I’ve mentioned once or twice how much I love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. But what I haven’t mentioned is that very few books in my lifetime have made me fangirl as hard as this series does. I just completed my third reading of the series in January, and somehow loved it even more this time around than the previous two turns. There are a few pieces of knowledge that have made the books even more enjoyable for me, so I wanted to compile them here on the off chance any other readers would benefit from them.
As a beginner reader of the tarot, seeing the references in the books was extremely enjoyable. I wanted to collect all of the references to specific cards from all four books and outline their meanings and significance, because I feel that it sheds a lot of light on the characters themselves, especially Adam. I did leave out a couple of instances where Adam pulls a card to assist him with Cabeswater, but aside from that, every card used in the books should be here! Most of the interpretations were pulled from The Biddy Tarot for her simple wording and thoroughness.
Three of Swords || Interpretation: Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection. The heart is symbolic of emotion and beauty, while the piercing swords reflect the ability of logic and power to harm the physical body and the emotions of a person. The sky is heavily clouded and rain pours down violently, representing a grim moment in time.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Calla was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the man to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart the color of her lips. “You’ve lost someone close to you.” (Book 1, page 122) || Appearance: Calla/Persephone’s reading for Greenmantle — “The card was the three of swords. It depicted a bloody heart stabbed with the aforementioned three swords. Gore dripped down the blades. Maura called it “the heartbreak card.” Blue needed no psychic perception to feel the threat oozing from it.” (Book 3, page 75)
Five of Pentacles || Interpretation: Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty. The Five of Pentacles, like the fives in the other suits, portrays a situation of adversity. Both appear to be living in poverty and with little or no possessions. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Maura touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow under a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.” (Book 1, page 123)
Knight of Pentacles || Interpretation: Efficiency, routine, conservatism, methodical. The Knight of Pentacles, like the Knights of the other suits, represents work, effort, and the responsibility that follows upon the dreams of the Page. His eyes reflect careful thought and consideration. The Knight is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realize the dreams of his heart. He is building the foundations to support his dreams and his goals. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Persephone touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armored man with cold eyes surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. […] Persephone finally spoke. In her small, precise voice, she told the man, “You’re looking for something.” […] Calla’s card, beside Persephone’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Maura’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them.” (Book 1, page 124)
The Tower || Interpretation: Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant his life was about to change dramatically” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card, where men fell from a burning tower (Book 2, page 357) || Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labelled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of the lightning bolt. At the top of the tower, a man had been thrown from the ramparts – or possibly he had jumped. In any case, he was on fire as well, and a snake flew after him. “So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.” (Book 4, page 10)
Page of Cups || Interpretation: A messenger, creative beginnings, synchronicity. The Page of Cups, like the Pages in all the suits, represents some sort of beginning or renewal. The Page of Cups indicates the surprising and unexpected nature of inspiration that comes to us from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk where we find out this card represents Blue — “the last card in the reading, the page of cups. Blue glanced at her frowning mother. It wasn’t that the page of cups was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Maura always said she thought represented Blue when she was doing a reading for herself. You’re the page of cups, Maura had told her once. Look at all that potential she holds in that cup. Look, she even looks like you. And there was not just one page of cups in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding a cup of full of potential, all wearing Blue’s face.” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: twice in the one-off for Gansey — “As she flipped it over, she let out a little helpless laugh. The page of cups looked back at Blue with her own face. It felt like someone
was laughing at her, but she had no one to blame for the selection of the card but herself. When Maura saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make him choose another.” Blue replaced the card and shuffled the deck with less drama than before. When she offered the cards to him, Gansey turned his face away like he was pulling a raffle winner. His fingers grazed the edges of the cards, contemplative. He selected one, then flipped it over to show the room. It was the page of cups.” (Book 1, page 150)|| Appearance: single card for Blue by Maura — Maura gave Blue’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.” It was the page of cups, the card Maura always said reminded her of Blue. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced young person holding a jewel-studded goblet. The suite of cups represented relationships — love and friendship — and the page stood for new and budding possibilities. (Book 2, page 10)|| Appearance: hinted at in whole-life reading by whole group — “Does this mean she’s going to leave?” Orla asked, tapping on another card and referring to a different she. “Probably,” Maura sighed. (Book 4, page 13)
Two of Swords || Interpretation: Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions. The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.|| Appearance: one-off for Adam — “Selecting a card, Adam presented it to Maura. “Two of swords,” she said. “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking something of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?” “Brother, I think,” Persephone said. “Do you want to ask a question?” Maura asked. Adam considered. “What’s the right choice?” Maura and Persephone conferred. Maura replied, “There isn’t a right one. Just one you can live with. There might be a third option that will suit you better, but right now, you’re not seeing it because you’re so involved with the other two. I’d guess from what I’m seeing that any other path would have to do with you going outside those other two options and making your own option.” (Book 1, page 145)
Death || Interpretation: Endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. The armour he is wearing indicates that he is invincible and unconquerable. Indeed, no-one has yet triumphed over death. The horse that Death rides is white, the colour of purity. Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure. || Appearance: one-off for Gansey — “Flippantly, Gansey snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, he turned the card over and slapped it on the table. Blue swallowed. Maura said, “That’s your card.” On the card on the table was a black knight astride a white horse. The knight’s helmet was lifted so that it was obvious that his face was a bare skull dominated by eyeless sockets. The sun set beyond him, and below his horse’s hooves lay a corpse. […] “I thought that psychics didn’t predict death,” Adam said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.” (Book 1, page 151) || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Ten of Swords || Interpretation: Defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss. Despite the ominous images, there are positive aspects to this card. The sea before which the body lies is still and calm and the sun is rising in the distance beyond the mountains, indicating that the darkness will soon be dispelled. Thus, each new beginning must come from an end, and with every defeat are sown the seeds of future victory.|| Appearance: not within a reading but for Mr. Gray’s situation — He leaned to pick up one she had missed. “This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords. […] “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.” (Book 2, page 110) || “The Gray Man’s hand hung down and Maura stroked it. “This is the ten of swords,” he guessed. Maura kissed the back of his hand. “You’re going to have to be brave.” The Gray Man said, “I’m always brave.” She said, “Braver than that.” (Book 2, page 334)
King of Swords || Interpretation: Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth. On his left Saturn finger is a ring, symbolic of power and taking his responsibilities seriously. The King wears a blue tunic, symbolic of a desire for spiritual understanding, and a purple cape, symbolic of compassion combined with intellect. The sky is relatively clear with a few clouds, representing general mental clarity. The trees in the background appear motionless and reflect the stern judgement of the King. || Appearance: Persephone’s interpretation for Mr. Gray — Persephone’s quiet voice cut through Maura’s and Calla’s increasingly loud competition. “The king of swords.” Everyone turned to look at Persephone […] The Gray Man’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?” Persephone blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I believe.” […] The Gray Man carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. The king of swords, master of his own emotions, master of his own intellect, master of reason, gazed out at them, expression inscrutable. “That’s Mr. Gray’s card,” Persephone said. The Gray Man turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?” “No card is a terrible card,” Maura said. […] “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . . the king of swords is a powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial— cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based upon facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card.” (Book 2, page 112)
The Hanged Man || Interpretation: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you. || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card […] to the second, where a man hung upside down from a tree. (Book 2, page 357)
Nine of Swords || Interpretation: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair. She appears to have just woken up from a bad nightmare, and is obviously upset, fearful and anxious following her dream. Nine swords hang on the wall behind her and the base of the bed is decorated with a carving of a duel in which one person is being defeated by another.|| Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. […] That third card, that utter despair. He couldn’t take his gaze from it. Adam said, “It looks like he’s woken from a nightmare.” (Book 2, page 357)
The Magician || Interpretation: Power, skill, concentration, action, resourcefulness. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists – earth, air, fire and water. These symbolise the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. || Appearance: Adam’s draw for himself — “I’m pulling another card.” […] Adam cut the deck, laid his hand on each stack. He took the card that felt warmer. Flipping it, he placed the card beside the nine of swords. A robed figure stood before a coin, a goblet, a sword, a wand — all of the symbols of all the tarot suits. An infinity symbol floated above his head; one arm was lifted in a posture of power. Yes, thought Adam. Understanding prickled and then evaded him. He read the words at the bottom of the card. The Magician.” (Book 2, page 357)
Three of Wands || Interpretation: Preparation, foresight, enterprise, expansion. From this height, he can see all that lies ahead and is aware of the impending challenges and opportunities. The three Wands surrounding him are firmly planted in the ground, reflecting his commitment to his future plans.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. Three of wands: build a bridge across the stream with these three stones.” (Book 2, page 396)
Seven of Swords || Interpretation: Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth. The Seven of Swords shows a man sneaking away from a military camp with a bundle of five swords in his arms. Two other swords remain planted in the ground just behind him. His expression exhibits a sense of over-confidence and mocking, as though he felt absolutely sure of his success of getting away with the theft. However, in the distance a small group of soldiers can be seen to the left of the thief, and one of them holds a sword upraised.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. […] Seven of swords: Just dig out the biggest of the stones and put it in the tri-colored car.” (Book 2, page 396)
The Devil || Interpretation: Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism. The goat symbolizes the scapegoat, the person or thing upon which people project the inferior side of themselves in order to feel better about themselves. Thus the Devil is the scapegoat we blame for our troubles in life. The Devil has an almost hypnotic stare, bringing those who come near him within his power. At the foot of the Devil stands a man and a woman, both naked and chained to the podium on which the Devil sits. They appear to be held here, against their will, but only closer observation, the chains around their necks are loose and could be easily removed. This symbolises that bondage to the Devil is ultimately a voluntary matter which consciousness can release. The man and woman wear tiny horns like those of the Satyr – they are becoming more and more like the devil the longer they stay here. The dark and doorless cave implies that the Devil dwells in the most inaccessible realm of the unconscious and only crisis can break through the walls.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone turned over a card. The Devil. All of a sudden, Adam was quite certain of why they were hurrying.” (Book 2, page 398)|| Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126) || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Ronan — “Ronan turned his head sideways to read the cards. Something with flames, something with a sword. The Devil.” (Book 4, page 141)
The Empress || Interpretation: Fertility, femininity, beauty, nature, abundance. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. The Empress is surrounded by a beautiful, lush forest with a stream running through it, demonstrating the Empress’s deep emotional connection with Mother Earth and life. She draws her sense of peace from the trees and the water and is rejuvenated by the energy of nature. || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Knight of Wands || Interpretation: Energy, passion, lust, action, adventure, impulsiveness. The Knight of Wands is seen riding upon his horse, which rears up in the intensity of the Knight’s quest for success. The Knight’s face bears the determination of one bound to succeed. || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Blue — “He placed a random card on the warm hood. His unfocused eyes skipped over the image — a black-smudged knight on horseback carrying a vine-wrapped staff — and began to remake it into something wordless and dreamy. Sight was replaced with sensation. A vertiginous feeling of travel, climbing, rightness. He covered the image with his hand until he got his eyes back, and then he put the card away. “Knight of wands?” Blue asked him.” (Book 3, page 305)
Queen of Swords || Interpretation: Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent. The Queen of Swords sits high on her throne with a stern look on her face indicating that no-one can fool her. In her right hand, she comfortably holds a sword pointed to the sky, and her left hand extends as if she has something to offer to others. Behind her is a spring sky, different from the winter settings on most other Swords cards, and this has an emergence and growth quality to it. The sky is clear, representing her clarity of mind as she considers matters of the intellect.|| Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “”Does this mean she’s still alive?” Maura asked, tapping on a card in one of the branches – the Queen of Swords. “Probably,” Calla grunted.” (Book 4, page 13) || Note: I’ve seen people write in their reviews that they thought this was referring to Persephone and were consequentially disappointed when she didn’t return. However, because the card is the Queen of Swords, it is undoubtedly a reference to either Piper or Neeve.
Throughout my third reading, I also noticed that there are several instances of intentionally untranslated Latin throughout the four books. I jotted down the translations in the margins of my hard copies and figured that I would share my findings for anyone else who might be interested in doing the same! Please note that I do not speak any Latin whatsoever, so these translations were pulled off Google. As such, I cannot attest to the correctness of the grammar.
Book 1, page 115: “You know what they say about men with large bags,” Ronan replied. “Ostendes tuum et ostendam meus?” = I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Book 2, page 121: “In indiget homo battery,” muttered Ronan. = a man needs a battery -or- a similar battery is needed
Book 2, page 128: “Occidet eum!” begged Orphan Girl, clinging to Ronan’s leg. […] The girl sobbed out, “Ronan, imploro te!” || Occidet eum = kill || Ronan, imploro te = Ronan, kill him
Book 2, page 230: “Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Adam, who had become Kavinsky, said, “Scio quid estis vos.” He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.” || Scio quid hoc est = I know what that is || Scio quid estis vos = I know what you are
Book 4, page 35: “Periculosum,” she warned. “Suscitat.” = peril awakens
Book 4, page 74: “Operae pretium est,” Orphan Girl said. = it is worthwhile
Book 4, page 221: “Miseria fortes viros, Ronan,” Adam said. = Fire tests gold; adversity tests strong men
Book 4, page 284: Adam studied the tattoo that covered Ronan’s back: all the sharp edges that hooked wondrously and fearfully into each other. “Unguibus et rostro,” Adam said. = claws and beaks –or- with beak and talon, or tooth and nail.*
Book 4, page 394: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” Ronan said into Adam’s hearing ear = and perhaps one day it will please us to remember these things
*So this line shows up twice in the fourth book, and many readers view it as a phrase of endearment between Ronan and Adam. The two translations are similar in wording, but one carries infinitely more weight. “Claws and beaks” could simply be a way for the boys to refer to themselves, an endearing line that has meaning to them within the scope of their interactions. However, “with beak and talon, or tooth and nail” is far more loaded. We’re all familiar with the phrase “fighting tooth and nail” and when this line shows up for the second time at the end of the book, Ronan is indisputably fighting with all he has. This interpretation implies that Ronan (and Adam) will always fight for what they have and what they love.
3 thoughts on “The Raven Cycle: Tarot and Translations”
Am bookmarking this for when I finally learn tarot because TRC is basically the reason for my interest.
I looked up the ‘beaks and claws’ translation but never made the link with ‘tooth and nail’… And I did Latin haha
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this is brilliant! just what i was looking for