Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Tarot: In History and Theory

Tarot lore is a tangled web of rumors, facts, and associations. Over time, the meanings were lost or diluted and we are now in an age of revealing where this knowledge can be freely distributed without judgment. With all the work being done on Tarot in the synchro-sphere, many new and exciting insights are coming to the forefront; but until a foundation has been laid, we cannot build a knowledge system that can stand on its own. It is like trying to hold a conversation on politics with an individual who refuses to acknowledge any possibility of conspiracy…What’s the point?! In this blog, I will be exploring the cloudy history of the Tarot playing deck and the fundamental symbolism as a foundation of understanding.

Let’s consider the purpose of the Tarot from a spiritual perspective. Tarot is a system that opens a medium of communication between the outer reality and the inner oracle (consciousness). We use the outer Tarot to understand the inner Tarot. All of these symbols are a part of who you are and those who have come before. Many people go to Tarot readers to gain insight on the future. Reading the future is a beneficial component of the Tarot, but is not the primary function. We are reading consciousness. Being that consciousness is everything that exist, has ever existed and will ever exist, you also have access to probable future outcomes. I use the word probable because we know that the quantum reality exist as a wave of probable potentials. Nothing truly exists in a concrete state, but in a wave of potential locations. I believe the Tarot helps us ‘flesh out’ the probable futures. The future never exists as a certainty because there are many potentials. We have the ability to choose the outcome and connect a future of our intent to the present. The true purpose of the Tarot is to build a language between the individual ego and the unconscious that is connected to the all-encompassing Universe.

Suppose that consciousness is a massive, infinite super computer main-frame, your brain is your own PC, and you are the user. The user may need direct access to consciousness/mainframe, but with nothing more than the brain/PC, the user will have a hard time gaining access to the information needed to complete the task. The user may be pulling and pushing information in the mainframe without the knowledge of what is taking place behind the veil. Unless the PC has a program or interface that can communicate with the mainframe, you will not be able to directly view what is taking place. The Tarot is the interface that allows you to appropriately access the mainframe consciousness.

We know that the Tarot had sprung onto the scene in the 1400s as a card game, exposed to the western world by gypsies roaming out of Persia. Alternative historians argue that the four elements or ‘suits’ of the Tarot can be found in Irish and Egyptian culture. We can also see the four fold representation of deity in theology, represented by the Tetragrammaton or the four lettered name. It seems that playing decks were fashionable among the rich in the Middle Ages since the cards had to hand painted and were not widely distributed until the invention of the printing press. The original decks were composed of the four suits and ten numbers. The number of court characters jumped around, starting with just one king. Eventually, the trumps were an addition made to the game with more court characters. It was recorded that Tarot was not used for divinatory purposes until the 1800s. (Wikipedia)
If you search for Tarot videos on YouTube, you will find many videos persecuting Tarot diviners and Tarot sites alike. There is a particular series of videos portraying Ronald McDonald in fast forward, singing and dancing in repetitive movements. The creator of these videos claims that he is on a campaign to rid the world of the Tarot and especially Tarot.com for illegitimate claims to historical cultures. He claims that the Tarot is nothing more than a game, made for the entertainment of French Aristocrats in the middle ages. Silly as it may seem, I believe that this sort of persecution is marking the breach of a new awareness. If you have never really been interested in the Tarot and happen to come across these videos, you may agree with the message and seek to further the knowledge of the agenda. But once you come into contact with the symbolism portrayed by the Tarot, you are unconsciously exploring a sacred art form. I have had friends comment to me that they have had ‘strange’ feelings on viewing some of the cards in the Tarot deck. I believe that the symbolism of the Tarot accesses information that we carry in our soul, embedded in our DNA.
You cannot come into contact with the Tarot without it affecting you, even if you have a questionable intent. In Crowley’s summarization of the questions discussed in the Book of Thoth, he explicitly states, “The origin of the Tarot is quite irrelevant, even if it were certain. It must stand or fall as a system on its own merit.” So it doesn’t matter if some hoe-boe was scribbling on some piece of paper and decided to call it Tarot. Does it work or not? I would have to say it works better than we are able to conceive. Crowley goes on to make an analogy to chess. Chess did not start out as the game it is today, in all its glory. It was built as a system of symbols and improved upon until we arrived at an efficient tool for teaching projective logic that we have today.

The Three in One (1:3)

The Golden Dawn’s logo can be found on the back of the Golden Dawn Magickal Tarot and I think this gives an accurate analysis of the Tarot. I see this symbolism as several things: the trinity or the three becoming one (1:3); the resurrection of Christ Consciousness out of the Eye of Knowledge; and the relationship of the 3:4 ratio, which can be seen all throughout the Tarot. The whole pyramid and cross as one symbol can be further broken down into two symbols to understand the relationship. The pyramid with the sun can be compared to the pyramid and the eye on the back of the dollar bill. This symbol has been linked to many cults throughout time but the general interpretation is the Eye of Knowledge. This ‘third’ eye senses beyond the five sensory inputs and the veil of reality. The development of this wisdom is a process of spiritual refinement also known as the alchemical transfiguration. The pyramid is topped by the Rosy Cross, the symbol of the Rosicrusion society. This symbol can be broken down further into 3 symbols. This cross represents the distinction of the four elements, and the rose represents the twenty letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the sun behind the cross represents the sun in the zodiac. (There is much more to this symbol, obviously. Feel free to search on.)

The concept of three gods in one (1:3) is known in every culture all over the world, in every time and place.

The three in one always is used to inspire patriotism, resonating with an unseen reality that is part of our experience. The reality is that we are all three in one: mind, body and spirit. I remember being very young in church contemplating the holy trinity. It didn’t make sense, but oh well, that’s the way in goes in organized religion. We were taught there was a Father God, a son, and a holy spirit. Is not God the Father and the Son both spirits in the first place? No matter. You don’t have to have an intellectual reasoning to be part of a mass movement.
Deck 1: The Trumps

From a Cabbalist standpoint, the pack is viewed as three separate packs in one. The three in one consist of the 22 Trump Cards, the 40 suit cards, and the 16 court royal cards. The trump cards are numbered by their association to the Hebrew alphabet.

The rose of the Rosy Cross is a representation of the alphabet divided into a 1:3 ratio of 3:7:12. It could be coincidence that the alphabet fits together so well, but it works and has stood on its own for thousands of years. The three represents the three primary elements of fire, water and air. The forth element is implicit as earth is a combination of all three; hence, the three in one. The next seven letters represent the seven planets and the next twelve represent the signs of the zodiac. Understanding the letter, element, planetary, and/or astrological association helps in deciphering the cards meaning.

For instance:

is associated with Tet:

The imagery of the card gives away the astrological association of Leo. We know that Leo is ruled by the Sun and the card is further defined by the Hebrew letter Tet. Leo the lion is courageous, strong willed, and adventurous. The shape of the letter Tet tells us that the Leo receives the power from within and that we all posses this potential for there is a part of us that is Leo, no matter what your Sun sign is.

The Tetragrammaton

Any further understanding of the Tarot deck requires a basic familiarity with the Tetragrammaton: the four lettered name of God. Whether this is the name of the true creator or completely contrived, I do not know. I do know that the Tetragrammaton summarizes our nature and the way we experience this plane of reality. Each of the letters represents an element, and each element holds a Tree of Life. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute….two of the letters are the same”. The Cabalistic understanding of this phenomenon is that the father and the mother in cosmic union to produce twins, He and He.

The Tetragrammaton has been held so sacred that it was actually taken out of holy texts so that the people would not attempt to pronounce the name in vain. Scientist Gregg Braden connected the holy name to our DNA by matching the numerical values of the Divine Name to the periodical numbers of the elements that make up our DNA. I also see the four elements as an integral part of the way we experience reality and a formula for the participation in the co-creation of reality. Fire = mind, water=emotion, air=action, earth=manifestation.

Gregg Braden’s book, The Lost Mode of Prayer, outlines this fundamental method of creation as the true mode of prayer. The prayer starts with a thought, we fuel that thought with our emotions to feel our prayers instead of just acknowledging our wants and needs. The thought of the prayer should be as close as possible to the desired outcome, such as: I have a great job, not I want a great job. By adding the emotion of gratitude to this prayer, we can be thankful for our great new job as the prayer. This is fully supported by Biblical teaching but has escaped core doctrine. As we drop our prayer into the cosmic ocean of being called our unconscious, the Universe will bring about situations that we must act on in order to manifest the original thought. We can pray and pray, but if we don’t act, we can’t expect the Universe to fulfill our needs.

Deck 2: The Minor Arcana

The key to understanding the meanings of the minor cards is to learn how to interpret the combination of symbols. The formula for symbol combination goes like this: Meaning = element + sphere no. + astrological symbols. Each suit represents an element and The Tree of Life in that element. According to Cabalistic doctrine, there are four worlds, each containing a Tree of Life. That gives us four Trees and forty spheres in total.

The Spheres

Understanding the spheres (or paths) of the Tree of Life is a never ending process and you could spend a lifetime collecting the wisdom of each of the paths. The paths also have simplified meanings and associations that allow us to capture a glimpse of the wisdom contained in a relatively small space. Each sphere can be summarized by a planet and each path inbetween spheres can be summarized by a trump or letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Decantes

The decantes are an important element to the formula of the minor arcane cards. The word decante refers to the division by ten. There are twelve signs of the zodiac and each of those signs contains thirty degrees. If we split one sign into three parts, we have divided the sign by ten degrees and this gives us three decante signs per one zodiac sign 12:36 = 1:3.

12:36 Message from Beyond 1997 (Crystal Links)

Each of the minor arcana cards represents a decante, excluding the ace cards which represent the pure emanation of that element. The decantes are determined by the element and the modality of the card.

I highly recommend the Crowley Thoth deck or The Golden Dawn’s Magickal Tarot. These decks contain all of the astrological components of the card and make reading easier than memorizing each of the decante correspondences. It’s great to have the Rider-Waite deck and study the ideas that they were trying to portray while studying the formula for deciphering their meanings. In Crowley’s six of swords we can see the astrological association of Mercury in Aquarius in sphere of Tiparath in the element of air. So we have AIR + TIPARATH + MERCURY + AQUARIUS = SCIENCE. The way that the symbols work together is not always logical but it is a system. When you get the general understanding of the symbol combinations, readings will become much easier.

Deck Three: The Court Royals

The court royals represent sixteen individual personalities. Each of these personalities is within you, and you may call on them at different times for different purposes. When they come up in a reading, they could represent individuals in your life or different personalities that you are suggested to portray in whatever situations that are represented. What the royals really represent is each of the elements such as: knight=fire, queen=water, prince=air, and princess=earth. So when we are interpreting the cards, we can combine elements to deduct the fundamental understanding.

Example: The queen of swords represents WATER in AIR.

This concludes my analysis of Tarot fundamentals. There is much more information, and the study of Tarot is a never ending process because of its holographic nature. This is merely an attempt by myself to lay out a knowledge infrastructure of the Tarot symbolism. The study of Tarot is very rewarding, as it is a teaching tool as well as a divination tool. Memorize the Tree of Life. Memorize the elements and modalities of the zodiac. All of the symbolism builds off of these schools. Good luck and have fun.


  1. Articulate, simple, and informative. Thanks for taking the time to type this up, I learned a lot. I own the waite and crowley decks, but still have not figured out how to activate their full potential. Would be great to get deeper insight into the meaning of the elements, zodiacal archetypes, and elements...

  2. Regarding the Ronald McDonald YouTube videos. I believe your blog has misrepresented this campaign. I've seen these myself and I don't think are "anti-tarot" They have a different idea of what tarot should be. For some people, tarot is not a divination tool. There are people in countries such as France who play tarot as an actual card game. Tarot is often defined in our culture as "fortune telling" or as a "divinatory art" but there are people who disagree with that. In fact, the American Tarot Association has released press releases recently which states that Tarot started as a game similar to the card game bridge and that there are still Europeans today who enjoy it.

  3. There is no set definition to what Tarot is or what it can be used for. The problem that I have with the Ronald McDonald youtube videos is that they are very arrogant and demeaning. I know that the original Tarot was started as a game in Europe, but i believe that the game was composed of other playing cards that were used for divination. None of this really matters to me anyway. The symbols speak for themselves, whether you play games with them or choose to divine the Universe, its all good.

  4. it was meant to be used for self-enlightenment and meditation, as well as divination, NEVER fortune-telling