Assigning the Transpersonal Planets to the Major Arcana
The transpersonal planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, formally “discovered” in the modern age, can shed light upon the nature of three elemental Major Arcana cards of Tarot: The Fool, Hanged Man, and Judgement/Aeon. Study of the archetypal resonances of these planets will broaden the meanings beyond the visible, or commonly ascribed, nature of these cards.
Classical traditional astrology only recognized the known bodies of our solar system, visible to the naked eye, as “planets”. These, listed in Chaldean order (indicating the relative distance and orbital speed from the perspective of Earth), are the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Likewise, the structure of esoteric tarot is mainly based on the seven visible planets.
Beyond the Visible, Yet Seen by the Ancients
However, there are planets beyond Saturn with which to contend. Uranus is barely visible, and Neptune and Pluto are not visible to the naked eye. Considered “discovered” in the modern age, there is yet evidence that the ancients were not completely ignorant of them. A 4500-year-old Sumerian cylinder seal depicts a diagram of planets around the Sun, and includes these outer planets sized relatively to scale. Uranus was called Anu, “he of the heavens,” Neptune Ea “artful creator,” and Pluto Gaga, “counselor and emissary of Anshar (Saturn).”1
Like classical astrology of the West, Vedic astrology does not recognize the transpersonal planets as having influence, for in both traditions, astrology is the study of light—that is to say, it is the visible light that the planets reflect that is the substance of creation. But Hindu text on a palm leaf dated around 3000 BC predicted the discovery of three planets beyond Saturn.2 In addition, the epic poem Mahabharata (3rd century BC) also mentions and even accurately describes the appearance of these planets.3 Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were associated with the gods Varuna, Prajapati (Indra), and Yama. Yama, as the god of death, has an obvious resonance with Pluto/Hades. But in evidence of the ineffable and sometimes interchangeable natures of these deities, sources don’t always agree if Varuna, a god of both sky and sea, relates to Uranus or Neptune.
Assigning Planetary and Elemental Major Arcana
It’s well known that the seven classical planets each also correspond to a path on the Tree of Life as well as a sephira. While the passive sephiroth correspond to the numeric minors Ace through Ten, the active paths correspond to the Major Arcana. The 22 Majors each correspond to one of the building blocks of esoteric tarot: the twelve zodiacal signs, the four elements, and the seven classical planets. The reflective Moon corresponds to the Priestess, clever Mercury to the Magician, loving Venus to the Empress, radiant Sun to the Sun, warlike Mars to the ,a href=”https://www.llewellyn.com/encyclopedia/term/tower”>Tower, expansive Jupiter to the Wheel of Fortune, and delimiting Saturn as the material World or Universe.
But because there are only 22 Majors, Saturn does double duty as it is also an elemental Major assigned to Earth. Appropriately, to designate the three modern planets beyond Saturn, we can look to the other three elemental Majors: The Fool (Air), the Hanged Man (Water), and Judgement/Aeon (Fire). Because esoteric tarot is based on the seven classical planets of the ancients, and perhaps because of the less concrete place they have among the sephiroth, the modern or transpersonal planets get less mention in tarot texts. They are however relatively easy to assign to the three remaining elemental majors—and the study of the astrology and myths of these planets can inform and enhance our understanding of these somewhat enigmatic elemental Major cards.
The transpersonal outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are said to be the higher octaves, or higher expressions, of the personal inner planets (Mercury, Venus, and Mars respectively), which are closest in orbit to the Sun and within the boundary of the asteroid belt that separates us from the outer planets. The personal planets represent direct influences on our moral and physical development, while the longer orbits of the transpersonal planets indicate their nature is evolutionary, describing things further beyond ourselves: generational and spiritual concepts.
The elemental Majors all have esoteric titles designating them as “The Spirit of” their element. The Fool is The Spirit of Aether (roughly equivalent to Air), the Hanged Man is The Spirit of the Mighty Waters, and Judgement/Aeon is The Spirit of the Primal Fire. These equate to the realms that surround the Earth: the Sky, the Sea, and the Underworld.
The Fool and Uranus: All Comes from Nothing
The Fool, Spirit of the Aether, is the elemental trump associated with Air. Numbered Zero, as the first card of the Tarot, it is said to encapsulate not only all of the other Majors but also the entire 78-card pack. Thus, like the planet Uranus, it is associated with tales of pre-Gods and progenitors, the Titans and gods that were the ancestors of the rest of the planetary and zodiacal pantheon. The myths associated with Uranus also highlight the Fool’’s connection with the completion of the cycle at the World/Universe card: for from Nothing came Gaia (Earth), but from the line of Gaia, all things sprang (and all things return to Gaia in the end).
Ouranos (Uranus) means “sky” or “heaven.” In the Orphic tradition, Ouranos (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) were children of Phanes, “light bringer,” (also known as Protogonos, “firstborn,” from the cosmic egg, and Nyx, “Night”). Other traditions have Gaia born from Chaos, first conceiving, and then marrying, Ouranos. In Hesiod’s Theogony, things occur a little differently, as out of nothingness these primordial deities spontaneously appeared: Chaos, Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros4, 5. While some sources have Ouranos as the son of Nyx born of Chaos, or the child of Gaia and Aether, the Theogony says that Ouranos was first parthenogenically conceived by Gaia, and then became her husband. Ouranos (Uranus) becomes the first sky god to rule the world, his son Kronos (Saturn) the next, and Kronos’ son Zeus (Jupiter) the last. Their karmic saga describes each son overthrowing and castrating his father. This progression from grandsire Uranus (Ouranos) through Saturn (Kronos) and Jupiter (Zeus) can also be seen on the Tree of Life. If one equates Uranus with the second sephira, the third corresponds to Saturn and the fourth to Jupiter. The line of Gaia becomes the most important of all, as the descendants of Gaia and Ouranos eventually encompass nearly all of the gods, and mankind.
Uranus is so far away from Saturn that the discovery of this planet nearly doubled the size of the solar system. Uranus, the modern ruler of the fixed or kerubic Air sign Aquarius (Star), in mythology is the father of Aquarius’ classical ruler Saturn. As a sky god, he is associated with vision and ideals. The tales of deposition within the line of Ouranos demonstrate that the Fool card can represent the unknown and encounter with disruption and change.
Astrologically, Uranus is considered the significator of the occult and astrology itself, much as the Fool contains the Universe and the entire tarot. Like the Fool, Uranus represents occultists and holy wanders, oddities and the unexpected, illumination, rule breakers, and genius in specialized directions. The planet is different from all others in that its axis is at an extreme and unusual tilt. This indicates the non-conformity of Uranus, which can be brilliance or folly. Uranus can be the revolutionary awakener who instigates a whole new paradigm, a destroyer of old ideologies—or merely rebellion. Just as the Fool progresses to the Magician, as the higher octave of Mercury, Uranus is the lightning flash of intuition, the counterpart to Mercury’s logic.
The Hanged Man and Neptune: Going with the Flow
The Hanged Man, as the Spirit of the Mighty Waters, equates to Neptune. Poseidon (Neptune) was the second son and one of six children—all eventual Olympic gods—born to Kronos (Saturn, the son of Gaia and Uranus) and Rhea (the daughter of Gaia and Uranus). After the defeat of father Kronos, the world was divided by lots among Poseidon and his brothers Zeus and Hades, with Zeus getting the realm of Sky, Poseidon the Sea, and Hades the Underworld.
Poseidon married sea queen Amphitrite, first born of Nereus, the son of Gaia with Pontus (The Sea). Poseidon and Amphitrite begat the blue-skinned, green-haired, fish-tailed god Triton who lived with his parents in a dreamy golden undersea palace. Triton also possessed a conch shell that, when blown, could raise or calm the waves, and often carried Poseidon’s trident.
Poseidon’s parents also bore the Titans and Cyclopes. In the Titan wars, the Cyclopes provided Zeus with the thunderbolt, Hades with the cap of invisibility, and Poseidon with his three-pronged trident or fishing spear—the shape of which is the astrological glyph for Neptune. Astrologer Alan Oken states that each prong symbolizes an aspect of consciousness to be purified: the physical senses, the astral emotional desires, and the lower mental egotistical thoughts.6
Astrologically, Neptune is considered mysterious, for it is the first planet completely invisible to the naked eye. Neptune is the modern ruler of the mutable sign of Pisces (classically ruled by Jupiter). In tarot, Pisces is The Moon card, Ruler of Flux and Reflux. The association with sea gods and lunar tides indicates its nature is fluid, reflective, and fertile. Neptune is thought of as the higher octave of Venus (Empress), who was born from sea foam and the castrated genitals of Ouranos. Venus is exalted in Neptune’s sign Pisces. The nature of Neptune relates to a selfless form of Venusian love, as well as glamours and artistic inspiration. It is altruistic and spiritual at its highest vibration.
Like the Hanged Man, Neptune as ruler of Pisces can represent sacrifice and renunciation, time away from earthly responsibilities, and letting go. It can indicate fantasy, dreams, and clairvoyance; or negatively, indecision, nebulousness, self-delusion, and deception. Neptune involves taking time for reflection, flowing with the emotional waters in order to clear the fogs of confusion and gain a new perspective. Both Neptune and the Hanged Man show the soul’s desire to break free from the rigidity of material reality in order to become receptive to the spiritual. At its best it represents mercy and compassion for self and others; at its worst it creates conditions ripe for avoidance and disillusionment.
Judgement/Aeon and Pluto: Wealth from Below
Pluto is so far away that if one were standing there, the Sun would appear as just another star in the sky. The orbit of this nearly invisible dwarf planet is so long that it describes ages of mankind. Pluto’s passage through each single astrological sign defines overarching generational changes through time. The symbol of Pluto, a floating orb between the prongs of a bident or pitchfork, resembles a crucible, and astrologically speaking, Pluto’s trials feel like purification by fire. Though far away and cold, Pluto is the planet assigned to the Judgement/Aeon card, the Spirit of the Primal Fire. These must be the cold flames of Hades, a place of regeneration, transformation, and the purging of impurities prior to resurrection or reincarnation.
Hades, “the Unseen,” brother of Zeus and Poseidon, was the eldest son of Kronos (Saturn) and Rhea, and thus the first-born son but the last male child regurgitated. It is told that he was at first none too happy with his lot, drawing the chthonic realm of the Underworld for his domain. Yet he was referred to as Plouton, the god who distributed wealth from below. His iconography includes keys, the bident, and the cap of invisibility. Considered cold and stern, but not evil, Hades’ most famous myth involved the abduction of his niece Persephone, an archetype of the World/Universe maiden. Her marriage to Hades caused the world to have changes of season, with half of Earth’s year withered by winter. Indeed, changes of season, or life changes metaphorically speaking, are a theme of Pluto and the Judgement/Aeon card.
Pluto is the modern ruler of the sign Scorpio (Death), whose classical ruler is Mars (The Tower). As the higher octave of Mars, it breaks down old forms so that evolution and spiritual development can take place. The RWS Judgement card shows a trumpeting angel and the resurrection of three dead figures, correlating to this process. The Thoth Aeon card also has an appropriate parallel. It features three god-forms from the Egyptian artifact called the Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu, known to Thelemites as the Stele of Revealing. The stele is the funerary tablet of a priest of the falcon-headed war god Montu. What in the old Aeon was a funerary object describing the process of resurrection, became the trigger for the reception of Crowley‘s Book of the Law that ushered in the new Aeon: the next phase of mankind under the tenets of Thelema. The three figures of Nuit, Hadit, and Heru-Ra-Ha describe an inspired process of internal Plutonian wakening.
Transpersonal Planets on the Tree: An Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle
The Tree of Life is a heliocentric mirror of our Universe that describes the process of creation, from divine inspiration through embodied manifestation. The seven classical planets were also assigned in ascending Chaldean order above the sphere of Earth to the sephiroth of the Tree of Life, whose numbers correspond to the numeric Minor Arcana.
Our perspective, here on Earth, is at the bottom of the Tree in the tenth sephira, Malkuth: Kingdom of Earth. Looking immediately upward we see the Moon, Earth’s own satellite, in the ninth sephira. Each subsequent “planet” in this relative order extends upward and outward, centered around the middle sephira (Tiphareth, the Sun), and terminating in the outermost visible planet, Saturn, at the third sephira Binah. Binah is the first sephira above what is known as the Abyss, the passage dividing the supernal or divine trio of sephiroth from the rest of the Tree.
Qabalistic thinkers have never been in complete agreement as to whether, and how, to assign the subsequently discovered modern planets to the sephiroth. They have shuffled them in various ways between the second sephira Chokmah (corresponding to the Zodiac itself), the first sephira Kether (the Primum Mobile or “prime mover” of the heavens above Earth), and Da’ath, the mystical eleventh invisible sephira astride the Abyss (assigned the star-system Sirius7, triune suns effectively in another solar system).
The lack of accord in assigning the modern planets seems appropriate, for the sephiroth above the Abyss are said to be ineffable, and only Saturn, the visible terminus of our known world of form, can be reliably placed. This difficulty in placing the transpersonal planets is mirrored even in their orbits and designations, as it happens that the outermost planet, Pluto, has an unusual orbit that occasionally brings it closer to the Sun than Neptune—and Pluto has even been demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” in recent times.
For more about how Astrology, Mythology, and Qabalah enliven esoteric Tarot, read Tarot Deciphered, by the co-hosts of the Fortune’s Wheelhouse podcast. You can find other works by M.M. Meleen at https://www.tarotcart.com/.
- Sitchin, Zacharia. The 12th Planet. Rochester, Vermont: Bear & Company, 1991. p.198
- Caldwell, Richard (Translator). Hesiod’s Theogony. Newburyport, MA: Focus Classical Library, 1987. p. 3
- Eros aka the primordial god Phanes, not the child of Ares and Aphrodite.
- Oken, Alen. Alan Oken’s Complete Astrology. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1981. p. 222
- Knight, Gareth. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1987. p.101
About the Author
M. M. Meleen (Worcester, MA) is the illustrator/creator of the Tabula Mundi Tarot, the Rosetta Tarot, and the Pharos Tarot, as well as the author of Book M: Liber Mundi, Tthe Book of Seshet, and Spectrum Fari: The Keys of Pharos. She is the co-host and cocreator of the Fortune’s Wheelhouse tarot podcast.
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