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 fortunetelling 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 fortunetelling or as a source of symbolism suitable for meditation. It is much more, as Tarot Magic 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 Tarot Magic 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 versatility—the 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 appendix of Tarot Magic.)
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 object 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."
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 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 onthe 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 esoteric correspondences.
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 identify remains in 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 endtable. 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 magic.
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 eyes—the system presented in Tarot Magic 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 fortunetelling 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.
Excerpted from Tarot Magic, by Donald Tyson.
Donald Tyson is an occult scholar and the author of the popular, critically acclaimed Necronomicon series. He has written more than a dozen books on Western esoteric traditions, including Tarot Magic, and edited and ...