In traditional Western occultism, the Tarot is recognized as the keystone of the whole philosophical system called Hermetism. It is very hard to discover its actual origin. The most competent and famous occult authors like Eliphas Levi, P. Christian, Fabre d’Olivet, Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus), Oswald Wirth, Papus (Dr Gerard Encausse) and others, are of the opinion that the Tarot’s true symbolism comes from Ancient Egypt. That master of Hermetism, Eliphas Levi, tells us this boldly in his Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual:
`This Clavicle [as he calls the Tarot’s Arcana] regarded as lost for centuries, has been recovered by us, and we have been able to open the sepulchres of the ancient world, to make the dead speak, to behold the monuments of the past in all their splendour, to understand the enigmas of every sphinx and to penetrate all sanctuaries. . . . Now, this was the key in question; a hieroglyphic and numeral alphabet, expressing by characters and numbers, a series of universal and absolute ideas. . . .
`The symbolical tetrad, represented in the Mysteries of Memphis and Thebes by the four aspects of the sphinx—a man, eagle, lion and bull—corresponded with the four elements of the old world, [i.e. water, air, fire and earth]. . . . Now these four symbols, with all their analogies, explain the one word hidden in all sanctuaries. . . . Moreover, the sacred word was not pronounced: it was spelt, and expressed in four words, which are the four sacred letters: Yod, He, Vau, He . . . .
The Tarot is a truly philosophical machine, which keeps the mind from wandering, while leaving its initiative and liberty; it is mathematics applied to the Absolute, the alliance of the positive and the ideal, a lottery of thoughts as exact as numbers, perhaps the simplest and grandest concep-tion of human genius. . . .
An imprisoned person, with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequalled learning and inexhaustible eloquence. . .
This passage which is well known among occultists worthy of the word, is perhaps one of the best definitions of the Tarot’s value and greatness that we have. The enthusiastic ‘discoverer’ of these keys to the ancient wisdom, pious magician and former priest, Eliphas Levi (in private life Abbe Constant) supplied us with this concise and inspired explanation.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Eliphas Levi was followed by a long succession of occultists who accepted the Tarot as a basis for their investigations and writings. But none had so fiery a pen and such a burning conviction as he.
Papus, in his The Tarot of the Bohemians, a classical book about the mystery of the Major and Minor Arcana, tells us in a legend, that the whole initiatory wisdom of Ancient Egypt was recorded in the symbols of the Tarot cards as a last attempt to preserve this wisdom for future generations, and was made just before Egypt was invaded and destroyed by the advancing hordes of the Persian king.
These cards, originally made of metal or strong leather, were later used as a means for gambling, just as the Egyptian priests intended them. For they knew that human vice will never die, and so their mysterious cards were unknowingly used by the barbarians as a means of transmission—through-out subsequent ages—of the most sacred and hidden results, attained by the old wisdom of Egypt.
– Mouni Sadhu
Tarot decks in occult usage
Etteilla was the first to issue a tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes around 1789. In keeping with the misplaced belief that such cards were derived from the Book of Thoth, Etteilla’s tarot contained themes related to ancient Egypt.
The 78-card tarot deck used by esotericists has two distinct parts:
The Major Arcana (greater secrets), or trump cards, consists of 22 cards without suits:
The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement, The World, and The Fool. Cards from The Magician to The World are numbered in Roman numerals from I to XXI, while The Fool is the only unnumbered card, sometimes placed at the beginning of the deck as 0, or at the end as XXII.
The Minor Arcana (lesser secrets) consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each;
Ten numbered cards and four court cards. The court cards are the King, Queen, Knight and Page/Jack, in each of the four tarot suits. The traditional Italian tarot suits are swords, batons, coins and cups; in modern occult tarot decks, however, the batons suit is often called wands, rods or staves, while the coins suit is often called pentacles or disks.
The terms “Major Arcana” and “Minor Arcana” were first used by Jean-Baptiste Pitois (also known as Paul Christian) and are never used in relation to tarot card games. Some decks exist primarily as artwork, and such art decks sometimes contain only the 22 major arcana.
The three most common decks used in esoteric tarot are the Tarot of Marseilles, the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, and the Thoth tarot deck.
Aleister Crowley, who devised the Thoth deck along with Lady Frieda Harris, stated of the Tarot: “The origin of this pack of cards is very obscure. Some authorities seek to put it back as far as the ancient Egyptian Mysteries; others try to bring it forward as late as the fifteenth or even the sixteenth century … [but] The only theory of ultimate interest about the Tarot is that it is an admirable symbolic picture of the Universe, based on the data of the Holy Qabalah.”
Which Tarot deck to choose
Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck
The magnificent Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck contains the kabbalistic and astrological attributions described in Aleister Crowley’s The Book Of Throth. Small 78-card deck with instructions and bonus full-color spread sheet. The Crowley Thoth Tarot Decks currently available are published by AGMuller and distributed by U. S. Games Systems, Inc.
AN ANCIENT CELTIC METHOD OF DIVINATION
Arthur Edward Waite
This mode of divination is the most suitable for obtaining an answer to a definite question. The Diviner first selects a card to represent the person or, matter about which inquiry is made. This card is called the Significator. Should he wish to ascertain something in connexion with himself he takes the one which corresponds to his personal description. A Knight should be chosen as the Significator if the subject of inquiry is a man of forty years old and upward; a King should be chosen for any male who is under that age a Queen for a woman who is over forty years and a Page for any female of less age.
The four Court Cards in Wands represent very fair people, with yellow or auburn hair, fair complexion and blue eyes. The Court Cards in Cups signify people with light brown or dull fair hair and grey or blue eyes. Those in Swords stand for people having hazel or grey eyes, dark brown hair and dull complexion. Lastly, the Court Cards in Pentacles are referred to persons with
very dark brown or black hair, dark eyes and sallow or swarthy complexions. These allocations are subject, however, to the following reserve, which will prevent them being taken too conventionally. You can be guided on occasion by the known temperament of a person; one who is exceedingly dark may be very energetic, and would be better represented by a Sword card than a Pentacle. On the other hand, a very fair subject who is indolent and lethargic should be referred to Cups rather than to Wands.
If it is more convenient for the purpose of a divination to take as the Significator the matter about which inquiry is to be made, that Trump or small card should be selected which has a meaning corresponding to the matter. Let it be supposed that the question is: Will a lawsuit be necessary? In this case, take the Trump No. 11, or justice, as the Significator. This has reference to legal affairs. But if the question is: Shall I be successful in my lawsuit? one of the Court Cards must be chosen as the Significator. Subsequently, consecutive divinations may be performed to ascertain the course of the process itself and its result to each of the parties concerned.
Having selected the Significator, place it on the table, face upwards. Then shuffle and cut the rest of the pack three times, keeping the faces of the cards downwards.
Turn up the top or FIRST CARD of the pack; cover the Significator with it, and say: This covers him. This card gives the influence which is affecting the person or matter of inquiry generally, the atmosphere of it in which the other currents work.
Turn up the SECOND CARD and lay it across the FIRST, saying: This crosses him. It shews the nature of the obstacles in the matter. If it is a favourable card, the opposing forces will not be serious, or it may indicate that something good in itself will not be productive of good in the particular connexion.
Turn up the THIRD CARD; place it above the Significator, and say: This crowns him. It represents (a) the Querent’s aim or ideal in the matter; (b) the best that can be achieved under the circumstances, but that which has not yet been made actual.
Turn up the FOURTH CARD; place it below the Significator, and say: This is beneath him. It shews the foundation or basis of the matter, that which has already passed into actuality and which the Significator has made his own.
Turn up the FIFTH CARD; place it on the side of the Significator from which he is looking, and say: This is behind him. It gives the influence that is just passed, or is now passing away.
N.B.–If the Significator is a Trump or any small card that cannot be said to face either way, the Diviner must decide before beginning the operation which side he will take it as facing.
Turn up the SIXTH CARD; place it on the side that the Significator is facing, and say: This is before him. It shews the influence that is coming into action and will operate in the near future.
The cards are now disposed in the form of a cross, the Significator–covered by the First Card-being in the centre.
The next four cards are turned up in succession and placed one above the other in a line, on the right hand side of the cross.
The first of these, or the SEVENTH CARD of the operation, signifies himself–that is, the Significator–whether person or thing-and shews its position or attitude in the circumstances.
The EIGHTH CARD signifies his house, that is, his environment and the tendencies at work therein which have an effect on the matter–for instance, his position in life, the influence of immediate friends, and so forth.
The NINTH CARD gives his hopes or fears in the matter.
The TENTH is what will come, the final result, the culmination which is brought about by the influences shewn by the other cards that have been turned up in the divination.
It is on this card that the Diviner should especially concentrate his intuitive faculties and his memory in respect of the official divinatory meanings attached thereto. It should embody whatsoever you may have divined from the other cards on the table, including the Significator itself and concerning him or it, not excepting such lights upon higher significance as might fall like sparks from heaven if the card which serves for the oracle, the card for reading, should happen to be a Trump Major.
The operation is now completed; but should it happen that the last card is of a dubious nature, from which no final decision can be drawn, or which does not appear to indicate the ultimate conclusion of the affair, it may be well to repeat the operation, taking in this case the Tenth Card as the Significator, instead of the one previously used. The pack must be again shuffled and cut three times and the first ten cards laid out as before. By this a more detailed account of “What will come” may be obtained.
If in any divination the Tenth Card should be a Court Card, it shews that the subject of the divination falls ultimately into the hands of a person represented by that card, and its end depends mainly on him. In this event also it is useful to take the Court Card in question as the Significator in a fresh operation, and discover what is the nature of his influence in the matter and to what issue he will bring it.
Great facility may be obtained by this method in a comparatively short time, allowance being always made for the gifts of the operator-that is to say, his faculty of insight, latent or developed- and it has the special advantage of being free from all complications.
I here append a diagram of the cards as laid out in this mode of divination. The Significator is here facing to the left.