A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Chariot

The next step on The Fool’s Journey bring us to The Chariot — moving us from the work we’ve done connecting with personal power, authority, and institutional power, and from connecting head and heart, to the potential to work our Will. Associated with the sign of Cancer, The Chariot represents forward movement towards our goals, as long as we take the reins and use our Will and Power to direct The Chariot forward. In the classic Rider-Waite Tarot, The Chariot is drawn by two regal Sphinxes and looks like this:


The Chariot from The Rider-Waite Tarot

The Charioteer appears ready to move forward, to command the Sphinxes — those mysterious holders of secrets — to rise and and draw the vehicle into the future. I always see this card as representing the pause before the rush forward — the brief moment to decide where we want our Will to take us.

Who is The Chariot?

Though it is associated with the astrological sign of Cancer, which we often think of as an emotional, watery, and sometimes passive energy, The Chariot is about pure Will and pure potential. The Chariot is full of determination — He has chosen a direction, has a destination in sight, and is ready to move towards it will all His energy and Will. He holds The Magician’s wand rather than a conventional set of reins. The Chariot is drawn by two Sphinxes — black and white, representing the positive-negative polarity.

Some people see The Chariot as about the pursuit of spiritual matters, including exploration of the occult or magickal realm. The laurel leaves represent high spiritual attainment. I tend to see this more as a reflection of the fact that The Chariot represents an individual who has become very clear on what their Will is, on what their values are, and on what they truly desire in life.

When The Chariot shows up in a reading, He indicates that things are about to move forward. They may move forward with a quickness, or they may take some time to ramp up — all that depends on the surrounding cards — but they will be moving. The Chariot is also a message to be sure that the querent is putting their energy towards a direction they really want — because The Chariot goes where the energy is directed by The Charioteer’s wand! The Chariot can especially indicate forward, positive movement in the realm of career, the culmination of long-term plans, and advancement toward long-term goals. There may be obstacles, but the querent has the Will, the resources, and the savvy to overcome or surmount them. The Chariot can also be a message to focus on the task at hand and go full-tilt at the goal rather than being distracted by trivial matters or outside influences.

When she designed The Chariot card for The Goddess Tarot, Kris Waldherr took the theme of “The Chariot as Movement” and (forgiving the pun) ran with it. Rechristened “Movement,” this rendition of The Chariot embodies the swift energy of this card. Come back tomorrow to explore Rhiannon and the ways She spurs us forward!


The Chariot as Rhiannon/Movement, from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.


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The Goddess Major Arcana: Venus/Love

The Lovers is one of those cards. People get so very excited when The Lovers comes into a reading, because it seems so full of romantic, sexual, and sensual promise. I sometimes think that this ends up making it a very misunderstood card, because it holds a message so much bigger than just romantic love and partnership (though it can certainly indicate that). The Lovers is more than just “the love card” — it’s an invitation to consider the nature of Love, in all its forms, and the ways in which Love works in our lives.

In The Goddess Tarot, The Lovers has been slightly re-envisioned. Instead of being represented by a couple, by a pair of lovers, this card is represented by Venus, Roman Goddess of Love — so Love in its purest form. While Venus is often associated with only romantic and sexual love, in reality She brings the message that we are surrounded by Love at all times, and that Love is a force in the Universe.


Venus/Love from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card generously granted by the artist.

Venus (and her Greek cognate, Aphrodite) has in many ways been dumbed down in the narratives many of us get in our mythology classes and through popular culture. She has been stripped of Her power and sometimes is portrayed as vapid, jealous, unpredictable — I think of this image of her as being Olympian Barbie. And that’s a shame, because Venus is the embodiment of one of the most powerful forces in the Universe — that power of Love. She also presides over the pleasures of the sensual world — sex and sexuality, certainly, but also all the things that stimulate our senses and which provide pleasure. She encourages us to find the beautiful, the soft, the sensual, the pleasing, and surround ourselves with the things that make us feel loved and honored. She also encourages us to find a way to take pleasure in even the most everyday of activities — eating a ripe peach, smelling a blooming rose, caring for our own bodies.

When Venus shows up in a reading, She encourages us to be aware of all the ways Love surrounds us. She invites us to focus on the ways in which we give, receive, and resist Love, and the ways in which we can be more open to the role that Love plays in our lives. She can absolutely indicate that romantic and sexual Love is on the horizon for us (especially if She appears alongside the Two of Cups and Juno/Tradition), but even then I feel like Her message is more nuanced. Venus asks us to consider what we want in our Love relationships — what we are and are not willing to accept, what we are and are not wiling to give, where we are and are not willing to compromise. I also see this card as an invitation to examine the messages we’ve received about Love, about relationships, and about our own self-worth. Venus also gives us a gentle (or not so) gentle nudge to spend time caring for ourselves. Self-care is something of a cliche, but Venus reminds us that we must spend time caring for ourselves, showing ourselves Love and kindness.

Venus can also show Her face in a reading when the querent is entering a period where they are about to become aware of the abundant Love in their world. Venus reminds us that we are never alone, and that when we are feeling a lack of Love we have to look beyond romantic partnerships to all the other ways Love shows up in our lives and worlds.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Lovers

Who wouldn’t want to see The Lovers in their Tarot reading? Along with The Magician, The Lovers is perhaps the most iconic card in the classic Tarot. In the Rider-Waite Tarot, The Lovers looks like this:


The Lovers from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Two figures look at each other longingly beneath a resplendent Sun. It’s such a beautiful, hopeful card, and its message seems so clear — new love is on the way, right?

Well, not so fast. The Lovers is a more complicated card than many people (including many Tarot readers) give it credit for. Ruled by Gemini, with its passionate yet trickstery yet cerebral energy, The Lovers can indeed bring a message of new love and romance. But it carries many more messages, and even when it carries a message of new love, it may not indicate that all the querent’s romantic dreams are going to be answered.

Who Are The Lovers?

The Lovers represent the step we take on the Fool’s Journey, after we have owned our personal Power (The Empress), interfaced with our own Authority (The Emperor), and interacted with social institutions (The Hierophant). Having interrogated the nature of Power and the ways in which it is wielded, we now turn to questions of connection with others and with the World. In the most literal sense, this does mean romantic and/or sexual union with another human being, perhaps even a Twin Flame or Soul Mate. But remember that The Lovers is ruled by Gemini — and so this card also carries the message of finding wholeness by connecting with all the parts of ourselves, what Jung called the anima and animus. This card also represents the need to honor both head and heart in decisions, to balance the rational with the emotional (the eternal battle of those born under Gemini, am I right?).

When The Lovers shows up in a reading, querents tend to get excited — romance and finance are, after all, the main reasons people seek out readings, in my experience. And absolutely this card can indicate new romantic and sexual adventures, or the formalizing of a romantic relationship through marriage or other commitment. When coupled with the right cards (especially The Empress), it can even indicate fertility and pregnancy, and when it shows up with The Hierophant or the 2 of Cups, I usually see a wedding in the future. But more often than not, The Lovers isn’t quite that literal of a card.


Some of my favorite Lovers. From left, they are the Fenestra Tarot, The Wild Unknown, the Goddess Tarot, and the Rider-Waite Tarot

Instead, I see The Lovers as inviting the querent to make a head and heart decision — to consider both the rational and the emotional in whatever situation the question is about. It may be time to reconcile what we Know Intellectually with what we Know Intuitively. It can also be time for the querent to give more attention and respect to the side of themself that they most often discount — for a very rational, logical person to listen to their heart, or for a very emotionally driven person to also weigh out the cold, hard facts. The Lovers can also represent a desire for stability, and may indicate that that stability is with in reach.

On a more macro level, The Lovers indicate that it may be time for the querent to become aware of the role of Love in their life, in all its forms — romantic, platonic, spiritual, even self-love. I tend to think this card indicates that the person is surrounded by Love, and even that Love may be their superpower, so to speak. When The Lovers come calling, they want you to be aware of the nature of Love, of the pervasiveness of Love, of the persistence of Love, even when times seem dark or hopeless.

In her re-interpretation of The Lovers for the Goddess Tarot, Kris Waldherr expands on the theme of looking at Love in all its forms, not just romantic or sexual love, or even love with another person. Come back tomorrow as we explore this face of The Lovers!


Love/Venus, from the Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photograph of the card generously granted by the artist.



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The Goddess Major Arcana: Juno/Tradition

It’s probably not fair, but I often think of The Hierophant as being pretty rigid and stodgy. Wrapped in the robes of tradition, following the set liturgy, and very invested in The Way Things Are Done, The Hierophant often speaks to be of stagnation and even calcification. (I am going to guess a lot of this goes back to my own issues with organized religion and religious hierarchy, but that’s a post for another day.) I was curious how Kris Waldherr would re-conceive The Hierophant for The Goddess Tarot, since I knew that there are no masculine figures in the Major Arcana of this deck, and The Hierophant is so quintessentially masculine — patriarchal, if I’m being really specific. What Goddess could embody all that The Hierophant embodies — ecclesiastical power, tradition, religious authority, social institutions?

Juno, of course.


Juno/Tradition from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.

Juno, the Roman Goddess of marriage, protector of women, protector of the state, and guardian of Tradition. Who else could take on the role of The Hierophant in this council of Goddesses? Sometimes known as Optimus Mater — the Mother Eye — Juno watches over married women and the marital home. The “eyes” on the tail feathers of the beautiful peacocks who attend Her symbolize her eternal vigil. She presided over marriage rites, and to this day her month — June — remains the most popular month to get married in much of the Western world. She is seen to guard women from their first breath to their last, to to preside over not just the rites of marriage but all the rites of passage through which women pass throughout their lifespan.

When Juno shows up in a reading, she does bring the energies of The Hierophant, including interactions with ecclesiastical and religious authority. She can indicate that the querent is (or should be) following established social structures, norms, and traditions. The shadow side of Juno/Tradition can be an unquestioning adherence to those social structures and norms, or an over-investment in established and socially accepted methods of living, doing, and being.

The Hierophant can carry connotations of marriage, but these are amplified when Juno plays this role. Because of her deep connection to marriage and marriage rites/ceremonies, Juno can indicate that a literal marriage is on the horizon, or that the reading concerns issues within the querent’s marriage or other committed relationships. I sometimes see her as also encouraging the querent to question the messages they have received about relationships, marriage, family, and even gender norms. Though Juno guards Tradition and does in some ways encourage us to pursue established pathways and observe social norms, I sometimes read her (depending on the surrounding cards) as an invitation to examine if we are perhaps too — forgiving the pun — married to set ways of doing things. Juno can also indicate that it’s time to declare our sentiments or make vows — marriage vows, sure, but also declarations of intent in all areas of our life, from religious vows to commitments to ourselves.




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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Hierophant

Oh, The Hierophant. Sometimes known as The Pope, and ruled by the sign of Taurus, The Hierophant is who we encounter once we’ve left our audience with The Emperor. Where The Emperor represents the formal power wielded by government and institutions, The Hierophant takes us into the realm of ecclesiastical or religious authority. The Hierophant, enshrined on his throne and holding his scepter, represents our interactions with religious institutions, dogma, theology, and morality — especially as those things are used to keep us in line or to urge us to conformity.

In the Rider-Waite Tarot, The Hierophant represents the power of institutions, of tradition, of How Things Should Be Done. He has this in common with The Emperor, but wields his power from the realm of spiritual authority rather than earthly authority. The Hierophant’s energy is fixed — he is in some ways the immovable object, and he is stalwart in what he feels is Right and Moral. There is a stubbornness, an entrenchment, to The Hierophant’s energy that can make him both an invaluable ally and a formidable foe.


The Hierophant in the Rider-Waite Tarot

Who is The Hierophant?

The Hierophant can represent formal religious or ecclesiastical authority, and the power of those institutions. He operates not from the personal power of The Empress, nor from the formal social power of The Emperor, but from the power that seems to be divinely bestowed. The Hierophant’s power derives not from his personal charisma but from the idea that he has been chosen, called, or elected by a Higher Power. When he makes a declaration, it carries the gravitas of having come from On High. The Hierophant can also represent that ways in which these institutions become bloated, rigid, and even empty. More positively, he can represent long-standing traditions, ideologies, and morality. As you might imagine, this can be double-edged!


Behold the canons! Some of my favorite Hierophants. From left: The Fenestra Tarot, The Wild Unknown Tarot, The Goddess Tarot, and The Rider-Waite Tarot

When The Hierophant appears in a reading, he typically signifies the the querent will in come ways be interacting with religious or ecclesiastical institutions. This can mean physical institutions such as religious orders, churches/synogogues/mosques, and religious communities. On a more metaphorical level, The Hierophant can indicate the need to interface with ideas about morality, questions of belief, and issues of dogma and moral authority. It can also mean that forces of tradition — so ideas about marriage, family, and what is Right, Good, or True — are at the forefront. I sometimes see The Hierophant as indicating that the querent will be entering into a marriage or otherwise formalizing a relationship or situation. He can also show up when the querent is about to undertake new religious learning, whether on their own or through a formal course of study such as going to seminary.

On a more macro level, The Hierophant indicates that the situation at the heart of a reading carries deep spiritual import, or that it concerns not just the present circumstances but larger issues of social norms, morality, and tradition. The Hierophant calls on the querent to examine the dominant social narrative of How Things Should Be Done, or to examine what they have been told about what they are supposed to want and how they are supposed to live. In this way, The Hierophant can sometimes bring a heavy and even oppressive energy to a reading, especially for querents who tend to be less inclined to conform to societal expectations!

This energy of The Hierophant as the guardian of traditions is what underlies one of the more interesting re-interpretations of this card that I’ve seen — that of The Hierophant as Tradition/Juno in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Come back tomorrow to look at this card in detail!


The Hierophant as Tradition/Juno from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card generously granted by the artist.

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Power/Freyja

A chariot pulled by cats
Purring will be returning
From the other side
Girl, it’s time you take back your light

~ Tori Amos, “Cloud Riders”

I don’t know if Tori Amos was actually thinking about the Power/Freyja card from The Goddess Tarot when she wrote those lyrics, but that card was sure the first thing that popped into my head when I heard them the first time! Power/Freyja is Waldherr’s interpretation of The Emperor from the traditional Tarot, who is the personification of institutional power and formal power structures. And yet this card doesn’t evoke the same sense of rigid bureaucracy (even autocracy) that the classic Emperor so often does. Instead, she speaks to me of not just Power but Authority — of the ways in which our Power is respected and legitmated once we step into it (via The Empress), the ways in which we wield Power when we step into leadership.

Freyja, the Norse Goddess of war, sexuality, gold and prosperity, and love, is a complex figure. She’s sometimes reduced to the Norse version of Aphrodite or Venus, but this ignores an entire side of Her. While Freyja loves beauty and sensuality, and chooses Her lovers freely, She is also the one who chooses half the warriors to be slain in battle. And She is the Protectrix of Women — when unmarried women die, it is Freyja’s hall that they go. Freyja, as Power/The Emperor, to me speaks to the ways in which women (and in fact people of all genders) can actualize the personal Power of the Empress and wield it in the world, not just to empower ourselves but to empower others and even transform situations and institutions.


Power/Freyja from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photograph of the card graciously granted by the artist.


When Power/Freyja shows up in a reading, I still see it as carrying some of the connotations of the traditional Emperor card — interaction with formal systems of power, a caution to not get too stuck in systems and protocols (or a need to honor systems and protocols in pursuit of our goals), and the need to work with established structures. But Power/Freyja also seems like a more mobile energy to me. The Emperor as He is traditionally pictured is rigid, stoic, imperious. Freyja as Power has movement in a way that traditional Emperor renditions don’t. She speaks to the ability to manifest, to make things happen, to move things forward. She also calls upon us to consider the ways in which we can step into leadership. How can we take our personal Power, our empowerment, and translate it out into the world? How can we re-think formal power structures, and can we envision different ways of relating to Power?

In some ways, I think of Freyja/Power as a particularly feminist card — which is funny in light of the fact that She is reinterpretation of one of the two most patriarchal cards in the Tarot (we’ll talk about the other, The Heirophant, in the next entry in this series!). I see Freyja/Power as an embodiment of transformative power — She sometimes carries messages of activism and social justice, and at other times simply carries the message that it is time for the querent to step into their Power and lead others.

I love it when Freyja/Power shows up in my readings. She reminds me that I am powerful beyond measure, even if I don’t realize it in the moment. She tells us that we have the ability to shift our situation, to take back our light.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Emperor

As we move through the Major Arcana, the next figure we encounter is The Empress’s counterpart — The Emperor. If The Empress is the embodiment of earthy sensuality, sexuality, and fecundity, The Emperor represents Her flipside (or perhaps Her Shadow, if you want to look at it that way.) If The Empress represents the power inherent in each of us as a product of our physical, embodied presence on the Earth, then The Emperor represents formal, institutional power. For those that prefer to think of things in terms of a gendered polarity or binary, The Emperor is the Divine Masculine to The Empress’s Divine Feminine.

In the Rider-Waite Tarot, The Emperor is associated with fiery Aries, which is ruled by the warrior planet Mars. This gives The Emperor a fiery, sexual, and sometimes martial or aggressive energy. The Emperor is someone who has parlayed personal power and leadership abilities into a position of formal power.


The Emperor from The Rider-Waite Tarot

Who Is The Emperor?

The Emperor is the embodiment of not just power but authority, which is what happens when a person’s power is legitimated by society. Unlike The Empress, whose power is inherent to Her, The Emperor’s power derives from his title and office. He is a strong leader who takes seriously the power that has been vested in him. He can, however, also be impulsive and quick-tempered or, at the other extreme, stodgy and overly invested in How Things Should Be Done.

The fourth step on The Fool’s journey, The Emperor represents what happens when we tap into our personal power and find our power center. While institutional power is most definitely a double-edged sword, The Emperor reminds us that there can be much Enlightenment and empowerment found through established social structures. Alternatively, he can represent the ability to work within those systems to get what we want, without actually abdicating our own sovereignty to those systems.

When The Emperor shows up in a reading, He typically indicates the need to engage with systems of power — most often formal systems of power, rather than tapping into personal power (which is the message of The Empress). He can indicate that the querent needs to pursue their goals through formal channels or follow accepted paths and protocols. The shadow side of the Emperor is that he can indicate being stuck in one’s ways, being too invested in How Things Should Be Done (often to one’s own detriment), or trying to exert Power Over others in situations where it would be better to explore other dynamics.

The Emperor is the symbol, the personification, of Power, particularly formal power. The way he is portrayed in The Rider-Waite Tarot and decks which are based on it is evokes feudal (and patriarchal) systems, and as such he can also be seen to symbolize government and even abuses of Power. This imagery is certainly in keeping with the overall imagery of such decks. However, I think it’s useful to think about Power in different ways — I am particularly interested in Starhawk’s distinction between Power Over/Power With — and these images don’t evoke that for me.

Which is why my favorite “Emperor” is this one……


Power/Freyja from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr.  Permission to use the photograph of the card generously granted by the artist.

Come back tomorrow, and ride with me in Freyja’s chariot…..

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