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The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski” –

The Emperor, The High Priestess, and The Devil
by David Thorsteinsson



Editor's Note from Michael Santangelo: Continuing with Tarot as popular media art, The Big Lebowski weighs in with another few cards in this on-going series. See The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski”, The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in The Big Lebowski – Justice, The Star, and The Chariot, and The Tarot as a Frame of Reference in “The Big Lebowski” – The Magician and The World.

The Big Lebowski: the Emperor

The image shows an elderly man sitting in a formal chair decorated with horned animal heads. He holds a scepter in one hand and a golden ball in the other. According to Wikipedia the Emperor may stand for Fathering, Stability, Authority, Power, Status quo, Egocentrism, Tradition, Inflexibility, and Conservative ways.

The big Lebowski is indeed bound to a wheelchair. He holds strong conservative opinions and is both egocentric and inflexible. In his home, he is surrounded by bronze statues of dancing women and power figures. There is a mirror on his wall, which dares onlookers to compare their achievements with his.

Maude Lebowski: the High Priestess

The image shows a young woman sitting between two columns as if residing in a temple. She is reading from the Torah. Maude may represent this archetype. There are indeed columns in her home/atelier/temple. The first time she meets the Dude there she sermonizes to him, literally ex cathedra. Her speech then sounds as if she were reading a sacred text aloud – albeit without 100% conviction. She is strangely innocent about the world, and her surroundings are arty, luxurious, and barren. Even her video artist of a friend looks and sounds like a castrato. For all we know she may have lived chaste for years, and she is financially independent of her father - a vestal virgin. At this point, however, she knows she’s getting involved in something akin to a love affair, and from now on we see her changing into a natural woman.

Jackie Treehorn: the Devil

The Devil is the giveaway card in The Big Lebowski: The image of a man with a huge, erect penis automatically drawn by Jackie Treehorn during a telephone call. This is the Devil in tarot. (The Waite version is politely understated.)

The Devil symbolizes amongst other things a slavery to lust. In the Waite deck, he is shown on a black background of night with a blazing torch in hand, naked humanoids chained to his pedestal. He has goatish features – horns and, sometimes, hooves.

Jackie Treehorn, the pornographer, is clearly associated with lust, darkness, and fire. The Dude is forced to meet him at a party where naked people – some looking more like dybbuks than men – are frolicking around a bonfire. Jackie himself seems to materialize out of earth, fire, and shadow. His gait is unsteady and goatish. A fire burns in his luxurious sitting room. He laments about how standards have fallen in adult entertainment, for example, stating, “Now, we can’t afford to invest in little extras like story, production value, feelings.”


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About the Author

David says that he has no real existence on the web apart from this article, so he "doesn't personally need any special introduction."

The article in question was written because he and Sigga (his lady friend) were much intrigued with the Lebowski film and its world.




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