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Tarot and Power: Archetypes of Trans Oppression and Resilience


Forty-four percent of American trans youth ages 13-17 live in a state that is either considering a ban on gender affirming care, or has already passed one.

Nineteen states have laws restricting trans health care. More states have banned gender affirming care for youth than have chosen to protect it.

These trans bans may seem new, but their divide and conquer strategy is as old as power. We are watching the archetypes of capitalism and oppression at work. 

This can feel disheartening, horrifying, or insurmountable when viewed on its own. Yet when we situate the present moment within the legacy of queer and trans resistance, we find avenues to combat transphobia. 

Archetypes are the building blocks of storytelling. Whether those archetypes are upheld or undermined, they are powerful in their familiarity. 

Tarot is a divination system that uses archetypes to predict the future and understand the present. Tarot’s archetypes show how power is created, maintained, and even destroyed. Trans people are central to tarot. 

Tarot is sometimes called “The Fool’s Journey.” The Fool, numbered 0 in tarot or left unnumbered, is canonically considered a trans archetype. The Fool is on an adventure, submitting to the universe, and living their most honest self. 

The Fool’s journey is beautiful and perilous, full of opportunities for riches or ruin. They encounter people with great power, and others with none at all. Over the course of the deck, a theory of power under capitalism emerges. 

How can the journey of tarot’s Fool archetype help us understand a moment where trans antagonism is on the rise? Even if you’re new to tarot, the following archetypes from tarot’s major and minor arcana may feel familiar.

Tarot is a tool that can help us understand ourselves and the world in which we live – and we live in dangerous times. To use tarot to do the former without considering the latter can make our practice incomplete. If we are reading tarot to understand the moment we’re in, it must be done primarily in the service of combating the rise of fascism.


The Emperor

The Emperor, card four of tarot’s major arcana, is the embodiment of patriarchy. Their biases become laws. Their wealth becomes power. Their grudges become wars. 

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis move in the worst manifestation of The Emperor archetype. They work to codify and maintain cis male authority over gender minorities. 

This is evident in bans on gender affirming care. It is also the motivation behind the overturning of the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion safe and legal. 

When The Emperor goes unchecked, or doesn’t consider the needs of others, they become despots – people with absolute power –  instead of service-oriented leaders.

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The Hierophant

The Hierophant, card five of tarot’s major arcana, is associated with the church. 

This card takes The Emperor’s obsession with power and makes it seem like divine, and thus, irrefutable, law. We can see The Hierophant’s hand in the way the right weaponizes Christianity to limit trans people’s access to healthcare and public life. 

The Hierophant believes that there is only one right way to live. It is an acolyte card, a tarot card where two figures are beholden to a central, more powerful figure. The Hierophant’s domination isn’t over the body, it’s over the soul. 

Whenever someone claiming Christian beliefs tells a trans person God hates them, or that transness is unnatural, The Hierophant is present and at its worst.

Five of Pentacles

The Five of Pentacles is often associated with monetary loss. It is also interpreted as being locked out of institutions of care. 

As trans people, we find ourselves increasingly shut out of public life. The recent Supreme Court ruling allowing businesses to refuse service to queer and trans people, is one example of this. 

As a result, and true to the spirit of this card, trans people may feel reluctant to seek help at all. A justified fear of rejection, born of unjust conditions, may cause us to retreat, and risk not receiving  the help we desire and deserve.


Archetypes of Trans Resistance

Despite the presence of these oppressive archetypes in our society, there is hope. Though these archetypes of power limit our freedom as trans people, there are archetypes of liberation we can access.

Therefore, we can call upon the following archetypes, and many others, to assert our right to exist, build resilience, and fight back.

The Star

One way to combat the wave of anti-trans legislation is to organize.

The Star asks us to do more than build a beautiful vision of how society could be, it asks us to make it ourselves. 

The Star is one of tarot’s cards of social justice. It can act as a guiding light to freedom. Yet the freedom of The Star is not personal empowerment. It’s collective liberation, without which none of us can be truly free. 

The Star requires us to form coherent political ideas, and share them with others. It asks us to go outside, form unions, build collectives, and join community organizations. We are called to think critically about the roles we play in hierarchies of power and oppression. 

The Star’s work goes beyond simple navel gazing. It asks us to move from the politics of thought to the politics of action.

The Six of Cups

The Six of Cups is tarot’s card of true mutual aid. 

This work is often confused for the charity of the Six of Pentacles, which says a lot about how often mutual aid is misunderstood. 

The Six of Cups does the work of redistributing resources behind the literal back of a guard with a pike. It makes sure communities get what they need by utilizing all essential backchannels, clear to not alert those wielding power. 

Wherever loving alternative economies exist, you will find the Six of Cups. When we care for those who have less than us, while understanding that we may someday have less than we do now, the Six of Cups is there. 

Thus, the Six of Cups powerfully reminds us that we must take care of each other in order to survive in spite of those who wish we would die.

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