I have operated under several different theories of tarot consciousness in my lifetime with the cards. There has been the notion that they are some kind of supernatural force in themselves, maybe each one individually "blessed" or "cursed" with its marks of magickal and occult principles. There has been the idea that they each are pictorials depicting instead the specified angel whose role is to act as guardian and manager of the above mentioned occult principles. There has been the idea that they are just 78 ultimately meaningless pieces of paper and human psychology is insistent upon finding patterns and meanings in all things. There has been the model that the cards are portions themselves of strange praeterhuman forces, and by observing these portions with knowledge of what we've come to expect of the nature of these forces, the tarot has proven useful. Then there's also the theory that everything around us can easily be described as a series of mathematical formulae, broken down and reinvented into summary explanations of everything, of which a spread of cards after a random shuffle should easily fit into our predictive tables and explanations.
For me it has never mattered which approach to tarot I've taken. It has been a sacred book wrapped in silk after silk and placed in a locked box that I hid up high and needed a step ladder to get to when I wanted to read. It has been a set of cards, mysterious and enchanting, that each alone or in combination with some others could unlock hidden treasures within Solomon's Temple for me. I've worked even with a tarot deck I made on my own, using 3x5 index cards & drawing the most rudimentary esoteric scratchings on them (and they worked).
So it has come for me to matter not one iota what the source of the information from the cards really is. Is it an apophenic exercise with random psychological impact on our judgment and decision making process? Is it the voices of angels talking to us? Is it just as mathematical as weather forecasting, using cards as a new means to gather the data? Or even if it becomes all hogwash to the most strict adherent to "science," it matters not to us when we see the results we find in using them for charting our decisions in the future. We say simply, they do something somehow and it works.
I would suppose that in order to have a fully working and believable theory on tarot, we would have to start with a beginning. Every religion begins with creation myth, even the Marvel Comics Universe starts each story with a creation myth. "Origins" has always seemed to be what it is about, so I suppose we should start with a working origin story for our cards.
There are those who will argue that the source of tarot is ancient Atlantis. Closer to the truth yet is that it comes from the ancient Egyptians. The only actual evidence of any truth we do have is that tarot cards simply just popped up one day in the fourteenth century and no one has any idea what or where they were before that. And at that time in history they were quite simply reported as being involved in a card game, the rules of which suggest common ancestry with the game of Bridge. It isn't until some three centuries later that the cards would be written about as having anything to do with divination or "fortune telling."
So I am faced with a question for myself. Do I have to believe in any of the numerous myths associated with the tarot and its origins? No. I don't believe so. I'm even willing to accept that the original tarot deck must have existed at one time and that it had nothing in common with the purpose that tarot is applied to today. I imagine that if we could travel back in time and meet with the first person to ever draw and paint a tarot deck (whatever it was being called at that time) and told that person all of the various tarot theories out there and how the cards are being used as tools of divination and esoteric educations, that artist would probably be profoundly amazed as I seriously doubt there is any validity to the concept of a "sacred origins" myth of tarot. But for the sake of satisfying the masses, I'll say that I am willing to agree that tarot originates out of the head of a human being who wanted to pictorially describe a legacy of ancient knowledge dealing with what generally we will call the Occult Sciences - or if that isn't the origin, the cards most definitely became adopted to that task.
So now we have established at least one thing that we can all agree on: Regardless of the true age of tarot or it's original purpose, tarot now exists as something that at one point in its history became adopted by a school of knowledge (or various schools) and was seen as an excellent device for transmitting ineffable knowledge. These are all the provable facts at our disposal. And based on this creation myth, we now can build the foundation of a working tarot theory.
Having put the earth in its place now, the next stage of any religion is up in the air. The one thing that all communities share in common is the sky. So certainly I feel that any effort to teach a universal truth must certainly be expressed in the universal language of pictures if it is going to be preserved through any apocalyptic event - as some believe is the purpose of such a thing as a tarot tradition - then also most certainly should it be rooted in something that is universal itself. Linguists and astronomers alike will tell you that the most universal Rosetta Stone is, of course, mathematics. This has led to the scientifically accepted opinion that in the event we ever do come across other intelligent life forms in the galaxies of space, we will begin our training in each other's languages through discussions of mathematics. Incidentally, it just so happens that this will include what we today know as astrophysics - our examination of the aeons of lessons learned from the night sky.
Of course, our understanding of the Universe around us has become far more complicated than the ancient astronomy that also mingled with religion and philosophy in humanities past. And since our cards are indeed ancient enough to have come from a people who mingled so with their science and spirituality, we do not look to the cards to help us understand the nature of light near a black hole, but instead to understand our own personal psychologies. And since we do know that the ancient stargazers where as interested in the world within us as they were with the goings on of the cosmos, believing the two events to somehow be related, we begin with the hypothesis that tarot and astrology will tell us the same story of "as above, so below" and "as within, so without."
Previously I wrote a brief mention of Christian Rosenkreutz and "Book T" on my Keen.com blog
. And it is from this "Book T" as published in Israel Regardie's "The Complete Golden Dawn" manuals that I begin my exploration of our tarot theory.
Book T, which you can find an online version of here
, divides the deck of 78 cards into very smart sections and shows key concepts about each card based on Qabalistic and Astrological lines. The fact is, the Western Qabalah and Astrology appear quite well wedded, so it isn't exactly fair to say it is either one or the other, as naturally they appear always as a pair once you begin to work with the Qabalah. In other words, the Qabalah is described by astrology, or using astrological symbolism in any case, thus suggesting to me of course that the real universal language is indeed that of the planets and the stars - the one experience that each in our own ways we all have to share. So from this study of Book T I have come to the conclusion that who ever designed this system, they did so on the assumption that the esoteric glyphs and visions of the heavens above us is our universal language and the cards are just one way of transmitting this language from the ancient past to the far flung reaches of our distant future. Or maybe it isn't exactly that grand, but you know what I mean.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read "Book T" was that most definitely this is the source material for every Little White Book (LWB) that comes with commercially purchased tarot decks. Whether to believe the legend of Rosenkreutz is not relevant to our knowledge that The Golden Dawn held as one of their secrets the first and only place a written document existed that detailed divination meanings for each and every one of the seventy-eight cards (other occult authors had until then only written on various individual cards). And since it happens that careful study of "Book T" side by side with any LWB will help you see why, for instance, the three of cups might be described as "Celebration, a happy conclusion, discovery, friendship, bonding. Raising energy, mutual agreements, cohesiveness," and so on. It is called The Lord of Abundance in "Book T" and described as " Abundance, plenty, success, pleasure, sensuality, passive success, good luck and fortune; love, gladness, kindness, liberality." These all appear to me to mean the same thing.
For the moment this might become an interesting distraction to our tarot research. We have certainly found the oldest written record of all seventy eight cards and their divination meanings along with associations to astrology and Western Qabalah. Some four hundred years after the first mention of tarot's existence as a game among the wealthy, over a hundred years after the first mention of them in connection with fortune telling, we finally have an intersection in history that reveals to us the very principles behind these divination meanings. For a moment I was distracted by thinking at last we had found the nearest thing to the source we need.
I probably should take a minute to describe to you who the Golden Dawn was and why their word on these topics should be considered valid or why it shouldn't, but I'd rather leave all those questions up to you to discover. Suffice it to say that The Golden Dawn was a large esoteric group (a 'secret society' if you will) founded by three FreeMasons in London, England during the height of spiritual fascination in the Victorian Era. Speculations as to the true source of the so-called secret teachings of the Order abound, but for my concerns I simply remind you of the opening paragraph of this article and my take on the creation myth. It doesn't matter if "Book T" really is what Christian Rosenkruetz held or if McGreggor Mathers wrote the book himself. That point doesn't matter for one simple reason, as a matter of science and as a work of Art, "Book T" in connection with the tarot is sublimely perfect because though it may appear at first to be a study of the Qabalah, it is actually using the one universal language we do actually posses - astrology.
Using Astrology on Tarot - next step
I was not satisfied with knowing that the source of tarot card definitions may very well be found in "Book T." I was not satisfied simply knowing that this is our oldest sample of tarot card divination meanings. I wanted to know how whoever actually did write "Book T" came to the conclusions they had come to. What motivated "Book T" to decide that such and such a card had such and such a meaning, and not some other? And the answer to that question was in the book itself - the fact that all the minor arcana cards where assigned to a decanate of astrology.
A decan or decanate in astrology is a ten degree separation of the sky creating a pie chart for astrology using 36 slices in place of the usual twelve signs or houses of the zodiac. Every sign is divided into three decans. These decans or slices of the zodiac are used by astrologers to gain even more specific information about the nature of what is going on in their system. And in similar fashions, the 36 cards of the tarot known by some as "the pip cards" (the cards numbered 2 through 10 and carrying the four suits) actually bear similar divination meanings! There seemed right away here a connection for me.
The three of cups is described as belonging to the first decan of Cancer (The Natural Ruler of Fourth House affairs). In "Book T" this is listed as Mercury in Cancer.
(Disclaimer: Ancient astrology did not yet know about Neptune, Uranus & Pluto, so modern day Decanate Systems will not match up if you prefer to look up the decan by planet & sign. I do better to research "1st Decan of Cancer" rather than "Mercury in Cancer Decan.")
As an example of how the decans add so much more detail to our knowledge of things, here is an example of the decan system applied in Sun Sign Astrology. The Decans of Cancer
So, the summary is that I have found the essence of the divination meanings of tarot in the decan system of astrology. Or at least for the 36 pip cards that correspond to the decans. Now it comes to place the rest of the cards around the wheel.
For this we turn to the court cards next. The cards known as Knaves in Book T (pages and princesses in some decks) belong to each of the four quarters of the sky. The other three court cards of each suit are given 30 degrees of the sky to occupy. These don't match up with the cusps of signs, so each court has 10 degrees of one sign and then 20 degrees of the other sign following. I haven't figured out exactly why this is so, but it does help with understanding the divinations behind each card as somewhat blending those signs and their natural houses for our keyword LWB understandings.
The Aces too occupy one of each of the four quarters - being described as Thrones and reminding us that the ace is the potential of that climate and the Knave is the first or most youthful humanized expression of it. And this is how I came to the task of picturing the full minor arcana around the wheel of the zodiac.
For further meditation on the meanings of each tarot card, using the wheel above I look for the two cards that Trine the card of my study. A Trine in astrology describes 120 degrees of the circle. This forms a triangle of the three cards we will be using in each study. Meditate on the LWB meaning of your chosen card and the meanings of the other two cards. Come to understand how the nature of your card does indeed coincide with containing the natures of the other two cards. See how the tarot appears to build itself, answering for you that perhaps it alone is its true source of "why does a card mean such and not some other?"
Let's use our 3 of Cups again. It Trines the 9 and 6 of Cups. So this joyous 3 of Cups a-plenty is somehow related to the sweet memories of a warm past in the 6 of Cups and the easy satisfaction of an assured future with the 9 of Cups. (You now hardly have to ask why Waite pictures this as three women dancing over a nice harvest from what appears to me to be a voluntary garden.)
I keep experimenting with other angles of astrology - feel free to use this in your own devising and study of astrology and tarot.
Binovile 80 degrees