Tarot Talk

May 1st, 2014

This month, we will talk about the Major Arcana card called Judgement. If you haven’t read last month’s essay on Justice, please do so now. At the beginning of that essay, you will find a brief description of the Major Arcana, as well as a review of some terms, such as archetype, stereotype and epitome.

Each Major Arcana card contains many ingredients to aid in interpretation; besides the symbolism found in the traditional images associated with each card, a Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Because Judgement and Justice are so similar, it will be fun to compare the two as we learn about the Judgement card. Let’s start breaking down and comparing; we’ve got a lot of work to do!

Most decks represent Judgement with an image of an angel blowing a horn above a group of people. The heralding of an act of divine judgment through a trumpet call is certainly an event familiar to us all, and it is an effective image for this card. The Waite deck shows people standing in coffin-like boxes, symbolizing an after-death judgment, and yes, there is a Death card in the Tarot Major Arcana. The Witches Tarot card shows people leaping out of water; the element of Water can represent renewal or regeneration, the next step after Judgment is completed. If you remember, the traditional image on the Justice card is that of an armed woman holding scales and a sword; the symbolism attached to Justice is self-imposed discipline, restriction used as a tool of focus and awareness, justice applied with equality to all and with a balance of mercy and authority. Looking at these two cards is like looking at a verb and a noun; one (Judgement) shows an action, and the other (Justice) shows a thing or concept.

The traditional image associated with the Judgment card is connected to more than just Death mentioned above, and The Tower and its destruction that prepares for regeneration. If you look at the image on a traditional Judgement card, you will see in the background the mountains first seen or hinted at on The Fool, the ocean is the end of the river first seen or hinted at on The Empress, and Gabriel’s banner usually is the same color as The Magician’s robe.

Judgement is the number 20 of the Major Arcana, and 20 breaks down as 2 + 0 = 2. The Justice card in its traditional position is the number 11 of the Majors, and 11 breaks down as 1 + 1 = 2. Another connection between these two cards! The number 2 in the Tarot represents polarity and balance, as well as the concept of “distance between,” which is connected to dynamic balance.

The number 2 card of the Major Arcana is The High Priestess. The High Priestess represents knowledge of the cause that is behind action and reaction. The female authority figure of the Justice card weighs both cause and effect in her judgments; she takes the knowledge of The High Priestess to the next level, and manifests it. And the Judgement card represents that manifestation, with its valuing of what has come before and, after payment is presented (usually through achieving knowledge of the cause that is behind the action and reaction), liberation from those past events in order to begin again. More connections that help us to understand these two cards.

Not all archetypes symbolize people; the Judgement card is the archetype for three experiences that are common to all times and all cultures: Evaluation, Reward, and Completion. Thus the Judgement card can be seen to represent rites of passage that occur when we are held accountable for our past choices, decisions, and actions. It is only through being evaluated, and then receiving the fitting reward (whether pleasant or uncomfortable) that the events can finally be completed, the accounting books can be closed and put away, and a new cycle can begin. If you remember, the archetype of the Justice card is the Judge. The Judge is the authoritative figure who performs the Evaluation, distributes the Reward, and deems the cycle as Complete. The Judgement card also represents the archetypal concept of spiritual rebirth at the end of the world. It is a card of powerful transition, but that transition does no happen through the violence of The Tower or the fear associated with Death.

Judgement corresponds with Fire, which is spontaneous and impulsive, and connected to energetic change. Fire is an active element that represents ideas, ambition, passion, and action aligned with Divine will. Fire is hot and it separates, it is dry and it shapes; it can offer a spiritual Aha! Moment, or it can feed the ego to obesity, and the Judgement card asks us to account for both. Fire is also about purification; Fire destroys and Fire creates, and a trial by Fire may not be fun, but it is beneficial in the end because it enables us to resolve issues, and release them. Justice corresponds with the element of Air, and Air is one of the things Fire needs in order to exist. Thus, Judgement cannot exist without Justice.

The Judgement card corresponds with the planet Pluto in astrology, and with power, metamorphosis, and cycles of dying and becoming. In Roman mythology, Pluto is the god of the underworld and of wealth. Pluto’s “icon” is the alchemy symbol, representing spirit over mind, transcending matter. Pluto represents the part of a person that destroys in order to renew, through bringing buried or repressed needs and drives to the surface and expressing them, even at the expense of the existing order. A commonly used keyword for Pluto is “transformation.” It is associated with personal mastery, and the need to cooperate and share with another, in order that no one is destroyed. Pluto governs big business and wealth, mining, surgery and detective work, and any enterprise that involves digging under the surface to bring the truth to light.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected in some way to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter.

The Judgement card corresponds with Shin, the fang or tooth, the twenty-first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The letter Shin connects directly with the element of Fire, and is also active and expansive. Its shape reflects three raised flames in the shape of three Vaus (the Hebrew letter Vau, the nail, joins or holds in place), representing the three qualities of Shin: the Od or the active force of life, the Ob or the passive force of life, and the Aur or the balancing force of life. The fang or tooth represents taking in or receiving, and chewing in order to digest, and of course, this can be on a more mundane level; however since Shin is a letter that expresses itself on a cosmic level, this taking in, digesting and absorbing is most likely on a more broad-reaching level.

On the Tree of Life, Judgement represents the 31st Path (one of the Paths that is considered a step of initiation) between Malkuth (the physical world of action and physical, outer reality) and Hod (which provides analysis and communication). The 31st Path is the Path of Perpetual Intelligence, of psychic development, and of former incarnations which have offered us evolution and brought us to where we are in this life, and it teaches us how to use the knowledge of how we got here to this “now” in order to move forward. And here is a piece of interesting and unrelated trivia for you Trekkies out there: the Vulcan salute (the “live long and prosper” mudra) is directly related to the Hebrew letter Shin!

The rebirth promised in the Judgement card doesn’t happen through destroying or discarding things, but rather through integrating things. Judgement allows us to move forward, but this card also reminds us to not forget the past; instead, we should learn from it. Judgement is about making amends, and it is about forgiving; it tells of reaching conclusions, getting off the fence, ad seeing everything in a new light. It reminds us of the importance of hindsight, it encourages us to reap what has been sown, and it underscores the benefits focusing on what is gained instead of what is lost.

When reversed, the Judgement card is reminding us that while someone else is doing the tallying of our score card, we are the ones who have the final choice so we should not allow circumstances to blind us to the consequences of our actions. A reversed Judgement card can also be about feeling guilty or blaming others, it can be about death or endings without a chance for a new beginning. It can tell of failing to be merciful or forgiving with yourself or with others, or staying stuck in hate or regret, and it warns of the danger of focusing on what is lost instead of what is gained.

Judgement to me is like getting the bill at the end of a dinner at a fine restaurant. You have been given the meal you ordered, and now you have to pay for it. Judgement also has a liberating effect, because once we pay the bill, we are free of debt. Judgement brings resolution, and Judgement brings Justice.

These two cards really are connected, aren’t they? Next month we will enter the world of Court Cards and talk about one of my favorites, the Queen of Pentacles.

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