This journey starts with the Fool. He has no experience of life so he could be called the innocent. He is going to take this journey alongside us and, although he lacks knowledge, he sees the way ahead quite clearly. The road will take many twists and turns into unforeseen situations, but that is what this journey is all about.
The first person we meet on the road is the magician. He is the master of the elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These are the traditional tools of physical magic and are laid out before him. He has divided our purpose and is clearly indicating which way to proceed. We learn from him to read the signs that life will show us but we are not yet ready to enter it.
The High Priestess
Our next encounter is with the High Priestess. We find her descending stairs from the light into some secret place. Note the light and dark pillars she is between. That secret place is our inner self. Just as the Magician was a masterful user of the magical qualities of the physical world around us, so she is mistress of hidden and spiritual matters. She treads carefully between the light and dark pillars but is not influenced by either of them. Her inner harmony helps guide her. With the knowledge, she imparts we are ready to enter the physical life.
Soon we get to know our earthly father, the Emperor. He represents all we come to expect of a father figure. He is worldly, wise and enjoys the fruits of his labors. Surely we can forgive him a little arrogance as he has so much to be proud of. If he sometimes seems aloof, we should remember that his is the responsibility to provide a home and security for all of us. That responsibility allows him to sit in his great chair on the top of the mountain but it can be lonely up there sometimes.
Now we meet with the Empress, the Earthly mother to whom we are born and who will care for us in the early years. She represents abundance and a nurturing personality. She feeds and cares for her young as well as caring for the rich earth around her. As she passes the flowers in the field blossom and the grain ripens.
As we grow and gain our education we encounter the Hierophant or Priest. He gives us a general education and especially teaches us in spiritual and religious matters. He has great strength of purpose and knows where his own light comes from. His is an alternative wisdom from that given by our father and may be thought of as an earthly version of the gifts of the High Priestess. We are now preparing to make our own way in the world.
Now our Fool is taking his life into his own hands. He has met his wife-to-be and asks for her hand in marriage. Although this is known as a card of choice, it may be better thought of as a card of announcing one’s choice to those around. You may not realize it but this is a choice that has already been made.
Life is going well and he is feeling very confident. Although there are forces pulling him this way and that, he is in complete control. He is master of his household, earning a good enough living for his needs and enjoying himself.
Life is still good and he is still confident. But these days physical strength is just not enough. Our man is starting to find that a different kind of strength, a fortitude, is needed to meet the demands of a maturing family and competition from younger rivals. He knows it is only a matter of time until his physical prowess will no longer sustain his position.
When we are no longer of use to our community, we have no option but to retreat into our own world where we set our own goals and follow our own path. No longer do we have the respect of our peers for we are now loners. We have been stripped of our influence but our dignity remains our own. Our needs are not great and our pleasures are simple ones.
The Wheel of Fortune
This image brings us to a turn in our fortunes. It may be for better or worse, who knows? Are those witches spinning out the thread of life? This most ambiguous card often holds the key to a reading but those figures getting a free lift up one side will soon have to hang on tightly as the wheel turns on and on. One thing is quite clear though. Whatever our position on the wheel of fortune, it will keep on turning regardless of whoever we think we are. We are now able to understand what is to come.
Now we come to a major change in our life. We are no longer able to contribute to our society by our physical attributes. Now is the time to use our experience for the common good. It is our time to make the decisions that affect the lives of others.
The Hanged Man
The key word for this card is frustration. How can he get out of this terrible trouble? But look! That rope around his ankle is not even attached to the rock. He only thinks his situation is hopeless. If he only could see it clearly, he would realize his plight is not hopeless at all.
Clearly, a big change is coming to our hero now. What could be bigger than the passing from life to what comes after? Death, like many other things in life, will not be put off. He has his job to do and, despite his fearsome appearance, he may well come as a blessed relief for some. In a reading, this card is not often indicative of physical death. Tarot cards work at a much higher level than that but it will mean a change from an old life into a new one.
Here is an angel to escort him to the after-life. She holds in her hands the cups and passes the waters of life from one to another with little concern as she crosses the river to a green and pleasant land. She teaches patience as there is no such thing as time there. On the earthly plane, she relates to weighing things up carefully. Perhaps too carefully.
Traditionally we must expect this chap to put in an appearance as our hero makes his way to paradise. The Devil would be failing in his duty if he did not try to tempt the hero into his evil ways. Whether or not you believe in the Devil as a living entity in a perpetual duel with the forces of good, his characteristics will be familiar to you.
Now our hero really has to pull down some towers he had built up in his life. These edifices he thought so strong and immovable must be brought down if he is to progress beyond the limits they set about us. Sometimes we have to admit we are wrong although it might take a lot of courage to do that.
Now that he has brought down the structures of the past, our hero can move on and “follow a star”. He can set goals and go about achieving them. This image depicts Pandora opening her box and releasing all the wonderful things into the world. Maybe there are some nasty bugs along with the dragonflies.
It is time for proper reflection on all that has happened before. Look around and take stock of circumstances. It is time for our hero to leave self-doubt behind and start to become one with all creation.
At last he has reached that lovely green land that has always seemed just out of our reach. He has, at last, earned the right to pass the golden portal and take his rightful place within.
There is one more thing our Fool has to do. His journey has made him the wisest of men and he must now use that wisdom and learning for the benefit of others. He must not shirk this responsibility or all will have been in vain.
Now everything is in place. See how our Fool has grown to reside in complete harmony with himself. He recognizes his feminine half and is at one with her. He is now within the orobourus, the snake eternally eating its own tail, with the symbols of the elements perfectly placed around. All are floating among heavenly clouds as the cycle of life-death-rebirth is complete.