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Tarosophist1-4The Tarosophist International: The Magazine of Tarosophy is a new journal put out by Tarot Professionals. The Special Annual Edition features the Thoth DeckIssue Four (1:4). It’s available in hardback and consists of 146 fully illustrated pages with articles by Rachel Pollack, Lon Milo DuQuette, Mary K. Greer, Richard Kaczynski, K. Frank Jensen, Marcus Katz. A must-have for anyone (beginner or expert) who wants to know more about the Thoth deck, Read the rest of this entry »

Greater Trumps pbI am reprinting here a long review by Paul Nagy of the greatest tarot novel of all time, Charles Williams’s The Greater Trumps (1932)—with contributions from Nigel Jackson’s Amazon review (marked in blue). Paul has been reading tarot for over 40 years, is one of the active members of the Raleigh-Durham Tarot Meetup Group, offers tarot teleclasses, and leads a discussion series on the book Meditations on the Tarot. Paul’s introduction to some of the symbolism in this book should make it far more accessible and intriguing to modern readers. Nigel Jackson is the creator of Medieval Enchantment: The Nigel Jackson Tarot and The Rumi Tarot. Paul wishes to also acknowledge the insights of Glen Cavaliero and Michael Huggins whose reviews on Amazon.com contributed to initial drafts of this piece.

Charles Williams (1886-1945) was a novelist, poet, theologian, and member of Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He wrote seven occult novels—among the best ever written. Read about Charles Williams later in this post. At the very end you will find a list and description of the Trumps as modified by Williams. Now, here’s Paul Nagy:

THE GREATER TRUMPS

Williams’ use of symbolism is near its peak in The Greater Trumps. It is a classic occult mystery play where all the forces of truth and justice are very conventionally established as staid British institutions set against anarchistic gypsy intrigue and in the mysterious figures of the tarot Trumps. The trumps motivate and embody the characters, set the action and redeem the antagonists by being themselves neutral leaves from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that compete for their control.

The “Greater Trumps” are the original set of Tarot, the ur-deck of hyper powerful cards, bequeathed to a minor English civil servant, Lothair Coningsby (a rather dim and pompous fellow), by a deceased distant relative. Lothair’s daughter, the spritely Nancy is engaged to a young man, Henry Lee, whose heritage is Romany. In considering what to do with these very rare, old set of Tarot cards, Lothair Coningsby intends to turn them over to a museum upon his own death. The Lee family has something else in mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Charles San introduced the 1973 Causeway Books edition of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot with an  essay, “How to Read the Cards,” in which he recommended this Major Arcana-only spread. It features an interesting way of selecting the cards and, when I first tried it, the cards themselves suggested a way to give the reading additional definition and depth. Here is the spread with my own modifications. (San did not state where to place each card except that they circle around the Significator.)

  1. Shuffle the Major Arcana and deal out six cards face down on top of each other. Turn the seventh card face up and place it in the middle of the reading area. This is the Significator and represents a starting point for the reading. Return the other six to the bottom of the deck.
  2. Deal two cards face down and turn one card up, placing this third card at the 10 o’clock position (relative to the Significator). Do this seven times placing every third card in a counterclockwise circle around the Significator [this order is added by me as a result of the example spread that follows]. You will end up with seven cards circling the card drawn in step 1.
  3. Optional: if unsatisfied that these cards suffice, deal three more cards from the remaining thirteen, taking the third, tenth and thirteen cards, and place them above the circle.

San says you are to build a vision of the “present place in the ebb and flow of one’s life,” as “the individual cards and the combining of them provides one with the reading.” You can read this spread for yourself or one friend, but if three people are present then “the reading that results concerns all three as part of the society in which they live and work.”

Here is my spread using the Golden Dawn / Whare Ra Majors: Read the rest of this entry »

I experienced a breakthrough regarding tarot when I realized that all the Major Arcana cards are operating somewhere within me at all times. I discovered this from doing a variety of twenty-two card spreads that show where each energy or archetype is operating at the moment. Of course some cards are emphasized or highlighted around particular issues. These are the ones that show up in smaller spreads saying: “Look at me. I’m what’s most important right now regarding your question.” It’s kind of like they’re doing a jig or vibrating more than the others, and thrusting themselves to the front to get your attention. Meanwhile, the others are in the background, quietly doing their own thing or maintaining the status quo.

Sometimes it’s worth seeing the whole picture to understand how each energy or archetype plays its role in relation to the others. There are several ways to do this. Read the rest of this entry »

Some of you may know of the twenty-year long study of the Temple of Luxor by the Egyptologist René Schwaller de Lubicz (see bio). Before that Schwaller was a Theosophist, esotericist and alchemist who worked for many years with Fulcanelli. In the 1920s, René and his wife Isha moved to Switzerland and established Suhalia, a center for research into scientific and alchemical studies. While there he developed a motor that ran on vegetable oil.

According to the above internet biography by Gary Lachman:

“In 1936, on a visit to the tomb of Rameses IX in Alexandria, Schwaller had a kind of revelation. A picture represented the pharaoh as a right-angle triangle with the proportions 3:4:5, his upraised arm adding another unit. Schwaller thought it demonstrated the Pythagorean theorem, centuries before Pythagoras was born. From the picture it was clear to him that the knowledge of the medieval masons had its roots in ancient Egypt. For the next fifteen years, until 1951, Schwaller de Lubicz remained in Egypt, investigating the evidence for what he believed was an ancient system of psychological, cosmological, and spiritual knowledge.”

Although I’ve read several books by Schwaller I never knew that he had created his own tarot deck until sent these cards by Christian Dumolard (who documented the Château des Avenières Tarot mosaics of Assan Dina). Information on Schwaller’s tarot interests can be found in Schwaller de Lubicz by H. Dossier and Emmanuel Dufour-Kowalski. You may want to compare the Schwaller de Lubicz Tarot with that of Falconnier and Wegener (see History of Egyptian Tarot Decks). He was obviously considering some notable differences. Enjoy.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Tarot is a Mirror of the Soul.” Certainly any reading can be examined from this perspective, giving you an ever-changing kalidescopic view of the self and your concerns. Here, though, is a fun way to make the Major Arcana your own. This personal process (it’s not a spread as you’d normally think of it) provides a way to view a deep reflection of your Soul-Self that probably won’t change much until (or unless) you do.

Take out your favorite Major Arcana deck—the one that speaks most expressively to you. Arrange the Major Arcana in order from the card you like and admire the most to the one you find the scariest and most fearful. Take one card which fits the least into your personal sequence and put it aside.

Next, keeping the cards in the order you’ve just determined, lay your Major Arcana out in three rows of seven cards as shown in the diagram below. Put the one card that “fits least” in the single position at the top.

Now comes the fun part. Examine each three-card column such that the top card in a column indicates your Ideals, the bottom card is its Shadow, and the middle card Mediates between these two. The mediating card can be seen as that which makes it possible for the Ideal and Shadow to relate to each other.

For instance, if you have the Sun as your Ideal and the Tower as its Shadow with Justice mediating, then Justice helps each to see that the other is necessary for a just balance. On the other hand, if Temperance is the Ideal and Death its Shadow, and the Wheel of Fortune mediates, then the Wheel reminds you that Temperance’s mixture of elements has to include the season of Death as part of its cycle.

Look at these cards in terms of how you handle and respond to situations. When you are striving for an Ideal, how can you integrate its Shadow? When you are annoyed or afraid, how can you call on your positive Ideal? Use the mediating card as a practical key to this integrative process.

How does the card you placed at the very top, the one that “didn’t fit,” seem to comment on all the others or, perhaps, lend an overall theme to the whole?

Do it once, save the results somewhere where you will “stumble” upon them in 6 months or a year. Re-order the Major Arcana of the same deck again (from the ones you like most to the ones you find most scary and disturbing) and see where your sequence has stayed the same as last time and where it’s changed.

Let me know how this works for you.

Here’s a little walk down memory lane. These cards are from London – late 1970 or early ’71, printed in a magazine called Gear of London and designed by Barry Josey. Obviously they are based on the works of Aubrey Beardsley. If anyone has any more information on this deck or the magazine, please let me know.

Update: I received an email from the artist Barry Josey (love the internet!). Finding that his art could not support him, he went back to his profession as an architect and also left the tarot behind, but hopes to return to art when he retires. Here he explains how the deck came about:

“Initially, the cards were set out as a poster style calendar, and then they were intended to be printed as packs.  At the time, I knew nothing of Tarot, but had to immerse myself albeit briefly to get a starting point for the drawings.  Beardsley was ‘in’ at the time and because I could approximate the style, Gear asked me to prepare the cards.  The drawings were black and white only, and it had been my intention that they be printed on a single buff or similar pastel colour.  Gear disagreed and printed them in the rather garish primary colours you see before you.”

Here’s another example of the art of Barry Josey—an illustration for a play by Jean Genet.

bj-1971-genet

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn introduced what I consider the most extensive and elegant set of correspondences among the tarot and other magical systems. Here is a permutation I hadn’t seen before. It’s from The Magical Writings of Ithell Colquhoun edited by Steve Nichols. Colquhoun was an artist, magician and the biographer of MacGregor Mathers (Sword of Wisdom-o.p.). Magical Writings contains over a hundred pages of text on the Major Arcana (material on the last five cards added by Steve Nichols), plus reproductions of pages from Colquhoun’s tarot notebooks. It’s a treasure-trove for the discerning reader.

THE PLANETARY TRIPLICITIES – based on correspondences to the planets and the signs they rule.

MERCURY: Magus, Lovers, Hermit (Mercury, Gemini, Virgo)

MOON: Priestess, Chariot, Hanged Man (Moon, Cancer, Elemental Water)

VENUS: Empress, Hierophant, Justice (Venus, Taurus, Libra)

SUN: Sun, Strength, Judgment (Sun, Leo, Elemental Fire)

MARS: Tower, Emperor, Death (Mars, Aries, Scorpio)

JUPITER: Wheel, Temperance, Moon (Jupiter, Sagittarius, Pisces)

SATURN: World, Devil, Star (Saturn, Capricorn, Aquarius)

(Fool = Elemental Air)

These groupings can be very handy in a reading where the occurrence of two or three cards from one of the triplicities indicates a strong influence by that planetary energy. Mythically, it suggests the presence of that God/dess messing around in one’s life.

I haven’t looked at much recent tarot poetry, but the web turns out to be a wonderful place to explore it. Here’s a few sites that offer something different or intriguing:

At heelstone.com’s poetry site you’ll find Tarot Poems by Mike Timonin, with Art by Cindy Duhe, presented in a very tarot-appropriate way. Click on the rapidly changing tarot card images and you’ll be taken to a poem determined by the shuffle. Want another card and poem? Shuffle the deck again.

You’ll also find a poem by Michael Gerald Sheehan for every card at Moon Path Tarot.

Tarot Poems by Donna Kerr from her book of poetry Between the Sword and the Heart.

Tarot Poetry by Rachel Pollack.

Here is one of the oldest tarot poems in existence: a sonnet by Teofilo Folengo, appearing in his 1527 work Caos del Triperiuno written under the pseudonym Merlini Cocai. The work includes a series of poems representing the individual fortunes of various people as revealed by cards dealt them. The summary sonnet below mentions each of the 22 Trump cards, which I’ve referenced by their number to the right of the line on which they appear. It helps to understand that Death is female in Italian, la morte, and Love (Cupid) is male. Love claims that although Death rules the physical body, Love never dies and therefore death is but a sham.

Love, under whose Empire many deeds (6, 4)
go without Time and without Fortune, (9, 10)
saw Death, ugly and dark, on a Chariot, (13, 7)
going among the people it took away from the World. (21)
She asked: “No Pope nor Papesse was ever won (5, 2)
by you. Do you call this Justice?” (8 )
He answered: “He who made the Sun and the Moon (19, 18 )
defended them from my Strength. (11)
“What a Fool I am,” said Love, “my Fire, (0, 16)
that can appear as an Angel or as a Devil (20, 15)
can be Tempered by some others who live under my Star. (14, 17)
You are the Empress[Ruler] of bodies. But you cannot kill hearts, (3)
you only Suspend them. You have a name of high Fame, (12)
but you are nothing but a Trickster.” (1)

Translated by Marco Ponzi (Dr. Arcanus) with help from Ross Caldwell, members of Aeclectic Tarot’s TarotForum, and by comparisons with the translation found in Stuart Kaplan’s Encyclopedia of Tarot, Vol II, p. 8-9 (read the discussion here). The first picture is from a 1485 Triumph of Death fresco on the wall of a Confraternity Chapel in Clusone, Italy. It depicts Death as an Empress before whom all others bow. The second picture is from Savonarola’s Sermon on the Art of Dying Well, published circa 1500.

See the translation of one of Folengo’s fortune-telling sonnets at taropedia – here.

Added: Check out the poetic concept of rhyme applied to visual aspects of the tarot in Enrique Enriquez’s article on “Eye Rhyme.”

As an update to my earlier post on Carl Jung and Tarot, I just received a paper from the Jung Institute library in New York. It contains brief notes Hanni Binder took of Jung’s descriptions, in German, when he spoke to her about the Tarot cards. A friend of hers made a literal translation into English, typing it onto large file cards. What follows is Jung’s verbal description of the Major Arcana. They are based on cards from the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, which he felt most closely contained properties he recognized from his reading of alchemical texts. I have corrected obvious errors in language, but kept these changes to a minimum. My own comments are in brackets [ ].

If you are familiar with Jung’s core concepts you’ll find several of them referred to directly or indirectly: Self, Shadow, extraversion, intraversion, conscious, unconscious, fate, center, inflation, compensation, sacrifice, etc. Notice also his interest in what’s held in the right and left hands as indications of masculine/active or feminine/passive (I prefer ‘receptive’) energies. These notes are simplistic but were obviously only meant to be a starting place for further exploration.

ADDED: Japanese tarotist, Kenji, discovered that Jung’s descriptive text comes almost directly from Papus’ Tarot of the Bohemians (thank you, Kenji). However, Jung seems to have added several keywords from his own psychological lexicon as I noted above. Comparing these two texts will clarify what ideas Jung added.

1 The Magician

The Magician has, in the right hand, a golden ball, in the left a stick [wand]. The hat makes an eight [infinity sign]. The bearing of the hand shows right activity, left passivity. Sign of force, stability, self. He has all the symbols before him.

2 The High Priestess

Sitting Priestess. She wears a veil. On her knees is a book. This book is open. She stands in connection with the moon. Occult wisdom. Passive, eternal woman.

3 The Empress

Empress with wings. In the right hand she has an eagle, in the left a scepter. She has a crown with 12 stones. Eagle as a symbol of soul and life. Feminine activity. Fruitfulness, goddess.

4 The Emperor

Emperor sitting in profile. In the right hand he is holding the scepter. He wears a helmet with 12 stones. The legs are crossed. Will, force, reality, duty, brightness.

5 The Hierophant

The Hierophant leans on a three fax[sic – triple?] cross. The two columns are standing on the right as law, on the left liberty. Two men are kneeling before him: one is red, the other black. Will, religion, fate [faith?], Self, center.

6 The Lovers

The young man stands in a corner where two streets come together. The woman on the right has a golden garland on her head. The woman on the left is wreathed with a vine. Beauty, cross-road, way inward or outward.

7 The Chariot

Conqueror with coronet. He has three angle [right angles on his cuirass]. In his hand is a scepter. Arrow and weapon arm [right hand?]. Actively going toward his fate. He has a goal, achieving victory. Activity, extraversion. Inflation.

8 Justice

Sitting woman with a coronet. In the right hand she has a sword, in the left, a balance [scales]. Compensation between nature and the force of a man. Justice, compensation. Conflict with the law.

9 The Hermit

An old man walks with a stick [staff]. Wisdom as symbolized by the lamp. Protection with the overcoat. Cleverness, love, introversion. Wisdom.

10 Wheel of Fortune

Sphinx holding a sword. Wheel symbolizing endlessness. Finger as a sign of command. Human being as ball [circumference?] of the wheel of fortune. Luck/misfortune.

11 Strength

A young girl opens the mouth of a lion. The girl has the sign of vitality on her hat. Liberty, strength.

12 The Hanged Man

The hands of this man on in back. The eyes are open. The right leg is crossed. On the right and left a trunk of a tree. Turning back [enantiodromia?], powerless, sacrifice, test, proof. Face against the sky.

13 Death

A skeleton in a field with heads and fingers. Death and regeneration. The Ego should not take [the] place, the Self has to take [the] place. New standpoint, liberation, end.

14 Temperance

Young girl pours water from one jug in the other. The sun gives the liquid of life from a golden in[to] a silver jug. Movement, consciousness, natural growth.

15 The Devil

The right hand of the Devil is raised to the sky, the left points to the earth. Two persons are under him. He holds the torch as a sign of black magic. Fate, Shadow, emotion.

16 The Tower

Burning tower. Hospital, prison, struck by lightning. Sacrifice.

17 The Star

A naked woman spills water from two jugs. Around the girl are seven stars. The Self shines, stars of fate, night, dreams. Hope. The Self is born in the stars. Union with the eternal.

18 The Moon

In the middle of a field is a dog and a wolf. A crayfish comes out of the water. It is night. The door to the unconscious is open. The crayfish likes to go the shore. The light is indirect.

19 The Sun

Two naked girls. The sun shines on the children. Drops of gold fall on the earth. The Self is ruling the situation. Consciousness. Enlightenment.

20 Judgement

An angel with fiery wings, an open grave in the earth. Birth of the Self. Inspiration, liberation.

21 The World

Naked woman, her legs are crossed. In the four corners we have the angel, the lion, the bull and the eagle. Completion, finishing. In the world but not from the world.

0 The Fool

A man who doesn’t take care on his way. Beginning and end. The fool has no home in this world; the home is in heaven. Dreamer, mystic side.

Masculine cards:

Wands = Libido [sexual drive]
Swords = Spiritual force

Feminine cards:

Pentacles = Material
Cups = Feeling

Added note on the Four Suits: Jung obviously failed to link the four suits to his four psychological types or functions, based on the quaternity of elements and humors. However, with the “Feminine” suits he came close, calling Cups Feeling, while Pentacles as Material is close to Sensation. Most people link Intuition with Wands and Thinking with Swords.  Jung’s most succinct explanation of his psychological types can be found in Man and His Symbols (highly recommended reading for anyone interested in a Jungian approach to tarot):

  • Sensation tells you that something exists (through the senses).
  • Thinking tells you what it is (its definition).
  • Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not (its value).
  • Intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going (its possibilities).


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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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