What are Archetypes in Tarot?

Volumes have been written about archetypes as this term has become well embedded in our modern vernacular. But, do we really understand the meaning of this word as intended by its originators?

Most of us in the world of psychology think of Carl G. Jung, Swiss Analyst and Psychiatrist, as the influence that promoted the idea of archetypes, with many books and articles on this topic. In this article I will share some  quotes from Jung as he describes his understanding and use of the concept of archetypes, then I will apply this to our use with Tarot cards.

We often associate Tarot cards, especially the Major Keys, with Jung’s idea of archetypes…an idea borrowed from ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, which he described in the following ways…Platonic “forms” or “absolute essences.” I define these archetypal forms as neutral constellations of characteristics that form a recognizable pattern that repeats throughout life.

Jung’s short description is “Psychic Instincts” and “forms without content”, while Mary Greer has associated archetypal images to our “Psychic DNA.” (GlobalSpiritualStudies.com, 2016)

Forms without content is a concept that many people find challenging. It is like a box, but it is plain and empty until you or someone adds personality or expression to it. This simple form or essence is the opposite of creating an interpretation, as is the tendency with many Tarot readers.

03In Tarot, we think of each card as an archetypal image, for example, Triumph “III The Empress” is considered to be the archetypal mother figure with characteristics, such as giving birth, creativity, nurturing, unconditional love, abundance, femininity, etc. While one’s personal experience with their mother-figure in life may not actualize the most positive representation of this archetypal form, there is fluidity and diversity in the expression of each absolute essence. Again, the empty container of the mother archetypal form is filled with the personality of each unique mother.

04If “III The Empress” is the archetypal form for mothers in the world, then what absolute essence is represented by “IV The Emperor”… …fathers. Where a reader may be tempted to apply negative characteristics to this card in a reading, the archetypal form itself is neutral. By understanding the archetypal form for each Tarot card, it can be a shortcut to memorizing the essence of each card. My recommendation is to stick to the unembellished facts and allow the client to fill in the details from their own knowing.

It is rare to find a reference to Tarot cards from Jung, but this jewel stands out…“If one wants to form a picture of the symbolic process, the series of pictures found in Alchemy are good examples, …It also seems as if the set of pictures in the tarot cards were distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation.” C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (#81), (1959).

Original Albano-Waite Tarot cards

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