Meta-Stories of the Minor Arcana

We are almost at the halfway point through our analyses of the minor arcana Two through Ten cards. This may be a good time to step back and consider the most consistent finding so far. That finding is that it appears Waite and Colman Smith in many cases placed textual or visual representations of the origin stories of the particular Zodiac sign associated with the constellation for the decan to which the Golden Dawn group assigned the card.

Goddess and Planetary Symbols

As an example, we could consider the Seven of Wands, in Leo. The sign represents the lion that the mythic hero Hercules subdued using his club, in the first of his twelve labors. Waite’s divinatory meanings support the Hercules and Nemean lion narrative: “valor,” “brandishing a staff,” “success,” “combatant on top,” even “trade” and “barter.” We can point to Hercule’s semi-divine status as explaining the “vantage point.” The graphics recall the club Hercules used to knock the lion out as well as the hill or “vantage point” which Waite described.

It seems natural that Colman Smith, who some accounts say had little input from Waite regarding the specific graphic designs for the minor arcana, would turn to the astrological/elemental/qabalistic knowledge she learned from her time in the Golden Dawn group to provide the starting point for the mise-en-scène for these card designs.

More importantly for modern readers, it is a serendipitous aspect of the RWS deck’s design process, that their basis in these origin stories can be “seen” in the cards still.

It has been said again and again that there are stories in the tarot, such as that of the Fool’s journey being embedded in the major arcana. Many intuitive readers try to look at the cards in the spread and construct a story from them to start the process of answering a querent’s questions.

Story-telling is indeed an excellent means to connect with the querent. It involves the querent in formulating the answer to the question, because everyone likes to participate in a good story. This article surveys psychological studies that document the an improved ability to learn and an improved level of empathy. It stated:

Storytelling, especially in novels, allows people to peek into someone’s conscience to see how other people think. This can affirm our own beliefs and perceptions, but more often, it challenges them.

Which is exactly what many readers try to get the querent to do when engaging them with a story of what the reader sees in the spread of cards before them.

Or think about it this way. What’s more likely to touch the querent deep down, to draw a response to what you’re telling them you think you see in the cards, to elicit thoughtful answers when the cards show you:

  • A vague situation that you can only turn into a story fragment, a story of the querent under attack from unknown forces with which you expect the querent to agree or not, identify with or not? Or would you be able to communicate better if you could relate a tale of Hercules, a story recognizable through millenia of being handed down, universally relatable? For who hasn’t at sometime felt that they had to fight a stronger, nearly invincible enemy in the dark? (The Seven of Wands)
  • A story about a pleasant time, without detail, or the story of Noah’s flood? The flood story is said to have been present in every culture. Who hasn’t felt at some time that it was “every man for himself and God against all?” And then to have survived that time and known that there would be no such further trials. (The Two of Pentacles)
  • A story about someone defeating someone or some people thoroughly, or the story of the fall or Troy, certainly the oldest continuously read story in all western culture (The Five of Swords)

By now you get the message. More than just archetypes, stories that have engaged people for literally thousands of years are likely to engage the querent as you interpret the cards and try to get to the bottom of what the cards are trying to tell both reader and querent.

Storyteller image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay
Planetary goddess image by Jo-B from Pixabay
“Storytelling” quote ©2014 Cody C. Delistraty/Atlantic Magazind, “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling”

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John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot?