Chapter 2. The Signs and Planets of the Major Arcana Although it may seem more than coincidental that there should be 12 signs and 10 planets, which together make up the 22 Trumps of the Major Arcana, in fact when tarot was originally developed only seven planets were known. And according to recent astronomers, Pluto has been reclassified and is no longer considered a planet, though most modern astrologers still consider it important. Yet others consider asteroids equally significant.
There is no real historical evidence that systematic correspondences between tarot and other metaphysical disciplines were used for divination or other purposes until the Thoth and Rider-Waite-Smith tarot decks were developed (or “rectified”) around the turn of the century by followers of societies devoted to the Western Mystical Tradition, such as the Golden Dawn. Prior to that, some of the images of the major arcana would certainly have been identified with various mythological figures, some of which are represented among the signs and planets of astrology. However, Renaissance-era associations are far less systematic and some trumps have more than one association or none at all.
For these reasons, both the widely-used Rider-Waite-Smith and likely Renaissance-era associations are presented in this book. I also encouraged you to develop other possible systems of correspondences for your personal use. Many have noted that some of the Golden Dawn associations seem a bit forced, designed to ensure that the astrological signs progress in order through the major arcana. This leads to pairings that might seem odd, such as Cancer with the Chariot or Taurus with the Hierophant. Other choices are certainly possible, and it is a valuable exercise to question those that are presented here and develop your own. The most widely-used set of modern correspondences is shown below.
0 The Fool – Uranus
21 The World – Saturn
An older system of astrological and mythical correspondences is based on Renaissance art and mythology, and more closely follows the mythological portrayals of the gods, goddesses, beasts, and other symbols associated with these signs and planets. No particular attention is paid to signs being in order or having one per card, since this was most likely not an issue in the original development and ordering of the cards.
In addition to astrological signs and planets, many of the cards are associated with Greek or Roman gods and goddesses, or other familiar figures of the culture at that time. To better understand why these cards have the assignments they do, you may want to look at an early version of the trumps in one of the Renaissance decks. One interesting note is that some of the cards like Death, the Devil, and Judgment, which we think of as being largely allegorical today, may have had more literal meanings to the people of the time. Some associations of Renaissance-era major arcana are provided below, only some of which correspond to planets and signs used in astrology.
0 Fool –Fool or court jester, Dionysus
1 Magician – Mountebank or conjurer, Hermes, Mercury
2 Papess – Historians differ about whether this card could refer to the legendary Pope Joan or the historical Manfreda Visconti and thus represent a heretical take on the church, or whether she is simply a feminine counterpart to the Pope and the church, much as the Empress to the Emperor; other associations include Juno, Persephone, and Taurus
3 Empress –Demeter, Hera, Mary mother of Jesus, Cancer
8 Justice – Athena, Libra, one of the four virtues (justice, strength, prudence, and temperance)
9 Hermit – Saturn, Kronos (Father Time), possibly associated with the virtue Prudence, though this link is less clear than the other virtues
10 Wheel of Fortune – Fortuna, the 3 Fates, Gemini
11 Strength – Heracles, Leo, one of the four virtues
12 Hanged Man – Prometheus, Odin, Capricorn
13 Death – Hades
14 Temperance – Iris, Aquarius, one of the four virtues
15 The Devil – Satan, Pan, Scorpio
16 The Tower – Tower of Babel
17 The Star –Ganymede, Aphrodite, Virgo
18 The Moon – Moon, aspects of the Triple Goddess, including Artemis, Demeter, and Hecate (maiden, mother, crone), as well as other goddesses associated with the moon, such as Athena and Persephone
19 The Sun – Sun, Apollo, Helios, Castor and Pollux
20 Judgment – The Resurrection, Judgment Day, Archangel Michael, Pisces
21 The World – Gaea, Paradise, the four elements, animus mundi In the following sections, each astrological sign and planet is described in depth, as it appears in astrology as well as how it relates to the major arcana cards with which it has been associated in both modern and Renaissance eras. Because planets and signs are not always that much like the tarot cards with which they are associated, both their similarities and differences are discussed. Having a greater depth of understanding of both sets of archetypes broadens our understanding of both tarot and astrology. The nature of each retrograde planet is also explored.