Unlearning The Sun

Unlearn the Tarot is a series where I poke holes at traditional tarot card meanings and the binary thinking that comes with it, in my attempt to uncover inclusive and expansive ways of understanding the cards.

I’m going through a Sun period that began in early February and is still continuing as recently as last night. How do I know it’s a Sun period? The Sun tarot card keeps appearing in both my daily pulls and bigger spreads. It first appeared during my last relationship’s breakup anniversary, which was a moment of celebration for me. The relationship was incredibly unhealthy and dragged on for too long, so I understood The Sun to mean growth and happiness.

Then it kept appearing again and again. With every appearance, I felt a little less certain about The Sun’s meaning surrounding joy and happiness. What might The Sun be trying to tell me?

The Sun’s Traditional Meaning

The Rider Waite Smith’s Sun traditionally means success, great achievement, and happiness. Any Google search will tell you the same. Biddy Tarot says The Sun radiates with optimism and positivity, while Labyrinthos focuses on the child in the foreground, which represents innocence and being in alignment with our true self.

Even books don’t stray far from Internet definitions. Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot says The Sun brings joy, accolades, a radiant marriage, or high achievement. In 78 Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack’s description includes how The Sun represents knowledge, because it sees everything, plus freedom from restricted consciousness. But overall, she describes its divinatory meanings as simple and direct as joy, happiness, seeing life in a whole new way and reveling in the beauty of it all.

Source: Wikipedia

The Tarot De Marseille’s Sun evokes a more neutral meaning. Here we have two figures kind of poking each other underneath its rays, with a brick wall behind them. According to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Way of the Tarot, these two figures are a metaphor for inner work; the more adult or mature part of the individual helps the more childlike/primitive part grow up.

I feel like these figures hold the key to the card’s deeper meanings, but Jodorowsky’s deep dive focuses on analyzing the colors and patterns. His divinatory meanings for The Sun remain very positive: achievement, the beginning of a new life, and the ideal values of the paternal archetype (not really sure what this means?). Jodorowsky does note that too much sun causes death and aridity, but does not elaborate further.

Generally, one comes across The Sun’s less cheerful meanings during reversals, but even then it doesn’t stray too far from attaining joy and happiness. The Sun reversed, according to Pollack, means being unable to see the happiness life is offering. Wen lists possible reversed meanings as success derailed, losing enthusiasm, or loss of a cherished property.

The Sun Alternative Meanings

All these meanings above are perfectly valid, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with seeing optimism and positivity with The Sun. But anyone who lives close to the equator knows that The Sun can be harsh and oppressive. Where I live, we spend more time hiding from its rays than basking in its warmth.

I want to dig a little deeper and see what else I could be learning from this Arcanum, and how it might apply to everyday life. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:

1. Conflict triggered by seeing uncomfortable truths

The sun casts light on everything on earth. Its arrival heralds a new day and breaks the uneasiness brought by darkness. After peering through shadows, it can be such a relief to finally see the contours and fine details of whatever is right in front of you.

But are we necessarily happy and comforted by the things we see under the sun’s light?

In the Trionfi Della Luna’s Sun – which is a modern interpretation of the Tarot De Marseille – we see a devil and an angel having a physical confrontation. The sun’s light can reveal beauty, but also uncomfortable and unflattering truths about ourselves, about our reality, about the context in which we live in. Seeing things for what they really are can change our perspective, and this change can trigger conflict and discomfort, especially when we thought we had it all figured out.

After The Sun comes Judgement, where we are called to reexamine our lives and tie up loose ends before we step into The World. The Sun gives us that chance to take a hard, critical look at our situation, and start resolving the inner conflicts or contradictions arising from what we now see.

Guide questions:

  • What new truths are emerging for you?
  • What feelings are arising from these new truths?
  • How is this changing your perspective of your situation?
  • What are some things you can do to resolve this conflict or accept this new truth?

2. Change your environment

The Sun in The Spacious Tarot shows a sunflower growing in the light, turning its face towards the rays and getting nourished by it. But not all plants thrive under the sun’s hot glare. I know from killing way too many houseplants that a lot of them wither and die with direct sun exposure. (Never ever put a rubber tree on a balcony or by sunny window!)

There’s that saying attributed to Alexander Den Heijer that goes, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment where it grows, not the flower.” The flower, of course, is a metaphor for humans. Not all of us thrive in the same heterenormative environment. In many instances, depression can be the result of being stuck in a place or situation that isn’t meeting our needs, or is blocking our access to grow the way we want to. For queer folk in particular, The Sun could mean recognizing the ways your family and society excludes you, and denies you the opportunity to love freely or live your truth.

The Sun invites you to take a good look at your surroundings – your home, your workplace, the country you live in, the friends you’ve chosen, the family you’re quarantined with. Instead of trying to change yourself, perhaps a change in environment is what you need.

Guide questions:

  • What nourishes you? Is your environment giving you what you need to bloom and grow?
  • What needs are being unmet, and how might you change your environment to meet your needs?
  • Where can you re-plant yourself to get the growth you need?
  • If you aren’t able to change your environment or re-plant yourself, what sources of nourishment can you draw strength from until you are able to do so?

3. Literally look at what’s in front of you

The Sun once came up in a personal reading about my finances, and the message I got wasn’t, “Celebrate all the money you’ve saved so far and the money you will make in the future!” Although both things are true, I also stopped following my budget and noticed that my available cash was dwindling.

After mulling it over for a bit, I realized that The Sun was giving a literal and directive message: I need to look at what’s in front of me, because the answers I need are right before my eyes. The smallest details yield the most critical bits of information. To get my finances on track, I need to get back into the habit about tracking my expenses and see where my money is really going.

Guide questions:

  • What are you not seeing?
  • What obvious solutions are literally right in front of your eyes?
  • What small details do you notice, and what do they reveal about your situation?
Which of these alternative meanings resonate with you? How do you interpret The Sun? Share your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to know what you think.

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