XIX. The Sun


Meaning:  It’s time to get busy.  It won’t finish itself.  Clear the clutter, focus on the task at hand.  Soak up the time while you have it.  Always be prepared for intense activity.

Reversed:  You can’t fight this kind of thing.  Everyone is pulled along by similar forces.  At some point you have to join in.  Find a way to help keep the sun moving.





Robert Fludd, Sublime Sun, 17th Cent.
Robert Fludd, Sublime Sun, 17th Cent.

The Sun has many symbols, chief among them the wheel, and the disc with or without wings.    In the Tarot, the wheel is already present in Justice, and the dark side of the Sun, chiefly chaos, also known as the Black Sun, is already present as The Tower.  So in the Sun card we have the impassive, constant radiating orb itself.  In Antiquity this would have been the functionary aspect of the sun, Helios, sure and steady as a lighthouse.  Helios is the most youthful of the Solar characters, the joyous radiance of the sun and nothing more, and this card is frequently decorated with youths, cherubs and idylls.

Following The Star and The Moon, representing two great Matriarchs, the Sun with its youthful character can only reflect that of its role in early days, as the reborn child.  A great indicator of the aboriginal tree and goddess religions spread across countless cultures involved annual sacrifices of the king, whose life restored the sun, executed in various symbolic and literal ways.

Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus

In the time period of the Tarot, The Sun is not presented as a deity, but as a symbol of enlightenment, more of a reference to the Philosophers with the sun as a radiant truth that can be relied upon.  Louis XIV, the Sun King, reaped the rewards of economic recovery.  This is the Sun of renewal.

Open to interpretation, this card is ever fanciful with its depictions of Helios, the radiant light that makes life on earth possible.  The dancing twins of the Marseille style have become the most common motif in modern decks.  The earliest cards are more fanciful than mythic, with playing children or a strolling couple, as though making light of the sun, an ornament of clockwork behavior.  Definitely not personified, as though at pains to represent the real thing and not its mythical expression.  In modern interpretations, we seem prone to stress it from a perspective of supremacy, but tarot in my opinion seems to take much more care in personifying the Moon.

Jesuit Symbol
Jesuit Symbol

There is something remote, and steely, about the Sun cards.  The Sun is an insight into the rising and falling of the engines of life.   The first decks came a little before the work of Copernicus, who though still mistaken took greater strides towards figuring out the order of the solar system.  It was clear even to the ancients the Sun was conducted in some predictable, mechanical way.

The Paris card in the first image wins again for inscrutible strangeness of imagery, with a woman’s long golden tresses being tended to by… a hairy wolf person?  And did she just discover this herself?  And does she have a mustache?

Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of Helios
A more reasonable size estimation of the giant bronze Colossus of Rhodes than most, the statue of the Titan Helios that stood for 54 years, until an earthquake (226 BCE) toppled it. The Oracle of Delphi said they had offended the Sun, and its gargantuan pieces were left where they fell, visited intensely by tourists for over 800 years.
Herakles and the Kerkopes
Herakles and the Kerkopes, 380 BC, South Italy.  The Sun card frequently presents a pair of twins, a convention borrowed from Antiquity.  Loosely grouped as the Dioscuroi (Twin Boys) their role from prehistory involves a link to neolithic culture.  Depicted as half-wild troublemakers, and something in there, vaguely, about domesticating the horse.  Herakles was the ideal of the Sun King in the days of the goddess, he wears the skin of a lion, the champion of the Moon and her three faces.   He is the symbol of ideas of resurrection before the Roman times, something once exclusively reserved for the royals, usually he was symbolically, even literally, sacrificed to her.  Thanks to theatre, Herakles were favorites of children, so these two often seen in his entourage.  As Kerkopes, they’re more monkey like, more emphasis on their wildness, their link to the old world.  In this story, Herakles has caught them, but they made him laugh so he let them go.