Tarot and Astrology: Convergence or Collision?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was already a natal astrologer of the “psychological” school and had been for a couple of years before I began pursuing tarot study and practice in a systematic (primarily esoteric) way. So I have an abiding appreciation for astrological principles even though I no longer fully adhere to the psychological approach and have moved on into predictive techniques.

The suitability and advisability of blending tarot and astrology in divination has often been debated in the online tarot community. One opinion holds that they are two separate, entirely independent systems and merging them does justice to neither one. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the belief that we should use every available arrow in our interpretive quiver and astrology is just one more useful option. My personal position is that, while I’m not going to confuse my clients with astrological jargon related to the cards in a reading, I most certainly will apply the correspondences in my comprehensive analysis of the layout, at least to the extent that they add value by filling in any holes in the narrative. Then I will offer the sitter an “expurgated” version of my thoughts as appropriate to the situation.

Not all of the elemental, zodiacal and planetary associations developed by the 19th-Cerntury architects of this concept are perfectly sound in my estimation, but for the most part they are sufficiently workable to add “color” to almost any scenario. Take, for example, the Empress. She was sometimes given a role in chivalrous legend as the capable consort of the Emperor who managed the home front as regent when the “boss” went off to war (that was before the battle-hardened Emperors became “soft” figureheads and stayed far away from combat). Overlaying the genteel influence of Venus on this card produces the gracious, comfortable, fertile, fortunate and creative symbol we know her as today. Aggressive (and often belligerent) Mars could not be any more well-suited to the Tower; the astrological Sun as the inspiration for the tarot Sun is a given; clever Mercury standing behind the multi-talented Magician is equally obvious; and Aries as the Emperor’s motif is also a “no-brainer.” These qualities can easily be brought to bear on the cards that appear in a spread, and such embellishment can add a good deal to the interpretation as long as it is treated as supplemental to the main thrust.

The court cards are emblematic of the classical elements assigned to their rank: the Kings (mounted Knights in Golden-Dawn-based decks) are “fiery” in nature; the Queens are “watery;” the Knights (Golden Dawn Princes) are “airy” and the Pages (Golden Dawn Princesses) are “earthy. Together with the element of their suit they form a convergence of forces that defines their celestial signature. The four Kings are “Fire of Fire, Water, Air and Earth,” respectively, the Queens are “Water of Fire, Water, Air and Earth,” and so on through the rest of the courts. As can be imagined, a doubling-up of the rank-and-suit element makes for a potent combination. The King of Wands is a commanding presence; the Queen of Cups is the soul of patient kindness; the Knight of Swords is quick-witted and highly mobile; and the Page of Pentacles is the unobtrusive “fixer” who knows how to get things done.

Each of the minor cards is connected to one of the 36 Chaldean decanates or “decans” by planet and sign. The Twos, Threes and Fours are related to the Cardinal signs; the Five, Sixes and Sevens to the Fixed signs; and the Eight, Nines and Tens to the Mutable signs. The planetary links run in series, beginning with Mars at zero degrees of Aries and proceeding in ten-degree increments to Jupiter at zero-to-ten degrees of Gemini, after which they repeat four more times around the wheel in the order Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn and Jupiter. The Aces each occupy a quarter of the zodiac, with Wands centered on the Northwest quadrant, Cups on the Southwest quadrant, Swords on the Southeast quadrant, and Pentacles (or Disks) on the Northeast quadrant. Each division includes one Cardinal, one Fixed and one Mutable sign; significantly, the central sign in each quadrant is a Fixed expression that “anchors” the Ace of the same element to the zodiacal wheel. (See the graphics below.)

The only oddity in this scheme is that there are 36 decans but only five arrangements of the seven classical planets, enough to fill just 35 of the “slots.” The solution was to give Mars the last decan of the Southeast quadrant and the first decan of the Northeast quadrant, thus bracketing the Aries-rising “natural” Ascendant. This seemingly arbitrary decision was based on the idea that ebullient Mars energy “bursts forth” on the Spring Equinox and therefore deserves to “double-dip.” (It’s the kind of makeshift stopgap measure the computer programmers used to call a “kluge,” which was a software or hardware configuration that, while inelegant, inefficient, clumsy, or patched together, succeeds in solving a specific problem or performing a particular task.)

In practical terms we might think of a card as taking on the coloration of its astrological complement. According to standard interpretation, the 2 of Cups is generally considered a benevolent card, but “dressing it up” in the salutary characteristics of Venus in Cancer, along with the like-minded energies of the Moon as ruler of Cancer and Jupiter exalted therein, brings it to a whole new level of charm. By the same token, the nasty 9 of Swords wields the ruthless mental stratagems of Mars in Gemini, abetted by dispassionate Mercury in its own sign, giving it an uncompromising, razor-edged severity that Aleister Crowley titled “Cruelty.” As we can see in these examples, the astrological emphasis will amplify the customary meaning of a card for better or worse. The beauty of this technique is that the savvy reader will almost never be at a loss for something meaningful to say.


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