The Chaldean Order and the Major Arcana

In this article you’ll learn about one of the concepts that is embedded into the architecture of Astrology and Tarot systems.  We’ll explore an idea which is at the foundation of astrological magick and also show how it permeates into everyday culture...

…I’ll also share with you some hints about how you can work with this nugget of information in your own daily practice.

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What’s the Chaldean Order and where did it come from?

The Chaldean Order is a system that puts the seven classical planets into a sequence based on their relative orbital period from a geocentric perspective. 

In straightforward terms it’s how fast each planet appears to be moving from the point of view of Earth. This has been referred to as the Chaldean Order since at least the 5th Century CE. It’s also known as the Ptolemaic Order and the “seven zone system”.

Chaldea is a historical country existing in ancient region of Mesopotamia where you will now find part of modern day Iraq. This is the area of the world in which some of the first systems of organised systems of astrology (and many other technologies) were developed.    

And this table shows the Chaldean Order of the seven classical planets, going from Earth outwards, along with their relative geocentric* orbital period:

 
Astrological Glyph Planet** Approximate Orbital Period
The Moon 29 days
Mercury circa 1 year
♀︎ Venus circa 1 year
The Sun 1 year
♂︎ Mars 2 years
Jupiter 12 years
Saturn 29 years

* We’re measuring from the point of view of Earth (geocentric) rather than the Sun (heliocentric). Heliocentric orbital periods vary substantially. ie Mercury takes 88 days to complete its orbit around the Sun.

**The word planet originally simply meant wanderer and referred to all apparent non-fixed objects. “Fixed” objects would be what we know as the Stars. This is why when we refer to the “classical planets”, the Sun and the Moon are also included.   

 

Is this at all relevant to mainstream culture?

Well, before we get to the Astrology and Tarot connection, here’s a curious example of how the Chaldean Order has infiltrated our everyday lives via our seven-day week.

Bear with me.

It’s more obvious in some Romance languages (ie. French, Italian, and Spanish) that there’s a direct link between most names of the days of the week to the planets. Some English day names are now associated with the Norse pantheon. 

Here’s a rundown of the days of the week along and which planets that they are associated with:

Astrological Glyph Planet Day of the Week (English) Day of the Week (Italian) Notes
Moon Monday Lunedi
Mercury Wednesday Mercoledi Derived from Old English Wodensday after Norse God Odin (Woden in Old English). Mercury and Odin are not considered equivalent Gods however they do share some significant similarities.
♀︎ Venus Friday Venerdi Freya: Norse Goddess equivalent to Venus.
The Sun Sunday Domenica
♂︎ Mars Tuesday Martedi Tiw: Old English name for Norse God Týr - equivalent of Mars.
Jupiter Thursday Giovedi Italian name for Jupiter: Giove.
Jove is an alternate, or poetic,
name for Jupiter.
Saturn Saturday Sabato
 

If you’re sharp-eyed, you may have noticed that the order of the days of the week in this table is totally different than the Chaldean Order as described.

It gets more tech than just a list of planets and days of the week…

Check out what happens when you map the symbols for the planets to a seven-pointed star…

‘weekday heptagram’ from wikipedia commons

‘weekday heptagram’ from wikipedia commons

 

Follow each glyph around counter-clockwise along the dotted lines and you’ll find the Chaldean Order — Moon, Mercury, Venus, etc. Follow the unbroken lines that connect each planetary glyph and you’ll find that they follow the order of the associated days of the week.

So the seven-day week that we currently use was designed around an esoteric concept which isn’t completely understood (although please feel free to point me to further reading if you know of any that clarifies this).

Besides being some quirky knowledge that might come in use at a pub quiz, knowledge of what are termed the Planetary Days (and Hours) can be useful for anyone who wants to bring attributes of Planetary Magick into their own practice.

 

 
google image search medieval celestial spheres for lots of other cool vintage images that show the Chaldean/Ptolemaic Order.

google image search medieval celestial spheres for lots of other cool vintage images that show the Chaldean/Ptolemaic Order.

 

The Tarot connection

There’s a web of relationships between Astrology and the Tarot system -- especially with tarot decks published in the 20th Century by members of Western esoteric traditions, such as the Smith-Waite and Thoth tarot decks -- and their contemporary iterations.    

An example of these associations can be found within the 22-card Major Arcana portion of the deck. You’ll find cards that are closely associated with:

The 7 classical planets

The 12 zodiac signs 

And 3 cards that are connected with either:

The elements Fire, Air and Water…

…Or the three major outer planets Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. 

It’s worth noting here that when it comes to astrology and tarot, there are overlaps however ultimately we’re talking about associations that have been invented over time.  It is by no means a perfect fit.

But it can be interesting and enriching nonetheless.

If you have some tarot and astrology knowledge you’ll likely feel that some cards appear to be a more sympathetic relationship than others… but even with the ones that may strike you as a little incoherent on the surface, it’s still worth digging in and seeing if there’s something to learn and expand your understanding.

In order for us to progress further with our exploration of the Chaldean Order, using Tarot as our guide, you’ll need to know which of the Major Arcana cards is associated with each of the seven classical planets:

Astrological Glyph Planet Major Arcana
The Moon The High Priestess
Mercury The Magician
♀︎ Venus The Empress
The Sun The Sun
♂︎ Mars The Tower
Jupiter Wheel of Fortune
Saturn The World

It’s also possible to relate many of the Minor Arcana cards (the suited pip cards which are much more like contemporary playing cards). This is because the Minor Arcana have an association with the 36 decans... which have a connection with the Chaldean Order… But it’s beyond the scope of this article to wade into that territory or explain the overlaps of Tarot and Astrology more thoroughly…

However I have put together some funky resources which show you which Minor Arcana cards are connected with which classical planets for your reference. 


So now that you have this knowledge of planets and cards and days, what do you do with it? 


Ok. Since we’ve got this far, let’s talk a little bit about methods for playing around with what we’ve learned to make this a bit more enriching..

The easiest way of working with the concepts I’ve presented to you is by passive contemplation...

This is what you’re doing by reading and considering the contents of this post.  

Extra points for getting the physical cards out of your own tarot deck(s) to look at them while you go along. It will help it all sink in.

If you want to go deeper you could commit to a daily practice with these cards for at least a full cycle of 7 days.

Often times people will pick a daily card randomly as part of their tarot practice but this daily card method is intentional.

If it’s Monday, you may wish to take the High Priestess’ card (or an image of it) and place it somewhere you’re likely to regularly see it. (If this isn’t practical you could take a picture and save it as the background on your phone or on your computer desktop.)

Want to make it more interesting? Also pick a random card of the day to complement your Planetary card.  Use it as an “advice” card to help you understand how to make the most of that day’s opportunities...

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious and time-rich, you could aim to work through all cards in one day by working with the Planetary Hours (try the Hours app by Luminarium).

You could play with one of my planetary spreads. (Resource is currently in development — see below!)

Before working with a spread (or preparing to work with a specific card) you could chant the Orphic Hymn associated with each Greek God(dess). If you’re super duper keen, do this at sunrise in order to coincide with the associated Planetary Hour.

You can get increasingly technical or traditional or creative with the rituals and processes you have time for. It’s… a wormhole…

…And I’m not trying to dictate what the best or most creative or most traditional methods of working with these cards is at all.

My intention here is to simply point to some options that may inspire you on…


Where should we go next?

Maybe you can help me with that!

I’m currently developing a series of tarot spreads/prompts that can be used to take this journey further…

.. and I’m also writing meanings for each of the tarot cards and planets mentioned.

Leave a comment below and let me know which one I should publish first :)