Arcanum XX is often called Judgement or Resurrection in other Tarot traditions, but in the Egyptian Tarot, Arcanum XX is called The Sarcophagus, which is Greek for limestone coffin. Zostrianos proclaims in his Gnostic sermon that those who hearken to the call of insight, wisdom, and knowledge within are to awaken what is divine within, and in so doing, save their true selves. Perhaps this is the highest interpretation of The Sarcophagus – responding to our higher selves, evolving, or answering a true calling.
This is the last Major Arcanum before reaching the symbol of the highest level of spiritual development as represented by Arcanum XXI, The Adept. Our Hero has come a long way since he was that young, joyriding, headstrong, courageous adventurer that he was in Arcanum VII, The Conqueror. He met his mentor in The Sage, he underwent sudden change and upheaval in his life in The Wheel of Fortune, and along his journey there were times when he lost his way, lost his faith, and lost his ground. There were times of catastrophe and times of healing; and in those times of challenge, he faced his demons and tested his metal, even during the darkest night of his soul. And now, to quote Sallie Nichols in Jung and Tarot, “…he lies in a grave looking up to the heavens for guidance. He, who once (so long ago) considered himself superior, now hears the call to serve a power above and beyond himself.” It is in this Arcanum that the trumpet sounds, heralding a new interaction between conscious and unconscious mind (The Magus and Veiled Isis) that will manifest in the final Major Arcanum, The Adept.
In a reading, The Sarcophagus is interpreted as change or movement but, unlike The Wheel of Fortune, it is not a sudden change or movement, but a very gradual one, and in some instances, almost unperceivable at first. It could be a movement towards a deeper understanding, a gradual change for the better; or it could represent the physical act of moving to a new location that will effect an improvement. This card could represent a gradual advancement at work, or a slow evolvement to a higher vibration. The Sarcophagus could also be interpreted as a call to a vocation. In this Arcanum as in The Wheel of Fortune, the message is that without change, whether gradual or sudden, there is no opportunity for development or evolution.
As an aside, certain cards in the Tarot take on specific meanings for specific readers. The author has discovered that The Sarcophagus takes on a specific meaning for her. Often times in doing readings for women, it means that the querent wants to leave a relationship but can’t seem to take that first important step toward doing so. She doesn’t want to get out of that sarcophagus, that marriage or relationship, even though remaining in it is like a living death. By continuing in the relationship, she is not being true to herself and, most of the time, the lady in question knows that. This card, in that instance, symbolizes the querent’s need to move on, to get out of the box, and to resurrect his or her individuality or true identity. This is an interpretation of The Sarcophagus that is distinctly the author’s. However, you may discover after working with Tarot for a while, that specific cards will take on specific meanings for you as well.
Other key phrases for The Sarcophagus in a reading, as suggested by Doris Chase Doane in Blending Astrology, Numerology and Tarot are: awakening or resurrection; nothing is more permanent than change; banish idleness with action; an end is also a beginning; the turning of a page in life; rise above emotional turmoil; establish new personal relationships; death is but a transition; passing of an old condition leads to a new one; through perception there is awareness; broaden your mentality; timing is of the essence; shun ease and comfort for progress; reversal of emotions (ruled by the Moon).
The spiritual message of The Sarcophagus is:
Remember, then, son of earth, that all fortune is changeable, even that which appears most stable. The ascension of the soul is the fruit that it should draw from its successive trials. Hope in suffering, but mistrust thyself in prosperity. If Arcanum XX should appear in the prophetic signs of thy horoscope, fall not asleep, either in idleness or forgetfulness; for thou hast a mission to accomplish which providence will reveal when thou art prepared to receive it. __C.C. Zain, The Sacred Tarot
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