The second and third editions of the Alchemical Tarot came with a little white book with the basic meanings of the cards. The fourth edition did not. For those, who have the fourth edition and do not have the companion book, the contents of the little white book are posted on this page. Feel free to copy this information, paste it in a file on your computer, and print it.
Introduction by Robert M. Place
In August, 1987, during the time of the Harmonic Convergence, I was studying an alchemical image that symbolized the Philosopher’s Stone, the mystical goal of the alchemical work, and I had a flash of insight. It seemed that the image had un- locked a secret door in my mind and in an instant I saw that the alchemical Great Work and the story told in the Tarot’s trumps were interchangeable. I immediately picked up my copy of Jung’s Psychology and Al- chemy and began to make notes in the mar- gins next to the alchemical images com- paring them to Tarot cards. This was the beginning of a process that would take several years. The fruit of this insight and labor was The Alchemical Tarot, which was first published by Thorsons, in 1995.
In this new edition, the illustrations have been improved and the columns that flanked the cards on the original have been removed. The images are larger, filling more of the card. In keeping with the explicit nature of alchemical symbolism, the image that I originally drew for the lovers card was sexier than the censored version that was published by Thorsons. This edition contains both versions of the Lovers.
The Fool and trumps in The Alchemical Tarot each relate to an alchemical material or process, which is part of the Magnum Opus (great work) of alchemy that leads to the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, a mystical catalyst that transforms what it touches into its highest form. Composed of the mysterious 5th element, it can cure any illness, turn lead into gold, and turn an ordinary person into an enlightened sage.
A symbol representing its alchemical process is displayed on each trump. The Philosopher’s Stone, is represented by the World card. The four minor suits are related to the four al- chemical elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire, and each of these elements is related to one of the four functions of consciousness as des- cribed by Jung: sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling respectively. Thus the feminine elements align with the passive observational functions: sensation and intuition, and the masculine elements align with the active decision making functions: thinking and feeling.
The Fool and Trumps: the Alchemical Magnum Opus
The Fool – the Alchemist beginning the Work. His blindfold equates ignorance. He is a naive beginner and the rabbit is his guide. His symbol represents the squaring of the circle (a description of the Opus).
I. The Magician – Hermes, the god of Alchemy & the Matter of the Work, containing all four elements, with their symbols. Below his hand is the glyph for Mercury. It is composed of the symbols for the Sun, the Moon, and the cross of matter. The signs of the zodiac, in the sky, represent the process of the Opus. He is a messenger, gesturing as above so below, indicating the way of heaven is on earth.
II. The High Priestess – begins the separ- ation of the elements. Her book has the triangle for Water but it is the color of Fire. Her symbol represents Water being sep- arated from Solution. She is Water, esoteric spirituality, intuition, a secret, or something that cannot be spoken.
II. The Empress – she is the White Queen & Earth. Her symbol represents Earth being separated from Solution. She is sensation attraction, fertility, the feminine.
IV. The Emperor – he is the Red King and Air. His symbol represents Air being separ- ated from Solution. He represents thinking, intelligence, authority, the masculine.
V. The Hierophant – he is Fire, exoteric Spir- ituality & Hermes Trismegistus holding the Emerald Tablet, with feminine symbols on the left and masculine on the right. His symbol represents Fire being separated from Solution. He symbolizes what can be spoken, taught, or published, also morals.
VI. The Lovers Kissing – the foreplay of love – the elements recombined in the Minor Conjunction. Their symbol represents Conjunction. This is a card of sex, attraction, coming together, partnership.
VI. The Lovers Joining – the action of Love – the same as above but more active. They also have the symbol for Conjunction.
VII. The Chariot – Sublimation. The wheel with the internal sun is his goal. The three glyphs in the wheel are Sulphur, Salt & Mercury (these three essences are also correlated with the parts of the Chariot). His corner symbol represents Sublimation. He is speed, impatience, travel.
VIII. Justice – Disposition. She is the furnace connected to Heaven with the glyph for vitriol (the secret fire) on her sword handle. The symbol in the sky represents Disposition. She stands for weight, truth, balance, justice.
IX. The Hermit – Exaltation or Exultation. The alchemist is following the footsteps left by the Anima Mundi. The ouroboros (the serpent of time containing the symbol for Exaltation) is in the sky. The raven represents the Nigredo (1st black stage of the Opus). He stands for – meditation, solitude, inner guidance.
X. The Wheel of Fortune – the Fixed and the Volatile. Red is masculine and fixed; white is feminine and volatile. The symbol in the upper right represents Circulation and the others are for the three essences and the matter that holds them. This is a card of fate, transformation, change.
XI. Strength – Fermentation. The female virtue controls the Green Lion (destructive aspect of Mercury). The symbol for Fermentation is at the top and the Green Lion below. Strength is control through love & self discipline.
XII. The Hanged Man – Calcination. The serpent is Mercury and the symbol below the serpent represents Calcination. This is a willing sacrifice, suffering, or loss of fortune.
XIII. Death – Putrefaction (the dark vessel of the Nigredo). He has the symbol for Pu- trefaction and the raven of the Nigredo. He is the end of anything, decay.
XIV. Temperance – Distillation (capturing the process of evaporation and precipitation and nurturing the rose of perfection). The woman is Bain-Marie, the inventor of distillation. The symbol representing Distillation appears at the top, She is health, beauty, balance, timing.
XV. The Devil – Coagulation. The red dragon is the devil; the hermaphrodite of the King and Queen is his captive. The symbol for Coagulation appears at the top. He is what is bad, vice, enslavement, hell.
XVI. The Tower – the Greater Separation of the red and white. The symbol for Sep- aration is at the top. This is the beginning of the Albedo (2nd white stage). It represents breaking, separation, sudden change, divine intervention.
XVII. The Star – Purification. She is the Siren of the Philosophers, giving blood (suffering) and milk (nurturing) with the ladder of the planets above. The symbol in the large star represents the Anima Mundi and the one in the upper corner represents Puri- fication. The Siren is the peace beyond blood- red fear and milk-white hope, calm, understanding, ascent.
XVIII. The Moon – Diana with her hounds is the White Stone. The crab is labled with the symbol for Cancer and the other symbol represents the White Stone. A card of rest, retreat, anticipation, preparation, dreams.
XIX. The Sun – the Greater Conjunction and the Citrinitas (3rd yellow stage). The symbol for Conjunction is in the upper right corner. A card of spiritual love, soul mates, marriage, enlightenment.
XX. Judgement – Resurrection, in which the dead are called back to life. The skull sprouting wheat symbolizes life from death. The symbol of Resurrection is on the right. This is a card of rejuvenation, healing, removing blocks, recalling the past, or rising to a higher level (symbolized by the cloud with an eye).
XXI. The World – the final 4th red stage of the Opus, called the Rubedo. This is the Goal of the Opus. It is the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Red Elixir. The woman is the Quinta Essentia (5th element) and the Anima Mundi (soul of the world). She is the matter of the Stone. The symbol for the Philosopher’s Stone is at the upper left corner. This card represents the good, the inner guide, the object of one’s goals.
Coins – Earth- Sensation
Ace. The Rabbit – the hole in the coin is the unseen Anima Mundi and the arrows the four directions and elements – manifestation, a new source of health or wealth.
2. The Fixation of the Volatile – the lion is fixed and the eagle volatile – polarization, something that is stuck or blocked.
3. The Artist – the glyphs on the coins are the three essences: Mercury, Salt, & Sulphur – creative work that earns a living, observation.
4. The Miser – planting gold in the ground – investment, hoarding, stinginess.
5. The Beggar – the coins on the ground are the four elements and the coin in the sky the Quinta Essentia – sickness, poverty, something is missing.
6. Youths – Athena’s owl (wisdom) is on the coin held by the boy on top – generosity, sharing, innocence, trust.
7. The Obelisk – the coins represent the seven metals, from the bottom: lead, iron, tin, copper, mercury, silver, gold (their symbols are on the right) – transformation through stages.
8. The Coin Stamper – stamping coins – repetitive work, habits, making money.
9. The Money Tree – growing coins – prosperity, health, well being.
10. The Materialist – with coins over his eyes – drawing possessions to one’s self, selfishness, only seeing the physical.
Lady of Coins– with a silver lunar coin – wealth, patronage, aesthetics, art.
Knight of Coins – with a protective pentacle – protector of health and wealth.
Queen of Coins – with a six-pointed star of harmony and well being and a cornucopia – sensuality, health, prosperity, well-being.
King of Coins – a lion with his image on his coin – mastering one’s environment and occupation.
Vessels- Water- Intuition
Ace. The Fish – the grapes come from seeds planted by the Anima Mundi in the heart of the soul – finding one’s destiny or purpose.
2. The Lovers – with the rose of perfection above – attraction, lust, sex, cooperation.
3. The Support Group – three women with the three elements not of this suit: Earth, Air, and Fire – friends, support, support group.
4. The Elephant – standing on vessels – a con- servative position, strong, stuck, not moving.
5. The Quake – shaking vessels off shelves – breaking of position, a sudden breakthrough, new possibilities, birth, a shake up.
6. The Gardener – filling different shaped vessels – nurturing, not too much or too little.
7. The Tools – choice, inner guidance – the golden goblet with the glyph for the Anima Mundi is the best choice.
8. The Potter – the glyph over the potter’s wheel is another for the Anima Mundi – creative work, variation, being in the present moment.
9. The Chamois – a surefooted goat/ante- lope on his mound of cups – experience, confidence, perspective.
10. The Still – the many connected to the one – connectedness, a network, the Internet.
Lady of Vessels– she walks on water with the glyph for Water – intuition, trusting the unconscious.
Knight of Vessels– the fish is a messenger from the unconscious – seeking information, questing into the unconscious.
Queen of Vessels – her vessel is sealed but she need not open it – mystery, patience as a spiritual virtue.
King of Vessels – a whale who fills his own cup – self- fulfillment, finding answers within.
Swords – Air – Thinking
Ace. The Basilisk – the serpent is a Basilisk growing from unripe green to ripe red – positive thinking, the pursuit of wisdom, a good idea.
2. The Duel – with the owl of wisdom – a debate, actively questioning and seeking wisdom.
3. The Bleeding Heart – the eye is con- sciousness and the rose perfection – pain, suffering, heartache.
4. The Sage – sits below the swords of troubled thoughts – meditation, concentration, thought.
5. The Blacksmith – hammering a blade while it is hot – fixing what is broken, righting wrongs.
6. The Loving Breeze – filling the sail of the boat – going with the flow, a higher power.
7. The Fox – with a jumble of swords – clever- ness, dishonesty, amorality, without judgement.
8. The Beast – the 4 evangelists in one, chained and caged by swords – trapped, blocked.
9. The Hero – facing swords hung by threads – fear, facing fear, acting in spite of fear.
10. The Victim – with ten swords in his heart – severe criticism, stabbed in the heart, rejected, injured.
Lady of Swords – playing her lute on a cloud – el- oquence, poetry, song.
Knight of Swords – slaying a dragon – righting wrongs, slaying evil, being judgmental. A hero is judged by the size of his foe.
Queen of Swords – with wings and two swords – pre- senting a choice between the red, mature, positive side and the green, unripe, negative side.
King of Swords – an eagle with an upright sword – clear thinking, confidence, commutative.
Staffs – Fire – Feeling
Ace. The Salamander – the Fire animal, who mates in Fire, with a living staff, sprouting leaves – a new passion, a value judgement.
2. Hermes and Aphrodite – joined torches with the glyphs for Hermes and Aphrodite – one lover lost in the other, united passion.
3. The Boat – guided by its eye – a new wave, reinforcements, replenishment.
4. The Bride and Groom – the embracing of opposites – marriage, commitment to passion.
5. The Burning Hand – with fingers becoming torches – creative energy, a flow of creativity.
6. The Master Craftsman – with glyphs for purified silver and purified gold under his feet – honor, respect, good work.
7. The Fighting Dogs – with the big dog biting the little dog – competition, argument, aggression, passion out of control.
8. The Woodcutter – cutting down a staff – cutting back, simplifying, focusing.
9. The Grey Wolf – being burned in a fire to reclaim the king, whom he swallowed – a necessary sacrifice, being overcome with passion.
10. The Phoenix – a symbol of the rejuvenating power of the Stone – rebirth, strengthened by ordeals, renewed strength.
Lady of Staffs – dancing in the hot, dry desert – dance, love of the new.
Knight of Staffs – also in the desert – seeking a new location.
Queen of Staffs – holding a coarse staff and a refined staff – presenting a choice between the raw or natural and the refined.
King of Staffs – a dragon clutching his staff – a master of Fire and feelings.
copyright Robert M Place 2007
All are free to copy this material for personal use but not for resale without permission form the author.
To learn more about the Alchemical Tarot read
To receive The Restored Temple of Hermes, my free newsletter e-mailed every three months or so, with links to my latest articles and news about up-coming lectures, workshops, and publications, send an e-mail to me with The Restored Temple of Hermes in the subject line. Also, please let me know what state or country you live in.
The 63rd Temple of Hermes newsletter was sent on July 26, 2022. If you did not receive yours, you may need to update your email address.
and send me a Friend request or become a follower