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There is no single Jungian interpretation of the Ace of Cups. That it represents a major archetypal motif is without question for it suggests the feminine, mother, breast, womb, water, vessels, and related ideas of love, emotion, nourishment, healing, sacrifice, rebirth and renewal, the unconscious, imagination, empathy, psychic awareness and more. The value of a Jungian approach is that it encourages a Tarot reader to be aware of the multi-dimensional wealth of meaning in the cards, while allowing them to guide, honor and support a querent’s own wisdom and self-knowledge. You may want to read my other two posts on the Ace of Cups first. Part 1. Part 2

Druidcraft Ace of Cups

Druidcraft Tarot

 

First we have to ask: what is a Jungian approach to a symbol? Is it simply pointing out all the symbolic interpretations (see my earlier posts on the Ace of Cups) and mythological and cultural referents? From this point of view, I could begin with several quotes from Jung on the image of the cup and Grail: 

The bowl is a vessel that receives or contains, and is therefore female. It is a symbol of the body which contains the anima, the breath and liquid of life. CW18. p 121.

Vessel symbolism probably contains a pagan relic which proved adaptable to Christianity, . . . which secured for the Christian Church [in Mary] the heritage of the Magna Mater, Isis, and other mother goddesses. CW6 ¶ 398.

The aesthetic form of the symbol must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it. For a certain time the Grail symbol clearly fulfilled these requirements, and to this fact it owed its vitality. CW6 ¶ 401.

The symbolism of the vessel has pagan roots in the “magic cauldron” of Celtic mythology. Dagda, one of the benevolent gods of ancient Ireland, possesses such a cauldron, which supplies everybody with food according to his needs or merits.  CW6 ¶ 401.

The Hermetic vessel, too, is a uterus of spiritual renewal or rebirth. This idea corresponds exactly to the text of the benedictio fontis [“blessed font”]. . . . We could take this water as the divine water of the [alchemical] art, since after the prima materia this is the real arcanum. . . . The water, or water of the Nile, had a special significance in ancient Egypt. . . A text from Edfu says: “I bring you the vessels . . . that you may drink of them; I refresh your heart that you may be satisfied.” CW13 ¶ 97.

 

german-15th-century-eucharist

“The healing cup is not unconnected with the “cup of salvation,” the Eucharistic Chalice, and with the vessel used in divination: This is the divining-vessel of Joseph and Anacreon. . . . The content is the water that Jesus changed into wine, and the water is also represented by the Jordan, which signifies the Logos, thus bringing out the analogy with the Chalice. Its content gives life and healing.” CW12 ¶ 551.

The water chalice is associated with the baptismal font, where the inner man is renewed as well as the body. This interpretation comes very close to the baptismal krater of Poimandres and to the Hermetic basin filled with nous [“mind, intellect”]. Here the water signifies the pneuma, i.e., the spirit of prophecy, and also the doctrine which a man receives and passes on to others.” CW11 ¶ 313,

Jung also writes of the alchemical water that “purifies everything and contains within itself everything (i.e., for the process of self-transformation)” – Jung’s parentheses. He continues with something apropos the dove on the Ace, “You must know that the art of alchemy is a gift of the Holy Spirit” CW18, p. 799.

 

Visconti-Sf Ace of Cups

We can see from these many references, and the ones in my other posts on the Ace of Cups, that this is an archetypal image: an archaic remnant of instinctual patterns of meaning in the human psyche that influences our psychology. Gathering all the mythic and artistic examples of the motif is called amplification.
Amplification is seeing what is behind an archetypal image or symbol, enlarging it so as to view it from different perspectives, restoring it to its original fullness to discover what kind of forces could be working in it.

However, is amplification the main or even true Jungian approach to Tarot? In fact, symbol amplification has a certain seductiveness in that we think that by gathering more and more examples of a motif, we’ll discover its true meaning.

Perhaps we need to start somewhere else. And this is what Jungian dream interpretation and active imagination does. My book, 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, details several Jungian-based tarot techniques, which are impossible to include in a single blog post.

When discussing dream interpretation we find Jung giving advice in what has become my favorite quote: 

 

“I have always said to my pupils: ‘Learn as much as you can about symbolism; then forget it all when you are analyzing a dream’,” CW18, p. 418. [Or a tarot reading!]

Jung elaborates on this elsewhere:

“True art is creation, and creation is beyond all theories. That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide,” CW17 ¶ 313.

 

MorganGreerAceOfCups

Morgan-Greer Tarot

This, to my mind, is the best advice for a Tarot reader. Learn as much as you can about Tarot and its history and symbolism, then forget it all when you are doing a reading. Actually, I would say, set it to one side in a space in your mind that will hold your associations ready as they are needed. Instead, embrace yourself as creative artist. Focus your attention and energies on touching “the miracle of the living soul” before you, which means using your intuition to guide querents into their own experience of the image, for only the person can ascertain the meaning(s) for themselves.

This brings us back to the Ace of Cups for it is up to the reader to become the container, the holder of energies for the associations and emotions of the querent. In a process similar to that in dream interpretation, I advocate being a mid-wife of the soul, assisting the querent to engage with the images on the card and bring their own wisdom to birth. I encourage personal associations that well-up from the unconscious while keeping them tethered to the cards in the spread. When tears or other subtle signs appear, know that emotions are activated that yield personal meaning. 

 

 

Georgina-Gibson

Georgina Gibson Ace of Cups

As tarot reader, I am also like the dove, bearing the cards in my beak, touching on the unconscious waters of the living soul. The lotus blossoms below are rooted in the deep mud, rising through the waters to bloom in the light of consciousness. They are the realizations that a querent takes home from a Jungian approach to a reading. What blossoms is a result both of the querent’s own conscious realizations and the greater patterns that point to that person’s own myth.

For Jung, meaning is a meeting of the soul “on its own ground, whenever we are confronted with the real and crushing problems of life” CW17, ¶ 81. Meaning is found in the creative confrontation with the opposites and the synthesis of the self into the scheme of creation—their personal myth (paraphrase from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 338).  And, from The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C.G. Jung by Aniela Jaffé, we find that meaning is “a human interpretation or conjecture, a confession or a belief . . . created by consciousness, and its formulation is a myth” [no page number]. To summarize: meaning is a myth formulated by humans to answer the unanswerable. Jung frequently notes that meaning is present in an emotional response to an image.

 

“A great work of art [such as Tarot] is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is always ambiguous. . . . It [art/dream/tarot] presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and it is up to us to draw conclusions. . . . To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to to shape us [to act upon us] as it shaped him [the artist]Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 175.

 

Medieval Scapini Ace of Cups

Medieval Scapini Tarot

To do this, we may use word association, active imagination, dialog, and other interactive methods favored by Jungians. We may also want to be aware of the interplay of the parts of the psyche that have been activated or the stage of the alchemical process of individuation. However, in contrast to Jungian psychoanalysis, we keep the light of awareness focused  on and through the querent’s cards and question, to what they most need to hear at this time.

To be clear, there are times when you’ll want to amplify the images on a card: to compare the mythical and symbolic elements with a client’s circumstances. And, in some cases it is helpful to present querents with the archetypal aspects of their pattern and where it is headed as foreshadowed in associated myths. As Jung explained:

 

“This comparative work gives us a most valuable insight into the structure of the unconscious. You have to hand the necessary parallels to the patients too, not of course in such an elaborate way as you would present it in a scientific study, but as much as each individual needs in order to understand his archetypal images. For he can see their real meaning only when they are not just a queer subjective experience with no external connections, but a typical, ever-recurring expression of the objective facts and processes of the human psyche. By objectifying his impersonal images, and understanding their inherent ideas, the patient is able to work out all the values of his archetypal material. Then he can really see it, and the unconscious becomes understandable to him. Moreover, this work has a definite effect upon him. Whatever he has put into it works back on him and produces a change of attitude. CW18 ¶ 401.

Given the Jungian approach, there is no way I can tell you what meaning the Ace of Cups will have for an individual, as even for the individual it will vary over time. So, coming back to where I started with Marie Louise von Franz, I want to amplify just one aspect of this Ace of Cups image that may, at some point elucidate the soul’s work in a person. In The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales, Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

“The Benedictio Fontis, baptism in the Church, represents the cleansing of the human being and his transformation into a new spiritual being. . . . On the Saturday before Easter the baptismal water is always blessed . . . by [the priest’s] making the sign of the cross over it. . . . It is said that the Holy Ghost will impregnate the water . . . so that out of this uterus of the divine font a new creature may be born,” p. 35.

Although any water may be used there is a special water used for Roman Catholic baptism called Easter Water. Traditionally it is blessed on the last Saturday of Lent, Holy Saturday, in a ritual where the paschal or Easter candle [an Ace of Wands!], representing Christ risen from the dead, is held in the water and the Holy Spirit is called upon, saying, “Wherever we may be, make the Holy Spirit present to us who now implore Thy mercy.” 

Von Franz explains:

“The light of the candle would represent the light of an understanding attitude, an enlightenment of the mind which now enters the unconscious and fertilizes it . . . handing back conscious understanding and truth to the unconscious from whence it came so that it may be increased in power and effect. There is also the union of the opposites—fire and water—and the result is a fiery water. The baptismal water of the Church is often called aqua ignita since it is said to contain the fire of the Holy Ghost,” p. 35-36.

 

Robin Wood Ace of Cups

Robin-Wood Tarot

So, while the querent may wax long and lovingly on their hopes for a new relationship or the beginnings of some work of the imagination, as a reader, I will be looking to the other cards in the spread to see where and how there may be an influx of grace in which the unconscious is ignited, impregnated and fertilized in preparation for a healing and spiritual renewal. Or, like mystic and Golden Dawn member, Evelyn Underhill, said of the related cup of the Eucharist, it bodes a Divine Presence and a movement toward Love.

Finally, in a Jungian approach to Tarot, a reader would be aware, when the Ace of Cups appears that, of Jung’s four functions, the Feeling Function is actively involved in the gestation of a new awareness. Among other possibilities, it may signal that the querent’s currently activated mode of consciousness centers around what feels pleasant or unpleasant to them, and so the reader might aid in making them more conscious of this.

A Jungian approach to Tarot requires quite a bit of reading and study, first to understand the Jungian “map of the psyche” (self, ego, anima/animus, shadow, etc.) and other concepts like individuation, the four functions and so on, and then to become familiar with the archetypes expressed through myth and symbol. However, it may be a relief to recognize that most people will find that a modern study of tarot will have already introduced them to many of the concepts and methods discovered and made popular by Jung.

______________________
I was initially inspired to write on the Ace of Cups in the Waite-Smith Tarot upon reading the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz’ The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales. Von Franz was also the co-author with Jung’s wife, Emma Jung, of The Grail Legend, which I studied a lifetime ago for my M.A. in English.
See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 2: Ace of Cups Symbolism.
Carl Jung on the Major Arcana
Carl Jung and Tarot
Note: CW refers to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. They are listed here. A bibliography of Jung’s publications is here. A good starting point for Tarot readers on Jung is Man and His Symbols (get an o.p. hardcover if you can). A list of great books by “Jungians” that are applicable to tarot is very, very long.

Wilhelm Hauschild-Lohengrincu01Santo Griaal-Rogelio Egusquiza 1893

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups image is not unique. A winged figure surmounts a fountain from which streams water in the Visconti-Sforza card. In the Marseille deck two of the aces (Wands and Swords) have a hand emerging from a cloud—a standard medieval device to indicate creation, miracles and gifts from a Divine source. We also find similarities in the pictures above. The first one is from Wilhelm Hauschild’s Temple of the Holy Grail (1878) and the third one is Santo Griaal by Rogelio Egusquiza (acquired by the British Museum in 1901). By the way, if you are Pagan, like me, I encourage you to look at the Christian references as psychological metaphors. Read Part 1 here.

Hand & CloudIMG_2782

To display His divine nature, the hand of God is often depicted emerging from a cloud which hides his body, veiling us from his power as no person could see Him and live. As it is the right hand, it is actively giving the viewer one of the four sacred treasures found in the myths of many cultures. In the Talmud the Cup of Blessing is held on five fingers of the right hand representing the five leaves that protect a rose from its thorns. This image signifies a divine gift in the form of a supernatural vision (the cloud) that is often the starting point for a spiritual quest.

Dove & HostFullSizeRender (2)

Waite has a lot to say about the dove, describing it as the invocation and descent of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to renew the virtue of the Grail and to consecrate the elements.

“In England during the Middle Ages . . . the Eucharist was reserved in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. It recalls some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods and the descent of a dove on the Graal.” …
“There is the flight of the mystical dove from the casement to inmost Shrine, as if the bird went to renew the virtues of the Holy Graal.” …
“The Dove descends from Heaven carrying the Arch Natural Host to renew the virtues of the Stone [the form the Grail takes in some of the stories].” …
“O central point and sacred meeting-place of all the sacraments, there falls the Bread,  broken within the Wine-Cup, and from both issues one living Spirit of Life Divine.” …
“On Good Friday, by the descent of a dove from heaven, carrying a sacred Host . . . the crown of all earthly riches were renewed.”

The Holy Spirit represents the life-giving spirit of air, and it was present at the baptism by water of Jesus, the awakening into a new life:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

Additionally, the Dove maintains its pagan association with Goddess Venus/Aphrodite and with Love (Waite includes the ancient pagan mysteries in the Secret Tradition). The Dove blesses with supernatural gifts, like the gift of tongues (pictured as Yods, see below), and so it can be associated with the ancient “language of the birds” or gift of divination and with miracles. Waite favors the idea of Grace: “it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man.” Grace, equated with the Hebrew word Chesed, is a blessing that gives guidance and protects us from the dangers of earthly power and adversity.

So, the Dove can be seen as the descent of Spirit into flesh, of the supernatural into the natural, a theme repeated by the cross on the Host composed of the vertical axis of spirit and the horizontal of matter. (The cross, which represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross, becomes a blessing.)

I should note that Waite was known to have a prodigious and exacting memory. He was extremely precise in his use of language, so when an odd phrase appears it is usually a sign that he is quoting a source to further elucidate his meaning. The internet has made it possible to find a good number of these allusions.

For instance, for Waite the Host is the panis quotidianus that has been changed into the panis vivus et vitalis”: that is the everyday bread is transformed into a living and vital bread.  This quote from Waite refers to a popular hymn by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1264) called the Lauda Sion Salvatorem. It speaks of the Eucharist and presents the transformation of bread and wine ending with a familiar maxim “as above, so below”:

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see. . . .

Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace. . . .

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Spiritual nourishment, the Host, is sent by the Holy Ghost; in many of the Grail stories it is found to heal all wounds.

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Cup, Grail and Fountain of Living Waters

This is the signature image of this card and is filled with meaning on so many levels. We will touch on only a few. As container, it is a major symbol of the receptive feminine and, in Christianity, the womb of the Virgin Mary, the seat of creation and manifestation of Love, esoterically seen as “the Bride”. It is a vessel in which things are “cooked,” making raw materials capable of providing rich nourishment and even, in alchemy, changing lead into gold. It is the cup of transformation containing the waters of life in which water is changed into wine and then into blood. It is the cauldron of Dagda in Celtic myth from which no company ever left unsatisfied. 

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

Both cup and water represent the soul.

The Practicus Ritual in Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross initiates one through an encounter with the Living Waters. First we are informed that Water symbolizes the emotions, desires, and psychic nature of earthly man. But this is not the Water one is to encounter in the ritual, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above. . . . May the peace of their Union be upon us; be we dissolved therein.”

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters, and the Spirit of the Most High God shall move upon the Waters of the Soul. . . . The stilled waters of the soul receive the Spirit of God moving upon the face of its waters. . . . Open thy heart, O Brother of the Rosy Cross, and receive the Water of Life.” 

“Fountain of fountains, and of all fountains. Chalice of saving rain. Grace on the soul descending, as rain on the dry grass. Life-giving Rain of Doctrine. Mystical Fruit of the Doctrine. Dew of Divine Speech, falling in stillness on the heart, filling the soul with Knowledge. Enter into the heart and purify; come into the soul and consecrate.”

The image is one of both the Baptismal font and the Eucharist. “A Eucharistic allegory concerns [the dissolution] of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting an end to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses” and to the suffering on the cross (mentioned earlier).

This leads us directly to the five streams coming out of the cup.

FullSizeRenderFive Streams

Why five streams of water and not the four that Waite specifies in Pictorial Key to the Tarot? Furthermore, Bible readers all know that there are four streams that come out of Eden. This could be an error either on the part of Waite or Pamela Colman Smith. Or, it could veil a secret: These five streams might, after all, represent the five senses (see the quote immediately above), or the five ways of salvation and five gates of grace (from Masonic ritual), or the five wounds of Christ, the five points of the Pentagram, the five petals of the rose that rest on five leaves (the fingers), or the four elements plus aether—the quintessence. In terms of the symbolism, five yields far more relevance according to Waite himself:

“In the Longer Prose Perceval we have seen that there is an account of five changes in the Graal which took place at the altar, being five transfigurations, the last of which assumed the seeming of a chalice, but at the same time, instead of a chalice, was some undeclared mystery: so the general as well as the particular elements of the legend in its highest form offer a mystery the nature of which is recognised by the mystic through certain signs which it carries on its person; yet it is declared in part only and what remains, which is the greater part, is not more than suggested. It is that, I believe, which was seen by the maimed King when he looked into the Sacred Cup and beheld the secret of all things, the beginning even and the end. In this sense the five changes of the Graal are analogous to the five natures of man, as these in their turn correspond to the four aspects of the Cosmos and that which rules all things within and from without the Cosmos.”

I believe that despite their blue color, the five streams best represent blood, for as Marie-Louise von Franz tells us, “Grace was depicted as a fountain of Blood from the five holy wounds of Christ,” The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb-GhentBut it is in Evelyn Underhill, Anglo-Catholic author of a well-known book on mysticism, who perhaps reveals the deepest mystery. Underhill was a student or acolyte of Waite, having joined his branch of the Golden Dawn in 1904 and achieving at least four initiations. She wrote for Waite’s Horlick’s Magazine and  published a novel in 1909 featuring the effects of the Holy Grail on a woman who came into its possession. In an article titled “The Fountain of Life” in the Burlington Magazine (1910) Underhill examined the fountains of water and of blood depicted on several religious works of art including the famous Ghent Altarpiece (right). She notes that baptism and penance which ‘renews the grace of baptism,’ are still spoken of by Catholic theologians as ‘effusions of the Precious Blood,’ i.e., of grace. She went on to describe:

“, , , a fountain which is filled by the Blood flowing from the Five Wounds. The Soul, or ‘Bride,’ holds out her heart, and the blood from the wounded side of Christ falls upon it, causing flowers to spring up from the place which has been touched by the vivifying stream. The Precious Blood then . . . stands not merely for an emblem of the Passion, Redemption, or the Eucharist, though it includes all these manifestations of Grace, but for the medium of communication of the Divine Life . . . since for ancient and mediaeval thought the spirit of life resided in the blood.”

Given that the Aces are also seen by Waite as the four Celtic treasures, I’d be remiss in not presenting this option from Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod:

“In Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac has a vision of the sacred center of the Otherworld where he saw a shining fountain with five streams flowing out of it. He is told that it is the Fountain of Knowledge [others call it the Well of Wisdom], and the five streams are the five senses through which knowledge is obtained.”

Drops of Dew or YodsFullSizeRender (5)

These drops, in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod are found on many of the Tarot cards, generally signifying divine Grace. Shaped like a flame a Yod is the divine spark of creation that is the foundation of all the other letters and is the first letter in the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God. There are 26 yods and Eoin Keith Boyle notes in the comments that this is the sum of the 4-lettered name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Kabbalistic gematria. They are also the shape of the tongues of fire at Pentecost:

“They saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3-4.

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The alchemist Thomas Vaughn, in a compendium by Waite, calls it the divine spark or star-fire that is sympathetically attracted to its origin in God. It is spirit fructifying the soul.

These drops can also be seen as alchemical dew. Thomas Vaughn again explains that divine dew penetrates and transforms all that is physical. Waite claims that for the Rosicrucians “dew is light, coagulated and rendered corporeal. . . . When digested in its own vessel it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers.”

Pool of WaterFullSizeRender (1)

[In the beginning]the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2.

It is the soul that desires union with the spirit, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above.”

This is also the generative water of renewal and rebirth. It also represents the emotions which here have become serene and calm, being fed by the waters of the Holy Spirit. In the parlance of Carl Jung it is the rich and fertile pool of the unconscious psyche—the soul. And Evelyn Underhill already explained that the blood from Christ’s wounds causes flowers to spring up—in this case water-lilies that grow only in sweet waters, reaching up from the mud toward the light. Regarding sweet waters, in Waite’s book of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, we find: “The Cup of bitterness ceases to exist for him who has drunk from the chalice of immortality”.

 W or M ?

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Finally we come to the major controversy associated with this card—What is the significance of the letter on the cup? The fact is that we will never know, but we do have some very likely possibilities, and knowing Waite, all of them may have been what was intended, for Waite saw all symbols as multi-valenced. 

IMG_2891MacGregor Mathers, in his 1888 book Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading the Cards claims that an inverted M on the front of the Spanish Ace of Cups represented the waters of creation in Genesis and all that remains of an Egyptian motif of twin serpents (as per this 19th century deck reproduced in the Cagliostro Tarot by Modiano of Italy). The Golden Dawn paper on the Tarot, “Book T,” says, “The great Letter of the Supernal Mother is traced in the spray of the Fountain.”

First it is note-worthy that the letter is shaped exactly like Pamela Colman Smith’s MsAr01 and not like her WsWaPg.

The main contenders for W are:
Waite (see the monogram on the Ten of Pentacles)
Water (“the implicit is that the Sign of the Cups naturally refers to water” PKT.)
Womb
Wisdom (more specifically, Well of Wisdom)

The main contenders for M are:
Mystery (“For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: the Mystery of Faith”).
Mem (or Maim, Hebrew for “water”)
Mary (or Mara, which also means “bitter sea”)
Mother (Matter. As Supernal Mother she is associated with Binah on the Tree of Life and the 2nd letter of the Tetragrammaton, He.)

Mercury (an alchemical maxim: “What wise men seek in Mercury is found”)

I believe that the letter is M and that it stands for Mystery, as viewed from above by the Holy Spirit. It is probably the word Waite uses most in his books where it is usually capitalized. To support this I have found almost this identical summary statement in several of Waite’s books:

“[In conclusion] the maxim which might and would be inscribed over the one Temple of the truly Catholic Religion when the faiths of this western world have been united in the higher consciousness–that is assuredly ‘Mysterium Fidei’–the mystery which endures for ever and for ever passes into experience.” HCHG, p. 469

We might also view the letters like this:

Waite – Mystery
Water – Mem
Womb – Mary/Mother
Wisdom – Mercury 

An Act of Imagination

I suggest one final way of getting at the deeper meaning of this card.

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chalice and, perhaps, the liquid in the chalice. Picture yourself reaching up for the host held in the beak of the dove. You might see yourself as a baby bird stretching up to be fed by a parent. Can you experience the yearning? Or you may be a font of water that wells up from a deep source. Feel the draw from above and your yearning toward the source of that draw. Become aware of the wounds gathered through your earthly experience. The water (or blood) within you could begin to spill over, rising up and falling out in a continuous stream. Can you let yourself go, surrender to the movement, and then to gravity so that you fall into the pool beneath? What happens when you spill into that pond? Where do you go? How do you reflect back what is above?

One final characteristic of Cups, which Waite mentions over and over again through his discussion of the suit, is fantasy—the ability to imagine super-sensible things and have experiences of what he calls the Arch-Natural world. While there are dangers in doing so (the Seven of Cups), it is in through mystical experience, first accessed through the door of the imagination, that we are ultimately able to commune with Spirit. I hope to speak more about this in a third post on a Jungian interpretation of this image.

See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 3: A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups, despite its seeming simplicity, is a very complex card with deep allusions that are central to Waite’s “Secret Tradition”—his mystical philosophy. This post explores Waite’s own very conscious and specific intention for this card.

As an Ace in tarot readings it generally represents an opening of the heart, new love and relationships, the emergence of psychic abilities, dreams and imagination, spiritual nourishment and the gift of grace. It is the root of empathy.

In Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Waite explains that the Ace of Cups “is an intimation of that which may lie behind the Lesser Arcana.” In other words, it is key to the whole Minor Arcana. His declaration is not really surprising as 1909 saw not only the first publication of the tarot deck but also of Waite’s book The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal (HCHG), which in over 700 pages analyzed all that was known of the Grail and its myths. Most of the quotes below are from this book unless otherwise noted. As Waite’s sentences are quite obtuse and complex, I’ve simplified where necessary.

Waite completely ignores the Greater Arcana of the Tarot in HCHG but focuses a chapter on the Lesser Arcana suits. He saw them as a reflection of the four Grail Hallows and the four treasures of Celtic lore (an idea that Yeats later passed on to Jessie Weston; see From Ritual to Romance).

“The four Hallows are therefore the Cup, the Lance, the Sword and the Dish, Paten or Patella–these four, and the greatest of these is the Cup. As regards this Hallow-in-chief, of two things one: either the Graal Vessel contained the most sacred of all relics in Christendom, or it contained the Secret Mystery of the Eucharist.”

Waite wrote regarding these Lesser Hallows,

“The Lance renewed the Graal in some of the legends [he then compares Galahad, Perceval, Lancelot, Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Glastonbury and more], . . . but the places of the Hallows are in certain symbolical worlds which are known to the Secret Tradition. The Dish, which, as I have said, signifies little in the romances, has, for the above reason, aspects of importance in the Tarot.” [I assume here that he equates the symbology of the Dish with the tarot suit of Pentacles/Disks.]

If we need even further proof that Waite intended the Ace of Cups to represent the Grail, it is found in Waite’s divinatory meanings for the Ace of Cups, which are: “House of the true heart, joy, content, abode, nourishment, abundance, fertility; Holy Table, felicity hereof.”

He uses the term ‘Holy Table’ once in HCHG regarding an early Grail myth, describing “the graces and favors of the Holy Table” upon which the Grail appears and feeds the faithful, bringing them joy and contentment. Waite also includes this phrase in his digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi, The Mysteries of Magic, where Lévi explains that primitive Christians gathered around the Holy Table to communicate with God and behold his face.

Although often couched in the terminology of the Catholic Church, Waite did not believe in the efficacy of instituted religions nor their requirements for ordination:

“The Mystic Quest is the highest of all adventures. . . . It exhibits the priesthood which comes rather by inward grace than by apostolical succession.”

“The Mass of the Graal . . . is celebrated only in the Secret Church and that Church is within. When the priest enters the Sanctuary he returns into himself by contemplation and approaches the altar which is within. . . . The Lord Christ comes down and communicates to him in the heart.”

When “grace and power fills them, permeates and overflows in the recipient’s heart . . . the Mystic Marriage by a Eucharistic rite” can take place—a theme central to most of Waite’s books. At heart this is a sexual mystery of Spirit and Nature, a “polarization of elements,” through which “Divine Life assumed the veils of flesh and blood” and through which flesh returns to Spirit.

This is the essence of Waite’s Secret Tradition that he wrote about in more than a hundred books and articles. He called the communication (or communion) the Eucharist, which is epitomized by the mystery of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

In The Book of the Holy Graal, Waite explained:

The Hidden Church has sent out messengers with rumors of a noumenal Eucharist. . . . But once, through legend and through high romance, the Secret Church sent out the Holy Graal. 

The secret to reading Waite is that he used words very precisely. The word noumenal is more from Plato than Kant, as it refers to objects of the highest knowledge: truths and values that exist outside of our human senses and perception. According to Waite, the Grail stories intimate or hint at the possibility of a spiritual communion with the Divine.

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:16

Here Waite speaks more of the Eucharist, first as a higher kind of love, symbolized by the Grail, and then of the loss of “Mystery” to the world:

“The Eucharist is a mystery of the soul’s love. . . . The sense is that love is set free from the impetuosity and violence of passion and has become a constant and incorruptible flame.”

“The Holy Graal . . . is a mystery of the Eucharist in its essence. . . . It is an inward mystery [not found in the official Church]. It died, however, in the consciousness except of a few faithful witnesses, . . . [because when Christ] incarnated, a manifestation of the God within was intended but it did not take place because the world was not worthy, the Graal was said to be removed.”

As Waite saw it, our ability to directly commune with the Divine has been lost. All the official sanctuaries “are in widowhood and desolation,” even though they are “filled with meaning and intimations of meaning.” That is, they give intimations or hints of the mystical journey, which is not available in institutions as it can only be experienced within each individual. The four suits of the Lesser Arcana tell four stories of this loss.

“It must be admitted that the Lesser Chronicles are in some sense a failure; they seem to hold up only an imperfect and partial glass of vision. But they are full testimony to the secrecy of the whole experiment; they are also the most wonderful cycle by way of intimation. Their especial key-phrase is my oft-quoted exeunt in mysterium [“they exit into mystery”].”

“The sources all say the same things differently: “The Holy Sepulcher is empty; the Tomb of C.R.C. [Christian Rosy Cross] in the House of the Holy Spirit is sealed up; the Word of Masonry is lost; the Zelator of alchemy now looks in vain for a Master. The traditional book of the Graal . . . [is] lost, . . . [as is the book] which was eaten by St. John (i.e., The Book of Revelations).”

It is left to the Greater Arcana to chart the soul’s journey along the path of restitution. But that is a separate tale.

Waite claims he wrote The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail as a text-book of a Great Initiation in that there is a secret meaning hidden in these tales of loss.

“So came into being [the Graal stories]. Whether in the normal consciousness I know not or in the subconsciousness I know not . . . that dream of theirs was of the super-concealed sanctuary behind the known and visible altar.”

They point to something that can now only be experienced by the individual in the inner sanctuary of his or her own heart. “Their maxim is that God is within.”

“The history of the Holy Graal becomes the soul’s history, moving through a profound symbolism of inward being, wherein we follow as we can, but the vistas are prolonged for ever, and it well seems that there is neither a beginning to the story nor a descried ending.”

Part 2 explores Waite’s clearly intended and most likely meanings for the specific symbols in the Ace of Cups.

Part 3 is “A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups”.

 

Agatha Christie’s detective, Miss Marple, said she solved crimes by recognizing the characteristics of people she knew well from her own small village.

Come to my June 18 class on the Court Cards to hone your skills (details at the end of this post).

What if each of the Court Cards was a suspect in an Agatha Christie murder mystery? Why don’t we call it, Murder at the Tarot Symposium! Sixteen is a lot of suspects, so let’s whittle down the possibilities. That’s easy because it’s one of the Court Cards who’s been killed. I shuffle my deck and the first card off the top is the Queen of Cups reversed. Sorry, Isabella Donati. It seems you fell down a steep flight of stairs (3 of Pentacles is the next card), right in front of two of the Court Cards, the Queen of Wands and Knight of Swords who were standing at the bottom of the stairs. They saw a hidden figure stick out a booted foot forcing the lovely Ms. Donati to fall. That leaves thirteen suspects.

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Four teenagers, the Pages, who were newbies at this symposium, were at that moment being admonished by the Queen of Swords for bad-mouthing one of the presenters (9 of Swords). So that’s five more who are out, leaving eight.

The King of Cups reversed was in the bar – drunk as usual, telling his maudlin story to a High Priestess. Meanwhile, the Knight of Cups tried to extricate himself (8 of Swords reversed) from a lecture on the “true” history of Tarot by the argumentative, know-it-all King of Pentacles (5 of Wands). 

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That leaves five.

The King of Wands is followed by the Ace of Cups. He’s a passionate man who carried a torch for the beautiful and dreamy Queen of Cups, although she hardly deigned to take her eyes off her tarot deck to look at him. Hadn’t he offered to get Ms. Donati a cup of water?

The King of Swords, described by the 6 of Pentacles, was dispensing his definitive opinions to the vast unwashed masses via a podcast, so he’s out, isn’t he, or was the podcast pre-recorded? He didn’t like that students preferred Ms. Donati’s intuitive skills to the logic of his teachings.

The Knight of Pentacles reversed is a tee-totaler (4 of Cups reversed), supposedly off meditating in the retreat room. But I think a gift he’d brought Ms. Donati had been rebuffed.

The Queen of Pentacles reversed was doing voice exercises (Judgment) before her presentation on coming out of the closet as a tarot reader. Hadn’t she called out the blond-haired Ms. Donati in the past for being too blatantly revealing?

Last of the 16 and represented by the final two cards in my shuffled deck, the Knight of Wands, although young and impulsive, had considered Ms. Donati to be his special mentor (Hierophant). He had recently run off when he found her tutoring others. 

Who do you think murdered Ms. Donati, the Queen of Cups? And why?

I’ll be teaching workshops in Brighton, UK on 17-18 June, 2017, including a Court Cards class and a Lenormand class. If you are in England at that time, you won’t want to miss these experiential sessions where we seriously learn as well as have fun! I hope to see you there. Sign up now at GlobalSpiritualStudies.com
Wizards

Wizards Tarot by Corinne Kenner and John Blumen (Llewellyn)

I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, and getting to know the components of your deck is no exception. This can also be a great daily spread for anyone.

1. Divide your deck into four stacks:

• The 4 Aces
• The 16 Court Cards
• The 36 Minor Arcana Cards numbered 2-10
• The 22 Major Arcana

2. Shuffle the Aces stack thoroughly while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. if a card is reversed, turn it upright for all steps. The Ace indicates an area of focus, general atmosphere or the overall energy at play. (Note: if your suit characteristics differ from those below, then use whatever works.)

Wands signifies innovative or intuitive energy. It indicates desires, enthusiasm, activity, initiating projects, enterprise. It can also indicate a rushed, angry or volatile situation.

Cups signifies emotional energy. It indicates love, relationships, nurturing, imagination and fantasy. It can also point to nostalgia, grief, sadness and lethargy.

Swords signifies mental energy. It indicates beliefs, choices and decisions, research, planning and intellectual endeavors. It can also be about disputes, struggles, and issues around honesty or dishonesty.

Pentacles (or Coins) signifies physical, sensate energy. It indicates work, skills, money, body, security, results and the care or valuing of physical resources. It can also indicate being stuck, inflexible, stubborn or stressed and worried.

Try to feel this energy inside and around you. Is it fiery, fluid, airy or earthy? Where and how is this energy manifesting in your life right now? Later you’ll want to consider how the other cards you’ve drawn function in this kind of atmosphere.

3. Shuffle the 16 Court Cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the part of yourself that is most active and of which you need to be most aware. How are you Kingly, Queenly, Knightly or like a Page? It can show your level of knowledge, experience and command (King and Queen) in this area or how open you are to learning (Page) or able to take action (Knight). 

Describe this card in as much detail as you can, including the physical image on the card and the characteristics of the figure: its attitude, mood and emotions, and what it wants or needs. How and where are you acting like this figure? Occasionally this card can express someone else in your life. How do you expect them to handle or influence the situation rather than you? Are you giving your own power away and, if so, how can you own it? Or is it as it should be?

4. Shuffle the 36 Minor Arcana number cards (2-10 in each suit) while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the situation that the part of yourself (Court Card above) is concerned with today.

If a scene is depicted on this card, then describe the scene. What situation has similar characteristics? If there are only suit markers on your deck, look up the meaning and consider how it applies.* What does the Court Card figure bring to this situation? What does it tell you about your relationship to these circumstances?

5. Shuffle the 22 Major Arcana cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This shows why you need to be aware. 

The Major Arcana card may represent a goal or desired outcome, a lesson to be learned, something to be mastered—how you can ‘triumph’ in the situation—or what is at risk or to be gained.

What is the first thing that strikes you as you look at this card? Describe the picture in as much detail as possible. How does this card ‘trump’ the situation? Look up the standard keywords and meanings in a book. Explore the individual symbols in a symbol dictionary. Try all of the above possibilities until something clicks.

6. Overview and integration: You’ve drawn three cards out of the Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins) suits. Which suits did you get? Does one suit dominate? Do the suit energies harmonize or do they seem to conflict? Are the energies more active and impatient (Wands and Swords)? Or, receptive and patient (Cups and Pentacles)? Is just one suit missing? If so, which one? Is that okay, or is something important missing in the situation? (Usually you don’t need to be as aware of a missing suit as much as you need to be aware of the suits that turned up!)

7. As a daily spread: Write down the cards you’ve drawn and your insights. Do this daily for at least two weeks, then look back over your spreads and write down what you’ve learned. Continue if you so desire. Over time, note especially what cards and suits appear most often and which never appear at all. Does a situation continue to develop in subsequent spreads? How? How do you respond to changing circumstances by bringing forth different parts of yourself ?

If you’d like, please give a sample interpretation, in the comments section, of the cards shown above.

*Note: Yes, looking up card meanings is perfectly fine, whether you are a beginner or experienced reader. You are learning to expand your repertoire of meanings. But don’t forget to really look at a card and say what it seems like to you.

 

 

 

Few things are more exciting to me than stumbling across a text or image that perfectly reflects a tarot card, especially when it makes me reconsider my ideas about that card.

Today I read the following in the mystery novel A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, says to a family at their annual reunion:

“We believe Madame Martin was murdered.”

There was a stunned silence. He’d seen that transition almost every day of his working life. He often felt like a ferryman, taking men and women from one shore to another. From the rugged, though familiar, terrain of grief and shock into a netherworld visited by a blessed few. To a shore where men killed each other on purpose.

They’d all seen it from a safe distance, on television, in the papers. They’d all known it existed, this other world. Now they were in it. . . .

No place was safe.

Ah, a perfect rendition of the Six of Swords! I was first struck by it being from the viewpoint of the ferryman, not the passengers. A ferryman who is compassionately aware of the deep emotional shifts of those he is transporting—but not partaking directly in those shifts. For a moment I thought, ‘But, of course, the Six of Swords is about the ferryman, not necessarily the passengers! A ferryman who again and again observes this shift taking place in those he ferries. A ferryman who is both separate and yet momentarily involved.’

There is no indication that the author, Louise Penny, had the tarot card in mind. Rather this is a common classical metaphor linking Charon and the river Styx to the family of a murdered person being ferried out of the world-as-they-had-known-it to a shore previously viewed only as a distant abstraction.

I often ask a querent, “Where are you in the card?”  With the Six of Swords, the querent is always one of the figures, but it could equally be the ferryman or the hunched-over adult or the child. By contrast, with other cards, the querent occasionally sees him or herself standing just beyond the borders, behind a column, or, in the case of the Tower, still inside the structure—divorced from the action.

With the Six of Swords there is usually an eventual recognition that the querent is all three persons in the boat. As ferryman, the querent tends to feel he or she is in charge or at least doing something active that will lead to a better end. As passengers, anxiety or grief tends to trump hope, yet there is still a belief that the destination will be better than the “familiar terrain of grief and shock” that they’ve just left.

Interestingly, in the novel, the seven main suspects had, just the day before, gone out together in the lake on a boat—a passage fraught with animosity and repressed danger. The Chief Inspector/ferryman recognizes that the new world they are now facing will be more terrifying than the passengers ever could have imagined. Furthermore, they aren’t just visitors—blessed because they can leave—they will soon be inhabitants. There’s no going back. Grief and shock may exist in the land of the innocent. But, in the land of the experienced, as William Blake well knew, wrath and fear dominate, and the ferryman can’t stop it from happening. (See Blake’s Poems of Innocence and Poems of Experience.)

How different the card looks to me now. It is full of foreboding, and yet there is calm in knowing that this is an inevitable journey from the false safety of innocence into the land of Blake’s experience where realities will finally be faced. As in all murder mysteries the truth will be revealed. But, in an actual reading, is the client always ready to hear such truths?

Doesn’t the admonition, “to know thyself,” mean that we have to come to know and take responsibility for the part within ourselves who “kills another”? Both the querent and the reader want the other shore to be better than the one from which they’ve come, but there are times when we have to go through much worse. What is the reader to tell the client? And, here there are no easy answers.

I hope this makes me stop and think before I blurt out cheerfully, “Oh, you are going through a transition from the rough waters of the past to smooth waters ahead.” Sometimes I, the reader, am the ferryman/chief inspector, who must recognize with compassion that real detection can strip the soul bare and set one in the dread grasp of Blake’s tyger and not in the rejoicing vales of the lamb (see poems here). The rest of the Sword suit (7–10) warns what may come from a detection of the wrongs, or what comes to light when one really wants to “know thyself.” Does the querent really want to go there, or is the querent trusting the reader to ferry them to a safe harbor?

Still, I think it helps the reader—the ferryman who steers the way through the cards in a spread from one’s familiar anxieties to a different shore—to consider what may be truly implied from such a scene in the suit of Swords. This new perspective reminds me that in a reading I am attempting to steer the course when I don’t always know what is lying in wait for my passenger on the other side or how prepared my passenger might be to meet that. It is a grave responsibility.

Tree of Life on the Tarot in the Four Worlds

I am delighted to provide this previously unpublished text, which is from a hand-copied manuscript of Sub Spe [John Brodie Innes] I apologize to those who will find many of the references difficult, but the information can help greatly in understanding the Golden Dawn approach to the Minor Arcana and also the Rider-Waite-Smith and Crowley’s Thoth decks. A glossary of Golden Dawn terms is available at The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn website (click on H.O.G.D. Dictionary in the directory).

General Scheme:

The Breath of God passes down through the Four Worlds of the Qabalah from the purely Spiritual to the absolutely material. In each world there is a Tree of Life and the Breath passes down from Sephira to Sephira from Kether to Malkuth and thence to the Kether of the new lower World.
Atziluth, Yetzirah, Briah, Assiah (Wands, Swords, Cups, Pentacles).
Thus in Atziluth the Archetypal World it passes from Eheieh the Creative Breath to Adonai Malekh. This gives its impulse to Kether of Briah the Archangelic World, and in this plane it passes from Metatron the Male Kerub to Sandalphon the Female Kerub. This in turn gives its impulse to Kether of Assiah the Astral Plane where it is received by Chaioth ha Qadesh. The Holy Living Creatures, i.e. the Zodiac which is a wheel or Vortex and goes down to Ashim the Souls of Fire. The work of this Plane being to disintegrate the Astral Form that it may pass through the veils of Negative Existence and be reborn on the Material in Kether of Assiah. Here it is received by Rashith ha Gilgalim the Primum Mobile or Lord Kelvin’s “Vortex ring” and passes down to Cholem Yesodoth. Material Wealth. Malkuth of Assiah.
Thus we have four Trees one above the other containing 40 Sephiroth; i.e., the 4 Aces & 36 small cards of the Tarot arranged in 4 suits corresponding to the Worlds, each attributed to a Planet in a Decanate, and ruled by 2 Angels of the Shemhamaphoresch. This allocation of symbols gives the meaning ascribed to each card.

[The results and names of the cards are arrived at by combining the meanings of the numbers, with the meanings of the suits and interpreting by the Kabbalah. I have added clarifying material from other sources in brackets[ ]. Tarot card illustrations are from the Golden Dawn Whare Ra deck. —mkg]

Meaning of Numbers:

2. unites the Forces of the Positive and Negative, the King and Queen of the suit. Hence it signifies a beginning or Initiation.
[Unites forces of King and Queen, Fire & Water, Postive & Negative = reflection, love, pleasure, harmony. Chokmah is exalted above every head. Sphere of Wheel of Change and the Zodiac.]

3. produces the Prince. The Resultant of that union. A spiritual card.
[Produces the Prince (resultant (perfect manifestation) of union of King and Queen). Saturn = steadiness and restraint.]

4. produces the Princess. The Realization making the matter fixed or settled. Often taken as a new beginning. A material card.
[The Princess. Realization (4) of Power (Jupiter). Makes the matter fixed and settled. Chesed = the receptacle of all the Holy Powers and from it emanates all the Virtues).]

5. compounded of the first odd and the first even numbers denotes Opposition.
[Sphere of Mars. 5 = opposition, strife. Geburah = severity. Unites Wisdom and Knowledge.]

6. called by Nichomachus the form of form and by the Pythagoreans the Perfection of Parts, is taken to imply Accomplishment.
[Sphere of Sun = power, rank, rule. 6 = Accomplishment. Tiphereth = Mediating Intelligence for it causes that influence to flow into all the Reservoirs of Blessings.]

7. in Hebrew called ShBV Shibo or abundance unites the spiritual 3 to the material 4 and signifies a Supernal Force, also a possible result to be obtained by skill and courage.
[Sphere of Venus = external (outer) splendour. Netzach = the Refulgent Splendour of all Intellectual Virtues. Force transcending the material plane.]

8. The first cube of energy and the only evenly even number in the decade. Signifies material success, but sterile – not heading further. Solitary successes.
[Sphere of Mercury = Genius. Hod = Solitary Successes. 8 = Feeble Force, lacks initiative. Martial force without restraint.]

9. The triple Three, the first square of the odd number, of the Spiritual three. No further elementary number is possible hence it is like the horizon. All other numbers are bounded by it. Hence it implies Fundamental Force.
[Sphere of the Moon which governs the Waters of earth, the feminine & negative. 9 = a strong fundamental force. Yesod – the Path of Pure Intelligence.]

10. The beginning again of the decimal scale. Completed Force.
[Sphere of the Elements/Earth. Fixed and completed force. Power exercised in material things only.]

The 4 Aces are always the Roots of the Powers of their element. For other meanings see “Extracts from Book T., given in Ritual N.”

Note:
YOD-HE-VAU-HE is the Supreme God of the Plane of Earthly life governing material, mental and psychic forces by immutable laws. The “God” of the Old Testament.
ELOHIM = the Guiding Spirits who under YHVH sway the material forces. Always used collectively and usually translated Lord.
The ELOHIM contact humanity. YHVH does not – directly.
ADONI = the Planetary God of Earth. To a certain extent answers to Christ when looked at from his Human aspect, but recognising His Divinity. YHShVH is His Divine Aspect.

ace-wands010.jpgWANDS – The Tree of Life in Atziluth

Ace of Wands: (Kether of Atziluth, Root of the Powers of Fire) Eheieh is the Creative Sigh, the Divine outbreathing – the Eastern Hamsa. The Greek [_?_]. The Spirit of God in Genesis. By this Divine Life first enters the Kether of the highest of the Four Worlds and penetrates to Malkuth of the Lowest. In the Tarot this influence comes from the Keys to the Ace of Wands.

Two of Wands: (Chokmah of Atziluth, Lord of Dominion, Mars in Aries) Unites forces of King & Queen. The Union of Fire & Water. The Spirit of Yod [Jehovah] on the face of the Water. Chokmah is exalted above every head. Mars in Aries representing the decanate is absolutely powerful. Hence influence over others. Good or bad according to dignity.

Three of Wands: (Binah of Atziluth, Established Strength, Sun in Aries) Produces the Prince. Resultant of union of King and Queen. Here the union of the Earth God Yod-He-Vau-He with the Lords of Creation Binah Elohim is the basis of Primordial Wisdom. The forms of Faith and its Roots. Amen. Sun the center of Power to the Earth in the fiery Aries give realization of hopes of energy = Established Strength.

Four of Wands: (Chesed of Atziluth, Perfected Work, Venus in Aries) Produces the Princess making the matter fixed and settled. EL is the definite article. The absolute. Chesed is the receptacle of all the Holy Powers and from it emanates all the Virtues. Venus in the fiery Aries has her full fruition. Hence have we perfected work.

Five of Wands: (Geburah of Atziluth, Strife, Saturn in Leo) Opposition. Elohim Gebor is the Lord of Severity [and battles]. He intensifies opposition. Geburah is itself severity. It unites Wisdom and Knowledge. Here gloomy Saturn dulls the light of Leo hence we get Strife. Ultimate success or failure is otherwise [elsewhere] shown.

Six of Wands: (Tiphareth in Atziluth, Victory, Jupiter in Leo) Accomplishment. The dual influences of the Earth God and the Directing Lords of Creation Elohim [Jehovah Aloah va Daath] directed to NETZACH or Knowledge give absolute success to skill and courage. Jupiter power in the shining light of Leo completes the idea. Tiphereth is the Mediating Intelligence for it causes that influence to flow into all the Reservoirs of Blessings. Hence is Victory after Strife.

Seven of Wands: (Netzach in Atziluth, Valour, Mars in Leo) A possible result. A force transcending the Material Plane. Mars in Leo gives this a martial direction. Jehovah Tzabaoth the Earth God of Hosts shows terrific force but restrained. Netzach is the Refulgent Splendour of all Intellectual Virtues. The sum of all these gives Valour.

Eight of Wands: (Hod in Atziluth, Swiftness, Mercury in Sagittarius) Solitary Successes. The Name is the Lord of Armies Elohim Tzabaoth. Martial Force without restraint. Mercury in the fire of the Sagittarius Centaur also gives the idea of too much force suddenly applied. Swiftness of the horse but running nowhere. Success but leading to nothing.

Nine of Wands: (Yesod of Atziluth, Great Strength, Moon in Sagittarius) Strong fundamental force Shaddai el Chai = the Vast & Mighty One. Both are of the same character but less fierce than the 10. The gentle Moon somewhat restrains the fire of the Centaur Sagittarius – it giving great strength but benignly used. The Sephiroth is the Path of Pure Intelligence.

Ten of Wands: (Malkuth of Atziluth, Oppression, Saturn in Sagittarius) Fixed and completed force. Adonai Malekh = The Power of Earth as a King. The two give to the Fire of Wands an overpowering Force which = Cruelty. Gloomy Saturn rides but does not control the fire of the Centaur Sagittarius which is the Airy Fire. Such fierce blast of Fire whirls to the Male Kerub, Metatron, in Kether of Briah. [The Divine Impulse … by growing materially powerful becomes sheer cruelty and oppression.]

CUPS – The Tree of Life in Briah

Ace of Cups: (Kether of Briah, Root of the Powers of Water) The Right Hand Male Kerub [Metatron] receives the influences from Adoni Malekh. See Key Table for further information.

Two of Cups: (Chokmah of Briah, Love, Venus in Cancer) Unites the King and Queen. Positive and Negative forces of Love and Pleasure. Ratziel the Archangel of the forces of a Vortex or wheel gives Power. Venus in Cancer is especially Venusian. All the Ideas tend in the same way to the unmodified and uncombined ideas of Cups – Love.

Three of Cups: (Binah of Briah, Abundance, Mercury in Cancer) Produces the Prince. = Abundance resulting from Love. Tzaphkiel has to do with forces of Saturn giving the steadying quality to Mercury, the versatility which qualify the overstrong cup-action making it fruitful.

Four of Cups: (Chesed of Briah, Blended Pleasure, Moon in Cancer) Produces the Princess. Realisation. Tzadkiel is the power of Jupiter so far good, but Moon in Cancer gives change and instability. Happiness approaching an end. Too passive to be perfectly complete.

Five of Cups: (Geburah of Briah, Loss in Pleasure, Mars in Scorpio) Opposition neutralises the force of Cups. Khamael is the Archangel of the Mars forces. Quarrels and fighting – the antithesis of Love. Mars in Scorpio = the stirring up of stagnant water. All intensify the idea. End of Pleasure. Sadness. Deceit. Treachery in Love.

Six of Cups: (Tiphareth in Briah, Pleasure, Sun in Scorpio) Accomplishment. Raphael is the Archangel of the Sun. United influence brings to pass what is wished – e.g. on the material plane. Sensual Pleasure. The influence of Sun in Scorpio is enervating breeding corruption. If Sun is strong – vanity, etc.

Seven of Cups: (Netzach in Briah, Illusionary Success, Venus in Scorpio) A possible success. The Supernal Forces Haniel is the Archangel connected with the Venus forces. Success is only outward. Supernal forces bring it to nothing. Nogah the sphere of Venus represents external splendour. Venus in Scorpio the gleam on stagnant water. All repeat the idea.

Eight of Cups: (Hod in Briah, Abandoned Success, Saturn in Pisces) Solitary Success. Michael the Archangel of Fire is too strong for the feeble force of the 8. Saturn in the airy Pisces gives indolence and dispondency. The whole shows temporary success abandoned as soon as gained.

10-cups013.jpgNine of Cups: (Yesod of Briah, Material Happiness, Jupiter in Pisces) Strong fundamental force. Gabriel is the Archangel of Water on the material plane. He presides over birth and generation. Hence he was announcer of the birth of Christ and of John the Baptist. More material than Sandalphon as 9 is less complete than 10. Jupiter is not such a perfect combination with Pisces as Mars, so this card is almost perfect happiness.

Ten of Cups: (Malkuth of Briah, Perfected Success, Mars in Pisces) A fixed and Completed Force. Sandalphon, the Female Kerub, an Archangel yet Chief of the Angels. Showering influence of Chaioth ha Qadesh [Kether] – being the Female Kerub receiving its influence from above and transmuting it to the Zodiac, the Wheel of material creation. Mars gives the balance of Fire; Pisces that of Water. Hence this is an extremely good and fortunate card.

SWORDS – The Tree of Life in Yetzirah

Ace of Swords: (Kether in Yetzirah, Root of the Powers of Air) The Holy Living Creatures [Chaioth ha Qadesh], represent the Zodiac itself as Chokmah of Assiah represents its sphere. Hence a vortex receiving the influence through the veils of the negative from Malkuth of Briah which is Perfected Happiness.

Two of Swords: (Chokmah of Yetzirah, Peace Restored, Moon in Libra) Unites King and Queen thus producing Harmony. Auphanim is the Wheel of Change. Thus the Angels of the Revolving Symbolism restore peace. The gentle influence of Moon on Libra fiery air, restores and pacifies.

Three of Swords: (Binah of Yetzirah, Sorrow, Saturn in Libra) Produces the Prince. = The beginning and ending. Giver of Death. Aralim called Thrones more properly. Heroes intensifies the Prince. Hence Sorrow. Gloomy Saturn in fiery Air repeats the idea.

Four of Swords: (Chesed of Yetzirah, Rest from Strife, Jupiter in Libra) Realization. Chasmalim = a brillant metal, perhaps gold or silver. The Angels characterised by brightness [Shining Ones]. The realization of Brilliance. Thus = Rest after Strife. Jupiter Power in Libra fiery Air. Holds its heat restrained. This repeats the idea.5-swords012.jpg

Five of Swords: (Geburah of Yetzirah, Defeat, Venus in Aquarius) Opposition. Strife. Seraphim = Angelic Beings whose character is burning or Fire [fiery serpents]. There is nothing to modify the fiery heat of strife which must bring defeat. Venus in the soft nature of Watery air succumbs to any Force.

Six of Swords: (Tiphareth in Yetzirah, Earned Success, Mercury in Aquarius) Accomplishment. Malachim – King Forces & those who obtain success by commanding it. Hence success not by luck but by effort. Mercury = Genius. Versatility acting on the plastic material of watery Air strives for and obtains success.

Seven of Swords: (Netzach in Yetzirah, Unstable Effort, Moon in Aquarius) Forces transcending the material Plane. Elohim = the idea of strength; hence effort but Supernal Forces overcome & render it unstable. Aquarius – Watery Air acted on by the inconstant Moon increases this result.

Eight of Swords: (Hod in Yetzirah, Shortened Force, Jupiter in Gemini) Solitary Successes. Beni Elohim = Sons of God. A lower and inferior order of Angels. Not able to prevail against the restrictions of the number 8. Jupiter = Power, but having only the Airy Air of Gemini as a basis, cannot exert Power to the full.

Nine of Swords: (Yesod of Yetzirah, Despair and Cruelty, Mars in Gemini) 9 = A strong fundamental force. Cherubim = Sphinxes compounded of the Elements. The supporters of Diety who fly with a swooping or circling motion, the beginning of a whirl, outcasting answering to Rashith ha Gilgalim [Kether’s First Swirlings]. The strong force tending to break up, appears like cruelty & despair. Mars has his full unmodified sway in the Airy Air of Gemini.

Ten of Swords: (Malkuth of Yetzirah, Ruin, Sun in Gemini) 10 = a fixed & completed force. Ashim = the Souls of Fire. These complete their work, which is to break up, disintegrate and ruin the Astral form that it may pass through the negative veils to be reborn in Kether of Assiah. Sun = very fiery energy, destructive unless it acts on very solid material & is modified. Acting on Gemini the tenuous or most Airy Air it is destructive. Compare the deadly arrows of Apollo. [Here the ideas take form, but the Astral Shells are broken up in Ruin by the Souls of Fire that the forms may be reborn in the Material.]

PENTACLES – The Tree of Life in Assiah

Ace of Pentacles: (Kether in Assiah, Root of the Powers of Earth) All Aces are the roots of the Powers of their Element. The Primum Mobile [Rashith ha Gilgalim] Beginning of Whirlings = Primary Vortex Ring. This is the Germ of all Matter (vide Lord Kelvin).

Two of Pentacles: (Chokmah of Assiah, Harmonious Change, Jupiter in Capricorn) Unites King and Queen. The Sphere of the Zodiac counter charges all. All forces acting on Earth. Jupiter = Calm Power on Capricorn = Barren Earth. Gives Harmonious Change but no product.

Three of Pentacles: (Binah of Assiah, Material Works, Mars in Capricorn) Produces the Prince = The perfect manifestation of the forces of Earth. The Sphere of Saturn [Shabathai= rest] restrains his influence. Mars shining on Capricorn the barren earth brings about material works and no more.

Four of Pentacles: (Chesed of Assiah, Earthly Power, Sun in Capricorn) 4 = Realization. Sphere of Jupiter = Power [Tzadekh = righteousness]. Thus the realization of Power. Sun = Power and force on Capricorn = a barren and desert land. Dominates, but leads to nothing beyond.

Five of Pentacles (Geburah of Assiah, Material Trouble, Mercury in Taurus) 5 = Opposition & Strife. Sphere of Mars [Madim = vehement strength] accentuates this. Mercury = Genius but etherial and erratic. Quite unable to deal with the dull heavy earth of Taurus.

Six of Pentacles: (Tiphareth in Assiah, Material Success, Moon in Taurus) 6 = Accomplishment. Sphere of Sun = Power, Rank, Rule [Shemesh = Solar Light]. These give abundant success. Luna in her exaltation of Taurus. The Mistress of the Floods. Breaking up the dull heavy earth under the influence of Sun = Great fertility.

Seven of Pentacles: (Netzach in Assiah, Success Unfulfilled, Saturn in Taurus) Force transcending the material Plane. Nogah = Sphere of Venus = External Splendour. The outside fair, but Supernal Force destroys the promise. The gloom of Saturn on the heavy dull earth of Taurus gives no success in farming.

Eight of Pentacles: (Hod in Assiah, Prudence, Sun in Virgo) Solitary Successes. Sphere of Mercury = Genius [Kokab = The Stellar Light]. This when only ocasionally successful is over careful. Sun = prudence and punctuality in Virgo the fertile earth gives success in farming. Mercury unrestrained by the forces of 8 lacks initiative energy.

Nine of Pentacles: (Yesod of Assiah, Material Gain, Venus in Virgo) 9 = A strong fundamental force. Levanah = Sphere of the Moon which governs the Waters of earth. A force which governs the feminine & negative is usually termed luck. This = gain. Venus the generative power in Virgo the fertile earth = material increase.

Ten of Pentacles: (Malkuth of Assiah, Wealth, Mercury in Virgo) 10 = Fixed and completed force. Sphere of the Elements [Cholem Yesodoth] = Power exercised in material things only . Mercury extremely versatile genius employed in Virgo = the fertility of the earth. Therefore successful completion of material gain = Material Wealth. Malkuth of Assiah. There is nothing human below this. [The acme of worldly prosperity and progress.] (Hereafter it must take an upward curve or pass out to The Qlippoth.).

[Note: the following zodiacal attributes relate to the elemental qualities of the decanates and the cards associated with those decanates. mkg]

Aries: Ascending Flames. A Great and Ruling Force.
Leo: Rushing Flames. A Force Wise.
Sagittarius: Darting Flames. A Force Great and Potent.
Taurus: Fertile land in a valley. A Force Exalted.
Virgo: Undulating land and low hill. A Force Just.
Capricorn: Precipitous, rocky and barren land. A Force Strong and Mighty.
Gemini: Cirrhous and flecked cloud. A Powerful Force.
Libra: Cumulo-stratous clouds. A Force Illustrious.
Aquarius: Rain descending from clouds. A Force Manifesting and Manifested.
Cancer: Eddies of swirling water. A Force that renders Powerful.
Scorpio: Undulating surface of water. A Wisely Dispensing Force.
Pisces: Breaking waves of the sea. A Force Avenging.

Added: The Major Arcana of the Whare Ra Golden Dawn deck can be seen here. The closest modern version is the Classic Golden Dawn Tarot (now out-of-print).

10swordssm.jpgWe were discussing the Ten of Swords on AeclecticTarot’s forum so I thought I’d summarize my thoughts here. A person lies on land by a body of water with hills blue in the distance. I usually think of the water as a lake because there’s no movement indicated—the water looks placid or even lifeless. The sky is black overhead but, above the mountains, the darkness breaks to reveal a slit of yellow sky.

Contrary to their attributed qualities of Air and Mind, Swords both depict and evoke in the viewer very strong, mostly disturbing, emotions. I once did a Tarot and Emotions Research Project in response to this fact.

Here are the emotion words for the Ten of Swords (times the number of respondents who picked the word):

hopeless (x15)
overwhelmed (x12)
despair (x11)
exhausted (x5)
hatred (x5)
pity (x3)

Waite says very little about this card in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot (PKT):

“A prostrate figure, pierced by all the swords belonging to the card. Divinatory Meanings: Whatsoever is intimated by the design; also pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation. It is not especially a card of violent death.”

His additional meanings include imprisonment and treason on the part of friends—which I interpret as ‘stabbed in the back.’

Waite was always very precise with his vocabulary. The key word in his description above is “prostrate,” which means “to cast (oneself) face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration; to overthrow, overcome, or reduce to helplessness.” For me, it emphasizes submission to something overwhelming either by choice (humility) or by being overcome. Victimization is a possibility.

He also uses “pierce,” meaning to penetrate or cut through, “by all the swords,” which correspond with mind and intellect. This suggests a kind of ultimate penetration, reaching the end of thought or an idea. This can also indicate pinning ideas down.

Waite’s main emotions are sadness and desolation. Of the latter, the Random House Dictionary says: “The desolate person is deprived of human consolation, relationships, or presence.” Is that why three people gave pity as their emotion in my research project? Has hatred of him by others rendered him desolate?

I have a copy of PKT that once belonged to a priest, whose notes are often enlightening. He points to Rev. 19:15: “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” The poor guy looks like he could be both the grapes that were pressed and the nation that was smited.

This priest also refers to Waite’s book The Holy Kabbalah, where we find: “The Flaming Sword which turned every way signifies angels set over the chastisement of man in this world.” This is in a section on the Fall of Man and the Legend of the Deluge [Flood] in which Waite talks about both Eve and Noah having pressed grapes into wine. “The fact that Noah pressed the grapes—as Eve is said also to have done—partook of the juice and so became drunken, is affirmed to contain a mystery of wisdom. . . . [Noah], having set himself to fathom that sin which had caused the fall of the first man, . . . raised a corner of the veil concerning that breach of the world which ought always to remain secret.” Waite then refers to the dangers of some kinds of knowledge. Could this be chastisement for knowing too much? To “chastise” comes from roots meaning “to make pure.” Are limiting thoughts being pressed from him so that what’s left are pure “spirits”?

In the Grail and Masonic Mysteries that Waite used when devising the Minor Arcana (see my article in Llewellyn’s Tarot Reader 2006), this card refers specifically to the death of the Masonic ‘Master Builder’ (murdered treasonously by his brethern), as well as the death of the many knights who perished on the Grail Quest. In the Welsh Perceval, it is the “Sword which broke and was rejoined, [and] in the stress of the last trial, was shattered beyond recovery.”

Waite specifically tells us in PKT that the Knight of Swords is Galahad (who was girded with the Sword of David). He explains how the Quest of Galahad tells how “the Warden of the Mysteries together with the Holy Things [the four suits/Grail Hallows], was removed once and for all . . . [because] the world was not worthy.” And, “The death pictured in the Mysteries is therefore in no sense physical, but is mystical, like the resurrection which follows it” (Waite, The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail). Remember that in PKT, he said: “It is not especially a card of violent death.”

This is the suit of Swords taken to an extreme—”to the nth degree.” Yet in reaching its ultimate conclusion, nothing further can be done in that direction through either thought or aspiration. Now there’s room for a new possibility to emerge [the rising of the black clouds revealing yellow light]—though it has to come from a new and different place. It is an ending that clears the way for new opportunity, but it is only when the ending is fully accepted that the opportunity can emerge. This card is about being pinned down and stuck and finding the blessing in that (note that his hand makes the Hierophant’s sign of benediction). Otherwise the new potential, the Ace (which is the sum of 1+0) cannot be perceived, much less appreciated.

Nevertheless, each of the cards is so rich that a single meaning can’t be the sum total of any card, including this one. I always go with how the querent sees the card at the moment of the reading. Some never see the hand of benediction, while others focus on it right away. Some are very frightened by the card. They think it means the absolute end of something they don’t want to let go of. Or they think it will hurt. Or that they’ll be stuck here forever. Alternatively, they ignore everything except the yellow light.

If I ask a querent to lay down on the floor in the exact position of the figure on the RWS card, something else always happens. Often there’s a feeling of relief and surrender. Some people find it’s like the “deadman’s pose” at the end of a strenuous yoga session, a position from which few want to move because it feels so-o-o good. It’s nice not to have to fight things any more. Others find that the sensation is like acupuncture that awakens the meridians or like the paralysis of spinal injury that numbs.

Essentially, I believe in understanding as deeply as possible the state and sensations depicted on the card as it is, before one rushes on to the yellow light that breaks through the dark clouds. As hard as it is, it is only by knowing the true state and feelings of the person on this card that we having any chance of knowing its blessings.

Elemental Dignities is the most misunderstood topic in Tarot. It is a method of giving importance to cards in a spread that is based on the relationship between the cards’ elements (fire, earth, air, water) and used to identify cards that strengthen or weaken each other.

It was first discussed by MacGregor Mathers, for members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, in a manuscript called “Book T,” which included his instructions on reading the cards. The problem is that few people study “Book T” and really look at the examples that Mathers gives for using Elemental Dignities.

The system was a way for determining how ‘strong’ (i.e., powerful and important) each card or set of cards was in a reading and, therefore, which cards to pay most attention to. It was also a way to eliminate irrelevant cards. It was designed to go with specific spreads in which the cards were read in pairs and triads.

You need to actually lay out the cards he used as examples and follow closely what he did if you want to understand the GD system. For one thing, Mathers used the terms “neutral” and, in a different context, “neutralize,” and they signify two different but important things. Secondly, the term ‘friendly’ does not mean that the cards act nicely toward each other. Any combination can be for ‘good or ill’ depending on the cards!!!

Here are Mathers’ basic rules (see my book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card for a more complete explanation):

1) Cards are “Strong” when the suits/elements are the same; they are “very strong for either good or evil, according to their nature.”

In other words, two swords cards are like-minded and egg each other on. They can greatly increase either the good or ill in each (depending on their individual meanings).

2) When the suits/elements are both masculine/active or feminine/passive, they are “moderately strong because they are friendly to each other.” [Fire+Air; Water+Earth.]

They increase the power and strength of the other, but whether this is good or bad depends on the specific cards.

3) When the suits/elements complement each other, they are “somewhat friendly” (also called neutral). [Fire+Earth; Air+Water.]

They show relatively ineffectual interactions. (Personally, I like to think of them as irritants that can be mildly correctional and therapeutic to each other but without great impact as to whether they strengthen or weaken the other.)

4) When the cards are of contrary elements they tend to “weaken each other greatly for good or evil, and neutralize [cancel out] their force.” They are sometimes referred to as enemies or ill-dignified. [Fire+Water; Air+Earth.]

In practice, Mathers often cancelled out the effect of cards with contrary elements. He simply did not read PAIRS that were of contrary elements!! (They could not co-exist in the same room so BOTH would leave.)

In TRIADS, if the two cards flanking a central one were contrary to each other, he simply didn’t read those flanking cards but, instead, concentrated on the center card as if it were alone.

However: “If the contrary element is only in one flanking card, then the other becomes a connecting card so that the first [center] is not weakened, but is modified by the influence of both cards and is, therefore, fairly strong.” In other words, the center card overcomes the neutralizing force of its contrary flanking card through the support of the flanking card that is more ‘friendly’ to it – for good or ill.

If both flanking cards are contrary to the center one then they dominate it completely; the effects of the central card become extremely weak.

People have modified this system to make sense to themselves (and often because they didn’t understand the original). It’s fine to modify the idea to your own use, just understand that you are doing so, and that none of these adaptations are “right” while others are “wrong.” The important thing is what works for you.

An Analogy

When looking at a spread in terms of pairs, what you end up with are, if it were a book or movie:

1) Strong: the leading characters (they can be lovers or antagonist and protagonist). The focus of the action is on them.

2) Friendly: supporting actors – secondary characters – the best friend, a mentor, the malicious co-worker: those who further the action of the story through support or by throwing a spanner in the works.

3) Somewhat Friendly/Neutral: those who add in a little but aren’t terribly significant: brief encounters, comedic relief, etc.

4) Weak (neutralizing): non-speaking parts: crowd scenes, background at a restaurant, faces on the street, etc. If these people are alone in a room (without the characters mentioned above) then simply NOTHING happens.

This is not an exact analogy, but it should get the point across. I want to emphasize again that you can devise a system of elemental dignities that goes beyond this, using psychological, astrological or even alchemical principles for the interaction of elements. But, then understand that this is a personal adaptation of the original idea.

Want more? Step-by-step instructions for reading all variations of Elemental Dignities with three-cards can be found at Tarot Elements.

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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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