Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Provide Doorways to the Unconscious, and Maybe a Way to Predict the Future

It is gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that the stan­dard deck of play­ing cards we use for every­thing from three-card monte to high-stakes Vegas pok­er evolved from the Tarot. “Like our mod­ern cards,” writes Sal­lie Nichols, “the Tarot deck has four suits with ten ‘pip’ or num­bered cards in each…. In the Tarot deck, each suit has four ‘court’ cards: King, Queen, Jack, and Knight.” The lat­ter fig­ure has “mys­te­ri­ous­ly dis­ap­peared from today’s play­ing cards,” though exam­ples of Knight play­ing cards exist in the fos­sil record. The mod­ern Jack is a sur­vival of the Page cards in the Tarot. (See exam­ples of Tarot court cards here from the 1910 Rid­er-Waite deck.) The sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two types of decks are sig­nif­i­cant, yet no one but adepts seems to con­sid­er using their Gin Rum­my cards to tell the future.

The emi­nent psy­chi­a­trist Carl Jung, how­ev­er, might have done so.

As Mary K. Greer explains, in a 1933 lec­ture Jung went on at length about his views on the Tarot, not­ing the late Medieval cards are “real­ly the ori­gin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black sym­bol­ize the oppo­sites, and the divi­sion of the four—clubs, spades, dia­monds, and hearts—also belongs to the indi­vid­ual sym­bol­ism.

They are psy­cho­log­i­cal images, sym­bols with which one plays, as the uncon­scious seems to play with its con­tents.” The cards, said Jung, “com­bine in cer­tain ways, and the dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions cor­re­spond to the play­ful devel­op­ment of mankind.” This, too, is how Tarot works—with the added dimen­sion of “sym­bols, or pic­tures of sym­bol­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.” The images—the hanged man, the tow­er, the sun—“are sort of arche­typ­al ideas, of a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed nature.”

Thus far, Jung has­n’t said any­thing many ortho­dox Jun­gian psy­chol­o­gists would find dis­agree­able, but he goes even fur­ther and claims that, indeed, “we can pre­dict the future, when we know how the present moment evolved from the past.” He called for “an intu­itive method that has the pur­pose of under­stand­ing the flow of life, pos­si­bly even pre­dict­ing future events, at all events lend­ing itself to the read­ing of the con­di­tions of the present moment.” He com­pared this process to the Chi­nese I Ching, and oth­er such prac­tices. As ana­lyst Marie-Louise von Franz recounts in her book Psy­che and Mat­ter:

Jung sug­gest­ed… hav­ing peo­ple engage in a div­ina­to­ry pro­ce­dure: throw­ing the I Ching, lay­ing the Tarot cards, con­sult­ing the Mex­i­can div­ina­tion cal­en­dar, hav­ing a tran­sit horo­scope or a geo­met­ric read­ing done.

Con­tent seemed to mat­ter much less than form. Invok­ing the Swe­den­bor­gian doc­trine of cor­re­spon­dences, Jung notes in his lec­ture, “man always felt the need of find­ing an access through the uncon­scious to the mean­ing of an actu­al con­di­tion, because there is a sort of cor­re­spon­dence or a like­ness between the pre­vail­ing con­di­tion and the con­di­tion of the col­lec­tive uncon­scious.”

What he aimed at through the use of div­ina­tion was to accel­er­ate the process of “indi­vid­u­a­tion,” the move toward whole­ness and integri­ty, by means of play­ful com­bi­na­tions of arche­types. As anoth­er mys­ti­cal psy­chol­o­gist, Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, puts it, “the Tarot will teach you how to cre­ate a soul.” Jung per­ceived the Tarot, notes the blog Fae­na Aleph, “as an alchem­i­cal game,” which in his words, attempts “the union of oppo­sites.” Like the I Ching, it “presents a rhythm of neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, loss and gain, dark and light.”

Much lat­er in 1960, a year before his death, Jung seemed less san­guine about Tarot and the occult, or at least down­played their mys­ti­cal, div­ina­to­ry pow­er for lan­guage more suit­ed to the lab­o­ra­to­ry, right down to the usu­al com­plaints about staffing and fund­ing. As he wrote in a let­ter about his attempts to use these meth­ods:

Under cer­tain con­di­tions it is pos­si­ble to exper­i­ment with arche­types, as my ‘astro­log­i­cal exper­i­ment’ has shown. As a mat­ter of fact we had begun such exper­i­ments at the C. G. Jung Insti­tute in Zurich, using the his­tor­i­cal­ly known intu­itive, i.e., syn­chro­nis­tic meth­ods (astrol­o­gy, geo­man­cy, Tarot cards, and the I Ching). But we had too few co-work­ers and too lit­tle means, so we could not go on and had to stop.

Lat­er inter­preters of Jung doubt­ed that his exper­i­ments with div­ina­tion as an ana­lyt­i­cal tech­nique would pass peer review. “To do more than ‘preach to the con­vert­ed,’” wrote the authors of a 1998 arti­cle pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Para­psy­chol­o­gy, “this exper­i­ment or any oth­er must be done with suf­fi­cient rig­or that the larg­er sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty would be sat­is­fied with all aspects of the data tak­ing, analy­sis of the data, and so forth.” Or, one could sim­ply use Jun­gian meth­ods to read the Tarot, the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty be damned.

As in Jung’s many oth­er cre­ative reap­pro­pri­a­tions of myth­i­cal, alchem­i­cal, and reli­gious sym­bol­ism, his inter­pre­ta­tion of the Tarot inspired those with mys­ti­cal lean­ings to under­take their own Jun­gian inves­ti­ga­tions into para­psy­chol­o­gy and the occult. Inspired by Jung’s ver­bal descrip­tions of the Tarot’s major arcana, artist and mys­tic Robert Wang has cre­at­ed a Jun­gian Tarot deck, and an accom­pa­ny­ing tril­o­gy of books, The Jun­gian Tarot and its Arche­typ­al Imagery, Tarot Psy­chol­o­gy, and Per­fect Tarot Div­ina­tion.

You can see images of each of Wang’s cards here. His books pur­port to be exhaus­tive stud­ies of Jung’s Tarot the­o­ry and prac­tice, writ­ten in con­sul­ta­tion with Jung schol­ars in New York and Zurich. Sal­lie Nichols’ Jung and Tarot: An Arche­typ­al Jour­ney is less volu­mi­nous and innovative—using the tra­di­tion­al, Pamela Cole­man-Smith-illus­trat­ed, Rid­er-Waite deck rather than an updat­ed orig­i­nal ver­sion. But for those will­ing to grant a rela­tion­ship between sys­tems of sym­bols and a col­lec­tive uncon­scious, her book may pro­vide some pen­e­trat­ing insights, if not a recipe for pre­dict­ing the future.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky Explains How Tarot Cards Can Give You Cre­ative Inspi­ra­tion

The Tarot Card Deck Designed by Sal­vador Dalí

Twin Peaks Tarot Cards Now Avail­able as 78-Card Deck

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (25)
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  • Bradford Hatcher says:

    In all of Jung’s 8544 pages of col­lect­ed works, we only find one sen­tence that he wrote about Tarot: ‘It also seems as if the set of pic­tures in the Tarot cards were dis­tant­ly descend­ed from the arche­types of trans­for­ma­tion, a view that has been con­firmed for me in a very enlight­en­ing lec­ture by Pro­fes­sor Bernoul­li.’ (CW, 9.1, p.38). Peo­ple have sold a whole lot of books imply­ing that he was a lot more involved. Authors of inter­pre­tive books on Tarot ALWAYS need to be fact checked. There are a few reli­able works, but most of the real­ly reli­able ones are the more schol­ar­ly works on play­ing card and Tarot card his­to­ry.

  • Josh Jones says:

    The quo­ta­tions from Jung here are sourced from sem­i­nar notes and a per­son­al let­ter. The author who brought them to our atten­tion has prop­er­ly cit­ed those sources and they are legit­i­mate.

  • Dawn says:

    I have been fol­lowed by neg­a­tive ener­gy and have had night­mares and dream paral­y­sis. No mat­ter where I move it still hap­pens. Please help?

  • Joseph Nichter says:

    Great arti­cle!

    I’m also writ­ing on the same top­ic and sup­port­ing the same asser­tions. Where can I source and site these quotes?


  • Tiffany says:

    Dear Dawn

    I’m sor­ry to hear this, in my own expe­ri­ence sleep paral­y­sis occurs when I’ve had a recent trau­ma — I believe this is due to a vul­ner­a­ble aura at the time, and I take it as a sign to look after myself bet­ter, strength­en myself with healthy way of life. I hope this helps. Tiffany

  • geraldine gantley says:

    I have had dreams recent­ly where I am sur­round­ed by black labrador dogs or pup­pies , their coats are real­ly shiny ..can
    you explain these dreams for me

  • laportama says:

    EVERYTHING Jung saw was about metaphor and the sub­con­scious.
    Pecu­liar that an entire arti­cle was writ­ten about some­thing that this esteemed thought-leader men­tioned only once; But noth­ing is EVER about what it seems to be about. (Remem­ber that.)
    I’m sure that the author’s inter­pre­ta­tion is legit­i­mate but I’m not sure it’s cor­rect.
    Then again, we can learn from every­thing. And if you know where to look, you can see the uni­verse — and our rela­tion­ships to it — in every­thing. Ask Lieb­nitz.

  • Joshua says:


    Try speak­ing to a pri­ma­ry care physi­cian and pos­si­bly a qual­i­fied coun­selor about what you’ve been expe­ri­enc­ing. They may be able to help you. Some­times trau­ma caus­es these types of respons­es. And there are also some decent med­ica­tions (when used prop­er­ly) that can assist as well. Wish­ing you the best of luck!

  • Jim Wickson says:

    Sor­ry. This arti­cle is biased, mis­lead­ing and con­tains fac­tu­al errors. Play­ing cards did not evolve from the tarot. Con­ven­tion­al play­ing cards appeared in Europe before the tarot. The tarot was cre­at­ed because a clever Ital­ian want­ed to have a trump suit for trick tak­ing games. It is gross­ly neg­li­gent not to men­tion the his­toric role tarot has in gam­ing which give read­ers the false impres­sion the cards are only used in div­ina­tion.
    The arti­cle also over­states the involve­ment Jung has with tarot. He actu­al­ly wrote very lit­tle about it.

  • MarketFlea says:

    Read on here:
    this URL please put with­out spaces,
    as I have no clue how much-deformed link will be
    after post­ing my com­ment.
    h t t ps://removemagic*.*com

    HINT: you are able to cleanse on your own,
    unless you have too much mon­ey to spend.

    Best of Luck!

  • Ethel Blackwell says:

    Sir can you see when and.if my law­suit is done and when will get it how much. Thank you

  • Michael M Hughes says:

    Play­ing cards pre­date tarot by hun­dreds of years. The his­to­ry is very well-doc­u­ment­ed.

  • Peter says:

    Carl based his arche­types on the house, read the red book. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the arche­types are based on the plan­ets, the tarot fits in bet­ter.

  • Stephen says:

    Who is teach­ing the use and trans­la­tions of the cards?
    Is there some­one to con­tact who knows about teach­ers, work­shops or sem­i­nars?
    Thank you

  • Bjarni says:

    As anoth­er mys­ti­cal psy­chol­o­gist, Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, puts it

    ”psy­chol­o­gist“ ???

  • Nico1221 says:

    William Arnaud

  • Janaa Walker says:

    The arti­cle has a valu­able con­tent, which has helped me a lot in under­stand­ing Tarot Cards. I think if any­one wants to become expert in tarot card read­er, then he needs to read your con­tent con­sis­tent­ly.

  • will says:


    You penned a won­der­ful fact-filled arti­cle. I am a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and have steeped in many mys­ti­cal tra­di­tions (much to my ben­e­fit and that of my patients). For many years I have used astrol­o­gy and tarot as adjunc­tive diag­nos­tic and ther­a­peu­tic tools with my clien­tele. The abil­i­ty to encour­age patients to use and draw upon rich sym­bol­ic images of tarot and astrol­o­gy and co-min­gle those sacred mag­ics with heir own intu­ition and imag­i­na­tion offers a great deal of dimen­sion and poten­tial in the psycho=therapreutic sur­round. Mary Greer has authored a num­ber of insight­ful and infor­ma­tive books on the rich sym­bol­ism and inter­pre­tive poten­tials of the tarot. I have also read from a num­ber of cred­i­ble sources that our mod­ern play­ing cards are an abbre­vi­at­ed form of the tarot deck with the excep­tion of the 22 Major Arcana cards, save for the Jok­er for­mer­ly known as “The Fool.”

    Thank you for open­ing up a dis­cus­sion on Jung, arche­types, sym­bols and cre­ative con­sul­ta­tions.

  • Chris Pederson says:

    I like how tarot cards add sym­bols and pic­tures. Those can be a lot more accu­rate when try­ing to find out what your des­tiny is. But each sym­bol and pic­ture can mean some­thing dif­fer­ent for each per­son.

  • Zeke Krahlin says:

    The dog is usu­al­ly an arche­type of inno­cence, friend­ship and devo­tion. Espe­cial­ly when por­trayed with such a kind­ly breed as the labrador. Toss­ing in one or more pup­pies sort of clinch­es this friend­ly arche­type. Their shiny coats sug­gest spir­i­tu­al illu­mi­na­tion. I would there­fore con­clude there is a potent­ly joy­ful aspect in your world or spir­it, and you are a most for­tu­nate per­son to have such a dream…having it more than once is quite a bonus!

    You post­ed your query more than three years ago. I’m guess­ing some­thing won­der­ful has occurred in your life lat­er that year, 2018. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly out­ward­ly, it could have some­thing to do with a new­found, jubi­lant insight. At any rate, there is noth­ing but good­ness in that type of dream.

    May the Great Spir­it be with you, always.

  • Lewis H. Lafontaine says:

    Brad­ford: You are absolute­ly cor­rect.

    Dr. Jung rarely men­tioned “Tarot” in his Col­lect­ed Works, Let­ters, Sem­i­nars, etc.

    Only once in his Col­lect­ed Works, once in his Col­lect­ed Let­ters, Once in the Jung-Rhine Let­ters, Once in Chil­dren’s Dreams Sem­i­nar, Once in the Visions Sem­i­nar.

    In is not a rare occur­rence for per­son to uti­lize Dr. Jung’s name to val­i­date or give an air of authen­tic­i­ty to assump­tions, asser­tions and con­clu­sions which could not oth­er­wise stand on their own.

  • michael griffin says:

    Thank you for your suc­cinct state­ment.

  • Delano Strachen says:

    Marie Louise von Franz who worked very close­ly with Carl Jung, wrote books on div­ina­tion, alche­my and arche­types found in mythol­o­gy and fairy tales.

  • Rena Manvelova says:

    No offense to every­body but For­tune telling has been around a long time a lot longer then tarot . It’s ridicu­lous to even think that some­thing that com­plex would have been cre­at­ed before the basic 2–10 and J‑A method. They were first invent­ed for fun not nec­es­sar­i­ly for for­tune. Gyp­sies invent­ed it and they weren’t sup­pose to be read­ing for vain rea­sons like love but for very rare occa­sions like court date or a very impor­tant affairs. My aunt alway made me get a brand new deck every time she said oth­er­wise the spir­its would lie to you sup­pose to get cards that haven’t been played with.She would give a read­ing with cof­fee and tell you what you were doing what time with who she would know your deep dark secrets that are embar­rass­ing even for her just to say. She didn’t like doing it a lot because you are invit­ing spir­its in your life doing so. When you ask you say things to your­self or aloud but direct­ly to the spir­it world . Some use to bring gifts to the gyp­sies instead of mon­ey I’m from a coun­try that use to be a part of the USSR and if there is one thing peo­ple in Rus­sia are it is very much so super­sti­tious extreme­ly . There are so many ridicu­lous super­sti­tion rules don’t put your purse on the bed or the table or floor . If you come back inside the house because you for­got some­thing always look in the mir­ror sin­gle peo­ple should nev­er sit in cor­ners if a fork falls a man comes but if a knife comes it’s a woman don’t put an emp­ty glass on the table because it mean mon­ey go out the door and on and on it goes look it up they spit on you or behind you on your path way over the shoul­der to keep the dev­il away so many dev­il ones I mean a black cat cross­es the street in front of you stop and spit behind your shoul­der three times oy I mean Rus­sians are ruled by super­sti­tion if you have a dream of a loved one call­ing you home not good means your going to die soon dream of fish­es means mon­ey . It’s just nev­er end­ing .

  • Alice says:

    Your dreams sounds like the god­dess the Hecate sis­ters, you can find more infor­ma­tion online, they were white witch­es and very pow­er­ful.

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