(written for the Tarosophy Tarot Association Magazine, April 2015)
A few months ago, I asked the members of the Tarot Association’s Facebook group what they thought of astrology. While some Tarot-sophists are already astrology-lovers too, others were less enthusiastic about the “Cosmic Science,” or even intimidated by it.
As an astrologer for more than 20 years, and also a Tarot fan, let me share with you why I love astrology.
Astrology’s roots spring from deep time. As soon as humans could look up, the movement of the lights in the sky has fascinated them. Every culture that could see the sky developed a sky-talk, myths and legends that link the physically “above” with the Earth “below.” To the ancient Babylonians it was “heavenly writing,” from which the Hellenistic Greeks coined the term astron logos: astrology.
Astrology is both the contemplation of the meaningful correlations abounding in a conscious universe, as well as a sophisticated language developed to explore such correlations.
The language of the astrology – ascendant, midheaven, houses, signs, planets — that we’re familiar with in the West is largely a Hellenistic Greek invention. Hellenistic Greece was a cosmopolitan crossroads of cultures. From that cauldron of Greek, Babylonian, Indian and Egyptian thought sprang the notion of erecting at map of the sky at the moment of birth. Modern astrologers can still read the earliest astrological charts (called horoscopes)– an impressive feat for a language invented 2000 years ago.
That word “horoscope” derives from the Greek words hora and skopos. Hora is our word for hour, especially as in the hour, the season, or the moment of experience. Skopos is a combination of the notion “to watch, to observe” as well as the “end-marker, destination, or goal.” A horoskopos is a tool for grasping the end goal, or purpose, of a particular moment in time.
Astrology also included the contemplation of how the cosmos works. At heart is a system of correspondences based on the seven visible “planets” – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Each planet has its own telos – purpose or desire – and those things in our earthly realm that allow a planet to fulfill that desire are its “favored things,” sometimes called the things the planet owns, or rules. Every thing can be divided into one or more of these seven celestial archetypes – colors, textures, stones, plants, behaviors, psychological qualities and more all have their planetary correspondences.
On a deeper level, a thing born in a moment when a particular planet or planets is strong in the sky (such as near it’s culmination in the sky, or just rising on the horizon), will also be one of that planet’s favored things, exemplifying the qualities of the planet from the physical to psychological levels.
As you can imagine, such a powerful language became a potent tool for exploring the nature of life, the universe, and everything in it. It became one of the primary keys to the Western esoteric and cultural tradition. Whether one is studying alchemy, medicine, religion, philosophy, Kabbalah, or more, astrology is there.
Tarot is also filled with astro-logic.
In many ways Renaissance Italy was similar to the Hellenistic world. Alexander the Great had conquered lands spanning from Egypt to India in the fourth century BCE, creating a climate in which the cross-pollination of ideas from different traditions inspired the urge for seekers to ponder grand, unifying theories.
So too, Renaissance Italy served as a crossroads of culture. The confluence of Arabic and Jewish thought via Spain and directly, recovery of Greek texts via Constantinople or preserved in monastic archives, with the Roman Christian tradition, generated an explosion of interest in the nature of the cosmic design. Renaissance art was one way cultural creatives (known as humanists at the time) sought to express in their own words a grand, unifying theory. Tarot is a perfect example of art serving as a “cosmograph” – another Greek inspired word meaning “writings about the order of all things.”
It’s no surprise then that astrological worldview is deeply embedded in Tarot, because those ideas that Tarot attempts to reconcile are themselves laced with the language of astrology. (Some would even say that all things in our solar system are laced by astrology, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.)
The familiar images of suns, moons and other planetary glyphs are easy evidence of an astrological influence. But our investigation may go far deeper into the structure and rationale of the Tarot. For example, each one of the virtues – Strength (Courage), Justice, and Temperance – has a planetary correspondence. In fact, Dante’s 14th century Divine Comedy is an extensive allegory on the relationship between planets, vices, virtues and the sacred architecture of hell, purgatory and heaven.
For example, let’s look at the card “Temperance.” Temperance, living with moderation or prudent limits, has been associated with the planet Saturn. Temperance, in the Marseilles deck appears between “Death” and “the Devil” (Satan). As the slowest moving of the visible planets, Saturn was associated with both aging, and death. There’s also a long complex association with Saturn and “Satan.” (upon which whole books have been written). Placing the Saturn virtue Temperance in between Saturnine concerns makes astro-logical sense.
(For those who like playing with such things, you’ll find the same is also true for Strength (Mars virtue) and Justice (Jupiter virtue) in the RWS deck ordering.)
And so we come to the point: understanding the ancient roots of the astrological language can only deepen one’s appreciation for Tarot. Just as reading the original Shakespeare may give you a deeper appreciation of Shakespeare than just reading a synopsis of his work, understanding the language of astrology in use at the time of Renaissance Italy will give you a greater appreciation of the depth of correspondences encoded within Tarot images.
Astrology (like Shakespeare) may take some study in order to develop fluency. But the benefit is that all of Western cultural and esoteric tradition opens up before you in a deeper way. It’s a tradition that explores the nature of the cosmos, and how to live well within it. If that is why you love Tarot, it’s also why you’ll love astrology.