Pagan Paths

Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neo-Paganism from its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. But what if Jung's ideas have been misunderstood by many Pagans: literalized on the one hand and oversimplified on the other? What fresh insights can a Jungian Neo-Paganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?

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The Tarot: A Micro-Cosmograph

Before I discuss tarot as a form of Jungian Pagan practice, I want, in this post, to give a little background about how I approach tarot.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_f10-0413-tarot-deck-inset.jpgTarot, for anyone who does not know, is a deck of cards that derives from a mid-15th century card game called Triumphs, which is the origin of various modern trump card games like Euchre, Bridge, and Hearts.  The tarot card deck resembles the common 52 playing cards used today, with important differences.  There are four suits: Swords, Batons (or Wands), Cups, and Coins (or Pentacles).  In addition to the King and Queen face cards, there is a Knight (which became the Jack) and a Page.  These constitute the court cards, which are also called the Minor Arcana.  In addition, there are 22 trump cards, also called the Major Arcana, with names like the Fool, the Lovers, Death, and the Hanged Man, numbered 0 to 21.  All of the cards have evocative imagery on them, which accounts for their continued appeal.  The cards are now primarily used for divination, or fortune telling, rather than as a card game.  The deck exists in many versions.  The most well known historical deck is the Tarot de Marseilles and the most well known occult deck is the Rider-Waite Tarot, but there are literally thousands of variations.

I actually discovered tarot before I discovered Paganism or Jung.  After I left the Mormon church, I found myself searching the internet for imagery.  I couldn't have said then what I was looking for, but now I realize that I was looking for symbols to fill the vacuum that had been created by the loss of the symbolic system which Mormonism had previously provided me.  I came across tarot and something about the imagery, especially the Major Arcana, was compelling to me, so I went looking for more information.

One website, The Tarot Hermit, was particularly helpful.  Unfortunately, the site is no longer active.  The author of the site was Tom Tadfor Little, aka Tom Waters.  I did not know at the time that Tadfor Little was a Wiccan and Llewellyn author.  He published Understanding the Tarot Court with Mary Greer.  It was an interesting bit of synchronicity that I would discover Paganism and Jung just a couple of years later. 

Following Tadfor Little, I see the Major Arcana as a Cosmograph, a pictoral representation of the universe.  But I see it as an internal Cosmograph, a representation of the microcosm, rather than the macrocosm.  The 22 cards tell a story about internal development.  It should be noted that, in what follows, I order the cards somewhat differently than the common ordering today, but the basic outline is the same.  Throughout history, the cards have been ordered differently

The first six cards correspond to the estates of humankind: Fool (beggar), Magician (originally called the "Bagatto" or artisan), Empress, Emperor, High Priestess (originally called "Papess" -- a female pope), and Hierophant (originally called "Pope").  

The next eight cards correspond to the four Aristotelian virtues -- Temperance, Strength (fortitude), Justice, and Hermit (wisdom) -- and the vices or fates that overcome (or triumph over) the virtues -- Lovers, Chariot (war), Wheel of Fortune, and Death.  

The next three cards represent a descent into and ascent from hell: Devil, the Hanged Man, and Tower.

The last five cards represent the ascent to God: Star, Moon, Sun, Judgment (resurrection), and World (God).


Tarot is a subject that draws a lot of interest from both Jungians and Pagans. Interestingly, Jung did not himself have much to say about Tarot.  (He was much more interested in alchemy.)  In The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, Jung lists tarot cards, along with images from alchemy and the Tantric chakra system, as examples of "symbols of transformation".  Unlike archetypes like the anima/animus which are often experienced in a personified form with personalities, symbols of transformation are "typical situations, places, ways and means, that symbolize [a] kind of transformation".  Symbols of transformation present "a rhythm of negative and positive, loss and gain, dark and light" by means of which an obstacle is overcome and "illumination or higher consciousness" are achieved.  (CW 9(i), PP 80-82).  The Major Arcana clearly fits this pattern, with the triumph of the vices over the virtues, the descent into "hell" and the ascent to "God".

In my next post, I will describe how I use Tarot as part of my Jungian Neo-Pagan practice.

For more information about Jung and Tarot, check out Sallie Nichols' Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey.

Additional links:

Mary Greer's blog: Carl Jung and Tarot

Byant Tarot: Jung and the Tarot

"Tarot Archetypes of the Major Arcana" by Corrine Kenner

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John discovered Jungianism and Neo-Paganism at the same time through the writings of Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, and Starhawk, and the two have remained intertwined for him ever since.  John is the managing editor at, a community blog for Naturalistic Pagans. He also writes about his spiritual quest on his blog The Allergic Pagan (, where he explores his personal religious history, Paganism, UUism, and Jungianism.


  • Neda Marin
    Neda Marin Thursday, 03 April 2014

    This was a wonderful read! I am just getting into studying the Major Arcana and had no idea the cards have been rearranged differently throughout the years. It is something important that I will keep in mind. I would love for you to stop by my blog and give me some feedback!

  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan Thursday, 03 April 2014

    Very interesting blog. When it comes to the Major Arcana, a study of the BOTA deck can be extremely rewarding. What the differences are is truly intriguing and can challenge the generally accepted meaning of some of the most significant cards. Were the symbols changed to hide secrets Rider-Waite was sworn to keep?

  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson Friday, 04 April 2014

    Very interesting! I have never seen the Major Arcana described this way but it makes sense. Great article!

  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson Friday, 04 April 2014

    I linked to your article from my Goodreads site (it was shared with me on Facebook). I just wrote a book about Tarot, so linked this to my Goodreads blog so my followers can see it as well. I particularly like the description of the Major Arcana!

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