The Four Ego Functions
Jung classified people by the way they perceived and interpreted reality and the two ways they respond to it. ego functions
Jung categorized people as introverted and extroverted types. However, more importantly from the point of view of the Tarot, further divided them according to four functions of the mind. Those are: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition.
- Sensation (meaning sense perception) tells us that something exists
- thinking tells you what it is;
- feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not;
- and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going
These four are actually two diametrically opposed pairs – and Jung arranged them into a sort of compass.
The Contrast of the Opposites
Jung often wrote about the dichotomy of Light and Dark, Conscious and Unconscious. So – likewise the four functions are presented as a kind of a fixed dial, with the top (conscious) part being light and the bottom (underdeveloped, unconscious) part, being dark. The faculty which is most conscious (in the case above, Intuition) is the dominant one, or Principle function, the other one (in this case, Intuition) is the secondary faculty, or Auxiliary function and the one opposite to that (Sensation) is a second Auxiliary function. The level of consciousness and development of each facility decreases with each number. Thus, while the Principal Function is fully conscious and dominant, with the second two being slightly suppressed and unconscious, the forth (in this case Sensation) is totally suppressed and unconscious.
So what of it?
Therefore, if a person has the Thinking function – an analytical way of looking at the world – highly developed, the Feeling function – the empathetic, warm-hearted way of looking at things – will be correspondingly underdeveloped. In fact, it will be suppressed. The same goes for Sensation and Intuition. Sensation is orientation ‘outward’ to physical reality, Intuition is ‘inward’ – into a psychic reality.
Because we tend to choose the easy route and avoid what doesn’t feel natural, most of us greatly develop and improve our Principle functions and ignore our suppressed functions. As a result, our suppressed function becomes less and less conscious and developed. With age, we start being ‘typed’ according to our superior function and we, as well as others, will label ourselves introverted or extraverted as we understand ourselves, and, what’s worse, become comfortable with these labels.
In his words:
Jung however, believed that “For complete orientation all four functions should contribute equally: thinking should facilitate cognition and judgment, feeling should tell us how and to what extent a thing is important or unimportant for us, sensation should convey concrete reality to us through seeing, hearing, tasting, etc., and intuition should enable us to divine the hidden possibilities in the background, since these too belong to the complete picture of a given situation.” – Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 6) (Bollingen Series XX)
The Four Functions and the Minor Arcana
Jung’s four functions can help enrich our understanding of the Minor Arcana. Conversely, the cards can assist in psychological exploration.
This is what the Four Ego Functions look like in the Tarot
- Intuition is an ego that is subjective, it is internal reality. It corresponds to the Suit of Wands
- Its opposite is Sensation, which is objective, external reality. Sensation corresponds to the Suit of Pentacles
- Thinking is a reasoning ego, which represents intellect and detachment. It corresponds to the Suit of Swords, whose opposite is
- The opposite of thinking is Feeling – an emotional, empathetic ego, that corresponds to the Suit of Cups
Understanding the major elements and characteristics of the suits is the first step to an intuitive and accurate Tarot Reading.
Not only can understand the basic psychic make-up of the situation based on the suits, which, in turn, correspond with the four functions, but we can understand the general conditioning of the situation and where in the realm of the querent’s consciousness it resides.
For example, let’s say that the suit of cups dominates the spread. The implication there is that the situation is driven or manipulated by feelings and emotions. On the other hand, when there is a large presence of swords, we can deduce that the querent is led by his brain only – not listening to the gut and ignoring intuition. Tarot readings become more meaningful when we apply the understanding of Jung’s Four Ego functions, and a lot more 3-dimensional.