The WHEEL OF FORTUNE & THE WORLD feature four animals that symbolize of the four fixed signs of the zodiac and four Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (otherwise known as the “Four Evangelists” or the “Four Cherubim”).
Ezekiel chapter 1 verse 10 provides the following account:
“As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”
A man represents MATTHEW, whose gospel outlines Joseph’s ancestral origins from Abraham, underscoring Jesus’ human nature. It is a Christian belief that salvation cannot be achieved without the use of reason, which also explains why the man also represents the zodiacal sign of AQUARIUS (fixed water).
A lion represents MARK, also symbol of Jesus Christ the King. Because it was believed that lions sleep with their eyes open, it is also said to represent Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, as Jesus lay “awake” in the tomb in the days that followed his crucifixion. The lion also represents LEO(fixed fire) and the unwavering courage required on the path towards salvation.
A bull represents LUKE as well as the principle of earthly sacrifice. The Bible offers numerous accounts of bulls or oxen being sacrificed as an offering to God. Bulls also played an instrumental role in the development of agriculture, making them a symbol of service. The bull signifies the sacrifice that Christians should be prepared to make in the name of Jesus. It also represents TAURUS (fixed earth).
An eagle represents JOHN, whose gospel tells of Jesus’ Ascension to Heaven. Eagles also symbolize SCORPIO (fixed water) and the transformation that Jesus made from an earth-bound being to a heavenly being. The gospel of John introduces the concept of “Logos,” which places Jesus within the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, underscoring his divine nature. Gnosis (union with God) cannot be achieved without the death of the ego, which often takes the form of physical death.
Why do you think Pamela Colman Smith specifically chose the Wheel of Fortune and The World to feature the Four Evangelists? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Learning how to read the Minor Arcana cards is super easy: Simply combine the elemental and numerical energies of that card to generate new keywords. You don’t have to memorize definitions.
Keywords for the four Suits:
Wands (element of Fire): Action, passion, movement
Cups (element of Water): Emotions, psychic, passive, illusion, subconscious
Swords (element of Air): Intellect, thinking, communication, conscious
Pentacles (element of Earth): Physicality, manifestation, earthly matters
Keywords for the numbers:
1 (Aces): Potentiality, opportunity
2: Balance, combine, duality, choice
3: Creativity, generation, foundation
4: Foundation, stability, complacency
5: Conflict, loss, struggle
6: Symbiosis, exchange
7: Challenge, cohesion
8: Transition, metamorphosis, movement
9: Nearing completion, fulfillment
10: Completion, saturation, fulfillment
Seven of Cups = challenge + emotions = Emotions can cause us to see something that’s not really there. The Seven of Cups is about illusion and fantasy.
Hanson Roberts Tarot
Nine of Swords = thinking + fulfillment = Too much thinking yields anxiety. The Nine of Swords shows a distraught woman who can’t sleep at night.
Hanson Roberts Tarot
Two of Cups = combine + emotions = Mutually shared feelings. The Two of Cups is about like-minded people coming together in mutual admiration.
Hanson Roberts Tarot
Using this method will provide you with a basic understanding of each card. From there, you can build on the basics by drawing a daily Tarot card and observing what kinds of experiences you have over the course of that day.
What other combinations do you see? Comment below.
A couple of days ago a student in my Tarot Gateways meditation class at Aum & Garden pointed out an interesting symbol in the King of Swords that I had never before noticed. Etched into the center band of his crown is a pair of wings attached to a little round face. Check it out!
Upon closer inspection, I realized that it doesn’t look too different from symbols that appear in other cards of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. I couldn’t find much information on the meaning of the little winged head in the King of Swords, so I turned to The Chariot and the Two of Cups to figure out what it means.
There’s the winged solar disc emblazoned on the front of The Chariot. According to Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone in The Secret Language of Tarot, this symbol represents the Egyptian sun god Ra/Horus rising up at the start of the new day on his Hawk wings. The winged disc is the sign of a “lofty intellect and the soul’s ability to hover over the Abyss, across which the path of The Chariot passes from above to below and back.” The Amberstones are referencing Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, and his daily journey across the sky in his sun boat.
Because the sun is the giver of warmth, life, and growth, Ra occupied center stage in the Egyptian pantheon. Many historians concur that he was the most widely worshiped god in ancient Egypt.
Just as the Sun is the giver of all life on Earth, Ra was the god of all Creation. It was believed that he created himself out of the mound the rose out of the primeval waters. After that, Ra created time, the four seasons, and all plants and animals. He made human beings out of his tears, and created the air god Shu and Tefnut the goddess of moisture. Tefnut later gave birth to Geb the Earth goddess, and Nut the goddess of the sky.
Ra made his daily journey across the sky in one of his various sun boats, and which sun boat he used depended on the time of day. From sunrise to noon he traveled in the “Matet” boat, and from noon to sunset the “Sketet” boat. These sun boats where also used to transport the gods between the divine and earthly realms.
Ra in his sun boat. Nut, the sky goddess, arches her back over the boat.
At night Ra made his way through the Underworld to be attacked by Apep, the evil snake god. Many of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings include paintings that show Ra’s journey through the underworld over twelve “hours.” In the fifth hour, Ra succumbs to Apep’s attacks and is reunited with Osiris in the underworld. But the twelfth hour brings redemption as Ra is reborn as the scarab beetle, Khepri, who welcomes each new day by pushing up the sun, awakening it from it’s nightly retirement to the Underworld. Ra is commonly depicted pushing up the sun from the Underworld in his beetle form.
All of this brings us back to the question of why Pamela Colman Smith, the painter of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, choose to grace the front of the charioteer’s chariot with a winged disc? A few thoughts come to mind…
The Chariot represents that stage in life when we are on a mission to prove ourselves. Its about having the self-control and the motivation to achieve something. This often involves leaving the safety of the home to venture out into the real world, where one can only depend on yourself. It’s not easy to relax here. The armor that covers the charioteer from head to toe reminds us that he is gearing up to go into battle, just as Ra battled Apep. Life is not easy. But we are given the protection we need to overcome its downfalls.
Ra’s journey and eventual death in the Underworld yields a brand new start. There are many times in life when we succumb to letdown and failure. But The Chariot teaches us how to develop a thicker skin and not allow life’s lows to get us down for too long.
Ra in his Hawk form.
It’s no coincidence that Cancer is the zodiacal ruler of The Chariot. Just as the crab is known for being hard on the outside and soft on the inside, I have known many a Cancer project a gruff exterior to “weed out” people who could potentially hurt them. The crab is very sensitive, and because of that he guards who is allowed into his inner circle very carefully. What is to one person a minor disappointment can be a major depression to the easily hurt Cancer.
Thus the crab tends to shy away from life, protecting itself inside its hard shell. The Chariot teaches us that too much emotional sensitivity can take us off course. Growth comes in when we learn how to toughen up, always being ready to show up for a new day. The Chariot describes the psycho-spiritual process of growing up. Taking on the responsibilities of adulthood sometimes requires us to put our emotions to the side and do what is needed.
Two of Cups
The winged lion in the Two of Cups is a similar looking symbol. In the RWS version of this card we see a man and a woman meeting one another on equal ground, their cups held out in front of them. Hovering just over their heads is a red lion’s head with two wings protruding from each side. In 78 Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack writes that the lion represents sexuality and the wings Spirit. The Two of Cups is about mutual attraction and the early stages of romance or friendship.
The winged lion in the Two of Cups reminds us that every relationship is an opportunity to grow. When two people merge, they can produce something that is even better than what they would have achieved alone. In this sense, relationships help you ascend to a higher version of yourself. Even the ones that don’t turn out so well impart valuable information about who you are, and who you are becoming. The Caduceus of Hermes emerges from beneath the winged lions head as a symbol of healing. It reminds us of the power of human connection and love has in the healing trauma, pain, and ego wounds.
Is the winged lion the Two of Cups also symbolic of the Egyptian sun god Ra?
Neither Pamela Colman-Smith nor Arthur Edward Waite are explicitly clear. I will point out, however, that the lion is connected to the sun by virtue of Leo, the zodiacal sign ruled by the sun. Based on that, one could interpret the red lion head as reference to the sun. There’s also the interesting juxtaposition of the intertwined snakes next to the lion’s head. As Ra travelled the Underworld his foe, Apep, took the form of a snake.
How does this deepen our understanding of the Two of Cups?
It teaches us that relationships can be a battle of good and evil. Our lovers are capable of drawing out of us both our very best, and our very worst, selves. They function as a mirror of who we are on the inside, particularly the shadowy parts that we don’t see. Those shadows come out in our rawest, most vulnerable moments – the moments that an intimate partner is usually witness to.
But it’s also likely that this symbol has nothing to do with Egyptian sun gods. According to Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, the imagery of the Two of Cups is inspired by Act 1, Scene IV of Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio says: “You are a lover; borrow Cupid’s wings, and soar with them a common bound.” The red wings in this card refer to Cupid’s wings. The lion’s head refers to the lust inspired by mutual attraction.
Pamela Colman Smith also took inspiration from the Sola Busca Tarot, one of the earliest known Tarots to come out of Renaissance-era Italy. The Two of Cups of the RWS is based on the Two of Amphorae in the Sola Busca, pictured on the left. As you can see, the Cupid pointing his bow and arrow at the viewer very much resembles the winged lion in the Two of Cups. It’s likely that the image of the lions head with its wings has nothing to do with the story of Ra and his sun boat.
Based on this interpretation, the winged lion in the Two of Cups is a symbolic representation of our lusty animal passions elevated by Cupid’s love.
King of Swords
Finally, we return to the King of Swords, the very card that opened up this line of inquiry. The round, circular face wedged between two wings on the King of Sword’s crown seems to combine the imagery of the sun disk and the lion’s head. There isn’t much to be found on the internet by way of where this symbol comes from and what it is meant to represent. But that doesn’t stop us from guessing.
Vivien Ni Dhuinn of Truly Teach Me Tarot describes this symbol as a “winged spirit… connecting this man to the element of Air and his ability to rise above any issue or event that comes his way.” I agree. While looking at the winged face on the King of Sword’s crown, it occurred to me that he uses his intellect to rise above his emotions.
For some people, the human capacity for rational thinking is what gives us greater importance over animals in the hierarchical order of the Universe. If we are interested in rendering a non-biased judgement, as the King of Swords is, some emotional detachment is required. As a Court Card, the King of Swords represents someone who is indifferent to the longings of the heart or the dictates of fear. Rather than just see his point of view, his goal is to understand where everyone else is coming from.
The winged face spans the width of the King of Sword’s forehead. This reminds us that mastering the realm of Air requires us to be mindful of our words and the effect that they have on others. This brings to mind the Buddhist concept of “Right Speech.” If the intention is to hurt, it’s best not to speak. When the intention is to help, sometimes we need to modify our speech and say things that won’t be taken the wrong way. Right speech means that we are speaking with the welfare of others in mind. For me, this is very much in keeping with the idea of elevated speech.
But working with Tarot is also a highly personalized experience. It’s not just about memorizing keywords, it’s about being able to go beyond the traditional meanings and bring a personal touch to your interpretation.The most accurate readings come as a result of applying the card meanings that resonate with you the most. And the only way to know which meanings those are is to experience them for yourself.
When reading for myself or someone else, each card that appears in the spread opens a floodgate of memories. I am not a psychic Tarot reader who channels voices, feels things, or sees visual images in my mind’s eye. I rely primarily on past memories and lessons learned from personal experiences to interpret what the cards are saying. On occasion, I pull a card and a song will pop into my head. I have Mercury in Pisces, so it’s common for me to get messages through lyrics.
We can interpret Tarot cards by drawing upon our memories and personal experiences because Tarot represents archetypal experiences that are universal to everyone regardless of where you hail from. Regardless of whether you are a man or woman, black, white, or brown, Jew, Buddhist or Christian, all human beings share certain experiences in common.
We all know what it means to fall in love and be totally transformed by a partner, an experience captured by the The Lovers. In this card we project our ideal vision of the opposite sex onto our romantic partners, and get to know our inner masculine and inner feminine through relationships.
At some point, everyone has to confront their fears and learn how to control them so that they don’t control us, which is what Strength is all about. Life will call in each and every one of us to face our fears head on, whether that be via learning how to confront people, being alone, or losing something dear to you.
And I’m sure that each and every one of us has made a mistake that eventually came back to bite us in the ass. Justice dishes out lessons, both positive and negative, about karma. Everyone knows what it feels like to be avenged by the Universe, as well as deserving whatever punishment is being meted out to you.
The purpose of the card-a-day practice is to develop a compendium of memories that we can attach to specific cards and draw on when they appear in a reading.
Whenever I see the Nine of Pentacles, I think back on the good times I had when I went hiking with a friend on one of my favorite trails in the city. One of the traditional meanings of this cards speaks to slowing down and enjoying life. That experience taught me to see the ways in which wealth can assume non-monetary forms. Leisure is in and of itself a form of wealth.
The Star reminds me of an old relationship I had several years ago, and the ego wounds that relationship helped me heal. Because it came up repeatedly in my daily draws during that time period, The Hanged Man reminds me of the person whom I had that relationship with, and the hard lessons he taught me about myself when our time together came to an end.
The Hierophant stalked me during my grad school days, particularly when I was butting heads with my advisor about the direction I wanted to take my work. After I graduated, I realized this card was trying to tell me that I needed to take the time to understand and acknowledge the theoretical paradigms of scholars who came before me before I would be in a position to challenge their work.
These are all experiences that inform the interpretation I bring to the cards when I am reading for someone else. During a reading I won’t talk about the specifics of my personal life per se, but I will discuss those experiences in general terms and apply it to the querent’s situation.
To cultivate a personalized rapport with your Tarot cards, do the CARD-A-DAY EXERCISE:
STEP 1 – In the morning or before you go to bed, shuffle your deck. When you feel the time is right, pull a card.
It’s up to you whether you want to ask a question as you do this, which can provide a framework to help you interpret that card. Some questions you can ask are:
What do I need to know about today?
What is the prevailing energy of the day?
What advice should I keep in mind today?
STEP 2 – In your Tarot journal note the date and the card title.
If you have time, note the initial reactions you have to that card.
What is the first thing that you notice?
How do the colors make you feel?
Which symbols stand out to you?
Do those symbols have any personal significance to you?
Does the card trigger any memories?
Writing down the date you pulled that card is important because eventually you’ll want to revisit your journal and note any trends that appear, especially if you have a “stalker” card that appears repeatedly throughout a certain time period. Sometimes we only understand the message that card had for us in hindsight.
STEP 3– At night before you go to bed, come back to your journal and review the events of the day.
Write down anything notable that happened. Do any of these events and experiences speak back to the card you pulled earlier?
If you’re new to Tarot, it can be challenging to figure out what a certain card refers to specifically. Keep in mind that Tarot isn’t always referencing events that happen outside of us. Pulling The Lovers doesn’t mean that you will meet the love of your life that day. It could simply mean that you have love on the mind, or maybe a memory of a past love was triggered.
My rule of thumb is that Major Arcana cards refer to internal experiences, emotional states, and higher order life lessons.
Minor Arcana cards refer to external events that happen around us.
Pulling a card a day will help you connect specific cards to a real life experiences, which will in turn tell you something about the meaning that card has for you. It will also highlight the subtle nuances of that card that you can’t read about in a book. You’re actually living the experience of that card, which is a much deeper understanding.
Alchemical Tarot Renewed
I pulled the Six of Swords from the Alchemical Tarot yesterday morning. Traditionally, this is a card about transitioning from one place to another, and that’s pretty much it. Or at least that’s what I thought. When I revisited my Tarot journal last night, I looked at the Six of Swords and thought about movement. I then realized that it was referencing an encounter that I had with a coyote earlier that afternoon.
During a walk around my neighborhood a coyote appeared from out of nowhere and started trailing me. I realized this when I heard a rustling noise behind me. When I looked back to check it out, a coyote emerged from a grassy field.
As you can imagine, this freaked me out. When I was a small girl a neighbor’s German Shepherd jumped on me, knocking me over. He was friendly but it was a very scary experience. Since then I’m not 100% comfortable around canines, unless they’re toy poodles or wiener dogs.
And I was especially not 100% comfortable with this situation. Coyotes are supposed to be frightened by the sight of humans. But this one clearly was not. To boot, it seemed as if he wanted something from me. Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare, and the one facing me didn’t appear hostile. He was not growling or snarling.
Nevertheless it’s a wild animal, and wild animals are unpredictable. I didn’t feel like taking any chances, so I decided to put my fears aside. I faced the coyote and make eye contact with it. I waved my hands back and forth over my head to make myself appear larger. And then I started jumping up and down. I’m sure I looked pretty stupid, but this caused the coyote to stop in his tracks. Eventually I picked up the pace and zoomed out of there. Walking at a rapid pace, I eventually lost him.
Coyote, Photo credit: Morguefile.com
Later that night as I looked at this particular image of the Six of Swords. Reflecting back on my experience with the coyote made me realize for the first time that this card has a couple more meanings.
First, the Six of Swords a card about moving from Point A to Point B. Look at the sail boat making her way across the water, being pushed along by the wind. The lines it leaves behind suggests that it is traveling at a very rapid pace. This was the strategy that I ultimately adopted to get away from the coyote. I quickly walked away.
Second, Six of Swords is also a card about emotions, as suggested by all the water we see in the image. But it’s also an Air card, which points to the close connection between our thoughts and our emotions. Emotions run out of control can prompt us to take actions that end up undermining our well being.
Third, I learned that the Six of Swords is about moving towards a better place. Many readers attribute a sense of hope to this card, and I agree. I quickly moved uphill away from the grassy knoll that the coyote emerged from, until I looked back and the coyote was no longer within sight. I felt lucky to make it out of there unharmed!
So there’s two additional meanings that I now bring to the Six of Swords as a result of having this encounter with a coyote. Experiences like this illustrate why pulling a card a day is so crucial to enhancing your understanding of Tarot card meanings. They also show us how the Tarot is continuously dishing out life lessons. Now the Six of Swords always brings to mind the benefits of staying cool under pressure, and not allowing my fears to take over in the face of a tense transition.
If you’re feeling stuck figuring out the meaning of a daily card that you have pulled for yourself, don’t fret. Just note the title of the card down in your journal next to the date and sleep on it. Sometimes it can take a few days for the meaning to become clear. When this happens, I find that Tarot responds by giving me the same card over and over again.
Are you having difficulty interpreting a daily Tarot card that you’ve pulled for yourself? Tell me about it in the comments below.