Read an Excerpt
How to Use this Book chapter one
The method for reading Tarot cards that is presented in the following pages is based on the ability to divide the meaning of each card into three parts that correspond with the parts of a simple sentence. Consider the sentence “The girl dances with joy.”
The first part, “The girl,” is what the sentence is about; the second part, “dances,” is what she does; the third part, “with joy,” describes the way the action is directed or modified.
Each Tarot card also has three aspects. The first is the nature of the card in itself, its subject; the second is what is done by the card,
its action; the third is the way that action is expressed, its direction.
These three parts of the card's meaning correspond with the three parts of the type of sentence used in the example.
For instance, the subject of the card known as the Magician is
“skill,” since a magician is defined by his ability to cleverly and adroitly manipulate objects and other human beings. The action of the card is
“will”-a magician uses his skills to accomplish his intention or desire.
The direction is a “design” or “plan,” since the will of the magician must express itself in the form of some sort of an achievement. He applies his skills through his willed intention to attain his goal. This complete base meaning of the Magician may be conveyed in a kind of shorthand by the Tarot sentence “Skill wills with design.” “Skill” is the subject, “wills” the action, and “with design” the direction.
Reading the Tarot Sentence
When we examine a Tarot card by itself, we must consider all three parts of its sentence together in order to get a rounded understanding of it. However, when the cards are laid out in a divination spread or layout, their meanings are modified or limited by their locations in the spread. All the layouts in this book use as their basic unit the card triplet, which is composed of three cards arranged in a row and read from left to right in the manner of a written sentence. When a card is placed in a triplet, we read only that part of its meaning that corresponds with its location. In this way, the three cards in any
Tarot triplet express only a single sentence for any one order.
There are thus two types of Tarot sentence. The first is the simple sentence that expresses the complete meaning of any individual card. It is called “simple” because it applies to an individual card. The second is the composite sentence formed by three cards laid out in a triplet. The first card in a triplet gives the subject for the triplet; the second card gives the action; and the third card gives the direction.
For example, the card of the Magician placed in an upright attitude at the beginning of a triplet would signify “skill,” but in the middle it would mean “will,” and at the end of the triplet it would express
Instead of referring to the parts of a Tarot sentence as subject,
action, and direction, in this book they are simply labeled 1, 2, and 3.
To determine the meaning for a card in any triplet, it is only necessary to look up the card in the quick reference tables at the end of the book, and find its meaning under column 1, 2, or 3, depending on the location of the card in the triplet. Every group of three cards gives a completely unique composite Tarot sentence.
The meaning for each card in a triplet provides a keyword to the understanding of that card. It is not the only possible keyword, but it has been chosen to convey the most common or general meaning of the card in that location in the triplet. The composite sentences in any layout are enough by themselves to provide a complete but basic answer to the divination. However, once you have learned to use them, you will want to progress to a more detailed understanding of the cards. This is obtained by looking up the complex meaning for the card in each position of a triplet in the card's section in chapter 9,
10, or 11. As you become familiar with the cards, you will soon learn what parts of the detailed meanings to apply to the question under investigation.
Not all possible meanings for a Tarot card apply to it in any given layout. Part of the art of Tarot divination is learning what to include and what to exclude from your interpretation. This only comes with practice, but it is not difficult. The meanings selected for the cards of a layout from all their possible meanings are those that flow together and complement each other, and have a direct bearing on the question.
For example, the card known as the Fool can mean foolishness,
but it can also mean spirituality in the sense of worldly innocence. If you are doing a divination on a spiritual question, the latter meaning is more likely to apply, but if the question concerns business, it will often be the former meaning.
During divination, the meaning of a Tarot card is modified by the question; by the location of the card in the layout; by the cards that surround it, lie near to it, or otherwise influence it; and by its orientation.
These factors give the dignity of the card. A Tarot card is said to be well dignified or ill dignified depending on whether these factors facilitate the expression of the card's meaning or hinder its expression.
Orientation refers to the attitude of a card when it is turned faceup in a layout. A card may be upright or inverted from the perspective of the person performing the reading, who is known as the diviner or reader. Inverted cards are also called reversals. It is sometimes said that the meaning of an inverted card is the opposite of its upright meaning, but this is not quite true. A card always has the same identity. When it appears upside down in a layout, the purity of its action is weakened or inhibited. This often has the effect of making a favorable card seem unfavorable. However, it also makes cards that have a harmful influence in the divination less hurtful. Inversion hinders the action of bad cards just as it obstructs the action of good cards. Sometimes inversion will make a spiritual card more material in its working, or make a material card less practical.
Tarot sentences, and more detailed meanings, have been provided in this book for all the cards in both their upright and inverted postures.
This removes the need to think in your own mind what the significance of a card would be were its action to be hindered or weakened by inversion. It is a good idea to do this anyway, as an exercise,
since you will have a much better understanding of the complete sense of a card once both its upright and inverted meanings are understood. Try reading the detailed upright meaning of a card, then read its detailed inverted meaning, and ask yourself how the inverted meaning relates to the upright meaning. After doing this, you will have a much better concept of the card in its totality.
The number of possible Tarot sentences in any card triplet is quite large. There are three positions, and each position may be occupied by any card in the pack. The result is close to half a million possible combinations. If we add the inverted attitudes of the cards, this number is increased by a factor of seven to over three million possible unique sentences! It is unlikely that you will ever exhaust the possibilities of even a single triplet, and most of the card layouts in this book contain multiple triplets.
You will notice that the meanings of the court cards-the King, Queen,
Knight, and Knave-in the position 1 in a triplet are expressed in a slightly different way from the meanings of the other cards. The court cards are generally understood to stand for human beings having an influence on the question that the divination is intended to answer.
This is a little simplistic. Any of the cards may stand for human beings,
and any of the cards may stand for things other than human beings.
However, it is helpful when doing readings to think of the court cards as persons having an influence on the question.
In the Universal Tarot deck, which illustrates this book, the court cards of each suit are the King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. The King usually represents a mature man, the Queen a mature woman, the
Knight a young man or youth, and the Knave a young woman or a child of either sex. Hence, the King of Wands, when it falls upon the number 1 position of a triplet and forms the subject of its Tarot sentence,
is given the meaning “the impulsive man,” but the Knave of
Wands falling on the same position in a triplet receives the meaning
“the daring girl/child.” It is up to the diviner to judge from the other cards in the layout whether the Knave represents a young woman or a child. Knaves can, and sometimes do, stand for boys before they have reached the age of adolescence, since it is sexual maturity that symbolically differentiates the sexes. Adolescent boys and young men are represented by the Knights.
It used to be the practice to divide the court cards into various classes based on the hair color, eye color, and skin complexion of the persons represented by the cards. In the popular esoteric system of the
Golden Dawn, the assignment of hair and eye coloring to the court cards became quite specific and complex.
The trouble with this system is that it is frequently inaccurate. A
court card appearing in a layout is far more likely to express the personality of the human being it represents than to indicate hair and eye color. In any case, there is no precise agreement among writers on the Tarot as to the physical characteristics represented by the court cards-for example, Arthur Edward Waite wrote that the court cards of the suit of Wands represent dark persons rather than those who are fair, as indicated by the Golden Dawn. Finally, the hair, eye,
and skin color attributed to the various court cards work fairly well for those of European ancestry, but are virtually worthless when applied to those of African or Asian heritage.
All these considerations have led me to omit references to types of physical appearance from the descriptions of the individuals represented by the court cards. In this decision, I merely emulate the practice of Aleister Crowley, who described the human beings represented by the court cards according to personality type, not appearance.
The Structure of the Tarot
A few words must be written about the structure of the Tarot for those completely unfamiliar with it. The Tarot is a deck of seventyeight cards, which may be divided into two groups: the twenty-two picture cards known as the trumps or Greater Arcana, and the fifty-six suit cards known as the Lesser Arcana. It is easy to recognize the suit cards-they resemble in their names and numbering the cards of a deck of ordinary playing cards, except that in the Tarot four additional court cards have been added, the Knights. By contrast, the trumps are usually numbered with Roman numerals from I to XXI
(the Fool has no number or is numbered zero), and are unique to the
Tarot. The suit cards may be further divided into the sixteen court cards and the forty number cards. The number cards of each suit are numbered in Arabic numerals from the ace or 1 to 10.
The four suits correspond with the four elements of ancient philosophy:
Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Wands are fiery, and, in general,
indicate matters relating to the force of the will, the inspiration, creativity,
and active energy. Cups are watery, and stand for matters connected with the emotions, particularly love and affection, and also for dreams, illusions, desires, and fantasies. Swords are airy, and they signify things of the mind, such as spoken and written communications,
thoughts, plans, and calculations; but because the sword is a weapon, the suit of Swords also stands for conflict and strife. Pentacles are earthy, and signify, in general, matters relating to the health of the body, cultivation, property, possessions, and wealth.
As has already been indicated, in Tarot divination, the court cards generally stand for human beings. The trumps represent greater factors,
either in the world at large or in the personality of the individual asking the question. The number cards tend to represent more specific influences that have a bearing on the matter under inquiry.
Although no card in a layout can be said to be more important than any other-just as no stone in an arch is more important than its neighbors, since all are needed to hold the arch up-when a trump appears in a layout, it points to matters of profound significance and should be carefully considered.
In the esoteric Tarot system of the Golden Dawn, each card has a specific astrological or elemental association that aids in understanding the meaning of the card. It is not necessary to know the Golden
Dawn correspondences, which have been omitted for the sake of simplicity, to use this book. Rest assured that the meanings and sentences presented here were composed with those correspondences in mind.