How to unlock your dreams using the tarot…
Dreams are funny things. They’re filled with strange colours and shifting shapes, populated by people who are at once mysterious and familiar. From time immemorial we have been trying to unlock the secret meanings of our dreams, but as dreams are so deeply personal it’s almost impossible to apply a universal translation. Of course, some have tried — and none more famously (and perhaps, successfully) than the psychologist Carl Jung.
Fascinated by the realms of psyche and myth, Jung developed a compelling theory of the universal Collective Unconscious, which is shared by all humans and is populated by instincts and archetypes. He used this to explain why similar figures — like the Wise Old Sage, Trickster, or Great Mother — appear in mythology and folklore around the world. Of course, they also appear in our dreams… and in tarot.
“The form of the world into which a person is born is already inborn in him, as a virtual image.”Carl Jung, 1953
So let’s dive into the archetypes, discover their tarot parallels, and use the tarot to gain a greater insight into our sleeping world!
Jungian Archetypes and Tarot
Jung created over 300 archetypes — so this is by no means an exhaustive list! These are some of his most popular, as they relate to and are represented within tarot.
This is the truest, most essential element of being! It’s who you are, regardless of any social norms or expectations, just your pure consciousness moving through life, growing and changing and becoming a person.
- The Fool — the ultimate starting point for the Major Arcana, the Fool is the best expression of the Self. You know nothing but you’re setting out, ready to become something more!
- The Chariot — the title of this card refers to the chariot itself; the rider goes unnamed. In this way, they could be seen as the Self. It also embodies the Jungian archetype of the Explorer.
- Strength — this card explores the struggle between you and your inner demons or wildness, with the human figure standing for the Self.
- The Hanged One — this card explores the benefits of being still and subverting your expectations. The Hanged One is the Self, literally seeing things from another perspective as they hang upside-down. In this way, this card is also evocative of the Rebel.
- The Star — the figure in the meadow of The Star has no name; she is in complete harmony with her environment so represents an ideal form of the Self. In this realm of possibilities, she is also the Creator.
- The World — at the end of the Fool’s journey is The World card, whose androgynous* dancer is the epitome of self-realisation.
In dreams, you may encounter figures that are representative of your own Self. Just like in the tarot, look for people who have no name, and who are on a journey of exploration. This archetype might be prompting you to look deep within yourself and get back in touch with what’s driving you forward.
*any time a figure’s genetalia is obscured, they are intended to be androgynous, which in the tarot is an expression of the ultimate alchemical form of union. See also: The Devil.
Originally coined by Jung, the Persona is the face you present to others. You may wear different masks, and put on different personas for different situations. But this is something you have chosen to craft, and it may not authentically represent who you really are.
Because the Major Arcana is all about the inner, authentic journey, there isn’t really one card that means Persona and nothing else. However, there are cards that touch on the themes of this archetype:
- Justice — this card is all about choice and being true to yourself. In a way it’s the opposite of Persona, as Justice urges you to be authentic, to look into your past and to choose who you want to be in your future.
- Temperance — one of the deeper meanings of this card is the balance between who we are inside, and what society wants us to be. Persona is the society-presenting self that we craft from this balance.
- The Star — the first naked figure in the Major Arcana, the figure in The Star has let her Persona drop completely.
To find this archetype in dreams, look for people wearing masks, entertainers or performers. You might also encounter a warped or idealised version of yourself, or you might be trying desperately to juggle several objects at once. When this archetype appears, you may be struggling with your sense of identity in contrast with what is expected of you.
This is the darker side of the Self: the instincts you quash, the desire for forbidden fruit, the extremes you could go to if pushed.
- Strength — the lion in Strength represents your inner demons and wildness. This is the Shadow self, what torments you from within. Does the lion need to be tamed, or can you learn from its fierce nature?
- The Devil — the ultimate dark card, The Devil is temptation, materialism, and indulgence. These are all your baser instincts that the Shadow embodies. But we’ve all got to indulge ourselves from time to time! The question is when that becomes harmful, to yourself or others.
- The Moon — this is the realm of inner wildness, that which society seeks to tame and domesticate. This aspect of the Shadow is daring, and should be embraced… to a certain extent.
It’s important to keep in touch with your Shadow, as otherwise it may consume you when you least expect it. Remember to balance this element of yourself with your other aspects; forgive what dark parts of your past you can come to terms with; reconsider the parts of yourself that society villainises (wildness, non-normative sexuality, radical thought) and decide for yourself whether this villainization is just.
Jung believed that we all have feminine and masculine energy within us; his concept of Anima actually refers to the feminine energy that exists within men, but we can apply it to be more universal than that.
- The High Priestess — guardian of the Mysteries, the High Priestess is the maiden form of the divine feminine: young, yet wise beyond her years. In this way, she is also the Maiden and Innocent archetype, but, riddling like a sphinx, in some ways she can be understood as the Trickster archetype.
- The Empress — surrounded by verdant abundance, the Empress is nature, fertility, and the nurturing instinct. In this way she also represents the Mother and Caregiver archetypes.
- Strength — the gender of the figure in Strength doesn’t matter that much, but classic ideas of femininity being soft, pure, and gentle stand in contrast to the wild savagery of the lion. Although these ideas are stereotypical, this card is still an interesting commentary on feminine gender identity: you could read it as the battle between what society wants femininity to be vs all that society finds unseemly in women (like rage, unbridled passion, and violence). Embracing your feminine side, regardless of your own gender identity, means confronting this conflict and deciding what you think is true femininity.
Although there are other cards in the Major Arcana that feature female figures (like Justice and The Star), the card’s meaning doesn’t necessarily rely upon the gender of the figure. There are also no old women in the tarot (except perhaps the one elderly figure that appears in the Ten Of Cups), which means that the third aspect of pagan divine femininity, that of the Crone, is also absent.
Look out for this archetype in dreams, specifically the maiden, mother, crone, or some representation of the societal feminine vs the inner feminine. Pay attention to what this figure means to you — do they appear as a friend or family member? How do you relate to them, and what feelings to they evoke? This might give you insight into your own relationship with femininity — what you identify with, what you see as the antithesis to yourself, and why.
This is the masculine counterpart to Anima, so without further ado…
- The Magician — this card is creation and manifestation (so we also understand it as the Creator, Wizard, and Trickster archetypes) and in many ways can be universally applied regardless of gender. Yet the Magician is counterpart to the High Priestess, and while she is concerned with lifting the veil to the beyond, the Magician harnesses the divine to create things in this world. This is the youthful masculine, the mover and changer, an aspect that can be embodied by anyone.
- The Emperor — also evocative of the Father and Ruler archetypes, the Emperor is older than the Magician and represents protection but also control.
- Hierophant — the Hierophant is more Teacher than any other archetype, but commonly depicted as male the Hierophant can also represent patriarchal power structures, especially in regards to education and social hierarchy. Like Strength, thinking of gender in relation to this card can unpack deeper meanings, and invites you to question the structures that govern our society.
As with the Anima archetype, when these figures appear in your dreams pay attention to your relationship with them, and whether you recognise them from life. Are you commonly fighting against this archetype, or working with it? Is there anything about the masculine that you find empowering, whether society wants you to or not?
We all have an inner child, that part of us that the responsibilities of adulthood threatens to lock away forever. Both Jung and the tarot agree on this: we could all benefit from letting our inner child out to play!
- The Fool — stepping out boldly into the world, the Fool’s foolish nature lies in their innocence. But it is only by their naivety that they can rush into life so joyously — for if we knew what was waiting for us, would we move forward at all?
- The Sun — if there’s one card that embodies the archetype of the Child, it’s The Sun. This is pure childish glee of living — and yet the card appears almost at the end of the Major Arcana. This is because it is only once we have gone through life’s biggest development moments, and let our boundaries come tumbling down, that we can rediscover our inner child.
Dreams that take us back to childhood are some of the most powerful. They contain our earliest developmental experiences, and so can reveal parts of ourselves we may have kept locked away. If you find yourself a child in a dream, notice what you are doing, where you are, and who you are interacting with. Is this a memory, or is there a particular situation that is making you regress to childhood? If we are returned to a childlike state in our dreams, it can be because we are feeling particularly vulnerable or inexperienced. Or perhaps, there is a situation that allows us to embrace that childlike joy and innocence again…
The Wise Old Sage
The wise sage is a staple of folklore for many reasons. Our elders have so much knowledge and experience that we do well to revere them, and listen to what they have to say. Although in the tarot this archetype appears only in masculine form, there are plenty of examples of female Wise Old Sages in myth, folklore, and popular fiction. (Granny Weatherwax of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a particular favourite of ours!)
- The Hierophant — although the Hierophant does not appear as old in all tarot decks, they can play this role of an older teacher — and when they do, the systems of knowledge that they offer entry to are those of life experience and hard-won wisdom.
- The Hermit — this is the classic Wise Old Sage, wandering the wilderness and discovering ancient, sacred knowledge from their long solitude. Hermits can appear to us in many forms, but if you find one you should listen to them, as they can tell you what no-one else can!
The more enigmatic archetype, the Wise Old Sage appears in particularly mysterious, mystical dreams. They might speak to you in riddles that your waking mind can’t comprehend, but your dreaming self understands on a deeper level. Look for them in caves and high hilltops, and be sure to always follow their light, as it will lead you to fantastic new discoveries… If there’s ever a time to develop an ability to lucidly dream, this would be it!
How To Use The Tarot To Unlock Your Dreams
Jung’s archetypes give us a great insight into our dreams, as they can help us identify the people who surround us, how we relate to them, and how they make us feel. We can also recognise ourselves in these archetypes, and our dreams give us insight into how different situations push us into different roles.
However, we must remember that our dreams are unique to us. Archetypes are essentially a bundle of associations packed into a single figure. And they mean different things to different people: for you, the Trickster might represent identification and freedom, while for someone else the Trickster might signify danger and deceit. Due to your unique experiences, you will also have your own archetypes that Jung may never have thought of!
To really keep track of your dreams, and what these archetypes mean to you, it can help to keep a dream journal. Be sure to record who you encounter in your dreams — that way you can work out which archetypes apply to them. Once you’ve done that, you’ll also recognise them in tarot readings! This will definitely take your readings to another level, as you won’t just be divining the future and diving deeper into your own psyche, but also exploring the transcendent world of dreams. Keeping a tarot journal will also help you on this journey.
By matching the tarot to the archetypes in your dreams, you’ll be able to make more sense of what your dreams are trying to tell you — and you’ll reach a greater understanding of tarot along the way!