TAROT AND ASTROLOGY When we first study tarot, we learn astrological associations with the cards that may or may not come with much explanation. At first we are just focused on learning everything we can, and memorizing meanings and associations. Later we start questioning what these associations mean and what we can do with them. As we learn more about astrology, other questions may arise, including whether or not the associations learned are a good fit, and the differences and similarities between astrology and tarot. Both methods have been used for centuries. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Does it make sense to use them together, or for different kinds of questions? There are many similarities between tarot and astrology that fascinate practitioners of both disciplines, and have led to many attempts to associate the two practices. Both can be used to create a snapshot in time – a chart or a tarot reading – and answer questions both spiritual and mundane about the past, present, or future. Certain structural elements suggest relationships between astrology and tarot – for example, the four elements are important attributes of the suits in tarot and the houses and signs in astrology.
The 22 major arcana cards can be related easily to the 10 planets plus the 12 signs of the zodiac in astrology (although it must be recognized that when tarot was first developed, only 7 planets were known). These relationships have been used to develop the correspondences between tarot and astrology that most of us learn as part of our tarot studies. However, it is important to recognize that correspondences do not necessarily imply identical or even similar meanings between elements of the two systems.
The Moon in tarot can have a very different meaning from the Moon in astrology, for example. Learning the similarities and differences between these archetypes in the two practices broadens our understanding of both, and I am developing a series of articles that explores these archetypes in depth, the first of which is provided below. Each astrological planet and sign is discussed in terms of how it is similar to and different from the tarot cards with which it is associated in both modern and Renaissance systems. In addition to similarities, there are many ways in which the two practices are different. Tarot is largely a visual medium. Although we may read books and learn keywords for the cards, the concepts and images we relate to tarot are largely based in our visual memory, which is in turn linked to the collective unconscious. Astrology is a much more mathematical practice, in which precision and analytical skills are necessary. It could almost be described as spatial and temporal, while tarot is symbolic and conceptual. These attributes influence the strengths and weaknesses of each method, and suggest their complementary nature. One interesting area to explore is how each method deals with time. Tarot is very fluid with respect to time. One can ask questions regarding the past, present, or future, but the nature of the reading will be strongly influenced by how the question is asked, and issues from different time periods may blend seamlessly together. Alternative futures can be evaluated and explored, and the concept of free will to affect one’s future (at least in part) is often a key feature of the tarot reader’s philosophy. Many readers find that predicting timeframes with tarot is extremely difficult, though there are systems available for doing so. Astrology, on the other hand, is all about time, with a high degree of precision. One of its primary purposes is to lay out the cycles corresponding to the movements of planets that affect our lives. Unlike most anything in tarot, these cycles are what they are – there is no changing them. The key in doing a chart reading is to understand what challenges and opportunities these cycles present, and how the energies of the different planets interact with each other and the houses they are in. Astrology can be thought of as presenting a vast backdrop of energies and cycles that affect our lives. These energies are different for each person, but are somewhat general. Each person is born with a certain set of potentials, which he then uses in different ways during his lifetime. As the planets cycle over time, different energies come into play, with different qualities. Some may complement those that the person is best able to use, and others may be very difficult to experience. Certain combinations may tend to precipitate a crisis or learning opportunity, but how these potentials are used and whether anything significant happens is up to the person and the set of circumstances he finds himself in. Understanding these energies and cycles is often helpful in understanding why we feel the way we do or feel motivated to work on something or make changes. Sometimes just knowing that a particular issue or timeframe is likely to be difficult or challenging helps us prepare and get through it successfully. Tarot, on the other hand, is good at looking at the specifics of any situation, and not as good at looking at the long-term cycles and timing of a situation. For example, an astrological chart might suggest that during a certain month, a person could experience an emotional challenge involving the sixth house, which includes issues relating to health, duty, work, service, and pets, among other things. As a person gets close to that month, he is in the best position to know which of these areas is most likely to be the actual issue (if any – astrological energies do not always manifest as would be indicated by their potential). Tarot can be used to explore exactly what is going on, what that person’s options are, and what course of action might help this person deal with the challenges he is facing. The chart could then be consulted once again to indicate specific times when these actions would likely be most successful, or when a problem is likely to be alleviated if the person takes appropriate action. The combination of tarot and astrology provides a powerful and insightful set of tools to use in exploring almost any question. From the most basic method of looking at a birthdate to evaluate how a person might typically approach a problem, to an in-depth combination of chart and tarot reading analysis, astrology has much to offer tarot readers at every level. Stay tuned for more on tarot and astrology, including a new area of the website which will be devoted to combined tarot/astrology readings…
Teresa Michelsen is a tarot reader, author, and teacher with more than 25 years of experience reading tarot. She is well-known on tarot e-mail discussion lists, and has published many articles on tarot on the worldwide web. Teresa teaches on-line tarot courses for beginning and intermediate tarot readers, published her first book on Designing your Own Tarot Spreads in 2003, and published The Complete Tarot Reader in 2005. Her award-winning tarot website, www.tarotmoon.com, is a favorite destination of tarot readers who come for her lessons and articles on tarot, her examples of completed tarot readings, and beautifully laid-out pages on tarot cards and readings. Teresa lives near Tacoma, Washington, and in addition to her tarot work, has home-based businesses in environmental consulting and mediation.