Literal Tarot: What’s in a Name?

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about regarding the Major Arcana.  How often can we interpret the cards literally, based on their names?

For the tarot deprived, the term “Major Arcana” refers to the twenty-two trump cards of tarot.  These cards carry the deepest spiritual messages.  Major Arcana cards have names as well as numbers.  Their names include The Magician, The Chariot, The Star, The Devil and The Fool, as well as Justice, Judgment and Death.

It is typical for tarot beginners to assume that the name of the card IS its interpretation.  Quickly we learn, though, that the Death card doesn’t predict a physical death, and that the Fool card doesn’t necessarily mean you are being foolish.

Sometimes, though, the card name does give us a clue about the card’s possible meaning.  For instance, the Justice card can indicate justice being done, or the need to seek justice.  Temperance can indicate the need for tempering.  The Magician can indicate the power to change one’s circumstances, perhaps by the use of magick.

Some of the card titles clearly should not be taken literally.  Card 12, the Hanged Man, for instance, does not tell one to hang upside down by one’s feet…but what if it did?  Could the Hanged Man ever suggest the use of an inversion table, for instance?

Card 10, the Wheel of Fortune, does not encourage one to watch a cheesy game show on television…or does it?

One of the great things about tarot is that it can be both mudane and spiritual at the same time.  Tarot encourages deep introspection and light humor all at once.  Sometimes taking a literal look at card names can make us laugh.  Sometimes, though, it can make us think.  The World card can say “What in the world do you want to do now?” and empower you to do it.

Sometime the Hermit card may come up for someone who is indeed a recluse.  The High Priestess card might come up for Beyonce because she is the “High Priestess of Hip-Hop.”

One of the cards I wonder about in this regard is Card 20, Judgment.  For me, the Judgment card is about closure, the final analysis and rebirth.  It can represent finding your calling, or hearing the voice of the angels.  Rarely do I see it as a decision, and never do I see it as being judgmental.  If I really think about it, though, I could see the possibility that the Judgment card could refer to these things.

If we limit our understanding of a Major Arcana card simply to the word printed on the card, our interpretations will suffer, and we will miss the depth that the Major Arcana cards have to offer.

But if we play with the card names a bit, we may find new possibilities for interpretations both mundane and spiritual that we had not before considered.