Even though this card appears to depict an angel calling the dead from their tombs on the day of Judgement, I don’t believe this card’s meaning is terribly Christian. I prefer to see it as a card of true calling–we feel the call invigorate us from our dead insides just as much as we hear the call around us. It’s the kind of calling that comes from a place far greater than any one individual’s perception or existence.
Rachel Pollack says that the cross in the angel’s banner “indicates a meeting of opposites, a joining of all the things that had been separated” and that it also “symbolizes a meeting of two kinds of time; the ordinary time we perceive with our senses and by which we live from day to day, and eternity, the spiritual perception of life.” “Their meeting […] indicates that the higher self does not abandon its old activities but goes about them in a new way.”
That meeting and going about activities in a new way is reinforced by seeing the couple with the child between them. Their joining created this child, who is our own new self. His back is to us and we cannot see his face, which implies that as far as we have come, we still do not fully know ourselves–indeed, we cannot know that true self until we answer that true calling…and in Judgement we have only just heard it.
In the background of the card, Waite includes three more people–another couple and their child–and Pollack says that they serve to remind us that each person is a part of the human race and is therefore responsible for our collective growth.
Neither Pollack nor Waite address the fact that all these figures are sort of using their tombs as individual boats upon a body of water, which is possibly a flood of Armegeddon. I like to think of this water as a realization that we just have to let the current flow around us–it will take us to the place our call intends for us to go. This realization is also why I think the mountains of enlightenment are in the background. This is, after all, an enlightened, liberating realization.
Robin Wood clearly reacted against the highly Christian imagery of the Judgement card. Indeed, she notes that she would have even renamed it, if not for her trend of preserving the card names.
In Wood’s Judgement, a naked priestess, stands joyfully in Cerridwen’s cauldron in the Goddess position. Both show that this pirestess is one with the Goddess and is part of Her circle of rebirth. Her nudity shows her unashamed freedom, and that she has cast off the world’s trappings in favor of spiritual enlightenment. Her bracelet’s show she is a third-degree priestess, and while her body is lithe to show her strength, her hair is white to show that she is indeed old and wise. This juxtaposition hints at the type of agelessness and wisdom that come with spiritual growth.
Interestingly, Wood notes that the priestess’s hands are held in the American Sign Language shorthand position for “I love you”: Having been reborn, she now cannot help but express her great love for everyone. The fires of purification temper her spirit.
Behind the priestess is a Phoenix, which symbolizes that the priestess’s new self has been reborn from her old ashes. Its six feathers on its crest stand for the five physical senses (that we saw in the Fool and the Sun) plus the elusive sixth sense: her love and great spiritual growth has brought her new understanding.
KEYWORDS: Rebirth, Feeling reborn, Answering a Calling, Finding absolution, Making a judgement.
Begin this exercise by thinking about a situation that is weighing heavily in your mind. Now take out a piece of paper and write down all of your thoughts and feelings about the situation. Try to keep the pen (and your thoughts) flowing for at least five nonstop minutes. Crumple the paper and cast it into a fire. As it burns, close your eyes and imagine the situation changing. Imagine that it loses its weight and power over you.
Keep the Judgement card with you today or place it on your altar. Keep track of your judgements today. Are you labeling people and situations as good, bad, desirable, or undesirable? Every time you catch yourself in a judging frame of mind, mentally say, “Stop!” Then continue your activity with a clear mind.
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.