whether we welcome it or not.
The picture on the Tarot Judgement card makes no secret of what judgment it refers to: the Last Judgment, when all the people who ever lived are awakened and sent either to Heaven or to Hell for eternity. Ultimate justice. Sublime reward for the good and terrible punishment for the bad. This moment is also the one of the end of the world as we know it. At such a cost, is it really justice we want?
To countless Christians through the past two thousand years, the idea of divine judgment had wonderful appeal, since so many of them were constantly victims of injustice. It started already by their savior being crucified and many of his disciples meeting similar fates. And the first generation of Christians in Rome was hunted down by the forces of a vicious Emperor. They dreamed of the Last Judgment and prayed that it was near.
The Tarot Judgement (spelled with an archaic e in the middle) card, then, signals the promise of justice being done, eventually. The villains will be revealed and the righteous ones will be rewarded. At a cost.
Tarot Judgement is final and irrevocable. That's dire in itself. So, is it really what we want? And are we that sure of being innocent and the others are the only guilty ones? If we call for the Judgement implied by the Tarot card, it will come, and it will strike according to its own elevated perception. The outcome is never certain, no matter how we might have convinced ourselves of the opposite. So, it's a moment of fear for the good and the bad alike.
The Tarot Judgement card has sort of a twin in that of Justice, which seems just as clear about the right and the wrong of things, but at closer inspection reveals the complexity of it all. But Justice of that Tarot card is not definite, since it's of the world. The Tarot's version of Judgement, though, is forever. There may be a reason for the people's legal system preferring the principle of justice to that of judgment.
When the Tarot Judgement card relates to a person, it means that he or she is very judgmental and not inclined to change his or her mind about it. In the eyes of somebody with that characteristic, few people pass. When the Tarot Judgement card relates to an event, it means that a final judgment will arrive and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Judgment Day is a spectacular vision, which has inspired many artists through the centuries, especially in the long period when the church was their richest and most frequent client. Here are some of the paintings on the theme. Click on them to see larger images - and you want to do that, because these are scenes surpassing anything Hollywood manages even with the biggest budget.
The Last Judgment, by Stefan Lochner c. 1435. This painting is made in a style that is quite Medieval, where the sizes of the figures indicate their importance. Notice that the entrance to Paradise looks very much like a church, whereas the entrance to the lower regions is more like a castle of a worldly ruler.
The Last Judgment, by Hans Memling 1473. In this triptych, the separation of souls is done in the middle. The entrance to Paradise is through the cathedral to the left, but the way to Hell is simply to be thrown into the fire on the right. The style of the painting is still quite Medieval, with a limited depth of perspective and sizes according to importance. Christ, with the marks of his crucifixion, is heading the event, almost as if involved in vengeance.
The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo 1541. This is part of Michelangelo's decoration of the Sistine Chapel. Here, Christ acts on his own, involved in the actual deed, with Mary as a grieving witness. He's not significally bigger than the other, but holds center stage. It's not altogether clear who goes to heaven and who to Hell. Everyone seems to suffer. Michelangelo focuses on the tragedy of it all, whatever justice might dictate.
A Vision of the Last Judgment, by William Blake 1808. Blake's image is that of the spectacle in itself, regardless of right and wrong. Christ at the top is like a statue, passive as if as much a victim as everybody else. At the left, people go up towards Heaven, at the left they go down towards Hell. The whole picture becomes a clockwise circular movement. Who's to say what's right or wrong? Blake just marvels at the glory of it all.
A. E. Waite's Texts
About the Tarot Judgement Card
20. The Last judgment [Judgement]. I have spoken of this symbol already, the form of which is essentially invariable, even in the Etteilla set. An angel sounds his trumpet per sepulchra regionum, and the dead arise. It matters little that Etteilla omits the angel, or that Dr. Papus substitutes a ridiculous figure, which is, however, in consonance with the general motive of that Tarot set which accompanies his latest work. Before rejecting the transparent interpretation of the symbolism which is conveyed by the name of the card and by the picture which it presents to the eye, we should feel very sure of our ground. On the surface, at least, it is and can be only the resurrection of that triad - father, mother, child-whom we have met with already in the eighth card. M. Bourgeat hazards the suggestion that esoterically it is the symbol of evolution - of which it carries none of the signs. Others say that it signifies renewal, which is obvious enough; that it is the triad of human life; that it is the "generative force of the earth... and eternal life." Court de Gebelin makes himself impossible as usual, and points out that if the grave-stones were removed it could be accepted as a symbol of creation.
The Inner Symbolism of the Tarot Judgement Card
I have said that this symbol is essentially invariable in all Tarot sets, or at least the variations do not alter its character. The great angel is here encompassed by clouds, but he blows his bannered trumpet, and the cross as usual is displayed on the banner. The dead are rising from their tombs - a woman on the right, a man on the left hand, and between them their child, whose back is turned. But in this card there are more than three who are restored, and it has been thought worth while to make this variation as illustrating the insufficiency of current explanations. It should be noted that all the figures are as one in the wonder, adoration and ecstacy expressed by their attitudes. It is the card which registers the accomplishment of the great work of transformation in answer to the summons of the Supernal - which summons is heard and answered from within.
Herein is the intimation of a significance which cannot well be carried further in the present place. What is that within us which does sound a trumpet and all that is lower in our nature rises in response - almost in a moment, almost in the twinkling of an eye? Let the card continue to depict, for those who can see no further, the Last judgment and the resurrection in the natural body; but let those who have inward eyes look and discover therewith. They will understand that it has been called truly in the past a card of eternal life, and for this reason it may be compared with that which passes under the name of Temperance.
Divinatory Meaning of the Tarot Judgement Card
Change of position, renewal, outcome. Another account specifies total loss though lawsuit. Reversed: Weakness, pusillanimity, simplicity; also deliberation, decision, sentence.
The Tarot Major Arcana
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
- The Fool