Card sequence: Star, Moon, Sun in the Tarot & some discussions on the Minchiate


Card sequence: Star, Moon, Sun

One of the earliest Greek philosophers was Anaximander, of which it is said that he had Babylonian influence, especially with regards to his proposed astronomy.

Though he was quite unique and influential in his proposals, it is here his celestial hierarchies which are of import, for, like the Tarot, he orders the celestial universe in the sequence of the Stars, the Moon and the Sun.

Though the sequence has puzzled various later (and modern) interpreters, if one looks at the sky and reflects on the 'quantity' of apparent light, then the order emerges quite naturally. In addition, pebble-sized meteorites, at least reportedly found, could be accounted for as fallen stars (though this is probably more its possible ante-Anaximander Babylonian genesis).

Here, through this quite early astronomical consideration with possible later Gnostic influence, the Tarot order of the increase of Light is likewise depicted.

It is also worthwhile reflecting on some early Babylonian 'boundary' stones (to my mind, more remniscent of central umphalos-type stones), which depict images of a Star, the Moon and the Sun in precisely this order.


the only thing I can contribute to that is my personal correspondence´s chart concerning the elements :
earth / earth,
air / stars,
fire / sun,
water / moon,
ether / the void.


I'd like to see the quote on Anaximander.

Still, if we relate the order of the trumps XVII to XIX to Renaissance cosmology, as was done often with regard to the Mantegna-order of group A/41 to 48, then the argument of the 'quantity' of light seems to indicate at least a counter-statement to accepted astronomy/astrology of the time, which appointed the stars to the Octava Spera - also an old gnostic notion. A/50, prima causa, depicts the same order.

Others have reasoned that the short version-cosmology of the Tarot combined with the law of polarity may have led to interpret XVII as sphere of heaven (beyond the four elements) with Moon and Sun as heavenly yin-yang-pair. Maybe; maybe not.

Since the order of Star, Moon, Sun never has changed in any given order of the early Tarot, it seems to be having taken for granted. It was obviously found feeling (or known) right. So we might have to ask whether or not there are any other Renaissance-related documents indicating this unquestioned order.

However, there may be indications that the apocalyptic tradition, which was known and spiritually immediatly conneting with wide areas of society, may have helped to shape this order.

It was Bob O'Neill who in his card-interpretations has intensely researched this tradition in relation to the trumps, but - as far as I can see - only regarding the single cards, not the series.

Now, there is indeed precisely this order to be found in Revelation 6:12-13: When the end of the comos comes, three signs will make the earth to be frightened to death, especially the powerfull, the kings and the rich: First, the sun blackens; second, the Moon redens; third, the stars fall down to earth.

So I would suggest, it was the apocalyptic order of signs of the coming end right before resurrection (trump XX!) that influened the Tarot-order of trumps XVII to XIX.


Have read through this does seem that the cards going in the order star, moon, sun is a reverse perhaps because they represent increasing light toward achievement of a goal, or sequence in opposed to the apocalyptic reversal toward darkness with sun going out first...Of course, I always like O'Neill's I add his discussion here of The Heavens, where he basically says the same thing about the two differing orders:



Also, jmd, when you refered to gnostic influence, were you talking about star, moon, sun....birth, death, rebirth sequence...since the moon carries that murkiness and darkness about it?



Yatima said:
I'd like to see the quote on Anaximander.

I haven't a direct quote from Anaximander, but in "In Alien Wisdom : The Limits of Hellenization", Arnoldo Momigliano writes [italics mine]:

'Those who have maintained that Pherecydes of Syros, Anaximander, Heraclitus and even Empedocles derived some of their doctrines from Persia have not always been aware that the political situation was favourable to such contacts. But this cannot be said of Professor M. L. West, the latest supporter of the Iranian origins of Greek philosophy. He certainly knows that if there was a time in which the Magi could export their theories to a Greek world ready to listen, it was the second half of the sixth century BC. It is undeniably tempting to explain certain features of early Greek philosophy by Iranian influences. The sudden elevation of Time to a primeval god in Pherecydes, the identification of Fire with Justice in Heraclitus, Anaximander's astronomy placing the stars nearer to the Earth than the moon, these and other ideas immediately call to mind theories which we have been taught to consider Zoroastrian, or at any rate Persian, or at least Oriental.'



Great reference, Kwaw! Thank you...terri


Thank you kwaw for the interesting reference; and terri for your suggestion on the reversed apocalyptic order in the Tarot.

I still think if someone wanted to break the astronomical/astrological order, one must have had a good reason. Why should one accept Anaximander's order when a modern enhanced and sophisticated system was at hands and traditionally accepted. So, are there other possible reasons, except for cosmology, to change this order, and are there any other examples for such a change?

Indeed, the neerest we came to the Tarot-order of trumps XVII to XIX seems to be the Revelation-order of the apocalyptic breakdown of the cosmos, but - as terry has noted - presented exactly reversed in the Tarot.

If we accept the idea of an apocalyptic influence (which in general for the last section of trumps was extensively demonstrated by O'Neill) this could indeed be a hint for another, a second (or third...) layer directing this change. And, yes, this could indicate a clear statement, very different to the apocalyptic darkness of the Revelation-text and, therefore, this would manifest a threefold vector of increasing light towards the eschatological end in XX and XXI.

If so, still, there remains a mystery of obviously deliberately broken 'standard' order. Incidently, there are many such broken orders in the Tarot. E.g., the elevation of Temperance between Death and Devil in Dummett C vs. A & B, or the exchangability of World and Angel in A and C and even the promotion of Justice between them in B.

Yet, there is a certain other 'symmetry -break' that seems to be intimately connected with that of Star, Moon and Sun: the triplet of Death, Devil and Tower!

I do view these two anomalies more tentatevely than theoretically ascertained as an organic whole:

1) All six card somehow have been connected in early times - at least in Dummett A and B. And the Steel-order is - to say the least - one of the earliest or even the earliest, genuine statement on the order of the trumps. They seem to form a stable substructure of the tarot.

2) Nevertheless, as the Minchiate-order demonstrates, they belong together as a 3 to 3 structure: the Minchate inserted its additional elements, zodiacal signs and virtues precisely between Death, Devil, Tower on the one side and Star, Moon and Sun on the other side.

3) There are many Renaissance-depictions of both of the triplets, but all of them come together in the pictorial apocalyptic tradition - this can be seen extensively and convincingly at O'Neill's library ( Most interstingly, there are apocalyptic depictions of all six trumps: under the reign of Stars, Moon and Sun, Death walkes through a landscape approaching a walled town with a falling Tower and Hellmouth behind him.

4) Now, the stunning point is this: If the Tarot would have been interested in a logical order of the dark cards, it would first have shown the Tower (as a sign of the approaching death), then Death and then the Devil (Hellmouth). But actually, it elevated the Tower beyond Devil. On the other side of this 3 to 3 structure the same change takes place, but in revered order: downgrading of the logically third card (Star) to the first position.

5) A kind of mirror-action of symmetry-breaking has taken place. One happens in time: Elevating Tower to third position; the other happens in space: downgrading the Stars to first position.

6) Somehow, although there is no certainty on that, I imagine this double symmetry-break can tell us something. Maybe it is indicating a pairing of the 3 to 3 order: Death with Sun, Devil with Moon, Tower with Star.

7) Now, there are many possible connections beween this or other pairings. But if there is a reason for this mirroring, it could led us to get a glimpse on a possible intention of the order:

a) Death and Sun remainds on the myth of the dying God, be it Osiris, Dionysios or Orpheus. (The Golden Dawn had a black sun on its Death-card).

b) Devil and Moon relats to the Godess of the Mystery-rites of Eleusian or other proveniance and her underground aspect (Persophone) or her Husband (Hades).

c) Tower and Star are connected by the apocalyptical text: Only the stars "fall down" like the tower does; both are symbols of stability: one of illustionary power, the other of the Godess in its dark and high aspects.

So maybe all together this does indicate a kind of neo-Eleusian rising over the apocalyptic layer that caused the reversal of apocalyptic destruction. It would be indicated in the Tower as transformed 'destruction', not an end, but an enlightend future that opens way to the heavens; it would be confirmed by lowering the Star to allow the elevation as increase of light - incidently a hidden message of the reversal of violent apocalypse. Then, indeed, the heavenly duality of divine lights and the subterranian duality of divine darkness and their interaction could have played a role in this whole substructure...


Wonderful post, Yatima! I like the pairing of the two triples!

Have just been getting into the Emerald Table in Meditations on Tarot...and when I read your post I thought...

The above(comes) from the below, and the below from the above- the work of the miracle of One



Yatima said:
Since the order of Star, Moon, Sun never has changed in any given order of the early Tarot, it seems to be having taken for granted. It was obviously found feeling (or known) right. So we might have to ask whether or not there are any other Renaissance-related documents indicating this unquestioned order.

However, there may be indications that the apocalyptic tradition, which was known and spiritually immediatly conneting with wide areas of society, may have helped to shape this order.

So I would suggest, it was the apocalyptic order of signs of the coming end right before resurrection (trump XX!) that influened the Tarot-order of trumps XVII to XIX.

There are, of course, other ways to look at the possible Apocalyptic influence on the cards. But let's start with the hierarchy of illumination.

On one level of meaning, there seems to be good reason for thinking that the Lightning (an early name for the card we usually call the Tower), the Star, Moon, Sun, the Angel, and the World, were intended to show a hierarchy of illumination, or metaphorically, enlightenment, triumphing over the Devil. If we assume that the radiant Angel of the Last Resurrection is brighter than the Sun, and that the World card showed either New Jerusalem (from Chapter 21 of Revelation) or Christ Triumphant, this is certainly intelligible. However, it fails to provide a literal layer of meaning for the design of the cards, their other subject matter and their sequence in terms of that subject matter. Why is the lightning striking a tower? Is it just a conventional lightning rod, which could be replaced by a tree for example? Why do various Star cards seem to indicate a reference to Jesus? Was the insertion of Justice into the sequence, or the switch of the Angel and World cards, done by someone who didn't see the hierarchy of illumination?

Astrology and cosmology have been repeatedly suggested as the literal significance. However, it appears that despite many years of looking, no one can find a good cosmological or astrological basis for the Star (singular), Moon, Sun sequence, or their place in the larger Tarot trump cycle. Another possible source might be Genesis 1:16, in which the order of celestial lights is listed as sun, moon, and stars. However, the Tarot card was never known as Stars (plural), which is a crucial point commonly overlooked. (For a recent example of this problem, see O'Neill's 2004 essay on Dante, where he mistakenly states that each book of the Commedia ends in the word "Star", making a vaguely implied analogy to the Tarot card. In fact, each book ends in the word "Stars", offering no such analogy.) Astrology and cosmology are the dead-obvious first impression that anyone has when seeing these cards... but that doesn't mean that they are the correct interpretation. They have been twisted and turned for generations, and still no one has made sense of the sequence by relying on those interpretations. Maybe the cards have some other literal interpretation.

The eschatological context you mention is another valuable clue. Looking at the Star card in early decks, we see astrologers and sometimes the Magi, making it clear that the star in question is the one that signaled the birth of Jesus. In Revelation, we find that its author (again, Jesus) referred to HIMSELF as the bright Morning Star -- "I am the Star". (Rev 22:16.) The conventional TdM Star card is very peculiar, but it shows one bright star (the subject of the card) and seven smaller stars. One interpretation of this, again in the eschatological context, refers to both the author and the audience of Revelation. While Jesus' self-proclaimed title from the last page of Revelation is the Star, at the beginning of Revelation he tells St. John that the vision is addressed to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia, and these are shown to John via seven stars, which symbolize the seven angels of the seven churches.

The question with any such oblique interpretation (and most interpretations tend toward the indirect) is WHY?! If someone wanted to indicate Jesus, why not just show Jesus? There are several possibilities for explaining unconventional design, including sloppy, incoherent design, the possibility that there was no coherent design intended, the possibility of a hodge-podge design in which elements from different iconographic traditions were assembled in a mix-n-match hierarchy (perhaps intended to point to the unity of mystical paths to God), and my own favorite, multiple layers of coherent meaning. (Feel free to add your own to the list.) One of the simplest explanations is that the original design was unconventional, and later deck makers didn't understand it and therefore substituted similar images that didn't maintain the original meaning. For example, the meaning of the Hermit card is obscure, but in most Tarot designs we find an allegory of Time, which is perfectly clear and conventional. The Hermit may have been original, but poorly understood and therefore converted into a more conventional companion for the Wheel of Fortune.

My point in all that is to suggest keeping an open mind about the "obvious" association between the Star, Moon, and Sun, and their "obvious" astrological and cosmological interpretation. Something more complex, subtle, and obscure may have been going on in the literal design, while a secondary hierarchy of illumination was overlaid on that literal design. The STANDARD for medieval exegesis was FOUR well-defined layers of meaning to Scripture, as well as religious art and literature, so looking for multiple layers of meaning is not that far fetched. In that case, it may be that there is no connection, on the literal level, between the Star on one hand, and the Moon and Sun on the other. Thinking outside the obvious constraints may provide some otherwise invisible meaning to the sequence.

As an example, let's look at a particular deck, its iconography and sequence. In the TdM design, every third card (at least in the lower ranked cards) appears to be a moral triumph of some kind. There are two commoners triumphed over by a religious figure, two monarchs triumphed over by a religious figure, two victories (in love and war) triumphed over by a virtue, two hardships (asceticism and Fortune) triumphed over by a virtue, and two examples of mortality (execution and Death) triumphed over by a virtue. If there is significance to that triptych pattern (see Tom Little's site for a detailed presentation of this "Triadic Structure") then we would expect some commonalty between the Devil and Tower, and likewise between the Moon and Sun, while the Star and Judgement are of a different kind. Given that presupposition, can we make sense of the two eschatological triptychs?

Chapter 20 of Revelation deals with the Millennium and its aftermath, the final triumphs of Christ over the Devil and Death, while Chapter 21 deals with the New World or New Jerusalem, the resurrected City of God. The Devil is the lowest-ranking card of these two tritypchs, and the Last Resurrection is the highest, suggesting the triumphs described in Chapter 20.

"When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle... But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire... The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire." Revelation 20:7-14. If the Star, in an eschatological context, refers to Christ, then the first triptych makes sense as the triumph over one of the two eschatological adversaries of man and God, while the second triptych makes sense as the the triumph over the second of the final adversaries. Why is mortal life and thereby death symbolized by the Moon and Sun? Certainly they are conventional symbols of Time, and the triumph of eternal life over death is also the triumph of Eternity over Time, but there is a more direct source for the motif. "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband". (Rev 21:2.) "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." (Rev 21:23.)

So, here we have a very different interpretation of the three celestial cards. The Devil and Lightning cards represent the devil and fire from heaven of Rev. 20:7-14, and the Star is an indirect reference to Jesus "I am the Star" Christ. The Moon and Sun cards represent the moon and sun from Rev. 21:23, and the Judgement card is also an indirect reference to Jesus "I am the Resurrection" Christ, as well as showing the triumph of Eternity over Time. Another reason why these two Christ cards must have only indirect references to Christ's triumphs is that the highest card, the World, is a very direct and almost conventional illustration of Christ Triumphant, (from Rev 5:5-6 and Mt 27:27-29). The first two Christ cards represent only his eschatological triumphs, while the World card represents him and the ultimate triumph of God directly.

(How's that, Jean-Michel -- something a bit different?)

Best regards,