Byzant MysticalTarotSymbolsKabbalahBiographyAstrologyScriptorium

Jung and the Tarot

The Collective Unconscious

Carl Gustav Jung Carl Gustav Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875 and died in 1961. He founded analytic psychology in response to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. This differs from the Freudian model in downgrading the importance of sexuality and childhood conflicts in the treatment of neuroses, concentrating more on a patient's current conflicts. Jung made the significant step of defining the unconscious of a person as comprised of both a personal unconscious (proceeding from the experiences of the individual) and a collective unconscious (issuing from the inherited structure of the brain, and common to humanity). This is important to esoteric study in that it goes some way towards explaining the power of archetypal, symbolic systems like the Tarot. Indeed, the concept of archetypes - potent universal symbols appearing in myths, fairytales and dreams - is a significant part of Jung's concept of the unconscious. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962), Jung wrote:

"The collective unconscious is common to us all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called 'the sympathy of all things'."

The Four Ego Functions

Jung classified people as introverted and extroverted types, but more importantly from the point of view of the Tarot, further divided them according to four functions of the mind: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. In his final work, Man and His Symbols, Jung wrote:

Jungian Ego Functions "These four functional types correspond to the obvious means by which consciousness obtains its orientation to experience. Sensation (i.e. sense perception) tells us that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not; and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going."

Jung placed these functions in two pairs of opposing types (the rational functions, thinking and feeling, and the irrational ones, sensation and intuition), suggesting that someone who has a strong tendency to one half of a pair will generally have its opposite underdeveloped or even suppressed. The most conscious function in an individual is known as the principal function, and the most conscious from the remaining pair the auxiliary function. The opposite of the principal tends to be largely suppressed and unconscious, and the opposite of the auxiliary somewhat suppressed and unconscious. So three functions are usually conscious to some degree or other with the fourth (the opposite of the primary) largely subconscious. The weaker functions require development through application for a person to become whole. Jung put it like this: "For complete orientation all four functions should contribute equally."

Jung's four functions can help enrich our understanding of the Minor Arcana, and conversely the cards can assist in psychological exploration:

Jungian Function Focus Tarot Suit Element
Intuition Subjective, internal reality Wands Fire
Feeling Emotion, empathy Cups Water
Thinking Intellect, detachment Swords Air
Sensation Objective, external reality Pentacles Earth

Three of the attributions look exactly right (and it should be noted that some prefer to swap the attributions of intuition and feeling), but does intuition really correspond to Wands and Fire? Intuition as creative, perceptive insight and initiator of action fits the bill very well. Jung himself wrote:

"Intuition is not mere perception, or vision, but an active, creative process that puts into the object just as much as it takes out."

The occultist Dr. Arthur Edward Waite expressed the following, distinctly Jungian, view of the Tarot: "The Tarot embodies symbolical presentations of universal ideas, behind which lie all the implicits of the human mind, and it is in this sense that they contain secret doctrine, which is the realization by the few of truths embedded in the consciousness of all."


Whether the Tarot cards have any mystical, predictive powers at all is discussed in Divination and the Tarot, but for those inclined to believe that there is something presaging in the fall of the cards, Jung's famous theory of synchronicity offers a possible explanation of how this might work. Synchronicity is the coincidence of events that appear to be meaningfully related but cannot be explained by accepted mechanisms of cause and effect. Skeptics view the very idea as a case of apophenia (a term coined by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in 1958 to cover the invention of meaningful connections where there are none), and Sigmund Freud considered the source of superstition to be the false internal analogy between the true "inner accident" (font of the Freudian slip) and the random outer coincidence. In a letter of September 14, 1900 to Wilhelm Fliess he wrote:

"If we attribute significance to an external accidental happening, we project to the outside our knowledge that our inner accident is invariably intentional (unconsciously). This dark knowledge therefore is the source of our belief in the appropriateness of accidents, hence of superstition."

Yet if synchronicity were true, the random selection of cards detailing past, present and future events would be a good example.