Tarot and the Great Year

I have been using tarot cards since I was 15 – quite some time ago. While there are so many new and beautiful decks available these days, back then there were only the Marseilles and the Rider-Waite decks easily available, pre-internet. I had both. What I loved about the Rider-Waite deck was that the so-called ‘pip’ cards all had pictures, the first deck of its kind to do so.

Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite

Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite

The Rider-Waite deck was created by Arthur Edward Waite, an American with an English mother who returned to Britain after her husband died early on in the young Arthur’s life. He was a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as was the illustrator of the deck, Pamela Colman Smith, also an American who was born in London. Although Waite gave parameters for the imagery of the cards, Smith had immense esoteric knowledge and a huge influenced upon the deck through her use of symbolism and perhaps even her ability to ‘see’ music and sound, a phenomenon called synesthesia. This deck was first published by Rider & Son in 1909 and has influenced all decks since. Pamela died in poverty and virtually unknown in Cornwall, England, in 1951. But it has been said of her that she lived her life according to her rules and never sold out.

Whilst studying Egyptian mysticism in recent years, I have come back to the use of the Waite-Smith deck (as I call it now) exclusively. The symbolism, I feel, harkens back to a time very ancient and even though the imagery is often ‘apparently’ Christian, and relatively modern, there is a sense of exceedingly old forms, and deep, esoteric secrets to be revealed.

I have always thought that the tarot, like astrology, must have many lenses through which we may look. The major arcana, the 22 archetypes of a tarot deck, divulges a narrative that can morph into many scenarios it seems. That may be the definition of a great deck: one that is relevant and applicable to anything, any time, any ‘where’. The Waite-Smith deck is just that – the greatest tarot deck yet created.

So, recently I posed a question to my deck: If the symbolism is truly ancient, and comes from the reawakened knowledge of Hermeticism which originated in ancient Egypt (or beyond), then this deck should bring forth the secrets of this in the symbols and pictures of the major arcana, if not other of the cards. Can the deck show me the story of the great cycle of time, the Great Year and it’s Astrological Ages?

I lay the major arcana cards out in order, in two rows, then in four rows, then in two rows with the first and last cards at the top and bottom respectively. I could read it across, up, or down and the symbolism seemed to be consistent in pointing to the turning of the ages, the lost knowledge, as well as consciousness, which has been the momentum of humanity for the last 17,000 years.

Most apparent was, of course the Wheel of Fortune and The World cards. They both have in their four corners the supposed Biblical Four Beasts: an angel, an eagle, a bull, and a lion. They are positioned as polarities: The Lion and the Angel face one another, as do the Eagle and the Bull.

These creatures actually represent the four Great Astrological Ages of Aquarius (the angel), Scorpio (the eagle, a higher manifestation of Scorpio), Taurus (the bull), and Leo (the lion). In the 365 day solar year these symbols also correspond to the cross-quarter festivals of the Celtic calendar: Imbolc, in early February: Aquarius; Samhain, end of October: Scorpio; Beltane, in early May: Taurus, and Lugnasad, in early August: Leo.

In the cycle of approximately 26,000 solar years these four points, along the orbital path of our sun around our parent star, may also correspond to the solstices and equinoxes of the Great Year: Leo is at the Celestial Winter Solstice on the cusp of Virgo-Leo; Aquarius, the Celestial Summer Solstice, on the cusp of Pisces-Aquarius; Taurus and Scorpio each a Celestial Equinox. (For more information on this fascinating correlation, please see: Egypt, Child of Atlantis, by John. S. Gordon, 1997/2004).

On the X Wheel of Fortune card, there is an actual wheel that turns: the great Celestial Mill that continually moves us all through the Great Ages via precession. Sometimes life is very good, consciousness is at an all-time high – the Golden Age (during the Libra and Virgo Ages); other times, life is difficult and consciousness is very low – the Iron Age/Kali Yuga (during Aries and Pisces Ages). And in between these two extremes are gradations of higher and lower consciousness. It’s a process, not a ‘light switch’.

On XXI The World, the symbolism could be read as an elliptic around which are stationed the four Great Ages depicted as the four astrological symbols or ‘mystical beasts’ mentioned above. And in the middle: the Great Mother, the Galactic ‘center’ of our physical galaxy.

There is also seen on the cup that the Queen of Cups holds the same four beings, albeit much more subtle. The two angels on the cup are obvious; from left to right there looks to me to be a creature with a large head and tail – a lion? Next, the two wings and head of a large bird – Scorpio? And finally the hindquarters of what looks like a bovine creature. Pretty wild! So here are three cards (of 78) pointing to Great Year symbolism and all that is contained within this inference.

Detail of Waite-Smith Queen of Cups tarot card

Detail of Waite-Smith Queen of Cups tarot card

I suspect there are three symbols on the far, unseen, side of the Queen of Cups’ cup and with the two angels, to my mind, represents the ‘cycle’ of precession.

So, do the major arcana of the Waite-Smith deck, created by two esotericists of the early 1900s contain occult knowledge of the Great Year cycle and the twelve Great Astrological Ages? You betcha! I will be exploring more of this symbolism in articles to come at the full moon.


Goddess Astrology is here! A new precedent for astrological knowledge.
Goddess Consciousness Apprenticeships start at any new moon of the year.

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