Here Comes The Sun: The Tarot’s Nineteenth Card
(Based on the representations found on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.)
I once read that The Sun represents the “‘yes’ card” of the Tarot — confirmation that our goals and ambitions are likely to come to fruition. The card can symbolize us burning brightly, standing apart, and shining in our respective fields. Upright or reversed, The Sun is generally a positive card (with a few qualifiers), portending blessings on their way. Good things come to those who wait, and The Sun is certainly worth waiting for in a reading.
Reflecting on this card, I thought about the “heliocentric nature” of oracular divination itself. As querents, we approach the oracle when confronted with some of the great mysteries of our lives. We may ask questions about loved ones, but, more often than not, astrology, Tarot, and other forms of divination seek to address the issues or challenges that we ourselves face. When things are going well we find little reason to pull a card. However, when significant challenges arise, the Tarot, the zodiac wheel, the I Ching, Runes, and countless other divination tools make an appearance. Will I get the job I want? Will a long-lost lover return? When will my fortunes improve? Even, when asking about others, we are ultimately seeking a balm for our own anxieties and apprehensions.
In modern astrology, the sun is regarded as a proxy for the Self or ego, so it only stands to reason that, in correlating the Major Arcana to the planets and signs of the zodiac, The Sun represent its namesake. As I contemplated the meanings of the Sun — from its egoic centrality to its myriad traditional astrological significations — I came up against a quandary of comparable Tarot associations. The Star and The Chariot both come to mind as articulating variations on a solar theme: The Chariot can indicate successful endeavours and triumph, while The Star shares an element of spotlighting talents and individuality and wishes coming true. These struck me as different sides of the same coin and left me wondering whether the commonalities suggest too few archetypal significations to draw from, or whether this lack of seeming distinction is a failure on the part of the diviner? After all, if I pull any one of The Sun, The Star, or The Chariot, how distinctly different is that outcome? Aren’t they all ultimately pointing to the same thing — namely a form of achievement closely connected to the solar personality?
To me, the central question becomes, how do we identify the distinctly solar experience of The Sun, which, when drawn, offers a unique signification. For ancient societies and the astrologers who worked with symbols and portends, the sun represented life force, spirit, and intelligence. The symbol was potent: not only did the sun have a profound effect on ancient societies — rising each day, warming the earth, helping crops grow — it also spoke to our individual will and intentions, to creativity and vitality. Vettius Valens, from whom we have a lengthy list of planetary significations, indicates that the sun also symbolized kingship or rulership, loftiness of fortune, “the ordinance of the gods” (i.e., divination), friendship, noble people, priesthood, and honours (Charles Obert, The Seven Planets: Source Texts and Meaning, 96). Depending on house placement, the sun’s meaning changes from personal significator to father figure to the attainment of prestige in this lifetime.
In her lectures on the luminaries, Liz Greene writes that the sun emphasizes one of the most important glyphs in the natal chart. For modern astrologers, the sun represents the characteristics that we must develop to “differentiate [ourselves] and develop an ‘I’ or personal ego” (Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas, The Luminaries: The Psychology of the Sun and Moon in the Horoscope, 117–119). Greene makes an interesting point about sun sign horoscopes, suggesting that they would be infinitely more beneficial were they written from the perspective of what the native needs to develop in this lifetime. For many of us, our journey can be inextricably linked to expressing the solar significations of our sign through whatever house it is placed in the natal chart: for example, differentiating ourselves through our relationships (seventh house), through our career (tenth house), from our familial connections and ancestral roots (fourth house), or from our friends and social groups (eleventh house).
The sun also symbolizes a higher, aspirational version of Self. Greene writes that there will come a time in our lives— often but not exclusively at midlife — where the ego must “acknowledge and honour something greater than itself, to realise its role as a channel through which the transpersonal or universal Self can express itself” (119). In this way, the sun reminds us of the hero’s journey: all of us are heroes of our individual life story and the sun’s placement in the chart can illuminate the path that we must follow for our highest self-expression. In this way, The Sun’s appearance in a reading — more than providing a cosmic nod to our endeavours — also challenges us to identify that which is our highest personal expression — that which we are seeking to attain, whether it’s spiritual enlightenment (ninth house) or selfless service (sixth house).
At the same time, however, the varied meanings of the Sun remind me of James Hillman’s comments in Re-Visioning Psychology, which highlight the “many-sidedness of human nature, the variety of viewpoints even within a single individual, [requiring] the broadest possible spectrum of basic structures” (Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, xx). Approaches to examining the psyche cannot be “narrowly monotheistic,” eschewing various other traditions and approaches, octaves for analysis, and drives towards integration and wholeness at the expensive of the value of the multiplicity of psychic forces active at our lives at any time. To suggest that the Sun is the sole egoic representative archetypal image or natal chart glyph is to ignore the variegated nature of human experience and existence. While astrological glyphs may symbolize more than individual personality characteristics — for instance, individuals, events, or qualitative experiences — the sun is part of a larger solar system. Despite its centrality in our “heliocentric” worldview, we are more than our ego, and once we shuffle off this mortal coil, it may be our lunar relationships that point more to our emotional legacies for successive generations.
On the sun’s shadow qualities, I am reminded of Hillman’s critique of a kind of “Titanism” — a quasi-preoccupation with the Self, which “longs toward the boundless and indefinable” (Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, xi). The primacy of the individual, particularly in the modern West, has led the self-help genre to proliferate, with an emphasis on self-improvement to the exclusion of self-understanding. We constantly strive and aspire, measure and compare, because our collective wisdom has overvalued personal achievement, confusing attainment with self-worth and differentiation with purpose. Hillman writes that Titanism is “a menace far greater than Narcissism,” which, to me, suggests that the ego needs counterpoint and perspective. When reversed, I imagine The Sun card calls us to examine our relationships with others and with the world around us. A few times, I have meditated on the idea of Titanism, asking myself where I may be overly attached to my solar personality and all the trappings that have led me to forget that I am one entity within a larger earthly set of constellations. Where I have over-exaggerated aspects of my egoic identification often points to the obstacles in my path preventing me from advancing on my own hero’s journey.
The Sun card seems infinitely more complex than many Tarot descriptions suggest. Part of it undoubtedly resides in the complexity of the relationship that we have with ourselves — our light and shadow sides, or deepest desires, and the way we move through the world, orbiting around issues, obstacles, opportunities, and other people. The next time you pull The Sun, I invite you to contemplate the way in which you are expressing your solar potential; upright or reversed, the card may be asking us to explore the realms hidden from the sun’s illuminating beams. This might be where the greatest psychic treasures reside.