Carl Jung and Alchemy of Tarot

Jung tarot

The ancient spiritual traditions are being rediscovered nowadays to understand them in modern terms and on new ways of interpretations (sometimes, more practical and rather straightforward). Carl Jung was a pioneer who rediscovered an alchemical transmutation of elements as psychological phenomena and behavioral patterns. It was exactly what the medieval alchemists meant – only a fool believes in the transmutation of gold from lead. In fact, they said about Four Elements and their transmutations in humans. The Jungian pillars – archetypes and four psychological functions were, in fact, well-forgotten concepts coined by the ancient Greeks, Plato, and Aristotle. The medieval Tarot was invented as a steganography system to keep this sacred and secret knowledge, but an obsession about secrecy is out of fashion now, and Tarot becomes a mass tool, and Jungian approach is a way to cognize how it operates.

In the ‘Square of Opposition’ Aristotle made his contribution to physical nature of Four Elements and their transmutation into each other. Centuries later, Raymond Lull in his ‘Arbor Scientae’ explained that each Element not only a thing in itself, but also are the attributes of Divinity. He discovered its hidden divine dignities behind obvious qualities of Elements that are the essence and the truth of the Creation and earthly life. In XI century the abbess Hildegard of Bingen in her book ‘Liber Vitae Meritorum’ depicted how Four Elements complained to the Creator of changing their natural functions and ways contrary to the ways prescribed them by the Divine Order. The dissonance with the Divine Order made humanity desperately wicked, determining its evil fate. This theory was reintroduced by Carl Jung in the psychological terms of the XX century.

In was a period of spiritual enlightenment in the second century when St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons introduced the term “archetype,” proposing that a man was created not directly from God, but from archetypes that served as models. Later Carl Jung reintroduced the term to use it in his research of human psyche as simplified models or prototypes of persons. According to Jung, archetypes locate in the collective unconscious, and they are not directly available to our conscious minds, while can appear in dreams and spiritual practices. In that way, we use archetypes now to explain how Tarot works.

Main archetypes of Jung are ‘Self,’ ‘Shadow,’ ‘Mask,’ ‘Anima,’ and ‘Animus.’ The ‘Self’ is the most important archetype, representing the central part of the personality, and creating a balance of different psychic qualities. ‘Shadow’ is the dark side of personality, its animal essence, and the source of deviant behavior, which is beyond consciousness. ‘Mask’ (or ‘Persona’) is a social mask that people use to make an impression and conceal the real nature. The ‘Anima’ and ‘Animus’ personifies the person’s inner attitude (the ‘Anima’ represents the feminine part in men, and the ‘Animus’ represents the masculine part in women). There are other archetypes including “Child’, ‘Grand Mother,’ ‘Old Wise Man,’ et al.

The most important Jung’s contribution to the modern psychology is his theory of personality types, including four fundamental psychological functions: thinking, sensation, intuition, and feeling. For a person, equilibrium of the four functions produces a well balanced approach to the world, which form destiny. In his ‘Red Book’ Jung use the traditional Buddhist mandala, a circle with the ‘Self’ archetype in the center, (Roxana Paul’s artwork) as a template for the human psyche, The square with four doors is a pattern for magical four: elemental energies, positions of the sun in the sky, and psychological functions. The squaring of the circle symbolises how internal thoughts, emotions, and feelings interact with external information, relationships, and events. From the cosmic point of view this pattern demonstrates the harmony of the universe, based on four elements with the Absolute in the central point.

Jung’s four psychological functions correspond with the four Tarot suits, and respectively with the Four Elements. Intuition as a deeper inner perception of reality corresponds to the Fire element and the suite of Wands. Sensation, perceiving the material world via five senses refers to the Earth element and the suite of Pentacles. Feeling as a sentimental function corresponds to Water and Cups, and thinking, the function of logic and reasoning – to Air and Swords. It makes no difference which terms we use, understanding Jung’s theory as a basis for a scientific approach to divination in opposition to the vulgar fortune-telling. In the series of articles, we explain how to use it in practice for a New Age style of divination.

By Victor Paul, PhD

Venetian Carnival Tarot

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