Many people outside the magical community assume that tarot cards are used as “fortune-telling” devices—as if all human destinies were absolutely fixed without any possibility of free will entering into the equation. Magicians know better. There is no fate but what you make. In other words, while tarot cards impel, they do not compel. Like the Qabalah, the tarot is a complete and elaborate system for describing the hidden forces behind the cosmos. A tarot card is a magical mandala—each image is a pictorial representation of a potent spiritual force. Each card is also descriptive of a certain human condition, endeavor, or goal. The manifest universe is completely defined, patterned, and mapped out within the context of the seventy-eight cards of the deck. Not only is the tarot the key to all esoteric science, but also a blueprint for uncovering the various parts of the human psyche. A tarot reading is like a road map that can be used to arrive at a specific destination. No one is compelled to take any road over another, but some roads are better than others. Ultimately, we are the ones with our hands on the steering wheel.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn played a pivotal role in developing new uses for the tarot. Best known as the initiatory fraternity of men and women that shaped every aspect of modern Western Magic as we have come to know it, the Golden Dawn was also credited with creating the system of tarot correspondences that most magicians use today. In the higher grades of the Golden Dawn, adepts were expected to draw their own versions of the cards, based upon the teachings of the Order. The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, created with the encouragement of Israel Regardie, was made in the same fashion.
The Golden Dawn was responsible for expanding the ways tarot cards are used in Ceremonial Magic. The three most important uses of the tarot include divination, meditation, and skrying: a tarot trifecta.
The word "divination" comes from the Latin word divinatio, which means “the faculty of foreseeing,” and is based on a root word for “divine power” or “of the gods.” The ultimate meaning of the word divination is “to make divine.” Divination is a primary method for stimulating the psychic faculties of intuition, clairvoyance, and imagination. Performed correctly and for the right reasons, divination can open the mind of the diviner to the wonders of the spiritual realms and provide an appreciation of the subtle framework behind the visible universe.
In the First Order of the Golden Dawn, simple card spreads such as the Celtic Cross method are taught. Students are expected to memorize the Qabalistic and astrological correspondences of the tarot cards and practice card readings with them. In the higher grades, tarot divination is performed using a method known as the "Opening of the Key," a long and detailed technique that requires five separate card spreads. Part One of the Opening of Key as described in The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot involves picking a Significator, a card that represents the querent (enquirer) and dividing up the shuffled deck into four piles that represent the Tetragrammaton—the Hebrew letters symbolizing the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth:
Part One of the Opening of the Key: YHVH—The Opening of the Question
Elemental breakdown: The enquirer cuts the pack as close to half as possible to the right. Then the two piles are cut in half, to the right, giving a total of four piles that correspond to the name YHVH (Yod Heh Vav Heh) and the elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The far right pile refers to Yod—Fire, while the far left pile is that of Heh Final—Earth.
- The reader turns the four piles face up and interprets the bottom (now the top) card of each pile.
Find which pile has the Significator in it. Is it in the pile that relates to the question? This should give you a general direction for the reading as follows:
- If a card is on its elemental pile, its strength is increased.
- If a card is on a pile that is unfriendly to its elemental suit, its strength is decreased.
Heh Final (Earth) ||Vav (Air) ||Heh (Water) ||Yod (Fire)|
|business ||health/wellness/sickness ||pleasure ||energy|
|money ||trouble ||pleasure ||strife|
Work with pile containing the Significator. Put the rest aside. Without altering the cards’ order at all, spread them out to form a horseshoe. Based on the information listed in Step 2, interpret the placement of the Significator.
- Card Counting: Starting with and moving in the direction the Significator is facing, use the counting method described below. Proceed by counting over certain cards from and including the Significator.
Major Arcana Counting
- From Every Ace: count five cards (for Spirit and the four elements).
- From Every Princess: count seven cards (for the seven palaces of Malkuth).
- From Kings, Queens, Princes: count four cards (for the letters of Tetragrammaton).
- From Twos Through Tens: count its own number (the Sephirah number).
- From Keys 0, 12, and 20: count three cards (for the number of Mother Letters).
- From Keys 1, 2, 3, 10, 16, 19, and 21: count nine cards (for the number of planets or Hebrew double letters plus lunar nodes).
- From Keys 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18: count twelve cards (the number of Hebrew single letters, zodiacal signs).
- Keep counting until you land on a card twice. Then interpret the results.
- Card Pairing: Starting at the bottom ends of the horseshoe, pair the cards from opposite sides and interpret them together.
While Eastern meditation stresses clearing the mind of all thoughts, Western meditative techniques are designed to harness the thinking process and use it as a vehicle for higher levels of consciousness. The magician contemplates a specific subject matter, exploring every aspect of the topic, while eliminating all thoughts that are not associated with it. In this manner, the Western magician accomplishes the same goals as the Eastern mystic—an increase in powers of concentration and spiritual growth. With this objective in mind, the Golden Dawn included techniques of meditation in its curriculum.
Magicians advancing in the grades of the Golden Dawn are shown various tarot cards and encouraged to meditate on the images and implications of the cards associated with each level of study. Some of the tarot symbolism included in the Order's teachings and ceremonies are quite specific and exclusive to the Golden Dawn system, such as the prerequisite for two distinct Temperance cards and other required imagery. Students can use a simple exercise such as the following meditation from The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot to increase the powers of concentration and develop the skill of calming the mind.
A Simple Tarot Meditation
- Perform the Relaxation Ritual or Ritual Bath.
- Perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
- Shuffle the cards of the Major Arcana and pick one at random. Put the rest of the cards aside. Pause for a few moments to silence the mind before continuing.
- Look at the card in front of you. Take time to carefully observe the symbolism and colors of the card. Do not try to see through the card in to other worlds. Simply take mental note of every detail in the card itself.
- Now close your eyes and try to reproduce the card in your mind's eye. Try to recall every detail to the best of your ability and take your time in doing it.
- After about five minutes of building the card's image in your imagination, start now to dismantle it, piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle, until nothing of it remains in your mind.
- When your mind has become cleared of the image, try to hold onto this state of mental silence for as long as you can. If your inner voice has really been silenced, some important spiritual information may now be transmitted to you.
In a classic example of Golden Dawn tarot skrying two magicians, Florence Farr and Elaine Simpson, described a skrying vision into the card of The Empress on November 10, 1892. In this particular vision, the two adepts were met by a woman of "heroic proportions" clothed in green and crowned with a diadem of stars who told them, "I am the mighty Mother Isis; most powerful of all the world, I am she who fights not, but is always victorious...."
The word "skrying" comes from the old English word descry, meaning “to see.” It involves seeing with the mind rather than the eyes—using objects such as mirrors, crystals, etc. to help perceive images and events that are beyond the range of the ordinary senses.
Skrying is a method of clairvoyance that involves seeing into the astral world, the invisible blueprint that lies behind all physical manifestation. The Seer is separated from the images seen in vision by time, space, or levels of consciousness. In tarot skrying, the various cards are used as portals into other worlds. They are true gateways, real-life stargates, through which one can travel into other places, other times, and other dimensions.
The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot provides student with a simple ritual for tarot visionary work:
Excerpt from "The Ritual of Skrying the Tarot"
Skrying the Thirteenth Path: The High Priestess
- Remove the Second Key (the High Priestess) from the deck and place it upon the altar.
- With the Lotus Wand in hand say, "I, (magickal name), in the Divine name lAO, invoke Thee, thou Great Angel HRU who art set over the operations of this secret Wisdom. Make this talisman of the ROTA a true and accurate portal through which I may enter and partake of the knowledge of The High Priestess."
- Draw the Hexagram of Luna (the planet that rules the High Priestess) over the card and intone the names that go with it. Vibrate "ARARITA" while tracing the hexagram "SHADDAI EL CHAI" while drawing the sigil of the Moon with the letter "ALEPH" in the center.
- Draw the Hebrew letter Gimel in the Air above the card. See the letter in brilliant blue. Vibrate the name of the letter, "GIMEL."
- Place your hands beside the card or hold it up with both hands. With all your powers of concentration, look upon the card and comprehend it, consider all its meaning and symbolism.
When your mind is steady upon the image, give the Sign of the Rending of the Veil and close your eyes, but keep the image of the card clearly in your mind's eye.
- Maintain a disassociation from the surrounding room. The tarot card of the High Priestess exists as a huge curtain before you.
- In your vision, part the curtain with the Sign of the Rending of the Veil. As the curtain is drawn aside, project your consciousness beyond your physical body and see within the symbol before you...
The tarot is far more than a deck of pretty pictures. The knowledge it encompasses is more vast than most books you will ever read. This is because the tarot is a complete system for personal evolution. Used in combination with the three techniques of the tarot trifecta, in addition to other magical exercises presented in The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, the student will discover new horizons of inspiration and intuition.