Let’s be honest, there are some pretty sketchy looking cards in the Tarot. The names attached to the cards are largely symbolic, and so therefore misunderstandings often arise. In this article, I’m going to list some of the most commonly misunderstood cards of the Major Arcana, and break down some of the stigmas and preconceived notions people often attach to these cards.
The Major Arcana shows us the larger, archetypal vibrations which oversee and influence what the Minor Arcana cards are doing, I’m going to list only these archetypes. An archetype is an agreed and collective unconscious universal principle on which we all agree. Due to the complex symbolism of these archetypes, I feel this is why they are often misunderstood, or given a bad rep. It’s important to note that there aren’t any completely ‘negative’ cards in Tarot, only negative aspects, depending on how certain cards are communicating with each other in the spread and in relation to the question.
The Lovers – 6
It would be fair to assume that love is undoubtedly on the horizon when this card is drawn, however this is not always the case. The 2 of Cups from the Minor Arcana is far more indicative of a relationship or friendship.
The Lovers’ core message is about choice. When this card is drawn for you, it could mean that you are torn between two lovers, and must choose who you want to be in a relationship with. Further to that, this card is often linked to love triangles and in some cases, even break-ups. Ruled by Gemini, the Lovers embody the themes of duality and communication. Honest, open conversations about love and how we handle it, expressed with compassion, is the message the Lovers want us to understand.
The Hermit – 9
When people imagine a hermit, they imagine someone with agoraphobia, a shut-in or recluse who has withdrawn from society. Although the Hermit card does represent solitude and withdrawal, this is usually only temporary.
The Hermit suggests spending time alone for quiet contemplation, seeking wisdom and understanding, or even going away on a spiritual quest for knowledge.
The Hermit is a guide. He is drawn when we need to reassess. He does this with discernment, and critical thinking. He can be a fault-finder, someone who seeks truth in order to always be the best version of himself. He understands that solitude and quietness are often necessary to achieve this.
The Hermit has much knowledge, and sometimes it become burdensome. He is secretive, and so he can therefore indicate that you or someone in your life is burdened by a secret, and may have withdrawn for this reason, for fear of revealing it. People represented by this card are often quiet, introspective, shy, critical, nervous, and/or may have Virgo present in their natal chart.
The Hanged Man – 12
The image and idea of a hanging man is an uncomfortable one to say the least! But when we investigate the symbolism it doesn’t take long to realise that the Hanged Man is suspended by his foot, and very much alive. This isn’t implying a fatal hanging, but rather a suspension, or ‘hanging around’. This can describe someone who is bored or unsatisfied with life, someone who craves an alternative option or lifestyle. The Hanged Man can also describe someone who is stuck in limbo and unable to move forward.
This card represents a hiatus, a period of waiting or even stagnating. It’s also about adopting a new perspective, like the Hanged Man, whose perception of the world has completely flipped in comparison to the ‘upright’ people! He is a non-conformist, he has swapped the conventional way of life in favour of a new set of priorities. For this reason, this card can also represent sacrifice, letting go of the old to allow room for a new, enlightened perspective, and for new people and experiences. The paradoxical nature of this card suggests that letting go of your desires makes it more likely you’ll see them manifest.
Death – 13
People are often surprised when they ask me which Tarot card is my favourite, and I chirpily reply, “The Death card!” Eyes widen and brows furrow, so I then feel the need to explain that the Death card doesn’t describe literal death, and in my own experience, I have drawn this card for a literal death only once. It was more the transformational aspect which effected the client as a result of the death that this card was describing.
When there is death, there is life. Death is not the end, it is also the beginning. Change is a natural part of life; in fact, we can’t contemplate life without it. The endings which Death describes can be shocking or unexpected, and you can pretty much guarantee they will be permanent. There is no going back, just as there is no going back with any literal death. Embracing change rather than resisting it promises to open us up to a greater acceptance and understanding of the cyclic nature of life.
The Devil – 15
The Devil is a symbol for our carnal desires, that which we experience purely through the flesh and through the senses. He is not spiritually motivated; he is expressed as lust, greed and an abuse of power. The Devil appears in layouts when we have bondage in our lives. This could be bondage to a person, a substance, or anything which keeps a person trapped and vulnerable. The Devil is a trickster, a liar and a tempter; he will blind with illusion and glamour. He draws you in with false promises, and his only motivation for keeping you hooked and trapped in bondage is so that you can be controlled and manipulated.
This card is therefore drawn to describe unhealthy, obsessive relationships where there is often an element of addiction involved; this card can also describe affairs, lust and primal urges. When in the clutches of the Devil we find it harder to be rational and make sound decisions. He is a familiar archetype, but is only as powerful and influential as he is allowed to be. Once your eyes are open and the veil is lifted, you begin to release the chains of bondage and reclaim yourself.
The Tower – 16
This is a pretty bleak and startling scene in most Tarot decks. Under a dark, lightening streaked sky a tower is burning and crashing to the ground. The structure is destined to tumble, yet the foundations upon which it is built remain solid and strong. Two people have either fallen or flung themselves from the blazing building, only to plummet towards rocks and water.
The Tower appears when sudden and unexpected changes bring chaos into our lives, usually from an external source. This is powerful, transformative energy. It jolts us towards change, whether we like it or not, and the symbolic destruction of the tower represents the shattering of the security we had built up around ourselves. Remember that the foundations have survived, which is the positive aspect of this card. It shows that we can rebuild and re-establish, forging something better and stronger than before.
The Tower is often drawn when secrets and revelations come out, too. This is the surprise element again, and the implementation of change as a result of these revelations. These changes can be liberating, and make you see how trapped you were before the walls came crumbling down!
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