Symbolism in the Tarot and Elsewhere - You’re Reading the Symbolism Archive

One of the things that makes the Tarot so interesting to me are the many symbols it uses and the understanding you can gain from the study and contemplation of these symbols.

The Symbolism of Animals in Tarot, Myth and Fairy Tales

In this section of The Chariot I will explore the symbolism surrounding animals. This will include my personal views, as well as how animals are viewed in the Tarot and in the mythology of different cultures.

Numbers, The Tarot and Symbolism

In this section of The Chariot, I’ll be musing on various numbers, what they mean in the Tarot, what they mean to me, and what they mean in other cultures. This will be an on-going process, as my ideas change and grow with the passing of time.

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The Butterfly and the Tarot Fool

In both the Inner Child and Whimsical Tarot decks, the Fool is looking at a butterfly rather than the rose that’s the case in so many decks. So I wondered what this might mean. (Of course, it might not mean anything specific, but simply be part of the overall impression of the card.)

The first thing that pops into mind is that the buttefly stands for rebirth or transformation. which doesn’t seem to fit the Fool. While the Fool can be likened to a newborn child, innocent and pure, rebirth implies something more to me, an opening into a new level of wisdom, and not the empty innocence of the Fool

On the other hand, if you consider that you will likely go on many Fool’s Journeys in your life, then each time you start a new journey, each time you head your life in a new direction where you are open to new possibilities, you are reborn into innocence.

After writing this, I checked the Inner Child book. (I don’t have the book for Whimsical). Alhought she doesn’t explain her use of a butterfly for the Fool, she does use a butterfly on top of the wand for the Magic Wands suit: “The Magic Wands are topped with a butterfly to further imply the natural wonder inherent in the invisible process of metamorphosis. In each of us, this creative transformation can occur metaphorically, again and again, throughout our lives.”

Which is kind of what I was saying.

Butterflies don’t live very long but their existence is vital to their species since this is when they reproduce. So they could also symbolize something fleeting but important. In Fool’s case, this would be that brief moment when you are truly open and innocent to a new idea. It doesn’t last very long. It can’t, or you’d never progress to the next step. But it’s important because without it, you’d never get started at all.

Inner Child Cards: A Fairy-Tale Tarot Whimsical Tarot
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Zero and the Tarot Fool

Zero stands for nothing, for emptiness. Sometimes this serves a useful purpose, as the zero does as a placeholder in mathematics. Or consider the value of an empty container which we can fill.

Zero is the perfect number for the Fool in at least two ways. First, it could be considered the beginning of the infinite string of numbers, while the Fool stands for the beginning of an infinite series of possibilies. Second, like the Zero, the Fool is open and empty, ready to be filled with new experiences.

The point is, while Zero stands for nothing, nothing itself has value, as a starting point, as a place holder, as an emptiness waiting to be filled.

“The Fool as Zero” from the Supertarot: Essays on the Thoth Tarot Deck site points out something I didn’t know: “Strictly speaking, the Fool is unnumbered, therefore it can appear anywhere in the sequence. Some Tarot decks put the Fool last, after the Universe, but most Tarot decks place it before the Magus, 1.” (Then it gets into some really complex material such as the Golden Dawn and the Tree of Life, which is totally opaque to me at this time.)

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One (Ace): The Roots of the Beginning

One stands for the beginning of things, the start: “This is the first step.” It can also stand for the best: “We’re number one.” And it can mean one thing or one person or one of anything (one God), which can be good or bad, depending on the situation.

When I read about the number one in different Tarot books, I get a variety of explanations, all similar but with subtle differences. Generally speaking, in the Tarot the number one symbolizes beginnings. But we’re talking here about the real basic roots of beginnings, As someone said on a list once, Ones/Aces don’t mean birth, they don’t even mean conception. They mean thinking about getting pregnant. And I think that’s a good meaning to keep in mind as a reminder that the number one stands for the idea, the inspiration, that gets you started in a new direction.

Part of the essence of one is that. like a seed, it in-capsules the entirely of the idea. That one brief flash, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do this!” has, in embryonic form, everything the final manifestation will contain. This means that ones/aces are full of energy and excitment. To me, an “ace” feeling is that little special thrill I get when I meet someone who seems like they’d be a good friend, or when I get the first inkling of a new project (like starting this blog!).

But Aces are potential, not fullfillment. They signify unlimited possibilities and the raw energy of the Tarot suit, but they have no direction. We need to go beyond this raw energy to make our idea manifest. And that’s where the other numbers come in!

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Another Tag Test Post

This is a test post to test the tags which aren’t working correctly.

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There’s No Such Thing as Universal Symbols

Do truly universal symbols really exist? Are there symbols that will mean the same thing to any intelligent being, anywhere in the universe?

I tend to doubt it. There may be a few, but even something that seems universal to us may not be. Take water for example. This seems pretty universal—life needs water to exist. But intelligent beings who live in and breathe water would look at water differently than we do—after all, it’s really their air—and so water would not mean the same to them as it does to us. And what about beings based on a different chemistry, ones to whom water is not only unnecessary, but actually lethal? They would certainly think about water in a way completely alien to us!

So when we talk about “universal” symbols, we really mean “universal human symbols.” (more…)

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