This is the second article in our series about the esoteric meaning of the Major Arcana. In this article, we will examine the cards IV – VII. The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers and The Chariot. If you are interested in the previous cards, 0 to III, please click here.
4. THE EMPEROR
- Hebrew letter: Heh (simple): Window
- Kabbalah: Chesed
- Astrology: Aries
- Element: Fire
Keywords: Will, Stability, Firm, Positivism, Executive power, Control, Dominance Greatness.
This card depicts a crowned monarch, seated on a throne. His martial aspect is obvious at once. He is a man of war, dressed in armor, and wearing the purple of royalty. His helmet shows the rule of Divine Will in the Universe and its universal action in the creation of Life. He has a long beard which represents that he has vast experience in this position of authority and this is for the benefit of his people.
He sits on a cube-shaped throne, which indicates stability. This stability is a result of its geometric shape, attributed by the Alchemists to the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the Wise Men’s object of pursuit and is related to the perfection of which individuals are capable. The arms of the throne bear a ram’s head, and this, relates to the astrological correspondence to Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, of the letter Heh.
The Emperor holds in his right hand a scepter, representing his right to rule. However, we must not see in this a brutal weapon, but the emblem of the highest initiating, or magical, power. On his other hand holds a globe as a sign of his universal domination.
The barren mountains behind his throne are in contrast with the abundant nature of Empress. This determines his ambitions for greater achievements and his will to rule with strength and force. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
The Emperor express the active form of all that preceding arcana, The Empress, express in passive form. He reigns over the concrete and corporeal things, as opposed to the Empress who rules over souls and pure spirits. He acts on the birth of all things and rules them after he has created them.
The Emperor is not a tyrant who enforces his will in an arbitrary way, he personifies the life-giving principle. He is the creator, the maker of the World. He constructs all the material things, without coming under the influence of materials which come into play.
This picture of a monarch, who governs all his kingdom, is a true image of your own real self. Let it bring to the surface of your mind the knowledge of who and what you really are.
Grace, Stability, Greatness, Magnificence. Protection. The power which gives and spreads life, creative kindness which brings into existence the animating principle, creative light shared out among creatures and condensed in the center of each individuality. Sulphur of the Alchemists, the realizing word incarnate, active fire, the mystic spouse and son of the life-giving substance, power, sight (the function of sight is attributed to Heh and the Emperor), will, concentration, constancy, steadiness, exactitude, equity.
5. THE HIEROPHANT
- Hebrew letter: Vau (simple): Nail or Hook
- Kabbalah: Pechad
- Astrology: Taurus
- Element: Earth
Keywords: Duty, Advice, Conscience, Morality, Inspiration, Revelation.
Arcana V corresponds to Hebrew letter Vau that means “nail” or “hook”. Thus it indicates:
- The one that joins together the parts of a whole, as nails unite the parts of a house.
- The one that serves to suspend a hanging object, as a hook supports a picture.
The grammatical use of Vau in Hebrew is based on these concepts of the letter’s name.
The function associated with the letter Vau is Hearing. This refers mainly to ordinary physical sensation because hearing is really the main link between one human mind and another. The physical hearing, however, is not the only concept of Vau. This letter represents a more important function. This is the inner listening, where we may know the Voice of the True Self, depicted here as the Hierophant.
The Hierophant is seated between two pillars and speaks to listeners. The believers who kneel in front of him wear garments which are embroidered with the same flowers which appear in the garden of the Magician. White lilies for acquisitions of knowledge and red roses for personal development and desires.
Keeping the middle way, the Hierophant is called to reconcile the opposites. He draws towards them the light of the divine goodness and adapts the religious knowledge to their needs. Doing so, he also makes the highest truths accessible to simple people. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
He wears a triple crown and three vestments – red, blue and white – both representing the three worlds upon which he governs (the conscious, sub-conscious and super-conscious). Hierophant’s sleeves are white to show that his hands remain clear and never get infected by contact with earthly affairs.
In his left hand, he holds a scepter that ends up in the triple cross that denotes his religious status while with his right-hand makes the sign of Esoterism, distinguishing between the manifest and concealed part of doctrine. At his feet, there are two crossed keys symbolizing the balance between the conscious and the subconscious mind. Only the Hierophant has authority over the keys to resolving hidden mysteries.
The Emperor and the Hierophant are the same. The difference between them is in their spheres of operation. The Emperor operates on the objective, external world from which man gathers experience, while the Hierophant operates on the inner realm whence man gains his wisdom, and his knowledge of the significance of what is happening around him.
Hierophant symbolizes all things that are righteous and sacred on the manifest side. His purpose is to transfer of sacred knowledge down to earth.
In a deeper meaning, the Hierophant symbolize the interior teaching. When we face a problem the Hierophant, in the form of intuition or interior teaching, diffuses the panic and offers good and practical advice.
His voice never speaks loud and you will not hear it until you learn to silence the voice of your own thought. The reason behind this is that every great principle, every eternal truth, is already part of the wisdom of your true self, Intuition is really a sort of recollection. It brings up treasures of wisdom that are deeply buried in the subconscious. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
Inspiration. Advice. Conscience, duty, moral law, inhibition, restriction. Revelation. Priesthood, religious knowledge, metaphysics, teaching, knowing how to (as opposed to being able). Authority, certainty, assurance, the absence of doubt, influence or suggestion over the feelings and thoughts of others. Goodwill, kindness, wise generosity. A director of the conscience, the doctor of the soul, moral advice. Absolute authority in his opinions. Function conferring prestige. Taken in a detrimental light: immorality, for faults, take the place of qualities when an arcana becomes negative.
6. THE LOVERS
- Hebrew letter: Zain (simple): Sword
- Kabbalah: Tiphereth
- Astrology: Gemini
- Element: Air
Keywords: Feelings, Love, Equality, Freewill, Testing, Union, Duality, Temptation.
In arcana 6, “The Lovers”, the sun shines in the highest point, and beneath is a great winged figure with arms extended, pouring down influences. In the foreground are two naked human figures, male and female, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There are two trees in this card, the Tree of Life -bearing twelve fruits- behind the man and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – with the serpent coiled around it – behind the woman.
The figures indicate youth, virginity, innocence, and love before being infected by gross material desire. This is a depiction of human love, presented as part of the way, the truth and the life.
If we look closely, we see that man is looking at the woman, who sees the angel, pointing the path of consciousness to the subconscious towards the superconscious, or from the physical desire to emotional needs to spiritual concerns. The angel representing the superconsciousness pours its influence equal upon both the man (self-consciousness) and the woman (subconsciousness). (Further reading: “The Law of Gender – The Process of Creation in all Planes“)
When these two aspects of the personal nature of man found under the “curse” mentioned to the symbolism of the Fall, the woman becomes subject to her husband. Restoring her to her rightful place of equality is one of the great practical works of Ageless wisdom. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
According to that symbolism, man and woman were completely happy so long as they were obedient to the Lord. But, when they listened to the serpent, they found themselves in trouble right away. The “Lord” is the personification of superconsciousness, depicted in card 6 as an angel. As long as the personal life is under the direction of that truly superior aspect of Being, everything is going well. Once the connection with superconsciousness is broken by mistaken endeavors to plan one’s life in accordance with the physical senses, everything goes wrong.
The two human figures are nude, not only because the symbolism comes from the metaphor of Adam and Eve but also because they do not conceal anything from each other. Just as a man and woman who love each other have no shame between them, so the two aspects of human consciousness, when they are in perfect relation to superconsciousness, have nothing to conceal from each other.
If we want to take one lesson from this card, it would be this: The two aspects of human personality are different but equal. One is no better than the other. Each one has its own special powers and its own special field of operation. They must have no concealments. They must leave one another free to conduct their own specific activities. Self-consciousness has the job to observe the objective world and to collect accurate data. Subconsciousness has the job of acting as the connecting link between self- consciousness, and superconsciousness.
Moral beauty, relationship, love, bond uniting all beings, feeling. Sympathies and antipathies, pure affections, foreign to the sensual attraction. Aspirations, desires on which depend on the beauty of the soul, wishes. Freedom, selection, free will, temptation, trial, doubt, uncertainty, hesitation. Emotions, perplexity, indecision, issues that remain inactive, promises, unfulfilled desires.
7. THE CHARIOT
- Hebrew letter: Heth: Εnclosure, Fence
- Kabbalah: Hod
- Astrology: Cancer
- Element: Water
Keywords: Triumph, Command, Superiority, Control, Willpower, Success, Action, Determination.
Arcana 7 corresponds with the Hebrew letter “Heth” which means “fence”, “enclosure”‘. The number 7, from very ancient times, held a special signification. Its peculiar mathematical properties led Pythagoras and other Greek philosophers, to named number 7 “Phylactis,” (Φυλάκτης, means: protector) in reference to its supposed protective powers.
In this card, number 7 in conjunction with the Hebrew letter “Heth” multiplies the “fence” idea in various ways. In the background, there is a city, surrounded by stone walls. In front of the wall, there is a river which is another defensive way.
Even the chariot, we can say that it is a portable fence. The rider wears armor that protects his body – especially his chest – from injury. Furthermore, to confirm the attribution to this Key of the sign Cancer, each shoulder of the rider bears a lunar crescent, and the Moon is the ruler of Cancer.
The Chariot Tarot card depicts a young beardless warrior standing inside a chariot. He is a conqueror, crowned with a crown of laurel and golden pentagrams, meaning that he is enlightened and that his will is pure. He is wearing a breast-plate and holds a wand like the Magician’s, symbolizing that he controls through the power of his will and mind, that’s why he appears to be driving the chariot, while holds no reins.
On his shoulders, he carries the sign of the crescent moon, which represents what is created. If we look closer, we will see that the face in the crescent at the left of the picture is obnoxious and severe, while on the other side has a smiling expression. On his breastplate, there is a square, that indicates the power of his will and the element of the earth – the material world that he bases his actions.
The chariot is of ethereal nature and this confirmed by the Egyptian’s winged globe which decorates the front of the chariot. Below it, there is a symbol related to the mystery of the union of the sexes. But the chariot has a cubic form that shows that despite its ethereal nature, supports all that is visible.
From the corners of the Chariot rise four uprights that hold the canopy. It is a sky-blue canopy decorated with six-pointed stars suggesting the connection of the rider with the celestial world and the Divine will. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
Two sphinxes, one white, the other black, are harnessed to the chariot, representing duality, positive and negative and, at times, opposing forces. The white sphinx symbolizes the good constructive willpowers that seek the general well-being. The black sphinx is impatient and pulls strongly on her side. Its efforts can pull the chariot off its course, but in fact, only succeed in stimulating the white sphinx, which is forced to pull harder on its side. The task of the rider is to guide these sphinxes towards a destination using his willpower and his absolute determination to succeed.
The “river” is a symbol of the esoteric doctrine of will. In this card it flows into the image from outside and flows out again. In the same way, the very real power we feel in us as the one we practice in acts of volition, rather than being something that has its source in our personality is something that flows through the personality field.
One lesson we must take from this card is that our divine real self is the true source of our free will. When we understand this completely and deeply, we will know how to stay in control of all the energies that are meant to obey us. How to be like God in the sphere of our microcosm and how to bring into effective action, forces that now seem far beyond our present limitations. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
Τtriumph, Stability, Active spirituality, Conscious, Absolute domination over oneself, progress, Intelligent evolution, Constructive principle of the Universe, Great Architect. Control, direction, The full power of intelligence and tact, discernment in reconciliation, peace-bringing and civilizing, harmony. Talent, success thanks to personal merit, legitimate outcome, loyal diplomacy, the ability to benefit from adverse action, ambition, advance. In a negative sense: incapacity, lack of talent of tact, diplomacy or spirit of reconciliation; misconduct, bad government.
- Arthur Edward Waite, “The Pictorial Key To The Tarot” 1911 (aff.link)
- Oswald Wirth “Tarot of the Magicians” 1927 & 1985 (aff.link)
- Paul Foster Case “Introduction to Tarot” 1922 (aff.link)
- Papus “The Tarot of the Bohemians” 1896 (aff.link)