When begin studying the Tarot, you will diligently look for meanings and correspondences of the cards. You write everything down neatly in your Tarot journal and it goes well. But then you come to a point where you notice that the correspondences of the elements, the astrological correspondences or even the meanings are different everywhere! And no one can give the answer which is now ‘true’. This is very frustrating!
The answer, in my opinion, is indeed that there is no truth. As long as man has existed, he has worked with symbols and wants to give meaning to things around him. This symbolism not only changes with time, it is also culture bound. Take, for example, the assignment of the elements to the suits in the Tarot; Most famous is the assignment: Pentacles => Earth, Swords => Air, Cups => Water, Rods => Fire. Ancient alchemists such as Agrippa attributed all kinds of properties to the elements, such as density, purity, and speed. The most common view is that Earth, for example, is slower than Fire. So we associate Earth with stability and Fire with action. Yet you can come across it differently within the Tarot. Yet in much older traditions you see that the assignments of the elements are different. People also ‘think’ differently in the west than in the east. For example, it is much more natural for Chinese people to see that elements cannot be categorized but that it is fluid. When they have to assign elements to the ‘Sword’ they will easily see that it originates from the earth, is forged in Fire, cooled with Water and then be able to whiz through the Air (and end up in the earth – or a stone! – again).
In principle, this is also what Agrippa described, but we tend to put things in boxes. The same is true of astrological correspondences. Although in ancient times people were intensively involved in astrology, and they had an enormous amount of knowledge, some planets were not visible and were only discovered in later eras (Uranus, Pluto). The occultists who in the 17th and 18th century began to describe in detail the symbolism of the Tarot have made a first plan to incorporate it into the Tarot decks. They devised a system for their Tarot decks (eg Eteilla, Papus, TdM). Later, the Golden Dawn did an enormous amount of work to re-study all the old works and to describe them in a more modern way. They improved (or rather adapted) the symbolism and correspondence with the knowledge they had available in their times (A.E. Waite, Dionne Fortune, S.L Macgregor Mathers).
The Golden Dawn has largely based its Tarot symbolism on the ‘Zohar’ which is one of the hardest to interpret books of all time. So it is logical that many discussions and different points of view arose as a result of which this system was also improved and adapted by the ‘younger’ generation (including Aleister Crowley and by Paul Foster Case after him). The conclusion is without a doubt that there is no fixed system, symbolism or correspondence system and that nobody knows ‘what is true’. Although working and laying with the cards is not about tables and correspondences, it is nevertheless an important part of the Tarot study. Firstly, because there are always people who want to know the details. Secondly, because alchemical, religious or astrological symbolism simply works well if you want to address the unconscious. It is a way of ‘feeling’ the cards to feel the energy and thus it gives direction to your interpretation of the cards. But how to tackle these discrepancies?
Well, my advice is to read a lot and see for yourself what feels good or makes sense to you. You could look at the specific deck or system you are using and then follow the theory of the ‘maker’ of the deck. So: if you work with the Rider Waite Smit deck, you follow the correspondences of the Golden Dawn. If you work with older decks, you follow the ‘traditional’ interpretation.
Furthermore: go with the flow, if something ‘clicks’ at a certain moment, you have found your own system and allocation! If it works then it works, we also have to stay practical because that is the way to use the beautiful tool Tarot for ourselves and for others! Because I belong to the type that really wants to know everything, I have made lists and tables of all the symbolism and assignments you can think of. I like to share them with all students who are interested or curious about this kind of symbolism. And now I am sharing it here for everyone to use the way he/she wants to.
To start simple, I begin with an overview of astrological assignments to the Major Arcana according to the Golden Dawn (Rider Waite Smith deck and Golden Dawn deck). Just see what clicks in YOUR head (or heart) and how it ‘works’ for you. I will be sharing many more helpful reviews in the near future so keep an eye on my Patreon Page!