As many tarot readers may notice, the images of the tarot have within them religious themes and symbols. Some cards are obvious; The Devil is prime example of this or the Hierophant modeling the image of the Roman Catholic Pope. The Hanged man can represent Jesus’ crucifixion. We also have Judgment, which resonates to us the finale judgment and the resurrection of the dead.
Next to tarot I have a very strong interest in studying religion and mythology. I am not a religious person per say, but I find that studying religion is a great way to connect and understand people as well as history. No other factor in human history has played such a powerful role in our development as religion. It has shaped our world and its influence is far reaching, for the good and for the worst.
Tarot is somewhat of a religious text or system of philosophical thought. I plan on to write more about this in future essays however it is the purpose of this essay I want to focus on one topic, the topic of Apocalypse. Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) comes from the Greek word that means to un-cover or to reveal. There is also a genre of literature, which speaks about the coming Kingdom of God and God’s intervention into the world to over through the wicked and established his kingdom for all eternity. From examining the cards there is a hidden apocalyptic message inside the tarot.
To understand what the apocalyptic literature we need to understand the context of the time Jesus lived in. Jesus lived in Palestine, which was under the rule of the Roman Empire. As much freedom as the Jews were given by the Romans such as exemption from military service in Roman legions and the general ability for the Jews to run their own affairs through their local aristocracy, there was still tension between the common Jew which their foreign occupiers. On top of the taxes paid to the Temple, taxes were paid to the Empire in the form of crops or money. This was seen as blasphemous to pay taxes to support the Roman administration for the land, which they believed God had given them. Basically the common people wanted freedom from the Romans, which they saw as an enemy of God. This lead to the popularity apocalyptic writings (even though the form has been around for years), prophesies that God would intervene in history and save the Jews from the Romans as he did with their ancestors with the Egyptians.
Jewish apocalypticists believed in four major tenets.
- They held a view of cosmic dualism, in which there are two forces at work in the world, Good and Evil. All things and everyone sided with one of these forces. The current age was ruled by Evil and the age to come would be ruled by Good.
- They were pessimistic about the possibilities of life in the present evil age.
- God would come and over through the Evil that was in rule and establish his good kingdom and bring judgment on their entire world for both the living and dead.
- This intervention of God was imminent, it was close at hand.
The historical Jesus was an Apocalyptic Prophet, examining the New Testament you will see a clear apocalyptic message. Out of these messages I want to examine the sayings, which deal with the reversal of fortunes. Jesus says that the coming Judgment would involve a serious reversal for those who are in power and who possess wealth. The people who were oppressed would be first to enter the Kingdom. Read some of the following sayings of Jesus.
- “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
- “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
At this point I want to bring in the tarot and examine how these sayings of Jesus are portrayed in the tarot. To begin, the coming Kingdom of God and theresurrection of the dead for the last Judgment is represented by our Judgment card. The Judgment in tarot however is not interpreted with such religious eyes in terms of salvation or damnation, as the Last Judgment would represent. The only connection the Judgment card has with the Judgment in the coming kingdom is the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the dead was not the belief that people who have their physical bodies restored but instead the dead would be embodied in new spiritual bodies that would be eternal. The Judgment in tarot often shows corpse risin
g out of graves or tombs by the blaring of a horn by an Angel. This signifies that our true self is discovered and or that we have been transformed in some way that we no longer the same as before.
What about the reversals of fortune Jesus spoke about? We will see how this is connected to Judgment in tarot through the help of numerological assistance. Judgment is card twenty. Half of twenty is ten, which is the Wheel of Fortune. An older tradition of the Wheel of Fortune (which some new decks are using) depicts the Wheel of Fortuna (the goddess of fortune) who spins her wheel changing fortune. This is depicted in the Visconti Tarot and shows that people’s fortunes change, the rich can become poor and the poor can become rich. This echoes the apocalyptic message that the rich and powerful will be last and the poor and weak will become first in the kingdom.
The apocalyptic message can be spotted in a few of the minor arcana cards as well. A prime example is the four of pentacles, which depicts a man holding on to pentacles and with two pentacles at his feet and one of his head. Behind him is a city. Could this be an illusion to the sayings of Jesus, which said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? The next card the five of Pentacles, which shows a couple who is poor, sick and weak seeking safety and help from a church. Is this a reference to Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied? I find the flow from four of pentacles to the five of pentacles in their symbology fits these teachings nicely. The pentacles while often dealing with such earthly matters such as money do hide inside them spiritual meanings, this is just example of a hidden apocalyptic message.
In conclusion the tarot is richly embodied with many religious ideas, mythology’s, symbols and systems the apocalyptic message is just one small piece of a larger spiritual story the teaches. I encourage each and everyone of you to examine the tarot and connect it to all religious and philosophical teachings you can find. These teachings will reveal to you more about the tarot and give you new insights into yourself and the world.