Because Tarot

Because Tarot

A window in St Michael's Mount, Cornwall.

A window in St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall.

It’s probably cheating to say the tarot would be one of my desert island books.

But, if you choose a deck with an inbuilt mythology of sufficient sophistication, then you’re effectively bringing an entire magical corpus with you.

It pleases me to think of the tarot’s probable origins among the games and petty pastimes of the north Italian bourgeoisie. A little fable of medieval courtly life, everything in its correct place.

(On the flip side, it does however slightly concern me that its medieval symbol set is once again becoming more relevant, rather than less, as the west slides back into an economic serfdom from which there does not seem to be any escape.)

I like tarot’s deceptive smallness. The action of shuffling and laying out a few cards is humble. You are not on a mountaintop, shouting at the storm to answer you.

Just walking over to where I keep my (always-too-small) collection of decks, selecting the most appropriate one and making a space for a reading is enough to drop my blood pressure. It is calming, like silently drinking tea. Even as I am clearing and setting up the cards, my mind is already looking at the situation under review from different perspectives.

This is learned behaviour. It’s one of the reasons I would, and do, recommend the tarot to anyone of any spiritual persuasion, right up to materialism. They force a time-out. You can’t continue thinking along the same track that has stumped you because you are taking a few moments to do something different.

Even if you think there is nothing to it beyond a slightly more camp version of Oblique Strategies, there’s enough value just in that to recommend them. It’s like brainstorming for one. (Except when it isn’t.)



For those of us who think/know that there probably is something more to it, a solitary tarot reading provides a canvas for experimentation. The little piece of tech I came away from my ritual psychedelic experience with, the vine portal, appears to work extremely well in ‘opening up’ to ‘higher realms’ prior to shuffling the cards. (Lots of personally problematic words in that last sentence, but you know what I mean.)

Because I am me, I’ve been looking through great chunks of the declassified documents from the Stargate Project. There was (is?) an experience that remote viewers would have at the very beginning of a session, once they had been given the target coordinates. It was called the gestalt.

Essentially, this is an instantaneous ‘download’ of around 80% of the information they received to do with the target. And actually, this created some challenges. Our propensity to ‘fill in’ the remaining part of the picture -what Ingo Swann called the ‘analytical overlay’- decreased the overall accuracy of the session.

We may reasonably hypothesise that the ‘gestalt’ is the arrival of a future scenario into your present consciousness, as per Peter J Carroll:

A General Metadynamic including magic would have to offer an explanation of only divination and enchantment, for these lie at the root of all magical phenomena.

Divination presents the simplest case. If at some point in the future the diviner can know the answer to a question, then that answer can feed back from the future to the present. However because the universe behaves with a degree of randomness and chaos, several different futures can feed back to the diviner’s present to give mixed results. In some cases the diviner’s choice of one particular item of feedback could even act to increase the likelihood of that future becoming more probable. Thus divination can work as enchantment by self-fulfilling prophecy.


Something similar to the remote viewers’ gestalt seems to happen to me as I turn over the cards. Usually about one or two in, the overall ‘message’, the reading’s gestalt, just lands. Where tarot certainly has an advantage over solo remote viewing (which isn’t a thing) is it contains an in-built mechanism to assist you in avoiding any potential analytical overlay… you are forced into a sequence by turning over and examining the cards one by one. (Analytical overlay is far less relevant when divining about your own life, anyway. Unless you are in the habit of losing some of your collection of vintage Soviet spy planes in the Congo. I don’t know your life. )

These similar gestalt experiences lead me to the operating hypothesis that both activities represent manifestations of an aspect of normally functioning human consciousness. I struggle to fit the tarot into an exclusively ‘spiritual’ structure like the Tree of Life or spirit-based explanatory model; contact with spirit guides, etc.

Note, that this does not preclude the independent existence of the forms or beings depicted on the cards themselves.

Indeed, it is precisely this possibility that leads to the tarot being more than the sum of its parts. The procession of symbols from the beginning of the Major Arcana to the final suit, particularly when it is aligned with a ‘big’ enough mythology like the Grail legend or Middle Earth or whatever your flavour, offers the possibility of a sustained, deep engagement with the world.

Continued use of an appropriate mythological motif builds both an intuitive and symbolic way of engaging with the world… you find yourself in the position of being able to ‘snatch’ fragments of the narrative from your waking life. That guy you see from the bus looks like the guy on the Three of Swords, the Hierophant looks like your landlord.

Not only does this coincide with a pleasing increase in synchronicity, it also seems to unpack backwards into the symbols themselves, each card becoming an infinity of mirrors.


This final aspect is why you shouldn’t be overly concerned about returning to the book after you have diligently calibrated your oracle. My two most-used decks have excellent, exhaustive, proper books with them, providing much detail on each card and what it means. It’s astonishing how many times you can read over a description of the symbol until it becomes relevant and suddenly boom. Prophecy.

If the companion book is good, there is more to be gained than lost. Resorting to it when necessary also has the pleasing side effect of improving your ability to recognise what is genuinely your intuition and what is just bluster. Which is an essential step on the accidental road to Adepthood.

Be this thy task, to see how each card springs necessarily from each other card, even in due order from The Fool unto the Ten of Coins.

Then, when thou know’st the Wheel of Destiny complete, may’st thou perceive THAT Will which moved it first. [There is no first or last.]

And lo! Thou art past through the Abyss.

- The Book of Lies

Tarot. Love it.



Add yours
  1. 1

    The gestalt as ‘normally functioning human consciousness’–I like that phrasing. One of the reasons I go to Tarot is precisely because it seems to tap into that general human capacity region of things rather than being locked into a ‘proprietary’ system. It makes it very flexible and wide ranging and only gets more so when you develop a repertoire of spreads.

    While I fall into routines where I’ll read with one deck a lot more than others, I make a point of grabbing a different one every so often just to keep myself from falling into a semantic rut. My first deck* was the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot and I still have a serious bias toward the Crowley-Harris family of decks, but that leaves things pretty wide open.

    *Okay, excluding the surely hideous-looking one I drew with markers and laminated by hand…damn, though,I’m still nostalgic for it.
    Ian´s last blog post ..72, or Zones of Proximity

  2. 2

    Oh synchronicity, how I love thee. Gordon, if you haven’t read it already, might I recommend Tim Powers’ novel _Last Call_ to you? I just finished re-reading it last night (it’s not exactly one of my comfort books, but close), and your post synced plot in several places. And I think you’d like (at least most of) it a great deal.

  3. 3

    @Ian Yeah, I’ve had a copy of the NOVT for more than ten years, and it goes through varying levels of usage.

    Whilst I really, really like it (picked up my copy in New Orleans so it’s talismanic in a way), I’ve never been able to grokk the court cards. They always send me scurrying for the (excellent) book. But even then, sometimes… nothing. It’s not really my current, that’s what I chalk it up to.

    @Stacey I’ve read loads of Tim Powers but not that one yet. My favourite will always, always be On Stranger Tides.

  4. 4

    Nice post, Gordon. It’s good to get a deeper look into your thoughts on Tarot.

    I know how it feels to look at the deck collection and think there needs to be more. There’s always room for more. My favorite deck is the Steampunk Deck by Aly Fell and Barbara Moore. It’s almost the right blend of mystical with modern thanks to the Steampunk decor. I’m also pretty fond of Ciro Marchetti’s decks. I get nice results from the Legacy deck. I just turn to my Steampunk deck when I’m taking someone’s money, or I really really need to pull the veil back for more than a peek.

    My favorite method is a 3 card spread. No particular meaning to the positions expect viewing the middle card as the central issue or hub of the other two. Bridge the cards. Look for the ways they play with each other. Are figures in one card looking away from another? Do they appear to be handing each other something? Do the backgrounds flow? Are the elemental forces in alignment? It’s fun to build a narrative this way.

    I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Marcus Katz, Tali Goodwin, and Janine Worthington by being part of Tarosophy Tarot Professionals Association. I also have been one of their social media managers for a little over a year now. Marcus has taken what used to be my very basic Tarot skills, and helped me shape them into a much deeper skill.

    I agree, brother. LOVE Tarot!
    Lonnie´s last blog post ..Jason Collins IS A Hero

  5. 5

    Re: NOVT: I’m not sure if that deck is quite on anyone’s current. It has always been a weird and likable amalgam of currents for me. I know what you mean about the Court crads–cutting my teeth on the NOVT is what taught me to start thinking of court cards as configurations of action rather than as characters (something like: Hounsi are patterns of reception, Mambos patterns of transformation, La Place’s patterns of opening, Houngans as patterns of control).
    Ian´s last blog post ..What is that thing that I do?

  6. 6

    Well, the cards *can* be used in the way everybody normally uses them.
    But they weren’t made to do this originally.

    Funny, the first poster who comments puts up a blog post about 72.
    Bam…sync happening with nobody noticing.

    “As a portion of time gathered by Thoth, the path of Jacob’s ascent, and the names of God, they also give to time an order and a rhythm that disciplines the chaos. The time in which Sirius-Isis comes into her fullness, the intercalary days, are extracted according the power of 72 and it is through the application of God’s names that many Kabbaists undertake the healing of the world.Strange, isn’t it, that the disruption of the order and the repair of it occur under the same arc?”

    The cards are based on a game from India (4 kings), but had a specific “puzzle” encoded in them by the Greeks.

    God’s name indeed!

    Origins of the Tarot Deck (1988):

    I won’t (totally) spoil it for you. You’ll have to read the whole thing.
    Bonus: You get to find out where the number 666 crops up in our reality. It’s not from the Tarot though.

  7. 7

    Hey Gordon.

    You pulled out a big “aha” moment from me just now when you mentioned the tarot being a sort of spell kit or tool for manifestation as much as it is an interface through which you can get answers.. though correct me if I misinterpreted what you meant by that.

    But of course even in the case of the tarot being used for magic it makes sense.. the space-time fabric is still just a unit, a big old glob of both the tangible and abstract, form and essence giving out an illusion of diversity and maybe even time… said glob includes the tarot cards.. and while repetition throughout history deems the tarot as a divinatory thing, it’s also a set of symbols that resonate with, and can be used to manipulate, the things they represent… you know, kind of like in a spell.

    We know that the astral-light, as levi put it, dictates the shape in which a manifestation or event takes. Whether it’s a spell or a reading, I would say that what the tarot does is give you a sneak peak in how the astral light is forming, whether the designer of the end result is the magician or just the universe running its course.

    pardon the shmeel.. but I just wanted to know if I grasped the concept correctly.

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