They relate to articles in the magazine, but demonstrate some knowledge of the cards too. So, as someone with a deep interest in the Tarot, I wondered - is this just a striking set of images, or could it – like a traditional tarot spread – be offering a message? There are, after all twenty-two major images to choose from. Why select these particular cards?
Here’s my reading of that cover, beginning at the top left:
The eight cards are:
The Tower: Sometimes this card is called The Lightning-Struck Tower, or The House of God.
We know that President-Elect, Donald Trump, has built his own tower. It’s called Trump Tower. The regular Tower card shows a time of seismic events and change. Often when this card appears, something has been repressed or denied for a long time. But it cannot stay submerged. Thoughts erupt from the unconscious, sudden chaotic events manifest in the outside world. The lightning bolt destroys the old order, and represents the possibility of truth, illumination, a ‘light-bulb’ moment. Inflated egos and overweening ambition will be overturned by the primal forces of The Tower.
On the Economist’s Tower, there’s a paper nailed to the door. This references Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, one of the greatest upheavals in European history. If you want to know more about that, Wikipedia can tell you!
It looks like The Economist has gone for the House of God meaning of this dramatic card. Communist forces march on the left of this image, crucifix-bearing Christian forces march on the right. A time of upheaval is here, as the Tower always signifies. Here, it seems to be focused on the tensions between East and West, or Christianity versus secular beliefs.
Judgment: Tarot’s Judgment card represents the biblical Day of Judgment, when the souls of the dead rise up. It symbolises spiritual rebirth, renewal, and conscious awakening. Judgment warns of disillusionment, and sometimes denotes a time of judgment – as in court cases or other legal processes.
On The Economist’s Judgment card, Donald Trump sits on top of the world, literally. He holds an orb and sceptre, like a king, a king of the world. Will he be judged as some kind of emperor or king? Or will he feel disillusioned, as if he’s lost something?
The World: The World is the final major card of the tarot deck. It represents the end of a cycle, a phase of life perhaps – and that can be something as simple as finishing school and going on to university. A fresh cycle begins when The World turns, a new revolution begins in the sense of the earth spinning on its axis. Or perhaps this is a pun, and it means ‘a new revolution’? Traditionally, The World symbolises success and completion. It also asks, what’s next?
The Economist’s World card shows symbols of culture and civilization – books, a painting, theatrical masks of comedy and drama. It also depicts two Greek temple-style buildings that could be banks, or government buildings, plus a solid looking pyramid. What’s next for human creativity, and what about our politics and finances? Have we reached the end of a cycle?
The Hermit: The hooded Hermit of the Tarot looks within. He represents a necessary time of withdrawal, reflection, and contemplation – even isolation (like a hermit) or loneliness. Enlightenment eventually follows this process, but it can take a long time.
The Economist’s Hermit looks down onto a valley, or is it an abyss? Crowds of people are marching along, bearing banners of protest. A model of our globe lies on the ground, a dark crack in its surface. It would seem that the world, in a global sense, isn’t working too well for the protestors. They want it to stop. Do they want to withdraw like the traditional Tarot Hermit?
Death: Ah, Death. A skeleton riding upon a pale horse, Death is inescapable. In Tarot, Death usually signifies a profound change or ending in life – not physical death, but the death of something familiar or longstanding. Transformation and rebirth are possible, once certain things – old expectations, ambitions, or assumptions – have been let go.
The Economist’s Death card shows us a nuclear mushroom cloud, and two enormous mosquitoes, presumably ones carrying deadly diseases. This is really quite terrifying. They seem to be presenting Death as total destruction, or warning us that this is a distinct possibility in an uncertain world. Yet the Sun appears to be rising in the background – the hope of rebirth and resurrection is a more optimistic part of this grim image.
The Magician: Tarot’s Magician knows how to connect and channel the spiritual into our earthly plane. He can be a bit of a slick showman too, a juggler, even a trickster. Hmmn.
The Economist’s Magician seems to be working his magic with a 3D printer and a virtual reality headset. Is technology the new magic? The figure eight symbol of eternal life appears, as it does on a traditional design, above the Magician’s head.
The Wheel of Fortune: The Wheel of Fortune spins, and with each turn individuals who are riding the Wheel rise and fall, some tumble off altogether. Worldly success and power are passing conditions, the goddess of fortune herself is capricious. Worship her at your peril. However, when this card turns up in a reading during a difficult time it often signifies a ‘turn of fortune’, meaning that things will move in your favour. A little luck often awaits.
The Economist’s Wheel of Fortune spins for Europe, and the upcoming elections in 2017 in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. There are ballot boxes beneath the Wheel, and a big dark thundercloud emitting lightning. Storms, shocks, and the centre of the Wheel is off kilter. This EU Wheel of Fortune may not be able to spin so smoothly any more.
The Star: The Star is a beautiful, mystical card. It denotes healing, blending natural elements together to create harmony and spiritual peace. It offers a guiding light, bringing us inspiration.
The Economist’s Star is missing its traditional goddess figure. Instead, it shows fourteen eight-pointed stars, each containing a face. Are these celebrities? What kind of ‘stars’ are they? In the centre, there’s a flying comet with a long tail. A comet’s awesome beauty is short-lived, we only see it for a brief moment and then it orbits out of sight, or crashes into the Sun and is gone forever. Reality tv stars, take note!
Is this spread a tarot reading?
I’d say yes. This is a reading, as well as a clever design. Basically, this tarot reading says:
This is a time of shocks and upheavals. The old order is being overturned. A time of judgement is coming, and while there may be disillusionment and legal shenanigans, there’s the eventual possibility of renewal and rebirth.
The world, as in The World, is turning - a long cycle is ending while a new one waits to begin. Before this can happen a time of withdrawal and reflection is needed. We may feel lonely, or cut off from other people as we turn inwards. And thinking about things deeply brings us to the realisation that certain things, or ways of doing things, have to end. We have to let something go. A lot of juggling will be involved while the wheel of fortune spins, bringing success for some and failure for others.
At the end of the spread, and at the end of this turbulent process, we find healing, peace, and guidance through nature and the beauty of our incredible universe.