the whole of our journey through life and falls into two halves. The first half being the reader's relationship to the real world and the stabilisation of the ego.  Following this, the process is reversed and thus begins the clash of the ego with the psyche — our true Centre of consciousness. Like the natural state of the left and right brain (and all other expressions of duality within the cosmos) — these two phases oppose and complement each other as a symbiotic inter-dependence. They have a cohesive evolutionary interaction. Jung noted that first half of life is best understood as solar (left brained/masculine), and the second half of life becomes lunar (right brained/feminine) leading away from the legitimisation of the ego and on towards introspection and our relationship to the physical universe.

"In the morning it (the sun) rises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament.” 

- C.J.Jung. Stages of Life: Collected Works, Vol. 8

Within the Major Arcarna we find The Wheel of Fortune (Shiva the destroyer of the ego?) unsurprisingly anchored at the mid-point — what has become known today as the mid-life crisis. Or 'mid-life opportunity' depending on your psyche development and and how well one has stabilised their ego up to that point. This is the high-point of our earthly physical existence when one is then confronted with the inevitability of biological death. However, this realisation allows us to become who we are meant to be and if processed correctly — should be a period filled with creativity, energy and personal liberation — towards peace, acceptance and the emotional contentment which we are often deprived of during the first half of life where the ego reins over our personality. 

“At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning.”

C.J.Jung. Stages of Life: Collected Works, Vol. 8


The following tables set forth the Major Arcarna according to Jung's comparision of the cards to that of the personal initiation stages of alchemy. Jung found the historical Western equalivent of his own psychology within medevil alchemey (from the arab 'the', and Greek 'khemia meaning 'the art of transmuting metals'). 

The alchemists had discovered their own esoteric solution to problems of uniting oposites. Jung was the first to make alchmey psychologically accessible to modern ideas of psychological development. The imagry similar to the alchemical dream images and unsurprisingly, by extention, these are also found within the tarot. Jung believed that alchemy was the compesatory shadow in the relationship with Christianity in modern man — this also explains the incorporation of Christian imagry within the symbols of the tarot.

The Fool
A young man who can be compared to the newly born child. Innocent and still encapsulated within the folds of the unconscious.

The Magician 
He is the self, with the symbols of transformation before him.

The Papess (High Preistess)
The power of the infant ego representing the female, and to the Jungian function relating to Intuition. Intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going (possibilities).

The Empress
The power of the infant ego again representing the female, and to the Jungian fuction relating to Feeling. Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not (its value).

The Emperor
The power of the infant ego representing the Material, and to the Jungian function relating to Sensation. Sensation tells you that something exists (through the senses).

The Pope (Heirophant)
The power of the infant ego representing the Spiritual, and to the Jungian function relating to Thought. Thinking tells you what it is (its definition).

The Lovers
The first decisive choice in life and the rejection of our maternal and paternal security for a mate. This is the point when we become responsible for our actions and ultimately our own personal destiny.

The Chariot
The drive for personal success and conformity for the laws and conventions of society. The adoption of a social mask, or ego vehicle in order to achieve these social aims.

The establishment of our physical maturity and the begining of the realisation that our personal story has thus far been the sacrifice of our unconcious or spiritual development for the sake of establishing our conscious persona. Now the time has come for the imbalance to be addressed or a stagnation of our psyche will take place.

The Hermit
Now begins the process of our own self-examinination. A more focussed and prudent path must be found.

The Wheel of Fortune
We now arrive at the midpoint in our journey. Our peak has passed and now we must accept the realisation that the journey towards the end of our personal story in this life has now begun.

Force (Fortitude)
They rewards of self examination earlier on in our journey now come into play as our maturity disarms the primal forces of our unconcious.

The Hanged Man
Now a reversal of priorities and personal values must take place. Sacrifice of the values we held in the first part of our journey is vital for our progress.

Transformation of consciouness is unavoidable. The ego must now be discarded as the primary force of our identity. Its rejection leads to the maturity of our higher self.

The decent into the underworld has resulted in victory. Our conciouness and unconsciousness are in communion with one another. The previous imbalance between the two has at last been addressed.

The Devil
But even following the reconsiltion of our poles of consciouness — unexpected dangers can still arise. These are tests to see if our spiritual maturity can overcome our basic extincts.

The Tower
The surge of energy and creativity when the division between the concious and unconscious is removed by exterior influence.

The Star
Now the light from within shines forth to illuminate our way during the remainder of our journey.

The Moon
Symbolises the final great tribulation we will have to endure . The 'dark night of the soul'.

The Sun
We now reconsiliate the duality of our psyche. A new day is dawning.

The rebirth of the intergrated self.

The World
A mandala. Repesenting our completed journey to psychic wholeness.


The Maculine 
Wands = Libido (sexual drive)
Swords = Spiritual force

The Feminine
Pentacles (Coins) = Material
Cups = Feeling

(tarot card artwork by Thomas Sheridan)


  1. Hi Thomas, When are you going to complete your very visually interesting Tarot Deck - so we can buy?

    Lyn S


  2. Great post. Thank you. I think readers of this post will enjoy and find of interest this Depth Psychology resource page, which is full of frees on and by Carl Jung and prominent Jungian Analysts. Here’s the link:

    Thank you for posting.

    Warm wishes