History And Explanation (03-06)
The Fool (07)
The High Priestess (08)
The Wheel Of Fortune (09)
The King Of Swords And The Emperor (10)
The Queen Of Swords (11)
The Chariot (12)
The Hanged Man (13)
The Empress (14)
The Hermit And Justice (16)
The Tower (17)
The Queen Of Staffs? (18)
The Lovers (19)
The Devil (21)
The Moon (22)
The Sun (23)
The World (24)
Some Concluding Thoughts (25-28)
Resources And Links
Bags that look at you are the least of your worries in Illusia
 Welcome to the Land of Illusia, a bewildering and wondrous land full of powerful imagery. To the uninitiated, the images found in this land seem odd, somewhat frightening, yet strangely familiar. They should be since they are based on the archetypal mysticism of the Tarot.
 The Tarot, which is frequently used as a means to discover the future, has been traditionally associated with fortune-telling. However, the Tarot is more than a tool of divination. It is the story of the journey toward self-discovery and, as such, contains appropriate symbols for Xena and Gabrielle's journey toward their own enlightenment through Illusia. In THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), the writers and producers use the Tarot in many ways. Some of the cards are obvious and some are very subtle and must be inferred.
History And Explanation Before discussing Tarot imagery in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), however, it might be helpful to provide some general historical and explanatory commentary on Tarot.
 The Tarot consists of seventy-eight cards split into two parts, the Major and Minor Arcana. The term "Arcana" comes from the word "arcane", meaning esoteric or secret knowledge. The Major Arcana has twenty-two cards and the images are considered to be archetypes of human nature. The symbolism used in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) comes primarily from the Major Arcana.
 The fifty-six cards of the Minor Arcana are the progenitors of our modern playing cards. It has four suits: the Staffs, the Cups, the Swords and the Pentacles (also know as Coins) and each suit is numbered one through ten. In addition, the suits have four Court cards, the King, the Queen, the Knight and the Page. Generally, the Staffs relate to work and ambition, the Cups concern emotions and personal relationships, the Swords signify action and conflict and the Pentacles relate to material needs and manifestation. The cards of the Minor Arcana are considered to be support cards to the Major Arcana, lending clarity and direction to the Major Arcana in a Tarot reading.
 No one knows the origin of the Tarot, though China, India or Egypt are the popular choices. They were known to exist in Italy in the fourteenth century and the symbolism of the cards was standardized by the sixteenth century. In our era, many artists have been inspired by the mystical images to design their own decks and hundreds of different decks exist. The most famous and popular is the Rider-Waite deck and it is upon this deck that most artists base their work, though some create their own images. The Rider-Waite deck images were also used in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312).
Callisto, in the guise of The Fool, welcomes the reborn Xena to Illusia and shows her the ropes.
 The journey into Illusia begins through water, always a symbol of rebirth. Xena arrives naked and confused and meets the first card of the Tarot's Major Arcana, the Fool. The Fool is the first step of the journey toward self-discovery, a symbol of frivolity and immaturity, but also of enthusiasm and naivety. The Fool is often pictured blithely sniffing a rose with one foot about to step off a cliff, a step into the unknown, while the little dog runs and barks in warning.
The High Priestess
Xena, in the guise of The High Priestess, slowly realizes that Illusia ain't Kansas.
 Callisto, as the Fool, dresses Xena in robes and a moon headdress and seats her on a throne flanked by one black and one white column. Xena becomes the High Priestess, the third card of the Major Arcana. She represents wisdom, common sense, objectivity, intuition, self-reliance, emotionlessness and platonic relationships.
The Wheel Of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune offers Xena a chance to ponder what she had wrought.
 Callisto introduces Xena to the apparent force that rules Illusia, the Wheel of Fortune, a card of destiny, fate, culmination and inevitability. With the wheel spinning, Xena is led back to her old life as a warlord.
The King Of Swords And The Emperor
Still trying to get some Xena action, Ares, the God of War, enters into Xena's Illusian test in the guise of The Emperor.
 Appropriately, Ares awaits her in the guise of the King of Swords, the representation of a determined, intelligent and commanding man who, in the reverse card position, can be cruel, selfish and sadistic. Though the symbolism is not used here, Ares can also be representing the Emperor, since the Emperor sits on a throne decorated with ram heads, also a symbol of Ares. The Emperor is appropriate for Ares as he represents the male influences, worldly power, order and stability, authority and the tendency toward war.
The Queen Of Swords Xena's clothes are changed and Ares hands her a helmet, symbolically helping to make her the Queen of Swords. The Queen of Swords is a quick-witted, perceptive, honest and subtle woman who has known loneliness, mourning and separation. The reverse of the card is narrow-mindedness, deceitfulness and vengefulness.
The Chariot Right before Gabrielle's entrance, Xena and Ares stand in the Chariot, a symbol of victory, will-power, control, balancing opposing or competing forces, good and evil, male and female.
The Hanged Man
Joxer, in the guise of The Hanged Man, becomes Gabrielle's guide to Illusia.
 Gabrielle also arrives naked, rescued from the water by Joxer as the Hanged Man. In many Tarot references, the Hanged Man is another representation of the Fool. He seems to be in danger, hanging upside down by one foot, yet he is always pictured as being relaxed and in no distress. The Hanged Man symbolizes transition, sacrifice, surrender, repentance and renewal.
Gabrielle, in the guise of the The Empress, begins her Illusian test in tandem with Xena.
 Clothed in the garb of the Empress with her crown of stars, Gabrielle finds herself back home in Poteidaia. As the Empress, she represents the feminine forces of abundance, motherhood, sisterhood, practicality and intuition.
Death If Gabrielle represents the feminine Empress and Ares can be considered the masculine Emperor, their worlds collide when Gabrielle arrives in Ares'. The outcome is inevitable as Xena, encouraged by Ares, kills Gabrielle. In this scene, both Xena and Gabrielle represent Death. Gabrielle carries a scythe, a symbol of Death, and Xena's red dress is decorated with bones. In most Tarot decks the Death is shown as a skeleton, sometimes dressed in black robes. The Death card represents rebirth as well as transformation, abrupt change, and severing old ways to make way for the new.
The Hermit And Justice Joxer, as the Hermit, and Callisto, as Justice, arrive. The Hermit, with his black robes and light shining through the darkness, represents knowledge, counsel, discretion, vigilance and withdrawal. His role is that of a guide. Callisto's costume is decorated with the scales of Justice, a card that represents impartiality, righteousness, honor and, obviously, justice.
The Tower This being the Land of Illusia, Gabrielle is not dead and the Wheel of Fortune sends them to confront each other in The Tower. Considered the most difficult card of the Tarot, The Tower is the symbol of loss and ruin, the severing of friendships and past relationships, of shattering and sudden life changes. The Tower represents the Rift of the saga and the most appropriate place for Xena and Gabrielle to confront their anger, hatred and disappointment.
Queen Of Staffs? Here, Xena continues to represent the Queen of Swords, but the card Gabrielle represents is unclear. Her costume is striking, but I have not found a Tarot image to match it. Though she does not carry her staff, it is possible to imagine that Gabrielle symbolizes the Queen of Staffs. This card represents a sympathetic and understanding person, a loving friend who is energetic, self-assured and cheerful. This representation is as suitable to Gabrielle as the Queen of Swords is to Xena.
The High Priestess and the Empress finally square off.
 An underlying force, not shown in symbols in the Tower scene, is the reverse meaning of The Lovers. The reverse of The Lovers represent separation, frustration in love, the interference of others and untrustworthiness. As Xena and Gabrielle express their anger and pain in a climax of accusations, the force of the Wheel of Fortune pulls them away, back to the past in the temple of Dahak, the place where the seeds of the Rift were planted.
Judgement In the temple, a death image appears in a twisted representation of the Judgement card. In the Judgement card, the dead arise from opened coffins as an angel blows a trumpet. Judgement represents atonement, forgiveness and repentance, and rebirth. Gabrielle and Xena are placed in positions mirroring situations that made radical changes to their lives in the past that still influence the present.
The Devil Though Dahak is not seen, his presence is felt, and is represented by the evil influences from Xena and Gabrielle's past. In the Xenaverse, Dahak is the closest thing to the Devil and the influence of the Devil card is clear. The Devil symbolizes malevolence, hopelessness, bondage, self-punishment and self- destruction. The Devil card is instructive. Pictured with the stereotypical horns, he holds chains that are wrapped around a cowering, naked man and woman. Yet, most Devil cards show that the chains are loosely wrapped. If the people could overcome their fear of the Devil, they could easily escape their bindings. Xena and Gabrielle learn the same lesson as they overcome their hatred, driving away the force of Dahak in the process.
The Moon The temple changes after this and Xena and Gabrielle see Solan, bathed in light, standing beyond a shimmering curtain of golden water. The end of their journey is near, but Xena must face one more ghost from her past in the form of Ming T'ien. He is shown in the black robes of death, but his influence in this scene and on Xena is that of The Moon. The silvery-blue light of the temple contrasts with the golden light beyond the curtain of water. The Moon card symbolizes deception, disillusionment, and fear. To completely free herself, Xena confronts her own deception and asks for forgiveness. The influence of the Moon is destroyed and Xena is able to pass through the water.
The Sun Able to overcome the pain of the past, Xena embraces Solan. Here, Solan represents the card of The Sun. Always pictured with a child, The Sun symbolizes liberation, enlightenment and vitality.
The ladies dug up some issues, duked them out, and then found themselves in the Bahamas on vacation. If we all could be so lucky.
 In the final scene, Xena and Gabrielle lie in a circle of seaweed, splashed by water. They are back to being themselves, yet they're completely renewed. The scene represents the World card, the symbol of completion, fulfillment, synthesis, and triumph.
Concluding Thoughts Some of my interpretation is inferred by what the scenes represent and others may have different interpretations. The Major Arcana cards that did not seem to be represented in the episode were The Magician, The Hierophant, Temperance, The Star and Strength. Of the Minor Arcana, only the suit of Swords makes an appearance in Ares and Xena, though the suit of Staffs (also called Wands or Rods) can be inferred with regard to Gabrielle.
 In studying the Tarot in relationship to this episode, I found some choices that the producers used that I did not agree with. For instance, using Callisto as the Fool in the beginning seemed inappropriate. Most fans would say right off that Joxer is the obvious choice for this one. Throughout their adventures Joxer shows the characteristics of The Fool: thoughtlessness, immaturity, insecurity, enthusiasm and naivety.
 Though the Fool is the start of the Tarot story, a more logical choice would have been Callisto as the Magician in the first scene. The Magician is the holder of arcane knowledge with the ability to control the forces of the world. This would be appropriate for Callisto, as a goddess, to introduce Xena to the strange world of Illusia, and, thus, set the Wheel of Fortune spinning.
 Beyond these minor quibbles, I feel that the writers and producers made elegant use the Tarot. By using the High Priestess and the Queen of Swords to symbolize Xena, they painted a clear picture of her basic character. The High Priestess is one half of the feminine archetype of the Tarot with the Empress, symbolized by Gabrielle, representing the second half. In this fashion, the feminine balance between Xena and Gabrielle was beautifully illustrated.
Resources And LinksThe Rider-Waite Tarot
The Tarot of a Moon Garden
The Celtic Tarot
Learning the Tarot - An On-line Course
Tarot for Self-Discovery
Nina Lee Braden
Astarte's Tarot Web
Tarot: Tools and Rites of Transformation
Jill's Xena Page
At work, I am Victoria of Borg, assimilated into the great collective known as the company's telephone system, and wearer of a spiffy operator's head-set. At home, I'm the faithful giant servant to my master cats, Samatha and Lia, dutifully scratching behind their ears and keeping their bowls full of their favorite goodies. But to my fish (Ha, ha!), I am the Great Goddess, the bestower light, sustenance and clean water. The danios flock to the front of the tank adoringly (and hungrily) at my approach, while the cories hide in fear and trembling.
When not fulfilling my duties as a credit union phone rep, cat-servant or Great Goddess of fish, I write fantasy, work on my dream to have a literary editing and critiquing business, mentoring other writers. I love to read history, mythology, fiction and just about anything else. Xena, Hercules, Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine are my favorite shows. For fresh air, I like to hike around the beautiful central coast of California, my home.
Favorite episode: Comedy Episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); Dramatic Episode: MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311)
Favorite line: Autolycus: "No messing with my limbs or bodily functions unless I say so. Got it?" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (27/203)
Favorite Disclaimer: "Xena's body was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, it took weeks for Autolycus to get his swagger back." THE QUEST (37/213)