Tarot Archetypes 4
The Gods of Olympus. Fresco by Giulio Romano, 1535. Gods of any mythology are clear representatives of different archetypes.
List of Archetypes in the Tarot Card Deck
The Tarot cards of the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana with its four suits represent one archetype each. Here is a list of keywords for those archetypes and their meanings in short.
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The archetypes are symbols to which we all can relate. They represent significant aspects of life — people around us as well as events.
Not even C.G. Jung, who was the one to make new use of the old Greek term, made a complete list of archetypes. He just stated how they work in the human mind as well as in society, and gave a number of examples in his writing.
The Tarot consists of 78 cards — 22 in the Major Arcana and 56 in the Minor Arcana, which is in turn divided into four suits with 14 cards each. Each can be said to represent an archetype. That's quite clear regarding the Major Arcana cards, but not always with the Minor Arcana.
What the cards symbolize depends on how they are illustrated. In some Tarot decks only the Major Arcana and the face cards of the suits are illustrated. Not the pip cards. In others, like the Rider-Waite deck used on this website, every card is illustrated. That makes a difference as to how they should be interpreted, and therefore also what archetype they should be assigned.
In the following list I focus on the Rider-Waite deck, when extracting keywords for the Tarot cards. Still, in some cases I deviate slightly from what the illustrations suggest, when the symbol the card carries points to an archetype that needs to be interpreted differently.
Note that there is no general agreement on the archetypes and meanings I suggest below. Some are less controversial than others, but still trust your own intuition more than this list. Each user of the Tarot needs to be clear about what the cards mean to her or him in a reading, whatever other users claim.
Major Arcana Archetypes
The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are easy to connect to their respective archetypes, however they are illustrated. To no surprise, these cards are generally regarded as the most important and significant of the Tarot. In a divination spread, Major Arcana cards mark the most important events or circumstances.
Actually, the Major Arcana cards can be described as archetypes in their own right: The archetype of the Magician, the archetype of the High Priestess, and so on. Still, they need to be specified and explained, which is what I have aimed to do with the keywords below.
Here are their archetype keywords, with short explanations of what they can mean in a reading:
- The Magician Wizard: surpassing the plausible.
- The High Priestess Secret: hidden influence.
- The Empress Benefactor: gentle power.
- The Emperor Supreme ruler: irresistible power.
- The Hierophant Priest: spiritual authority.
- The Lovers Love: intense affection.
- The Chariot Conqueror: success in spite of resistance.
- Strength Hero: a great feat.
- The Hermit Solitude: isolation.
- Wheel of Fortune Chance: the unpredictable.
- Justice Judge: the rule of law.
- The Hanged Man Martyr: sacrifice.
- Death Grim reaper: coming to an end.
- Temperance Patience: time passes.
- The Devil Archfiend: nemesis.
- The Tower Destruction: failure.
- The Star Distance: the unreachable.
- The Moon Soul: longing.
- The Sun Ability: triumph.
- Judgement Result: final outcome.
- The World Opportunity: success at hand.
- The Fool Innocence: carefree ignorance.
Minor Arcana Archetypes
The Four Suits
The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits, much like regular playing cards although with different names. This foursome is connected to the principle of the four elements in Greek philosophy: fire, earth, air, and water, especially as they are applied to astrology. Like those elements, each suit represents an archetype.
The archetype of a suit influence the meanings of all its 14 cards, giving them sort of a theme. This should be considered when interpreting the cards in a reading, whatever the image of the card seems to imply.
Here are the four suits and their archetypes:
- Wands Clubs in playing cards. Greek element: earth.
Materialism: earthly matters.
- Pentacles Diamonds in playing cards. Greek element: air.
Thought: things of the mind.
- Cups Hearts in playing cards. Greek element: Water.
Emotions: how it feels.
- Swords Spades in playing cards. Greek element: fire.
Action: the force of intention.
The 14 Cards of Each Suit
The face cards of each suit, from Page to King, represent the same regardless of what Tarot deck is used. Their archetypes don't change depending on the illustration on the card. The same can be said for the Aces, which stand for a sudden burst of the kind the suit generally symbolizes, as mentioned above.
As for the remaining nine pip cards of each suit, though, their symbolic meanings are far from fixed. Then the illustration of each card is what suggests the meaning of the card in divination, as well as how it can be described with an archetype.
It gets complicated with Tarot decks where those cards have no illustrations. But that is not the case with the Rider-Waite, which is the deck I use on this website. My interpretations below are based on the images of the Rider-Waite cards. If you use another illustrated Tarot deck, you may want to alter the archetypes and their keywords, according to your impression of the images.
Here are the archetype keywords of the 14 cards in each suit of the Tarot:
The suit of materialism, earthly matters.
- Ace Drastic material change
- Page Helpful friend
- Knight Material advancement
- Queen Settling with possessions
- King Material wealth
The suit of thought, things of the mind.
- Ace Drastic change of thought
- Page Agreeing friend
- Knight Intellectual advancement
- Queen Settling mind
- King Intellectual prominence
The suit of emotions, how it feels.
- Ace Drastic change of feelings
- Page Comforting friend
- Knight Emotional advancement
- Queen Settling emotions
- King Emotional restraint
The suit of action, the force of intention.
- Ace Drastic change of action
- Page Allied friend
- Knight Advancement in action
- Queen Settling calamity
- King Decisive action
Click to read the first chapter of this text:
Archetypes — the Themes of Myths
Archetypes of the Tarot
List of Tarot card Archetypes
My Other Websites:
The 64 hexagrams of the Chinese classic I Ching
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Creation stories from around the world, and the ancient beliefs about the world and the gods as revealed by the myths.
Other Books of Mine
Your Health in Your Horoscope
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Psychoanalysis of Mythology
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I'm a Swedish author. In addition to fiction, I've written books about the Tarot, Taoism, astrology and other metaphysical traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.