Virtue Is As Virtue Does

. . . or something like that. The uncertainty over which tarot trump card represents which of the four cardinal and three “theological” virtues is a continuing source of on-line debate. As a non-religious person I don’t bother much (or at all) with the Christian virtues in a tarot reading, but I am intrigued by the fact that the pre-Christian Romans had a whopping 24 of them (both civic and personal), each personified by a deity, and I’m going to amuse myself by trying to match the trumps (and also the pips) to them. Some of these are obvious, others are more obscure because I wanted to use all 22 trump cards; where I thought it necessary, I added a brief justification and may offer more later. I’m applying the RWS images to this correlation and the Book of Thoth to some of the card meanings. However, I used the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery for the graphic because of its Neoclassical appearance, even though the visual links aren’t quite as compelling, and I had to bring in two trump cards from the Alchemical 4th Edition (both decks by Robert Place) for secondary correspondences due to the numerical mismatch (24 virtues/22 trumps) Consider this a work-in-progress, so don’t chastise me too strenuously for any incongruities.

(Note that I accidentally swapped the images of the 10 of Cups and 9 of Cups in the graphic layout — the hazards of working with an unfamiliar deck — and haven’t gotten around to correcting the error.)

Copyright Robert M. Place

The primary Roman virtues, both public and private, were:

Abundantia — “abundance, plenty” — the ideal of there being enough food and prosperity for all segments of society. A public virtue.

The World (also the 10 of Cups as “satiation” — utter lack of want)

Auctoritas — “spiritual authority” — the sense of one’s social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria. This was considered to be essential for a magistrate’s ability to enforce law and order.

The Hierophant as a “tool of the State” and the “Emperor’s right arm” (also the 3 of Wands as self-promotion)

Comitas — “humour” — ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.

The Fool as “court jester” and “everyman” (also the 3 of Cups for “friendship”)

Constantia — “perseverance” — military stamina, as well as general mental and physical endurance in the face of hardship.

The Chariot (also the 9 of Wands as “marshaling of forces”)

Clementia — “mercy” — mildness and gentleness, and the ability to set aside previous transgressions.

Temperance (also the 6 of Cups as “well-being, harmony, ease”)

Dignitas — “dignity” — a sense of self-worth, personal self-respect and self-esteem.

The Magician as exalted “messenger of the gods” (also the 4 of Pentacles as “salt-of-the-earth” respectability)

Disciplina — “discipline” — considered essential to military excellence; also connotes adherence to the legal system, and upholding the duties of citizenship.

The Emperor as the paragon of “law-and-order” (also the 5 of Wands as “enforcement”)

Fides — “good faith” — mutual trust and reciprocal dealings in both government and commerce (public affairs), a breach meant legal and religious consequences.

Justice for its sense of fair play (also the 4 of Swords and its Jupiter-in-Libra correspondence)

Firmitas — “tenacity” — strength of mind, and the ability to stick to one’s purpose at hand without wavering.

Strength (also 6 of Swords as “mental acuity”)

Frugalitas — “frugality” — economy and simplicity in lifestyle, want what we must have and not what we need, regardless of one’s material possessions, authority or wants one has, an individual always has a degree of honour. Frugality is to eschew what has no practical use if it is in disuse and if it comes at the expense of the other virtues.

The Hermit (also the 5 of Pentacles as “deprivation”)

Gravitas — “gravity” — a sense of the importance of the matter at hand; responsibility, and being earnest.

Death, as there is nothing more “grave” (also the 8 of Swords as unswerving self-preoccupation)

Honestas — “respectability” — the image and honor that one presents as a respectable member of society.

6 of Wands as public acclaim or “glory” (also the Emperor)

Humanitas — “humanity” — refinement, civilization, learning, and generally being cultured.

The Lovers (also the 4 of Wands as “conviviality”)

Industria — “industriousness” — hard work.

8 of Pentacles as “productivity” (also the Devil due to its Capricorn correspondence)

Innocencia — “selfless” — Roman charity, always give without expectation of recognition, always give while expecting no personal gain, incorruptibility is aversion towards placing all power and influence from public office to increase personal gain in order to enjoy our personal or public life and deprive our community of their health, dignity and our sense of morality, that is an affront to every Roman.

The Hanged Man for its common meaning of “sacrifice” (also the 2 of Cups and its connection with unconditional love)

Laetitia — “Joy, Gladness” — the celebration of thanksgiving, often of the resolution of crisis, a public virtue.

The Empress as the paragon of harmony and beauty (also the 9 of Cups as “happiness”)

Nobilitas — “Nobility” — man of fine appearance, deserving of honor, highly esteemed social rank, and, or, nobility of birth, a public virtue.

The Sun (also the 2 of Wands as elevated position and prosperity)

Justitia — “justice” — sense of moral worth to an action; personified by the goddess Iustitia, the Roman counterpart to the Greek Themis.

Judgement for its moral imperatives (also the 6 of Pentacles for its allusion to generosity and charity)

Pietas — “dutifulness” — more than religious piety; a respect for the natural order: socially, politically, and religiously. Includes ideas of patriotism, fulfillment of pious obligation to the gods, and honoring other human beings, especially in terms of the patron and client relationship, considered essential to an orderly society.

The Wheel of Fortune for its cyclic tautology: “what goes around comes around” (also the 3 of Pentacles as commissioned public works)

Prudentia — “prudence” — foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion.

The Moon for its intuitiveness and the chastity of Diana (also the 9 of Pentacles as self-restraint)

Salubritas — “wholesomeness” — general health and cleanliness, personified in the deity Salus.

The High Priestess as the paragon of purity (also the 10 of Pentacles as domestic orderliness)

Severitas — “sternness” — self-control, considered to be tied directly to the virtue of gravitas.

The Devil, due to the austerity of Saturn-ruled Capricorn (also the 10 of Wands as “oppression”)

Veritas — “truthfulness” — honesty in dealing with others, personified by the goddess Veritas. Veritas, being the mother of Virtus, was considered the root of all virtue; a person living an honest life was bound to be virtuous.

The Star (also the 2 of Swords as “arbitration”)

Virtus — “manliness” — valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. ‘Vir’ is Latin for “man”.

The Tower for its phallic implications (also the 7 of Wands as “valour”)

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

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