Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article tells you how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc
By Sarah Taylor
So there we are, travelling along the road marked “Life.” When we first started out, we did so with no idea of what to expect, but with a light heart and a spring in our step.
On the way, we have encountered parts of ourselves that have added layers of complexity to the tabula rasa we once were. We’ve also met fellow travellers, and known what it is to relate to an ‘other’. There have been moments when the road has widened and our path has been eased; there have been others when we have had to call on our inner resources to meet the challenges in front of us; there have been times still when we have felt utterly alone with a need to seek strength in shelter and introspection.
Suddenly, the path changes direction unexpectedly. We follow it around a bend, and we are stopped short. There, in our way, is a gate-keeper. There is no way around her. We cannot reason, argue or persuade. We cannot threaten or bribe. The only thing that will meet her requirements is a reckoning: a weighing-in of our actions to date, and the decisions we took to get here; and an adjustment of our course if she finds that we have taken an injudicious route. We can then continue, knowing that we have had an encounter with Justice — from the Rider-Waite Smith tarot — or Adjustment — from the Crowley-Harris Thoth tarot.
Let’s look at both cards individually, and see how each one portrays this idea of the gatekeeper.
XI Justice – Rider-Waite Smith
The Rider-Waite Smith version is a more traditional depiction of justice.
A woman sits squarely between two pillars, holding a pair of scales in her left hand, and a sword, tip pointed upward, in her right. She is clothed in what seem to be heavy garments from the way that they fall: a long, red robe, and a green cloak, fastened at the neck and with two ‘lapels’ that fall over her knees. Red and green. Blood and nature. Two colours that symbolise life, but also complementary colours. Internal and external. The spectrum in balance.
On her head, she wears a simple gold crown, set in the centre with a blue stone. The gold is echoed in the gold of the scales; the blue in the blade of the sword. Again, balance. She holds in her consciousness both objects. The stone is further mirrored in the clasp at her neck. There is a real feeling that her upper body is set square, and the stone and clasp emphasise her head. There is no heart involved here, but rather rational appraisal. Her shoulders are broad — there is much responsibility to carry, and she is amply capable of doing this.
Like The High Priestess, the figure of Justice sits between two pillars, the background shrouded with a curtain. However, while The High Priestess is guardian of the gateway between matter and spirit, Justice is guardian of the gateway between where we are, and where we are going next. Not all of us will make it through the curtain the first time around. Some of us will be barred until our metaphorical accounting books tally.
Something else catches my eye when I look at this card. For while the card emphasises the notion of symmetry — symmetry of thought, word and action — there is a subtle bias towards the left-hand side of the image. I’ve worked with the Rider-Waite Smith deck enough to believe that the artist, Pamela Colman-Smith, puts nothing into her images without due deliberation, and I am wondering if there is something to be said about the fact that Justice has her right foot peeping from under her robe; the right edge of her chair is visible, while the left isn’t, as if she has shifted her position in favour of the side with the scales; and there is a small corner of her hem that is touched with gold. Is it perhaps to emphasise that it is the scales that are conferred with greater importance? The sword is there to demonstrate and exact authority, but the scales are what she uses to find the measure of each person who comes before her. Any justice meted out is contingent upon the scales, rather than independent of them. All thoughts about this would be welcome.
VIII Adjustment – Crowley-Harris Thoth
The Crowley-Harris version, like most of the Thoth deck, is less life-like and more symbolic than its more classical counterpart, above. The best way I can find to describe Aleister Crowley and artist Lady Frieda Harris’s approach is that they have used imagery to harness and convey a sense of energy as much as an idea.
Take a look: the card is full of blue and yellow, and greens that come from the combination of these two colours. It is all about symmetry. A blindfolded (impartial) female figure is held within an unpatterned yellow diamond. I write “held” because she isn’t standing: her toes are pointed, the balls of her feet placed against the blade of the sword that she has in her hands. It is as if the tension of the composition holds her in place… or, perhaps, she holds the composition in place around her. Her sword is a combination of masculine and feminine: the strong, phallic blade, and the two ‘ova’ set into the reversed crescents of the hilt.
Surrounding her, its fulcrum positioned on her headdress, is a large set of scales consisting of ten globes, eight of these paired into four sets of two opposed colours. The scales themselves hold the two other globes, these made of glass, the one on the figure’s right marked with an “alpha” sign, the one on her left with “omega”. She holds in balance the alpha and the omega: creation in its entirety.
Framing this are four more globes, one at each corner of the card, and lines seem to radiate everywhere: from her shoulders, her legs, and from the four globes in harlequin-like patterns. The card vibrates with an energy of power and authority that is yet rendered stable if animated. Can you feel it? It’s practically sending waves of it through my body.
What interests me is the different emphasis of the two cards. Because the Rider-Waite Smith version uses a familiar authority figure in the form of a monarch archetype, there is a more human aspect to the card. Therefore the judgement that I feel that it portrays is one that is primarily based on human laws. The Thoth version, however, does not draw from a primarily human archetype. It uses the image of Libra (logically, the astrological sign associated with this card). By doing so, we move beyond human laws and enter the sphere of universal law. Going back to the notion of energy, Adjustment concerns itself with a more detached form of judgement: that of the desire of the universe always to find balance, to find its energetic integrity. It may fall in line with our moral laws but it is ultimately disinterested in them. These are, admittedly, two sides of the same coin, but the distinction is one that I believe is worth discussing.
Justice/Adjustment is a key milestone in the archetypal journey that the major arcana describes — this journey, as you can perhaps see from the story at the beginning of this article, being the narrative patterns that feature throughout our lives, marked by experiences that are familiar and common to each of us. When she wields her sword, the figure in both cards can let us pass unscathed, or she can cause us inconvenience and upheaval. It is not about apportioning blame or working within a paradigm of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It is, simply, a redressing of the imbalances that come into being when we work, as The Magician, with a combination of spirit and matter. Such is the experience of living in the world of duality.