When Tarot Keywords Diverge
Tarot interpretation is a complex thing. In a reading there are almost infinite possibilities of how a card might speak to us. Yet, there are, and must be, classic archetypes, keywords, and card meanings from which those infinite possibilities spring.
This divergence of meaning is further complicated by the difference between tarot traditions. For example, Crowley called the Two of Swords ‘Peace’. Most Waite readers will see the Two of Swords as a card of decision-making. A wise tarotist adds all the possibilities and traditions to their toolbox. One never knows when a meaning from a different tradition will pop into your mind as the precise message needed in the reading at hand.
The exercise of finding the connection point between different traditions can help us explore new possibilities for the cards. In the example of the Two of Swords, this card now often shows up for me to mean the need to be at peace with indecision in the moment.
When we find that a keyword or understanding we hold for a particular card is different from how many of our peers see it, it’s a good exercise to figure out how that happened. Is it a difference in traditions? Did you have a particular experience with this card that influenced your understanding of it? Was there a particular author or deck that introduced a new possibility for this card?
For example, in Chrysalis Tarot, the Hierophant is the ‘Divine Child’. In making the leap from the Pope to a ‘divine child’, they had forever added this possibility to our understanding of Major Arcana 5.
One card for which I have a solid and simple understand that is different from many of my peers is the Three of Wands. I see the Three of Wands as a first victory, and a harbinger of success. Many of my tarot friends find the Three of Wands to be more about possibilities than actual success.
Crowley calls the Three of Wands ‘Virtue’. Here we see the concept of opportunity and possibility, versus my understanding of confident success.
Of the Three of Wands, Waite says, “established strength, enterprise, effort, trade, commerce, discovery; those are his ships, bearing his merchandise, which are sailing over the sea”. Clearly, my understanding of this card is directly influenced by Waite, the designer of the tradition with which I most resonate. That makes sense.
It’s a good practice, when we find ourselves wondering about divergent card keywords and meanings, to go to source texts to discover what has influenced our own understanding, and the understanding of others. In doing so, there is an opportunity to solidify and expand our relationship with each card we contemplate.