What Is Tarot Magic?
When you think of the Tarot, you probably think of fortune telling.
This is not surprising since divination has been the main function
of Tarot cards for more than two hundred years. Only in the
late eighteenth century did the symbolism on the cards acquire a
higher spiritual meaning and come to be regarded as an important
part of the Western esoteric tradition. In spite of its elevation from
the mundane to the mysterious, the primary use for the Tarot remains
fortune telling even in the present day. If you examine the
books available on the Tarot, most are about divination, with only a
handful devoted to the higher meaning of Tarot symbolism.
There is another side to the Tarot that is little known and less
understood. The cards can be used as potent instruments of ritual
magic. This active function of the Tarot has always existed, but is
overlooked or ignored even by many of the greatest modern ceremonial
magicians, who regard the Tarot either as an instrument
of fortune telling or as a source of symbolism suitable for meditation.
It is much more, as this book will show.
A deck of Tarot cards contains everything you need to work a
complete and effective system of ritual magic. With the cards alone,
you can construct an astral temple, build an altar, cast a magic circle,
create a triangle through which to actualize your purpose, manipulate
the blind elemental forces of nature, communicate with
other people and with spirits, cleanse atmospheres and places of
destructive influences, make potent charms, extend aid, and perform
works of healing. You can attract wealth, gain love, or achieve
victory over your enemies. You can use the Tarot to accomplish any
purpose you would seek to achieve through more cumbersome
and complex methods of ceremonial magic.
All this with only a deck of Tarot cards. When your work is done,
you simply fold the cards together and put your temple, your altar,
your circle, your triangle, and all your instruments into your
pocket, ready for the next time you need them. Tarot magic requires
no expensive materials or hand-crafted tools, no incense, no
candles, no oils, no arcane languages, no special place in which to
work, no costly robes or talismans. Yet it is as effective as the most
complex system of magic. Everything is done through the symbolism
of the cards, in accord with the esoteric correspondences for
the Tarot set forth by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The standard Golden Dawn correspondences for the Tarot are
used throughout this book because they are the most widely understood
and accepted. Those familiar with my other writings know
that I have made modifications to these correspondences in my
personal esoteric system, but in this general text on Tarot magic I
prefer to retain the correspondences with which most readers will
be familiar in order to minimize confusion. It is a simple matter
to adapt Tarot magic to match any set of occult correspondences.
That is part of its versatilitythe cards are moveable and may be
set in any desired arrangement. Those interested in my modifications
to the Tarot correspondences will find them explained in the
For many years, I used Tarot magic as part of my own ritual work
but did not teach it, or even reduce it to a separate integrated system.
In several of my books, I mention it briefly as a subject worth
the consideration of serious readers. For example, in my first book,
The New Magus, published in 1988, I wrote: The uses of the Tarot
in magic are too many to list. Each individual card can be the ob-
ject of fruitful meditations. Cards can be used as talismans, as instruments
of ritual workings, as patterns for godforms, and as symbols
of power. Above all else, the Tarot is a tool for examining the
Self and its relation to life (Tyson, 183).
Little did I imagine when I wrote those words that it would be
nearly two decades before I would find an opportunity to present
the system of Tarot magic that I was then developing and using in
my own rituals. Here for the first time, that system is revealed in full
detail and in a unified format. Those who master it will find that it
frees them from the burden of the complex physical apparatus of
traditional ceremonial occultism. I have deliberately restricted the
system described here to the cards themselves and only the cards.
The goal is simplicity. The Tarot is a symbolic model of the universe.
Nothing external to it is required.
Traditional magic relies on symbolism also, but in its often complex
and ornate ceremonies these symbols are embodied by physical
objects and instruments. For example, the magic circle is a protective
shield or barrier that is physically marked or laid out on the
floor or ground where the ritual is worked. It is well understood by
those skilled in ritual that there is another intangible circle that exists
on the astral level in the mind of the magician, without which
the physical circle would be powerless. The circle held in the imagination
is the living soul of the magic circle, and the physical circle
laid out or marked on the floor serves as its body.
It is possible to represent the astral realities of ritual magic with
symbolic rather than physical instruments. An astral circle can be
grounded or given a body by means of a group of Tarot cards just
as effectively as it is grounded by a circle drawn in chalk on the
floor. In both cases, it is the circle in the imagination of the magician
that is the true working circle of the ritual, but in traditional
magic it is fixed in the form of a circle drawn, painted, or otherwise
marked on the floor, whereas in Tarot magic it is fixed by means of
an arrangement of cards that embodies the ritual circle in its set of
Nor is it necessary to lay the cards out in a large circle within
which the magician stands and works. This is one possible use for
the cards. I have myself employed it in rituals and it can be effective,
but to think only in these terms limits the versatility of Tarot
magic. Just as a group of cards can represent the true magic circle
on the astral level, so can a single card, carefully chosen, represent
and embody the magician. The ring of cards defining the circle
need then be only large enough to contain the card of the magician
and any other symbolic tools used in the circle. This allows
Tarot magic to be worked on a tabletop or similar convenient surface.
A ritual chamber is unnecessary because the deck of cards
becomes the ritual chamber.
It may seem strange that the magician enters one of the cards
during rituals of Tarot magic. In the Western esoteric tradition, it is
usual for the magician to remain within his or her own body during
the greater part of ritual work. This is not equally so in the magic
of the East. Tibetan magicians work with esoteric designs laid out
upon the floor or the ground that express in symbolic form astral
temples, astral landscapes, or entire planes of being without physical
reality. They project themselves into these pictures by identifying
themselves with a small token, which they place within the design,
usually at its center. As long as the token that embodies their
identity remains within the design, they are present and self-aware
in the astral reality that the design represents.
The technique of projecting the point of view, or self-awareness,
outside the body requires practice, but such projection is an
established part of Western magic as well. It is used for a variety
of purposes, such as projecting the self-awareness through an astral
doorway during scrying or soul flight, or into a godform when
invoking a higher spiritual being. It is a technique every person
serious about magic must learn sooner or later, and it is not very
difficult. Any beginner can project his or her self-awareness to a
limited and partial degree, although full perfection of the technique
requires months or years of practice. A virtue of Tarot magic
is that it can be worked with success even if the projection of the
point of view into a card is less than perfect.
This system does not require the purchase of a special Tarot deck.
Any Tarot of seventy-eight cards will be effective. The occult correspondences
of the Golden Dawn upon which the entire system is
based are independent of the details of the card images, so the differences
between the Rider-Waite deck and the Crowley Thoth deck,
for example, do not determine the success of the magic worked. The
magic is not in the cards, which are merely tools used to construct
rituals and to represent various instruments and forces. The magic
is in the person using them. The cards act to focus and project the
power of the mind.
Decks of smaller cards produce a more manageable ritual layout,
and are to be preferred in Tarot magic. In my own work, I use
the miniature Rider-Waite deck because it can be laid out on a very
limited surface area such as a desktop or end table. The size of the
cards has no effect on the potency of the magic.
Whichever Tarot deck you select for your own rituals, you should
continue to use it until you become completely familiar with its
symbolism. Over time, a deck of Tarot cards used repeatedly for ritual
magic will acquire its own energies that make it easier to work
rituals with that deck. That is because the deck becomes more
real on the astral level within the mind of the magician using the
cards. Less effort is needed each time by the magician to create the
cards on the astral level, freeing up energies for the actual work of
It is best to keep the deck of cards employed in ritual magic
separate and wrapped in a square of linen or some other natural
cloth, in order to preserve this useful quality of a sustained astral
charge. The cards should not be handled by others, or even shown
to them. A ritual is a very private activity, unless it is specifically
designed to be worked by a group. The tools of ritual are not for
curious eyesthe system presented here is intended for the solitary
practitioner. Keep the deck separate and use it only for Tarot
magic. If you do divination, it is best to get a second deck of cards
for that purpose.
Even those who use the Tarot strictly for telling fortunes and
have no interest in practical magic will find the explanations for
the Golden Dawn Tarot correspondences and their origins more
illuminating than any treatment of this subject that has previously
appeared in print. For some reason that is not obvious, unless it
is mere ignorance on the part of writers, the origin of the Golden
Dawn correspondences is seldom adequately explained, though
this set of correspondences forms the heart of the modern Tarot.
Diviners accept the correspondences without knowing their ultimate
source. A full awareness of how the correspondences came
to be can enhance the accurate use of the cards for prediction.
This work is solely concerned with practical magic. It is not
about using the cards for divination, although this is a fascinating
and perfectly valid use for the Tarot. There are thousands of books
on fortune telling with the cards, and anyone who seeks to learn to
divine will have no trouble finding them. Here, you will discover
what is infinitely more rare and precious: a way to use the Tarot ritually
to cause active and potent change in the world in conformity
with your will. That is the very heart and soul of magic.