Death | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Keywords for Death 

TRANSFORMATIONMETAMORPHOSIS
CHANGERELEASE
EVOLUTIONTRANSMUTATION
LETTING GOREBIRTH
RELEASING THE PASTNEW POTENTIAL

In the image on the card, we enter upon a gray, gloomy morning scene. Although we can see the sun rising in the east between two towers, it still remains an overcast, cloudy, and desolate looking day.

Upon a snow white horse with blood red eyes, Death comes riding in. In contrast, this skeletal figure wears a suit of armor colored entirely black. In his dry, bony left hand, he bears his standard: a black flag with one single, white five-petaled rose printed upon it. 

He is not the only figure on the scene, however. There are four others who share the stage with him.

First, there is the king, the first victim to be taken by death’s hand. He lies face up on his back, completely vanquished by the incontestable power of death’s command. He symbolizes the conscious mind, as well as the ego. His total surrender unto death speaks of how the ego fares when coming up against change. It tends to interpret any challenge to its stability, any potential for evolution, as a death sentence for the power and control it is so focused on maintaining. 

Next, we can look to the figure of the maiden. She is on her knees, kneeling slumped over, as if asleep. Like many female figures in the tarot, she represents the subconscious mind, as well as our emotions. It is interesting to note that she appears to be the same woman depicted on an earlier card, Strength. This would refer more specifically to the life-force energy, the desire nature as expressed in the force of kundalini which courses through our bodies. 

Between the king and the maiden, we see a young boy. He does not fear, and neither does he surrender. Instead, he holds a small bouquet of flowers up towards Death in both hands. He knows not, and so fears not, the tremendous power of death to put an end to all. 

And so he greets him with a sincere expression of acceptance and welcome. Unlike the two people before him, his ego has not had a chance to fully develop; he has not yet developed the rigid defenses, habit patterns, and attachments that his counterparts have in some measure fallen victim to. 

By far, the strangest figure is the last one: it is clearly none other than the pope, “father” and head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is draped in an extravagant golden robe, one made of the most extravagant and costly fabric, and embroidered with various symbols of his faith.

Beneath his equally costly gold mitre, we can see his visibly red cheeks blushing, indicating an extreme state of excitement—or is it fear? We see him hold his hands up in prayer, and he stares directly into the hollow eye sockets of the black horseman in front of him, all with a seeming attitude of intense supplication.

Perhaps it is simply that he anxiously awaits the promised land of heaven he has so adamantly assured us all is our reward for compliance to earthly authority. However, it seems quite possible that there are more complex meanings regarding religious authority, power, transformation and death that A. E. Waite sought to provoke in the unusual depiction of the pontiff seen here.

Interpretation of Death in a Reading

When the Death card comes up in a reading, it most often indicates an experience of transformation and change. 

Among it’s positive significations, this card can mean getting rid of old possessions, clearing away old habits, and discarding what no longer serves us. It can signal a willingness to step into new ways of being in the world that are more truly aligned with who we are.

However, although there are surprisingly many positive applications of the Death card in a reading, the truth is that many still fear it. And it is not without good reason: this card can also mean loss, disappointment, and letting go of what we once held dear. In certain contexts, it can mean the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or disconnection from friends we once cared deeply for. 

Most often, we find that these are situations that have long since outlived their usefulness. The Death card signals a natural end to an existence which has run its course. 

It marks the dissolution of a system which is no longer useful or adequately functional. The energy thus liberated from the strictures of old forms can then be harnessed and utilized in service of what is to take shape next.

We tend to experience this process as painful because of our attachment to the past. However, we can choose instead to have faith in the natural order of things, and to trust that we must die to the past if we are to be born to the new.

The Hanged Man | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Keywords for The Hanged Man 

SURRENDERREVERSAL
LETTING GOSUSPENSION
GIVING UP CONTROLWAITING PERIOD
ACCEPTANCESACRIFICE
INVERSIONRENUNCIATION

In the image on this card, we see a man hanging upside down by one foot, arms tied behind his back, in a state of total suspension. He hangs from a Tau cross, made of still living tree trunks. In this, he is similar to Odin, the god of Norse mythology, who was once hung from Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, in order that he might have access to greater wisdom and spiritual knowledge. 

The same is likely true of our Hanged Man. In fact, he does not appear to be suffering in his suspension; rather, his face, surrounded by the soft, powerful golden glow of enlightenment, carries an expression of great peace and even contentment.

Here, the Hanged Man is in a state of total surrender. He fully accepts where he is, and struggles not against his fate.

For the moment, he has renounced all active participation in any outer, worldly affairs—he chooses instead to go within. 

His energy and attention is concentrated on pursuing his own need for meaning. This is a process which only he can undertake for himself. This quest for truth is an interior one, a sacred journey possessing no map, as the road is one which is paved with each passing step.

Interpretation of the The Hanged Man in a Reading

When the Hanged Man comes up in a tarot reading, it often refers to a situation characterized by letting go of something. It is one where, either by choice or by force, we give up our typical ego-driven need to control, and allow ourselves to surrender to that which is greater or more powerful than ourselves.

It can also indicate having reached a point where we may feel a bit stagnant or stuck. We might find ourselves unable to move forward, and have no other option than to wait and watch for further developments.

This card is also associated with themes of sacrifice and renunciation. However, when the Hanged Man is involved, we usually tend to find that this is not the painful martyrdom we might have imagined it might be. 

The renunciation implied in this card is no burden, but in fact, a liberation. Here, we let go of things which are now only holding us back from our true purpose and destiny.

This can mean letting go of previous self-concepts and ideas which no longer serve us. Usually, this will require a reversal, one in which our world is turned upside down. In this case, the very things that we once attached so much importance to may no longer seem to matter very much at all. 

This reversal can come in the form of turning away from falsehoods and lies that we once clung to as truth. It can mean the renunciation of beliefs, concepts and values we were once socially conditioned to accept as the one and only valid reality. 

Here, we can begin to have a greater trust in ourselves, even when others may think that we are wrong. This is an experience which points us to a clearer understanding and connection to the Universe or God as we understand it, as well as to our soul’s deepest knowing. 

Justice | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Justice

Keywords for Justice 

FAIRNESSBALANCE
INTEGRITYEQUILIBRIUM
TRUTHKARMA
HONESTYACTION/REACTION
RESPONSIBILITYCAUSE/EFFECT

In the image on this card, we see Justitia, the Roman personification of Justice, seated on her throne. She holds a double-edged sword in her right hand, representing choice—the need to make decisions and to act on them.

She sits between two gray pillars, between which is suspended a purple veil. The background behind this veil is yellow, the color associated with the element of air and the power of truth and knowledge.

In her left hand, she holds the scales of justice, which represents our need for balance, equilibrium and harmony, especially between the principles of cause and effect. It is related to the principle of karma, which on some level, is nothing more than the cosmic law of action and reaction in effect. 

As mentioned earlier, the figure on this card is representative of the Roman Goddess Justitia. In contrast to most of our modern depictions of her, she is not blindfolded, but instead, stares out directly with eyes wide open. 

She sees all, every action, every consequence, every contribution to the karmic cycles of cause and effect that bring our experience into being. She asks of us one thing: that we, too, see the world with eyes wide open. 

Whether we would like to or not, ultimately most of us will be forced to acknowledge the truth of our actions when we are presented with their inevitable consequences.

Interpretation of Justice in a Reading

When this card comes up in a reading, it often indicates a situation where the principle of justice is present as an active, mediating force.

In certain circumstances, it can indicate a situation where justice has indeed been served. It may seek to remind us that we may have gotten exactly what we deserved or needed here, although we may at first be reluctant to admit that this is the case.

It can also indicate a need for greater equity and accountability. Justice counsels us to review our part in the affair in question with absolute honesty and integrity. Sooner or later, we must take responsibility for our actions. Ultimately, only by acknowledging the full truth of our past actions will we ever be able to move forward beyond them.

This card can also speak of the need, at times, to hold others accountable. Taking responsibility does not always mean an admission of culpability. There are times when we have found ourselves the victims of injustice, and it is then that we must take action to remedy the ills inflicted upon us. 

Otherwise, we could find ourselves in a cycle of harm that we may be unwittingly perpetuating by refusing to stand up for ourselves and hold the necessary boundaries between self and others.

In essence, the practice of justice in our lives is ultimately about being responsive. It involves seeing the links in the chain of cause and effect that we are caught up in, and making the decision to exercise our free will in a way that is ultimately empowering and leads to greater freedom. 

The Wheel of Fortune | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Wheel of Fortune

Keywords for The Wheel of Fortune 

GOOD FORTUNECHANGES
LUCKMOVEMENT
OPPORTUNITYOPPORTUNITY
DESTINYCYCLES OF TIME
FATEKARMA

The image on this card is one of the most unusual we have yet to see in the progression of the Major Arcana which we began with the Fool.

The scene is one which appears to take place up high in the heavens: we see the background of a blue sky, against which are set four puffy, white-gray clouds. On each of these, we see strange figures, each of them a winged creature, holding an open book in their hands, caught in the act of rapt attention on the text in front of them. 

On the lower left is a bull, symbolizing the astrological sign of Taurus. The lower right shows a Lion, for the zodiac sign of Leo. Moving to the upper right, we see an eagle, representing the sign of Scorpio in its most elevated expression. And finally, on the top left we see a man perched on the last and final cloud, symbolizing the water-bearer of the sign of Aquarius. 

These figures are also references to the four evangelists of Christian doctrine, who, according to Rachel Pollack, are sometimes called “the guardians of heaven.” As mentioned earlier, they also make clear reference to the four fixed signs of what began as Babylonian astrology. In this context, they can also be seen as referring to the four elements of ancient and medieval science, alchemy, and ritual magic (Earth, Fire, Water, Air). 

In the center of the card we see an orange sphere, or rather, a series of four concentric circles, moving from the point of stillness in the very center out to the final expression at its outer edges. In the second ring, we see inscribed the alchemical symbols for Mercury, Sulphur, Salt, and Dissolution. In fact, these are also correlated with each of the four elements (Air/ Mercury, Fire/Sulphur, Earth/Salt, and Water/Dissolution).

In the last and final sphere, we see the letters TARO, which, if read from beginning to end in a complete cycle, spell the word “Tarot.” Interspersed between each of these letters are four of the Hebrew alphabet, the Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh of the Tetragrammaton, or divine and holy name of God. 

Finally, clinging to the outer edges of this wheel, we see three other figures: a yellow snake moving counter-clockwise down the edge of the wheel; a red-orange man with the head of a jackal; and finally, a regal blue sphinx with her sword, crowning the very top of this orange sphere. 

Interpretation of The Wheel of Fortune 

One of the primary interpretations of the Wheel of Fortune in a tarot reading has to do with the element of change. This card most often refers to the advances, new developments, and transformations that we experience throughout the course of our lives. 

More generally, the Wheel of Fortune can refer to any kind of meaningful change in our lives, not only lucky ones where we experience the favor of fortune. In some decks, this card shows the medieval symbolism of the Rota Fortuna, showing a king at the very top, who is usually on his way down to be crushed as the wheel of fortune turns against him.

On a deeper or more esoteric level, the Wheel of Fortune can indicate a moment of rising above the mundane events of our usual existence to catch a glimpse of the connections of synchronicity and meaning which tie everyone and everything together. This is an experience which some liken to that of enlightenment, or to that of “cosmic consciousness”. 

To be able to view your life from above at this level implies an awareness of the links which connect your self, your life, and everything that has ever happened to you with these elements, with the expressions of all that lives and breathes and has its being in the vast universe.

The Hermit | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Hermit

Keywords for The Hermit 

SOLITUDEGUIDANCE
WITHDRAWALWISDOM
ISOLATIONINTROSPECTION
SECLUSIONHIGHER KNOWLEDGE
LONELINESSINNER TRUTH

In the image on the card, we see in front of us a somber, serious looking older man dressed in gray robes. He holds a long staff in one hand, and a lantern lit by a bright, six-pointed star in the other.

He stands alone at the cold, icy summit of a mountain peak (the very same which we saw represented earlier in the Lovers card). This man possesses no written map of the territory ahead—instead, he allows the light of the six-pointed star he carries to lead the way, trusting that the light of spirit will always show him the way.

Interpretation of The Hermit 

When the Hermit comes up in a tarot reading, one of the primary meanings relates to a certain kind of withdrawal from others or from the typical course of daily life. When this card appears, it can signify that we may feel isolated and disconnected from others.

The Hermit often speaks to the experience of loneliness and isolation, as well as the emotional discomfort or even pain that goes along with it. However, this does not mean that this is a card of separation that is always imposed from without. 

This card can also refer to a state of intentional solitude, one in which we consciously withdraw from our normal, everyday concerns in order to go within. The Hermit can signal the beginning of our undertaking a journey of self-discovery and transformation, one which has the potential to take us to heights previously unknown.

It can refer to a period in which we intentionally remove ourselves from the regular flow of life, in order to seek higher wisdom, work on our own personal development, or heal from past difficulties. We may also simply seek to take the time and space required to elaborate an individual vision for future growth.

In a reading, the Hermit can also refer to guidance and mentorship. You may find that you are being helped along your path by someone more experienced or knowledgeable than yourself.

The Hermit that we see here in this image is also an example of the archetype Jung once labeled as the “Wise Old Man.” He symbolizes both the inner guide (as experienced in dreams, visions, and symbols) as well as the outer guide (in the form of a teacher or elder).

Strength | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Strength

Keywords for Strength 

SELF-CONTROLFORTITUDE
INNER RESOURCESSOFT POWER
DISCIPLINECOURAGE
RESILIENCEVITALITY
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCEKUNDALINI

It is late afternoon, and a warm and vibrantly energizing yellow sunlight permeates the air, illuminating the landscape we see all around us. On our left, we can see the high peak of a distant gray mountaintop in shadow, the very same mountain which we first saw earlier in the Lovers card.

There is a certain peace and serenity which permeates the atmosphere. There is still much energy left of the day, but we are now at a point when the power of the Sun is under control. We are no longer burned by its heat, but gently warmed by the life energy calmly exuded by this center of solar energy.

Directly in front of us stands a woman in white, wearing a crown of flowers on her head. She also wears a garland of roses, one which ties her, in an elegant figure 8, to the lion at her feet.

Gently, tenderly, with an attitude of the utmost care, she holds the open jaws of this king of the animal kingdom, the lion. In return, he looks up at her with an attitude of loving submission. For the woman has learned how to tame the wildest and most powerful of beasts: with attention and respect, with care and with love. 

A lesser person would have responded to the ferocious strength and power of the lion with fear, with fury, with a violence meant to destroy. But the woman, who bears much in common with the Empress, knows better—she knows that strength and power is nothing to be feared. Treated with respect and love, the raw, primal energies of this red lion are instead a force to be tamed, to be controlled with disciplined attention and careful responsiveness. 

To try to suppress or kill this energy would be a tragedy; to misunderstand the lion as a threat is a grave error, for he represents a force which is ours to be harnessed. It is one which, with the right attitude, can ultimately show us greater power than we could have ever imagined possible. 

The key lies in the garland of roses which tie the woman and the lion together. Roses represent our desire nature, the forces of love and attraction which propel us forward into the future, which draw our destiny towards us. The lion represents the raw power of our uncultivated emotions, our primal, animal level of the subconscious. When we can direct the raw energy of these emotions and direct our own difficult feelings with compassion and care, we often find that we have access to a kind of power previously impossible to imagine. 

Interpretation of Strength in a Reading

When Strength comes up in a tarot reading, we are often being asked to act in a way that demonstrates true inner strength and courage. 

The quality of strength as demonstrated in this card has little to do with the common cultural conceptions many of us hold around this idea. Strength here is in fact the opposite of the show of force that our cultures so values. True strength is the antithesis of the violent expression of personal will that we mistakenly often take to be true power. 

Instead of dominance and coercion, we see a strength whose expression is truly much more powerful. This kind of strength relies on inner resources, and is dependent upon our cultivation of discipline and genuine self-control. 

On a more esoteric level, the lion is a representation of our primal (some would say “lower”) animal nature. It symbolizes the raw energy of kundalini that comes from our deepest inner sources. 

It is the “libido” that Carl Jung speaks of, which, in contrast to Freud, is not simply a shameful sexual impulse, but rather the vital life force energy that animates all which moves and breathes and has its being in the world. 

Our desires, our feelings, our emotions are nothing to be feared. They must not be repressed or denied through oppressive tactics.

They are instead a force to be respected, a force to be honored, a force to be gently and lovingly guided in the direction of our highest vision and most elevated ideals.