You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘tarot’ tag.

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.

Last night I went to a lecture and book signing by Louis Sahagun, author of a biography of Manly Palmer Hall called Master of the Mysteries. Sahagun is a journalist at the Los Angeles Times and was working night duty on September 2, 1990 when the call came in that Hall had died at 89 years of age. Knowing nothing about the man, Sahagun looked him up in the files, finding little until he got back to the 1930s and 40s when he stumbled onto stacks of clippings. He wrote a brief obituary that didn’t begin to touch on the accomplishments of this internationally known metaphysician and occult scholar who eventually was a victim of extreme elder-abuse and probable murder.

Sahagun became fascinated by Hall’s story, was given access to several archives, interviewed dozens of people who had known Hall, and examined the police and medical reports on what is still an open suspicious-death investigation.

Hall is of interest to those of us in the Tarot world for his creation of what’s known as the Knapp-Hall Tarot deck, first published in 1929 by artist J. Augustus Knapp, illustrator of two of Hall’s first books, including the famous The Secret Teachings of All Ages (the latest edition is in its 16th printing).

I’ll leave you to read the fascinating details of the book from this article in the L.A. Times or listen to this podcast interview with Sahagun.

I want to talk here about the conversation I had with Louis Sahagun about the cult status of spiritual teachers. During his research Sahagun discovered an amazing but flawed human being—someone who married disastrously, fell behind the times and finally succumbed to the machinations of a conman. Despite this, Sahagun felt that he had found a man of immense talents and great personal integrity who warned against putting teachers on a pedestal. It is apparent that Hall’s scholarship left something to be desired (he had only a 6th grade education but a photographic memory), but it’s hard for many to accept that Hall could have been less than perfect. Sahagun was struck by the number of followers who seemed to do nothing with their lives but slavishly espouse the teachings. On the other hand, hundreds of people—mostly in the arts—creatively integrated Hall’s metaphysical principles into their work—making it their own. These included such diverse people as an L.A. mayor, a governor of California, Elvis Presley and Bela Lugosi.

Personally, I’ve been struck by the number of people who discover lies, misconduct or incorrect facts in the lives and work of their heroes and respond by either completely rejecting the teacher and work or by rejecting any evidence of a problem. Typical is a comment about the book from someone who regularly attended Hall’s lectures: “I wasn’t aware of any controversy surrounding Mr. Hall’s death either…. It was natural causes—and I suppose natural causes for an author to claim controversy.” This person has no desire to examine the evidence before claiming that the biographer must be lying.

When writing my biography of four original members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses, I believed it vitally important to examine their flaws as well as their strengths. How are we to learn from someone’s story if we don’t see how that person navigated the difficulties of life? How can we evaluate a work if we aren’t willing to explore what’s true and what isn’t and what ‘works’ and what doesn’t? It’s important to realize that everyone is human. Just before I completed the biography, an acquaintance sent my text involving a different spiritual teacher, now deceased, to that person’s organization. I received a phone call asking me to remove quotes from letters that included accusations of an affair with someone he later married. It was felt this might harm the public perception of him as a great and good man. I ask, how are we ever to develop discrimination if we believe that spiritual teachers are somehow more perfect than the rest of us or that everything they write is Divine Truth?

The way I see it, there are three unacknowledged magical “initiations.” The first is when we come across a teaching or practice and have to determine if it contains a truth or way to which we want to commit ourselves. The second initiation is when we discover we’ve been betrayed by ‘lies’ and we have to decide to leave or continue the work. The third initiation is when we discover that the lie itself contains a greater truth. The second initiation is betrayal and until we have confronted betrayal and moved through it we will never encounter the third initiation. We experience these three initiations all the time, although a fourth is proposed that takes us beyond the world of truth and lies.

. . . With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck

And my Tarot pack and my Tarot pack . . . (at minute 1:43)

See more Sylvia Plath videos here (then search on her name).

Added: It turns out that the original manuscript of Sylvia Plath’s book, Ariel, was ordered according to the Tarot and Qabala—with the first twenty-two poems associated with the Major Arcana and the next ten with the ten pips and sephiroth followed by the four ranks of the Court and then the four suits. This ordering is now apparent in Ariel: The Restored Edition (2004). All of this is explained in an article by Julia Gordon-Bramer for the journal Plath Profiles. Download a pdf of Gordon-Bramer’s article here.

When did the modern tarot renaissance actually begin? It’s always hard to pinpoint the beginning of a movement but here are some events worth noting that lead up to the breaking of the dam in 1969. I’m looking for corrections and additions to the information below, plus tarot stories from the 60s and early 70s. Please share them in the comments.

The 1940s saw some interesting tarot activities that set the stage for the later renaissance. The Crowley-Harris Thoth deck was completed and published in a limited edition of 200 in monochrome brown by Chiswick Press, but these were not available to the general public. In 1947 Paul Foster Case published his masterful work The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, based on his tarot correspondence course. In France, Paul Marteau came out with his hugely influential book Le Tarot de Marseille that noted the symbolic significance of the smallest details in the deck. In Brazil, J. Iglesias Janeiro, published his book La Cabala de Prediccion, which popularized the turn-of-the-century Egyptianized Falconnier/Wegener cards. It became a center-piece of his important occult school, known mostly in Latin America. Meanwhile, in the U.S.A., Dr. John Dequer published The Major Arcana of the Sacred Egyptian Tarot, which was his revised version of those same Egyptianized cards, similar to what was already being used by C.C. Zain’s Brotherhood of Light correspondence school.

The Insight Institute in Surrey England started up their tarot correspondence course (later published in a book by Frank Lind) and produced their occultized version of the Marseilles deck (eventually published as the R.G. Tarot). Also appearing was an unusual book, solely on the psychological dimension of the Minor Arcana cards numbered 2-10 as they are associated with one’s birthday. It was Pursuit of Destiny by Muriel Bruce Hasbrouck, who had studied with Aleister Crowley when he was in the United States. Tudor Publishing’s The Complete Book of the Occult and Fortune Telling became the sole source in English of the unique Tarot card interpretations from Eudes Picard’s 1909 French work, Tarot.

The 1940s also saw the incorporation of Tarot imagery in surrealist artworks such as Victor Brauner’s “The Surrealist,” and in Jackson Pollack’s “Moon Woman” (both of which I happened upon when I visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice following the 2000 Tarot Tour with Brian Williams). William Gresham’s novel, Nightmare Alley, featured a carny mentalist who reads tarot and the book is presented as a twenty-two card reading. A year later Tyrone Power played the lead in the movie version featuring two tarot readings by Joan Blondell. Charles Williams’ landmark tarot novel, The Greater Trumps came out just as this decade ended and the next one began.

The 1950s produced even fewer tarot works. George Fathman published The Royal Road: A Study in the Egyptian Tarot, which used Dequer’s version of the Falconnier/Wegener cards. Paul Christian’s seminal work The History and Practice of Magic was translated from French to English, providing the original source material on which all those Egyptian-style decks were based. Arcanum Books reissued Papus’ The Tarot of the Bohemians with an introduction by librarian Gertrude Moakley, who noted the influence of tarot on creative writers and in psychology. Off in the Netherlands, Basil Rakoczi published the English language letterpress art book: The Painted Caravan: A Penetration into the Secrets of the Tarot Cards. Yet, the tarot seemed likely to fade away from popular view.

1960 started out the decade with a bang. University Books published Waite’s A Pictorial Key to the Tarot for an American readership, as well as a deck: Tarot Cards Designed by Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite. Eden Gray self-published her Tarot Revealed that still sells well to this day. In England Rolla Nordic came out with The Tarot Shows the Path: Divination through the Tarot. These last two books showed a clear shift in interest to practical tarot readings for the masses. Muriel Hasbrouck’s greatly overlooked 1940s work was re-published. 

As the 60s progressed we got two heavy metaphysical works: Mouni Sadhu’s Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism, and Mayananda’s The Tarot for Today, a study of Crowley’s material in the Book of Thoth (despite the latter’s being unavailable). The Brotherhood of Light came out with a new, revised edition of their 1930s Tarot deck. Idries Shah claimed, in The Sufis, that the Tarot was a Sufi creation. Influenced by T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and Yeats’ involvement in the Golden Dawn, poets like Robert Creeley, John Weiners, Diane Wakowski, Sylvia Plath, Philip Lamantia and Diane di Prima began using tarot imagery in their poems. While not published until 1974, Jack Hurley and John Horler worked on “The New Tarot,” a Jung-based deck, at the Esalen Institute throughout the 60s, influencing many who passed through there.

In 1966 Gertrude Moakley set tarot history on it’s ear with her groundbreaking research in The Tarot Cards Painted by Bembo. The Grand Tarot Belline deck was published in Paris, as was a new edition of Oswald Wirth’s 1927 book, Le Tarot des imagiers du moyen age, that included his 22 card deck. Beginning in 1966 and running through 1971 the day-time TV soap opera Dark Shadows gave many people their first glimpse of a tarot deck as various episodes featured readings with the Marseille deck.

By 1967, even a paper company jumped on the bandwagon with its advertising Linweave Tarot Pack that gave David Palladini his introduction to tarot design (see card on right). Helios Books in England published a small edition of the Golden Dawn’s Inner Order tarot teachings, Book T. Doris Chase Doane came out with two books that helped popularize the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian tarot deck in America. Sidney Bennett wrote Tarot for the Millions.

In 1968, the House of Camoin reproduced the classic 1760 Tarot de Marseille based on original pearwood woodcuts. The mysterious Frankie Albano redid Waite and Smith’s deck in brighter colors, giving those in the U.S.A. an alternative to the University Press version. Hades, in Paris, published Manuel complet d’interpretation du tarot, claiming it was based on a pre-de Gébelin 1761 original. Jerry Kay came up with his own version of Crowley’s deck that he called The Book of Thoth: The Ultimate Tarot. And, Stuart Kaplan brought back the Swiss 1JJ deck from the Nuremberg Toy Fair, selling 200,000 copies in the first year and making tarot available in department stores across the U.S. 

The stage was now set for the 1969 deluge: at least five decks and twelve separate books where published! I won’t mention them all but they included Crowley’s Thoth book and deck (though not readily available for another two years), Cooke & Sharpe’s New Tarot for the Aquarian Age, an English-language edition of Grimaud’s Marseilles deck. Also books by Arland Ussher, Brad Steiger, Corinne Heline, Gareth Knight, C.C. Zain, Hilton Hotema, Frater Achad, Rodolfo Benavides, Elisabeth Haich, Sybil Leek, and Italo Calvino’s Italian short stories, ‘Il castello dei destini incrociati (“Castle of Crossed Destinies”). Every hippie pad had its requisite tarot reader.

1970 featured fewer books but even more decks, including the Rider-Waite and Palladini’s Aquarian. Stuart Kaplan at U.S. Games, Inc. started publishing his own decks.

The Tarot Renaissance was now fully underway.
For an even more extensive look at Tarot in America from 1910 to 1960 please see this Tarot Heritage page.

Many of you will be familiar with the tarot teachings of Paul Foster Case and the Builders of the Adytum (BOTA). Case took the idea of the adytum from a word long associated with the Mysteries. His idea was to build the adytum by meditating on the tarot Arcana. Adytum means inner shrine or holy-of-holies, from aduein meaning “not to be entered.” The adytum is said to contain the arcana, from the root arcus, “chest or box,” and arcere, “to ward off; shut up, keep,” from whence we get such concepts as the Ark of the Convenant, as a container of the secret knowledge between God and humanity that also wards off the profane. But what do these two terms, arcana and adytum, really mean and how do they relate to the tarot?

The phrase Arcana in the Adytum, first mentioned by Iamblichus, signifies the container of mysteries in the innermost sanctuary of a temple. Mystically speaking, this sanctuary must be built in the heart where the mysteries are directly experienced out of view of the profane. [This photograph is of the altar in the sanctum sanctorum at Karnak, which only the pharaoh was allowed to enter. The picture after it is of the spirit ascending into the starry sky in that sanctuary.]

Helena Blavatsky described the innermost shrine as:

“The Sanctum Sanctorum of the Ancients, i.e., that recess on the Western side of the Temple which was enclosed on three sides by blank walls and had its only aperture or door hung over with a curtain—also called the Adytum—was common to all ancient nations. . . . They regarded it—in its esoteric meaning—as the symbol of resurrection, cosmic, solar (or diurnal), and human. In Theosophy, therefore, the Holy of Holies represents the womb of nature, the female generative principle found in the mystery religions of Egypt, Babylon, India, Kabbalism, Masonry, etc. . . . The esoteric meaning of this arrangement typified cosmic, planetary and human resurrection or regeneration” (Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II).

The word arcana goes back at least to the Neoplatonist, Iamblichus (165-180 CE). Thomas Taylor, in translating Iamblichus’ On the Mysteries explains:

“For the highest order of intelligibles is denominated by Orpheus the adytum, as we are informed by Proclus in Timaeus. By the arcanum in the adytum, therefore, is meant the deity who subsists at the extremity of the intelligible order [i.e. Phanes]; and of whom it is said in the Chaldean Oracles, ‘that he remains in the paternal profundity, and in the adytum, near to the god-nourished silence.’ . . . And all things remain perfect and entire, because the arcana in the adytum are never disclosed. Hence, in those particulars in which the whole of things possesses its safety, I mean in arcana being always preserved occult, and in the ineffable essence of the Gods, never receiving a contrary condition; in these, terrestrial daemons cannot endure.”

The Abbot Trithemius (1462-1516) defined arcana as “a synthesis of Hermetic alchemical doctrine, Pythagorean numerology, astrological correspondences, and Cabalistic word magic” (Trithemius and Magical Theology by Noel L. Brann). It was Trithemius’ cryptogram that was employed in the “cipher manuscripts” upon which the Golden Dawn rituals and tarot correspondences were based.

Paracelsus (1493-1591) uses the word in his philosophy of alchemical medicine. He tells us that in contrast with our bodily being, arcana are immortal and eternal, “they have the power of transmuting, altering and restoring us, and are to be compared to the secrets of God, being vital in human health” (Paracelsus, Archidoxies, Bk V, trans. A.E. Waite).

It was in the adytum that the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The arcana (plural form of arcanum) contain and preserve the hidden wisdom, the esoteric, versus exoteric knowledge. This distinction is made explicit by Eckartshausen, a favorite author of A.E. Waite, in speaking of the different roles of priest and prophet, where the prophet, not the priest, held the inner truth of the arcanum in the adytum:

“The wisdom of the ancient temple alliance was preserved by priests and by prophets. To the priests was confided the external,—the letter of the symbol, hieroglyphics. The prophets had the charge of the inner truth, and their occupation was to continually recall the priest to the spirit in the letter, when inclined to lose it. The science of the priests was that of the knowledge of exterior symbol. That of the prophets was experimental possession of the truth of the symbols. In the interior the spirit lived. There was, therefore, in the ancient alliance a school of prophets and of priests, the one occupying itself with the spirit in the emblem, the other with the emblem itself. The priests had the external possession of the Ark, of the shewbread, of the candlesticks, of the manna, of Aaron’s rod, and the prophets were in interior possession of the inner spiritual truth which was represented exteriorly by the symbols just mentioned” (The Cloud upon the Sanctuary (c. 1790) by Karl von Eckartshausen (translated by Madame Isabel de Steiger)).

The Golden Dawn named their tarot rites of the 12 Zodiacal and 7 Planetary Major Arcana after the items mentioned in the quote above: “The Table of the Shewbread” and the “Ritual of the Seven-Branched Candlestick,” respectively, making clear that for them the Ark was the Arcana.

In 1782 Count Cagliostro gathered his research in secret societies into a body of knowledge known as the Arcana Arcanorum, or A. A., consisting of a series of magical practices that stressed “internal alchemy.”

Although he doesn’t mention arcana, Etteilla tells us of the mystical arrangement of these cards in the Temple of Ptah at Memphis, “Upon a table or altar, at the height of the breast of of the Egyptian Magus, were on one side a book or assemblage of cards or plates of gold.” [The photograph to the right is of an image at the entrance to Ptah’s temple at Thebes showing Pharaoh making his offerings with Shekmet, wife of Ptah, giving him strength and direction.]

In 1863 Paul Christian (pseudonym of J-P. Pitois) wrote a novel called L’homme rouge des Tuileries, which tells of an encounter between Napoleon and a Benedictine monk who possesses an occult manuscript. This manuscript described seventy-eight symbolic houses or pictorial keys, referred to as Arcana. Virtually the same Egyptianized descriptions of the Arcana appeared in Christian’s 1870 Histoire de la magie, where they were finally acknowledged as the tarot.

Ely Star’s 1888 work, Mystéres de l’Horoscope contains a chapter on the tarot based almost entirely on Paul Christian. He was first to use the terms Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, and the following year they also appeared in Papus’ book Tarot of the Bohemians, suggesting that these terms were already in general use.

Blavatsky believed the Arcana were key to the science of the soul.

“There is a regular science of the soul. . . . This science, by penetrating the arcana of nature far deeper than our modern philosophy ever dreamed possible, teaches us how to force the invisible to become visible; the existence of elementary spirits; the nature and magical properties of the astral light; the power of living men to bring themselves into communication with the former through the latter” (Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. 1).

The term arcana continually calls us back to the spirit of the hieroglyphs that make up the tarot, which can only become known in the astral light of the inner temple of the heart. We must make of ourselves a sacred place to receive and contain the inner spiritual truth that can, in turn, transmute, alter and restore us.

Added: for a modern perspective on arcanum check out the definition from Inna Semetsky here.

UPDATE ALERT: The contract for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Tarot has been cancelled. See new post.

Rachel Pollack has done it again! This August her Buffy the Vampire Slayer Tarot will be available from Dark Horse Delux. With Rachel as the author and conceptualizer and Buffy artist Paul Lee illustrating the cards, this is a must have item for all Buffy fans and tarot collectors.

The wonderful thing about this deck is that it doesn’t just illustrate the life of Buffy. Instead, this is an ancient artifact in Slayer history, predicting coming events and emerging periodically, through time, when it is most needed. Although knowledge of its existence has been long suppressed by the Watcher’s Council, it is now available for use by the allies of Buffy to help her fight evil and save the world. By using this deck you, too, can be part of the continuing Slayer saga, and get guidance for your own life issues.

Read an interview with the creators here.

Some tarot readers advertise themselves as psychic. Psychics often use tarot cards in their readings. There are a number of books and decks that use both psychic and tarot in their titles. They are seen together often enough that many people think you need to be psychic to read tarot. Yet few, if any, books give specific instructions for reading tarot psychically, nor do they describe how it differs from reading intuitively or by using fixed meanings. The vague discussion of psychic techniques in tarot reading has led to the comment, based on advice found in some books (but used pejoratively by detractors) that this is the “look at the card and just say anything that comes to mind” school. If it were this easy, why wouldn’t all our “unthinking” pronouncements yield lottery wins and ideal decisions? And why any need for psychic development classes?

Earlier, I talked about the difference between psychic and intuitive abilities. Here, I want to present a few thoughts on what is actually involved in the psychic aspect of reading the cards. Primarily it involves putting yourself in a state or framework conducive to psychic insights as well as using techniques that help you recognize and capture accurate insights (ones not tangled up with personal projections). In essence, it involves getting all your own stuff—everything that colors and distorts—out of the way of the raw information that is available to “other” levels of awareness. These techniques also aid in intuition.

I previously defined psychic as a paranormal, extrasensory perception or sixth sense. Psi involves accessing information beyond the reach of our normal input, though it may be associated with any sense. For instance, clairvoyant means “clear seeing,” clairaudient is “clear hearing,” clairsentient is “clear feeling.” There’s even a “clear smelling.” The field of ESP or psi also includes telepathy, mediumship and precognition.

Everyone is psychic. Some (as with artists and musicians) are more talented then others. Almost everyone can be taught to recognize and use psychic abilities to some extent. Basically it involves turning off or sidestepping the logical, analytical mind and the flow of negative and critical thoughts about being wrong. Instead you learn to open yourself to other modes of awareness. Stress and anxiety, though they can sometimes increase psychic sensitivity as part of a survival mechanism, more often inhibit psi. A positive attitude and belief certainly helps to increase psychic awareness.

The first instruction is usually to learn to meditate. By meditate, I mean to relax the body, breathe deeply and evenly (oxygenating the blood), and quiet the mind’s incessant chatter so as to quickly and easily reach an alpha and, eventually, a theta state (brain-wave frequencies similar to that found during dreaming and hypnotic trances). As the Buddhist meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn observes, a meditation practice is precisely that—practice to enable you to quickly access these states when you need to. Such practice sessions are used, for instance, by Christian mystics who find that meditating on a spiritual text clears away irrelevant details and allows an image or idea to arise, as if out of a still pool, that captures the essential nature of the text. Other explanations are then recognized as superfluous ornamentation to this core message.

Meditation can result in a sensation of floating around in the ozone and coming back “spaced,” so along with it comes a whole variety of ways of centering the attention:—staring at something, concentrating on a word, or using a visualization whose intent is “grounding”. There is also a sense of being able to move through different “layers” of reality or consciousness and to widen or narrow one’s focus. These have been defined in each culture or group to fit in with their particular stories about what is happening—whether it’s Theosophy, shamanism, spiritualism, mysticism, or ceremonial magic. For instance, imaginative routines have been developed that help you choose and identify a layer or plane of consciousness that is most ideal for a specific task and to move energy from one plane to another, and even to effect physical world changes (known as “magic”). Some systems make use of an interior movie screen or crystal or library or a guide or ally to help bring the information through more clearly.

The fact is, if you’re psychically talented you probably don’t need to go through all these processes to get psychic impressions, but you may not be able to turn the impressions off when you want, or you may be unable to tell when information is for you or someone else. Additionally, if you are not especially talented or are walled off from your psychic self, then these techniques are the basis of an effective training program. The meditation and visualization techniques are designed to enable you to control when and how the psychic information presents itself to you.

On its own, psychic sensitivity often operates in cycles through your life. Certain circumstances, which you probably won’t be able to identify, will trigger a phase of being more or less psychic. “Psi tech” can even these fluctuations out. Fluctuations in ability are one reason why many psychics and mediums have resorted to fraudulent practices. It’s bad for business when you aren’t always psychically “on.”

Now, when it comes to tarot, a psychic will usually approach the cards differently then someone who reads them primarily through symbolic meanings. When using symbolic meanings we learn that “ones,” for instance, indicate new beginnings, a focused will and individuality, and that flowers mean a “flowering” or cultivating something beautiful, and that red is about energy and passion. We put these things together to come up with an interpretation of their melded meanings. It’s in the “melding” that intuitive and psychic insights often make their way in.

By contrast, when working psychically (and there is much variation in the way this can be done), you don’t focus on the details at first. Rather you use what I call “diffuse awareness.” Let me give you an example and a practice technique.

Ideally, you would have someone you don’t know well sitting across from you who thinks of their question while shuffling but doesn’t say it aloud. If practicing by yourself, try to not think of anything. Use breath and relaxation to center and ground yourself.

Instead of using a spread, take the shuffled deck and throw the top five cards face up onto the reading surface so that they overlap each other slightly and at random angles. Keep your awareness open and diffuse—as if trying to be aware of what’s at the edges of your visual range without actually looking there. It may help to keep your eyes only half open. Glance at your “pile” and catch a sense of the color emphasis. Look away keeping your eyes unfocused. Was one area more red then another? Did blue peep through on the right side? Was a predominantly yellow card separated from the others? Look again quickly if you need to. Then, let your mind be filled with these different areas of color. How do they feel? What do they want of you? Notice any sensations that arise in your body. Speak these feelings and impressions out loud without censoring anything. In fact, try to reel in anything that flickers at the edge of your awareness or that you find yourself resisting or negating. Be a little silly. Say the ridiculous.

Now glance at the cards again and notice what images catch your attention. Look away and do the same thing with the symbols and images that jumped out at you from the cards. Occasionally, as you speak, look back at the cards to catch another impression from them. Don’t get caught up in reading an individual card but rather try to keep a sense of them as a field.

Close your eyes, deepen your breath. Let yourself sink into the center of yourself. If there were a message in everything you’ve seen, said and felt, what is its essence? What do all these impressions want you to know? Finally, tell yourself you will remember everything that has occurred.

Take a deep breath and on the exhale deliberately come back to normal, waking consciousness. Stretch back into your usual self. If alone, write it all down. If with another person, now is the time to become analytical. Ask her what you said that seemed to work and was most accurate. Note what was going on when you said those things. Then ask her what seemed most inaccurate. Note if there was any difference in where that came from. Ask the person for any other impressions she had or things she noticed. If possible, write down what the person says and get an update in a couple of weeks and/or months. This is a way to discover and refine from where and how the most accurate information comes.

What I’ve noticed most about truly psychic, rather than intuitive, information is that it appears as well-known facts and so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning. In fact, it’s so blatant and obvious that it would seem manipulative or embarrassing to state it and yet the thought doesn’t go away. For instance, once at a lecture just before the break, the speaker offered to give a book to anyone who knew the four-digit number she was thinking. I thought it was silly since the number was too obvious for words, but I wrote it down on my piece of paper and handed it in. After the break, but before the number was announced, she asked if anyone knew what the number referred to. Again, it seemed totally obvious it was her birth year. It mean, what else could it be? It was so silly I didn’t even bother to speak up. Well, I won the book and it was her birth year. It was only when I realized that none of the other 80-odd people had gotten it right that I realized anything out of the ordinary had happened—but it still felt absurdly obvious.

For me, psychic information comes without any emotion—it just is. I’m more strongly empathic (which is related but different), but even the “emotions” I sense have a certain charge-less quality to them. One other example happened at work in an office with several other people and one phone. The phone rang and I said, without thinking, “I’ll get it. It’s Terry (my then-husband), and he’s been in a car accident.” It was simply a fact, plus I knew he was all right. The problem was, he never forgave me, because the first words out of my mouth after he told me was, “How’s the car?” It was totaled, but he took my question as my caring more about the car then him, rather than my already knowing absolutely that he was unharmed.

Here are a couple of things to watch for. The points may seem to contradict each other, but part of the psychic character can be a certain paradoxical quality like perceiving something as both a wave and a particle.

• Watch for images, thoughts, impressions, smells at the edge of awareness.

• It may seem too obvious and ordinary a fact to be significant. Doesn’t everyone know it?

• The impression keeps slipping in, getting in the way of other things, though a part of you insists on ignoring it or telling you that you’ve made it up or that it’s irrelevant.

• There’s no emotional impact; it simply is (even when part of the impression is of an emotion). Occasionally psychic information can only reach you by making you sick but, usually, if you are anxious and afraid that something will happen (like your child getting hurt) it’s not a psychic insight but your own fears. I’ve used this last point as a test for years.

Finally, for most tarot readers, psychic insights are only a small part of what we do during a reading, and they can occur in ways I haven’t even begun to mention. Almost everyone who reads tarot reports an increase in psychic experiences. However, not all psychic predictions come to pass nor are all insights true in the way you think they are. Reading tarot is both an art and a responsibility so it pays to improve your inner tools and skills in every way that you can so that each ability can become a check-and-balance for the others.

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).

Pamela Colman Smith never became well-known as an artist and, without the Tarot deck she illustrated, she may have fallen into total obscurity. Stuart Kaplan, president of U.S. Games, Inc. says he could have made her a millionaire.

The only comment from Pixie Smith about the creation of the tarot deck was in a letter to her mentor Alfred Stieglitz (click on the letter to see a larger version).

You can see much of the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith at these sites (thanks especially to Roppo and Holly Voley for their efforts to make Pixie’s work available to the rest of us):

• All the card images from Holly Voley’s first edition deck (“Pamela A”) and from The Pictorial Key to the Tarot at the Sacred Texts site

• Roppo’s The Works of Pamela Colman Smith – page 1

• Roppo’s The Works of Pamela Colman Smith – page 2

A Portrait of William Butler Yeats by PCS

A Broad Sheet

The Shakespeare’s Heroines Poster

A Variety of Works by Pamela Colman Smith from Holly Voley’s site

Including my own copy of her book Chim-Chim: Folk Stories from Jamaica

• Susan and the Mermaid, an illustrated children’s story by PCS, republished by Corinne Kenner

Tales for Philip and Peter, illustrated by PCS

The Pamela Colman Smith Collection at Bryn Mawr

Paintings at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library – search on Pamela+Smith, and while you are there, see their collection of 15th century Tarot cards by searching on Tarot.

• K. Frank Jensen’s Waite-Smith Tarot Research

• Here’s an outstanding website by Phil Norfleet devoted to PCS with a lot of biographical information not found anywhere else.

“‘We Disgruntled Devils Don’t Please Anybody’: Pamela Colman Smith, The Green Sheaf, and Female Literary Networks” article by Elizabeth Foley O’Connor in the South Carolina Review.

• See Pixie’s artwork archived at Ellen Terry’s home, Smallhythe – here.

Articles by and about PCS can be found by searching The Craftsmanhere (search on her name).

• Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs” (story)

• Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot by Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin.

Video by the Japanese collector of the works of Pamela Colman Smith, Roppo (see links above):

Correction to video: I don’t know of any evidence that suggests that PCS was adopted by her parents. However, she did become the foster daughter of the great actress, Ellen Terry.

See my post on Pixie’s instructions for reading the cards here. Let me know if I’ve missed anything and I’ll add it to the above list.

I went to visit my daughter in Los Angeles and for the first time saw the exhibits at the J. Paul Getty Museum. While the collection on view is small, there were quite a few pieces from Renaissance Italy. It’s always astounding to me how much of the art from that period portrays images similar to those in the tarot. Judge for yourself:

The Hermit – circa 1510 century earthenware jar. Also similar to the RWS 5 of Pentacles.

The World – 15th century missal

The Tower – circa 1525 earthenware platter

Judgment – 15th century painting (here a saint carries the flag with the red cross rather than it hanging from the trumpet blown by an angel)

The RWS 4 of Cups – circa 1535 earthenware platter

This is not a Major Arcana image but rather is similar to the man under the tree in the RWS 4 of Cups created in 1909. The description card says: “The young man in the center is bound to a tree. This image, popular in Italy in the 1500s, is an allegory of love, depicted as a bittersweet force that holds its victims captive.”


Click HERE to subscribe to Mary K. Greer's Tarot Blog by Email


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.

© 2007-2018, Mary K. Greer All material on this site is copyrighted. If you use anything, be sure to include my name and a link back to this site. Thank you.

I truly appreciate donations to help me pay for additional space.

Donate any amount to keep this ad-free blog growing.