History of Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Tarot Card Decks, Tarot Card Meanings No Comments »

BYZANTINE box lid v8

This is my second tarot deck, published a few weeks ago. I have been using it (and the majority of people I read for have been choosing it) for the last week, and have been very pleased with how it reads. Because it’s much more illustrative than my Intuitive Tarot, I wasn’t sure how I would work with it once it came out – and the deck certainly does challenge my understanding of the established interpretations – but relaxing into the readings has allowed the deck to flower, as it were. For instance, the Tower (illustrated below) gives a very different take on the card – at least at first glance.


However, as the deck is based on Byzantine concepts and imagery, The Tower illustrates one of the Empire’s legendary figures, Simeon Stylites. As a very Christian society, a withdrawal from society was not only acceptable, it was lauded. Simeon chose a very definite withdrawal, to a tall pillar in the wilderness. However, people kept on following him and asking for advice and healing, so he chose a taller pillar … and so on. He spent 40 years on different pillars, his followers keeping him fed and sustained. So the meaning here, as in most decks, is of illumination and power, but it also speaks of human temptation and frailty (the serpent). Simeon chose his pillar after a divine revelation and then found he could not avoid his destiny, or the power that others ascribed to him.

A more conventional tarot image is The Hermit.



This is based on an icon from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai which originally depicted Elijah. When I saw the image I immediately saw it as the tarot Hermit, even though the original did not have a lantern or staff. But without this icon, I would never have contemplated painting another tarot, so you might say he inspired me – or called me. John Matthews, who wrote the book, had also been called to produce a Byzantine Tarot some years previously, and it was the idea of collaborating on this deck that gave it the impetus it needed. But in a way, it was the Fool who really got it off the ground, at least for me.

The Holy Fool has always had a special resonance for me ever since 1973, when he appeared on my drawing pad when I was idly doodling one evening. That first image opened up a channel for me into the Otherworld, the rich archetypal place of dreams and imagination, and I have journeyed there ever since. So as soon as John and I had agreed we would collaborate, I keyed ‘Holy Fool’ into Google – and found, to my astonishment, that the Holy Fool was an established figure in Byzantine times. There are even books written about the Holy Fools of Byzantium (and Russia, which took over the mantle of orthodoxy after the Empire fell in 1453). That was all the confirmation I needed, and the Fool and the Hermit were the first figures I painted in this deck.

0-fool f2 Step sm

Three years later, the deck was complete, and I’d had the time of my life painting it! It’s now published by Red Wheel Weiser and Connections Publishing UK, and getting very favourable feedback.

I’ll post more about the historic Byzantine aspects of this deck shortly, as well as giving the spread I developed for the cards.


Exploring Tarot Seminar 2010

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Mark your diaries – July 31st, 10am-5.30pm – if you’re anywhere near London, the first Exploring Tarot 2010 seminar will be held at the College of Psychic Studies (South Kensington). Emily Carding will talk about her new Transparent Oracle and how Tarot & Oracles combine; Martin Jeffrey will look at archetypes, and Avril Price will discuss Spirit & Spiritualism. My angle will be the creative process of making your own tarot deck – I found that the process led me into a world which was deeper and richer than our own. Now it’s often called the OtherWorld; back then (1973) I had no words to describe it, but the gifts it gave me were immeasurable.

Ticket price is £40 – call 020 7589 3292

Fourteen: the Higher Helpers

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When we get to the higher numbers, we often can gain insight into their meanings by looking at the divisors (in this case, 2 and 7). Two is feminine, primarily about balance or tension between opposites, while 7 is one of the powerfully magical numbers. Fourteen takes those qualities and shifts them into an even more potent combination.

14 is often associated with the moon, as it takes the waxing moon 14 days to reach full moon, and 28 days to complete the full lunar cycle. Lunar deities are often associated with the underworld – presumably because of the fear of those nights when the moon was dark. In ancient Babylonia an Akkadian poem describes how the ruler of the Netherworld, Nergal, was translated from heaven down to the underworld, with an escort of 14 deities. In Egypt, another ruler of the dead, Osiris (whose wife, Isis, was a lunar goddess), was cut into 14 different parts by Set, his dark brother.

In Islam, a religion where lunar symbolism plays an important role, there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, 14 ‘solar letters’ and 14 ‘moon letters’. The Hurufis, working in the late 14th century, combined letter and number mysticism with physical attributes of the body and found that the words to depict hand and face (yad and wajh, respectively) both have a numerical value of 14. Another Islamic link to 14 is a Shiite reference to 14 innocent saints.

Similarly, In Christian lore, we hear of fourteen helping saints who assist in dangerous situations: kindness allied to reason. Various churches and monasteries were erected in medieval times to these heavenly helpers, the Vierzehnheiligen in Franconia being the best known.

These qualities may go some way to explain the potency of the number in the Temperance card in the Tarot. It is depicted as an angelic figure, pouring liquid from one vessel into another. Some have linked the figure to Aquarius, the water carrier, and to the Egyptian Hapi, god of the Nile; either way the symbolism contains elements of fruitfulness and inspiration. The word Temperance  in the tarot is used here in its alchemic sense (the right mix of ingredience in the right proportions at the right time – the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage). It might be relevant here to recall the story of the marriage of Cana, where Christ who transformed water into wine, as one of the meanings of Temperance is a deep balance, and transmutation of energies. We might also see it as replenishment of the conscious mind through creative interaction with the unconscious.

Number fourteen marks the completion of the Minors with the Kings of each suit. The Kings usually depict mature men – the emphasis being on attitude rather than age.

The King of Swords represents the detached, rational, intellectual male who dislikes emotional outbursts, staying detached if at all possible. He is difficult to get close to; if you’re in a relationship with someone like this you’ll find him at his best in games of strategy, looking down from his mountain-top and moving humans about like chess pieces. In older times he would be a warrior, while today he might be a philosopher, scientist, mathematician, politician.

The King of Cups, in contrast, is someone who understands the emotions. He may not find it easy to express his emotions, but he feels very deeply. He’s usually an older man, someone who has gone through the mill; he may be a divorcee, and often still has emotional baggage from previous relationships. He has drained his cup but still needs support, indeed negatively aspected he may be a bit of a parasite.  At his best, though, he is a warm, genuine, generous family man.

The King of Discs is strong, practical, and hierarchical. He is good with money, likes to deal with real-world issues, and is intelligent, acute, forceful and charming. He has a grounded physicality and assurance which is very attractive. Feelings of controlled sensuality and power emanate from him; he may well consciously generate these feelings for his own ends. He often lacks subtlety and imagination, but this is not a man to cross. Anyone trying to better him or take advantage of him might be advised to think again. His ruthless egotism and need to control can make him a dangerous enemy.

Finally, the King of Rods or Wands. As King of the creative suit and (in the Intuitive Tarot, the King of Air), he is equally as charming as the King of Discs but at his best has real depth and power. He has learned to ground his energy, through his staff (which symbolizes his inner vision, as well as his potency). He is perceptive, intuitive, and keenly self-aware; he could be a charismatic leader, teacher or spiritual searcher. However, negatively aspected he can be arrogant, manipulative, so sure of his own judgment that he becomes tyrannical. Alternatively he may become a shape-changer, never settling, never fulfilling his manifest destiny.

Of all the kings he is most aware of the unconscious and can work with it. Because of this understanding and talents this man can do great good – though you’ll have to be strong to keep up with him.

Tarot Meanings and the End of Times

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At a tarot cafe recently we were discussing the end of times (as one does – nothing like a tarot cafe to get some good discussions going). I decided to ask the tarot about this – is it going to be in 2012, as the end of the Mayan calendar seems to have indicate, or what is coming?

I drew one card, and three more fell out, so I read them all.

The Hermit. It doesn’t look like this is Armageddon. It does, however, look like we’re all going to have to do some soul-searching. This is about a withdrawal – from the rat race, from the status quo, and from the familiar. We follow our sole/soul light from the lantern, and go down into the dark, surrounded by fears of the unknown.

Most people will avoid this journey into themselves. We fill our lives with noise, with material things, houses and mortgages and cars, in order to avoid that dark place within. But – as we see from current society – the lack of substance that results is a soul-sickness which ultimately ends in some sort of a crash, a war or a plague, an enforced re-evaluation. You’d have thought that the recession, and all the other ills we’ve created, would have made us think, but no – still we carry on regardless.

The Wheel. There is a big shift coming though. We have reached the end of one cycle, and it’s time to move on to the next. Again, this is not Armageddon, it’s relatively gentle (far gentler than we deserve, I think). It is an opportunity to change our perceptions and thus improve our lives. We can rewrite the future if we change the way we see things – indeed, we must rewrite the future. We cannot go on the way we are.

What’s good (and a little surprising) about this is its apparent gentleness. This is not the Tower or Judgment. The Wheel is the cosmic cycle, the natural flow of things. Nevertheless, it is the end of an era and change will come – is coming, and our only choice is to move with it or fight it. Either way, the world will change.

Five of Cups. This is the card of grief, loss and sorrow. It’s not terminal – we will recover – but at the moment we need to stay with that grief.

Grief is not something we enjoy. Clients are often scared that you’ll tell them there are difficulties ahead. Actually, though, trying to avoid difficulties is worse than experiencing them. To live – to be alive – often means we have to feel. Again, as stated with the Hermit, most of the stuff we surround ourselves with is a means to avoid facing difficult emotions. Perhaps this is why we refuse to acknowledge the parlous state of the world.Here, though, it isn’t enough to acknowledge it – we’ve plenty of doom and gloom merchants rubbing our noses in it. But none of them actually express the pain and sadness we must all feel, at some level, about what we’ve done – and are still doing – to the earth and our fellow humans. If we can feel that – truly grieve for what we’ve accomplished – then we have a chance to move on into the future without destroying ourselves.

The Four of Cups. Is this looking further into the future, or is it again about the grief we need to feel right now about what we’ve done? The four is about satiety, passivity, draining energy (as a description of our current state of lassitude and apathy, this could not be bettered). It also points out that, although we have lost something precious (the overturned cup), we still have huge gifts being offered to us which we are ignoring. The world is still beautiful, still there, still our birthright. It’s up to us now. There are huge numbers of us who know things can’t go on, and if we banded together instead of feeling it is all too big and too awful, we could change the world.

The Four also indicates that there’s a need to clarify goals and identify what’s important to us, instead of bewailing what’s gone.

Gaia. To get a feel for the energy around us, and the protection and challenge for us now (with reference to the ‘End of Times’), I drew one of my Deva cards ( The Devas often cut to the heart of a question, and this was one of those times, as Gaia appeared (you have to look quite closely at this card to see Gaia herself – she’s in the centre at the top, her arms enfolding the world).

This is the crux of the question. At the time I read it as Gaia herself taking a hand in the story – she can choose at any time to shrug and say enough. In the last few days she’s coughed – or perhaps it was just a little burp (the volcano in Iceland) – and thousands of people are stranded away from home because the planes are grounded. She isn’t well, let’s face it – pollution, deforestation, water and oil running out because of our profligacy and greed. What happens when she really gets sick?

It’s time for us to wake up.

Types of Intuition

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We are all more intuitive (or psychic) than we realise. It’s a natural ability to perceive far beyond our senses and logic; a flash of inspiration or insight; a gut feeling. We all have experienced that ‘inner’ knowing or awareness, a certainty that’s outside logical thought- perhaps as déjà vu, hunches, sixth sense, gut feeling; predictive dreams; psychic messages; solutions to difficult problems. But it’s often quite subtle, and we have to learn how to recognise and act on it.

Every one will have their own unique way intuition manifests. Some will ‘just know’ things – claircognizant – information just comes to you, with the sense that it’s important. You may know who’s on the phone before it rings.

You may see things (clairvoyance) – either inside your head, or in the outside world, seeing energies and / or images. You may see a person, scene, colours, auras, past lives, and visions of the past, present or future – they may be as if you’re watching a film, or still photos. Far-seeing comes under this category.

You may be clairaudient, psychically hearing thoughts, words, songs, or other sounds. These are usually inaudible to the normal hearing range, but can also appear within your voice, sometimes as a voice very different from your own.

Your intuition may also manifest as clairsentient – perceiving information through a sensation in your physical body. It may be a gut feeling, or sense the body issues of someone either with you, or close to you. You may also sense spirit guides, deceased relatives, angels.

Clairscentrist people sense through smell – tobacco, alcohol, a scent of candles, rosewater, etc (this is often reported with thoughts of spirit presence).

Clairgustant is psychically tasting a substance, liquid or food without actually putting it in your mouth.

Oddly, although we all have a certain amount of these so-called extra-sensory abilities, many adults in our culture ignore them or even close them down, either because they are scared, or because they couldn’t depend on their abilities – having been let down a couple of times, they then assumed it wasn’t safe to trust them at all. Certainly you will not have been trained in the use of intuition at school. But ancient humans probably used intuition to live by, sensing where the animals were running and, possibly, connecting with the animals themselves to check which beast to kill. Their cave art reflects the psychic link they felt with the natural world, and it could well be similar to how we work with in the tarot.

Tarot Card Meanings Online – What’s it for?

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Tarot Card Meanings Online is a blog designed to help you to find your way round the Tarot. I add articles regularly – I try to write at least one a week (although it is not always easy to stick to the timetable!). If you would like to hear about a particular aspect of Tarot, please let me know – I would be delighted to hear from you.

Tarot Spreads

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Learner readers set great store by different spreads, but in fact the more you read, the more you’ll find that one or two spreads will do. You can also create your own spreads – as long as you identify the positions clearly (and remember them), the cards will fit those positions. As with so much of the tarot, it is all about conscious intention.

As a professional reader, I mainly use two spreads – the Celtic spread (both full and truncated), and a three card spread, the positions of which are identified beforehand (usually covering relationship, career, family or health). I’ll then add to those three cards by drawing a card for ‘anything you need to do here'; and a third layer to look at ‘what will help you’.

I use the Celtic spread for invaluable background information on the main issue or issues the client brings to the reading. I use the short version for 1/2 hour readings, and the full version for hour readings, followed by the 3-card spread shown above so the client can have a look at current questions in more detail. (The full version of the Celtic spread was shown in an earlier blog – below). Herewith the truncated version:

There are of course thousands of other spreads. I’ll be giving a few different ideas in later posts, but meanwhile a good one for relationship issues is shown below (adapted from one at I’ve added two cards at the end as a suggestion for possible actions, as in my view there’s not much point in knowing that your relationship is in trouble (well, hey, you probably know that already if you’re asking the question); you need to know what, if anything, you can do about it.

This spread will work best if the two people involved are drawing cards together. However, that’s the ideal. Person A can draw all cards, trying to avoid too much projection or wish fulfilment; or the reader could draw B’s cards.

Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (continued)

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The Wheel - traditionally The Wheel of Fortune. An ancient symbol, the Wheel represents the cosmos, time, fate and karma. The medieval concept of the Wheel of Fortune show man helplessly bound to the wheel of destiny, his fate either predestined, or, alternatively, subject to blind chance. In today’s Tarot, however, we can read it with a lighter touch: as the Tao, the ever-changing yet ever unified circle of existence.

The Wheel signals some new cycle of life: an opportunity to alter our perceptions, when we realize that the currents in the river of life are drawing us inexorably along whether we will or no. We can neither control nor fight the flow; all we can do is to allow ourselves to flow with it, in full awareness of what is involved.

The next stage on the path is XI, Strength. Some of the oldest decks show Samson killing a lion. The archetypal hero often has to battle with a primitive or wild man in order to come to his full power, while the lion itself is the archetype of strength, power, and majesty.

In self-development terms, Strength is the first test on the journey of the soul. Our choice to follow the Hermit’s path brings us into direct contact with the unconscious, that level of the psyche we usually encounter only through dreams. The first level we encounter is our animal side, the Id in Freudian terms – the child which rages to get its own way. The woman in the image, who can be thought of as the ego, does not kill the animal, but controls it with firmness and compassion. If we can manage this, the lion becomes our Ally.

XII – The Hanged Man. This is where we see that everything we’ve been taught, all our previous moral certainties – indeed all our previous ideas about who we are, what we want in life – must be re-examined.

The archetype of the Hanged Man is an old one. In ancient Greece, images of the god were often hung in trees to ensure fertility and a good harvest. Many of the gods linked to fertility were sacrificed in different ways – Tammuz (Ishtar’s consort), Osiris, Christ, and Odin, who hung himself upside down for nine days and nights in order to gain wisdom. Less well known is the story of Shemyaza, one of the so-called Fallen Angels, who fell in love with a mortal woman, Ishtahar. After Shemyaza revealed the true name of God to her, God imprisoned him in Orion, hanging upside down, for eternity.

Shemyaza © C Conway 2010

In self-development terms, The Hanged Man is shown as an initiate, like Odin, hanging herself as a sacrifice to growth in the new world she now inhabits. She must have the strength of mind to fly in the face of convention, or she can progress no further. As an initiate, it is also necessary to be able to surrender to chaos and the unknown.

XIII – Death. The ability of the initiate to surrender to the unknown is tested to its ultimate in the Death card. It is not physical death, but the mystery initiate quite often has to live through soliltude in utter darkness for a number of days. At the end of that time they would emerge as from the tomb, profoundly changed.  Every major change in our lives means a death of sorts; each time we end a relationship, change jobs, move house – even the end of the day or year – entails a little death. But without those deaths, we stagnate.

In archetypal terms, Death occupies an pre-eminent position: an inescapable destiny. In many traditions we find a river over which souls pass to the next life. In Greek myth the ferryman, Charon, rows the dead over the river Styx, while in Egypt the boat was guided by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming. In Roman and Celtic myth, the goddess Isis and Ceridwen were in charge of this strangely ubiquitous boat.


XIV – Temperance. The last of the virtues depicted overtly in the Major Arcana. The figure can be identified with Aquarius, the water carrier, or with Ganymede who became cup-bearer to the gods, replenishing the nectar of immortality when it ran low. Temperance is today depicted as angelic, its abilities alchemic: pouring one vessel into another, one quality with another to make a third, a synthesis of the two: water into wine, lead into gold, dark into light.

In self-development terms, Temperance is the deep inner balance of inner to outer, the first inkling of the integration which culminates in The World. It is the ability to temper unconscious emotions with conscious reason; to balance irrational, childish reaction with adult processing. This ability will be tested fully in the next stage along the path.

XV – The Devil. We see the archetype of The Devil in numerous old gods. Indeed, as Paul Huson points out in The Devil’s Picture Book, the gods of a dead religion often become the demons of the succeeding one. Pan, Baphomet, Cernunnos, Satan, all combine to give us the image we see in the Tarot. It is significant that many of these were fertility gods, as The Devil is about our darkest desires: greed, sexual perversion, envy, obsession – and the fear attached to these feelings. This is what C.G. Jung called the Shadow – all that we find unacceptable in ourselves and so repress from our consciousness. The Initiate has to acknowledge and integrate this shadow stuff.

The card reminds us that The Devil does exist – though not as an external agent; not as a dark angel who tempts us, binds us, forces us to do things we would never dream of (‘the devil made me do it’). But the Devil is within us. By projecting our unwanted shadow on others, and then acting out based on that distorted perception, we ourselves create evil. The Devil reminds us that each of us is capable of the worst excesses, of arrogance and greed, envy and murder. If we think we are exempt, we are deluding ourselves.

However, the Devil also holds out a promise of redemption. As the initiate, if we acknowledge our shadow side, and work with it when we encounter it, it becomes our teacher. That requires courage and honesty, the ability to see the dark and not deny or project it onto the outside world. Instead, draw it, write to it, dialogue with it, express it through your body or through a story. Then ask what it wants from you. Usually it wants acknowledgement, acceptance, and then the will to change and grow.

XVI – The Tower. Certain events, both personal and external, are so cataclysmic we can only stand, shuddering, and wait for the fall-out to clear. Hiroshima was such an event; 9/11 another. Both can be seen as diabolic or divine, depending on our viewpoint, but the magnitude of each makes it impossible to continue life as before. We may retrace the steps that led there, but there is no going back. However, the destruction is not wholly negative. As the lightning strikes, for a second we see Divinity in all its magnitude. Even as the old world crumbles, a new world is born.

As an archetype, the Tower is about hubris. It may remind us of the Tower of Babel, Atlantis or even Sodom and Gomorrah. By now, the initiate’s foundations should be firm enough to withstand the storms and destruction of the external world, no matter how apocalyptic. Even though our world can be shattered in a moment, we can rebuild. A new world can emerge from the old.

In self-development terms, this card refers to purification through loss, and the ability to withstand the worst storms. When we reach this level of awareness, we may wish to simplify, challenging any rigid, outdated structures or thought processes. The cosmic bolt from the blue is never something for which we can be prepared, but on the path this winnowing is essential.

XVII – The Star. The Star gives us real recognition of how far we’ve come. We emerge from the depth of the unconscious into the light of the stars. Now we experience a vision of wholeness, a deep gnostic understanding of eternity and renewal. This is the profound inner certainty that comes when we at last find ourselves connected to the mystic Centre. We become a channel for divine energy made manifest on earth.

Medieval Cosmology

The Star is about hope: the light that appears to call us to remember who we were born to be. Archetypally, the stars point the way to illumination. They are seen as luminous celestial beings with the ability to bring home and illumination. The story of the star of Bethlehem, and the Magi from the east, is well known. Other stories tell of how the stars were formed: the Greeks, for instance, saw the constellations as conscious, self-aware entitles who lodged in the dome of heaven. The Titan Atlas balanced this enormous dome on his shoulders, shifting it when the weight became too great, which caused the stars to rise and set.

In self-development terms, the Initiate now has a sustained connection to the Higher Self, that part of us which is aware of being divine. We need to ensure that our minds stay open, reflecting that inner light which allows problems to be resolved with ease and grace. Think about your highest dream – are there things you need to do in life? Miracles happen daily, though we often fail to notice them.

XVIII – The Moon. Like The Star, the Moon has been the subject of awe, ritual and story since humans first became sentient. From neolithic times the Moon was usually seen as the multi-faceted Great Mother – New Moon (Maiden – Persephone, Diana the Huntress, Artemis), Full Moon (Mother – Demeter, Isis, Astarte) and finally the Dark Moon (the Hag – Hecate, dark Ereshkigal, Juno). Even today we bow to the moon’s influence: we mark its passage from dark to full while the sea moves in its wake, while those of unsound mind are known to become even more disturbed at full moon.

Thus the Moon of the Tarot carries both dark and light aspects of the Goddess. The crab or crayfish crawling out of the pool refers to the dark of the moon. In this guise we encounter Hecate, a psychopomp who guides the Soul through the underworld. As the initiate, we have encountered Death already, but this is the crossing between sanity and insanity – a living journey through the underworld. Shamans, artists, and other seekers may cross that borderline, but there is always a risk that they will not return intact. The hospitals are full of people who have lost their way in that ambivalent, delusory realm.


The Moon is about a failure of nerve, delusion or deception. Often we may be taken in by feelings of grandiosity, paranoia, or megalomania as we look at the dizzy level we’ve attained. The challenge of this archetype is not to forget ourselves totally, in the waters of Lethe; but, somehow, remember our way back.

XIX – The Sun. And now the night ends and the sun rises, as it has since the dawn of time. The archetype of the sun is about light, warmth, life. Dawn is about birth, new beginnings; midday is warmth, growth, harvest; evening is the growing shadow, wilting, the coming of the night, death. The tarot image shows the solar twins dancing under the light of the midday sun, protected from its burning rays within a circular garden. The solar twins are found in a number of myths and are potential saviours.

By now the initiate is in a state of grace. The light floods in; we – the steadfast seekers on the Way – are transfigured and renewed. From now on that warmth, that heightened awareness, will not leave us for long – although being human, we may have times when we lose the certainty, the connection. But our vision is so clear now that nothing will get caught between us and the light.

XX – Judgment. The imagery here is mainly Christian – the Last Judgment, when the dead souls are gathered and their ultimate destination decided. The man and woman in the image are the twin souls in the Sun, grown to adulthood, with their divine child. The trumpet is the call to new life; the veils between the worlds lifts and we are redeemed. All the old polarities have been resolved, the child representing our new unified consciousness. Archetypally, the divine child is understood as the birth of new consciousness. Myths from around the world talk of a shining infant, its lambent gaze full of wisdom and compassion, who comes to bring salvation.

Judgment marks the near completion of the journey: rebirth, the reunification of the soul. In Jungian therapy this might appear in dreams as an angelic call, the ‘pearl without price'; the treasure now recovered; in alchemic terms it is the Philosopher’s Stone, the ‘pearl without price’.

XXI – The World. The culmination of the journey: the fully realised soul – the divine child grown to adulthood. This is the Anima Mundi, where male and female, dark and light, inner and outer, are integrated in unity, a synthesis of beauty and completion. The dancer – whom T.S. Eliot called the ‘still point of the turning circle’, is androgenous; s/he is the Coniunctio, the mystic marriage of matter, mind and spirit that was the ultimate goal of the alchemists. Here we move past the limitations of form into a timeless state of grace – of active and receptive love. It is both an ending, and a beginning.

The archetype of this awesome being is alchemic: engravings of medieval alchemy show the conjoined being as the end result of the Great Work. Once the alchemist had attained this level of understanding, it would be reflected in his alchemical work by the ability to turn base metal into gold.

0 – The Fool. And even now there is one final stage on the journey. As Eliot puts it,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

This is the wise fool: the individual – and mankind itself – ready for the next stage of its evolution into a far more evolved being. A few phenomenal souls have reached that state – Buddha, Christ resurrected, perhaps Gandhi and Mandela; a select few!

Archetypally, the Holy Fool is seen in many traditions. He has transcended physical reality – all the world’s goods mean nothing to him. His vision is humane, wise, and numinous. He is Zero: the Nothing and the All simultaneously. At last, through the unknowable void, the future soul embraces time and matter to become manifest once more, and the cycle begins again.

And, perhaps, we can think of this not as a closed circle, but as a spiral, where the end and the beginning of each cycle do not meet, but begin again on a higher level.

Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (Part One)

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We may never know for certain why the Tarot was developed, but given that the focus of medieval society was spiritual, we can be fairly sure that it had a spiritual underpinning.

Today, however, most taroists see the Majors as a concise and powerful description of the journey into self-awareness. Each one represents not only a stage in our own development but also an archetype, a mental image we all understand and which find their way into our myths, legends and fairy-tales. In personal terms the Fool reflects the innocence and carefree stance of our infancy. The archetype is of the potent outsider who questions everything, throws life away on a whim – the Fool on the Hill. Alternatively, we see in many fairy tales a slightly unfocused, naive hero, the innocent abroad who either gets by somehow – or makes a complete pig’s ear of life and has to be rescued by some external agency.

The Magician depicts our dawning awareness of the ability to shape our lives – and the need to be seen doing so. It’s about manifestation, control, and often manipulation. We all have encountered the person who demands attention, has to be the centre of the limelight, the consummate performer who always has to be on the move in case we get to know him (or her) too well. We know the archetype, too: Loki, the trickster who loves to throw everything into chaos, who can create or destroy on a whim; Mercurius the ever-changeable; Coyote and Reynard the fox. In everyday terms, he would be the second-hand car salesman who’ll say anything to get you to buy.

In personal terms the High Priestess shows us the sensations of the body-mind as we grow, and the inherent wisdom of life; while the archetype is of the virgin Moon Goddess, with deep intuitive knowledge of time and tide and seasons. She calls us to full awareness of this world (its deep realities, never just surface). Mythologically she is seen as Celene, Artemis or Diana; the cool virgin goddesses (‘virgin’ meaning belonging to no man, rather than our desexualised view of the word).

The Empress, all-giving mother, should perhaps be numbered 1, as our first awareness outside ourselves is of the mother. In our lives we may not have experienced the abundance and lush giving nature of this archetype, which shows the Triple Goddess in her mature, fecund state – the Yin of the Tao. Nor have many of us in the west encountered such potent feminine energy, although we can see it clearly when, as Gaia, she shrugs and thousands die in earthquakes or tsunamis. Most of the time we like to think that mankind is in control. The ancient neolithic figurines of old Europe and Anatolia depict her at her most fecund, while the Tarot shows her multi-faceted potency. But as the ancient goddesses’ day passed into history, and the patriarchy took over, the Greek and Roman mother goddesses became pallid, ineffectual reflections of the archetype’s full omnipotence.

The Emperor is the divine masculine, but also our experience of the male, usually as reflected in our fathers. He is also about discipline, will, and structure – the patriarchy. As an archetype, the Emperor is focused masculine energy – the Yang. In myth he might be seen as Jove, Odin, Zeus, or, historically, Alexander or the Roman Emperors. Today we see a debased reflection of this masculine essence in Hollywood dick-flicks, where the male is depicted as almost superhuman. No weakness, no humanity can be shown in these simulations. Some women reflect a similar two-dimensionality in their animus projections, usually shown in dogmatic assertions that ‘this is the way it is’, while many men emulate the bad example given by their fathers.

The Hierophant represents the growth of wisdom; our teachers, spiritual mentors, inner guidance. The archetype was described the Old Wise Man by C.G. Jung, who encountered a being he named Philemon in his inner journeys. Philemon would give Jung insight into problems, imparting information that Jung himself had no way of knowing. This access to deep inner wisdom Jung later called the collective unconscious. In myth, Merlin is a good example of the Hierophant, particularly in his understanding of magic, while Savonarola and the Witchfinders show the reversed side of the archetype, its rigid and fearful mindset – and the damage that can do.

(From The Red Book, by C.G. Jung)

The first awareness of choice is seen in The Lovers. Each of us becomes aware of our own autonomy at some stage – the ability to make our own lives, choose our own friends. Some of the older tarot show a man trying to decide between two women, perhaps mother and lover (the film The Graduate is an example of that choice) and certainly this is a choice some men find difficult! In mythological terms we might consider Paris choosing between Helen and the goddess Aphrodite. A broader aspect of this card, however, is that as we grow we are constantly offered the choice to stay small or to grow; it is usually fear that stops us growing, but if we give into the fear we constrict ourselves and become scared of life itself.

In The Chariot we have now moved out into the world, and are developing our personae (masks). We may develop an aggressive, driving ambition; or stay invisible in the background; we may be a perfectionist, or get by doing as little as possible. Either way the Chariot is about ambition, will and determination. In Greek myth, Helios, the sun-god, drives the sun chariot across the sky each day; his strong hand on the whip and reins of the chariot ensured it never falters; and a famous Greek statue of Heniokhos (the rein-holder) depicts the need to ensure both horses (dark and light) are going in the same direction. If our unconscious wants to go one way, and our conscious wants to go a different way, we’ll end up going nowhere.

Justice, tarot trump VIII in most decks, shows the inner balance needed for maturity. It’s about discrimination, truth and integrity: often it entails giving our lives a cold hard look, to see where we are lying to ourselves. Mythologically she is Athena: divine Justice rather than man-made justice. Cool, objective, she cuts through untruths and the confusion we create. Archetypally, the concept of fair play, of righting wrongs, is one we seem to understand instinctively – even if the justice we create in society falls far short of the ideal.

The Hermit is the pilgrim who withdraws from the world to walk the uncertain, lonely road to self-awareness. In the East this is an accepted path for men and women, and even in our extraverted western society many seek the silence and solitude in order to gain wisdom. Archetypally the Hermit is another aspect of the Old Wise Man, but we might see him as Saturn – patient, inexorable, contained. This is the stage in life where some inner call is heard: the barest flicker of sound, half the time appearing quite impossible. But some of us do heed the call, and follow that strange inner path – ‘the road less travelled’, as F. Scott Peck puts it in the book of the same title. The remaining tarot Majors describe that journey.

(to be continued…)

Tarot readings online?

Tarot On Line 2 Comments »

There are various sites offering free tarot readings online. Some are excellent, some just passable. One of the best (at least in my view!) was produced by a friend of mine and offers different spreads from a selection of tarot and oracle decks. Have a go – –  feedback from readings is excellent. The link will take you direct to the The Intuitive Tarot page (if you want to try a different pack, see below).

The first thing you need to decide is which spread you want: they range from the Celtic spread to a three-card spread, or even a single card. If you choose the three card spread, identify what you want each card to stand for (Past, Present, Future; or Advantages, Disadvantages, Outcome, would be useful categories.

Most of the remaining options are fairly obvious: you can choose to enter your name or remain anonymous. You can choose to read with Major Arcana only, which is probably not a good idea for a large spread. You can choose to shuffle the cards, and finally, you can have the date displayed. Having ticked the relevant boxes, you can now move onto the next page. If you’ve chosen to shuffle the deck, place the cursor over the deck (don’t click) and the cards will shuffle about. Then choose each one, identifying the positions if necessary. Once you’ve chosen the right number of cards, click ‘Show me my reading’.

At the moment there are no facilities for printing or storage, so if you wish to make a note of the cards, you can highlight the whole reading and copy and paste it into a Word document. In a few weeks’ time we hope to give you the facility for both storage and print, so watch this space.

If you would like to try a different pack, go to the Students-of-Tarot homepage. Here you’ll see a whole raft of decks including an option for ‘Modern Packs’. If you hover your mouse over any of the deck titles, they should display mini-thumbnails). In addition, the list in the centre offers a few more decks, (see a choice of classic decks and spreads).

To get a reading from an oracle deck – for instance my other deck, the Devas of Creation – follow the same procedure as I outlined for The Intuitive Tarot. Bear in mind the Devas are higher level energies and although they often give very grounded and specific advice, asking them about financial matters or whether your relationship will work, is probably not the best use of their power.

I should stress also that tarot and oracles are not ‘fortune telling’. Most readers today see the tarot as a tool to look at general trends and underlying issues in our lives, the options facing us, and suggested actions. Although the tarot certainly does give glimpses into the future, we are the arbiters of our own destiny.