Working with the archetypes in tarot: What, How and Why?

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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 explains how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

Today, I’m inviting you to work with an archetype from the tarot deck.

Ace of Wands from the Camoin-Jodorowsky Tarot, a restored version of the Marseille Tarot.

This might bring up a few questions along the lines of ‘What is an archetype?’, ‘Where do archetypes fit with the tarot?’, ‘Why would I want to work with an archetype, and how?’ — all valuable things to ask, and all of which I’ll be addressing in this article. Or, I’ll be addressing them as much as I can. You see, on our evolutionary journey through life, archetypes walk hand-in-hand with the unconscious: Both can only be known in part, and indirectly through our own specific filters. Clear as mud? Let me try to explain.

In an article in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, Timothy Chouinard (1970) describes an archetype in this way:

“[An] archetype is not a specific content unless realized consciously; it is otherwise a pure form — unspecifiable of its very nature. … [And he goes on to quote Jung:]

‘The symbols it [i.e. the collective unconscious] creates are always grounded in the unconscious archetype, but their manifest forms are moulded by the ideas acquired by the conscious mind. The archetypes are the numinous, structural elements of the psyche and possess a certain autonomy and specific energy which enables them to attract, out of the conscious mind, those contents which are best suited to themselves. The symbols act as transformers, their functions being to convert libido from a “lower” to a “higher” form. This function is so important that feeling accords it the highest values. The symbol works by suggestion; that is to say, it carries conviction and at the same time expresses the content of that conviction.’ [Jung (1956)]

“… So we can never experience an archetype first-hand; it must always be consciously filtered — or in-formed — through some sort of symbol.”

In other words, archetypes are:

  • A blueprint for a feeling, behaviour, state of being
  • Universally recognisable, transcending gender, culture, race, religion, region
  • Pure potential until we ourselves bring meaning to them; they ask for meaning through us, we derive greater meaningfulness through them

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Sarah Taylor

About Sarah Taylor

Sarah is now taking applications for her online tarot training - a five-week course starting in the fall. Find out more on her website:
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4 Responses to Working with the archetypes in tarot: What, How and Why?

  1. Sarah Taylor Sarah Taylor says:

    Thank you, Green-Star-Gazer, for your generous contribution! I’m hoping to work more closely with archetypes when I get my Jungian Analyst qualification in several years’ time – they are indeed powerful gods. And I love your suggestion about transforming and integrating parts of ourselves through a conscious selection of cards. I, too, find the Thoth Tarot potent in this regard; it has helped me and some of the people for whom I have done readings. It has a very direct feel to it. It doesn’t pussy-foot around — which means you have to have a willingness to see what it is that it is pointing out to you: It’s not a deck that colludes with denial.

    I also want to say thank you to Rob44, whose comment in the reading that included The Tower a few weeks back in part inspired this article: “[T]he archetypes want desperately to evolve with us, but can only do so if we write new stories for them to live in.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. We must meet them halfway.

  2. Sarah,
    Thank you for this very well-crafted Mini-workshop in working with Archetypes. I wholly support and endorse this process as a way to get to know various aspects of one’s hidden self.
    Another exercise that I was taught by my Astrology/Tarot teacher when I was first cutting my teeth on all this knowledge is sort of a reverse polarity of the method you have outlined in your article. In this more unusual approach one takes cards which are associated with aspects of the self that one may self-assess to be in “conflict” with one another and actually put the cards together in a Sacred space and manner, on a personal altar for instance. (this also works for “hard” transits between planets, pick the cards representing the plants and have them “sit together”) This announces to the deep-conscious self that we want these aspects to learn how to get comfortable with one another, and possibly even learn how to be more harmonious together…in other words, using the cards themselves as proxies for inner growth that we want to achieve. Sounds like “magic”? You bet it is!! and, it works! :-)

    I use the Crowley deck and I find that the Court cards are also very powerful to use along with the major arcana since the Court cards can also hint at the development scale of a particular element(suit) that is in progress. For instance, if I really want to support some dietary changes, or anything to do with the physical body which promotes health and well-being, I like to bring in both the Princess and the Queen of Discs since they are so masterful at supporting the body (and since I am in a female body). If I want to start a new adventure, the Prince of Fire and the Chariot play well together and love to run with the wind in their Chariots! Working with the symbol language of images is a powerful way to access, support and inform the deep-conscious self of intentional changes we want to manifest and the Tarot cards are an excellent resource for that.

    As an aside for working with Archetypes in general, your article is very timely as I have just discovered that an ancient Archetype has been at work in me for most of my adult life and it is one that I was not able to name or know about until I recently uncovered the mythological reference. Now that I have her “story” and understand the pattern, I am deeply curious to see if it might be possible to “heal” this tragic character (in me) and then possibly there may be a “healing” of sorts that can happen in the morphic field of this entity/Archetype. I have seen this happen before… when one does healing work on the inner realms, then suddenly we may find a “new” story or movie or book comes onto the collective/popular/public scene and it will contain a character that in every way is like the old archetype only now it has a new angle/edge that embodies the healing work that one has helped activate. This is truly a mysterious process and is one that most people are not very aware of or even interested in….but story-tellers know of this phenomenon…as do anyone working Shamanic paths. I find it utterly fascinating.

    Thank you for your excellent article, like Len, I’m going to keep a copy in my archives… fabulous work, as always!

    cheers! :-)

  3. Sarah Taylor Sarah Taylor says:

    You’re welcome, Len! And of course you may. :)

  4. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Sarah: Thank you, brilliant, this is a keeper for me to refer to in the future. Please, may i quote (or paraphrase) you?

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