The World — A door closes; a door opens

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

What is it about The World that is so hard to describe with words? I think it is that The World is not an object, but a felt sense — a state of being.

The World - RWS Tarot deck.
The World, card 22 in the major arcana, from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck, created by Pamela Colman Smith with the guidance of A E Waite. Click on the image for a larger version.

One of the ways in which we can work with tarot is by approaching it as a visual representation of an archetypal journey. An archetype is a blueprint that we all, either consciously or unconsciously, come into contact with at some point in our lives; the archetypal journey is the sum total of our archetypal experiences. It is also evolutionary. Just as our own voyages take us through alternating periods of growth, stasis, seeming reversal — sometimes crawling or streaking forward, sometimes spiraling back to a place that is similar, yet different — so the cards move with us, through suit, number, arcana.

The 22 cards of the major arcana seem to me to depict the evolution of the soul, as opposed to the minor arcana, which make up the daily details of that evolution. The journey through the major arcana is far from linear, and we visit and revisit each card as we work through the particular issues that come up for us; but there is a progression that seems to make sense on a broad scale, from The Fool’s entry at zero, to a culmination in the 21st card, The World.

And so we enter our lives as Fools — untapped potential, unaware of what we are stepping into.

We forge our identities as individuals from The Magician to the Hierophant.

With The Lovers, we see ourselves for the first time in the mirror of another.

We move out into the world with this new knowledge and we attempt to balance what we now hold (The Chariot and Strength).

We take what we have gathered and we move within to integrate it (The Hermit), while preparing ourselves for change that comes on integration’s heels (The Wheel of Fortune).

We meet with reckoning (Justice); we sacrifice, or are sacrificed, for the decisions we make (The Hanged Man); we die to ourselves in order to be born again (Death).

We are given the opportunity to understand what it is to walk between spiritual and physical, sacred and profane (Temperance), before descending into the shadows to bring our darkness into the light (The Devil).

Through this experience, structures that can no longer support us are destroyed (The Tower); we re-connect with something greater than ourselves (The Star), and we learn to hear the shadowy whisperings of the soul (The Moon).

Through illumination (The Sun), disowned, disembodied parts of our psyche are reunited (Judgement); and as one door closes, so another opens.

It is at this juncture of closing-opening that we embody The World.

In the Rider-Waite Smith version of The World — which I will be focusing on exclusively today — a woman dances at the centre of the card. Save for a swathe of grey material, she is naked, her head turned to her right, eyes closed in a state of joyous release, a white baton in each hand. There is a lightness and sense of responsive balance in those two batons and in the juxtaposition of skin and cloth: physical and material. She looks back towards the left, while her body points to the right, as if acknowledging what has passed, moving to that which is yet to come, but being right here, right now.

The laurel wreath and the red ribbons have made their appearance in at least one other card: the Six of Wands. That card was a graduation-in-miniature to the cosmic, soul-centred graduation of this one. In The World, the wreath surrounds the figure, touching the four clouds in each of the corners. It is thick and verdant; it feels protective and supportive. The ribbons — denoting victory — take the shape of infinity symbols woven around the top and the bottom of the wreath: as above, so below, ever and onward.

The sky is clear blue, and frames the other elements of the picture, bringing them forward. There is no background interference, but rather co-operation and support — a working in unison.

In the four corners, anti-clockwise from top left, are the head of a man, a bull, a lion, and an eagle. These are variously described as representing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the four fixed signs of Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio; the four elements of air, earth, fire and water; and winter, spring, summer and autumn. Whichever interpretation you prefer, the picture that we get is one of inclusion, where everything has its place. As with the hands in the Ace cards, each of the heads is borne on a cloud: they are divinely sent. I also see the four figures as being masculine in nature, while a strong feminine principle holds her own in the centre. This is also the dance of male and female, the coming together of opposites in blissful union, yet each remaining wholly separate. Together alone.

From this perspective, this is the card of individuation: the integration of all that we are, from Fool to Judgement. The process of individuation is ongoing, as we recover, accept and assimilate, recover, accept and assimilate in expanding circles of consciousness. As spectator and participant, I look out at the cosmos, and the cosmos moves through me. And because this movement and expansion is ongoing, so it holds that we might be closing the door on one layer; but it is only so that we might find ourselves at the threshold of something new and as yet undiscovered. When we step through, we enter the world of The Fool, and the adventure of the spirit begins again.

8 thoughts on “The World — A door closes; a door opens”

  1. I haven’t seen the Xultun deck except in the bits and pieces you presented. You should look at the RWS card The Tower, that is a literal representation of the Lightning Flash descending the Tree of Life, like this:
    The message of The Tower is that when the heavenly forces descend, if you try to stand in the way, you’re going to get zapped.

    Anyway, there are lots of approaches to The World, if you’re into kabbalah. I’m not really. Most of the esoteric orders use a grading system that ascends the Tree of Life, reaching upwards towards an ultimate spiritual state (that is basically impossible to achieve in this life).

    I like the BOTA system, which is a sort of 3D Tree of Life. They have a “cube of space” with every card represented by an edge or axis of the cube, The World is in the center. Every card represents an energy that can be directly connected to The World at the center. The center is a point of concentration of all the universal forces that combine into our Self. From our position at the center, we can reach outward to higher spiritual energies represented by each card. In this symbology, we merely need to face a specific direction to see that energy.

  2. Charles – have you seen the Xultun deck, which depicts that lightning bolt moving through the major arcana – from Justice (Balance) down through The Tower (The Released Man) and into The World (The Planet Earth)? That seems to tie in with what you are describing here. And the reversal into The Fool? Fabulous!

    Thank you, everyone. I really didn’t feel like I wrote this; it seemed to write itself this week.

  3. It might also be worth noting the laurel wreaths in The Fool, The Chariot, and the Two of Cups.

    Your description of individuation as the path from The Fool to The World is a path down the Tree of Life, from the crown to the base. Some call this the “lightning flash” that brings heavenly energy to earth. But there is also a path that ascends the Tree, reuniting us with pure spiritual energy, merging into the universal whole, and losing our individuate Self.

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