Tarot & Chess

When examining the history of chess we can see some striking similarities with the tarot. Both have associations with the feudal structure of society, both have uncertain origins and both came to Europe during the medieval period. Although the history of chess can be traced back some 1500 years its earliest origins still remain uncertain. It is widely considered to have originated in India and from there spread to the Islamic world and from there on to Europe.

Both chess and tarot are concerned with medieval archetypes and power struggles. The four minor suits in the tarot can be viewed as opposing forces, opposing aspects of the human psyche. Chess, as in life demands that we retain our focus and concentrate on the situation at hand. Logic and reason needs to prevail even when we are faced with emotional upheaval.

Chess pieces

Like the tarot chess has a hierarchy of pieces ranging from pawns, the minor pieces, through to rooks, knights, bishops, the major pieces with the king and queen at the top. Hence the similarities are:

  1. They both have roots in India
  2. They both have minor and major aspects
  3. They spread to Europe via the Islamic world
  4. They came to Europe in medieval times
Life Journey
A game of chess is sometimes compared to the journey through life, we make our moves and hope that we are not putting ourselves at risk. Opportunities to gain advantage can arise either by our own wisdom or by the mistakes of others. In both cases we need to make the right move in order to take advantage.
Card Associations
  • King - King of each suit
  • Queen - Queen of each suit
  • Rook - The Tower
  • Knight - Knight of each suit
  • Bishop - The Hierophant
  • Pawns - Minor arcana numbered cards
In chess when the king falls that signals the end of the game. Similarly a reversed king (or queen) in the tarot shows that the querent has not mastered the lesson of the suit and is prone to making bad choices.

The knight in chess has only very few possible moves, getting a knight in a tarot spread can simply indicate making a right move (if upright) or a wrong move (if reversed).

Updated: 18/11/2023