Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Moon

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Moon. In a dark landscape, a crayfish crawls from the water while a dog and a wolf howl at the moon. In the distance are two towers and a road leading away into a mysterious land. This is card number 18 which reduces to 9 making it the final part of another stage of the quest. This card is similar to card 9, The Hermit, in that it represents solitude and vulnerability. 

This stage of the journey represents the final great trial which must be gone through. It is the dark night of the soul which follows the withdrawal of the inner light of The Star. The hero’s faith will be tested as he realises everything around him is an illusion. He knows he is close to his goal but he can no longer see the way forward clearly. He can’t rely on his normal senses in this badly lit landscape and must allow himself to be guided by intuition. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Star

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Star. A naked woman kneels by a pool pouring water from two pitchers. Behind her a bird perches in a tree and the sky is filled with stars. This is card number 17 which reduces to 8 symbolising renewal and rebirth, linking it with the idea of baptism. 

The Star represents the mystic Centre, or True Self – the goal of the hero’s quest. It is the Evening Star which guides the hero through the darkness, bringing the hope of enlightenment within reach. 

The water on the card represents the aqua nostra – the water of life – which the alchemists saw as fire. This is the energy of the psyche which is needed to transform consciousness. The hero survived the baptism of fire in The Tower, and now must undergo the baptism of water. The woman pours the water onto the land and into the pool, signifying that consciousness and the unconscious are balanced and joined in harmony. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Tower

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Tower. Lightning strikes a tower and flames fill the building. A golden crown is dislodged from the top of the tower and people fall to the ground. This is card number 16 which reduces to 7 symbolising power and positive action. 

The Tower is the reverse side of the previous card. The Devil as Dionysus is lord of darkness and irrationality, but The Tower is Apollo, lord of light and reason. Instead of Satan, we have Lucifer, the light-bringer. Lightning is also related to Zeus, and to Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism where it symbolises the truth blasting falsehood and duality out of the mind. It is the inner illumination which brings the freedom of enlightenment. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Devil

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Devil. A rather conventional devil squats on a plinth holding a flaming torch. At his feet stand two figures similar to the ones on The Lovers, but now they have horns and tails, making them demons. They are restrained by chains around their necks. All very medieval. This is card number 15 which reduces to 6 symbolising the conjunction of opposites and again linking this card to The Lovers. 

The hero has gained a secure link to his Higher Self and now goes deeper into the unconscious to see what else lurks in the darkness. Although he is supported in his quest by the creative forces of the unconscious, the danger isn’t over. Beyond the personal unconscious, the hero encounters the collective unconscious

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Temperance

The next step on our journey to awakening is Temperance. An angel pours liquid between two goblets. She stands with one foot in the water and one on the land while the sun rises above a mountain on the horizon. This is card number 14 which reduces to 5 giving us the pentagon, a five-sided figure symbolising organic growth, inspiration, and the reconciliation of several parts into a greater whole. 

The hero has sacrificed his old self and let go of his attachments. He waits in a passive state of potential for the next stage of the journey and his new life to begin. He can no longer use his ego as a point of reference so he can’t make any value judgements in relation to the world. His consciousness remains in a dark communion with the unconscious, and into the void steps the angel of Temperance. She fills the hero’s consciousness with the water of new life. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Death

The next step on our journey to awakening is Death. A skeleton rides a white horse through a field filled with bodies. He carries a flag with a white rose. In the background flows a river and on the horizon stand two pillars framing the sun, but is it rising or setting? This is card number 13 which symbolises death and is often seen as bad luck. It is made up of 1 and 3 which reduces to 4, the symbol of order and organisation. Although Death seems to bring chaos, it is only bringing the new order which naturally follows life. 

The sacrifice of the Hanged Man has been successful and his old self is dead. The hero’s perspective has shifted from being self-centred to being self-transcendent. He now enters a period of purification and transformation where he learns that everything dies, but nothing can grow without death. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hanged Man

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hanged Man. A young man hangs upside down from a T-shaped tree. His hands are tied behind his back but he is serene and his head is surrounded by a halo of light. This is one of the few images in the Tarot that is definitely not found in Christian symbolism. It is card number 12, a combination of 1 and 2 signifying the interaction of unity with duality giving rise to a third dimension. The tension of number 11 is resolved, so 12 stands for renewal and salvation. 

The hero has confronted his shadow in the form of the lion in Strength and has a new perspective on himself. He realises he doesn’t know himself as well as he thought and now hangs precariously between two worlds. He can’t go back to the certainties and ignorance of his youth, and he can’t submit to the shadow and be overwhelmed by the unconscious. In order to continue forward on his journey he must become free from both his ego and his shadow. He must move to the centre. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Strength

The next step on our journey to awakening is Strength, or Fortitude. A young woman holds the jaws of a lion in her hands, calm in the presence of this powerful beast. This is card number 11 (8 in some packs). It follows the perfect number 10 so signifies vulnerability and danger. In Arabic numerals it is the number 1 repeated so is similar to 2 and represents tension and opposition. 

In the Wheel of Fortune the hero began to encounter images from his unconscious, all the repressed parts of himself bursting back into consciousness. This is the shadow, the instinctual side of the psyche. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Wheel of Fortune

The next step on our journey to awakening is the Wheel of Fortune. The card shows a wheel surrounded by strange figures. On top of the wheel sits a sphinx holding a sword, while a serpent and a representation of Anubis move around the wheel. In each corner is a winged creature: an Ox, a Lion, an Eagle, and a Man. This is card number 10 and is the first of the double numbers symbolising a new beginning and the completion of the earlier series. Ten is traditionally seen as a perfect number, and the wheel is also a representation of perfection. 

The Wheel of Fortune marks the start of the second half of the hero’s journey. Using the Hermit’s lamp of intuition, he begins to see images arising from the depths. The threshold of his consciousness has lowered allowing all sorts of unconscious content to come to the surface. What returns to consciousness at this point is not controllable. The hero will encounter his karma and the workings of fate. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hermit

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hermit. An old man dressed as a monk holds a lantern that lights his way. In this other hand he carries a staff, which in some packs is entwined by a serpent. This is card number 9 which is the last of the single numbers so it stands for the end of a cycle. The outward turning, solar path of extroversion has reached a conclusion. 

The Hermit is the archetype of the Wise Old Man, the teacher who guides the hero through the chaos of life, shining the light of his wisdom to show the way forward. The hero has arrived at the end of the first half of his journey and his attention is turning inwards. He listened to the voice of his conscience in Justice and is looking for answers to the questions that came up. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Justice

The next step on our journey to awakening is Justice. A stern woman sits on a throne holding a sword and a pair of scales. This is card number 8 (although in some packs it’s number 11) which stands for balance, equanimity, eternity, and the workings of destiny. It represents a point of balance between the outer world of the body and the inner realm of the spirit. 

Justice marks the achievement of maturity. The hero has found his place in the world and built a secure environment in which to raise a family. He can now reap the rewards of past efforts to achieve prosperity and status in society. But deep inside his heart is a feeling of lack or dissatisfaction – something important is missing or has been forgotten. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Chariot

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Chariot. A young man rides a chariot pulled by two horses, although here they appear to be sphinxes. He carries a sceptre and is crowned with a star. This is card number 7 which stands for unity within complexity, being a combination of the numbers 3 and 4. This makes the Charioteer the progeny of the Empress and Emperor. Seven is the number of progress, self-expression and independent action. 

The Chariot shows that the right choice was made in The Lovers, and the hero has successfully moved away from conforming with the established order. He now seeks an independent path and has control of his own psychic energy rather than being dominated by it. The psychic energy is the libido or life force, symbolised by the horses. So the Charioteer harnesses his animal instincts and drives his chariot without reins because he has self-mastery. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Lovers

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Lovers. In some card packs the image shows a young man flanked by two women while Cupid prepares to fire an arrow into his heart. In this version (the Rider Waite pack) we see two figures who appear to be Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with an angel watching over them. This is card number 6 which stands for tension and ambivalence, and was traditionally associated with the six days of creation in Genesis, linking it to ideas of evolution and the creation of life. 

The Lovers represents choice. This is the first decision the hero must make alone without assistance from the parents, represented by the Empress and Emperor. As an individual he is now responsible for his actions and therefore, his destiny. In cards depicting a youth choosing between two women, the hero is torn between loyalty to his mother and desire for his beloved; stick with traditional authority (The Pope) or strike out alone. The cherub wounds him with an arrow of love which helps him to make the right choice. Love awakens the hero so he can become independent and leave the familiar world behind, but the wound inflicted by the arrow also brings awareness of death. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hierophant

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hierophant, or The Pope. He sits between two pillars holding a triple-tiered cross and blesses two kneeling priests before him. This is card number 5 which stands for creative thought, moral law and intellectual synthesis. It represents life being made whole as the four cardinal points of manifestation are united in a common centre. 

The Hierophant holds the symbols of Papal office and at his feet are the crossed keys. As God’s representative on earth, he provides the keys to the kingdom and acts as a bridge between the world of the senses and the inner world of the spirit. The pillars represent the structure of the established church through which he upholds orthodox religion and accepted codes of behaviour. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Emperor

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Emperor. He is the Father and embodies the principles of authority, power, order and reason. This is card number 4 which stands for organisation, order and laws. The Emperor is the consort of The Empress and also represents creation, but his is the creation of the will, not feelings. He signifies the use of power rather than love. 

The Emperor represents the Father archetype and is related to the distant sky gods of the patriarchy. He holds a sceptre (which looks suspiciously like an ankh), the symbol of his masculine potency and the energy he uses to build his empire. In his other hand is a golden orb which represents his rational understanding of the laws of the physical world. It is his rationality which allows him to organise the world and make the laws and rules by which others must live. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Empress

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Empress. She is the Mother, an embodiment of nurturing, abundance and fertility. This is card number 3 which stands for synthesis and harmony. It resolves the tension created by the preceding duality by adding a third unifying principle. This is the number of childbirth, new life, and productivity. 

The Empress represents the Mother Goddess, the source of all living things. She gives birth to the creative forces of nature and is rooted in the earth and material reality. For the first time on this journey, the hero encounters the emotional world of feeling. He must accept the physical laws working through his body and emotions, and learn to see the divine as a presence in all material things. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The High Priestess

The next step on our journey to awakening is The High Priestess, sometimes called the Female Pope or Papess. She is the Lunar Goddess and sits between the pillars of her temple, the book of wisdom in her hands. Like the sun and moon, the Magician and High Priestess complement each other – she represents the soul, while he is the spirit. 

This is card number 2, which stands for duality and the relativity of pairs of opposites. For the first time on our journey, we encounter the ‘other.’ This card signifies our experience as a separate ego living in time in the manifest world. The soul embodied and living by the reflected light of the moon, rather than the unmanifest and timeless spirit bathed in the direct light of the sun. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Magician

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Magician. He stands alone and confident, his magic wand held aloft, the symbols of the Tarot arrayed before him. This is card number 1, which stands for positive action, individuality and creativity. The Magician represents the archetype of the Trickster, one of the earliest figures in mythology – a divine messenger and provocateur. He is Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and gifting it to mankind. 

That fire is the first spark of consciousness and this is the power the Magician seeks to wield. The Tarot symbols on the table represent how he tries to manifest his divine consciousness in the physical world, directed by his will (the wand in his hand). The symbols are the Four Elements: fire (baton), earth (pentacle or coin), air (sword), and water (cup). The figure of eight above the Magician’s head represents the inspiration to act coming from his True Self – the spark of divinity within. The white of his clothes shows the purity of his intention, while the red shows his purposive will. He is ready to teach the Fool the hidden ways of the spirit.