An Intro to Symbolism in the Tarot

The tarot is symbolism; it speaks no other language and offers no other signs.

Arthur Edward Waite

The pictures on the cards tell stories. They are full of allegory and allude to myths, fairy tales, archetypes. Knowing the meaning and history behind the symbols will provide layers of depth to your readings. The Doctrine of Correspondences, a “law” of occult metaphysics and magic, says: symbolic analogies and affinities exist among everything in the universe of the same or similar vibration and that which affects one thing affects others through this symbolic link. Your associations to a symbol give it meaning. Carl Jung used the word “amplification” when speaking about acquiring knowledge and personal meanings on symbols. “The psychological mechanism for transforming energy is the symbol,” said Jung. To amplify a symbol, list what appears on the card, the colors and any clues as to how the object appears. “White horse” or the “tattered red robe,” for example. Write what you know already about the meaning. What are the objects used for? What is the nature and function of the symbol? Where has it appeared literally in your life? Does it remind you of anything? Look for re-occurring patterns and themes. In Thou Art That, Joseph Cambell said, “When you are given a dogma telling precisely what kind of meaning you shall experience in a symbol, explaining what kind of effect it should have on you, you are in trouble. Symbols may not have the same meaning for you than it had for a Council at Levatine Bishops in the fourth century. The individual’s assent to a definition is not nearly as important as his or her having a spiritual experience by virtue of the influence of the symbol.”

Symbolism is not a key partial to the tarot, alone. Symbolism is the key for interpreting and maneuvering through all of life.

Wishes and fears can be navigators and guides in the world of symbolism. Images take on meaning which ultimately becomes answers. Symbols are the secret language of the universe and by forming a personalized key of associations to a symbol, you’re creating a road map for your own life. Symbolism has been and is studied as a mystic art, it’s used in all divination and initiates the process of growth and change. It allows us to recognize synchronization, cycles, foreshadowing, the subliminal. We can recognize patterns and intercede as we see fit. They help us understand ourselves, our habits, thoughts, the messages subtly portrayed in society; we can free our minds and regain individual purpose and insight. We can find the nature behind the why’s and what’s that form every event, lesson and person, giving us an upper hand when it comes to our every day dealings. Symbolism unveils hidden truths and once we grasp that key, new doors appear. Coincidence becomes less likely, repeated imagery more apparent. Though there will always be the unexpected, that inexorable force that can break ground from right under our feet, we’ll be able to comprehend the lesson quicker and attain a new composure toward all that may come our way.

Now we see the real use of the tarot pack. It is for living in and arranging our lives with. The cards are the exchange-symbols between inner and outer life… Altogether, the tarot is a most valuable collection of psycho-physical currency convertible into either dimension.”

W.M. B. Gray, Magical Ritual Methods

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