Before you read this, you'll want some cards on hand. Specifically, the Major Arcana, in order, from the deck of your choice. Go on, go get them. I'll wait. If you don't want to bother right now, this post is going to be much less worth reading without a visual aid. So don't bother reading the rest for now. I'll wait 'til you have more time to join us with the required materials.
I recently discovered a book on Amazon called "Tarot Revelations" by Joseph Campbell and Richard Roberts. Yes, THAT Joseph Campbell. Turns out that Campbell only wrote a 25-page essay based on the Majors of the Marseilles deck, and the other 250+ pages are by Roberts, on the Majors of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. With that caveat, it's still a great book.
In his section, Campbell lays out the Majors in a grid (by Arcana Number):
xx - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 0
xx - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - xx
xx - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - xx
xx - 06 - 07 - 08 - 09 - xx
01 - 02 - 03 - 04 - 05 - xx
So the Magician is at the bottom, offset one from the "grid," for which Campbell provides a compelling argument. Likewise the Fool is offset from the grid at the end. Then Campbell examines each of the rows in the four main columns from the perspective of the four stages of life described by Dante.
If that sounds interesting, get the book.
I had begun reading Roberts' section and discovered that HE laid out the Majors in a different grid:
01 - 02 - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 - 07 - 08 - 09
10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
19 - 20 - 21 - 00
For which he provides a lengthy Numerological explanation. Roberts' section is of much greater depth and interests for occultists, as he goes into deep specifics of numerology and symbolism. But I haven't finished the book yet, and here's why:
Roberts was describing the colors of the cards to help to visualize what he was talking about, so I laid out his grid. Seeing all the Majors laid out in order on the table in front of me made me say: "Hey! I want to play!" I wanted my OWN grid.
I wanted something that would connect the cards that I think of as Angels or Virtues: Strength, Temperance... So I noticed. There are 2 cards between Justice and Temperance, 2 cards between Strength and Justice... 21 is divisible by 3... Maybe if i made THREE columns instead of Campbell's four, it would bring together the cards I felt belong together:
19 - 20 - 21
16 - 17 - 18
13 - 14 - 15
10 - 11 - 12
07 - 08 - 09
04 - 05 - 06
01 - 02 - 03
But then, there really wasn't room on my table to make seven-card-tall COLUMNS, so for convenience's sake I rotated the whole thing 90 degrees. This is where you should get out your cards and lay them down:
xx - xx - 01 - 04 - 07 - 10 - 13 - 16 - 19
00 - xx - 02 - 05 - 08 - 11 - 14 - 17 - 20
xx - xx - 03 - 06 - 09 - 12 - 15 - 18 - 21
As you can see, the Fool is left floating off to the side, and we now have three rows of cards. The middle row has my cluster of Strength - Justice - Temperance, with BONUS Angel the Star. Wow! these 3 rows seem to really be groups that work together.
For those who STILL haven't laid the cards out, the three rows we have now grouped the cards into consist of:
Magician - Emperor - Chariot - Wheel of Fortune - Death - Tower - Sun
High Priestess - Hierophant - Strength - Justice - Temperance - Star - Judgment
Empress - Lovers - Hermit - Hanged Man - Devil - Moon - World
If these three groups have been described anywhere in the literature in the way I'm about to discuss, please let me know; because I really think I'm onto something.
I call them the Three Paths.
Seeing Judgment, Hierophant and HP all in the same line suggested a religious theme. I thought of the two major forces in the world during the origins of Tarot - Church and State - and rows 1 and 2 seemed to really gel.
Row One people follow the lead of the King, the Emperor - they follow the State; and Row Two people likewise are motivated by the Church (The Hierophant). So the Path of The Citizen vs. the Path of the Congregant. Then what about Row 3? The key is in the second column. A "Row 1 person" is driven by the Emperor (State), a Row 2 person by the Church (Hierophant), so a row 3 person is driven by... The Lovers? YES! For what do the Lovers represent but Choice... FREE WILL! Row 3 is the Path of the Individualist.
Here are some other possible descriptions of the 3 rows I've come up with, all loosely associated:
The Soldier / The Priest / The Rebel
Ego / Superego / Id
Dionysian / Apollonian / Hermetic
Body / Mind / Spirit
Social / Moral / Personal
So, basically I see the first row as a person defined by the EVENTS in their lives: The Chariot establishing balance and progress in the material world; Wheel of Fortune as sudden turn of events or circumstances in the material world, Death and the Tower again as EVENTS the seeker along this path inevitably encounters, and the Sun as their ultimate KNOWLEDGE, their version of enlightenment.
The second path? again, beyond the Hierophant, where the Seeker in Row one was defined and formed by EVENTS, is defined and formed by Virtues or QUALITIES OF CHARACTER. Strength, Justice, Temperance, Star, are all in perfect sync... and the final card of the row? JUDGMENT? Well, just as the Seeker in Row 1 sought knowledge and enlightenment as the result of the real-world experiences, so the Row 2 Seeker will ultimately be rewarded with eternal salvation at Judgment. Their ultimate goal is to become worthy of heaven. And as a side note, I LOVE how the placement of Strength / Justice in different decks has virtually no effect on this overall scheme.
And now the third row... the Individualist, the Rebel, the Id, Hermetic knowledge. Here is the Dark Side, the most difficult path to survive. Rather than listening to the Emperor or Hierophant, the Seeker has chosen to find his own way, learn his own truths, work out the Answers for himself. And when you look at it that way, it's the path most fraught with danger - ALL the Dark Night of The Soul cards lie along this path. The Hermit - he seeks his truths alone; The Hanged Man - I always focus on the "seeing the world in new ways" aspects, but as Campbell reminds us, this is also about social ostracism. Again with the Devil, the Devil I always see in this card is the one in the mirror... your "personal demons."
and next up... the MOON! Man, this 3-rows perspective is tight! For although we have not dropped the word yet, surely this Row 3 is the Path of the MYSTIC. And what self-respecting Mystic would be complete without the subconscious, the hidden, the unknown? And just as this path is most fraught with danger - so its reward is the most fulfilling and complete - The World. Seekers 1 and 2 desire Knowledge and Salvation, respectively, but this path leads to Closure, Fulfillment, Completion. Worldliness.
Those are the paths in a nutshell. I've taken a shot at defining each of the Columns from left to right (those of you who haven't laid the cards out yet, good luck with this):
Your Origin - Your Inspiration - Your Power - The Turning Point - Your Transformation - Your Epiphany - Your Goal.
And to cap it off, that would make a damn good seven card spread, now wouldn't it?
I think this perspective on the Major Arcana is worth considerable study and discussion - and as far as I know:
You Heard It Here First.