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The Tarot, Terrorism And Global Warming: What The Tarot Has To Say About The Modern World

I wanted to write this article to demonstrate how the ancient philosophy behind the Tarot is still relevant to us today, and to show how these ideas can be used to illuminate our modern world. Whether or not the Tarot has any mystical power I believe a lot can be learned from the view that it gives of the universe, which goes back to antiquity. As someone who teaches and practices Tarot I also wanted to create a guide to help people understand the meanings behind each card, by reframing tarot in a modern context which can be related to more easily.

When someone receives a Tarot reading the cards offer meanings that are universal but also personal to the questioner. If one was to carry out a reading for the state of the world, how then could the reader interpret the cards? What are the pressing issues for us all at this time? I asked myself this question and, whilst thumbing through the pack, the meanings became quite obvious and stark to me. Below I have listed these meanings for the 21 Major arcarna or trump cards.

FREEDOM – The Fool

TECHNOLOGY – The Magician

RELIGION – High Priestess

HUMAN RIGHTS – The Empress

STATE POWER AND SECURITY – The Emperor

TRADITIONALISTS VS MODERNIZERS – The Hierophant

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS – The Lovers

WAR AND CONFLICT – The Chariot

WORLD POLITICS – Strength

INNER WORLD – The Hermit

INTERNATIONAL LAW – Justice

WORLD POVERTY – Hanged Man

GLOBAL WARMING – Death

THE MISSING ELEMENT – Temperance

TERRORISM – The Devil

GENETIC ENGINEERING – The Tower

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION – The Star

THE INTERNET AND THE INFORMATION AGE – The Sun

POWER AND CORRUPTION – The Moon

POPULATION – Judgement

THE ENVIRONMENT – The World

Incidentally if you wish to read the complete article alongside images of the cards there is an illustrated version on my website at http://www.tarot-cards-reading.com/about/tarot_world_article.html

FREEDOM – The Fool

As card number zero in the pack the Fool represents all that is new, free and innovative. In medieval times the court jester was someone who was not expected to follow the same rules and conventions as everyone else and so was free to be spontaneous and creative. The Major Arcana is often described as a journey through life starting at the childlike simplicity and freedom of the Fool and ending with card number 21 – The World. However, for many in the world, freedom or lack of it, is a big political goal which they need to achieve before they can start their journey.

TECHNOLOGY – The Magician

Technology is now the backdrop to all our lives and to those who don’t understand it or haven’t witnessed it before it seems like magic. When people first saw inventions such as moving images or photography some believed it to be witchcraft or some kind of trickery. On the card the Magician shows a powerful figure performing his tricks with us as his audience. He is about to make things happen before our eyes that we never thought possible. The message of this card is that if you know what you are doing and you have the energy of commitment behind you, you can achieve incredible things. This is a valuable lesson for the modern world.

RELIGION – High Priestess

The High Priestess is a woman of God who sits in silence and contemplation. She seeks understanding and looks for the greater meaning behind everything. She is an antidote to the dangers of materialism that can stem from the technological ability and energy of the Magician.

HUMAN RIGHTS – The Empress

The Empress is a ruler that respects her subjects. She is a motherly figure who believes in nurturing and caring rather than controlling and dictating. It is perhaps an unusual card considering its historical origins. We tend to see this regard for individual human rights as quite a modern enlightened view. The Tarot’s values however are timeless and not subject to fashion.

STATE POWER AND SECURITY – The Emperor

The Emperor has a different approach than that of the Empress. He is an old-fashioned ruler who believes in running his empire efficiently and systematically. He believes in looking after the many and not compromising for the needs of individuals. One of the big debates at this time is how much power should the state have? Many argue that with the greater need for security at home and abroad we need a government that is strong and which from time to time is willing to lessen the human rights of a few in order to safeguard the majority. Others disagree, arguing the state has too much power and should behave more like the Empress. This argument will probably never be resolved and so these two cards sit side-by-side in the deck reminding us of this dilemma.

TRADITIONALISTS VS MODERNIZERS – The Hierophant

The essence of this card is about doing things in a conventional way and following traditional wisdom. The Heirophant asks ‘The conventional way has been tried and tested and it works, so why try to reinvent the wheel?’ In this age of individualism where people want to do things their own way the message of the Hierophant is not always a popular one. However, he is still worth listening to because there are times when it is better to fit in and go along with the crowd; and sometimes being different is ill-advised.

WORLD PEACE – The Lovers

Traditionally this card shows a man making a choice between two women and its message is that, like love, most things in life come down to a matter of choice. If we are in a relationship with someone it is because we chose to be with them and we are choosing to stay with them. The same is true for all the relationships we have with people. Also, whether we find ourselves fighting, loving or being distant from others is down to our choosing. If we are to apply this idea to the modern world it seems clear that peace and harmony are not things which just happen but that many active choices need to be made in pursuit of them.

WAR AND CONFLICT – The Chariot

This card needs little explanation. There have always been wars and probably always will be. There is therefore no need to put this ancient card into a modern context.

WORLD POLITICS – Strength

Although this card often depicts a man wrestling a lion, the strength referred to here is strength of will and courage rather than physical strength: the ability to endure and overcome difficulties. In fact it could be seen as the strength of will and character to resist the temptation to use physical force to solve a problem. For today’s modern world many problems could be solved by a stronger political will and greater courage. Perhaps one day more world leaders will realize that there is something stronger and more enduring than military might.

THE INNER WORLD – The Hermit

In trying to write this article about how each of the Tarot cards says something about the state of the world and how we are as a gloabal society, there is one card that seems to shout out against this idea. That is the card of the hermit. The hermit advocates withdrawal from the world, suggesting that the inner world is more instructive for us and within our scope to change. Therefore the hermit stands here to remind us of the limitations of analysing the world as a whole.

WORLD TRADE AND FINANCE – Wheel of Fortune

This card reminds us that life can be a bit of a lottery and fortunes can go up as well as down. It often depicts someone partying whilst someone else (or is it the same person later in time?) plummets to his doom. It is a stark reminder and warning of the fragility of life. In the week after the 9/11 attack Wall Street remained closed for several days, and nobody knew what was going to happen. It was clear the markets were going to slump but would they go into free fall? Were the US and world economies to be dragged into a downward spiral of recession? Our modern lives depend on financial markets and world economies. The card is a reminder not to be complacent.

INTERNATIONAL LAW – Justice

The meaning is simple: that is the need for justice, judgement and good decision making. The card perfectly illustrates the need for international cooperation over rules and legal matters.

WORLD POVERTY – Hanged Man

The Hanged man represents sacrifice, giving up and letting go. His message is that the way to get your needs met is to give up trying and let go – a philosophy that fits with many religions. This idea doesn’t square with the way many of us behave in the west, as our sacrifice might entail giving up some of our material comforts that could help alleviate world poverty. The way the G8 countries behave regarding poverty in Africa it seems this may be too much to ask. If, however, we were to listen to the message of this card, we might realize that sacrifice is the way forward and that maybe with a prosperous third world we might actually gain in the long run.

GLOBAL WARMING – Death

The image of the reaper is a reminder that life exists in cycles and that all things come to an end. It speaks more of change than actual death, and how this change can be painful. There seems little doubt that the world climate is moving into a new phase. These climate cycles have always existed – such as the various ice ages – but never has the change been so rapid or man made. This change will inevitably result in the deaths of individuals and of species. Global warming may be one of the biggest challenges we have faced in our history.

THE MISSING ELEMENT – Temperance

One of the most interesting cards in this exercise is Temperance, as it is difficult to fit its meaning into a modern context. The card signifies moderation or self-restraint, but the word temperance itself is rarely used today. We have even changed the word ‘temper’ to mean its opposite, thus losing its traditional meaning. It is difficult to find many examples of moderation in the modern world. Perhaps this is a flaw of the world’s media, choosing to report so many headline hitting stories rather than stories of a more gentle nature. This is especially the case with stories regarding acts in the name of religion: so much of what we hear is in relation to radicals and fundamentalists that we miss the numerous incidents of kindness, love and care in the world. We are therefore left with an unbalanced view of the state of our world.

TERRORISM – The Devil

This is perhaps one of the most straightforward interpretations. The Devil has always been a figure of fear, a corrupting influence that has no compassion or feeling for others. Unfortuneately we live in a world where a few individuals wish to induce this level of fear in others, motivated by self-interest or warped philosophies. Sadly they can become trapped by world-views which can convince them their philosophies are right. This perhaps is the definition of evil; and strangely often done in the name of God.

GENETIC ENGINEERING – The Tower

When creating this list there was such a temptation to make this card about the 9/11 attacks. I have heard that some people have made this connection but I think this is taking the card at face value rather than trying to understand its full meaning. The card in the modern deck actually makes reference to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The card does stand for upheaval and disruption but it also warns of the dangers of over-stretching oneself and getting involved in things beyond one’s understanding. In Genesis the tower is struck down; and the punishment for challenging God’s authority is that the people are cast out and made to speak in different languages. If for ancient people the tower represents diversity, then for us in the modern world diversity is represented by the human gene. Genetic engineering now gives us the power to do what may be thought of as challenging the authority of God. We could do worse than look at this card for advice on this matter.

GLOBAL COOPERATION – The Star

The Star in the Tarot refers to a way forward and to hope for a better future. When I was growing up, hope for the future seemed to centre around the space program. It was the only area over which the then two super-powers would cooperate. Maybe this was because the expense became too much for one nation, or maybe as I like to believe because when one looks to the stars it makes our differences down here on Earth seem less important. It certainly does seem that if human beings are to progress then we must embrace collaboration. The card reminds us to hold the star as a symbol for hope, and whether it is a star of David or a star of Islam shouldn’t matter.

THE INTERNET AND THE INFORMATION AGE – The Sun

This card represents knowledge and understanding. When we understand something we are enlightened and that’s what the sun does to the earth: it shines light on dark corners and illuminates the globe. One of the most significant inventions of the last forty years which brings knowledge and illumination to the world is the internet. It is interesting to note that the internet has been made possible by lasers transmitting information through high-speed fiber optics. Thus, the internet, in effect, is made of pure light. The card also depicts a happy couple who could be lovers: the inference being that understanding between people is the key to harmony. Never before has so much knowledge been available to so many. The couple on the card reminds us however, that unless this knowledge is used to build closer links between people, it is a waste of time.

POWER AND CORRUPTION – The Moon

The word ‘lunatic” derives from the belief that the moon’s rays had the power to intoxicate and send people mad. In the modern world one of the most dangerous forms of intoxication is that of people becoming drunk on power. We see this throughout the world where leaders are corrupted by their power and become self-aggrandizing tyrants. We also see it in the board-rooms of multinational companies where individuals can be seduced by the love of money and the power it brings. The card itself refers to corruption and confusion and to all the dark dealings that happen hidden from the light of day. It has the opposite meaning to the Sun; thus the antidote is to shed light wherever possible.

POPULATION – Judgement

With shrinking resources and rising birth rates, population control must be one of the most pressing world issues for this time. This card speaks of a judgement day when things come to a head and decisions have to be made: when the result of our actions good or bad must be accounted for. In the judgement day myth all the people that have ever lived are risen back to life. Best estimates would put this at about 107 billion souls!

THE ENVIRONMENT – The World

The World card simply represents fulfillment and completeness. Having the World at one’s fingertips means having everything one could possibly want. The problem with having everything we want however, is that this is usually at the expense of the planet. The card’s meaning of completeness and self-containment is a reminder that we must get what we want in a way that is sustainable. This is the final card of the Major Arcana and the end point for our journey. This is our home and we cannot get away from it until death; so we should look after it.



Source by Fred Street

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