A System of Correspondences between the I Ching and Tarot.

The I Ching (the Book of Changes) and the Tarot Cards are two great mantic systems created in different times and entirely different cultures - Zhou China and Medieval Europe respectively.

Both systems do not only deal with divination but also convey the ancient wisdom symbolically and reveal mysteries of the universe and human being.

Both systems contain a fixed set of symbols, each expressed with formal signs (lines of hexagrams, symbols and suits of cards) and symbolic images (aphorisms attached to hexagrams and lines, pictures and divination meanings of cards).

Taking into consideration such essential typological resemblance, one can ask a natural question whether each of these systems expresses concepts meaningful in the context of the corresponding culture only, or the Tarot cards and I Ching hexagrams are different symbolical manifestations of the same archetypical ideas whose universality is deeper than their specific way of representations accepted in one or another culture.

If the assumption about universal archetypal source of the Tarot an I Ching meanings is correct then there should exist a mutually unique correspondence between hexagrams and cards.

Two principal differences in the structure of these systems are striking even after superficial acquaintance with them. First, these systems have a different number of elements: the Tarot deck contains 78 cards, while the I Ching comprises 64 hexagrams. Second, 64 hexagrams are of equal rank while Tarot cards are divided into 22 Major and 56 Minor Arcana.

Let us note that the number of cards exceeds the number of hexagrams by 14 (78 - 64 = 14). This is an important number for the Tarot since 14 is the number of cards in each suit of the Minor Arcana.

Structure of the Tarot deck

The 22 Major Arcana are divided into 10 Former ones and 12 Latter ones. "XI Arcanum ... starts a new cycle of the Major Arcana which strongly differs from the previous one. ... the system of the first ten Major Arcana dominates over the following Arcana. The Major Arcana of the first cycle are higher than Time, higher than the Principle of Motion itself. ... Correspondingly, all Arcana of the second cycle contain motion in their essence. (V. Shmakov, "The Sacred book of Thoth"). Thus, it turns out that the Major Arcana are divided into two groups: 10 (I-X) Former Arcana and 12 (XI-XXII) Latter Arcana. 10 Former Major Arcana represent static principles and 12 latter Major Arcana represent dynamic principles.

The Minor Arcana consist of four suits. Each suit, consisting of 14 cards, comprises 10 pip cards from ace to ten and 4 face cards: king, queen, knight and page (there are three face cards in the modern standard 52-card deck since the knights are not included in it). There are four cards of different suits for any number of pips. Each of these tetrads is headed by the corresponding Former Major Arcanum. For example, four aces are headed by the I Major Arcanum, four twos are headed by the II Major Arcanum, four threes are headed by the III Major Arcanum, ... four tens are headed by the X Major Arcanum.

Traditionally the suits of the Tarot are represented by wands, cups, swords and pentacles. In the modern playing deck wands have transformed into clubs, cups into hearts, swords into spades, and pentacles into diamonds.

For each face card we can find the most proper attribute: the wand suit for a king, the cup suit for a queen, the sword suit for a knight, and the pentacle suit for a page. Thus, among all 16 face cards we can pick out four "pure" cards whose attribute corresponds to their rank: King of Wands, Queen of Cups, Knight of Swords, and Page of Pentacles. G.O.M., a famous Russian occultist of the early 20th century, calls these four cards the main cards in their suits. The other 12 cards are "mixed" ones. The "Pure" cards represent static principles while the "mixed" cards represent dynamic principles.

So, according to the "statics-dynamics" parameter, the Tarot cards can be divided into two groups: 14 stationary Arcana (10 Former Major Arcana and 4 "pure" face Arcana) and 64 Arcana of motion (12 Latter Major Arcana and 52 Minor Arcana - 40 pip and 12 "mixed" cards).

It turns out to be possible to establish a mutually unique correspondence between the 64 Arcana of motion and 64 Hexagrams of the I Ching.

Brief summary of the Tarot deck structure

22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana

56 Minor Arcana = 4 suits * 14 cards = 40 pip cards +16 face cards

The suits: wands, cups, swords and pentacles

Face cards: King, Queen, Knight and Page

22 Major Arcana = 10 Former Major Arcana + 12 Later Major Arcana

16 face cards = 4 "pure" cards + 12 "mixed" cards

14 stationary cards = 10 Former cards + 4 "pure" cards

64 cards of motion = 40 pip cards + 12 "mixed" cards + 12 Later cards

The Arcana of motion correspond to Hexagrams of the I Ching

The structure of the I Ching and its comparison with the Tarot cards

The I Ching is divided into two parts: the Upper Canon (hexagrams 1-30) and the Lower Canon (hexagrams 31-64).

I Ching hexagrams are grouped into pairs, consisting from a hexagram with an odd number and a following hexagram with an even number. The hexagrams of the pair can be obtained from each other by 180 rotation. The only exceptions are the hexagrams which are invariant under this rotation. In these cases one hexagram of a pair is obtained from the other by inverting all its lines.

A comparison between the I Ching hexagrams and Tarot cards suggests the following rule: the first pairs from the both I Ching Canons (hex.s 1-2 and 31-32) correspond to aces, the second pairs (hex.s 3-4 and 33-34) correspond to twos and so on.

To compare the two systems we used the Rider-Waite Tarot deck (1909). This deck contains the canonical images of the Minor Arcana. These images, based on the tradition of divination meanings of the Minor Arcana, are the results of comparison of pip cards (from two to ten) with the 36 decans of the Zodiac and their planet rulers which were already known in the Hellenistic Egypt.

Careful reading of the aphorisms attached to a hexagram as a whole and its separate lines shows that the accompanying text of each hexagram consists of fragments which can be linked by some plot. These fragments can be used for a reconstruction of a whole story.

The obtained narration and their topics can be compared to the image of the corresponding Tarot card. In most cases the story of the hexagram clearly correlates with the motif of the card.

A System of Correspondences between I Ching and Tarot

  • The numeration of Major Arcana is given in accordance with French system.
  • The numbers in brackets are card numbers from the Rider-Waite deck.
  • The Former Major Arcana, located in the left column of table, are the main cards for the corresponding row.
  • On the right from each of the Former Major Arcanum there are the four Arcana of motion which correspond to the hexagrams of the I Ching.
  • The number of the hexagram and its name is in the upper part of the cell, the name of the corresponding Tarot card is in the lower part of the cell.

    I The Magician
    1. The Creative
    of Wands
    2. The Receptive
    of Swords
    31. Influence
    of Cups
    32. Duration
    of Pentacles
    II The High Priestess
    3. Difficulty at the Beginning
    Two of Cups
    4. Youthful Folly
    Two of Pentacles
    33. Retreat
    Two of Swords
    34. The Power of the Great
    Two of Wands
    III The Empress
    5. Waiting
    Three of Cups
    6. Conflict
    Three of Swords
    35. Progress
    Three of Wands
    36. Darkening of the Light
    Three of Pentacles
    IV The Emperor
    7. The Army
    Four of Swords
    8. Holding Together
    Four of Pentacles
    37. The Family
    Four of Wands
    38. Opposition
    Four of Cups
    V  The Hierophant
    9. The Taming Power of the Small
    Five of Cups
    10. Treading
    Five of Pentacles
    39. Obstruction
    Five of Wands
    40. Deliverance
    Five of Swords
    VI The Lovers
    11. Peace
    Six of Cups
    12. Standstill
    Six of Swords
    41. Decrease
    Six of Wands
    42. Increase
    Six of Pentacles
    VII The Chariot
    13. Fellowship with Men
    Seven of Swords
    14. Possession in Great Measure
    Seven of Cups
    43. Break-through
    Seven of Wands
    44. Coming to Meet
    Seven of Pentacles
    VIII (XI) Justice
    15.  Modesty
    Eight of Swords
    16. Enthusiasm
    Eight of Wands
    45. Gathering Together
    Eight of Pentacles
    46. Pushing Upward
    Eight of Cups
    IX The Hermit
    17. Following
    Nine of Pentacles
    18. Work on What Has Been Spoiled
    Nine of Swords
    47. Oppression
    Nine of Wands
    48. The Well
    Nine of Cups
    X Wheel of Fortune
    19. Approach
    Ten of Pentacles
    20. Contemplation
    Ten of Cups
    49. Revolution
    Ten of Wands
    50. The Caldron
    Ten of Swords
    King of Wands
    21. Biting Through
     XI (VIII) Strength
    22. Grace
    King of Pentacles
    51. The Arousing
    King of Swords
    52. Keeping still, mountain
    King of Cups
    Queen of Cups
    23. Splitting Apart
    XII The Hanged Man
    24. Return
    Queen of Swords
    53. Development
    Queen of Wands
    54. The Marrying Maiden
    Queen of Pentacles
    Knight of Swords
    25. Innocence
    XIII Death
    26. The Taming Power of the Great
    Knight of Cups
    55. Abundance
    Knight of Pentacles
    56. The Wanderer
    Knight of Wands
    Page of Pentacles
    27. Corners of the Mouth
    XIV Temperance
    28. Preponderance of the Great 
    Page of Wands
    57. The Gentle
    Page of Swords
    58. The Joyous, Lake
    Page of Cups
    29. The Abysmal
    XV The Devil
    30. The Clinging, Fire
    XVII The Star
    59. Dispersion
    XVI The Tower
    60. Limitation
    XVIII The Moon
    61. Inner Truth
    XIX The Sun
    62. Preponderance
    XXI (0) The Fool
    63. After Completion
    XX Judgement
    64. Before Completion
    XXII (XXI) The World


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