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The Problem of Correspondence

The Tarot, the Runes and the I Ching are three of the most popular and widespread systems of divination in use today. Throughout history, this trio of oracles has mystified mankind with their uncanny ability to give advice, avert danger and even predict the future. When we consider their common purpose and similar modes of operation, it is not difficult to speculate some kind of underlying connection between these three systems.

Many people would be opposed to this idea, citing a number of barriers which include the systems' origins, their theological or philosophical backgrounds, and the elements of which they are composed. We shall address each of these issues and see whether a correspondence is feasible.

The I Ching is Chinese, and has existed for many thousands of years, shaped by great minds such as Confucius and Lao-Tze. The Runes are from Northern Europe and are based heavily on the mythology of that region. The origin of the Tarot seems to vary depending on whom you ask about it, but most theories say that the birthplace of the Tarot as we know it was on the shores of the Mediterranean; either ancient Egypt or Renaissance Italy.

So we have three very distinct cultural and religious backgrounds from which these systems emerge. Is a correspondence still possible? Yes, because there is a common bond between all of them - humanity. People devised the I Ching, people wrote down the Runes and people drew the Tarot cards. At their most fundamental level all three systems come from the same place - from the collective consciousness of mankind. Most of the ideas expressed in these systems are universal in scope; they are not limited to the lifestyle of the Norse or the Chinese, but available to all humanity.

It should be clear that the religious or philosophical differences between these systems do not matter either. While the I Ching may be better appreciated by someone who is familiar with Chinese culture, it is by no means inaccessible to, for instance, an American who does not even know where China is on a globe. The Tarot speaks just as clearly to Christians and Jews as it does to Pagans. Religion or culture is not a prerequisite for use of the systems and therefore it should not be a requirement for correspondence either.

The largest problem to a correspondence actually arises from the way each system is built up. The Tarot consists of 78 cards; 22 Major, 40 Minor and 16 Court. The composition of a Runic futhark (alphabet) varies from system to system, but the one most commonly used for divination is the Elder Futhark, composed of 24 Runes divided into 3 groups of 8 called aettir. The I Ching is made up of 64 six-line patterns called hexagrams, each derived from a combination of two 3-line trigrams, of which there are eight.

At first glance there would appear to be no similarites between the systems without some mathematical manipulation. For instance, one may see that 16 x 14 = 64 and therefore assign 4 hexagrams to each of the 16 Court cards - but this does not tell you what to do with the other 62 cards in the deck. If there were 24 Major Arcana things would be a lot easier! But unfortunately one cannot go about creating a pair of new Tarot cards to make a correspondence work. If it is to work, it must work with the established system.

The great insight comes when we realize that the key is not in the numbers, it is in the natures of the systems. The possibility of a correspondence comes from the fact that all the systems have a common bond in the human mind. Do the systems also have common bonds with another system, a far more expansive and flexible system that could serve as a link between all three? As it turns out, yes, they do.

It has been known for many decades that a strong correspondence exists between the Tarot and the Qabalistic glyph called the Tree of Life. Even to someone unfamiliar with the Qabalah, the similarities cannot easily be denied. The Tarot, as mentioned, has 22 Major Arcana, and 40 Minor Arcana divided into 4 suits of 10 cards each. The Tree of Life is made up of 10 spheres (sephiroth) over four worlds (olams) connected by 22 paths.

Placing the Tarot cards on the Tree is not a problem at all; in fact, it has been done so often that a multitude of different systems exist and all of them have some merit. The challenge will be in connecting the I Ching and the Runes to the Tree as well. In spite of apparent conflicts with the numbers, it can be done. It has been done.

Readers familiar with the Qabalah and the I Ching should proceed to the next section. Those who need a refresher can follow this link for a crash course.

Copyright 2000 James Rioux