The Path of the Tarot is akin to the Royal Road laid on the foundations of Trump cards (Major Arcana also known as Tarot Keys). The journey through the Trumps is a tale of the Triumph of the human spirit. This is known as the Fool’s Journey based on the Fool card numbered 0 of the Major Arcana or Trump cards.
The Fools Journey
The Fools journey can be compared to the Hero’s Journey or Monomyth; the classic mythical structure was popularized by the works of writer Joseph Campbell. The word Monomyth was originally coined in the book Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. This tale of the triumph of the human spirit has been transferred across cultures and transmitted through the mediums of legends, movies and books.
In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Campbell identified the underlying patterns in myths, stories, and the spiritual traditions. In doing, so he identified a standardized blueprint which made it possible to uncover and communicate the underlying archetypal structure of these narrative traditions. In that book, he described a Mono-myth common to all cultures in which the hero embarks on a quest, triumphs over a series of obstacles and attains self-realization in the end. Campbell was a student of the Swiss psychologist ‘Carl Jung’, and the ideas in ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ are often described as Jungian.
Through the book “The Writer’s Journey”, Christopher Vogler ventured further down the road and brought Campbell’s work to another milestone. Vogler expanded on the language of the Hero’s Journey, developing it into a detailed framework for analyzing both plot and character development in fiction, and into a guideline for developing satisfying and successful stories.
The Hero’s Journey
This Hero’s Journey is prevalent in popular contemporary culture, books and movies. Popular cases in point are The Matrix Movies by Wachowskis, The Alchemist book by Paulo Coelho, Star Wars by George Lucas, Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling, Lord of the Rings by J.R Tolkein, Superhero stories such as Spiderman, Comics such as Tintin, Novels such as Sherlock Holmes, Children’s movies such as The Lion King, Fairy tales such as Cinderella the list goes on….
Ancient legends, epics and myths embody the timeless truths that make them relevant to us even in today’s times.
From every age and stage, seekers like Rama, Odysseus, Neo, Harry, Frodo… have set out as wanderers yet embarked upon profound quests to discover what it truly means to be human. These quests are not meant to be taken literally as mere fantasy or fiction depicting heroes who are larger than life and missions that are meant to save the world. They symbolize the fears faced by all mortals and the faith needed to overcome them to achieve our destinies.
Stories based on this theme are like maps of the psyche that guide us through our own lives and help us in understanding the ways of the world.
These ideas originate from the universal source of the collective subconscious. They bring to light the dark depths of the mysterious and induce us to perceive from relative perspectives.
These ideas reflect the different roles people play in our lives and the phases of evolution we go through to learn our lessons. They are a great key to wisdom as well as being instrumental in the exploration of one’s perceptions and psyche.
The Tarot illustrates this Hero’s Journey in which the Hero is the Fool who unlocks the gates of perception through the keys of tarot and through each step of the way comes closer to finding the raison d’etre.
The fundamental framework of the story can be summarized as follows:
The hero is living a complacent ordinary life yet he knows something is missing from it. He gets the call to adventure. He is reluctant at first but then gets encouraged by a mentor or wise person to cross the first threshold. He encounters tests and challenges to get trained and gets aid from helpers. He might fail at first but then gets up and gets going. He then reaches the innermost cave and endures the supreme ordeal. He seizes the elixir or treasure and on the road back manages to survive death and undergoes resurrection. He undergoes a complete spiritual metamorphosis though the process and brings benefits to the ordinary world.
This is just a tentative guideline and can be expanded upon, melded or transformed as needed.
The Monomyth is divided into three sections: Departure (sometimes called Separation), Initiation and Return.
A popular movie story to illustrate this hero’s journey is the Matrix.
Hero’s Journey and Matrix Journey
Matrix Journey is completely in sync with the Hero’s Journey and for me the Tarot’s Journey. This sequence and description of events and their relevance to the Tarot Keys are probably unintentional or perhaps serendipitous. The depiction and attributions here is completely of my own making and completely copyrighted. This is just an illustration. Hope this Matrix journey enables you to travel further into the depths of Tarot
- Home or Ordinary World- Fool Stage
In the movie, The Matrix, the Hero, ‘Neo’ anagram of The ‘One’ is living in the Matrix of the world, a Virtual Reality the safe haven and illusion created by the Artificial Intelligence AI to feed off the energy of all humans. Illusion- a Hindu mystic concept of Maya is the Matrix. Neo, the “new” one, begins the film restless and searching for the answer to an elusive feeling. He is ignorant yet inquisitive and adventurous just like the Fool card. He has twin identities -the social mask as Thomas A. Anderson a software expert and the other ‘Neo’ as a hacker similar to a seeker. He lives a normal life yet knows something’s missing. This feeling is in his head like a splinter and he needs answers for his question What is the Matrix?
- The Call to Adventure- Awakening -Magician and High Priestess Stage
In the Matrix, the call comes in the form of Morpheus (Magician card Archetype) and his follower Trinity (High Priestess Archetype which happens to be the ‘third card’) who encourage the Hero Neo, to question Reality. Morpheus literally calls Neo on a cell phone and Neo’s phone at home. At this stage Neo questions, how can he distinguish whether is awake or dreaming? He is told by Trinity to follow the White Rabbit a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
- Refusal of the Call- Empress and Emperor
Neo is naturally apprehensive in the beginning as the truth in this case the Red pill is always hard to digest (Pun intended). Neo refuses to take the leap of faith from the window washing scaffold to escape and this refusal leads to being captured by the Agents.
- Supernatural Aid/Mentor- Hierophant
Trinity extracts the bug placed by the agents from Neo so he can be freed. The mentor is in the form of Morpheus who meets Neo to answer his questions and initiate him. It is here that Neo comes to know that He is ‘The One’. Morpheus welcomes him to the ‘Desert of the Real’ a phrase from the book Simulacra and Simulation.
- Crossing the First Threshold- Lovers
The proverbial ‘choice’ to be made. In the Matrix language ‘The choice between the Blue pill (The safe world of the Matrix or Maya) or the Red pill (Reality, Truth) and the adventure continues.
- The Belly of the Whale – Chariot or Innermost Cave-Hermit
After choosing the red pill he crosses over to reality like ‘Alice in Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll. Neo undergoes an initiation ritual for awakening and is shown in the return to the womb state, waking up in a bio-electric cell where he is one of the human babies harvested by the machines for energy. This stage is similar to the Hermit card when the Hermit goes into the innermost cave and looks within
- Tests Stage – Strength
Once in the other world, the hero is repeatedly challenged with mental and physical obstacles that must be overcome. Often these take the form of a test, by which the hero improves his skills and proves his worth.
Now comes the training period of Neo through software programs that mimic the virtual reality of the Matrix so that Neo learns how to break the rules that apply to the Matrix. There is a hint of Wizard of Oz fairy-tale in Cyphers comment about fastening the seatbelt cause Kansas is going bye bye. He learns Kung Fu used an active form of meditation to realize his potential. Morpheus illustrates here that ‘There is a difference between Knowing The Path and Walking The Path’. Although Neo knew he is The One he was not yet at the stage to be able to accept it. Only through experience and understanding the choices he made could he ‘Realize’ consciously what he already ‘Knew’ but only subconsciously. The link between tests for training and the Strength card are strong (pun intended).
- Preparation, Allies and Enemies Stage – Hermit
The Hero must make the preparations needed to approach the Inmost Cave that leads to the Journey’s heart, or central Ordeal. Strategies must be formulated and possibly the enemies or Agents forces understood before the Hero can face his greatest fear, or the supreme danger lurking in the Special World- the Matrix. The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted. This Initiation into this Special World also tests the Hero’s commitment to the Journey, and questions whether he can succeed.
The Allies refer to Morpheus’s team of free humans like Trinity, Tank, Mouse etc.
Enemies are obviously the Agents of the AI most notably Agent Smith planning to sabotage the mission of Morpheus and The One. The Devil in disguise here is Cypher who Morpheus trusts but is the Judas like traitor and chooses to return to the material matrix world cause ‘Ignorance is Bliss’. He helps the agents get to capture Morpheus’s and eliminates the other team members.
- Meeting with the Goddess Stage – Wheel of Fortune
Goddess in this movie is in two forms: here she is the Oracle -The High Priestess- the Intuitive Mother of the Matrix (Binah). Obviously, the prophesies of the Oracle relate to the Wheel of Fortune card. The Oracle prophesized the coming of the One who can free all humans. Morpheus had complete faith in the prophecy and believed with all his heart that he had found the One in Neo. Neo meets the Oracle and she points out at the phrase ‘Gnothi Seauton’ meaning Know Thyself. An ancient phrase attributed to the Greek Oracle at Delphi. It is here that confronts his own fear of not being the One. The Oracle senses this and tells him that Morpheus is fooling himself into believing that Neo is the One and this will lead to someone’s death, either Neo or Morpheus. Neo makes the choice.
- Guardian Threshold -Justice
Ordeal- Hanged Man,
This is the threshold of Justice. The choice Neo makes is obviously the right but the difficult one just like the Justice card. He undergoes a complete spiritual metamorphosis and decides to sacrifice himself for the good cause. Meanwhile the agents strike them unexpectedly due to Cypher’s help and Morpheus in accordance with the Oracle’s prophecy decides to save Neo by sacrificing himself. The sacrifice theme is reminiscent of the Hanged Man card (analogy with the sacrifice of Christ) and the Death card heralds the transformation of Neo to the One (Christ Consciousness).
- Atonement Stage: Temperance
Archetype: Shapeshifter Devil
This is the stage of Atonement with the figure of the mentor Morpheus. Here Neo realizes how important Morpheus is to the mission. This is the stage he realizes that the prophecy was indeed coming true and since Morpheus put in all his faith on him, it is time for him to give back to Morpheus. Thus, the Temperance card brings the message of virtues of Temperance and Atonement. Although he could get tempted to save himself by going back with Trinity to safer grounds he doesn’t succumb to the temptation. Meanwhile Morpheus is imprisoned much like the Devil card for bondage and the agents use force and temptation to get the secrets of the mission out of Morpheus. Agents are literally Shapeshifters in the Matrix as they can take keep changing forms. Also, Cypher is a Devil as he gets tempted by the Agents to join them.
- Apotheosis/ The Gift Stage – Tower
Here the Hero’s Ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Neo ‘walks the path’ this time his perception of reality is changed, he believes it is truly up to him to save Morpheus. He finds he has the power and potential to do what he wants, dodge bullets, fight the agents etc as he was working for a greater cause than himself. It is as if enlightenment strikes him truly like the Tower card.
- The Road Back/ Flight Stage – The Moon – Shadow Archetype
After having saved Morpheus he needs to take the road back or in this case the phone route back to safety but the final threshold appears as Agent Smith manages to kill him. Here the shadow archetype of the Moon card comes. Neo gets disillusioned into believing that he is really not the One. His Journey teeters on the brink of failure. Here the shadow is the untapped resources of Neo for he does not have complete faith in himself. At this stage, he gets killed.
- Rescue from Without Stage- The Star
Now Trinity comes into the picture as the other Goddess figure. She declares her love for Neo and her complete faith in her love for him. She awakens him from the sleep of death with a kiss reminiscent of the fairy-tale of Sleeping Beauty. The hero faces the goddess and in doing so, faces his anima. By uniting with the goddess, he becomes a whole person, reconciling his feminine nature with his masculine nature. This stage shows that that is indeed a greater reality than what meets the eye. The Star card fits perfectly here as it shows the Goddess archetype that Trinity represents. She signifies the hope and faith of the soul and of course the power of love.
- Crossing the Final Threshold Stage- The Sun
As Trinity tells Neo he is The One she loves and the Oracle prophesized that she will love the One, she truly believes Neo is the One and the One shouldn’t die. This makes Neo not just belief but be the One and come back to life. He radiates with his newfound glory and sense of purpose and emerges victorious just like the Sun card.
- Resurrection/Master of the Two World’s Stage – Judgment
Only through ‘death’ can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a resurrection that grants absolute power or insight to see the Journey to the end. When the Oracle said, he is not the One she realized his apprehensions and shadows of fear. No amount of coaxing that Neo is the One could make Neo walk the path. He had to experience it to believe it. The oracle only told him what he needed to hear for him to do what he was meant to do. At this stage the Hero reaches from Enlightenment (Tower card) to Transcendence (Judgment card).
- The Elixir / Freedom Stage – The World
The Return with the Elixir is the final Reward earned on the Hero’s Journey. The Hero has been resurrected, purified and comes back to share the Elixir of the Journey with the rest of the world. In this case, Neo gains the Elixir of Freedom through faith and love. This final stage is the World card (Unity). With the journey now complete, the hero has found true freedom, and can turn his efforts to helping or teaching humanity. Finally, Neo comes the full circle and Neo is the One.
Questioning the nature of the soul and its progress through life has been at the core of all great spiritual traditions throughout time. journey comes in three parts. The first part is the awakening to know the Truth; the second part is knowing the path of light and finding the inner strength to follow it; and the third part is walking the path to immortality. Not surprisingly, this is the essence of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad verse used in the song “Navras” in Matrix Revolutions:
“Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor mamrtam gamaya”.
From illusion lead me to Truth, from darkness lead me to light, from death lead me to immortality.