Five God Prototypes in the Tarot

About a year ago, I wrote a post called “Five Goddess Prototypes in the Tarot,” where I talked about five archetypes* commonly associated with the divine feminine and where they can be found in the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Go read that post; I’m pretty damn proud of it. Today, I’m going to do something similar, looking at five archetypes of the divine masculine. For today’s post, I’ll be drawing on Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette’s excellent book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. It’s a lovely piece of Jungian analysis, and even if you’re not a fan of Jung, it’s worth a read.

As can probably be expected from the title, Moore and Gillette propose four major archetypal masculine figures: The King, the Warrior, the Magician, and the Lover. They also identify four figures of the immature or undeveloped masculine psyche: The Divine Child, the Oedipal Child, the Trickster, and the Hero. For today’s post, I’m going to look at cards that match the four mature masculine archetypes, and then pull out one card to cover our bases for the immature. Mostly, I do this out of an aesthetic sense and a desire for symmetry between my goddess post and this one (five and five), but also the immature archetypes are all fairly close to each other and I don’t see a great deal of value in identifying four different ones in the Tarot deck. Your mileage may vary.

The first archetype is one of the easiest to assign. The King can only be the Emperor. I don’t have a copy of the book on me at the moment—I read it years ago and had checked it out from the library rather than purchasing it—but Amazon’s dust jacket description identifies the King as “the energy of just and creative ordering.” This is very much the Emperor at his best, the fulfillment of the energies represented by this card in the best possible way.

Likewise, the Magician archetype and the Magician card go together. Moore and Gillete’s description of the Magician is “the energy of initiation and transformation.” As the card who begins the run of the (numbered) Major Arcana and the first figure the Fool meets on his journey, the Magician absolutely embodies this role. Also, y’know. They have the same name. I’ll take easy correspondences where I can get them.

For the Warrior, I’ve chosen the Chariot. For one thing, this card depicts a warrior figure in full battle dress, riding home victorious from war. I’ve found that the Chariot is one of the Tarot cards that vary most widely in how different readers interpret them,** but common interpretations include victory, dynamism, and firmness of will. These all seem, to my eye, to conform to the archetype of the Warrior. For those following along at home, Moore & Gillette’s description of the Warrior (again, just going from the dust jacket because I’m writing this post on a whim and did not have the forethought to reread the book in advance) is “the energy of aggressive but nonviolent action.” This is a lot of what I, personally, get from the Chariot. It’s a card of knowing exactly what you want, making a decision, and moving forward with confidence and commitment, but it does not carry the impulsive, rash qualities of similar cards like the Knight of Wands.

Of the four mature archetypes, the one I’m least sure of is the Lover. On the one hand, we could go for the Lovers card, but that doesn’t seem like a distinctly masculine card; rather, that’s the union of the masculine and feminine Lover archetypes. (For anyone who was too lazy to go read the goddess post, I talked about the Strength card—Lust in the Thoth deck—as the Tarot representation of woman-as-Lover.)

I ended up settling on the Devil here, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the Devil is one of the more sex-oriented cards in the deck, and I think it’s a disservice to the Lover archetype not to nod to sexual desire. For another thing, I think the Devil at its best represents the things we find in the Lover: A love for life, for the joys of the incarnate world, and for the pleasure we get from other people. At its worst, the Devil can be solipsistic and selfish, the antithesis of the Lover, and indeed this is usually the circumstance in which we see this card. But any of these cards can have negative meanings that deviate from divine archetypes. At his best, the Emperor is a divine king, but at his worst, he’s a petty tyrant; at his best, the Magician is the creative force that drives the universe, but at his worst, he’s a peddler of cheap tricks. If we’re to undertake this exercise of matching Tarot cards to divine archetypes, I’d argue we should take the cards at their best.

I’m not 100% sold on the Devil as the Lover, and I’d be willing to hear arguments for other cards. Moore & Gillette’s description of the Lover is “the energy that connects one to others and the world,” and going by that measure, I’m tempted to say Temperance fits the bill; however, I generally think of Temperance as a genderless card, and if we’re exploring specifically masculine archetypes, it doesn’t feel quite right to me to bring Temperance into the equation. But hey, this is an inexact science, and if that makes sense to you, go for it.

Finally, we have the archetype(s) of the immature masculine. Moore and Gillette divide these into the Divine Child, the Oedipal Child, the Trickster, and the Hero. For my purposes today, I’m going to gather them all together. The core idea underlying all four is unfulfilled potential—either potential that has yet to be tapped, as in a child who’s still growing, or potential that was repressed and needs to be rediscovered, as in an emotionally stunted adult. Either way, I think the archetype fits the Fool card. In the Fool, we certainly have the Divine Child and the Hero at the start of his journey. The Fool is also quite a chaotic, unbalanced card, and I think the argument could easily be made for a Fool-as-Trickster, although (as mentioned above) the easier association with the Trickster would be an undeveloped or regressive Magician. (As for the Oedipal Child, hell, I’m not touching that one. Do with it what you will.)

This post isn’t meant to be anything exceptional or groundbreaking. It’s just a different way of looking at the cards and drawing connections between them, and connecting them to archetypal figures in a way that’s hopefully interesting and somewhat insightful. One of the things I love most about Tarot is its flexibility and its variety—there’s always room to play with Tarot, and that’s what I was doing today. I hope you enjoyed, and maybe even that you’ll do some play of your own. Do you like the way I fit these archetypes to the Tarot? Would you have assigned them differently? Are there other important figures (faces of the divine masculine) that you think got left out of this post? If so, what are they and where would you fit them in the Tarot? I’d love to hear any and all thoughts you may have.

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*If you blanch at the word “archetype,” I recommend reading that post. I talk about my use of the word and how I very much do not intend to imply a soft polytheist “all goddesses are one goddess” view. Rather, I’m talking about a set of characteristics; most goddesses (or in today’s post, gods) I know possess at least one of those characteristics, but of course there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to blindly shove everyone into rigid taxonomy à la Maiden-Mother-Crone.

**Them? It? Which is the correct pronoun here? The grammar kind of got away from me.

3 thoughts on “Five God Prototypes in the Tarot

  1. Both posts about the divine archetypes are v interesting. I realise you are looking at them from the perspective of comparative religion here and that they are not your definitions, but I must admit I find it more than a bit irritating that the male archetypes are described in power terms (King, Magician, Fool) where their female counterparts are described in fertility terms (Virgin, Mother, Post-menopause – which is in effect what the distinctions are). I think for that reason, I prefer the balance inherent in the tarot, equating the Emperor/Empress and Magician/High Priestess etc

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    1. Yes! This is a huge problem with the MMC model and any attempts to expand on it: It defines goddesses (and, by extension, women) purely by the roles they play in relation to men. Both of the taxonomies I’ve given here also leave out important roles like healer, musician, smith, &c. that pervade world mythology.

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  2. As mentioned, the tarot is an open vessel of information and a guide for each individual. The Maiden, Mother, Crone is becoming more distant to those who are in the new generation of readers. I learned the tarot with the traditional female and male archetypes, but again I can interpret these archetypes differently when it comes to readings. There has always been (to me) a distinction of the male/female energies and how they interact. That’s one part that I look at in card interpretations. 🌛🌚🌜✨

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