INTRODUCTION TO THE MINOR ARCANA OF EGYPTIAN TAROT

 

There are two major differences between Egyptian tarot and other traditions:  (1) every component of Egyptian Tarot corresponds to astrology in some way and (2) the minors are interpreted differently.

The Minor Arcana of Egyptian Tarot are not pictorial.  Pictured minors were first featured in the Rider-Waite deck published in 1909 and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.  The vast majority of Tarot decks that followed base the interpretation of the minors on Pamela Coleman Smith’s images.  Many people prefer pictured minor cards because they are easier to remember, more visual and thereby sometimes considered more affective triggers of intuitive insight. 

In older traditions of Tarot, however, the minors are illustrated by patterns of spots on the cards corresponding to their “suit” or “element,” like the pip cards are illustrated in our regular playing cards. They, too, trigger intuitive insight and, moreover, provide a reliable system of interpretation apart from intuition. After all, intuition doesn’t always kick in. 

Another difference between most decks and the Brother of Light deck is that the elements are assigned differently to the suits of our minors.  In the Brotherhood of Light tradition, the element of water is represented by the Cups and the element of fire is represented by the Scepters, or wands.  But, we depart from many other traditions in that our element of air is represented by the Coins (Pentacles), and our element of earth is represented by Swords. 

The third difference between the minors of Egyptian Tarot and other systems is that our minors have an exoteric (outer) meaning and an esoteric (inner) meaning.  The outer meanings relate to the corresponding Major Arcanum while the inner meaning relates to the minor’s corresponding decanate. 

What is a decanate?  The zodiac is composed of twelve 30-degree signs.  Each sign is further divided into three subdivisions of 10 degrees, which are called decanates (deca means ten in Greek).  There are 36 decanates in all.  The Minor Arcana as they relate to the Major Arcana symbolize more day-to-day issues, the mundane or outer-exoteric meanings.   The inner-esoteric meanings, or deeper meanings of the Minor Arcana correspond to the spiritual teachings of the decanates of the zodiac. 

The Tens of the Brotherhood of Light deck are not considered part of the Minor Arcana as the tens are in other decks.  They correspond to Major Arcanum X, The Wheel, sometimes called The Wheel of Fortune, which is ruled by Uranus, the planet of sudden changes.  The four Tens, accordingly, also represent Change and correspond to the four seasons rather than the decanates of the zodiac.  Even though the tens are not considered part of the Minor Arcana, we will explore the tens more thoroughly in this blog series. 

To Review:

  • The Major Arcana correspond to the 10 planets and 12 signs
  • The Minor Arcana correspond to the decanates of the zodiac
  • The Tens correspond to the four seasons 

Each card of the Minor Arcana carries a suit with it.  The suits are the coins, scepters, cups, and swords. 

The coins relate to the season of spring when the winds blow, spreading pollen, fecundating the earth, and bringing forth new growth.  The winds, or the element of air, blow in currents.  (The only other element that travels in currents is water, and that element is represented by the cups.)  Besides water, there are two other nouns that we can attach to currents.  One is money; money travels. It has to move from one person to another, from one place to another, to be useful.  Money even has another name – currency.  What else travels through the Ethernet?  Ideas travel.  Ideas are exchanged moment to moment; and, of course, ideas include social exchange, news, and even gossip. So the element of Air has become associated with Coins (aka Pentacles), ideas, social exchange, money, and new beginnings.  At some point in history, diamonds as seen today in our playing cards symbolized wealth.

In the summer, we experience heat, which in olden times was associated with fuel and, more specifically, the flames of burning wood. In the summer, the fields are plentiful and there is an abundance of grasses and clover for the livestock to graze. We associate heat with passion, personal interests, authority, careers, reputation, enthusiasm, and power.  In the Brotherhood of Light tradition, the Scepter or Wand symbolizes the element of fire and the heat of passion and authority. Ultimately, the symbol of the heat of summer came to be symbolized by the trefoil of the fields, the clover, or the club.

Fall is a time of harvest, abundance, celebration, and family. It is that time of the year when cups of wine are raised in moments of cheer and goodwill toward men. It can be a time of love, joy and peace, and also a time of family tension, sibling rivalry, and feelings of disappointment.  In other words, the fall is an emotional time as symbolized by the cup and the element of water.  In today’s playing cards, the heart has replaced the cup.

Finally, in the dead of winter, the animals hibernate, the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the ground is frozen.  All is crystallized and quieted.  Food is difficult to find, and many will perish from the severity of the weather, from illness, or from starvation.  Any food that might be available will be tubers or roots buried deep beneath the hardened soil.  The Swords represent strife, the hardships of the human experience, and the element of earth.  The Sword became the Spade that was used to dig for food and, to this day, the Ace of Spades and the Queen of Spades have been associated with unfortunate events. 

To summarize:

  • The Coins represent the element of Air, Money, Ideas, Gossip, News, and New Beginnings 
  • The Scepters represent the element of Fire, Passion, Personal Interests, Hobbies, Authority, Power, Career and Reputation 
  • The Cups represent the element of Water and Emotions, both good and bad 
  • The Swords represent the element of Earth, Strife, Hardship, Poverty and Illness 

Next week’s blog will explain the four Ones, or Aces, corresponding to Arcanum I, The Magus. For more information about the Brotherhood of Light tradition, visit our website at www.light.org.

 

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About letstalktarot

Allyn McCray began reading Tarot in 1971 after discovering a deck in an occult shop in San Francisco, California. In 1999, the American Tarot Association recognized her as a Certified Tarot Reader. During her experience as an Internet reader between 2000 and 2002, Allyn’s readings were regularly featured on the websites, Psychicnut and Roadtalk. In 2002, Allyn joined The Church of Light, aka Light.Org, a non-profit international school of esoteric studies, where she is now a Hermetician, Certified Teacher, and Minister. Allyn also serves as the Communications Director of The Church of Light and is a Section Advisor in The Order of the Sphinx.
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8 Responses to INTRODUCTION TO THE MINOR ARCANA OF EGYPTIAN TAROT

  1. cartomaniza says:

    Excellent blog here! Also your website loads up fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  2. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely
    donate to this outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your
    RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share
    this site with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

    • Thank you for your wonderful comment. To date, my blog is a lot to assimilate and I haven’t been updating it lately because I’m working on a book!! If you ever have any tarot questions, feel free to email me.

  3. Gavin says:

    Hi,
    Im brand spanking new to Tarot, but am learning rapidly .. Recently I took the plunge and ordered a deck of The Eternal Tarot (ET) by Glorian Publishers which just recently came out, so there is not much review and no comparison .. Until I found this ! they are almost identical to The Egyptian Tarot (EG). I respect that time is always against us but … maybe you could update this stream to include that deck – I wonder if there is some collaboration between http://gnosticteachings.org/courses/twenty-two-arcana-of-tarot.html and The Egyptian Tarot. The free course from Glorian focusses a lot if not exclusively on Kabbalah aspects, whereas The Egyptian focuses more on astrology . Still I would like to know if the notes of both decks were compared by the designers and if this The Eternal Tarot is an updated version of The Egyptian Tarot. As a by the way if both websites were updated to reflect the astrology and Kabbalah, the harmony would provide a wealth of info !
    Maybe you could add this to your tags as some people have commented in reviews on Amazone that they dont understand the re-ordering of the numbers etc.

    One difference I have notice is that the numbers 22 and 21 are switched around in the eternal Tarot.

    Anyway thought you like to know .

    Namaste
    Gavin

    • Hello Gavin. Thank you for visiting my blog and welcome to the world of Tarot! No, the Eternal Tarot is not related to the Brotherhood of Light deck, which was originally published, if memory serves, sometime in the 1930’s. The BofL Deck is published by the Church of Light (www.light.org), FKA The Brotherhood of Light, which has been around for decades. There are literally more than a million tarot decks available around the world and more decks are published every day. There are many decks with Egyptian themes and even more based on gnosticism and Kabbalah. And, yes, the numbering order, astrological assignments, and other correspondences all vary between one deck and another. About the only component that remains relatively similar between decks are the meanings of the Major Arcana. Everything else varies tremendously.

      Apart from the Egyptian theme of the Eternal Tarot and based on what I’ve seen of this new deck, they appear to be vastly different from The Brotherhood of Light deck. They do, however, have one thing in common: these decks both claim that they encode the same information given to Moses. The history of Tarot is very vague and with each deck, again, you will read about a different history. In fact, the history of tarot is so vague that probably the truest statement we can say about it is, “We don’t know.”

      In my experience at a tarot teacher and reader since the early 1970’s, I’ve observed that beginning students look for underlying truths and try to assimilate the information imparted by different decks. This approach is overwhelming. Here is my advice to a beginning student:

      Pick a deck that appeals to you based your particular interest, e.g. astrology, gnosticism, Kabbalah, cats, dinosaurs, angels, herbs, etc. There’s a deck out there for everybody. Study your deck of choice thoroughly and get proficient reading with it exclusively before studying other decks. Many beginning students begin with the Universal Waite deck because most all other decks are based on it. It, too, is based on Hermetic teachings, which include gnosticism and Kabbalah and there are dozens of books written about it. I recommend anything written by Cynthia Giles,Joan Bunning, Karen Hamaker-Zondag, and Sally Nichol’s “Jung and Tarot.”

      Ultimately, Tarot acts as a bridge between your conscious and subconscious mind. Tarot can be used for divining, honing intuition, problem-solving, and spiritual development, but the information Tarot imparts can only be a reflection of your own effort, experience, insight and open-mindedness. The study of Tarot goes on for a life-time because the more we know, the more we experience, the more the cards will reveal ad infinitum. Enjoy the journey and thanks again for writing.

      • Gavin says:

        Thanks for the reply 🙏🏻
        I ordered the book by Zain , sacred tarot and its on its way .. I am drawn to the astrological aspect so I hope the book (and your notes) may compliment the deck I ordered. I honestly didn’t know the Egyptian tarot existed so I went with the other , or the other went with me 😉
        Particularly though I like the monocolour deck of yours.. Is the imaging sharp with this one ?

        As a matter of Interest how do you find the talk of Orpiuchus the Thirteenth sign ?
        I’ll waffle on a bit of what I think if you don’t mind …
        It has the minor planet Chiron assigned to it , which mythologicaly speaking is a nice touch,
        13 signs can also be used tropically and not only sidereally and the year can still be divided into four parts , when using a thirteen moonth of 28 days to a 364 day year . (I suspect a thirteen moonth lunar year would gel better with the female population ;)) … Which brings thirteen weeks to a season ! I know that’s not exactly a solar year but nothing a leap day couldn’t rectify .. And we would have a repeating year! i.e. Each day will fall on the same date every year .

        Not to mention Kabbalisticly there are actually thirteen tribes of Israel of you count Joseph’s sons, and there’s actually 13 disciples if you consider Mary, Matthias or Paul.
        The new sign of the serpent and the healer is not so new and its in the epileptic for much longer than say Scorpio . Many people have commented here and there that there “new ” sign is more conclusive than their old one .

        Traits etc can be found at: http://www.findyourfate.com/astrology/Ophiuchus-13zodiac.html

        And a free chart can be generated at:

        http://masteringthezodiac.com/sidereal-birth-chart-calculator/

        And not to forget the grand law of the Tao !! Everything is in flux , nothing is permanent.

        Anyhow just wondering what you think if a thirteen sign symbol could be or maybe even fits better than in the Tarot ︎︎

      • The Sacred Tarot by C.C.Zain, aka Elbert Benjamine, provides a great deal of information regarding the Brotherhood of Light deck as far as correspondences and history. However, it minimally describes the interpretation of each card in a reading. You will have to rely heavily upon my blog and/or a book entitled Blending Astrology Numerology & Tarot by Doris Chase Doane, which is also available at http://www.light.org.

        You refer to the BofL deck as being “monocolour” which I interpret to mean “black and white.” The deck was originally published in black and white, but a re-designed and colorized deck was published about 5 years ago. Black and white decks may still available but chances are, if you did not specify, you were sent a colorized deck.

        As far as Ophiuchus is concerned, the body of knowledge incorporating 21 books on Astrology, Alchemy, and Magic (Magic includes Tarot and the BofL deck) is called the Brotherhood of Light Lessons (BofL). The BofL lessons teach that Ophiuchus is a constellation within the sign of Scorpio and the first decanate of Scorpio. Decanates, like the Rising Sign, were given to us by the ancient Egyptians. Each 30 degree sign of the zodiac is further divided into three 10 degree decanates (30 x 12 = 360 degrees). It’s the Ophiuchus decanate that puts the “sexy” in Scorpio. The key word assigned to this decanate is Resourcefulness and, to quote one of the books of the BofL lessons, Spiritual Astrology:

        “Resourcefulness, which is the Keyword of the decanate, follows the ability to divert the sex energy into proper channels. As a constructive and acceptable outlet for the energy must be found, we have this text: Continual Kindness Between the Sexes Generates a Power by Which the Heights may be Scaled.”

        For more information about this decanate: https://www.light.org/Scorpion-and-Eagle-SL079.cfm
        The BofL Tarot card that corresponds to the Ophiuchus decanate belongs to the minor arcana, the 4 of Cups. A few of its key phrases besides Resourcefulness are: an increase in the family, enduring love, affections realized, expose of a revengeful plot, overemphasis of the emotions.

        You are obviously very interested in astrology, so the BofL deck may be a good choice for you. Each card is very specifically assigned to a component of astrology and each card displays at least one astrological glyph. If you are knowledgeable in astrology, and it appears as if you are, this will help you tremendously in interpreting the cards.

        Is Ophiuchus the 13th sign or a constellation? There are many paths to your personal truths. How you name the paths really doesn’t matter.

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