The wisdom contained in the symbolism of the Rider-Waite deck is far more ancient than one might think at first glance. Once you peel past the obvious layers of Christianized images, it's possible to find deep archetypal clues and ancient pagan meanings that carry well beyond our simplistic Western belief in good and evil. Take, for example, the cross on the shield of the Charioteer, the breast of the High Priestess and the flag in Judgement.
In this symbol one finds reference to Hecate, ancient Goddess of the Crossroads. Hecate is by no means the only venerable deity to put in an appearance in the RW deck. Hermes is represented in The Magician through astrological attribution. Hathor, the great Earth Mother, is found in several triumphs including the Empress, Strength, Justice and The Star. There are others: Ceres, Ceridwen, and Iris also inhabit the Tarot.
Discovering these kinds of clues has been one of the great joys for me as we've traveled the Fool's Journey through these pages over the past year. Even so, the realization that lit up the room as I prepared to write about Judgement was unexpected: In Tarot, the twentieth triumph represents the Underworld. The most surprising thing is that it took so long to recognize that.
That's how it is with Tarot. Learning never stops, unless you do. Understanding, when it comes, is like the lifting of a veil.
Traditional Western philosophy doesn't contain an Underworld, per se. The Catholic state of Limbo might come to mind, but a journey through the Underworld is a rite of passage, rather than a condition of stasis. The vindictive Hell of the punishing patriarchal God of the Protestants is another psychological gambit altogether, a contrivance used to control the behavior of followers.
Symbols, cultures and philosophies may vary throughout the ages, but human experience is consistent. To journey through the Underworld is to go through a soul change. It is the reaction we feel at the diagnosis of a terminal illness, for example, or the response to the death of someone very close to us. The Traveler enters the Underworld, depicted here as a Judgement call, through any soul-changing circumstance or event. It's helpful to remember that when this card presents in a reading, it is referring to the state of mind of the seeker in response to an event, rather than to the event itself. The forces that are expressed in Judgement do not take place on the physical plane.
Numerological reduction links Judgement, 20, with The High Priestess, 2. This indicates that the state of mind found in Judgement is the ultimate conclusion of the mental processes that began in The High Priestess. Considering the focus of The High Priestess, then, will shed light on the meaning of Judgement. The energies described in The High Priestess are concerned with the subconscious mind, hidden knowledge, and universal consciousness, qualities that frame the path leading to Judgement. Paul Case wrote that Judgement is the final card in a series that begins with the High Priestess. Contemplation of this group can be illuminating. They are major arcana 2-5-7-11-14-17-20.
If you compare this series with the series given along with The Sun (see last post) one thing becomes immediately apparent. Both series share only one card, The Chariot. What are the implications of that?
The Chariot is a triumph of surging energy, intensely connected to universal forces strongly manifesting in the material world. The Charioteer is an individual whose Spirit and personality are in synch and able to take up the reins in order to serve as a channel for Higher Power. When taken in the context of the series of cards originating in The Magician and The High Priestess, this confident, dynamic force is a powerful and necessary expression of both the conscious and subconscious minds.
The state of mind shown in Judgement is a state where the ordinary limitations of the personality are overcome. The waters of the subconscious that began flowing in the robes of the High Priestess now form the lake upon which float the final vestiges of the personality. This is a state of mind where one manner of thought gives way so that another may be brought to life. Ordinary conditions and typical understandings are reversed here.
In a reading the end of one phase and the beginning of another is often indicated by the appearance of Judgement. If a situation is changing it is likely to be from one extreme to another. An honest evaluation of one's efforts may be indicated. Completion, decision, or termination might be suggested. In some cases Judgement can mean that something hidden has come to light.
A person represented by Judgement is someone who prefers to work quietly behind the scenes until their idea is ready to show the world. this person has a strong ability to affect changes in other people.
It is the passage through the state expressed in Judgement that readies the Spirit for the transcendent joy shown in the next triumph, The World. Pamela Coleman Smith's depiction of the Angel Gabriel in Judgement brings a message of gladness and welcome. Once a person begins to journey through this state, the realization follows that there is nothing to fear here. This is truly the destination we have sought for so long.
Meditate on Judgement for Vision.
Associated Deities: Pluto, Shiva, Yama, Mantus, Dis, Prcus, Osiris, Hades.