I found these notes today when searching for something. Originally written for a course on the Western tradition a number of years back i thought they might be of use here. They are a little rough and ready, so be warned and enjoy. 🙂
The Tarot is a vast subject – a veritable tradition on its own, and these notes are only a brief introduction to one aspect of the Tarot. I will not be covering the divination aspect of Tarot. There are more than enough decks and books published for you to get all you need (and more) on the divination side. There are also plenty of good works on the creative use of the Tarot for personal transformation.
A Bit of History of the Tarot as a Spiritual Tool
The history of the Tarot is obscured by many legends and myths that are associated with it. Some people believe that the Tarot images were inscribed upon gold tablets which decorated Egyptian temples in Memphis. Others ascribe the creation of the cards to Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary founder of the Hermetic and magical thought in the West. Another legend has the cards being created about 500 ce during a meeting of all the illuminated masters of the various spiritual traditions of the world at the time. This meeting decided to secretly encode the spiritual truths of the universe into a simple card game so they would never be destroyed during the forthcoming Dark Ages in the West.
Playing cards appear to have been introduced to Europe around 1375-1390 ce during the Islamic invasion of North Africa, Spain and Sicily. These cards appear to have been adaptations of the Islamic “Mamluk” cards which had suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks. The cards seemed to have developed into the games of Trifoni or “triumphs” (earliest records being 1422 ce) and the Tarrochi (earliest records, 1516 ce) played in Italy. The earliest surviving Tarot cards are from around 1450 ce. Certain elements of the imagery in the traditional cards, such as that of the Hanged Man also correlate almost exactly to the images described by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Vita Merlini, (Life of Merlin) written in the late 9th century ce. The link here has never been fully explained or researched by scholars. Whatever and whenever the actual origins of the cards, the game of Tarot became popular between 1500 and 1750 ce. For example in the 1620’s ce in France, Tarot was a more popular game than chess amongst the nobility. One of the earliest decks of this era, still available today is the Marseilles deck:
In 1781 ce a French Mason and occultist, Court de Gebelin, published “Le Monde Primitif” (The Primitive World) in which he claimed that the Tarot was an ancient Egyptian system of wisdom teaching. He asserted that the name tarot originates from the Egyptian ‘tar’ for way and ‘ros’ for royal (this claim does not correlate with any known ancient Egyptian language). He also hinted that the twenty two major arcana correspond to the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but never revealed any actual correspondences. It is highly possible that de Gebelin obtained his information from the secret esoteric orders he was associated with; the fifty years prior to his publication saw great development of Masonic rituals and lore and the syncretism of different symbol systems was very common within Masonic tradition. So it is possible that the Tarot was being used for spiritual purposes within these orders and elsewhere before the 1780s ce.
Within a few years of Court de Gebelin’s work the Tarot cards were commonly being used for divination. The use of the cards in this way steadily expanded and prompted the first commercial deck designed and published specifically for divination to come out in 1788. The designs on this deck were very much influenced by Court de Gebelin’s claim of Egyptian origins. The divinatory meanings for each card were printed on the cards themselves, making it all rather simple.
During the next hundred years there followed a spate of books and people claiming to reveal the ancient secrets of the cards. Most important of these was Eliphas Levi, who in his Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1860 ce) published the actual correspondences with the Hebrew Alphabet. These, with slight modifications, were used in the teachings of the most important Western esoteric tradition, the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn expanded the correspondences of the Tarot and pioneered many of the spiritual ways of viewing and exploring the Tarot used today within much of the modern Hermetic, Qabalistic, magical, pagan and New Age communities.
The Tarot deck created by the Golden Dawn served as the template for virtually all of the decks created in the last hundred years. The most popular deck ever, the Waite-Rider deck (misnamed, it should really be called the Waite-Smith deck) was created by two initiates of the Golden Dawn tradition, Pamela Coleman-Smith and A.E. Waite, drawing on GD tarot teachings. The deck was strongly influenced by the GD deck and has been the most copied deck since its publication in 1914 ce. Only in recent years have people created decks that do not follow the pattern laid down by the GD.
|Pamela “Pixie” Coleman Smith. 1878-1951Artist, writer mystic and magician who illustrated the ‘Waite’ Tarot deck. Uncredited, she took Waite’s basic black and white designs and transformed them with her own insights and colour. She also appears to have been the originator of the unique images for the Minor Arcana – previously having been little more than an image of the appropriate number of symbols.|
Spiritual Dimensions of the Tarot
The spiritual exploration of the tarot is normally approached by one or more of three broad ways: the archetypal and personally resonant images within the cards; the correspondences between the cards and the Qabalah (and other spiritual systems in recent years); the numerical aspects of the cards. We may add to this that from the magical point of the view, certain decks may give a entry point into particular magical currents upon the astral (Yetziratic) plane. The vast majority of work is done with the first approach – the images. Here we will explore the Qabalistic approach a bit as the imagery approach can be found in thousands of books, course, Websites etc and is often very personal.
The Qabalah: The Tarot cards are corresponded to the Tree of Life. (Please note this is the traditional GD system – it was slightly altered by Crowley and has been completely revised by English magician W.G. Gray – and probably others unknown to me. Once more, the map is not the territory.)
Examining each section of the Traditional 78 card deck in turn we see:
The Major Arcana show the linkages and interactions/communion between two aspects of our being. For example the Fool card shows the linkages and communion between our deep spiritual source (Kether) and our Spiritual Will and God ‘within’ (Chokmah). The Magician card shows the linkages and communion between our deep spiritual source (Kether) and our Spiritual Love and Goddess ‘within’ (Binah), and shows that the magician is in service to the Goddess.
The Minor Arcana is divided into four sets, Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. These represent the four elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth). These, also represent four states of consciousness and awareness and aspects of our psyche. These have been recognised by many modern psychologists, and may be corresponded as follows:
|Major Arcana||Spirit||“Higher”||The Self||(ignored)|
With this in mind we can now look at the two sections of the Minor Arcana:
The Court Cards: Traditionally in divination the Court Cards usually represent real people and are personifications of the qualities represented by the suit and personage within the card according to the general formula: King – mature man; Queen – mature woman, Prince – young man, Princess – young woman. Thus Queen of cups represents a mature woman embodying the principles of feelings, emotions, adaptation, water etc. The Princess of Pentacles represents a young woman with earthy, practical qualities etc. In spiritual work the Court Cards can be used to connect with and represent those qualities within ourselves and also the various sub-elements and may be used to help us connect with these powers.
Fire of Fire King of Wands
Water of Fire Queen of Wands
Air of Fire Prince of Wands
Earth of Fire Princess of Wands
Fire of Water King of Cups
Water of Water Queen of Cups
Air of Water Prince of Cups
Earth of Water Princess of Cups
Fire of Air King of Swords
Water of Air Queen of Swords
Air of Air Prince of Swords
Earth of Air Princess of Swords
Fire of Earth King of Pentacles
Water of Earth Queen of Pentacles
Air of Earth Prince of Pentacles
Earth of Earth Princess of Pentacles
The 16 court cards are also attributed to the powers of the divine hwhy as expressed within the four worlds and the four Sephiroth of Chokmah, Binah, Tiphareth and Malkuth.
|Yod – Chokmah in Atziluth||King of Wands|
|Heh – Binah in Atziluth||Queen of Wands|
|Vau – Tiphareth in Atziluth||Prince of Wands|
|Heh – Malkuth in Atziluth||Princess of Wands|
|Yod – Chokmah in Briah||King of Cups|
|Heh – Binah in Briah||Queen of Cups|
|Vau – Tiphareth in Briah||Prince of Cups|
|Heh – Malkuth in Briah||Princess of Cups|
|Yod – Chokmah in Yetzira||King of Swords|
|Heh – Binah in Yetzira||Queen of Swords|
|Vau – Tiphareth in Yetzira||Prince of Swords|
|Heh – Malkuth in Yetzira||Princess of Swords|
|Yod – Chokmah in Assiah||King of Pentacles|
|Heh – Binah in Assiah||Queen of Pentacles|
|Vau – Tiphareth in Assiah||Prince of Pentacles|
|Heh – Malkuth in Assiah||Princess of Pentacles|
The Pip (numbered) Cards are attributed to the ten Sephiroth according to following pattern: the Aces to Kether, the twos to Chokmah etc. The suit of the card is also attributed to one of the four worlds of the Qabalah, thus:
So, the seven of cups is corresponded to Netzach of Briah/Water. The pip cards refer to the general aspects of ourselves indicated by the Sephira of the tree of life as modified or combined with the element within our consciousness indicated by the suit of the card.
For example, looking at the four nines:
- the nine of wands shows our instincts, drives subconscious (Yesod) etc modified by fire/intuition
- the nine of cups shows our instincts, drives subconscious (Yesod) etc modified by water/feeling
- the nine of swords shows our instincts, drives subconscious (Yesod) etc modified by air/thinking
- the nine of pentacles shows our instincts, drives subconscious(Yesod) modified by earth/body.
In this schema the four Aces are the root sources of the elements and those modes of consciousness symbolised by the elements.
Other Correspondences to the Major Arcana
The Major Arcana images are powerful and set up energies which vibrate at particular levels within our psyche and which open us to particular blessings of energy within the astral realm. Meditating for ten minutes on the Fool followed by ten minutes on the Devil will illustrate the radically different energies different Major Arcana cards can produce. The Golden Dawn and other traditions have a number of different correspondences to these energies. Lists of these can be found in the published sources listed in our book list, notably The Qabalistic Tarot by Robert Wang. The most useful and interesting on a personal level is that of the Zodiacal and Planetary signs:
The Fool Air
The Magician Mercury
High Priestess Moon
Hanged Man Water
Practical work with the archetypes of the Tarot is essentially a matter of using the imagination’ – Gareth Knight.
Any practical work with the Tarot requires the foundations of altruistic intention, connection with the divine, meditation, purification, visualization and grounding. If you are not fully competent in these foundations please leave practical work alone. Otherwise your unfoldment and service will be hampered.
Active Meditation. Choose a card as a meditation object for your active meditation. It is best to start with the Major Arcana or trumps and work from the Fool through to the Universe (World). After this proceed with the sixteen Court Cards and then the forty Pip or numbered cards.
Arts and the Tarot. Choose a card. Meditate on the image and use it as a basis for writing a story, poem, dance piece, music, painting etc.
Building the Cards Into You Being: Besides drawing, colouring, meditating etc on the cards, another good way to really get to know them is this. Choose a card and study it for several minutes, trying to remember its image as much as possible. Turn the card over. Now draw each symbol that you remember and list as much as you know and FEEL about these symbols – both what you have read and what you sense or ponder deeply. Do the same with the colours on the card and the patterns in space the symbols make – do three symbols form triangle? Are all the light colours in one area of the card? What do these things mean? Once complete, turn the card over and see what symbols, colours or patterns you missed. Again work through Trumps, Court Cards and then Pip cards.
Circle of Trumps: Using consecrated cards, lay an egg of the 22 Trumps in order, starting with the Fool at the top of the egg and Justice at the base of the egg. The order goes clockwise whilst looking at the egg shape from above. Now lie in the egg. Perform a Middle Pillar ritual and circulate the light down from Kether to Malkuth along the left side of your body, passing the energy through the Trumps. This helps build up the tarot cycle and flow of its energies into your being and should also help your readings (if you do any).
Colouring the Cards: Make or photocopy black and white outline images of the cards and then colour them yourself in a meditative space. Be conscious of the colours used. What changes in the energy and spiritual qualities of the cards would a major colour change bring?
Composition of Place as a Tarot Figure: This is similar to above in many ways, except that you imagine yourself as the figure in the card. This is often done in the posture of the figure in question.
Consecration of Cards This can be done on a number of levels. Psychological or Suggestive Consecration often occurs simply because we are using a Tarot deck and we all know about them etc. We can also Bring Forth the Natural Qualities of the card in question. This works best with those decks that were created with reference to the Qabalah or another deck that was, or those decks that are linked to existing magical/astral currents. Both is even better. We can Charge the card with the energies it represents to enhance its powers. Or we may Charge and strengthen the link of the card to the astral currents in question. Nearly all Tarot cards have links through the inherent symbolism of the cards and structure of the deck itself. Or we may Birth the Card as a fully living Talisman. These are all advanced Western Hermetic magical techniques.
Dancing the Cards: We build up the image of the card either within our astral auras or our chakras and dance to express the cards energies.
Designing a Ritual to Experience all the Energies of a Single Card: this is in effect a form of initiation. Again this is more advanced Western magical and Hermetic work.
Dreaming the Cards: Simply contemplate a card before you go to sleep. Read a little about it, ponder it, stare at it, feel the qualities. Then place it under your pillow as you sleep, consciously placing it within your etheric and astral bodies. Notice any dreams. Work through the complete deck, a card a night for 78 nights, following the pattern outlined above. The card is placed under your pillow (and a copy often at the wall facing the bed) and you meditate upon the card as you fall asleep.
Engaging with the Tarot Figures: Basically in a sacred space the image of the trump is built up and you step into it. You then can speak with and engage with the figures in question.
Pathworking: a card (most often a Trump) is chosen and is used as a gateway through which to enter the astral world of the Trump. These correspond to the 22 paths or 10 Sephiroth in the Four Worlds from the Qabala
Using Cards to Consecrate Items: A fully enlivened card can become the gateway for the blessings of the Paths of the Tree of Life and Hebrew letters. A cleansed item corresponding to the card (or another matching card) can be consecrated by simply placing it next to the enlivened card together with an etheric power source such as candles or incense.