Our next group of recurring symbols contains a variety of crafted stonework, including pillars, seats, fences, and towers. Stone in any form implies that the forces represented in the card are based on actual experience in the physical world.
First, let’s take a look at the pillars that frame The High Priestess, Hierophant, Chariot, and Justice. In three cases, we see dual columns signifying equilibrium and a balance of opposing forces. In The Priestess, they refer specifically to the dynamics of memory. The pillars are the same shape, they sit near each other, and they are opposite colors. This reflects the way in which we remember. Our minds associate things that are similar or or in close proximity, and we also readily recall pronounced contrasts.
The pillars of The Hierophant are gray, the color that represents wisdom. Reputedly, that occult meaning is given because gray is the result of mixing any other two complimentary colors. In the fifth major arcana, the columns suggest real-world wisdom and a balanced state of mind. Those qualities are repeated in Justice.
The four pillars of the Chariot link celestial forces to earthly, and refer to the four elements; fire, water, air, and earth.
Lay out major arcana 2, 5, 7, and 11 side by side and look them over. You may find other similarities as well.
The stone seat is another prominent symbol, and it shares the earthly significance of the pillars, but without the emphasis on duality. Most of these are in the shape of a cube, which contains additional meaning. Paul Case defines the occult nature of the cube as “underlying Reality...What really exists, what really is, what materialists and idealists alike misunderstand and misinterpret, is the real presence of That which was, is and shall be. This real presence is the basis of all subconscious activity”. The cube on which The High Priestess rests, then, is symbolic of subconscious activity manifested in the material world.
Other cards in which the characters sit are The Empress, Emperor, Hierophant, Justice, and the Devil. This group will also include The Chariot, because the Charioteer stands in a cubic carriage of stone.
The throne of the Empress is rounded, rather than squared, suggesting that the powers there are grounded in consciousness. The seats of the Empress and the High Priestess are both made of stone, but have different shapes, implying that they are two distinct aspects of the same force.
The throne of the Emperor and the chair of the Hierophant are both cubes, and continue the meaning begun in the High Priestess. The Emperor emphasizes the manifestation of subconscious influences on the personality, while the Hierophant expresses the occult properties of the cube, as already seen in the High Priestess. In fact, you might say those last two cards are different sides of the same coin. The Priestess guards the knowledge of the subconscious mind, while the Hierophant reveals it.
The Chariot is a cube in motion. Carrying all the symbolic significance found in previous cards of this group, this cube also includes the idea of the personality as a fenced-in area in which universal forces are at work.
The throne of Justice shows a strong correlation with the Priestess, both in the shape, and by the hanging veil behind the seated figure. A significant distinction is the color of the pillars, which are gray in Justice, suggesting the application of wisdom to earthly matters.
Last, we come to the half-cube perch of The Devil. True to form for this card, the symbolism here is a caricature of the forces found in the rest of this group. The half-cube represents sensory experience without deeper meaning, and knowledge confined to the visible aspects of existence.
The cards in the “seat group” are numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, and 15. All four of the “pillar” cards are in this group as well.
It’s interesting to note that the columns, chairs, and cubes are predominantly found in cards 1-7. Significant because those cards make up the first of three worlds expressed in the major arcana, this set is known as the World of the Divine. These cards represent the qualities of an enlightened mind, connected with higher power. The presence of the cube in Justice, part of the second set known as the World of the Human, is a clear message that universal forces are also strongly at work in the 11th arcana.
There is other stonework that appears in the major arcana, as well. Identical sets of towers in Death and the Moon mark the boundaries of that which is already known. Fences appear in The Chariot and The Sun, representing human adaptation of the natural environment and the power of speech.
Finally, let’s consider the lightening-struck Tower of the third set, The World of Circumstances. The Tower has the same meaning as the cubes supporting the Priestess and the Hierophant. It is subconsciousness, from which springs all mental images, and ultimately, all that is manifested in the physical world.
When tallied, we find stonework appearing in 11 out of 22 major arcana. An understanding of this prominent symbolism is helpful in adding depth and complexity to your knowledge of the Tarot. Once the serious student learns the meanings of each of the cards, it’s possible to begin perceiving patterns, nuances, and connections that didn’t seem to be there before. And that, my friends, is where Spirit comes in!