Lesson 7: The Twelve Zodiacal Signs in the Major Arcana

Welcome to Lesson Seven. You will notice that I am fond of using italics and boldface to highlight specific words. Anything highlighted can be considered a vocabulary word or concept that I want to bring special attention to. Boldface is a topic that I recommend doing further personal research about.

The Major Arcana as 3+7+12

Each of the twelve zodiacal signs combines one of the three modalities (cardinal, fixed, mutable) with one of the four elements (fire, eath, air, water). Twelve of the Major Arcana trumps are linked to the zodiacal signs; traits conventionally associated with each sign in Astrology are likewise associated with its paired tarot card. The other Major Arcana cards are paired to the seven classical planets and the three modalities.

The Jewish Kabbalists associated the three modalities, seven classical planets, and twelve zodiacal signs to the Hebrew alphabet in the same way centuries before tarot cards existed. We will delve more into that and the Kircher Qabalistic Tree of Life in Lessons 9 and 10.

Different Kabbalistic scholars associated specific planets, zodiac signs, and modalities to specific Hebrew letters according to their own opinions and personal truths. Likewise, I think tarot deck creators should assign the seven planets, twelve zodiacal signs, and three modalities to their Arcana cards according to their own insights and personal truths. Whatever a tarot author/artist creates as 22 Major Arcana cards to represent these 22 occult symbols makes for a valid esoteric deck.

What I’m presenting in this lesson is the way the 7-12-3 astrological trait system associates with the original RWS Major Arcana deck by Pamela Coleman and A.E Waite. This convention is prevalent throughout Major Arcana for many other tarot decks as well.

Each of the zodiacal signs has a planetary ruler. This basically means that in esoteric tarot, five of the classical planets (Mars, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury) each have a stronger influence or affinity for two of the zodiacal signs and two of the classical planets (Sun and Moon) have a stronger influence or affinity for just one of the zodiacal signs.

It’s a lot easier to create your own tarot deck and make these astrological associations to the Major Arcana as you please after you’ve mastered the way it’s all done by convention. I do think to that to create your own functional ~personal~ system of astrological, alchemical, and Qabalistic associations for the 78 tarot cards, you need to create your own deck from scratch.

Astrological Associations Of The RWS Major Arcana

NameAstrological
Attribution
Rulership/Affinity
O The FoolMutable Air (Modality)Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius
I The MagicianMercury Gemini, Virgo
II The High PriestessMoonCancer
III The EmpressVenusTaurus, Libra
IV The EmperorAries (Cardinal Fire)Mars
V The HierophantTaurus (Fixed Earth)Venus
VI The LoversGemini (Mutable Air)Mercury
VII The ChariotCancer (Cardinal Water)Moon
VIII StrengthLeo (Fixed Fire)Sun
IX The HermitVirgo (Mutable Earth)Mercury
X Wheel of FortuneJupiter Sagittarius, Pisces
XI JusticeLibra (Cardinal Air)Venus
XII The Hanged ManFixed Water (Modality)Taurus, Leo, Scorpio
XIII DeathScorpio (Fixed Water)Mars
XIV TemperanceSagittarius (Mutable Fire)Jupiter
XV The DevilCapricorn (Cardinal Earth)Saturn
XVI The TowerMarsAries, Scorpio
XVII The StarAquarius (Fixed Air)Saturn
XVIII The MoonPisces (Mutable Water)Jupiter
XIX The SunSunLeo
XX JudgementCardinal Fire (Modality)Aries, Cancer, Capricorn
XXI The World Saturn (& Earth)Capricorn, Aquarius

I am going to simply introduce the zodiac signs as they relate to the RWS Major Arcana and leave it to your personal studies to become more familiar with each of them as part of the “end of lesson” exercises.


The Zodiacal Symbols

These original 1909 RWS images are by Pamela Coleman Smith, found at Wikipedia and were scanned by Holly Voley for the (US-PD) public domain.

The symbol for Aries represents a face and horns of a ram. It presents itself in the original RWS as part of Emperor’s throne.

The symbol for Leo is a script form of the Greek letter lambda Λλ the first letter of the Greek word for lion (“leon”). It is depicted on the card via the orange lion.

The word Sagittarius means archer and its symbol is an arrow. The constellation depicts the centaur Chiron. This card doesn’t directly portray Sagittarius but rather draws on some shared themes about mutable fire and the sacred healer.

The symbol for Taurus represents a face and horns of a bull. Taurus isn’t explicitly portrayed in the Hierophant but has esoteric themes shared by the card.

The stylized M for Virgo has no explanation that I find satisfying but when I look at it and Scorpio’s symbol, I see yinyang polarity in those tails.

Capricorn’s symbol, like Aries and Taurus, is meant to depict the sea goat it is based on. The Baphomet-style devil with the horned and tailed prisoners in the card is touches on some of the same themes.

Gemini has a stylized Roman numeral two for a symbol to represent the twins Castor and Pollus. In the RWS card, the two figures and the trees behind them have a shape that echoes Gemini’s symbol.

The symbol for Libra represents scales held by the Roman goddess Iustia. The image of Lady Justice captured in the Justice card can be traced back to Iustia. Libra is symbolized by the scales in her left hand.

Aquarius‘ symbol of two bars of rippling water plays itself out in the way the Star is pouring water from two matching vessels.

Two crab claws with yinyang harmony compose the symbol for Cancer. The same yinyang harmony shows up in the charioteer’s shoulders and the two sphinx. There is water in the background, a trait shared with very specific planets and signs.

Pisces‘ symbol is composed of two fish swimming in opposite directions. I’ve read that the crayfish upon this card is very symbolic of Pisces.

Last but not least, the symbol for Scorpio is a stylized M with a “stinger” tail. Death’s white horse and pose mimics that of the Page of Cups.

End of Lesson Exercises

Exercise #1
Using the astrology website of your choice, look up each of the 12 zodiacal signs and find 3-4 keywords that you feel fit the tarot are very well suited for each tarot card upright and another 3-4 that you feel are very well suited for each tarot card reversed. Add this to your tarot journal.

Exercise #2
Using the previous lessons on the classical planets or another resource, review what kind of qualities each of the seven planets represents and write out a couple of sentences in your tarot journal that link the planets to the a) cards they are associated with on their own and b) the cards they are associated with by rulership of astrological signs.

Exercise #3
Watch this short (~4 min) by gswarner called Recognizing Zodiac Correlations in Tarot Cards and write down the Court Cards that associated with different zodical signs and think about any similarities presented in the Major Arcana – Court Card pairs. You might want to pause for each set or watch it a couple of times.

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