Totems and Tarot

Someone asked me an interview-type question the other day about sacred animal symbolism in the Tabula Mundi tarot. Specifically, they said, “You use a lot of symbolic/sacred animals – bees, snakes. Would you say they’re part of a personal cosmology?”

It’s true, they are part of a “personal cosmology” system and always have been. As part of my artwork, I’ve always had a large symbolic vocabulary. Tabula Mundi uses animals as symbols, rather than as depictions of nature.

This got me to wondering how many cards had animals on them. Turns out, a lot.

I counted animal hybrids and mythical animals but not human animal hybrids as animals. Though I guess we are animals too, I had to draw the line somewhere.

I also didn’t include them if it was just a design on something in the card, or an inanimate object, like as part of a sword hilt or belt. But I did include court crests as they were mostly the full animal or bust of the animal.

At least 49 cards, and there were a few more I wasn’t sure if they counted as in were they animate or inanimate objects. It probably could be in the 50’s. One of these days when I am bored I should count how many snakes, how many lions, how many hybrids. Oh the geekery. I bet there are a lot of snakes. Just sayin’.

Then I figured I’d pull a few cards just from those 49, and read the animal symbolism on them instead of, or in addition to, the cards themselves. These would be my animal totems for the current time. I pulled four cards for the four elements or YHVH.


bordered BW Aeonbordered BW Queen of Wandsbordered BW Foolbordered BW 9 of Disks








The animals are:

from the Aeon, the Dragon and the Snake

from the Queen of Wands, the Leopard

from the Fool, the Crocodile and the Tiger (Snake if you count the Ouroboros portals)

from Nine of Disks, the Bee

Starting with the animals in the Yod position, we have the Dragon most prominently, and also the Snake. Dragon, the guardian of treasure and hidden wisdom. Snake, also reptilian, the symbol of rebirth, initiation and wisdom, of awakened kundalini. Here in the Yod/Father or the Fire/To Will position, shows the initiation or “first force”, the root of the emanation of the situation. (did I just rap there?)

In the position of He primal, the Water element position, we get the Leopard. Leopards are solitary, silent, and swift. They represent inner knowing and heightened powers of instinct and intuition. This is the position of “first form” and the mother of the situation, Love/To Dare.

In the position of Vau/Air or the Son, the Tiger and the Crocodile. The Tiger, another large cat and the Crocodile, also in the reptile family. Tigers are lucky animals, symbolic of power and passion. Crocodiles represent initiation and dark feminine powers of creation. This is what results from the combination of the first two cards,To Know.

Last in the position of He final/Earth or the Daughter, the Bride, we get the unfolding of the situation, the material. Here the animal is the Bee, a creature both lunar and solar, bringing fertility and sweetness to life as they gather nectar in the sunshine and transform it in darkness to honey.

I won’t go into the specifics of a personal reading and how these animals actually had a relevant message for me if I consider them as my totems, at least as totems symbolic for the current time in my life. The point is, they did provide a very insightful glimpse and the way they combined symbolically was quite interesting.

Then with the cards in the YHVH positions, or Fire-Water-Air-Earth, I was thinking about elemental dignities and found it pretty interesting to see in the Yod or elemental Fire position, The Aeon, the trump of elemental Fire. In the He Primal or elemental Water position, the Queen of Wands is the element of Fire but since she is a Queen, she is also Water of Fire. In the Vau or Air position, the Fool – elemental Air! And in the He final or elemental Earth position, a Disk card, the Nine of Disks. So all in all elementally these cards seemed very dignified position wise – two elemental trumps in the right position, and Earth pip in the Earth position, and a Queen, though a Fire Queen, in the Water position. This added another layer of meaning to look at.

So with this type of reading, one might go to the animal totems in the YHVH or elemental positions first, but then read them as tarot in the positions of Velle/Audere/Sciere/Tacere, and then look at them considering elemental dignity. Layers upon layers to consider in only four cards.


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