Passing Judgement

A guide to understanding and reading Judgement in tarot

Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com.

If you pull the Judgement card in a tarot reading, you’re not going to Tarot Jail, we promise. Judgement is a card that’s rather misunderstood, possibly because of its heavily Christianized traditional artwork. We promise it’s not a card about punishment!

Let’s explore Judgement for a while:

  • The meaning and message of Judgement (it’s not what you think)
  • Building a relationship with Judgment and understanding its connections
  • Working with Judgement in a reading

So put the gavel away and read on.

When studying tarot, it’s important to acquire and maintain knowledge of symbols and their use in tarot artwork. Image courtesy of Astrid Tarot.

You keep using the word “judgement.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

Well… it might. You see, this card’s original inspiration was the Resurrection, as part of Revelations. Now, if you don’t have a Christian or Christian Mythology background, you won’t necessarily be familiar with this. You can get an idea of it by looking at the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith artwork for the card.

Traditional Judgement artwork depicts an archangel Gabriel blowing his trumpet at the end of the world, and the resurrected dead rising from their graves for final judgement-- in this case, whether they are destined for heaven or hell, redemption or damnation. Their different ages and genders symbolize that none shall be spared-- all shall be presented to God and Judged. The white flag with the red cross harkens back to St. George, patron saint of England.

So with such apocalyptic leanings, you might think that Judgement indicates that “the end is nigh” and you should throw up your hands in despair. But that’s not true! Judgement is actually a very loving card.

Judgement is a card of revelation, return, and yes, reckoning. But Judgement is not punishment! This is not about suffering, but rather about taking stock of yourself and working to forgive yourself. This doesn’t mean that you give yourself a pass on any terrible things that you did, but rather that you should look to where karma balanced that out and express gratitude for the lesson. If imbalance exists, do what is needed to repair it.

There’s another aspect to Judgement, and that’s forgiveness and redemption. It asks for you to be open and raw, vulnerable, and to truly love yourself and own your power. Let go of the past, and move forward into the future.

This may be a call to do some Shadow Work, either on your own or with a therapist. Remember also that when you do the work and are ready to rise, you lift others up too.

What about Judgement Reversed? Card reversals aren’t necessarily the opposite of their upright meanings. In the case of Judgement, it’s usually a signal that you’ve been doing what you probably originally thought this card meant-- silently (or not) viciously judging others, or even yourself. You’ve found lack, or jealousy, and critical commentary to accompany it in your head and mouth.

If Judgement is reversed in your reading, watch your thoughts and words, and examine your feelings. Figure out where the nastiness is stemming from and fix it.

In this image of the Judgement card, a spotlight like a great eye is focused on a failing human figure. There are no graves, no angels, no trumpets. What elements of Judgement’s meaning does this foreground? Image courtesy of collmedoc on Newgrounds.

Accepting Judgement for what it is

As we said earlier, the traditional artwork and symbolism in the Judgement card is Christianized. To that end, it is worth it to read-- or re-read-- the Christian texts that feature the Resurrection of Christ and Revelations. It will help you to understand the symbolism in the artwork, but also give you a better understanding of what it means to be re-awakened and transformed by divine love.

It’s also a good idea to seek out other stories of resurrection and redemption and forgiveness from other world religions. We suggest reading about Osiris’s death and Odin’s hanging on the tree. Other stories that shed light on these themes include Persephone and Hades, Cerridwen, and Achilles. Reading sacred texts about the same themes in the tarot card you study is always a good way to expand your relationship and understanding of the card.

The works of Carl Jung (psychoanalyst) and Joseph Campbell (mythology professor) always shed light on tarot themes, especially the archetypes featured in the major arcana. If reading the whole tome seems formidable, flick through the index at the back and study the pages you need.

If you’ve been reading our series, you know we’re fans of tarot journaling. Keeping a journal exploring each card and recording your readings helps you to see your progress, and also gives you a resource for reaching back when you’re stumped in another reading.

Questions to explore in your tarot journal:

  • How do I interpret the artwork? What is the same or different about my tarot deck’s artwork versus traditional RWS? How does that change my perception of Judgement? If there are elements of the traditional artwork, how are they incorporated into the new artwork, and do they retain their original meanings? If your deck is themed, how does Judgement fit into the theme?
  • What stories of redemption, resurrection, or karma have I read? What stories with these themes/lessons exist in my life? How are the two connected?
  • Where have I judged myself? Others? From where did this judgement or criticism stem?
  • How do I understand good/bad, good/evil, acceptable/not?
  • Where is the difference between judgement and boundaries? How do judgement and discernment relate?
  • Where do I need to forgive myself? What can I do to work on forgiving myself? Is this hard or easy for me to do, and why?
  • Where do I need to forgive others? How can I work on this? Is this hard or easy?
  • Is there anyone for whom I do not have forgiveness? Why?
  • Why does judgement typically equal punishment for society?

If you like to meditate, use the Judgement card as your visual guide for a meditation or two. Record your experiences in your tarot journal. If you’re an artist or crafty, create your own visual representation of Judgement-- or even your own Judgement tarot card. Journal about the experience and your reasons for choosing each element of the artwork.

Exploring other tarot deck interpretations of Judgement will expand your understanding of its symbolism and meaning. Image courtesy of Uncaged Tarot.

Get rid of the gavel-- Judgement in a reading

So now that you’ve gotten better at understanding the nature and meaning of Judgement, practice working with it in a reading. We’ll work through one for you, to give you inspiration, and then we’ll give you one to work through yourself. We’ll also add some food for thought along the way.

Let’s say that you’re going through a period where you just aren’t happy. You’re not depressed, but just not...Happy. You decide to ask the cards what’s up, and get to shuffling. As you pull each card, you ask a question. Here are you results:

Q: What has happened to me? Why am I not happy?

A: Ace of Wands, Reversed. Blockages, stunted beginnings, hesitancy, lack of passion, lack of direction

Q: What should I do about it? What can I do about it?

A: Judgement. Forgiveness, karmic balance, resurrection, revelation

Q: Where do I start?

A: Queen of Cups. A person with feminine energy who is compassionate and is emotionally stable.

If we put the pieces of the puzzle together, we get a story. Something has happened that has caused you to lose your spark. To get it back, you need to dig deep and get after that shadow work. You can start by either embodying the Queen of Cups in your life, or by seeking out someone who can help show you how to heal yourself. It might be time to engage a therapist or spiritual leader for assistance in accomplishing this.

Questions for you to consider, and perhaps answer in the comments below: How would the reading change if Judgement and the Ace of Wands switched places? How would the advice change if Judgement was upright? What else could the Queen of Wands mean?

Now we’ll look at a reading for you to try on your own. Leave your interpretation in the comments below. (Be kind to each other!)

Now let’s say that you’ve had a stroke of great luck, perhaps unusually so, and you suspect that divine forces are at work. You pull your favorite tarot deck (because it’s totally okay to as many as speak to you-- hey, would you like us to do an article on how to choose a deck?) and begin shuffling. When you feel that it’s time to stop, you pull a card as you ask a question. Here are you results:

Q: What have I done to deserve such good things?

A: Judgement

Q: How can I best express my gratitude?

A: The Star

Q: Is there anything else I should do/know?

A: 6 of Pentacles

Think about what each card means, and how it interacts with the question and situation. Remember that whenever major arcana cards show up, it’s BIG ENERGY and a message that shouldn’t be ignored! Think about the artwork, and how the cards interact with each other, and where they fall in the tarot deck.

Leave us your answers in the comments, or feel free to journal them privately. Ask questions, and stay open-minded!

For extra tarot practice, try drawing two cards and journaling about their combination and what it might mean. Image courtesy of Major Arcana Tarot Cards Meanings.

As you develop your relationship with Judgement, embrace its loving energy in your life and grow with it. Be sure to check out the other articles in this series, and leave us ideas for more!

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Jean Linder

Jean Linder is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA.
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