The Tarot and its esoteric philosophy appears to be complex and enigmatic but there is a single key that unlocks a deeper understanding of the cards and their function.
The Tarot is full of esoteric secrets. Some are immediately evident when you examine the imagery of the Major Arcana; however, most take a lifetime of study to fully comprehend.
But what if there was a key that unlocked the Tarot’s mysteries?
There is a symbol that can do just that but you will not directly find it in the images on any of the 78 cards.
Instead, it is encoded into the fabric of the Tarot, making subtle, mysterious appearances.
The True Meaning of the Tarot
The biggest clue to the real nature of the Tarot is found in the word ‘Tarot‘ itself. I believe that it is an amalgam of two words.
To unveil this mystery, take a look at the first and last cards of the Major Arcana: THE FOOL and THE WORLD.
As a Tarot student, you probably know that they represent the start and end of a growth process. The young person in Arcana 0 leaves to explore the outside world and arrives at the final Arcana in the sequence (THE WORLD) as a mature, psychologically-balanced individual.
Taking a closer look at these two cards for a moment shows that the Hebrew word for THE FOOL is breath or spirit.
The Hebrew word for THE WORLD is ‘tau‘, which is interpreted as ‘cross‘.
Combined together, these can be roughly equated to mean tau-ruach or Spirit of the Cross.
And this, in turn, opens up another Tarot mystery.
The Sacred, Secret Symbol of the Tarot
We now can see that the actual word ‘Tarot‘ represents hidden secrets that underpin the whole structure of the system. For the first time, there is a clear context in which to comprehend the cards real function and meaning. The two words that are important in this are ‘spirit‘ and ‘cross‘. They indicate the form and function of Universal Power as it can be formulated and manifested into our physical world.
Like all other aspects to the occult, mere words tend to become useless when trying to explain metaphysical principles. Traditionally, the way to get around this has been to use symbols, which is useful here for, of course, this is the primary language of the Tarot.
So then, what symbol could be used to signify this idea of the ‘Spirit of the Cross‘?
Before I answer this, let’s take a step back for a moment. The ‘Spirit’ component relates directly to the essential symbolic qualities of Arcana 0: THE FOOL.
Now, it becomes even more apparent why the Zero is used for THE FOOL. The circle is used to represent the concept of ‘all-pervading spirit’. It encompasses the idea of ‘total’ or ‘all’.
Identifying the symbol for the second Arcana in this mystery, THE WORLD, is easy as it has already been done for us. It is the ‘Cross’. However, it is not the quad-armed cross, but the T-shaped cross – that same cross that THE HANGED MAN hangs from.
To recap then, we have:
- First Arcana = THE FOOL = ‘spirit’ = circle
- Last Arcana = THE WORLD = ‘cross’ = T
You remember earlier, we put the two words together to create the essential descriptor for the Tarot and came up with ‘Spirit of the Cross‘?
Now, we can put the two symbols of the Tarot together—the circle and the T-cross—to create a single sigil to represent the Tarot ideology.
The Symbol of the Tarot
And the resultant symbol is…?
You got it! The symbol of the circle over the T-cross is the Ancient Egyptian glyph for life, commonly known as the Ankh.
To further nail this idea, it is interesting to note that the Ankh was used to represent the life force itself and is in universal use today as a symbol of wealth, success and abundance.
The Key to the Heart of the Tarot
So, the Ankh is the key to unlock the heart of the Tarot. The shape of the ankh is, in fact, not dissimilar to a physical key. This becomes still more interesting when you consider that the Ankh has often been called ‘St Peter’s Key to Heaven‘.
Once again, this suggests the idea of a connection to higher power.
Tarot students with an interest in the Western Mystery Tradition will immediately pick up on the idea of the Ankh as being an important element to deciphering the cards. If you are less familiar with disciplines such as Rosicrucianism, you may be interested to discover that the Ankh was integrated into the basic ideas of a Divine Feminine Principle as represented by the mysteries of Venus—both the planet and the Goddess.
This is an area of research you may want to delve into as you deepen your Tarot studies but it is not a topic for today’s post.
To recap then, since we have covered a lot of ground in this article,
The meaning of the word ‘Tarot‘ is ‘Spirit of the Cross‘. The symbol …or key… that represents this is the Ancient Egyptian Ankh. This symbol appears throughout the Major Arcana in various forms and which, in its turn, leads you into still more interesting mysteries and connected disciplines.
More About the Ankh
There is so much more to learn about this glyph. If you are interested in finding out more about the Ankh, its history, its metaphysical and physical uses, and gain practical exercises you can perform to transform your own life, you will enjoy my book, The Power of the Ankh.