Tarot Symbolism

Each of the 78 scenic images of the RWS  (Rider Waite Smith) Tarot deck contain a number of symbols. When familiar with their meanings and possible interpretations, it is easier to “read” and interpret the cards.

Major Arcana Symbols:

 

0 – The Fool

White rose in hand – the soul, the heart, love. White = purity, innocence

Bundle on stick – provisions, potential, possessions (not much = flexible, light, independent). Stick = wand

Sun/Sky – blue, sunny, warm; the right time to travel, make a move

Mountains – obstacles, problems, difficulties in the far distance

Cliff – pitfall

Dog – instinct, spirit guide, warning from the intellect or playfulness

Orange – zest for life, energy

Yellow – Air, thoughts

Eagle’s head on bag – soaring spirit

Fool’s Posture – open, receptive, trusting, happy-go-lucky,  facing left (yin, feminine, unconscious)

1 – The Magician

Lemniscate above his head – symbol of eternity;  infinite potential, connection with universal principles

Red/White clothing – Alchemy; alchemical process catalyst for change

Red roses – passion

White lilies – purity, higher spirit

Objects on the table – 4 elements (4 Minor Arcana suits); possibilities, choices, potential

Garden – nature’s sacred space; emotional and creative power

Magician’s Posture – As above so below; making something real; manifesting spirit force by connecting heaven and earth.

Wand – lightning rod; energy

2 – The High Priestess

White gown – purity

Headdress – three aspects of the moon (symbol of the Egyptian goddess Isis)

Equal-armed cross – uniting masculine and feminine powers

High Priestess’s Posture – right hand of power is hidden; left hand holding the Tora, Jewish book of law/5 books of Moses

Veil – something hidden, the unconscious/hidden knowledge

Water behind the veil – unconscious, intuition, mysteries

Pomegranates on veil – fruit of the Underworld, a connection to the myth of Persephone, who spent a third of her life in the Underworld with Hades, because she ate the seeds of the Pomegranate

Palm trees – ability to create through action (fanning), masculine, assertive energy

Columns – entrance to King Solomon’s Temple of Wisdom, Hebrew temple in Jerusalem

B and J – Boaz and Jakin, names of the two  main pillars of King Solomon’s temple

Black and white – opposites, night and day, yin and yang

Lunar crescent –  beginning of esoteric cycle

3 – The Empress

Empress’s Posture – comfort, luxury

Sceptre in right hand – taking the lead, creatrive energy

Gown – pomegranates; link with High Priestess, two aspects of the feminine

Headdress – 12 stars of the zodiac

Shield – heart-shaped, gentleness, passion; symbol for Venus, Goddess of love and beauty

Trees – growth, wisdom

River – feelings, nurture, emotions, life force, change

Corn – Fruitfulness, fertility

Red – passion, love

Yellow – gold, the sun

4 – The Emperor

Emperor’s posture – sitting straight, full-face image, confident, decisive, focused

Clothing – red cloth over armour, protection; ram shield symbolising Zodiac sign Aries

Red and white – in crown, white beard, red cloak: alchemy

Sceptre in right hand – yang (ankh, symbol of life)

Orb in left hand – yin

Sceptre and orb – two contrasting elements, balance

Ram – Aries, assertive power,  force, Aries rules the head, 1st sign of the Zodiac: new life

Background – bare, desolate mountains – limitations, water – little emotions

Stone throne – long-lasting, rigid

Red – colour of Aries, Mars

Yellow – Sun

 

To be continued….

 

 

The Tarot Garden – Symbolism of Plants

 

Symbolism of Plants in the Tarot

In Tarot, plants are powerful symbols carrying meaning and purpose. They evoke ideas, images and visions. The following list of plants suggests symbolic meanings, and it is up to the reader how to interpret these meanings in individual readings.

Acorn, see Oak
Apple

Sacred fruit of Aphrodite/Venus symbolising sexual desire and fertility. When sliced horizontally, its seeds resemble a pentacle. In Celtic mythology, the apple tree is a symbol of plenty, for choice and a door into greater mysteries. It is one of the three legendary magical fruits (hazel, apple, oak). Symbol of love, faith, generosity and gratitude. It can be found on the RWS Lovers card behind the nude female. The snake in the apple tree links the card with the story of Adam and Eve, suggesting paradise and its forthcoming demise.

Beech

Symbol of beauty and ancient wisdom, prosperity and divination. The beech tree is a symbol for the written word; it was once used to make writing tablets. In Celtic mythology, the beech tree is associated with all gods of wisdom and learning and the human intellect. The wood and leaves were carried as a talisman to increase creative powers.

Birch

Symbol of new beginnings, birth, springtime, young love; renewal and cleansing; new directions and goals. A birch forest appears on the Death card of the Robin Wood deck.

Corn

Cornfields symbolise the potential for cultivation, the need for labour, attention and care in order to achieve material success. A person standing in a cornfield suggests a down-to-earth mentality and  a connection with the Earth element or its energy.

Cypress

The cypress comprises the forest in the background of the Empress in the RWS deck. It is sacred to Venus and Artemis and suggests fertility. Also sacred to the gods of the underworld, Hades and Pluto, it can represent anything developing in darkness, e.g. the unconscious.

Evergreen

Symbolises continuous giving and support, nurture and stability. See also cypress, ivy, palm, pine.

Grain

Symbolises the cycle of life, harvest and new seed. Fertility, nourishment, creative abundance, spiritual maturity. Found on the Empress card of the RWS deck and in the suit of Pentacles.

Grapevine

Grapes represent inspiration and truth (as a result from drinking wine, when inhibitions are released). Also symbolising abundance, fruitfulness and achievement. The vine’s symbolic meaning in the Old Testament is as an emblem of God’s blessing on his chosen people. Grapes appear on Crowley’s Fool suggesting ‘sweetness of life, intoxication’ (Banzhaf/Theler).

Iris

The flower represents the goddess Iris, who was the Greek messenger of the gods. She is also associated with the rainbow, which represents the pathway by which she travelled. Both the flower and the rainbow symbolise her qualities as a divine messenger. The flower can be found on the RWS Temperance card.

Ivy

Entwining ivy is a symbol of romantic desolation; it was associated with death in the 18th century Gothic revival and a symbol of melancholy. Ivy was an essential complement to any ruined building. Its entwining habit represents the movement of the stars and planets and the understanding of their influence on the affairs of humankind. Ivy symbolises the Spirit, search for enlightenment, a warning (Ivy ale was a highly intoxicating medieval drink), binding and restricting, freeing and uniting. It is closely connected with the vine.

Laurel

A laurel wreath was used as a crown of victory or accomplishment for athletes, poets and musicians in ancient Greece. It was associated with the Greek god Apollo. The Fool in the RWS deck wears a laurel wreath, which symbolises his victorious spirit. The charioteer on the Chariot card of the RWS wears a laurel wreath and so does the victorious rider on the Six of Wands.

Lily/water lilies

The white lily symbolises purity, chastity, innocence and also higher spirit.  The three-sided fleur-de-lis (triple lily) is a heraldic symbol of illumination. Water lilies are the Golden dawn’s elemental symbol for water.  They float on the water of the RWS Ace of Cups. Golden lilies appear on the Emperor card of Crowley’s Thoth deck as an attribute of power.

Lotus blossom

The lotus blossom represents the four elements: the earth from which the plant grows, the water supporting its stalk, air into which its perfume escapes and the fire of the sun, which provides energy for it to grow. The lotus represents the soul or psyche rising from the unconscious (the bottom of its watery source) into the clarity of consciousness and enlightenment. Lotuses feature on all the Cup cards of Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (except the Seven and the Knight) as well as the Empress (the Lotus sceptre, representing feminine creativity and life force) and the Devil (wearing a lotus garland as a sign that the bearer is ‘a child of good’ – Banzhaf/Theler).

Mushrooms

Good fortunes, longevity, immortality; also rapid growth and destruction (mushroom cloud). Can also represent restlessness and change (Robin Wood Moon card).

Myrtle

The RWS Empress wears a myrtle wreath, which is associated with female fertility, the forces of nature and also immortality. Myrtle is sacred to Venus. It was a Greek emblem of happiness, often used in marriage and childbirth rituals.

Oak

Celtic symbol for protection and strength; sacred tree of Heracles/Hercules and Jupiter/Zeus; sacred tree of Norse god Thor; acorns are symbols of fertility and spiritual growth. The oak represents courage, endurance and the protective power of faith. In some Tarot decks the Hanged Man hangs from an oak tree. The qualities of the suit of Pentacles is symbolised by oak leaves.

Olive tree

A sacred tree for many cultures, it is associated with light and enlightenment as the oil was used as a lamp fuel in ancient times. In Islamic tradition, the olive tree represents the world tree or world axis. In Judeo-Christian tradition, a dove brought an olive branch to Noah as a message that the flood was over.The olive tree symbolises peace, fruitfulness, purification and wisdom. A branch appears on the RWS Ace of Swords.

Palm Tree

The palm tree, with its solar-like spread of the strong leaves, was associated with victory in Roman times.  Victorious gladiators would be awarded with palm fronds due to the size and evergreen habit, which suggests longevity. The palm tree and its leaves signify masculinity and assertiveness. A palm branch hangs from the RWS Ace of Swords.

Pine

In Greek mythology the pine tree was sacred to Artemis, the moon goddess who presided over childbirth; also associated with gods of wine like Dionysus and Bacchus. Pine cones were used in fertility rites and the pollen was used in money spells. Pine resin was burned to clear negative energies, which could also be done by scattering pine needles around. Its height (taller than most other trees) symbolises foresight, objectivity and overview. Also suggests nature, fertility and life force.

Pomegranate

Symbolises fertility, new possibilities, ‘new birth’ symbol; creative, receptive and feminine energy. Seen on the veil behind the RWS High Priestess.

Rose

Roses symbolise beauty and perfection; they are often associated with the pentagram because of its five-petal structure. Roses that are clearly depicted with five petals relate to the five senses and the inner five-pointed star of the apple; in horticulture, the rose is linked with the apple, which is also a member of the rose family. Roses in Tarot decks are mainly red or white. Red signifies passion and desire (not necessarily sexually); white roses can indicate spirit, soul and abstract thought. A five-pointed white rose can be found on Death’s banner in the RWS deck, signifying the Mystic Rose of life. Red roses appear on the RWS Nine of Swords as a symbol of the heart and strong emotions. The red roses on Crowley’s Star symbolise love and fertility.

Sunflower

Sunflowers are symbols of devotion and steadfastness, as their flower heads follow the sun during the day. They appear on the RWS Sun and the Queen of Wands.

Tiger lilies

In the Seven of Cups of Crowley’s Thoth deck, the lotus blossoms, which appear on all other Cup cards of the deck, have turned into tiger lilies, dropping their poisonous nectar into the chalices symbolising ‘deceptive, sinister seduction’ (Banzhaf/Theler).

Wheat

Wheat represents the entire cycle of nature: death, rebirth, resurrection. It suggests nurturing, abundance and fertility. Psychologically, wheat tied together symbolises the integration of inner opposites, the conscious and the unconscious.

Further Reading:

Ruth Ann & Wald Amberstone: Secret Language Of Tarot [Paperback]

For more valuable Tarot tips, free resources and inspiration, request my freebies folder packed with Tarot goodies, and join me on this magickal journey. 

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Colour Symbolism

Colour SymbolismWhen I researched colour symbolism in Tarot, I came across information about how colour is perceived in different cultures. I realised that my perception of colours are based on the Western culture I have grown up in, whereas people from different backgrounds will link colours with different meanings. For example, in western culture the colour ‘white’ is associated with weddings, purity and innocence, but in Eastern cultures such as India and Japan it is linked with funerals and death.

Therefore, in the following table I have included not only my personal ‘western’ perception (including the correspondences of the Golden Dawn), but also the meanings of colours in different cultures.

However, when interpreting the cards, you need to establish your own view on colours, which thoughts and feelings they evoke in you, so you may disagree with some of the meanings suggested below. But that’s fine, because remember that there is no right or wrong; it’s all about your intuition.

When you look at a card in more detail and study its colours, you may find that some colours stand out at different times. That’s when you can pay attention to your understanding of the colour’s meaning and perhaps hidden message.

Watch out for shades and hues; lighter colours may be associated with the conscious mind, darker colours with the unconscious. Opposite colours indicate contrast. Complimentary colours in juxtaposition may suggest balance.

Colour Western Tradition Other Traditions
Black the unknown, mystery, hidden things, darkness, fear, death, funerals, emptiness, lack of insight China: Colour for young boys
Blue Spirituality, healing, depression, sadness, cold; colour of the fifth (throat) chakra; water; sky.Ruling planet: Moon. The suit of Cups. Iran: Colour of heaven and spirituality
Indigo (Blue-Violet) Intuition, creative insight, clairvoyance, psychic sensitivity, mystery, dream work; colour of the sixth (brow) chakra. Ruling Planet: Saturn
Gold Masculine energy, luxury, success, material value, the sun, illumination
Green Growth, vitality, nature, harmony, healing, Spring; colour of the fourth (heart) chakra, which can also be pink. Ruling Planet: Venus. The suit of Pentacles. China: Green hats indicate a man’s wife is cheating on him; exorcism

India: Islam

Ireland: Symbol of the entire country

Grey Sadness, dreariness, cold, gloom; neutrality, integration, balance of opposites (a mix of black & white)
Orange Energy, zest, vitality, fire, warmth, confidence, creativity; colour of the second (sacral) chakra. Planet: Sun. Ireland: Religious (Protestants)
Pink Love, friendship, femininity; colour of the fourth (heart) chakra, which can also be green
Purple Wisdom, spirituality, power, healing, Royalty; colour of the seventh (crown) chakra.Ruling planet: Jupiter Thailand: Colour of mourning (widows)
Red Passion, courage, life, excitement, danger, blood; willpower; colour of the root chakraRuling planet: Mars. The suit of Wands. China: Good luck, celebration, summoning

India: Purity

South Africa: Colour of mourning

Eastern: Worn by brides

Silver Feminine energy, the moon, spirituality
White Purity, innocence, peace (white dove); truth, light Japan: White carnation symbolizes death

Eastern: Funerals

Yellow Joy, vitality, health, rejuvenation, hope, summer, warmth; colour of the third (solar plexus) chakra. Ruling Planet: Mercury. The suit of Swords. China: Nourishing

Egypt: Colour of mourning

Japan: Courage

India: Merchants

The Major Arcana cards are also associated with specific colours according to their ruling planet or zodiac sign:

Colour Planet Trump
Red Mars Tower
Orange Sun Sun
Yellow Mercury Magician
Green Venus Empress
Blue Moon High Priestess
Indigo Saturn World
Violet Jupiter Wheel of Fortune
Colour Zodiac Trump
Red Aries Emperor
Coral Taurus Hierophant
Orange Gemini Lovers
Gold Cancer Chariot
Yellow Leo Strength
Olive Virgo Hermit
Green Libra Justice
Turquoise Scorpio Death
Blue Sagittarius Temperance
Indigo Capricorn Devil
Violet Aquarius Star
Magenta Pisces Moon

These are all Golden Dawn correspondences; useful if you work with the RWS (Rider Waite Smith), Crowley’s Thoth or the B.O.T.A. deck.

Further Reading:

Angela Wright: The Beginner’s Guide to Colour Psychology

Sandra  A. Thomson : Pictures from the Heart – A Tarot Dictionary

Israel Regardie, Robert Wang: Golden Dawn Tarot Deck [Cards]

 

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