On Card 11 we see the familiar figure of Justice. She has the scales of equality and impartial judgment in one hand, and the sword of decision in the other. In the tarot, Justice represents the understanding that life is ultimately fair and just. Even though the vagaries of day-to-day life tend to make us doubt this fact, Justice reminds us that there is divine balance. Notice the similarity between the Emperor and Justice. Both cards stand for universal order; the Emperor in its underlying structure, Justice, in the action of karma – cause and effect.
There is a serious feel to Card 11 – the tone of the courtroom. This card refers to legal matters of all kinds, but is not restricted to them. The courts are where judgments are made and decisions rendered. Our legal system is the official arena in which we explore the principles of Justice – fairness, impartiality and the quest for truth.
In readings, Justice often appears when you are concerned with doing what is right or making sure you receive your due. This card can also appear when you are feeling the impact of a past mistake or good deed. The cause you set in motion at one time is now returning to you as an effect.
Sometimes Justice is a signal to do what needs to be done. A time comes when responsibilities must be accepted, and accounts settled. The past will continue to haunt you if you do not recognize your mistakes and make amends for them. You will need to weigh matters carefully and perhaps make important decisions about your future course.
The two figures on the Five of Pentacles are cold, hungry, tired, sick and poor. They show us what it feels like to be without – to lack the basic ingredients of life. This is the specter that haunts so many in our world – a reality that is all too immediate. Those of us who are more fortunate may not have experienced this extreme, but we still recognize suffering. When we do not have what we want and need, it hurts.
In readings, the Five of Pentacles can represent several kinds of lack. First, there is poor health. It is hard to tackle life’s challenges when we do not have our vitality and strength. This card can be a signal that you are neglecting the needs of your body. You are moving away from complete physical well-being, so you must take steps to discover and correct the problem.
This card can also be a sign of material and economic setbacks. There is no doubt that life is harder when we lack money or a decent job. When we are struggling to make ends meet, all other problems are magnified. Even if we are comfortable, we can still feel insecure, afraid that misfortune will take away all that we have worked for.
The Five of Pentacles can also represent rejection or lack of acceptance. We are social animals and feel pain when excluded from our group. We want to be included, not only for our emotional well-being, but also for mutual support. Being rejected can mean physical hardship as well.
The Five of Pentacles relates to material lack, but it also has a spiritual component. From the stained glass window, we can guess that these two figures are outside of a church. Comfort is so close at hand, but they fail to see it. The church symbolizes our spirits which are perfect and whole in every way. We are meant to enjoy abundance in all areas of life, but sometimes we forget that this is our birthright. Whenever you experience hardship, know that it is only temporary. Look for the spiritual center that will take you in and give you shelter.
Usually we think of strength in physical terms – big arms, powerful legs – but there is also inner strength. Inner strength comes from an exercise of the heart muscle. It is perseverance, courage, resolve and composure – qualities that help us endure when times are tough. In the past, a person with inner strength was commonly said to have character; he or she could be counted on in the darkest moments. Card 8 represents this energy of quiet determination. Strength is not a flashy card, but one that is solid and reliable.
Card 8 also represents patience and compassion. Getting angry is easy when events turn sour, but dealing calmly with frustration takes great strength. So does accepting others and forgiving mistakes. We need strength to mold situations softly. The Chariot controls through mastery and authority. Card 8 is more subtle, even loving. Notice how the lion (itself a symbol of strength) is being guided and tamed by the woman’s gentle hands.
Card 8 will appear in a reading when its qualities are needed. It can be a reminder not to despair or give up. You have the inner strength to endure and triumph. If you are pushing too hard, you need to withdraw for the moment and be patient. If other people or circumstances are driving you crazy, remember the strength that comes with love and forbearance. These will see you through the hardest moments.
The man on the Nine of Cups reminds me of “the cat who ate the canary.” Now, a canary is a pet strictly off limits to hungry felines. Any cat who manages to catch one is going to feel pretty smug about it. This is the feeling tone of the Nine of Cups – pure indulgence and self-satisfaction.
At the physical level, the NIne of Cups is a sign of delight in all the senses. Sights, sounds, tastes, feelings. This card encourages you to seek out pleasure and enjoy your body in every way. You can commune with the natural world as well – the body of Mother Earth. She, too, delights in sharing her abundance.
At the personal level, the Nine of Cups indicates contentment with the way things are. Notice how the man is seated confidently with his arms folded and a smile on his face. He has everything he wants and couldn’t be happier about it. “See all my cups!” he seems to say. “Aren’t they great?”
Sometimes it’s wonderful to sit back and revel in the knowledge that all’s right with the world. But a word of caution. You may be tempted to indulge yourself at the cost of someone else (like our mischievous cat!). This may feel great at the time, but sooner or later the feathers around your mouth will be discovered, and regret will set in. Pursuit of pleasure without regard to consequences is never satisfying in the long run.
In many tarot traditions, the Nine of Cups is known as the Wish Card. It shows your wish will come true. A wonderful prospect, but remember your fairy tale lessons. You must be sure you know what you really want and accept the responsibilities that go with your wish. If that is the case, then enjoy your good fortune!
The woman on the Eight of Swords is lost and alone. She can’t see because she is blindfolded. She can’t reach out because she is bound. She can’t move freely because she is caught in a prison of swords. It seems she has wandered far from home – her place of security far away on the hill. How can she get back? She doesn’t even know which way to go. The Eight of Swords stands for those times when we feel lost, confused and powerless. Help and relief seems very far away.
Sometimes we feel restricted by circumstances. We wake up one day in an impossible situation. A dead end job. A troubled relationship. Mountains of debt. How did this happen? We have no idea. Even little problems can make us feel trapped. There just doesn’t seem to be a way out. Sometimes life seems fine – on the surface. “I have everything I want. I should be happy, so what’s the problem?” We just don’t know. We’re confused and unsure.
In readings, the Eight of Swords is often a sign that you are heading toward (or already in) a situation in which you will feel a lack of freedom and choice. Such situations are tricky because the more you get into them, the more restricted you feel. At each step, your options seem to narrow until you feel completely stuck.
When you see this card, remember that you do have choices, and you do have power. No matter how trapped you feel, you can find a way out if you believe it is possible. The young girl in the picture could free herself. She could wriggle free, tear off the blindfold, and kick down those swords. Solutions are not always easy, but they exist. Find your clarity of thought and purpose (the Swords ideal) and use them to take that first step toward home.
The Six of Wands is the minor arcana counterpart of the Chariot. Both of these cards represent moments of victory and triumph. Sometimes in life, all we want to do is win – to be number one. You can see this dream in the faces of athletes, politicians, and other champions as they step into the winner’s circle. It’s all been worthwhile. I’m the best. I’ve won!
In readings, the Six of Wands appears when you have been working hard toward a goal, and success is finally within reach. The recognition you have sought so long is yours. Now you can receive the acclaim, honor and reward that you deserve. If you do not feel close to victory now, know that it is on its way provided you are doing all you can to make it happen. The victory of this card does not have to involve beating someone else. You can triumph over yourself, the environment, or the odds.
The Six of Wands also represents a healthy self-esteem. Feeling good about your accomplishments is an important part of success, but too much pride can lead to arrogance and self-inflation. When you see this card, check that you are not feeling superior to others. It is easy to forget that individual achievement is not really individual at all. Our talents begin in the Divine, develop with the love and support of others, and only in the end express through us. How can we indulge in excess pride?
In The Purgatorio Dante considers pride the first and greatest sin that must be overcome by souls reaching toward heaven. When the Six of Wands appears, enjoy your triumph, feel good about yourself, but remember Dante’s words:
O gifted men, vainglorious for first place,
how short a time the laurel crown stays green
A breath of wind is all there is to fame
here upon earth: it blows this way and that,
and when it changes quarter it changes name.
The Ace of Cups shows is a symbol of possibility in the area of deep feelings, intimacy, attunement, compassion and love. In readings, it shows that a seed of emotional awareness has been planted in your life although you may not yet recognize it. When the seed sprouts, it could take almost any form. It might be an attraction, strong feeling, intuitive knowing, or sympathetic reaction. On the outside, it could be an offer, gift, opportunity, encounter or synchronistic event.
When you see this Ace, examine your life to see how its loving energy could work for you. This card often means that love is the essence of the situation. It may or may not be romantic love. Look for ways in which you can begin to connect with others. Do you have someone to forgive, or do you want to ask for forgiveness? Can you set aside your anger and find peace? Would you like to drop your reserve and let your feelings show? The Ace of Cups tells you that your time is coming.
This card also suggests inner attunement and spirituality. Cups are the suit of the heart, and the Ace stands for the direct knowing that comes from the heart. Trust what your feelings are telling you. Seek out ways to explore your consciousness and your connections with Spirit. Allow the power of your emotions to guide you in a new direction. Embrace the love that is the Ace of Cups.
The Hanged Man is one of the most mysterious cards in the tarot deck. It is simple, but complex. It attracts, but also disturbs. It contradicts itself in countless ways. The Hanged Man is unsettling because it symbolizes the action of paradox in our lives. A paradox is something that appears contradictory, and yet is true. The Hanged Man presents to us certain truths, but they are hidden in their opposites.
The main lesson of the Hanged Man is that we “control” by letting go – we “win” by surrendering. The figure on Card 12 has made the ultimate surrender – to die on the cross of his own travails – yet he shines with the glory of divine understanding. He has sacrificed himself, but he emerges the victor. The Hanged Man also tells us that we can “move forward” by standing still. By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world.
In readings, the Hanged Man reminds us that the best approach to a problem is not always the most obvious. When we most want to force our will on someone, that is when we should release. When we most want to have our own way, that is when we should sacrifice. When we most want to act, that is when we should wait. The irony is that by making these contradictory moves, we find what we are looking for.
On the Ten of Wands, we see a bent figure trying to carry ten heavy poles. They are ranged so closely in front of him that he can’t even see where he’s going. Nothing exists for this man except his burdens and responsibilities. How true this is for so many today! We take on so much, trying to do all the things that need to be done. We think that if we can hang on until the weekend (or vacation, or end of the semester) then we can finally relax. The weekend comes, and the overload continues.
In readings, the Ten of Wands can be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. If your days are an endless round of duties and tasks, then you need to lighten up for the sake of your health and well-being. Cut back, and take on only those activities that give you pleasure. If you love your work, but it’s all-consuming, you may be too narrowly focused in one area. Balance your life with other interests.
The Ten of Wands can also stand for times when you have to assume the lion’s share of responsibility. You may be blamed or left holding the bag. On the other hand, you may have to step forward and take charge because you are the only one capable enough. Rightly or wrongly, the cleanup will fall to you.
The Ten of Wands indicates that your life is going to be tougher than usual for a time. You will have to fight uphill for every little gain. Each step will feel like a struggle. When you see this card, be kind to yourself. Lighten the load wherever you can, and let others help you. You don’t have to handle everything yourself.
The Empress and the High Priestess are the two halves of the female archetype in the major arcana. The Empress represents the fertile, life-giving Mother who reigns over the bounty of nature and the rhythms of the Earth. From her comes all the pleasures and joys of the senses and the abundance of new life in all its forms. The Empress encourages you to strengthen your connections with the natural world which is the ground of our being. Too often false sophistications and pleasures take us far from our roots. Let the Empress remind you to keep your feet firmly planted in the Earth.
In readings the Empress can refer to any aspect of Motherhood. She can be an individual mother, but as a major arcana card, she also goes beyond the specifics of mothering to its essence – the creation of life and its sustenance through loving care and attention.
The Empress can also represent lavish abundance of all kinds. She offers a cornucopia of delights, especially those of the senses – food, pleasure and beauty. She can suggest material reward, but only with the understanding that riches go with a generous and open spirit. The Empress asks you to embrace the principle of life and enjoy its bountiful goodness.