The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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Gabriel and the Year 2000: Tarot’s Winter Angel

by Carolyn R. Guss- The Tarot Muse ©

The JUDGEMENT card, number XX in the Tarot, sends a message of liberation and renewal. In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the deck, three of the seven archangels appear in the Major Arcana cards: Raphael, in the LOVERS (trump VI), Michael in TEMPERANCE (trump XIV), and Gabriel in JUDGEMENT (trump XX). The JUDGEMENT card, presided over by Gabriel and ruled by planet Pluto, offers freedom and transformation. Some Tarot readers consider the DEATH card (trump XIII) to be the symbol of transformation; I prefer to think of DEATH as the card of transition or passage, which culminates, seven cards later, in transformation, via JUDGEMENT.

In the Waite-Smith version of the card, an androgynous Gabriel with fiery locks blows a clarion blast on a trumpet, calling dead souls (a woman, a man, and a child) to arise and begin their lives anew. And doesn’t everyone long for a fresh start? Well we have it tailor-made in the JUDGEMENT card when it appears in our Tarot spreads. I refer to it, in clients’ readings, as the card of "reinventing the self."

Which is what makes JUDGEMENT a perfect card to consider at this season, as we tie up loose ends from the outgoing year and prepare our resolutions for the new. The trumpet-wielding Gabriel, whose name has been alternately translated as "Hero of God," "Man of God," or "Strength of God," serves as a messenger from the divine to the human—such that Sophy Burnham refers to him in her A Book of Angels as "chief ambassador to humanity." Considered to be "the angel of Revelation," he has the job of awakening the dead souls to their liberation, the scene depicted on the Waite-Smith card.

Known best for his joyous announcements of the impending birth of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary’s holy pregnancy with Jesus, Gabriel also aided the Old Testament prophet Daniel in interpreting his visions. In his Islamic name of Djibril ("the faithful spirit"), Gabriel revealed the sacred writings of the Koran to Muhammad, thus becoming the Angel of Truth. In the Judaic tradition he functions as the Angel of Judgment, as his position on the Tarot card confirms. All around, however, Gabriel is honored as the bringer of good news—the divine herald—which is why we are happy to invite him into our lives at any time of year, especially Winter, when things may seem especially bleak.

Associated with the Winter season, Gabriel’s influence begins on or around the Solstice (December 22 this year) and continues until the onset of Spring (when Raphael takes over). Considered to be "made of Fire" and to preside over thunder, he is equally associated with the elements of Air, Water, and Earth. (Notice that in the Waite-Smith card the blue sky is prominent; coffins float on water, against a backdrop of icy peaks.) Gabriel’s month is January; his astrological connection, Aquarius.

One reason some Tarot seekers shy away from the JUDGEMENT card lies in its—well, judgmental quality. No one wants to be judged, lest we should be found wanting. Also, as ruled-over by planet Pluto (and with its logical connection to trump XIII), the JUDGEMENT card bears an uncomfortable association with death. Almost everyone wants to be reborn, but not many wish to die in order to do so. To contemporary Tarot readers, however, the scene depicted on the card has a broader significance than that suggested by the Christian Revelation. As Tarot scholar Rachel Pollack explains in Salvador Dali’s Tarot, "The angel’s trumpet does not indicate the single event of the Last Judgement, but any moment in which a person experiences a deep call to rise from the world of suffering and doubt to a new life." Well, that’s more like it!

As a symbol of liberation, the JUDGEMENT card represents a spiritual awakening. In The Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Pollack states that the card "indicates, not a change of circumstances [as the WHEEL OF FORTUNE, trump X—half of the XX equation—might] but a new consciousness, one directly acquainted with the truth through a merging of yourself with the forces of life." Similarly, Eden Gray, in A Complete Guide to the Tarot, describes the card as "the reawakening of Nature under the influence of Spirit, the mystery of birth in death." Recalling the human figures in the scene, the man in the left foreground represents the conscious mind, with the woman at right (larger and predominant—full recipient of the trumpet’s seven musical rays)—being the subconscious. Between them a youth stands with its back to us: "the Divine Child, or regenerated self," as Alfred Douglas defines it in The Tarot—a creation resulting from the uniting of two forms of consciousness. In his book The Thursday Night Tarot, Jason C. Lotterhand explains that "Gabriel’s golden horn gives forth a blast in order to awaken us from the sleep of unconsciousness. His horn blows continuously with the power of the Life Breath. When we are ready, we hear his message distinctly."

Perhaps to separate the card from the overtly Christian quality of the Second Coming along with the pejorative concept of final judgment, the creators of some Tarot decks have given the card a different name. Both the Thoth and Haindl Tarots have retitled the card AEON; in James Wanless’s Voyager Tarot, XX becomes TIME-SPACE. And JUDGEMENT appears as LIBERATION in Arnell Ando’s Transformational Tarot.

Another way of understanding the JUDGEMENT card is to view it in terms of its placement within the Major Arcana, along with its relationship with several cards in that group—chiefly THE HIGH PRIESTESS (trump II), THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE (trump X), and THE FOOL (trump 0). As number XX, JUDGEMENT is the penultimate card in the Majors, falling into place just before trump XXI, THE WORLD. Just as the PRIESTESS lies two card from the beginning of the deck, so JUDGEMENT falls two cards before the end. The mysteries and meaning that the HIGH PRIESTESS offers us are revealed in THE TOWER (trump XVI) and fully recognized in the JUDGEMENT card. In her Tarot Handbook, Angeles Arrien describes JUDGEMENT as "the outer expression of THE HIGH PRIESTESS. We can only use good judgment or be objective (XX) when we come from a place of self-trust and resourcefulness (II)." In that way, the JUDGEMENT card gives voice to the PRIESTESS—highly in-keeping with Gabriel’s function as messenger and communicator. Along with his major symbols of trumpet and lily, this archangel is often shown carrying a scroll—perhaps the same as that which rests in THE HIGH PRIESTESS’s lap.

Another visual link between the two cards lies in the equal-armed cross (or "plus sign") that decorates the angel’s white banner in the JUDGEMENT card and also appears on THE HIGH PRIESTESS’s robe. To Pollack (in The Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom), the design on the banner "indicates a meeting of opposites, a joining of all the things that had been separated," including "two kinds of time:" the quotidian of our earthly lives coupled with "eternity, the spiritual perception of life." She goes on to explain that the joining of these two times in the center of the banner suggests that "the higher self does not abandon its old activities but goes about them in a new way." On THE HIGH PRIESTESS’s garment the cross is another expression of her duality (being a 2)—which will merge into unity by trump 21 (2+1), THE WORLD. In the pagan tradition such a cross was associated with the goddess Hecate—and later Diana—both considered guardians of the crossroads in our lives. With their lunar rulers and canine companions, both goddesses share a connection with the Tarot’s HIGH PRIESTESS.

Numerologically, Alfred Douglas states that JUDGEMENT "is number 20 in the sequence, which symbolizes the duality of number two on a higher plane." And Gray explains that "Key 20 is composed of two complete cycles of 10." In the first, "1 stands before the 0 of unmanifest forces;" in the second, culminating in the JUDGEMENT card, "we find [the number] 2, signifying that the Life-force entered into matter and was multiplied."

Gray’s equation connects JUDGEMENT with THE HIGH PRIESTESS, THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE (trump XX), and THE FOOL (trump 0), who is sometimes positioned between JUDGEMENT and THE WORLD. And indeed, some view the child that appears in trump 20 as THE FOOL in a higher incarnation, once again starting anew.

We find ourselves, like THE FOOL, about to leap into the year 2000 (whether one sees it as the start of a new millennium or the end of an old one). With hopes of liberation and renewal we travel forward, armed with the talismans of wisdom (PRIESTESS), chance (WHEEL OF FORTUNE), and awakening (JUDGEMENT). Hear Gabriel’s trumpet—and enjoy the journey.