Tarot Dictionary & Compendium

Tarot Dictionary & Compendium

by Jana Riley, Samuel Weiser


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780877288213
Publisher: Red Wheel Weiser & Conari Press
Publication date: 10/01/1995
Pages: 324
Sales rank: 1,289,294
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.73(d)

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By Jana Riley

Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Copyright © 1995 Jana Riley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87728-821-3



You cannot be aware without interpretation for what you perceive is your interpretation.

—A Course in Miracles

The tarot is a collection of 78 pictures presented in the form of a deck of cards. It is divided into three sections: the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana, and the Court Cards.

For a long time, most people weren't sure what the pictures represented. There were plenty of theories, and opinions abounded, but as far as there being any tangible evidence or any sort of general consensus, the meaning of the tarot, except to a scholarly few, remained elusive. What was clear, however, even from the beginning, is that in some way the tarot was a picture compilation of universal imagery and symbology. It contains the symbols found in every civilization—ancient and modern—in the form of paintings, sculptures, drawings, icons, legends, myths, religions, and to make a very long story short, in every physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual form people have ever been able to mold, dream, imagine, express, or squeeze them into. The tarot is cosmogonal. It is a collection of symbols that crosses all boundaries of culture, time, and space; a compilation of inexorable imagery which has existed for eons, and continues to reside in the collective unconscious of all human beings. No one knows exactly how old the tarot is, nor do we know for sure who created it. It is possible that it originated in Egypt or China. It has been associated with the gypsies— descendants of the Egyptians who eons ago migrated to Europe, thus the derivation of the name, gypsies. There is also evidence it may be associated with the ancient Taoist philosophy of China. Tao means "the way" or "the path" which is what tarot also means, and there are parallels between the ancient writings, meditational practices, and teachings of the Tao and tarot. However, we do not know for sure where, why, or how the tarot originated, and the only thing we can say positively is that it is, without doubt, extremely old. Officially, the first tarot deck goes back to the 14th century, and unofficially, to pre-dynasty Egypt.

In addition to its two factors of universal symbology and enduring antiquity, another significant factor noticed about the tarot is that the Minor Arcana and Court Cards are basically the same as a modern deck of regular playing cards. No one knows how or where playing cards originated either, nor why they are depicted and arranged the specific way they are. Even though at one time, whoever created the tarot and playing cards obviously knew what they were doing, it hasn't been until the 20th century that a prevalent consensus has been reached on what the pictures actually represent. It is now generally accepted that both the tarot and playing cards, each in their own fashion, are representations of the archetypes. The archetypes, as they are found in the tarot, and in religion, are divided into a trinity.


The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards depicting the 22 major archetypes; hence, their etymological root with the words arcana and archangels. They are called Major because they are the archetypes which are contained within the collective unconscious of humanity and all of life, and thus they are universal in content rather than individual.


The Minor Arcana is a total of 40 cards which show the various ways the 22 archetypes of the Major Arcana are experienced in day-to-day living. C. G. Jung, the father of humanistic psychology, believed that archetypes tend toward manifestation. This being the case, it may be said that the Minor Arcana is the Major manifesting itself on the physical plane, or that universal consciousness is displaying itself in individual consciousness.


The Court Cards are pictures of the sixteen different personality types. You may ask why sixteen types, rather than 10 or 20, or any other number? Why specifically sixteen? It seems that, once again, whoever the creators of the tarot were knew exactly what they were doing. Between 1913 and 1917 C. G. Jung wrote his now famous book, Psychological Types, first published in 1923. In his book Jung describes eight different personality types. Later, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers expanded Jung's original theory of eight psychological types into sixteen. Briggs and Myers devised a test, or type indicator, now called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is so uncannily precise that today it is considered by many to be the most accurate tool available to ascertain personality type, and is used in companies, universities, and counseling centers around the world. The MBTI is based on sixteen personality types according to the four Jungian functions of sensation, emotion, thinking, and intuition, and it is these sixteen archetypal personality types which the Court Cards represent. Although, as far as we know, Jung and Myers-Briggs were in no way connected with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which in the early 20th century also described the sixteen court cards, the Golden Dawn's descriptions correspond with eerie precision to the personalities established by the MBTI.

The Major Arcana are universal invisible archetypes, sometimes called Archangels, Angels, Spirits, High Selves, Inner Guides, or the superconscious. The Minor cards show how the Major Arcana are displayed in individual archetypal events, situations, or in issues that take place on Earth. And the Court Cards indicate archetypal behavior and personality.

Realizing that the tarot is 78 depictions of archetypes does not, however, enlighten us as to what an archetype precisely is. Psychologists, esotericists, and theologians talk about archetypes without providing us with clear definitions. Archetypes form the backbone of modern psychology. They are the images from whence derive the angels and devils of all religions. The heroes and villains of fairy tales, myths, modern novels, and movies, the good guy in the white hat and the bad guy in the black hat, the good guy's trusty steed, and the hapless heroine waiting to be rescued are all archetypal. Archetypes are painted on cathedral walls and holy temples, and corporations unwittingly structure their hierarchy in their image. They appear in the works of Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, and all artists and musicians everywhere. Archetypes form the basis of every book ever written, every movie ever made, and every song ever sung. Archetypes are found around us in every form and motion.

To discover what archetypes are in actuality, it is perhaps useful to look at a few of the various ways different scholars over the ages have attempted to define them. Starting far back with the sages of ancient lore, Hermes Thoth Trismegistus, the renowned scholar-magician-savant of Egypt, defined archetypes in much the same manner the Bible's first book of Genesis does. Of archetypes, Hermes wrote:

Before the visible universe was formed its mold was cast. This mold was called the Archetype, and this Archetype was in the Supreme Mind long before the process of creation began. Beholding the Archetypes, the Supreme Mind became enamored with Its own thought; so, taking the Word as a mighty hammer, It gouged out caverns in primordial space and cast the form of the spheres in the Archetypal mold, at the same time sowing in the newly fashioned bodies the seeds of living things. The darkness below, receiving the hammer of the Word, was fashioned into an orderly universe. The elements separated into strata and each brought forth living creatures. The Supreme Being—the Mind—male and female, brought forth the Word— In this manner it was accomplished, O Hermes: The Word moving like a breath through space called forth the Fire by the friction of its motion ...

As beautifully poetic as this description is, when it comes to explaining what an archetype actually is, it may still leave some of us feeling like our dipsticks are about two quarts low. So let's take a look at a more contemporary definition, one that is perhaps more attuned to our modern way of thinking.

C. G. Jung is the man of our era responsible for once again bringing archetypes to public attention. His entire life was dedicated to their exploration, and he wrote volumes about them. Of archetypes Jung wrote:

The contents of the collective unconscious are known as archetypes ... this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals.... The archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear.

Jung's definition is apropos to tarot for many reasons, not the least because it describes how the Major Arcana ties in with the Minor, how archetypes are first and foremost universal in content (the Major) and then become personal by being perceived through the individual (the Minor). It is also, as the more holistic person may immediately notice, a quasi-clinical way of saying we all create our own realities by that (archetype) of which we are most aware.

However, Jung's definition, as accurate as it is, may still tend to leave some of us a little fuzzy around the mental edges. Even if we do understand Hermes' and Jung's definition of archetypes, they do not tell us how to apply archetypes on a daily basis in our own lives. So let us move on to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, where we find archetype defined as: "the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies ..."

Now, if we think about these three different definitions of archetypes for a little while, it might be possible to arrive at a consolidated definition that goes something like this:

The original Archetype was a thought in the Mind of God—male and female. The Supreme Mind became enamored with this thought and created life in Its image by the friction of Its Word—or by the motion of Its sound. This caused the Universe to divide into ordered strata, and because creation is within the Mind of God, everything is a model or a copy of the original pattern, which is God.

Or perhaps something to this effect. If there appears to be some confusion as to whether creation is patterned after God Itself or after God's thought, that is probably due to the fact that esoteric scholars have always claimed that thought is, God is—that thought and God and Mind and Creation are synonymous. We are what we think. And what we think, we are. Likewise, we are also what we speak.

This same concept—of life being patterned after the original Archetype—has been said in many other ways. "As above, so below." "What goes around, comes around." "We reap what we sow." "Like attracts like." "What you do unto others shall be done unto you." "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Hunbatz Men, in his book, Secrets of Mayan Science/Religion, points out that the bible maintains that God created us in the divine image and likeness, and suggests this is analogous to the idea that God is energy, and that we are a reflection of that intelligent cosmic energy, of cosmic consciousness. In Mayan, the body is called wuinclil, which means "to be vibration." This perhaps clarifies again the nature of God's image created by and in the likeness of the word, or sound: for sound is motion, or moving particle waves of light. In derivation, wuinclil sounds suspiciously close to wunjo, the runestone of joy and light; to unihipili, the low self in the science/religion of Huna which means vitality, energy, body, emotion, and motion; and to the World, the 21st Arcanum in one tarot, which means sound, joy, light, life, and dancing, all of which are akin to vibration, energy, light, and sound.

From Hermes, Jung, Webster, and Men, we begin to realize that archetypes are difficult to define because archetypes are everything—with the additional catch that "everything," or "anything," is always defined through the eyes of the individual. Maybe that's why the word itself, archetype, if taken etymologically, also turns out to mean everything as perceived through the eyes of the beholder, for the definition of arch is "something that angles," and the definition of type is "a kind," so an archetype is "a kind of angle." Hermes described everyone having his own personal angle on everything by saying the Archetype separates down through the strata, and Jung described it by saying the archetype is both collective and individual. It would seem that angles, or archetypes, are everything, but at the same time, it is the way we individually see anything that defines its personal reality to us, or the angle in which we are personally perceiving it. That is why Jung says: "the archetype ... is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear." The tarot is a magic picturebook presenting 78 angles by which people perceive the One Great Undivided Whole. The power of the tarot lies in its broad application to this universal principle.

The tarot interpretations, correspondences, and layouts which follow are, so to speak, many angles on the one God, or on the one life of All That Is. And, as Jung said, we find collectively, if not personally, that these angles "are more or less the same everywhere...." We will see the similarities and the differences in many of the archetypal interpretations. Where interpretations do appear to be at odds, it is because each author approaches the angel at a slightly different angle.

* * *

By working with the various interpretations, we will eventually understand the many layers of meaning that reside within the archetypal symbolism, but first it is probably appropriate to have a basic consensus of terminology because tarot has a language of its own.


The qualities attributed to the four suits are those usually accepted by most authorities. A difference in the understanding of the meaning of words is sometimes the reason for some seeming discrepancies found in tarot interpretations; for instance, note the distinction between the meaning of work (attributed to discs) and career (attributed to wands), and between instincts (attributed to cups) and intuition (attributed to wands). Working with the cards for a prolonged length of time usually makes evident the meaning and the reason for the attribution of certain words to a particular suit. Following are some of the commonly used terms found in tarot.

arcana (plural)—(arcanum-singular): Hidden knowledge, a mystery. The tarot is divided into the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana (the Minor plus the court cards), or the greater and lesser secret knowledge.

archetype: A type of arch, or angle, on the Angel(s). Scientifically, any symmetry perceived to be of like-motion or form.

cartomancer: A person who reads a deck of playing cards or a tarot deck.

cartomancy: The art or skill of reading playing cards or a tarot deck.

Celtic Cross Spread (pronounced "Keltic"): One of the oldest and most popular layouts of the cards, with six cards forming the shape of a Celtic Cross and four cards laid in a vertical line to its right. (See chapter on layouts.)

centering: The process of bringing the conscious mind into the center of yourself in order to become more aware. The practice of meditation, or of centering your concentration, usually on the question being asked while shuffling the cards.

client: The person for whom the cartomancer is doing the reading. Also called the querent.

court cards: The sixteen cards of a tarot deck consisting of the King, Queen, Prince, and Princess of each of the four suits. Also called King, Queen, Knight, and Page; or Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess, respectively. Known by other titles as well, depending on the creator of the deck. In a deck of playing cards, the court cards are the King, Queen, and Jack, it usually being inferred that the Prince and Princess are combined as one within the Jack.

cups: One of the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Also called hearts, chalices, goblets, rivers, cauldrons, bowls, grails, vessels, fish, blossoms, and other titles, depending on the deck. Typically associated with water, feeling, emotions, the heart, dreams, memories, fear, pleasure, instincts, and the subconscious.

discs: One of the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Also called diamonds, coins, pentacles, worlds, circles, nuggets, stones, shields, beasts, and other titles, depending on the deck. Associated with earth, the physical, material, sensation, the five senses, money, work, and all physical bodies.

Excerpted from TAROT DICTIONARY AND COMPENDIUM by Jana Riley. Copyright © 1995 Jana Riley. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




List of Illustrations          

Chapter 1 The Tarot          

Chapter 2 The Major Arcana          

Chapter 3 The Minor Arcana          

Chapter 4 The Court Cards          

Chapter 5 Correspondences          

Chapter 6 Layouts          

Chapter 7 Why Divination Works          

Tarot Bibliography          

General Bibliography          


About the Author          

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