Jung and the Tarot


Carl Gustav Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875 and died in 1961. He founded analytic psychology in response to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. This differs from the Freudian model in downgrading the importance of sexuality and childhood conflicts in the treatment of neuroses, and concentrates more on a patient's current conflicts. Jung made the significant step of defining the unconscious of a person as comprised of both a personal unconscious (proceeding from the experiences of the individual) and a collective unconscious (issuing from the inherited structure of the brain, and common to humanity). This is important to esoteric study in that it goes some way towards explaining the power of archetypal, symbolic systems like the Tarot. Indeed, the concept of archetypes - potent universal symbols appearing in myths, fairytales and dreams - is an important part of Jung's concept of the unconscious.

Jung classified people as introverted and extroverted types, but more importantly from the point of view of the Tarot, further classified them according to four functions of the mind: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. In his final work, Man and His Symbols, Jung wrote:

"These four functional types correspond to the obvious means by which consciousness obtains its orientation to experience. Sensation (i.e. sense perception) tells us that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not; and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going."

He considered that, in each person, one or more of these functions predominate, and that the others require development through application if that person is to become whole. Jung put it like this: "For complete orientation all four functions should contribute equally." These functions can help enrich our understanding of the Minor Arcana:

Jungian Function Tarot Suit Element

Intuition Wands Fire

Feeling Cups Water

Thinking Swords Air

Sensation Pentacles Earth

Three of the attributions look exactly right, but does Intuition really correspond to Wands and Fire? Intuition as creative, perceptive insight and initiator of action fits the bill very well. Jung himself wrote, "Intuition is not mere perception, or vision, but an active, creative process that puts into the object just as much as it takes out."

The occultist Dr. Arthur Edward Waite expressed the following, distinctly Jungian, view of the Tarot: "The Tarot embodies symbolical presentations of universal ideas, behind which lie all the implicits of the human mind, and it is in this sense that they contain secret doctrine, which is the realization by the few of truths embedded in the consciousness of all."