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Tarot and Atonement

December 15, 2010

I am working on my book, Tarot and Your Spiritual Path, today, and was wondering what cards people might associate with the concept of “atonement.”  The word literally means “at-one-ment,” and so it means to become at one with something, but with what? In a spiritual sense, it is about becoming at one with everything, but in a more specific use of this word, atonement is about returning to a state of being at one with another person (or group of people). Similarly, it is associated with making amends for a mistake, an action that brings us back to “at-one-ment” with a person we have wronged.

The following are a couple of cards in the Major Arcana that I see as being related to this concept.

Justice -- Tarot of the MastersFirst, the Justice card is about Karma, the law of cause and effect. If we have done ill in the past, we need to make amends today. The second card is Judgment. Judgment card -- Tarot of the MastersThis card is about hearing a call to make a careful assessment of your life and how you have lived it, especially if you have wronged someone else.

Other cards that might illustrate this concept include:
The World card — when we have achieved at-one-ment with everything, or at least with a group of people in our life.
Two of Cups — seeking atonement with another person.
Six of Cups — seeking atonement with other people.
Six of Pentacles — making amends.

World Card -- Tarot of the Masters . Two of Cups -- Tarot of the Masters . Six of Cups -- Tarot of the Masters . Six of Coins -- Tarot of the Masters

What do you think?  What cards would you associate with the concept of “atonement”?

  1. shadowmeteresa permalink

    I’m not sure – I’m seeing the cards you’ve chosen as more like the state you reach once having atoned. The actual process of atonement can take a really long time, and requires both effort on your part and forgiveness on the part of the other. The Six of Cups could be a card of generosity and forgiveness, but that’s what the other person does (although you first have to forgive yourself). Imagine the steps of AA and think about how long a process that is… I’m thinking more the Moon (getting to know the inner self and what caused you to transgress in the first place, breaking through your illusions about what happened and reaching clarity), Seven of Pents (hard work and the long time it can take to get right with the people you’ve hurt), maybe even Eight of Cups (change of values and solitary contemplation, inner atonement for a deed that cannot be righted in the outer world), the Star for seeking self-forgiveness and reaching a state of inner peace.

  2. A few cards come to mind for me regarding this subject of “atonement”:

    THE STAR – As it pertains to that “oneness” with spirituality or becoming one with everything, the Star seems to be very appropriate. A Universal enlightenment or guidance.

    DEATH – Before we can move on with some phases or stages in our lives, making a transformation, we must come to peace with the phase or stage we are transitioning out of, so atonement can apply here, as well.

    That’s my two pence!

    Gina (aka Arial)

  3. Davina permalink

    Interesting question. For me, atonement is that moment when the soul perhaps integrates with the conscious form and we accept or come to terms with issues that need to be addressed in order to live more consiously on a soul level (if that makes sense. So true atonement is different to being sorry for something or feeling guilty about something. It runs deeper than that. It has more of an issue of understanding on a spiritual level.

    When it comes to which cards that is a toughie. I think this is because it depends on the deck and image as opposed to the card title/number.

  4. Season’s Greetings James,

    Love the topic of your book in progress. It is very much in line with my work in Tarot.

    Great question about the interpretations and associations with “atonement.”

    When consulting, these were the definitions:
    1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.
    2. Theology . the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of god and humankind, esp. as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.
    3. Christian Science . the experience of humankind’s unity with God exemplified by Jesus Christ.
    4. Archaic . reconciliation; agreement.

    The term “atonement” is most often used in a religious context, especially in Catholicism, and many people may assume the use of this word is in resonance with Christianity, a dualistic value system (right/wrong, good/bad, heaven/hell). Depending on which Christian doctrine one chooses to focus, there are at least three major arcana cards I can see associated with this point of view.

    First, when God sends his son, Jesus Christ, the words of the Nicene Creed proclaim, “who for us men and for our salvation, came down, took flesh, was made man; and suffered.” In the case of this Divine Incarnation, 0 The Fool could represent Christ’s spirit leaping into life. Jesus’ suffering on the cross allowing mankind to be redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ, often association with atonement, is best represented by XIII Death. As you noted, Justice (XIII or XI) can be considered when focusing on God’s law and making amends for one’s wrongdoings. But Christ’s entire life is also seen as atonement for the sins of the world and as such, his story runs throughout the Tarot’s major arcana.

    You’ve chosen the literal translation of “at-one-ment,” to become at one with something. When looking at the spiritual story of the soul’s journey through the major arcana of the Tarot, at-one-ment is realized in XXI The World, for unitive values of this interpretation of the Tarot culminates in a return to oneness.

    So, the first thing I would want to know is whether your book promotes a unitive or dualist view of Tarot. If dualistic, is it a Christian view? If yes, then what is your particular view of the application of atonement in Christ’s journey?

    Although I would not choose the word “atonement” due to it’s heavily Christian association, I would vote for your meaning of oneness and apply XXI The World in what I believe is the unitive message of the Tarot.

    Best wishes for your new project,

    • Jim permalink

      Thank you Katrina for your comment and for broadening the subject

    • I probably should mention here that Katrina and I have taken this discussion off-line to an extensive email conversation which has been a great exchange. I appreciate her input very much.

  5. C.J. permalink

    Hi, James~
    My first thought is Temperance. At-one-ment with self is a synergy of body/mind/spirit and connection. Thanks for offering other options. Blessings, CJ

  6. I would say The Moon for it is a card that leads us towards the part of inner and self discovery.. A time to reflect and self analyse before embarking on a new journey ad it is also about understanding your perception and finally attaining clarity..

    The other card is offcourse The Star: This teaches you to look beyond your deeds and assess your live and drive one towards self forgiveness, and rebuilding your life.. It is the path to The World leading to Nirvana……

  7. It’s great to see how many different ideas you all are posting here for associated cards.
    I think one reason for this variety is the fact that (as Katrina points out) there are various ways of defining and conceptualizing atonement. I feel that it can range from a straightforward matter of saying “I’m sorry” for a simple harm done to an extended process of making amends to someone (or to the Universe) for a grand harm done. In the latter case, think of the many examples in literature of someone spending a lifetime of service in order to atone for some horrible deed in their past. (Think, for example, of the movie, “Atonement”) And it’s sad how this can indicate a lack of self-forgiveness more than a lack of amends being made. So I understand how Teresa and Nandini see the Star card associated with atonement when they see that card in terms of self-forgiveness.
    Then there is the fact that everyone has their own distinct concept of the meaning of the cards. For example, consider Teresa’s statement that “the Six of Cups could be a card of generosity and forgiveness, but that’s what the other person does.” (By the way, I don’t think that atonement requires forgiveness on the part of the other person. You can atone for something even if the other person is a jerk and refuses to forgive, or if the other person is not available.)
    As I mentioned in a blog post a few months ago, “Six of Cups — Paying Love Forward,” I think the Six of Cups can, in a broad sense, indicate giving back to the world and “paying love forward.” Sometimes that’s what we might have to do to atone since the person wronged is not around for us to make amends directly. Perhaps s/he is dead. Perhaps we have no idea where s/he is. And so, on a spiritual level, we can atone by doing “random acts of kindness.”

  8. Wow what a great variety of ways of reading Atonement! My take is a little different.
    I read atonement as a sort of deep reconcilation that is best represented XX Judgement as the overcoming of the birth-death cycle.
    The more explictly mystical meaning of atonement as at-one-ment I see all four sprite Aces as the blinking into/out of existence the gist of the 4 worlds as One.

    • That’s what’s great about talking about Tarot’s associations like this… It get people thinking about and sharing ideas about deep subjects, as well as thinking about and sharing ideas about the cards themselves.

  9. Susan permalink

    My family were Christian Scientists. Now it’s one thing to adopt Christian Science as your religion as an adult. It’s a whole different thing to be brought up that way (but that’s another story for another day.) Anyway, one of the weekly “lessons” that the church had was titled: “Doctrine of Atonement.” I remember this was explained to us by telling us that it meant “at-one-ment” with God. I always thought that was a simplified explanation and that annoyed me. I always associated the word with the definition of reparation for a wrong or injury; amends. The book (and movie) “Atonement” was all about that.

    I, too, checked out and was surprised to read:
    Christian Science . the experience of humankind’s unity with God exemplified by Jesus Christ.

    Anyway – I would associate the five of pentacles with the concept of atonement. Reconciliation of god and humankind through suffering?

  10. Jason permalink

    It may sound like an oxymoron, but I would include The Hermit IX. We as human beings can often be divided or in conflict with ourselves. We can always become more integrated and therefore at one with ourselves, and this is what the Hermit can represent.

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