Horizontal and Vertical Orientation: A Study in Contrasts

Parsifal the Scribe
3 min readJan 21, 2023

AUTHOR’S NOTE: More inspiration from Alejandro Jodorowsky.

In The Way of Tarot, Jodorowsky talks about certain trump cards that exhibit a horizontal orientation and thereby symbolize “action in the world,” while others align vertically and emphasize interaction between the plane of Earth and the spiritual (or in some cases, infernal) regions. His representative examples were the Empress and the Pope, which he likened to the “Cross of Matter” with its interpenetrating horizontal and vertical axes. The Empress is “enthusiastically regenerative” (one might say lustfully so) in all mundane matters, while the Pope engages in abstract conversation with a higher power and interprets it for the masses. It struck me that those cards (like the Lover and Judgement) with distinctly “split” upper-and-lower tiers of activity in their design belong to the “vertical” group, while those with a level gaze and no reason to look beyond their own domain are clearly “horizontal.”

I decided to lay out all of the Tarot de Marseille trump cards according to their respective orientation, with the horizontal cards first. Where a judgement call is required, I offer justification for my choices. In practice, these distinctions may be useful in seeking more profound explanations where a rising or falling, multi-level bias exists, and simpler ones when the focus is on a more single-minded, unwavering sense of purpose. It would be particularly interesting when the cards appear in pairs, either reflecting reinforcement of the primary orientation or displaying opposite inclinations. (Another useful analogy from Jodo is that, in a “crossed” pairing, a leading horizontal card “shoulders and balances” [I like the phrase “props up”] a subsequent vertical one, and is “indispensable to its action.”) This paradigm can also be applied to the court cards, in which the upright Valets and Knights are striving to rise above their station, while the seated (and settled) Queens and Kings are only interested in maintaining the status quo; there is little application for it with the TdM “pip” cards so its use would be limited to more scenic decks.

While the Fool is often considered a “holy innocent” abroad in the world, the classical image of a destitute vagabond suggests that he has no noble calling or aspiration. While he may be glancing upward, his motion is decidedly lateral. (Horizontal).

The Magician is traditionally seen as a mountebank or trickster, but with one hand raised to the sky and the other lowered toward the ground he is described in esoteric terms as a channel or mediator between worlds. (Vertical)

The veil behind the Papesse identifies her as a guardian of sacred secrets. (Vertical)

The Empress is entirely “of the Earth” in her generative prowess. (Horizontal)

The Emperor is also “of the Earth” in his secular span of control. (Horizontal)

The Pope is a spiritual “go-between” as described above. (Vertical)

The Lover with its presiding angel (or “Cupid”) bridges the vulgar and the divine. (Vertical)

The Chariot epitomizes “action in the world.” (Horizontal)

Justice wields her authority in human matters of law and moral rectitude. (Horizontal)

The Hermit holds his lamp high, representing inspired wisdom from above. (Vertical)

The Wheel of Fortune revolves in a “tethered” way around a fixed hub. (Horizontal)

Strength is another exemplar of “action in the world.” (Horizontal)

The Hanged Man descends from one world into another, and returns. (Vertical)

Death works its symbolic “leveling” on the material plane. (Horizontal)

Temperance is a card of “right action” and harmonious accord in matters of fair dealing. (Horizontal)

The Devil flaunts his dominion over the denizens of the “nether regions.” (Vertical)

The Tower brings down wrath from “on high.” (Vertical)

The Star is a symbolic vessel of supernal Light. (Vertical)

The Moon expresses the distorted vision of profane Light. (Vertical)

The Sun is a purveyor of divine inspiration. (Vertical)

The angel of Judgement summons the worthy and unworthy alike to a final accounting. (Vertical)

The woman in the World is enclosed in a mandorla of leaves and is accompanied by the emblems of the “fixed” signs of the zodiac, thus keying on pragmatic affairs. (Horizontal)

Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.wordpress.com on January 21, 2023.



Parsifal the Scribe

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at www.parsifalswheeldivination.com.