The Eight-Circuit Tarot Deck I: Alchemy, Astrology, and Jung, Oh My!

As I mentioned before, I’ve had some pretty strong indications that Someone wants me to create a Tarot deck. Since I’ve been burning a lot of calories thinking about astrology, Jungian archetypes, and the eight-circuit model, it only makes sense to see what kind of deck would emerge from drawing together these structures with the symbolism of the Tarot.

narniatarotI recently finished reading Tarot Revelations by Joseph Campbell and Richard Roberts. Campbell wrote a relatively short introductory piece examining the symbolism in the Mersailles Tarot, which dates from the fourteenth century, while Roberts wrote the remainder of the book, which concentrates on the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. The book is very interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to learn a LOT about alchemy. One of Roberts’s primary theses is that the Tarot is an extended metaphor for the alchemical process. The alchemical transformation begins at Major Arcanum 15, The Devil, representing the most base metal — lead — and goes in reverse through the cards up to gold at Arcanum 0, The Fool, in the following sequence:

15: Devil Saturn lead
14: Temperance
13: Death
12: Hanged Man Jupiter tin
11: Justice (Strength)
10: Wheel of Fortune
9: Hermit Mars iron
8: Strength (Justice)
7: Chariot
6: Lovers Venus copper
5: Heirophant
4: Emperor
3: Empress Mercury mercury
2: High Priestess
1: Magician
16: Tower Moon silver
17: Star
18: Moon
19: Sun Sun gold
20: Judgement
21: World

Roberts’s alchemical thesis is made rather more interesting if one accepts the theory that the alchemy of the Middle Ages actually had nothing at all to do with changing lead into gold, but was really a covert Tantric discipline. Sex magic, it is claimed (see Robert Anton Wilson’s Email to the Universe), was imported to Europe via the Crusades or possibly even earlier. In that case, the Tarot is not the Western Book of the Dead (as Roberts claims), but the Western Kama Sutra. Given that modern playing cards derived from the Tarot, this hypothesis definitely puts card games in a whole new light.

Anyway. Where was I?

So I’ve spent several precious days of my life trying to shoehorn the Tarot into the eight-circuit model. It was remarkably easy, since I have already established links between the eight-circuit model and astrology, and Roberts gives the correspondence between the Tarot and astrology.

First, recall from above that each of the seven original astrological planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and the Sun) supposedly rules three of the Major Arcana. That gives a total of 21 cards. The 22nd card, the Fool, is not ruled by a planet; it is the void, the source and the destination.

Now, why should each planet rule THREE cards? Why not just one? Well, it so happens that each planet (except the Sun and Moon — we’ll get back to that) rules two astrological signs. Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo; Venus rules Taurus and Libra; and so forth. So perhaps the three cards are for (1) the planet itself, (2) sign #1, and (3) sign #2.

For example, Major Arcana 1, 2, and 3 are the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Empress; and these three should, by hypothesis, correspond to Mercury, Gemini, and Virgo. Is there any evidence that this is the case?

This post is already too long, so I’ll look at this question in the next one. (Hint: yes!)

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