As an update to my earlier post on Carl Jung and Tarot, I just received a paper from the Jung Institute library in New York. It contains brief notes Hanni Binder took of Jung’s descriptions, in German, when he spoke to her about the Tarot cards. A friend of hers made a literal translation into English, typing it onto large file cards. What follows is Jung’s verbal description of the Major Arcana. They are based on cards from the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, which he felt most closely contained properties he recognized from his reading of alchemical texts. I have corrected obvious errors in language, but kept these changes to a minimum. My own comments are in brackets [ ].

If you are familiar with Jung’s core concepts you’ll find several of them referred to directly or indirectly: Self, Shadow, extraversion, intraversion, conscious, unconscious, fate, center, inflation, compensation, sacrifice, etc. Notice also his interest in what’s held in the right and left hands as indications of masculine/active or feminine/passive (I prefer ‘receptive’) energies. These notes are simplistic but were obviously only meant to be a starting place for further exploration.

ADDED: Japanese tarotist, Kenji, discovered that Jung’s descriptive text comes almost directly from Papus’ Tarot of the Bohemians (thank you, Kenji). However, Jung seems to have added several keywords from his own psychological lexicon as I noted above. Comparing these two texts will clarify what ideas Jung added.

1 The Magician

The Magician has, in the right hand, a golden ball, in the left a stick [wand]. The hat makes an eight [infinity sign]. The bearing of the hand shows right activity, left passivity. Sign of force, stability, self. He has all the symbols before him.

2 The High Priestess

Sitting Priestess. She wears a veil. On her knees is a book. This book is open. She stands in connection with the moon. Occult wisdom. Passive, eternal woman.

3 The Empress

Empress with wings. In the right hand she has an eagle, in the left a scepter. She has a crown with 12 stones. Eagle as a symbol of soul and life. Feminine activity. Fruitfulness, goddess.

4 The Emperor

Emperor sitting in profile. In the right hand he is holding the scepter. He wears a helmet with 12 stones. The legs are crossed. Will, force, reality, duty, brightness.

5 The Hierophant

The Hierophant leans on a three fax[sic – triple?] cross. The two columns are standing on the right as law, on the left liberty. Two men are kneeling before him: one is red, the other black. Will, religion, fate [faith?], Self, center.

6 The Lovers

The young man stands in a corner where two streets come together. The woman on the right has a golden garland on her head. The woman on the left is wreathed with a vine. Beauty, cross-road, way inward or outward.

7 The Chariot

Conqueror with coronet. He has three angle [right angles on his cuirass]. In his hand is a scepter. Arrow and weapon arm [right hand?]. Actively going toward his fate. He has a goal, achieving victory. Activity, extraversion. Inflation.

8 Justice

Sitting woman with a coronet. In the right hand she has a sword, in the left, a balance [scales]. Compensation between nature and the force of a man. Justice, compensation. Conflict with the law.

9 The Hermit

An old man walks with a stick [staff]. Wisdom as symbolized by the lamp. Protection with the overcoat. Cleverness, love, introversion. Wisdom.

10 Wheel of Fortune

Sphinx holding a sword. Wheel symbolizing endlessness. Finger as a sign of command. Human being as ball [circumference?] of the wheel of fortune. Luck/misfortune.

11 Strength

A young girl opens the mouth of a lion. The girl has the sign of vitality on her hat. Liberty, strength.

12 The Hanged Man

The hands of this man on in back. The eyes are open. The right leg is crossed. On the right and left a trunk of a tree. Turning back [enantiodromia?], powerless, sacrifice, test, proof. Face against the sky.

13 Death

A skeleton in a field with heads and fingers. Death and regeneration. The Ego should not take [the] place, the Self has to take [the] place. New standpoint, liberation, end.

14 Temperance

Young girl pours water from one jug in the other. The sun gives the liquid of life from a golden in[to] a silver jug. Movement, consciousness, natural growth.

15 The Devil

The right hand of the Devil is raised to the sky, the left points to the earth. Two persons are under him. He holds the torch as a sign of black magic. Fate, Shadow, emotion.

16 The Tower

Burning tower. Hospital, prison, struck by lightning. Sacrifice.

17 The Star

A naked woman spills water from two jugs. Around the girl are seven stars. The Self shines, stars of fate, night, dreams. Hope. The Self is born in the stars. Union with the eternal.

18 The Moon

In the middle of a field is a dog and a wolf. A crayfish comes out of the water. It is night. The door to the unconscious is open. The crayfish likes to go the shore. The light is indirect.

19 The Sun

Two naked girls. The sun shines on the children. Drops of gold fall on the earth. The Self is ruling the situation. Consciousness. Enlightenment.

20 Judgement

An angel with fiery wings, an open grave in the earth. Birth of the Self. Inspiration, liberation.

21 The World

Naked woman, her legs are crossed. In the four corners we have the angel, the lion, the bull and the eagle. Completion, finishing. In the world but not from the world.

0 The Fool

A man who doesn’t take care on his way. Beginning and end. The fool has no home in this world; the home is in heaven. Dreamer, mystic side.

Masculine cards:

Wands = Libido [sexual drive]
Swords = Spiritual force

Feminine cards:

Pentacles = Material
Cups = Feeling

Added note on the Four Suits: Jung obviously failed to link the four suits to his four psychological types or functions, based on the quaternity of elements and humors. However, with the “Feminine” suits he came close, calling Cups Feeling, while Pentacles as Material is close to Sensation. Most people link Intuition with Wands and Thinking with Swords.  Jung’s most succinct explanation of his psychological types can be found in Man and His Symbols (highly recommended reading for anyone interested in a Jungian approach to tarot):

  • Sensation tells you that something exists (through the senses).
  • Thinking tells you what it is (its definition).
  • Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not (its value).
  • Intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going (its possibilities).


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