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A Journey on the Left Hand Path
 
 

Integrating The Tarot

In the article below, I have gone into detail on the core symbolism of the entire standard Tarot. If you understand those basic symbols and learn to develop your intuition regarding the meaning of these symbols then they are combined then you can consider yourself to be a Tarot Adept. To Master the Tarot you will need to take it to levels of artistry beyond that and have created your own unique deck. One thing that I have found useful when seeking to extend my practice is to try working with a standard playing card deck. To give you some more ideas on how you might want to try this yourself, I am sharing a video I recorded on the subject in December of 2011. After the video follows the original Integrating the Tarot article from 2007.



Feb. 17/2007

Are you interested in learning how to incorporate the Tarot into your life? Are you already familiar with the Tarot and want to take your practice to the next level? Ideally, a tarot worker should be able to call upon a full deck of 78 mental images at any time or place, even if stripped of all belongings and put in prison. Can you do that? It isn't as hard as you might think. I'm about to share with you a system that naturally evolved from my work with the Tarot over my first decade of practice. If you work at it as described in this article, it won't take you ten years to learn!

First of all, I think of each card in the deck as a container. The Tarot is a kind of model of the world in which everything is broken down into 78 different categories. According to this model of the universe, everything fits into one of these categories. Also, according to the Hermetic doctrine of macrocosm/microcosm (aka "as above, so below" from the Emerald Tablet), each person is an entire universe in and of themselves. Therefore, everything in a person can also be divided up into one or more of these 78 categories. When a reading is performed for someone, you are essentially taking a photograph of the persons internal relationships between prominent categories.

That's the basic theory, and some people are fine with that explanation. I accept that there are things in this world that aren't always logical, but I prefer to understand things through looking at it from different angels. To update this theory a bit, we can say that there is some proof that divination does have merit. It allows us a method of communicating with our unconscious mind via amplified subtle muscle movement caused by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Let me spend a moment to clarify this concept.

The ANS controls those bodily functions that tend to just run on their own, but sometimes can be consciously controlled. Breathing, is an example of a function governed by the ANS. While the unconscious mind typically controls the ANS function of breathing, the conscious mind can control it just as well. For illustration purposes lets look at simple form of divination may use the same principle as Tarot:

The Pendulum - Basically a weight suspended by a cord. This can be a ring on a chain necklace, a gemstone at the end of a string, whatever. It is operated by holding the end of the cord and letting the weight dangle freely without bracing your arm against anything (no elbows on the table!) After it settles down you focus your mind on a question and keep yourself free of expectation. The unconscious parts of the mind, through the ANS, will direct the muscles in your arm to move subtly. This subtle movement gets amplified by the pendulum into something we can easily observe. Answers are typically formed in terms of yes/no. The movements indicating yes or no are established at the beginning of a session by asking a few control questions to which the answers are already known.

How does this relate to Tarot? It's the reason behind shuffling the cards. If you have seen the current order of the cards (or can intuit it somehow) you may be unconsciously stacking the deck. It's a bit of a jump from controlling pendulums with subtle muscle movement to controlling the order of a 78 card deck. Whether any of these theories is correct or not, readings do provide an opportunity to look at things in a way that you may not have thought to. A good tarot reading provides an individual with a fresh outlook at the very minimum and will hopefully spark a deeper insight into themselves and their situation. For more information about the mechanics of this stuff I highly recommend checking out Donald Tyson's excellent book Scrying For Beginners. Not only does Tyson explain how divination works, but he also gives detailed instructions on how to develop your own psychic reading skills. I've read other books on the topic but it is my opinion that this one gives you the best value for your dollar.

Readings aren't the only thing you can do with Tarot, which brings us back to the point: If you can internalize the Tarot, you can use it to not only investigate those parts of yourself represented by the cards, but to modify them and the relationships between them as well. This is real magic and it can be understood as a type of psychotherapy if you wish. Like I said before, I prefer to explore some of these occult processes from multiple perspectives. So lets get right into it.

My method is simple. First of all, familiarize yourself with multiple decks - especially focus on the Major Arcana. You can do things like color your own deck, as recommended by the BOTA. This is helpful, and I have included an entire set of uncolored Major Arcana images from the now defunct "Whare-Ra" Temple of the Golden Dawn in New Zealand. They are found throughout this site in the right column. I invite you to browse my site and save these Tarot trumps to your computer for printing and colouring (or whatever else you would like to do with them.)

While familiarizing yourself with the Tarot, you're going to have to really learn the core elements of the Tarot. You don't have to learn 78 complex arrangements of symbols. Each card basically boils down to the 10 spheres of the Kabalistic Tree of Life (7 of which are the planets of classical astrology), the 12 signs of the zodiac and the 4 elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire).

If you want to get serious with Tarot, you're going to have to memorize all 26 of these symbols. It's actually pretty easy. You probably already know a lot of them. You probably know at least a couple zodiac signs and their meanings. Even if you've never studied esotericism, you likely understand on an intuitive level that Earth is a symbol of the physical side of things, including health, wealth, home and family. You can probably also guess that elemental Fire is a symbol of the passions, such as Lust, Rage, Aguish and Devotion.

Spend some time learning and internalizing these symbols. A good general book on Astrology is invaluable in this regard. I recommend Bill Hewitt's book Astrology For Beginners. Reading through this book will give you a solid foundational understanding of planets, zodiacal signs and elements. It also discusses astrological houses and how to create and interpret birth charts. Learning this additional information is another way to take your Tarot practice to a higher level, and I encourage you to do so. Last I checked, you could order this book for only a few dollars, so it's an awesome value.

The next step is to put these symbols together with the 22 Tarot trumps. Here are the traditional correspondences that I personally use:

The Elements

  • Air - The Fool
  • Water - The Hanged Man
  • Fire - Judgment

Note there is no specific card for the element of Earth in the Major Arcana. Earth is considered to be a combination of the three principal elements. It is a composite rather than a pure element. This is a key concept in Hermetic Alchemy. A study of the elements Mercury, Salt and Sulfur as described in Hermetic lab alchemy is useful if you are looking to deepen your understanding of this.

The Planets

  • Moon - The High Priestess
  • Mercury - The Magician
  • Venus - The Empress
  • Sun - The Sun
  • Mars - The Tower
  • Jupiter - The Wheel of Fortune
  • Saturn - The World

Note that some people claim that Saturn can double for the element Earth. I don't think it's necessary. I've never really heard any explanation for why some people say this, but I imagine it must be a relationship between Saturn's force of constriction, death and decay and the physical earth. This is a very valid point. Also, in my meditations I realized that from the point of view on the Earth, Saturn is the 7th "planet" (the Sun and Moon were called "planets" in classical astronomy and astrology because they didn't move the same way as the stars of the zodiac. The word "planet" literally means "wanderer") away from us. If the planets were notes on a scale, Saturn would be the same note as Earth, but of a higher octave. However, like I said before, while I think the concept is valid, I don't bother with it. I don't feel it is necessary to add that level of complexity.

The Zodiac

  • Aquarius - The Star
  • Pisces - The Moon
  • Aries - The Emperor
  • Taurus - The Hierophant
  • Gemini - Lovers
  • Cancer - The Chariot
  • Leo - Strength
  • Virgo - The Hermit
  • Libra - Justice
  • Scorpio - Death
  • Sagittarius - Temperance
  • Capricorn - The Devil

Note that I started with Aquarius instead of the typical Aries. I did this because I want to get as accurate a model of reality as possible when working with these kinds of systems. The Aries first concept is based on the idea that the Sun rises in the sign of Aries on the morning of the Spring Equinox. However, this is false. It was true at one point, but that was over 2000 years ago. This change is due to the way the earth spins in space. For more information on the significance of this change, check out this article which I wrote back at the beginning of 2004.

Minor Arcana

This is a bit easier to remember. Each numbered card, from Ace (1) to Ten (10), partakes of the symbolism of the same numbered sphere on the Tree of Life. For example, the four Aces all represent the first sphere, called Kether. The book most often recommended to students of the esoteric Tree of Life is the classic text, Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune. This book certainly got me thinking about a lot of interesting concepts. I would say that it is more suited for an intermediate student.

Of all the books I've read on the subject, there are two in particular which I have found to be excellent for beginners. The first is John Michael Greer's Paths Of Wisdom. Greer provides a detailed working exploration of the entire Tree of Life (the 10 spheres and their 22 connecting paths) from the point of view of a Hermetic magician. He provides you with the traditional Golden Dawn correspondences. This isn't just a reference book, it's also a workbook. There are several useful exercises, including some instruction in ritual magick. My other favorite is The Truth About Cabala, a booklet by David Godwin. This portable little thing really packs a punch! It has several charts, including comparisons of various traditional sets of correspondences. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the Lurianic tradition. This booklet also goes through the symbolism of the 22 Hebrew letters, which are often associated with the 22 Major Arcana cards. This is also discussed in the booklet. It's also a hell of a deal. You can often order it for less than a dollar.

Besides the sphere on the Tree of Life, the other part of the number card symbology is the suit, which relates to an element:

  • Discs/Coins/Diamonds - Earth
  • Cups/Hearts - Water
  • Swords/Spears/Spades - Air
  • Wands/Staves/Clubs - Fire

Therefore, each number card is the numbered sphere in the realm of the suited element. For example, the five of cups is Mars in Water. That would be symbolic of conflict in emotional matters. Once you have the basic components memorized, it's as simple as that. As for the court cards, the suit still applies. Here are the following Tree of Life correspondences:

  • King/Knight - Sphere 2 (Chesed)
  • Queen/Queen - Sphere 3 (Binah)
  • Knight/Prince - Sphere 6 (Tiphereth)
  • Prince/Princess - Sphere 10 (Malkuth)

Note that there are two common sets of names for the court cards. I hope that's not too confusing. I prefer the "Knight, Queen, Prince, Princess" scheme best because it's gender balanced, but each person will decide for themselves. If you have familiarized yourself with the spheres of the Tree of Life, you will know the significance of those four spheres in particular. The difference between the court card and the number card corresponding to the same sphere (say "Queen of Diamonds" and "3 of Diamonds") is that the energy is one octave higher. It is a more pure representation of the same energy.

Perhaps someday I will follow this up with an article on what you can do with Tarot besides readings. The practice of Tarot Magic becomes a natural extension of your skills once you've internalized the entire symbol set.

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Tarot Card - The High Priest

Trump 5 - The High Priest

The above Tarot image is one of the 22 Major Arcana cards used by the Whare-Ra Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in New Zealand.

One method of learning the Tarot is to colour your own set of images. Read an article about this here. Throughout this site are all 22 images that you can save to your computer and print out for colouring. Just right-click on the image and select "Save Image."

This is the sixth in the series. Clicking directly on the image will bring you to the page on this site that contains the next image in the traditional sequence. I have also created a Site Map based on this sequence to provide an easy method of finding any specific Tarot image.

 
 
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