Sex is a natural part of life, so just as naturally, it is part of the Tarot. Whether subtle or overt, sexual symbolism and energy permeates all Tarot decks. In its most basic form, sex is energy channeled and expressed through the experiences of life. Whether we are looking at the biological reality of procreation, the passion of attraction, or the flow of kundalini energy, you can find a Tarot card to represent these life experiences.
I would like to introduce some of the various ways that sex and sexual energy appear in Tarot. The first place to look is at individual cards and symbols. When it comes to symbols and their interpretation there are various schools of thought. Some Tarot folks are traditionalist or fundamentalist, focused on the intended meaning of the card based on the original design of the card and/or historical interpretation. In contrast, the other end of the spectrum finds Tarot people who tap into a more personal, intuitive impression of each card. I will give examples of each.
A traditional way to look at the sexual message in VI The Lovers is the literal interpretation of marriage and all its implications.
The Lovers represent all that is essential in the interaction of love and affection between human beings. — Stuart Kaplan Tarot Classic
In terms of sexual energy and the symbolism implied, the male and female figures on this card can also be seen as the basic polarity or duality of life with their relationship expressed as the entwining of yin and yang, the essential elements of the universe. Viewing the Biblical Adam and Eve as the primary masculine and feminine forces of earth, the progenitors of human life, sexual symbolism translates into an earthly life force. The “Tree of Knowledge” is the portal of initiation into the dualistic world outside the Garden of Eden and the “Tree of Life (Wisdom)” the channel of rebirth and return to oneness. It can be extracted that our sexual journey of life and blending with the Sacred Lover is the pathway of return to wholeness.
XIV Temperance, often seen as the alchemist card, is practicing the art of blending the spirits of duality into a balanced harmony. This can also be interpreted as the art of sacred sexuality, the blending of sexual energies with the Divine.
These symbols can be extremely explicit or very subtle. Some Tarot cards incorporate images of genitals, intercourse, sex play, or other erotic displays. The first Tarot deck to offer an alternative to the heterosexual pairing of VI The Lovers is Daughters of the Moon by Ffiona Morgan with her sensual pairing of female lovers. This modern option for reflecting the diversity of sexual partnering was expanded in one of my favorite decks, Cosmic Tribe Tarot by Portland, Oregon artist, Stevee Postman.
What about specific sexual symbols within the cards? Most often sexuality is implied with symbols such as sacred geometry (lingam/yoni intersect on the shield of the Chariot), ancient religious artifacts (as in Hindu, Egyptian, and Taoist traditions), modern art works (“The Kiss” stone carving on Voyager Tarot card), or the flow of energy in the form of water, such the Voyager VI Lovers or the Waite/Smith II The High Priestess.
Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck has always had a reputation of being a somewhat controversial deck with more graphic sexual symbolism. Viewing the artistic work of Lady Freda Harris on XV The Devil gives us a taste of his expression of sexual energy.
Here is an overview of various ways sexual symbolism appears in Tarot cards:
• Gender – male / female / both / neither
• Nudity – innocent, vulnerable, natural, no shadow
• Sexual – physical organs, physical contact, intercourse, babies (as result of sex)
• Emotion – love, excitement, connection of hearts, affection, ecstasy, passion
• Energy – invisible flow within or between, intensity, expression, blending of spirits, kundalini, chakras, chi, orgasm
• Symbols – yoni / lingam (Chariot), caduceus (Magician), triangle in square (Temperance), artwork (Voyager Lovers statue “The Kiss”), fetish tools
• Composition – example: pillars, water & veil (High Priestess)
• Posture – open or closed, sexually suggestive
• Expression – facial, hand or body gesture
• Action – physical movement, affectionate or excited touch, penetration, stroking, rubbing, stimulation, vibration, undulation or waves of excitement
• Story – within the card (Lovers / Devil), between cards (Lovers-Temperance-Devil)
• Sexy – attractive, exciting, arousing, personal preference, subjective values
I would like to share my “Four Elements” way of relating to sexual energy in the Tarot’s minor arcana suits or elemental symbols in the major arcana:
• Earth – physical expression
• Water – emotional expression
• Air – mental (fantasy, imagination, association, etc.)
• Fire – energy, flow, chi, kundalini
Another area to explore on the topic of sex in Tarot is theme decks, be they sexual, erotic, sensual or pornographic. More will be written about this in the second part of this post on “Sex in Tarot.” For now, please enjoy the sensual underwater photography of Seattle artist, Shelly Corbett, from her art deck “Abyssal Tarot.”
Beyond Worlds – Your Tarot Tribe with Donnaleigh and friends aired a discussion with me on the topic of “Sex in Tarot” on June 26, 2011. Feel free to download this BlogTalkRadio internet radio show to enjoy our lively exchange on this unique subject.
Credit and thanks go to the following Tarot artists for their generous permission to display their cards in this article.
Frankie Albano, wherever he is, for the use of his original Albano-Waite cards
James Wanless’ Voyager Tarot – www.VoyagerTarot.com
Stevee Postman’s Cosmic Tribe Tarot – www.Stevee.com/tarot.html
Shelly Corbett’s Abyssal Tarot – www.ShellyCorbett.com/deck.htm