The Tarot

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. ūüôā

The Tarot is a vast subject Рa 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:

Some Marseilles Tarot Cards

Some Marseilles Tarot Cards

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.

Ettelia Tarot Trump - Judgement

Ettelia Tarot Trump - Judgement

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. Pamela ‚ÄúPixie‚ÄĚ Coleman Smith

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 Рthe 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 Рit was slightly altered by Crowley and has been completely revised by English magician W.G. Gray Рand 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:

Click to view

Click to view

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:

Element Self Jungian Freudian Transactional Analysis
Wands Fire Erotic Intuition Id Parent
Cups Water Feeling Feeling Ego Adapted Child
Swords Air Thinking Thinking (ignored) Adult/computer
Pentacles Earth Body Sensation Super-ego Natural Child
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 Рmature man;  Queen Рmature woman, Prince Рyoung man, Princess Рyoung 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.

'Golden Dawn' Trump of the Universe

'Golden Dawn' Trump of the Universe

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 Р Tiphareth in Atziluth Prince of Wands
Heh Р Malkuth in Atziluth Princess of Wands
Yod – Chokmah in Briah King of Cups
Heh – Binah in Briah Queen of Cups
Vau Р Tiphareth in Briah Prince of Cups
Heh Р Malkuth in Briah Princess of Cups
Yod – Chokmah in Yetzira King of Swords
Heh – Binah in Yetzira Queen of Swords
Vau Р Tiphareth in Yetzira Prince of Swords
Heh Р Malkuth in Yetzira Princess of Swords
Yod – Chokmah in Assiah King of Pentacles
Heh Р Binah in Assiah Queen of Pentacles
Vau Р Tiphareth in Assiah Prince of Pentacles
Heh Р 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:

Wands Fire Atziluth
Cups Water Briah
Swords Air Yetzira
Pantacles Earth Assiah

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:

High Priestess Trump

High Priestess Trump

The Fool                                               Air

The Magician                                     Mercury

High Priestess                                       Moon

Empress                                               Venus

Emperor                                               Aries

Hierophant                                            Taurus

Lovers                                                  Gemini

Chariot                                                  Cancer

Strength                                                Leo

Hermit                                                   Virgo

Fortune                                                 Jupiter

Justice                                                  Libra

Hanged Man                                         Water

Death                                                   Scorpio

Temperance                                          Sagittarius

Devil                                                     Capricorn

Tower                                                   Mars

Star                                                      Aquarius

Moon                                                    Pisces

Sun                                                      Sun

Judgement                                            Fire

Universe                                               Saturn

Working With the Tarot

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 Рboth 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 Рdo 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?

The Lovers Trump

The Lovers Trump

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.



  1. Alex · March 16, 2009

    About working with the tarot, should any kind of deck be okay?

    I have the Cilla Conway Intuitive Tarot deck and I noticed that the book’s explanation on the symbols are different from the ones the Cicero’s use. Or am I confused about the system?

  2. jezzamine · June 25, 2011

    I think there are different levels on which to read them. There is such incredible imagery and thus symbolism in Tarot all of which is meaningful and different decks appeared at times when the meaning of those symbols needed re-examining, bringing into the current time etc
    Personally, I don’t think the purely intuitive is that valuable as intuition can be wrong! Totally wrong! Use both – a lot of readers do. After all, there are two stories. One is the personal, the other is the person in his archetypal journey in the bigger picture.

  3. wedding magician · June 12, 2012

    Hi there, I discovered your site by the use of Google whilst searching for a similar subject, your website came up, it seems to be good. I have bookmarked to my favourites|added to my bookmarks.

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