Today, let’s begin taking a look at the symbols that are repeating themes in the Rider-Waite deck. While each of the 22 cards of the major arcana are endowed with a unique meaning, there is additional understanding to be found in the examination of their relationships with each other. There are various approaches to this study, such as the Right Brain Exercises included in previous articles, but in this series we’re going to focus specifically on symbols that repeat in two or more major arcana. Why is this important? Because even though some of the nuances might vary, symbolic meaning is essentially the same in one card as in another. In other words, all of the cards containing a particular symbol are addressing the same force, but in different ways. A basic understanding of symbolism will greatly increase your overall grasp of the Tarot.
Most immediately, we encounter the Magician’s wand, symbol of concentration, initiation and self-awareness. The wand is found in some form in eight other major arcana as well. Slung over the shoulder of the happy traveler in The Fool, it represents the will. The globe-capped sceptre held by The Empress is a symbol of control over the physical plane, and that combination is repeated in The Emperor. The sceptre of the latter is in the shape of an ankh, the Egyptian sign for life, which also implies solar and universal energy.
A golden staff in the left hand of The Hierophant reiterates the message of universal life-force and expresses the three planes of the physical world (vegetable, animal, and human). The blue wand of the Charioteer is topped by a yellow flame, suggesting a vigorous merging of the conscious and subconscious minds. Resting on a mountaintop, the golden staff of The Hermit repeats the message of universal energy and life-force.
In a reversal of meaning, the torch held by The Devil burns with wasteful abandon and offers little light.
In the final card of the major arcana, the dancer on the face of The World carries two wands that encompass all of the aspects of these previous cards, and more. White wands represent purity and vast universal forces beyond the scope of any personal awareness.
The cards under discussion today are numbered 0, 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 15, and 21. Try laying them out side by side to consider similarities. What jumps out at you?
We know that wands are the symbol for willpower, ideas, and desires, and each card in this series is an expression of those forces at work. These qualities manifest in our lives in many ways. For example, The Empress is concerned with matters of well-being, while The Hermit is occupied with spiritual growth. In all of these cards, however, we see the strength of motivation and the influence of divine or higher inspiration.
In terms of practical application, recognition of the shared qualities of these major arcana can shed much light on a reading. Repeating themes (three or more cards), whether they be numerological or symbolical, are points of emphasis and should be considered closely when interpreting the cards.
At this point you should know that the wand, although it makes a very strong mark, is only the first of 19 repeating symbols in the major arcana. In the next installment of this series, we’ll start out with a look at the stone pillars found in four of the cards.