Is there a UFO in the Rider-Waite tarot deck?

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UFO in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck?

UFO in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck?

Does the Rider-Waite tarot deck contain references to UFOs?  The deck was the creation of Arthur Edward Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith.  Waite was a mystic and occultist, and as such he dealt with the many concept of spirit: angels, demons and elementals.  But UFO aliens?  Not likely as the deck was published in 1909.  

Yet there are some intriguing parallels between the spirits of occultism and the concept of UFOs and aliens visiting earth.  If we examine the Rider-Waite card Temperance, we notice there is a light in the background rising above some hills at the end of a path.  The card’s light in the distance looks like a UFO, a glowing flying saucer.  The image struck me as being similar to the iconic image from the movie poster of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 


In Waite’s book, the Pictorial Key to the Tarot, he describes the Temperance card, and mentions the light in the background:

“A winged angel, with the sign of the sun upon his forehead and on his breast the square and triangle of the septenary. I speak of him in the masculine sense, but the figure is neither male nor female. It is held to be pouring the essences of life from chalice to chalice. It has one foot upon the earth and one upon waters, thus illustrating the nature of the essences. A direct path goes up to certain heights on the verge of the horizon, and above there is a great light, through which a crown is seen vaguely.”

He is describing the angel as a solar being (the sun upon his forehead)…a Star Man.  It has the power of flight (wings) yet touches the earth with its feet.  It is a visitor to earth.  The light in the distance is described as a crown seen vaguely seen in a great light.  A crown or disk seen in a light?  Could this be the vessel used by the “angel” visiting earth?  The angel looks oddly like the Nordic Alien with a strange geometric image on its breast.

I am not suggesting Waite was actually referring to literal alien star men, visitors from space.  Yet, the concept seems part of our collective unconscious.  The image of the light in the distance, down an empty road, with strange visitors awaiting us, does connect the tarot card to the movie poster.  UFO aliens are archetypes.  Angels appear like alien visitors.  Or do aliens appear like angels?

4 Responses to “Is there a UFO in the Rider-Waite tarot deck?”

  1. azoth Says:

    Waite was a Kabbalist. The crown is a not-so-subtle reference to Kether (Lit.: Crown), the top sephirah on the tree of life. The two peaks are the two pillars and appear in several other cards in the deck.

  2. David Says:

    Hi Azoth,
    I was thinking the crown might have symbolized the Holy Grail off in the distance. Regardless, to the modern eye it appears like a UFO. Not that Waite intended it. But it is interesting how culture can change the meaning of a symbol. What could have been a tree-of-life symbol or a grail symbol now takes on the appearance of a UFO. Which brings up a question…is there much difference between them? Are aliens our modern, secular version of angels?

  3. azoth Says:

    Jung would have agreed that the same energies may evoke different representationsin different ages. He understood UFOS as externalized mandalas; manifestations of the possibility of wholeness. Interestingly, the archetypal energy, whatever we call it, seems to draw the same kinds of hopes, directions and understandings.

  4. melissa Says:

    You have definitely made me think now. I always thought the image was a crown, a weirdly placed one. I never took the time to look closely and see that it was in fact hovering over the mountain in the card. Food for thought.

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