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.
Divination 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
|Heh Final (Earth)||Vav (Air)||Heh (Water)||Yod (Fire)|
Meditation 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
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
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.