Of the many esoteric subjects studied by ceremonial magicians, alchemy is often considered one of the hardest and most arcane, while the tarot is thought to be one of the most accessible and "hands-on." Historically the language of alchemy, with its inscrutable riddles and metaphor, has baffled many students, while the images of the tarot are more direct and often need little explanation. Some may prefer one over the other, but like other elements of the Western Esoteric Tradition, the best way to learn alchemy and tarot is to study these topics together.
Alchemy is an early form of sacred chemistry that explored the nature of various substances. It is a multifaceted natural science-philosophy rooted in a spiritual worldview in which everything in the cosmos contains a universal spirit that is the origin of all matter. Through the Hermetic art, the alchemist sought to perfect and transform a material substance to its highest possible potential as a Universal Medicine, the Elixir of Life, or the Philosopher's Stone. At its core, alchemy is concerned with purification, transformation, and growth. Its objective is to bring all things, especially humanity, to their pre-ordained state of perfection.
Tarot is an important form of divination—a spiritual art that seeks to discover the divine significance behind "chance" events. Divination involves the development of a symbol system whereby the "diviner" can communicate with gods and angels, the archetypes of the collective unconscious. In practicing divination through the tarot or other methods, the diviner can unlock an internal guidance by constructing a link between a synchronistic pattern of symbols (such as tarot cards) in the physical world, and the eternal realm of the psyche with its universal archetypes and forces.
The Philosopher's Stone Tarot Spread is designed to utilize the spiritual wisdom of both alchemy and tarot in a simple card spread for awareness and divine guidance.
Card 1 represents the beginning of the alchemical process. Cards 2, 3, and 4 represent the three alchemical principles (mercury, sulphur, salt) in the reading. Cards 5, 6, and 7 represent the three primary stages of the alchemical process (separation, purification, and recombination). Finally, Card 8 represents the Philosopher's Stone and the completion of the Work.
The prima materia card represents the beginning of the querent's work of personal alchemy, as well as the general atmosphere or the current circumstances in which the querent finds him or herself, including their present state of mind. It may also indicate other people or influences (mundane as well as spiritual) that are currently at work.
The mercury card represents those higher spiritual forces that the querent has available to him or her, and which can be used to transform the situation, or mediate between opposing forces, in a manner that is favorable to the querent.
The sulphur card represents the force or forces that motivate the querent: innermost feelings, passions, will power, and personal strengths that can be brought to bear upon the matter.
The salt card represents things physical constraints upon the matter, or something that the querent is currently crystalizing or causing to manifesting (for good or ill, whether voluntarily or not).
The separation card indicates something that the querent must separate into three aspects:
The purification card indicates what the querent must relinquish in order for the Work to advance. (Optional: how does Card 3 (soul) interact with Card 6?)
The recombination card represents what can be used to bring unity into the process. (Optional: how does Card 4 (body) interact with Card 7?)
Combined with the influences shown by the other cards in the reading, the final card of this spread represents completion—the ultimate outcome of the matter. Depending upon what steps are taken by the querent, the result will be shown here.
The Philosopher's Stone Tarot Spread is just one of the ways that the Hermetic science of alchemy can be used in combination with the divine art of tarot to expand one's spiritual horizons and effect personal growth.