Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2) Tarot Cards : Symbolism - Angels

The Tarot is all about symbolism. In fact all mystic traditions rely on symbolism to explain that which is not in the experience of the seeker. When I thought about it while writing this article the reason dawned on me. Language is a function of the left brain but a Tarot reading is an intuitive and spiritual experience. The Tarot cards with their beautiful images and symbols subtly put the Reader in a right brain mode, making it easy for the cards to communicate to you. This is the reason that the same card prompts one interpretation in one reading and a totally different one at another. This, by the way, never fails to amaze me. But I realize now that my left brain is showing amazement at what my right brain does effortlessly enough, when not burdened by semantics. This must sound like a lot of gibberish so let me come back to the symbols. There are some symbols which you will find in many of the cards across decks, let me deal with them individually.  

Most decks will have a substantial representation of Angels in the cards, who are figures shown with wings. Angels by their nature are soft, gentle beings who are helpful and considered to be divine message bearers. By definition an Angel is a ministering spirit or divine messenger; a spiritual being superior to man in power and intelligence. The Tarot cards VI Lovers, X Wheel of Fortune, XIV Temperance, XX Judgement in the Rider-Waite and many other decks show the Archangels. The Archangels are majestic and powerful beings. They have considerable significance in the Christian, Judaic and Islamic traditions. However, there is always some difference of opinion as to which of the Biblical Archangels is the one represented on the card. Why is that important?  Well it is not, but four of these Angels associated with the four elements are thought to be represented on the cards and knowing their associations and functions may give a Tarot Reader added insight.


‘fire of God’, angel of music, poetry and prophesy
Summer, White, gold and earth tones, Symbol is an open hand holding a flame

‘God’s healing’, represents higher intelligence.
Spring, Wednes-day, Mercury, quicksilver, sky blue and gold, often depicted carrying a pilgrim’s staff

‘who is as God’, leader of the celestial armies,
Autumn, Sunday, sun, gold and symbol is a fiery sword

‘might of God’, Angel of Revelation, Ambassador of humanity.
Winter, Monday and Moon, silver, colour sea green, symbol is the trumpet.

‘The Lovers’, card no VI in the Waite deck shows Raphael, who is like a god of healing (the names of all the Archangels end in ‘el’, meaning ‘god’ in Hebrew). Thus the card has some message regarding healing or sustaining a relationship. When it appears in a reading it generally signifies a thumbs-up for the relationship having the blessings of the Angel, provided the surrounding cards are positive. In the older decks, (prior to the Waite deck), the little winged figure of Cupid or Eros, the Angel of Love is seen. Below are pictures of The Lover’s card with Cupid with his bow and an arrow drawn back, ready to shoot from the Renaissance Tarot,  the Celtic Tarot and Crowley's Thoth Tarot which also has a fantastic shrouded figure blessing the couple. The Visconti Sforza, one of the oldest decks has the blind-folded Cupid prepared to throw an arrow.

Rennaisance Tarot
Celtic Tarot

Thoth Tarot
Visconti Sforza
‘Temperance’, card no XIV depicts Michael, the most powerful Archangel who led the celestial armies against the fallen angel Lucifer and defeated and threw him into Hell. The Temperance card brings a message of maintaining balance and equanamity for the querent. The angel is generally shown mixing water from two chalices, presumably one with hot and the other cold water, to get the perfect mix of the two, signifying balance and harmony or rather a lack of it in the querent’s life. In the Celtic deck the angel is St. Keyne, an early Celtic Saint. The red and black wings and the white and red liquid poured out by the Renaisance Temperance Angel highlights the blending of different and sometimes opposite energies and substances to obtain the ideal. 
Arthur Waite Tarot
Celtic Tarot
Rennaisance Tarot
Mythic Tarot

‘Judgement’, card no XX shows the majestic figure of Gabriel with his trumpet. He is the angel of Revelation, heralding the birth of Christ – hence the trumpet. He is also accredited with dictating the Koran to Mohammad. In the card he is blowing the trumpet to raise the dead from their coffins bringing to mind the Day of Judgement. It is not a card to be feared rather a clarion call for transformation and upliftment of our lives. The Visconte Sforza one of the oldest deck shows two small angels blowing the trumpet with a heavenly figure looking on.

Arthur Waite Tarot
Celtic Tarot
Rennaisance Tarot
Visconti Sforza

‘The Wheel of Fortune’, card no X has these winged figures in the four corners. These represent the four gospel writers of the New Testament Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel written by each marked the four phases of the life of Jesus. The wheel traditionally represents the cycles of time, birth and evolution. The surrounding cards suggest at which point of the wheel the querent is currently poised – the top, descending, the bottom or ascending – for all that goes down comes up and all that comes up goes down again – such is life.

Arthur Waite Tarot
Celtic Tarot
Rennaisance Tarot
Visconti Sforza

If you notice the winged and blind-folded female figure in the centre of the above card is the same as the one depicted in the Lover's card of the same deck. Here she apparently depicts Fortune. The four figures are symbolic of the ups and downs of fortune in a human life made clear by the lettering near the figures. The lettering near the top figure in the golden garment reads Regno -I reign; the lettering near the figure on the right in a red garment reads Regnavi - I reigned. The lettering near the old man at the bottom of the wheel reads Sum sine regno - I am without reign and that near the figure in green reads Regnabo - I shall reign.


  1. Is there a particular Tarot card that you associate with clear vision, insightfulness, or focus? Thanks!

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