TAROT MEANINGS IN THE DC UNIVERSE
Written by: Kelly Gaines
For those mystified by the world of psychic readings, tarot cards are a familiar sight. Though they began as playing cards in the 1400s, the tarot is a staple of modern divination. A reader draws cards to comment on the unseen elements of a person’s life. Each card carries its own meaning and takes on different aspects of itself based on the cards that accompany it within the reading. A traditional tarot deck holds 78 cards, 22 of which make up the Major Arcana. These 22 cards feature the core elements and characters of tarot. Strangely enough, the meanings of the Major Arcana cards parallel journeys we often see in comic books. Cards like ‘The Fool’ and ‘The Devil’ carry their own stories for tarot readers, just as comic book fans know what ideas and values their favorite characters symbolize. By comparing Major Arcana cards to icons of the DC universe, it is possible to develop a base understanding of the tarot journey and discover just where traces of the tarot play out in modern comics.
*Important note: There are existing tarot decks featuring DC characters. This article is NOT based on any of them, nor does it propose that there is any sole correct matching of characters to cards. It is a collection of personally preferred pairings and thoughts.
(0) The Fool: Shazam!
The Fool indicates a leap of faith. It is a card of impulse, acting without thinking, inexperience, and new beginnings. Shazam is a fantastic representation of The Fool. As a young boy in a hero’s body, Billy is taking a great risk. Luckily, what he lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm. The downside of The Fool is a tendency to act without thinking things through. The card indicates someone who gives in too quickly to impulses and does not pay attention to potential consequences. These qualities are typical of adolescents like Billy Batson. While his transformation into Shazam! is full of great potential, the warning of The Fool rings true. He must be wary of his impulses and mindful of the consequences unchecked power can bring.
(1) The Magician: Zatanna
The Magician is a card of creativity, showmanship, and confidence. It can also represent transformation, both outward and within. As one of DC’s most talented magicians, Zatanna channels the spirit of this card in full. She’s a natural showman, confident in her craft, and able to use magic in a positive light for those around her. By speaking words backward, Zatanna can transform the physical world. Her faith in her own abilities is what makes her spells as effective as they are. Fortunately, Zatanna uses her magic for good. The reverse of The Magician is a message of confusion, ill intent, and disruptive communication. Skills go to waste when they are used negatively and fail to bloom to their full potential when clouded by a lack of confidence. If we cannot trust in ourselves, we cannot transform the world positively.
(2) The High Priestess: Raven
The High Priestess is patient and intuitive. It is a card that encourages spiritual guidance, internal reflection, and careful action. As a powerful Titan with dark roots, Raven utilizes inner reflection to keep her powers in check. We often see depictions of Raven meditating and chanting. This fixation on her powers is crucial for maintaining self-control. Raven embraces the message of the High Priestess by trying to achieve spiritual balance to combat the darkness within herself. Raven understands how detrimental a loss of control can be. Like The High Priestess, she finds clarity in patience and introspection.
(3) The Empress: Hippolyta
There is no better fit for The Empress than the Queen of the Amazons. As Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta embodies the feminine spirit of fertility, creation, and warmth. The Empress is a card of motherhood and pregnancy, something Hippolyta longed for so truly that she was willing to break her own rules to conceive Diana. Hippolyta understands the concepts of feminine power and motherly love as the ruler of Themyscira. Additionally, the reverse of The Empress can signal difficult pregnancies or stagnation. Hippolyta governs an island that is truly stagnant in time, making her a perfect fit for both indications of this card.
(4) The Emperor: Aquaman
The Emperor is a card of leadership, control, fatherhood, and discipline. Aquaman’s father is a key part of his character’s foundation. Arthur has royal blood, but his father is an ordinary man with a good head on his shoulders. Through his father’s instruction and guidance, Arthur is inspired to become a good king and worthy ruler. The Emperor card warns or the dangers of power. It can serve as a reminder to use control justly and avoid manipulating those who rely on you. Aquaman’s story speaks to these themes as he navigates the complexities of leadership. Fortunately, his life on the surface and influence of his father give him a grounded background, making Aquaman a natural leader.
(5) The Hierophant: Alfred Pennyworth
The Hierophant values commitment, advice, tradition, and education. When Alfred Pennyworth takes over raising Bruce Wayne in the wake of tragedy, he proves his commitment to the Wayne family. Bruce struggles through the darkness of Gotham with Alfred as the still voice of reason, offering guidance and healing wounds to the best of his ability. Sadly, Alfred often experiences the reverse of The Hierophant as well. Negatively, The Hierophant can mean a breakdown of family values and an inability to give wise advice. Alfred supports Bruce’s mission as Batman, but often with underlying dismay at the prospects for Bruce’s future. He sees the cracks in Bruce and is fully aware that Batman stands in the way of a real Wayne family ever existing in Gotham again.
(6) The Lovers: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn
The Lovers is the card of union, partnership, romance, and passion. The card also indicates that opposites attract, which is very much the case for Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Their relationship develops from a genuine bond between two souls. Though their personalities may be very different, there is a natural connection between these two. Harley also connects deeply to the negative side of The Lovers. The Lovers in reverse indicates difficult or unfair partnerships, emotional distance, and brokenness- all of which Harley has tried to heal from after her relationship with the Joker. Luckily, her bond with Ivy is a bright spot in Harley’s story. However defined or undefined their relationship is, they are truly connected on an internal level.
(7) The Chariot: Dick Grayson
Dick Grayson is all about drive. From his partnership with Batman, to leading the Teen Titans to becoming, Nightwing, Grayson is a man of action. The Chariot is of the same spirit. It indicates forward movement, hard work, responsibility, and focus. When drawn, the Chariot is a reminder that without hard work, there is no success. In reverse, The Chariot warns that lack of direction and self-doubt will keep us from reaching our full potential. Dick Grayson maintains his focus and works tirelessly to be a good leader and positive influence in the world, all of which makes him a true Chariot.
(8) Strength: Big Barda
This card indicates strength on multiple levels. Rather than just commenting on someone’s physical prowess, Strength can signal an abundance of mental and emotional fortitude as well. We see this theme play out beautifully in Big Barda. Barda has escaped the hellscape of Apokolips, fought bravely alongside DC’s greatest heroes, and serves as a supportive partner and wife to Mister Miracle. Barda is physically tough, but her ability to face hardships with self-assured clarity is what makes her a true pillar of strength. Often, she is Mister Miracle’s rock when the demons of their past begin to resurface. Their former home, Apokolips, is a strong example of this card’s reverse. Strength in reverse indicates hedonism, lack of self-control, and overpowering. Ironically, it is through using the positives of strength that we can overcome the negatives of strength, a truth that Barda has exemplified in many of her adventures.
(9) The Hermit: The Question
The Hermit represents a withdraw from society and thoughtful isolation. It is a card of introspection, hesitation, and loneliness. DC’s top conspiracy theorist, The Question, is well versed in The Hermit’s journey. The Question takes on a faceless identity to disconnect from the rest of the world. He spends his time pondering, searching for clues to answer questions others have not thought to ask. Though his aversion to connection keeps him from making many friends, The Question knows the value of solitude and thoughtful isolation. He uses both to observe the world as it turns and avoid distractions that may pull others from their path.
(10) The Wheel of Fortune: Two-Face
The Wheel of Fortune is hard to pin down. While it is a sign of good luck in many readings, the message of the wheel is one of uncertainty. Just as the wheel may spin in your favor for the moment, eventually it will spin the other way. The Wheel of Fortune is a reminder that nothing is permanent. The inevitability of change and unpredictability of life are two things Batman villain Two-Face grapples with. He embraces the random in a sinister way, allowing the fate of his victims to hinge on the flip of a coin. Just like the wheel of fortune, the coin can go one way or another, often without the input of the person affected by the swing. Two-Face is far more menacing than the card’s message, but his emphasis on dumb luck goes hand in hand with the message of the wheel.
(11) Justice: Wonder Woman
There are a lot of DC characters that hold justice to the highest value. When it comes to Justice in the tarot, Wonder Woman’s moral code aligns seamlessly with the card’s message. Justice is the card of fairness, balance, and responsibility. Wonder Woman holds these virtues close to her heart as both a leader and a friend. She is mindful of her responsibility to serve others and strives to do so in a way that is calculated and fair. A paragon of both discipline and mercy, she believes that people should get what they deserve- no more, no less. Moral struggles we’ve seen Wonder Woman deal with echo the warnings of Justice in reverse. When negative, Justice suggests someone who is hiding from their actions, denying accountability, being dishonest, or disrupting the balance of their community. Wonder Woman uses her power to combat these moral failings. In true fairness, she holds herself to the same standards she holds others. Diana fights bravely to make herself and the world better.
(12) The Hanged Man: Bruce Wayne
The Hanged Man is a card of both sacrifice and martyrdom. It symbolizes being stuck in a painful place and feeling as though you cannot depart from your pain. It is important to note that the card implores the reader to remember the concept of choice. Wherever they feel they have to stay, whether it is a necessary sacrifice or self-martyrdom, it is a choice. The Hanged Man keeps himself strung up, even if he feels someone else has put him there. This card can also symbolize being hung up on an event or person from your past and needing to face those lingering emotions. The Hanged man suggests that a person is still coping with something that has come and gone to the extent that they are atoning for it. Bruce Wayne is truly a hanged man. The death of his parents is such a devastating wound, Bruce is unable to let go and allows it to become a dictating part of who he is. By choice, he commits himself a life of danger and loneliness in the interest of helping others. Bruce Wayne does not have to be Batman. There is no otherworldly force keeping him in the cape. He is, in a sense, his own hostage. Bruce sacrifices so much of himself for the people of Gotham but does so of his own free will.
(13) Death: Swamp Thing
There is no more feared tarot card than Death, yet it does not deserve its blackened reputation. Death signifies life, transformation, rebirth, and the laws of nature. Though it is the card of endings, the message of Death is that good will come and life will bloom from the space left behind by the things we’ve lost. Swamp Thing is a character rooted in transformation. His existence itself is a story of life after death. Swamp Thing is a transformation of Alec Holland following the horrific events that threatened to take his life. As Swamp Thing, Alec is deeply connected to the life force within the earth. He is able to control the natural world and share lifegiving elements when needed. Swamp Thing’s story reminds us of an important aspect of the Death card. Alec is only able to reach his full potential as Swamp Thing after letting go of who, and what, he was before. Death reminds us to let go and give ourselves the space to rise from the ashes.
(14) Temperance: Lois Lane
Temperance is a card of balance, patience, and moderation. Much like Temperance, Lois Lane is the very essence of balance in the DC universe. To write Lois off as a hero’s love interest does an incredible disservice to the strength of her character. Lois is an ordinary human surrounded by individuals with exceptional superhuman abilities. Despite this, she remains evenly determined and holds her own with wisdom and clarity. She brings balance to Superman’s life, helping to keep him connected to the truths of everyday people. She manages to navigate unimaginable obstacles by thinking clearly. Whatever horrors the villains of DC conjure, Lois Lane maintains her balance and helps Clark maintain his.
(15) The Devil: Mister Miracle
The Devil is a complex card. Often negative, it suggests addiction and bondage. When the Devil is drawn, it indicates someone who is trapped by their actions and repeating unhealthy patterns. It can also mean that someone’s relationships are draining their light and holding them hostage. The Devil keeps us going in circles. Mister Miracle, also known as Scott Free, is a natural comparison to this card. As the world’s best escape artist, Scott is no stranger to being bound and trapped. He escapes his life on Apokolips and works against his training to become a positive force in the world. Time and time again, Scott can break free of restraints, both mental and physical, proving that he is stronger than the limitations that bind him.
(16) The Tower: The Joker
If there is a card in the Tarot deck to be wary of, it is The Tower. The Tower is a herald of chaos, destruction, unexpected upheaval, and devastating change. When it appears in a reading, The Tower indicates that something bad is coming and loss is imminent. In the world of DC, The Joker is a herald of the same chaos and devastation. In every incarnation, the Joker is driven by a sadistic love of destruction. He seeks to create mental, emotional, and physical chaos at random, actively ripping apart lives to satisfy unpredictable whims. Just as Batman cannot foresee the Joker’s moves, we cannot always see tragedy coming. Instead, we have to accept our “one bad days” and avoid using them as an excuse to become destructive people. Just as the Joker of The Killing Joke tries to prove that a single terrible day can bring out the evil in a person, The Tower represents these bad days, reminding us that tragedy cannot change the quality of our character without our consent.
(17) The Star: Barbara Gordon
Barbara Gordon has gone through a lot. Paralysis, PTSD, and forging a new identity as Oracle seem like obstacles that would dim someone’s light. Maybe someone’s, but not Barbara Gordon’s. The Star is a card of hope. When drawn, it reminds us that it is always darkest before the dawn. The difficult moments of our past should not make us lose sight of great potential for good. The star brings inspiration, healing, and opportunities for happiness., just as Barbara does for the people of Gotham. Even wheelchair-bound and scarred, Barbara refused to let herself be taken by the darkness. Her faith in herself and boundless hope are what makes Barbara such an admirable hero. Just like The Star, Barbara Gordon is a symbol of resilient hope and a reminder that it is always possible to shine.
(18) The Moon: Catwoman
The Moon is a card of secrecy, disruption, illusion, and deception- all of which are Catwoman’s tools of the trade. As a thief with anti-hero tendencies, it’s hard to pin down exactly who Selina Kyle is and what she stands for. She seems to remain under a cloud of mystery. She certainly is not evil, but her motivations are fluid, shifting day by day to serve her ends. When The Moon appears, it is an indication that not all is as it seems, which is certainly the case for those who venture close to Catwoman.
(19) The Sun: Superman
The Sun is arguably the best omen of The Tarot. It is the card of success, happiness, marriage, and greater things. Superman is a perfect example of this celestial gift. The positivity of his presence in the DC universe only rivals the positivity of his presence in modern culture. Superman is an indicator of greatness, a reminder of morality, and an image of strength. Just as those he saves are relieved to see him fly in, the arrival of The Sun means help has arrived and the dark times are over. Superman’s impact inspired a genre of heroes, bringing joy and inspiration to millions around the globe. In many ways, Superman DC’s own personal sun.
(20) Judgment: Amanda Waller
Judgment is a difficult card. It indicates clear decision making, transition, and the end of an era. For these reasons, Amanda Waller is an excellent example of what Judgement means. Her methods are often questionable, but at heart, Waller is trying to prepare the world for the end of an era – that era being the peaceful guardianship of The Justice League. Amanda Waller has gone to impeccable lengths to prepare for the possibility of the Justice League turning on the civilian population. Her preparations are often reprehensible, but Waller’s dedication to planning guarantees the world a fighting chance in the event of a superhuman revolt. Judgment reminds us that the end is coming, and we will be accountable for the choices we have made. Amanda Waller is aware of this and takes steps to make sure humanity won’t flounder in the end.
(21) The World: The Flash
The World is a card of success and indicates the completion of a cycle. When The World is drawn, it suggests that the effort and movement an individual has made toward their goals has paid off. Their current cycle has ended successfully, and the next journey can begin. The Flashes of DC are perfect mirrors of The World. They are individual parts of a cycle, experiencing the call to arms that comes with the power of the “speed force” and doing their best to live through their chapter to its completion. Though this card is technically an indication of an end, it is an end achieved by fulfilling individual potential. Each of DC’s speedsters does their best to make an impact as The Flash, and when the time comes to step down, they do so having earned the love and respect of their teammates and friends.
Do you know other DC characters that would be a good fit for any of these cards? Comment below with your picks!