Symbols and Explanations for the tarot cards in the current age.
Minor Arcana Swords & Wands
Minor Aracana Cups & Disks
“Tarot is a much loved, but often misunderstood form of divination.”
The two most popular tarot decks at the time of this writing are arguably the ever popular Raider-Waite, followed by the Thoth tarot. One must ask why in particular these decks are so popular. A good part of the reason has to do with the symbolism upon the deck. Not found in common “art decks.” the Raider-Waite, and Thoth have things in the deck that are supposed to connect it to universal archetypes some how related to the “fool’s journey” in the tarot. Yet, for a beginner, sometimes these symbols are archetypes can be overwhelming or confusing, not to mention in some cases dated. Tarot isn’t this idea that stands still, but can become embedded within a culture, hence many mythological themed decks, or decks themed upon a specific spiritual tradition. Tarot is also the universal archetypes of a culture.
When it comes to creating a deck, many things can come into consideration. First off, is the purpose in creating the deck. Is is purely an artistic deck, or is it supposed to have some kind of additional spiritual meanings attached to it. Is it supposed to represent a particular culture or a particular way of looking at things? Finally, who does this deck appeal to, is it a broad appeal that will connect with popular culture, or perhaps a more narrow slice of culture that will appeal to a certain kind of person.
The Belial Tarot is the second tarot deck I have created. When I created my first deck, I had some experience with the tarot, but I just wanted to create some pixel art, in other words, more of an art deck that would be tiny and fit with my current art style. While I enjoyed creating that first deck, and you can find it at opengameart.org, it doesn’t have any special symbolism, and is more of generic tarot deck. I felt proud of myself to have completed the project, even though I didn’t really find much of a use for it, although as a deck, I found myself thinking it was just “okay.” If you are interested in more details of the my creative process, Click the about button. Warning, if you don’t want to read things that are highly likely to challenge your world view, please avoid it.
The fool is a part lion part frog sitting in a cave in the dark. The heart shaped maned lion has the legs of a frog and sits upon a dragon’s head. Lions traditionally represent courage or fierceness, or even the king of beasts. This is further symbolized by the crown upon his head. His mane frames his face in the shape of a heart, representing desire, passion, or even love. A frog is a creature that is born in water, symbolizing emotion, while coming to earth, symbolizing the material world. Two death birds with skull faces attend him. The fool is the wild force of nature, and yet the fool cannot see beyond the cave, and neither can his companions. He is trapped in the world outside of the world,and although not alone is not really connected with the rest. The the birds/bats with skeletal faces represent the death of the naivety and innocence once the cave is left. There are sketches upon the wall of the cave, representing humankind’s first steps into artwork and symbolism.
The magician depicts a anthropomorphic cat surrounded by other cats. The central cat has long human like hair upon his or her head. This gives the cat a “mane” but a very human looking one. This cat lords over the other cats who gather around it. One has heard the term “herding cats.” and that is exactly what the magician is doing. That is what makes the magician so magical, is the ability to seem to command those who refuse to be commanded. All the magician has to do is offer what the cats want, and be who he or she is, and not someone else. The anthropomorphic cat works the other cat like they are puppets on a string, and thus the other cats move in very predictable ways.
The High Priestess
Most Christians are familiar with the role of the priest in the mass. Even in denominations where they have female ministers, the tarot deck seems to depict something quite different, a scene from something in a mystery school for instance a woman sitting between a black and white pillar upon a checkerboard floor. This symbolism is often confusing for people who just want to read the tarot cards, aren’t familiar with mystery schools, and don’t have much if any understanding of religious iconography.
For the uninitiated, the high priestess is a figure in what basically amounts to an interactive drama. Traditionally drama is symbolized by the happy face and sad face, representing comedy and tragedy respectively. But this one shows to smiling faces, as if tragedy does not exist.
The high priestess is often a woman, one who puts on a show and shows a happy face. How is she really feeling? We don’t know and we don’t care. We might not care about mystery schools and interactive drama, but everyday we meet people like the clerk at the store and customer service representatives. People who have to smile and say “may I take your order please.” The high priestess is basically an actress, in the everyday sense (yeah, like all the waitresses who are also wanna be actresses) The cup represents all the emotions, but it isn’t about her, it is only about you and your experience.
The Emperor in olden times was depicted as a man on a throne. He was supposed to represent the traditional role of fathers laying down the rules. But today, many children grow up without such a man. Perhaps it is mother who lays down all the limits and rules, or perhaps the children don’t get the discipline they need and they then proceed into unhealthy relationships in adulthood.
The importance of limits and boundaries on relationships with the ones you love cannot be emphasized enough. No matter how much you may love someone, you must set limits to what they are allowed to do you you, and what you are allowed to do to them. The more mature, in control person in the relationship has this responsibility. When people fail to set appropriate boundaries, that is when abuse happens. Hence you see two hearts with faces on them in a box of hearts. When we talk about relationships and limits here, we are not only talking about two people here, but also how this relationship fits into and is seen by society, and especially in terms of a language of love. If you truly love someone you will not fail to set limits. Too many people see the Emperor as patriarchal, or a stern tyrant, and seem to miss the entire point of this card.
Traditionally depicted as a pregnant lady, the empress seems to be about new life or the germination of an idea. What we often miss however is the mystery that is behind this. There is an ongoing joke about pregnant ladies are going to have kittens, and wouldn’t that be an awful thing to have a litter of kittens rather than a baby. This card depicts a lot of anthropomorphic cats in robes. There is stack of cats, one cat head on top of a robed cat, looking quite like a mischievous Cheshire cat.
One might be worried about having kittens, but cats aren’t really such a bad thing, because the key to understanding cats is they are independent thinkers, independent of you and your commands. You can’t just command this, and demand that. Cats do not live to cater to your every whim. The idea is that the thing inside will bear fruit something independent of the host body eventually. But of course, she cannot entirely control or predict the outcome although she does have great influence upon it.
The hierophant has a star around his face. This is mostly because he is the star, star of the show. The hierophant is about a persons relationship with society. In the old days, it had a pope, but who listens to the pope these days. Some people think the hierophant is about “initiation” yes, but a specific kind of initiation.
It isn’t about gaining a bunch of spiritual levels and being able to do magical tasks, it is more about getting a role in the play around you, that is a fixed function of the world you inhabit. There is also a reason this star is inverted. The Reason for the inversion of the star around the initiators head is because initiation and the initiators, are not so much about doing what is demanded in society, or following the rules, in fact they are often doing the opposite for practical reasons.
The initiation is a wake up call about how the world actually works, not some kind of spiritual higher calling to impossible ideals, but rather showing how in practice the opposite must be done. The figures surrounding the star have heart shaped faces, and hair that looks like horns, but they don’t really look like devils, so much, but rather that they are doing this for “love” not some kind of personal love, but love for some ideal.
There have been several confusing interpretations of this card. The card is fundamentally about choices but often depicts in fact a merging of opposites. So, when you see the lovers, the first thing you think of is, how can I make better decisions. While, first I get out my crystal ball, and viola, a crystal ball.
The ball is of course filled with cats, everyone has this aspect to them, a fundamental immovable feline that seems fickle. No matter what you choose, no matter what you see, the cats are also outside the crystal ball, implying they are in the real world and you can’t necessarily see them in the crystal ball, or perhaps the crystal ball shows a reflection of what you see in the world. In order to make the best decisions, it is important to take a person’s cat like nature into account, you can’t just command them to do things, they have to want to do them.
Here again we meet someone with a beast, but the beast isn’t your traditional lion, oh no, there is something almost machine like, robotic about him. So many people see the beast as an actual beast, but sometimes, it is in fact technology itself that we have to command and control. Yet it moves like an animal, has animal like characteristics. We keep it on a leash and don’t let its fierceness get to us. There is also what looks like a stack of six cat faces. This also follows the same theme of cats and technology.
We often refer to technology as a stack, as in one program runs on top of another program. So to, do cats stack, showing that one runs over the other one, not that one dominates over the others, but there is various levels, the hardware, bios, operating system, background applications, main applications, and even subprograms within that application. The creature holding the leash has a lizard like frill around her neck, and a vaguely Egyptian style disk on top her head. This makes her out to be perhaps a goddess.
In the old cards, we often see a person, or is it an angel, holding the reigns on two different beasts, going in different directions. I think that the idea of a chariot, an item from the B. C. era gets lost on people who like to take forms of transportation such as skateboards, roller skates, bicycles, motorcycles and planes. Back in the day, chariots were like race cars. People used to race them. It was a dangerous sport and a lot of people died going too fast and reckless with their chariots.
The new chariot card shows the chariot for what it is. There are angel wings, suggesting the heavenly messengers, a skull, suggesting risk of death, and bird talons on, get this mismatched roller skates. When was the last time you saw someone on mismatched roller skates? The image is humorous in a way, because it seems that birds don’t need mismatched roller skates. The card also suggests transportation. The chariot can also be interpreted as getting things to line up that are going in two different directions. You have the sky with the bird and the bellow with the roller skates.
The Wheel of Fortune
The wheel of fortune is not just a game show. It is a tarot card. It was supposed to show how changeable luck or the fates can be. But luck really has nothing to do with it. The new card shows an angel with wings going all the way around, like a wheel. The center shows a face, almost like a skull face, but in fact a very living face looking at you. Underneath is the caption. Let me embrace you in my wings.
Belial can be a very protective figure towards his chosen ones, it isn’t that such ideas of luck or fate went away, but that we need not abide by them any longer. Perhaps the things that we though we had no control over, we actually do have control over, but what we need to do instead of trying to micromanage every aspect of existence is to allow us to embrace something greater than ourselves.
(also sometimes called Temperance) This card makes it look like the creatures are dressed up in various costumes. Costumes aren’t really about hiding what they are, but rather a way of expressing aspects that may not otherwise be expressed. Art is vary much a joyous card, often denoting a celebration of some kind. If you notice the crosses over the cloak and the mask on one creatures, as well as the disk over the head of another, you can seem them playing at being something more profound.
The idea of an angel or a two faced person pouring water back and forth completely misses the point. Play is a way of exploring something deep in a non threatening, non serious way. It allows us to look at things that we might otherwise be too afraid to deal with, because, it isn’t really serious.
There is a two headed sea monster rising out of the waters to face the sun. The fact that the sun features prominently in this card show that it is a solar card, in that all is revealed. The waters represent emotions, and when the sea monster, that is, justice, arises not out of some rational deliberation about what is right, but out of emotions.
The two heads of the sea monster represent the different types of justice. In the case of the larger one, it seems that one gets what is coming to them, the results of the actions align perfectly with what one would expect. It looks fierce. The second, smaller head comes out of its stomach. It looks not like a dragon, but that of demon sticking its tongue out, in a teasing manner. Why do some people seem to get away with everything and not matter how many times so called justice is brought against them do they get away with it. That is because the scales must be balance the other way, and sometimes individual humans cannot see the larger picture.
The Hanged Man.
The hanged man depicts demons with halos, just like the saints and holy people. Too much has been made of the idea of saints being perfect people at least people to aspire to and become. Demons as saints turns that whole idea upon its head. (instead of showing some person upside down, now that is just confusing.)
We shouldn’t look up to someone just because they have power, and the hanged man shows us this. It is often associated with the idea of voluntarily giving something up. When we give something up, we decided it should no longer hold such an honored place in our lives, hence, the hanged man.
Death has two faces, one for his head, and one upon his belly, the scarier more decayed looking face is upon the stomach. This is a very typical form that Belial will use to convey death. Death in the tarot deck rarely means physical death, but rather the passing on of an idea, or phase of life. It is the forced giving up of something whether you like it or not. The face is like that sinking feeling in your stomach you have when someone you love dies. That is why some people confuse grief with depression, because it is that same feeling, of something eating you inside.
It is said that some demons have two faces, but it is not nice to have a nasty decayed face there. To many other decks try to show how people deal with death, or show stylized versions, the skeleton on a horse, or the grim reaper. That does not really convey what death is or what this card is actually about, and often seeks to further confuse people who focus on imagery and ignore the feeling.
The devil looks like a demon head over four disks with upright pentacles upon them. A skull face sits underneath, showing the uneasy settling of the card. The Devil is about people who trap themselves with material things like greed and lust. This card in some sense expounds upon the four of disks, the greed card. So, basically, you might feel like death warmed over because you spent so much effort on the material stuff while ignoring the spiritual. This is the essence of the devil card.
Oftentimes, when the devil appears, people chain themselves to material things, lust, money whatever, and avoid higher level goals. The skull head underneath the disks shows that this leads nowhere, so basically, it leads to death, the forced letting go of something. So, basically, the devil isn’t some diabolical monster that chains people together, it is rather something people choose to pursue, thinking that is more important.
Typical decks, while not having confusing imagery, often have confusing explanations for this card, saying things like “the answer is unclear” or “One needs to delve into the subconscious. But, the reality is, there is nothing vague and unclear about the card at all. Unlike the rest of the court cards and major arcana, this card has a distinct lack of personas in it. It only has a single wolf or dog upon a coin. The entire rest of the card is just symbols. That is for a reason.
We use symbols to communicate. They are not a persona, they are just things that have specific meanings. Many of the symbols are overlapping, just as symbols often have over lapping meanings. When the moon shows up in a spread, it is time to focus not on personas, but on the symbolism used in communication, both with yourself, and with others.
The star is a hopeful card. The pentagram points down, showing manifestation. The two hearts on each side have faces on them, desires, after all, have a face. The cats are sticking their tongues out and wearing robes. Sometimes people see this as a card meaning you will get what you want, but the star is more of a long term card.
Many Eastern systems feature a series of “chakras” energy point corresponding to parts of the human body. In the book of revelations in the bible, these are spoken about as the seven seals that the angels unleash. People think this is necessarily about destruction in the outer world, but as one travels upon a true spiritual path (and not merely a religion) one finds, not through dogma, but through experience, the relations between the inner and the outer state.
Unlike so many of the other cards in this deck, the hermit is not about ones relations with the outside world, but a card of ones relationship with oneself, with ones own body mind and spirit. The hermit is often thought of the alone card, of a person being by him or herself. The chakaras are depicted as linked up in a line on the card, and there is nothing upon the outside, just emptiness. There is a feeling that they light up upon this card, and that one can raise ones own personal power by retreating from the world into that alone time.
The tower indicates destruction, and this is no less true here. So many people see this as so negative, because it is the sudden end to something, but really it is an end to desire, a feeling, and even sometimes physical things. At the top of the card are three figures, the first one, on the left, has x’s for eyes and the mouth, indicating that it is dead in cartoon speak, the middle figure, is the demon Ronove, with her typical long horns and appearance. Here she is stirring the pot.
All the strictures, structures and containers cannot contain the feelings that have now cracked the vessel, the cup in the form of a lightning bolt. The figure on the right is terrifying to look upon, the eyes remind me of the death figure earlier in the deck, and the wild hair and eyes make it look like death is hunting you, yet the figure itself seems very lively, in a bad kind of way. The tower itself is actually a cup, but an ornate cup with monsters on the side. On the left side is a dragon with eyes bearing the solar cross. This represents the dragon side of divinity, or rather power, and on the other side is a cat also with solar cross eyes, representing the feline side. In the liquid of the cup is a demon face, since even the emotions have their own personality.
So many decks try to make the sun out to be some kind of card of pure joy, I mean a baby on a horse, wtf is that supposed to mean. The sun has plenty of skull faces in it, denoting death. It can be one kind of death, or several different kinds of death. The triangles pointing at one another can look like bows or like hourglasses depending on how you perceive it, so the bows look like infinity, and the hourglass shows limited time. Time is something that mortals have in finite amounts, but the gods have in infinite amounts.
The cat in the center of the sun shows that like each star, the sun has its own personality, being both eternal, and also mortal, because after a very long time, uncountable lifetimes, the sun will eventually die, but compared to our lives it is infinite. When the sun appears in a spread, it is time to contend with the fact that we each have limited time, yet we want our actions to be timeless, to matter indefinitely.
In the old decks this is called judgment, but it has been a long time it seems since religion focused upon this idea of bodies coming back and angels playing trumpets upon the end of times. Instead we have the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. The dog is wearing the seal of pentagram, a symbol of manifestation. He is a pet dog, apparently.
There are a lot of hour glass symbols indicating that time is up. The sun is also a flower, indicating growth. The hearts have eyes shaped like pentacles, so now is the time for material manifestation. That makes us see the material world as it really is, not covered in illusions. The mouths of the hearts are hourglasses, speaking of our limited time, so we come to an understanding of the finite voicing of our desires.
The world shows the world upon the back of a demi-god, upon the shoulders, that is. The world is contained in what looks like a candle flame, illuminating it, but yet there are distant stars, showing that the whole this, while self contained, isn’t the complete picture. The eyes are empty and hallowed out. The mouth is like a door or a place for a key. Within the flame, the symbol for as above so below is in it, with a heart at the center. Here we have learned to love the dance of desire that is the world.
In many old packs a hermaphrodite was shown, or a two headed person. Here we don’t have two heads, we don’t need them. At the top of the flame is the face of a demon, who is looking down upon the upright and inverse heart, representing love and hate. There is a union of opposites portrayed in this card, within and without, passion and emptiness, love and hate, above and below. The upright facing heart has x’s for eyes, and no mouth, so it is not talking, but the inverse heart looks content and happy. I am reminded how some religions hate the world because they see it as evil, they see it as hollow, or also, hallow.