The 22 Trumps or Major Arcana of the Tarot conjure potent archetypes, symbols of human experience that arise again and again across cultures: the old sage, the Fool , the Emperor-king, the mysterious Priestess and fecund Empress. The minor cards, otherwise known as ‘pips’ might be said to offer a symbolic view of ordinary human experiences over the course of a lifetime. By way of imagery and symbolism, the deck of cards as a whole draw together elements of mythic consciousness and the experiences of daily life.
Images that conjure relatable experiences and recognizable symbols resonate on a level subtler than language. Perhaps this is why the cards as a system of divination, or what I might call dream revelation, appeal to me as an artist. In dreams, images are often representative of dynamic energetic relationships. Thus, intelligently and purposefully crafted imagery that draws upon a well of archetypes can be used to help direct the visions of imagination.
As mentioned, the pips depict ordinary existence and yet allude to more subtle currents that lie beneath surface appearances. In her book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, author Rachel Pollack has singled out a handful of specific cards in the Rider-Wait tarot deck, (a deck wherein all 78 cards are illustrated) that are particularly powerful in this regard. These cards, she suggests, are particularly well-suited as gateways into the mind; they are catalysts and funnels for focused exploration. When contemplated, they introduce the possibility of entering deeply into a particular kind of awareness, a tone of experience that reaches farther than a conceptual or codified meaning. Their allegorical meanings are complex, sometimes contradictory and particularly elusive to traditional interpretation. These cards are a pathway between ordinary reality and the non-ordinary realm of the unconscious: the imagination and the unseen forces that direct the material world. In working with these images, language bounces off of intuition and two worlds–outer and inner perceptions–meet. Pollack tells her reader that it is possible to follow the literal and symbolic meanings inward until one arrives at the path of strangeness that stretches beyond them. Joining oneself to these images in mediation/locating experiential parallels within the imagery of the card is imperative to accessing this hidden landscape.
In the gold light of sunset, a subject looks out over the sea and three vessels. S/he is rooted between three rods/wands. Pollack describes this scene as the suggestion of the spirit of adventure and exploration. The boats signify potential and mobility upon the water: vast and deep, the hidden, the unexplored, vast reaches that span vast depths. The creative fire of wands longs for the fluidity of water, (realm of emotions, dreams, the ephemeral). Quiet yourself and focus on the image of this card. Allow the boats to carry you into unexplored places. Follow the golden light into the dark regions that stretch forth within your own head: into memory, into landscapes of the unexplored.
A moon eclipses the sun, (feminine yin joined with yang/movement) as a traveler with a staff and robed in red makes h/h way up a slope in the middling light, out of an archipelago of marshy bog-lands. In the foreground are eight cups, with a gap in the second tier that reveals the traveler's red-booted feet. To describe the symbolic interpretation of this card, Pollack writes: knowing the time to move on/to do what is needed to develop a deeper sense of self/ leaving a stable situation to venture into the unknown. This is a movement out of the vague realms of water into a higher ground of intellectual precision and abstraction: an understanding of the abstract principles of spiritual truth, (climbing up the hermit’s mountain).
The significance here is in the movement of the card, its suggestion of a pathway into the unnamed future. The traveler’s back is to the reader, (as it was in the 3 of Wands) suggesting a vision that is, as yet obscured. The subject turns h/h back on the marshes and climbs up a slope with h/h hermit’s staff. Focus on the image of this card and contemplate a withdrawal from outer engagements in order to seek greater self-awareness.
Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot
by Rachel Pollack