One of my favorite books on the tarot is Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which gave me my introduction to the tarot as a powerful tool for personal development and a means of taking archetypal energies and using them to awaken inner wisdom. Or, in even plainer English, a means to help us live rich, satisfying lives.
As I read the book, I sketched out the Major Arcana and began scribbling notes next to the cards to help me remember all of this juicy material. I’m a very visual learner, so mapping things out in this way helped me see interesting connections more readily.
The three levels of consciousness
Pollack divides the Major Arcana into three groups of seven with the Fool removed for reasons I’ll touch on in a bit. The first line, beginning with the Magician and ending with the Chariot, represents consciousness, and Pollack says of this line, “with its concentration on such matters as love, social authority, and education, [it] describes the main concerns of society.” She notes that many people can live their entire lives never progressing past the level of the Chariot, a symbol of outward success, and indeed, many people fail even to reach that stage.
The second line, beginning with Strength and ending with Temperance, deals with the subconscious, with “that part of ourselves which we discover to be essentially real after the illusions of ego, defensiveness, and rigid habits of the past are allowed to die away.” Here we have cards like the Hermit, which show the journeyer moving within, only to undergo a symbolic Death and rebirth at the end of this line.
And finally, we have the third row, superconsciousness, which deals with (in my belief system) a confrontation with universal energies and truths that make the entire journey we have traveled thus far seem insignificant in comparison.
I am reminded of an image from The Bhagavad Gita in which a human, Arjuna, asks Krishna to show him a glimpse of the true Form beyond form. Krishna gives Arjuna the temporary ability to see with divine eyes, and his vision is described as thus:
Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths and unlimited eyes. It was all wondrous. The form was decorated with divine, dazzling ornaments and arrayed in many garbs. He was garlanded gloriously, and there were many scents smeared over His body. All was magnificent, all-expanding, unlimited.
Essentially, Arjuna saw what most of us can only see with a head full of acid, and even that would pale in comparison to his vision. The third line of the tarot delves into this realm of Form beyond form, and what I find particularly wonderful about the tarot is that, in doing so, it gives us a sort of spiritual roadmap to get there.
Where does the Fool fit in?
Earlier, I mentioned that the Fool was set aside in making these three tidy divisions of seven cards, and Pollack presents a good reason for this. She sees the Fool as a symbol of courage and risk taking, qualities that do not only belong at the beginning of this journey of personal growth but throughout the entire path.
For example, one would have to have a hefty dose of courage (or perhaps foolhardiness) to make the leap from Temperance to the Devil, or to move from the outward realm of the Chariot to a more honest self-appraisal that begins with Strength.
In my next post, I will start to flesh out our Major Arcana map to show you how each of the cards builds on the one prior, and how these connections can help you make more sense out of your day-t0-day life and your greater purpose.