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The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Major Arcana Cards

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Major Arcana Cards
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
1 The Fool 7 The Lovers 13 The Hanged Man 19 The Moon
2 The Magician 8 The Chariot 14 Death 20 The Sun
3 The High Priestess 9 Strength 15 The Temperance 21 Judgement
4 The Empress 10 The Hermit 16 The Devil 22 The World
5 The Emperor 11 Wheel of Fortune 17 The Tower      
6 The Hierophant 12 Justice 18 The Star      

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Major Arcana Cards


The twenty-two cards which are called the Major Arcana of the Tarot are a series of images which portray the different stages of a journey. This journey is one which is familiar from many myths, legends and fairy tales, as well as from the world’s great religious teachings. It is the journey of life which all human beings must make, from birth through childhood and the power and influence of the parents, through adolescence with its loves and conflicts and rebellions, through maturity with its worldly trials and ethical and moral challenges, through loss and crisis, despair and transformation and the awakening of new hope, toward eventual victory and achievement of the goal - which in turn leads to yet another journey.

This cycle is not only a cycle of chronological age, but also a cycle which occurs many times within one life, for everything that happens to us has a beginning, a middle and an end. Thus the journey portrayed by the Major Arcana is archetypal, meaning that no matter what the specific details of an individual life might be, long or short, banal or dramatic, good or evil, certain stages of psychological development await us all. We have all been children and have all had parents; and we all continue to have a part of us which is childlike and ready to begin again. We have all experienced failures and triumphs, great or small, and we all grow, albeit sometimes unwillingly. Thus the archetypal journey of life, which is really an inner journey and occurs on many different levels, can be found in so many creative outpourings over the millennia. The ancient Babylonian epic Giljjamesh with its hero who must battle the dark forces is not really very different from the modern film Star Wars.

Inner changes precipitate external events, and external events foster inner changes. It is sometimes hard to say whether, for example, a love affair has caused a burst of creative activity and new insight, or whether new insights and a more creative way of looking at life have drawn us into a love affair. It is difficult to tell, also, whether a business failure instils bitterness and suspicion of others, or whether an innate suspicion and mistrust precipitates a business failure through alienation of colleagues. Thus the images of the Major Arcana describe both the inner state of the individual at a particular point in life, and the kind ot experiences the individual is likely to encounter in outer life. Inner and outer go together because the same individual is at the core of both. As the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once wrote, a person’s life is characteristic of the person. Divination and psychological insight go hand in hand with the images of the Major Arcana, because what is happening outside us is linked to what is happening inside us. The mystery of why a particular Tarot card should appear in a spread as if‘by chance’ yet eerily relevant not only to the psychological condition of the ‘querent’ (the person asking the question) but also to his or her circumstances at that moment, is inexplicable in ordinary causal terms.

For this reason many people are frightened of the cards and believe they are in some way magical or supernatural. But they are no more so than the human psyche, which contains depths we know little about and which appears to be connected with the ‘outer’ world through cords of meaning. In some ways, understanding the inner meaning of a particular experience - What does this have to do with me? - can help us to cope better with that experience and respond to it in a richer and more creative way, because it no longer feels like chance or bad luck or blind fate. We can see the traces of our own characters in everything that happens to us.

The journey of the Major Arcana is really the journey of the Fool, who is the first of the twenty-two images. We follow the Fool, and in some profound sense also are the Fool, as he emerges from the darkness of the maternal cave and leaps out into the unknown. We meet the fundamental experiences of childhood - the worldly parents and the inner parents of the spirit and the imagination - in the cards of the Magician, the Empress, the Emperor, the High Priestess and the Hierophant. We recognize the conflicts and passions of the adolescent within us in the cards of the Lovers and the Chariot. We encounter the worldly tests and moral challenges of life in the cards of Justice, Temperance, Strength and the Hermit. We pass through crisis and loss and the sudden blow of fate portrayed by the Wheel of Fortune, and suffer the helplessness and despair of the Hanged Man and Death. We follow the Fool into confrontation with himself as the secret architect ot his own fate in the Devil and the Tower. From this darkness hope is bom in the cards of the Star, the Moon and the Sun; and victory over darkness and reconciliation with life come with the cards ofjudgement and the World.

The images ofthe Major Arcana are ancient and evocative symbols of life experiences which belong to our human condition and our human destiny. Symbols such as these lend dignity to life, because we discover that others have been there before us, and have found a way through, and have grown and been enriched. All the cards have ambivalent meanings so they can suggest both positive and negative dimensions of experience. No card among the twenty-two is wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘bad’, although some are easier or more difficult in terms of the quality of experience they portray. This is why we do not use the method of reversing the cards (interpreting them as ‘good’ if they appear the right way up in a spread, and as ‘bad’ if they appear upside down). This technique of reversals is a relatively modem innovation, and it can confuse rather than elucidate the meaning ofthe card. The ‘weight’ of a card for good or ill becomes more understandable in context of the overall pattern ofthe spread, which we will discuss more fully in the appropriate chapter. But an archetypal experience, and therefore the archetypal image which embodies it, is such a subtle intermingling of positive and negative that it is impossible to separate one fully from the other.

All the cards of the Major Arcana are rites of passage - stages or processes, rather than end results or static places which do not change. Every stage of life leads to the next one, and although we may understandably attempt to hold back time and remain in one comfortable place, it is not within our power as mortals to turn the moving cycle of life into a stagnant hiding-place. Thus at the end ofthe journey, the Fool begins again, because whenever we feel we have reached the goal and achieved our designs, another, deeper or higher goal materializes beyond it, so that every end is really a preparation for something else, and we begin the cycle again.

Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Cups

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Cups
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
1 Ace of Cups 4 Four of Cups 7 Seven of Cups 10 Ten of Cups
2 Two of Cups 5 Five of Cups 8 Eight of Cups      
3 Three of Cups 6 Six of Cups 9 Nine of Cups      
The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ Suit of Cups ~ Court Cards
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
11 Page of Cups 12 Knight of Cups 13 Queen of Cups 14 King of Cups

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards


The Numbered Cards

The legend of Eros and Psyche is really the story of the development and maturation of feelings and the capacity to relate to another person. In its own way it is a journey, although unlike the great journey of the Fool through the Major Arcana it is a specialized adventure which circles around the central motif of the human heart.

Psyche (in Greek the word means ‘soul’) was a princess of such remarkable beauty that the goddess Aphrodite herself was jealous of her. She instructed her son Eros, the god of love, to punish the audacious mortal. Thus, shortly afterwards, an oracle commanded Psyche’s father, under threat of terrifying calamity, to conduct his daughter to a lonely rock where she would become the prey of a monster. But the god Eros, when he saw the girl whom he was supposed to carry to her death in the jaws of the monster who awaited below, was so stunned by her beauty that he stumbled and pricked himself on one of his own arrows - those arrows which he used so effectively to bring sudden love to both mortals and gods. So Eros fell in love with the person he had been sent by his mother to destroy. Trembling but resigned, Psyche was awaiting on her solitary rock the fulfilment of the oracle, when suddenly she felt herself gently lifted by the winds, which carried her to a magnificent palace. When night fell and Psyche was on the verge of sleep, a mysterious being joined her in the darkness, explaining that he was the husband for whom she was destined. She could not see his features, but his voice was soft and his conversation full of tenderness. Their marriage was duly celebrated, but before the return of dawn the strange visitor disappeared, first making Psyche promise never to attempt to see his face.

Psyche was not discontented with her new life. Nothing was lacking, except the constant presence of her delightful husband, who only came to visit her during the dark hours of the night. Her happiness would have continued in this way had not her two sisters - who were devoured with envy — sown the seeds of suspicion in her heart, by telling her that her husband must be some hideous monster to thus hide himself from her. They nagged her so much that one night Psyche, despite her promise, rose from the bed she shared with her husband, stealthily lit a lamp, and held it above the mysterious face. Instead of a fearful monster she beheld the most beautiful youth in the world - Eros himself. At the foot of the bed lay his bow and arrows. In her shocked delight Psyche stumbled and pricked herself with one of the arrows, thus finally falling deeply in love with the young god whom previously she had accepted because he had loved her. But her movement caused a drop of scalding oil to fall on the god’s bare shoulder. He awakened at once, reproached Psyche for her faithlessness, and immediately vanished.

The palace disappeared at the same time, and poor Psyche found herself on the lonely rock again in the midst of frightening solitude. At first she considered suicide and threw herself into a nearby river, but the waters bore her lightly to the opposite bank. From then on she wandered the world searching for her lost love, pursued by Aphrodite’s anger and forced by the goddess to submit to a series of terrible ordeals. She succeeded, however, in overcoming them one by one thanks to the assistance of the creatures of nature - the ants, the birds, the water-reeds. She even had to descend into the underworld, where no living mortal was permitted to go. Finally, touched by the repentance of his unhappy spouse, whom he had never ceased to love and protect, Eros went to Zeus and implored permission for Psyche to rejoin him. Zeus consented and conferred immortality upon Psyche. Aphrodite forgot her rancour, and the second wedding of the two lovers was celebrated on Olympus with great rejoicing.

Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Wands

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Wands
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
1 Ace of Wands 4 Four of Wands 7 Seven of Wands 10 Ten of Wands
2 Two of Wands 5 Five of Wands 8 Eight of Wands      
3 Three of Wands 6 Six of Wands 9 Nine of Wands      
The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ Suit of Wands ~ Court Cards
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
11 Page of Wands 12 Knight of Wands 13 Queen of Wands 14 King of Wands

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards


The Numbered Cards

The story of Jason and the Argonauts, and their expedition to seek the Golden Fleece, is a characteristic heroic tale, full of adventure and courageous journeying into the unknown. Because the story is really a quest, where the hero must rely on faculties other than will and rational thought, Jason’s story may be seen as a portrayal of the creative imagination and its mysterious power to move events and provide solutions from inner levels which elude our conscious understanding. Thus the story of Jason is a specialized adventure which circles around the central motif of the human imagination.

The origin of the Golden Fleece, the magical goal of Jason’s quest, was this: Phrixus and Helle, the two children of Athamas the Aeolian, were hated by their stepmother Ino. Their very lives were threatened, and they fled, mounted on a fabulous ram which was the gift of Zeus, king of the gods. This ram was endowed with reason and speech; it had a fleece of gold and could move through the air as well as it could over the earth. In the course of their flight Helle fell into the sea, which was afterward called the Hellespont. Phrixus was luckier, and reached Colchis on the Black Sea. There he sacrificed the ram to his protector Zeus, and offered its fleece to the king of the country, Aeetes, who hung it from a tree and set a dragon who never slept to guard it.

Meanwhile, at Iolkos in Thessaly, reigned King Pelias who had wrenched the throne from his brother Aeson. Aeson’s son Jason had been confided to the care of the Centaur Chiron when a baby, to protect him from the wrath of his usurping uncle Pelias. Chiron eventually made known to the child grown to manhood the secret of his origin, and Jason went to his uncle and demanded mle of the kingdom according to his right. Pelias was frightened, for an oracle had warned him of a man wearing one sandal; and this Jason had appeared with only one foot shod, having lost the other sandal while crossing the river. Therefore Pelias promised Jason that he would willingly comply with his demand, but that he had one small request to make: that Jason go to Colchis on the Black Sea and bring back the Golden Fleece which properly belonged at Zeus’ sanctuary in Iolkos.

So Jason proceeded to build a ship with fifty oars, the Argo, in which he had set a bough of the prophetic oak of Zeus from Dodona. He gathered together the most famous heroes, among whom were Castor and Polydeuces (the Warrior Twins), Heracles, Orpheus the Singer, and King Theseus of Athens. Then the hardy adventurers set forth in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. Their voyage was full of incident, and they were forced to struggle against monsters and men as well as against the elements. Finally they reached the kingdom of Aeetes, where the Fleece was kept. Luckily for Jason, King Aeetes’ daughter, the sorceress Medea fell in love with him, and helped him to vanquish the dragon which guarded the precious trophy. King Aeetes tried to stop the escaping Argonauts with ferocious soldiers sprung from the teeth of the dragon which Jason had slain; but the heroes managed to sail off in their ship Argo with Aeetes in hot pursuit. Medea, who had accompanied Jason, was, however, not averse to stopping her father by the most brutal means, and cut up her brother Absyrtus and scattered the pieces of his body across the water. In grief, Aeetes called his fleet to stop and gather up the dismembered body of the heir, and Jason and his crew now had clear sailing back to Iolkos.

This return voyage, however, proved to be as perilous as the outgoing one, and Jason and his crew once again had to sail through the terrible Clashing Rocks at the north end of the Bosphorus which could crush a ship and which stood between him and safe harbour. At last he reached Iolkos with the Golden Fleece. There he discovered that Pelias had put his father Aeson to death, being certain that Jason would never return from the hazardous voyage. Jason avenged himself on his uncle through Medea, who through her magic spells charmed Pelias’ daughters into murdering him. After this Jason reigned as king of Iolkos. But his victory had perhaps gone to his head, for, unsatisfied with one kingship, he sought another - the crown of Corinth - by marrying Creusa, the daughter of Corinth’s King Creon. This understandably angered Medea, who avenged herself by murdering not only Creusa but the children she had borne Jason as well.

As for Jason, some say that he grew weary of life and found the kingship of Iolkos a burden. As an old man, looking forever backward to the day of his glory, he sat dreaming in the shade of the rotting hulk of the Argo, and the poop fell on him and crushed him to death.

Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Swords

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Swords
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
1 Ace of Swords 4 Four of Swords 7 Seven of Swords 10 Ten of Swords
2 Two of Swords 5 Five of Swords 8 Eight of Swords      
3 Three of Swords 6 Six of Swords 9 Nine of Swords      
The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ Suit of Swords ~ Court Cards
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
11 Page of Swords 12 Knight of Swords 13 Queen of Swords 14 King of Swords

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards


The Numbered Cards

The story of Orestes and the curse of the House of Atreus is a dark tale, full of conflict and bloodshed, and one of the most powerful of Greek myths. At its core lies a conflict of two great opposing principles - mother-right and father-right - and it is this collision of principles which makes the tale appropriate for illustrating the quarrelsome, turbulent yet ultimately immensely crea- tive Suit of Swords. For this Suit deals with the human mind in its most potent form: the capacity to create good or evil fate according to the strength of one’s beliefs, convictions and principles.

The entire tale of the curse of the House of Atreus is long and convoluted, and we will deal here primarily with its final chapter. But, in short, it begins with the crime of King Tantalos of Lydia, who grew so arrogant that in his madness he mocked the gods. He cut his little son into pieces and served these, cooked, at a banquet to which he had invited the Olympians, in order to test their wisdom. For this act of savagery and arrogance the gods cursed Tantalos’ line. Thus the curse of the House of Atreus commences with the misuse of the mind: man s double-edged gift, which raises him above the beasts yet also gives him the power to destroy wantonly.

We begin our exploration of the Suit of Swords with Orestes, the young prince of Argos, who found that the family curse passed on to him in the form of a terrible choice. Orestes was the son of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra of Argos, and the curse had passed down through Agamemnon’s father and grandfather. When the great war began between the Greeks and Trojans (the beginning of which we glimpsed in the story of Paris in the Major Arcana card of the Lovers), Agamemnon was one of the Greek warlords who was elected to lead the armies by sea to Troy. He managed through his arrogance to offend the goddess Hecate (Artemis), by boasting in one of her sacred groves, and Hecate in anger sent a terrible storm which pinned the Greek fleet in harbour. The goddess’ oracle informed Agamemnon that he would have to make a dreadful reparation to the goddess before she would lift the storm: He was required to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia on the goddess’ altar at Aulis, or else to forego the potential glory of leading the Greek armies to Troy. For Agamemnon, glory was far more important than a daughter - after all, he had another, called Electra, and daughters were less valuable than sons — and so he deceived his wife Clytemnestra by announcing that Iphigenia would be married at Aulis. The girl was duly sent from her home at Argos to the war camp at Aulis, and was there slaughtered. By the time Clytemnestra discovered the truth, Agamemnon had already sailed to Troy.

The Greek armies were successful and Troy was sacked, and Agamemnon returned home a hero. But during his absence Clytemnestra plotted revenge for the death of their daughter. She took a lover, Aegisthus, and together these two planned Agamemnon’s murder. When he arrived home, surrounded by cheering troops, she greeted him sweetly and led him to his bath; and there she and her lover cut him to pieces. To prevent any interference with this act, she sent her son Orestes away to the city of Phocis, so that he would know nothing of the murder and would not try to save or avenge his father. But the god Apollo appeared before Orestes in Phocis and told him that he must avenge the murder of his father, for this was the sacred obligation of a son. Orestes protested, horrified, because this meant he must become a matricide. Apollo then threatened him with madness and frightful punishments if Orestes refused the god’s command. The young prince at last accepted the will of the god with a heavy heart, for to kill his own mother - although right according to Apollo’s patriarchal law - meant he would be hounded into madness and death by the Furies, the terrifying goddesses of vengeance, to whom the murder of a mother was the worst of all human crimes according to their matriarchal law. Thus Orestes accepted his fate, and journeyed back to Argos in secret.

When he arrived at the palace only his dog recognized him; but eventually so did his surviving sister Electra, who also burned with a desire to avenge her father’s death. Orestes, with the help of his sister, killed first Aegisthus and then his mother. Thus he fulfilled Apollo’s will, but immediately the Furies appeared with their snake-locks and leather wings and horrible faces, and drove him mad with terrible nightmares and visions. They hounded him all over Greece, until eventually in despair and exhaustion he sought sanctuary at the shrine of the goddess Athene. Athene took pity on the young prince who was, through no moral fault of his own, caught between two such powerful and destructive forces. She set up a jury of twelve human judges who might assess the case. The jury was split in its vote - six sided with Apollo and asserted that a father was the most important life, and six sided with the Furies and asserted that it was a mother. Athene herself cast the deciding vote in favour of Orestes just as he was at the point of expiring. The goddess then made peace with the Furies by offering them their own shrine and honourable worship, and thus Orestes was freed and the ancient curse of the House of Atreus was lifted at last.

Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Pentacles

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ The Suit of Pentacles
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
1 Ace of Pentacles 4 Four of Pentacles 7 Seven of Pentacles 10 Ten of Pentacles
2 Two of Pentacles 5 Five of Pentacles 8 Eight of Pentacles      
3 Three of Pentacles 6 Six of Pentacles 9 Nine of Pentacles      
The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards ~ Suit of Pentacles ~ Court Cards
No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name No Card Name
11 Page of Pentacles 12 Knight of Pentacles 13 Queen of Pentacles 14 King of Pentacles

The Mythic Tarot Deck ~ Minor Arcana Cards


The Numbered Cards

The story of Daedalus, the Athenian craftsman who built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete, is a subtle tale, and its hero is painted in many hues; for he is neither a wholly good man nor a villian, but a curious mixture of both. This story, with its ingenious and amoral protagonist, befits the Suit of Pentacles, for it illustrates the problems, challenges, aspirations, pitfalls and complex morality of earthly endeavour with its failures and rewards.

Daedalus was descended from the royal house of Athens, and was a wonderful smith, having been instructed by the goddess Athene herself. He spent his early years perfecting his skills, and it was said that he invented the saw and the axe, as well as being the first man to fix arms and legs to the shapeless primitive statues of the gods. Still in his prime, he became renowned for his ingenuity and cunning.

This early success, however, was doomed by the craftsman’s own flawed character. Daedalus had a nephew called Talos, and this Talos, although only twelve years old, began to surpass his gifted uncle in the art of creating tools and beautiful objects. Talos invented the potter’s wheel and the compass while still a child. Daedalus grew unbearably jealous and was tom by conflict, for while he loved and admired his nephew he was an ambitious man and could not tolerate his own reputation being threatened in such a way; so he murdered Talos by throwing the boy from the roof of Athene’s temple. Caught in the act of trying to hide the body, Daedalus was condemned, but managed to flee Athens before any punishment could be visited upon him.

The smith landed in Crete, and sought and received the protection of King Minos. For some time he lived in high favour at Knossos, Minos’ capital, creating architectural beauties for the king and amusing the palace children with ingenious toys. But then a bad fate befell King Minos, which we have glimpsed already in the story behind the Major Arcana card of the Tower; for Minos offended the god Poseidon by refusing to sacrifice a white bull on the god’s altar, and Poseidon retaliated by afflicting Minos’ wife Pasiphae with a violent passion for the bull. Pasiphae, driven by her shameful compulsion, appealed to Daedalus, and begged him to contrive a way in which she might meet and couple with the bull in secret. Thus Daedalus was caught once again in a conflict, for Minos was his protector and patron, yet it was clear that the hand of the god lay on Pasiphae.

Daedalus chose the god, and constructed a wooden cow in which Pasiphae crouched and mated with the bull. When the hideous Minotaur, with a bull’s head and a man s body, was bom from this union, King Minos, ignorant of the part which Daedalus had played in its conception, begged the smith to build a hiding-place in which the monster could be concealed. Daedalus agreeably served his master once more, and constructed the tortuous corridors of the Labyrinth, in which, once a man entered, he was irretrievably lost. But when the hero Theseus arrived in Crete to slay the Minotaur, and Minos’ daughter Ariadne fell in love with him, it was to Daedalus that she turned to find a way for Theseus to enter the Labyrinth and trace his steps safely out again. Daedalus again betrayed his master, and made for Ariadne a ball of golden thread, one end of which she held, while the young hero entered the dark corridors holding the other, slew the Minotaur, and followed the golden thread out into the sunlight again.

This time Minos discovered the treachery of his craftsman, and locked Daedalus in the Labyrinth. But the smith ingeniously made a pair of wings from beeswax and wood and feathers which the sympathetic Pasiphae brought him, and flew from one of the towers, bome by the wind toward safe shores. Eventually he landed in Cumae on the coast of Italy, and from there made his way to Sicily, where he gained the favour ofKing Cocalus.

King Minos pursued him, and tracked him all over Greece and Italy. The king carried with him a triton shell, and wherever he went he promised to reward richly anyone who could pass a linen thread through it - a feat which he knew Daedalus alone could perform. In this way he found the smith’s hiding-place, but King Cocalus refused to part with his valued guest. Cocalus ordered his daughters to pour boiling water into Minos’ bath, and Daedalus thus lived into contented and wealthy old age.

Information Source: Mythic Tarot Deck
[published in 1986 by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene and Illustrated by Tricia Newell (not the New Mythic Tarot)]


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This webpage was updated 8th August 2023