In the Two of Wands, we find mankind’s spirit of exploration.
The card as we know it today typically depicts a young nobleman by the shore, with a walking stalk, gazing into an orb or geographic globe. Another wand is perched nearby. The surrounding shoreline is the same fielded area that many of our characters have journeyed, or are journeying, through. Roses and lilies are present, whether they adorn his clothes or the garden in which he stands.
The shoreline tells us his journey will soon take him to sea, and into the great unknown. The orb, as orbs often do, represents the great truths of life and the universe. Traditional interpretations tell us that the white lily is our young man’s innocence, and the red rose is his courage. Or perhaps the lily is his rebirth, as he is soon to be born into a new enlightened state. Or maybe both flowers have had so many countless meanings over the last several millennia that it’s impossible to say.
In the years of the tarot’s infancy, scientific and other such academic learnings were usually pursuits available only to the rich, or noble, or at least landed. The white lily has been associated with regality, and is perhaps telling us that knowledge is kingly.
I will try not to obsess over the lily any further.
We often see this card when we are embarking on a new endeavor or journey, perhaps one of self-discovery. But, you know that already.
As the tarot was taking shape in the late Renaissance, whether as a deck of playing cards, or as a divinatory mechanism and fun party trick, European man’s view of the world was changing dramatically.He had discovered another continent, begun to subjugate its inhabitants, and had sailed around the Earth. With Galileo, the European scientific revolution began, and white man moved into the early modern era.
He started down the path of understanding that, contrary to what he would like to believe, the Earth is not the center of the universe -- it’s not even the center of this solar system. He is a speck, if even that, on a blue and green marble hurtling through the black and infinite sea of space in a great ellipse that is slowly widening, casting him and all his kin farther out into the great void. This is what our young nobleman ponders. He is mankind.
This card is that journey toward understanding, even as it exists today.
Much like the ocean that our nobleman will soon sail upon, the universe is vast and unknowable, filled with knowledge that will mature us, or at the very least, freak us the hell out, and force us to feel our insignificance.
The Two of Wands is also a call to move into this unknown with courage. The young man is unafraid. Such exploration is in our very nature, and is a large part of what it is to be human. To press on, to learn things simply to learn them, is what makes us us. Whether we are motivated by financial gain, glory, or simple curiosity, we are fulfilling our higher calling. We are moving the species forward.
When we see this card, perhaps we are not just being told that a journey is ahead of us. Maybe we are also being told that we should think bigger, push the boundaries no one else is willing to push, and try to think not as we do, but as we would like to.
This article is part of Digging the Roots, an on-going series by Zach Toman about the cultural and symbolic history of the tarot. Follow @ZachToman on Twitter.