How to Use this Book
The method for reading Tarot cards that is presented in the
following pages is based on the ability to divide the meaning
of each card into three parts that correspond with the parts of a
simple sentence. Consider the sentence The girl dances with joy.
The first part, The girl, is what the sentence is about; the second
part, dances, is what she does; the third part, with joy, describes
the way the action is directed or modified.
Each Tarot card also has three aspects. The first is the nature of
the card in itself, its subject; the second is what is done by the card,
its action; the third is the way that action is expressed, its direction.
These three parts of the card's meaning correspond with the three
parts of the type of sentence used in the example.
For instance, the subject of the card known as the Magician is
skill, since a magician is defined by his ability to cleverly and adroitly
manipulate objects and other human beings. The action of the card is
will-a magician uses his skills to accomplish his intention or desire.
The direction is a design or plan, since the will of the magician
must express itself in the form of some sort of an achievement. He
applies his skills through his willed intention to attain his goal. This
complete base meaning of the Magician may be conveyed in a kind of
shorthand by the Tarot sentence Skill wills with design. Skill is the
subject, wills the action, and with design the direction.
Reading the Tarot Sentence
When we examine a Tarot card by itself, we must consider all three
parts of its sentence together in order to get a rounded understanding
of it. However, when the cards are laid out in a divination spread
or layout, their meanings are modified or limited by their locations
in the spread. All the layouts in this book use as their basic unit the
card triplet, which is composed of three cards arranged in a row and
read from left to right in the manner of a written sentence. When a
card is placed in a triplet, we read only that part of its meaning that
corresponds with its location. In this way, the three cards in any
Tarot triplet express only a single sentence for any one order.
There are thus two types of Tarot sentence. The first is the simple
sentence that expresses the complete meaning of any individual
card. It is called simple because it applies to an individual card. The
second is the composite sentence formed by three cards laid out in a
triplet. The first card in a triplet gives the subject for the triplet; the
second card gives the action; and the third card gives the direction.
For example, the card of the Magician placed in an upright attitude
at the beginning of a triplet would signify skill, but in the middle it
would mean will, and at the end of the triplet it would express
Instead of referring to the parts of a Tarot sentence as subject,
action, and direction, in this book they are simply labeled 1, 2, and 3.
To determine the meaning for a card in any triplet, it is only necessary
to look up the card in the quick reference tables at the end of the
book, and find its meaning under column 1, 2, or 3, depending on the
location of the card in the triplet. Every group of three cards gives a
completely unique composite Tarot sentence.
The meaning for each card in a triplet provides a keyword to the
understanding of that card. It is not the only possible keyword, but it
has been chosen to convey the most common or general meaning of
the card in that location in the triplet. The composite sentences in
any layout are enough by themselves to provide a complete but basic
answer to the divination. However, once you have learned to use
them, you will want to progress to a more detailed understanding of
the cards. This is obtained by looking up the complex meaning for
the card in each position of a triplet in the card's section in chapter 9,
10, or 11. As you become familiar with the cards, you will soon learn
what parts of the detailed meanings to apply to the question under
Not all possible meanings for a Tarot card apply to it in any given
layout. Part of the art of Tarot divination is learning what to include
and what to exclude from your interpretation. This only comes with
practice, but it is not difficult. The meanings selected for the cards of
a layout from all their possible meanings are those that flow together
and complement each other, and have a direct bearing on the question.
For example, the card known as the Fool can mean foolishness,
but it can also mean spirituality in the sense of worldly innocence. If
you are doing a divination on a spiritual question, the latter meaning
is more likely to apply, but if the question concerns business, it will
often be the former meaning.
During divination, the meaning of a Tarot card is modified by the
question; by the location of the card in the layout; by the cards that
surround it, lie near to it, or otherwise influence it; and by its orientation.
These factors give the dignity of the card. A Tarot card is said
to be well dignified or ill dignified depending on whether these factors
facilitate the expression of the card's meaning or hinder its
Orientation refers to the attitude of a card when it is turned
faceup in a layout. A card may be upright or inverted from the perspective
of the person performing the reading, who is known as the
diviner or reader. Inverted cards are also called reversals. It is sometimes
said that the meaning of an inverted card is the opposite of its
upright meaning, but this is not quite true. A card always has the
same identity. When it appears upside down in a layout, the purity of
its action is weakened or inhibited. This often has the effect of making
a favorable card seem unfavorable. However, it also makes cards
that have a harmful influence in the divination less hurtful. Inversion
hinders the action of bad cards just as it obstructs the action of good
cards. Sometimes inversion will make a spiritual card more material
in its working, or make a material card less practical.
Tarot sentences, and more detailed meanings, have been provided
in this book for all the cards in both their upright and inverted postures.
This removes the need to think in your own mind what the significance
of a card would be were its action to be hindered or weakened
by inversion. It is a good idea to do this anyway, as an exercise,
since you will have a much better understanding of the complete
sense of a card once both its upright and inverted meanings are
understood. Try reading the detailed upright meaning of a card, then
read its detailed inverted meaning, and ask yourself how the inverted
meaning relates to the upright meaning. After doing this, you will
have a much better concept of the card in its totality.
The number of possible Tarot sentences in any card triplet is quite
large. There are three positions, and each position may be occupied
by any card in the pack. The result is close to half a million possible
combinations. If we add the inverted attitudes of the cards, this number
is increased by a factor of seven to over three million possible
unique sentences! It is unlikely that you will ever exhaust the possibilities
of even a single triplet, and most of the card layouts in this book
contain multiple triplets.
You will notice that the meanings of the court cards-the King, Queen,
Knight, and Knave-in the position 1 in a triplet are expressed in a
slightly different way from the meanings of the other cards. The court
cards are generally understood to stand for human beings having an
influence on the question that the divination is intended to answer.
This is a little simplistic. Any of the cards may stand for human beings,
and any of the cards may stand for things other than human beings.
However, it is helpful when doing readings to think of the court cards
as persons having an influence on the question.
In the Universal Tarot deck, which illustrates this book, the court
cards of each suit are the King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. The King
usually represents a mature man, the Queen a mature woman, the
Knight a young man or youth, and the Knave a young woman or a
child of either sex. Hence, the King of Wands, when it falls upon the
number 1 position of a triplet and forms the subject of its Tarot sentence,
is given the meaning the impulsive man, but the Knave of
Wands falling on the same position in a triplet receives the meaning
the daring girl/child. It is up to the diviner to judge from the other
cards in the layout whether the Knave represents a young woman or
a child. Knaves can, and sometimes do, stand for boys before they
have reached the age of adolescence, since it is sexual maturity that
symbolically differentiates the sexes. Adolescent boys and young
men are represented by the Knights.
It used to be the practice to divide the court cards into various
classes based on the hair color, eye color, and skin complexion of the
persons represented by the cards. In the popular esoteric system of the
Golden Dawn, the assignment of hair and eye coloring to the court
cards became quite specific and complex.
The trouble with this system is that it is frequently inaccurate. A
court card appearing in a layout is far more likely to express the personality
of the human being it represents than to indicate hair and
eye color. In any case, there is no precise agreement among writers
on the Tarot as to the physical characteristics represented by the
court cards-for example, Arthur Edward Waite wrote that the court
cards of the suit of Wands represent dark persons rather than those
who are fair, as indicated by the Golden Dawn. Finally, the hair, eye,
and skin color attributed to the various court cards work fairly well
for those of European ancestry, but are virtually worthless when
applied to those of African or Asian heritage.
All these considerations have led me to omit references to types
of physical appearance from the descriptions of the individuals represented
by the court cards. In this decision, I merely emulate the
practice of Aleister Crowley, who described the human beings represented
by the court cards according to personality type, not
The Structure of the Tarot
A few words must be written about the structure of the Tarot for
those completely unfamiliar with it. The Tarot is a deck of seventyeight
cards, which may be divided into two groups: the twenty-two
picture cards known as the trumps or Greater Arcana, and the fifty-six
suit cards known as the Lesser Arcana. It is easy to recognize the suit
cards-they resemble in their names and numbering the cards of a
deck of ordinary playing cards, except that in the Tarot four additional
court cards have been added, the Knights. By contrast, the
trumps are usually numbered with Roman numerals from I to XXI
(the Fool has no number or is numbered zero), and are unique to the
Tarot. The suit cards may be further divided into the sixteen court
cards and the forty number cards. The number cards of each suit are
numbered in Arabic numerals from the ace or 1 to 10.
The four suits correspond with the four elements of ancient philosophy:
Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Wands are fiery, and, in general,
indicate matters relating to the force of the will, the inspiration, creativity,
and active energy. Cups are watery, and stand for matters
connected with the emotions, particularly love and affection, and
also for dreams, illusions, desires, and fantasies. Swords are airy, and
they signify things of the mind, such as spoken and written communications,
thoughts, plans, and calculations; but because the sword is
a weapon, the suit of Swords also stands for conflict and strife. Pentacles
are earthy, and signify, in general, matters relating to the health
of the body, cultivation, property, possessions, and wealth.
As has already been indicated, in Tarot divination, the court cards
generally stand for human beings. The trumps represent greater factors,
either in the world at large or in the personality of the individual
asking the question. The number cards tend to represent more specific
influences that have a bearing on the matter under inquiry.
Although no card in a layout can be said to be more important than
any other-just as no stone in an arch is more important than its
neighbors, since all are needed to hold the arch up-when a trump
appears in a layout, it points to matters of profound significance and
should be carefully considered.
In the esoteric Tarot system of the Golden Dawn, each card has a
specific astrological or elemental association that aids in understanding
the meaning of the card. It is not necessary to know the Golden
Dawn correspondences, which have been omitted for the sake of
simplicity, to use this book. Rest assured that the meanings and sentences
presented here were composed with those correspondences