Tarot Journal

Before beginning the discussion of divination, I need to mention the importance of keeping a tarot journal. This is a journal in which you record all of your readings, including the spread used, the cards that turn up, your analysis and interpretation of the spread, and any followup observations about the accuracy of the reading. You should also record anything that seems relevant about the context of the reading (e.g., your physical or mental state, astrological conditions) as well as any potentially synchronistic events that occur during the divination. If you have additional insights after the reading, you should go back and note them in your journal too. Thus your tarot journal becomes a repository of your experiences in divination, in which you can accumulate discoveries of both general and personal significance. By reviewing your journal periodically you will hone your card-reading skill. The journal is also important in other uses of the Pythagorean Tarot, including meditation and magic.

1. The Nature of Divination

The Practice of Divination

It would be worthwhile to reread
"Divination" in the Introduction before proceeding, since the theoretical discussion there provides a background for the practical issues discussed here.

From a psychological standpoint, in divination we are trying to arrange for a synchronistic event, a breakthrough of the archetypal world into the everyday world of time and place. Such a breakthrough will be more likely if several psychological preconditions are satisfied. First, the matter of the divination should be important, for a synchronistic event is more likely if there is a high charge of psychic energy, that is, more likely in an emotion-laden, tension-charged situation. Second, one or more archetypes of the collective unconscious should be activated, since in this way a constellated archetype becomes luminous and shines through, glowing with meaning. Thus the archetypal realm may break through into consciousness and physical reality simultaneously. As Albertus Magnus (1193-1290) explained, an Excessus Affectus (Excess of Feeling) is a prerequisite to any kind of magic. This intensification can be accomplished by a number of means, including repetition (hence the use of the question as a mantra) and the manipulation of physical objects coordinated with the archetypal realm (hence, the contemplation of the spread as a mandala); a mandala creates an intersection between the eternal and temporal realms. Third, the light of ego consciousness must be turned down, since it subtracts from the luminosity of the archetypes; the discursive ego must be silent, to give the archetypes (as autonomous spirits) an opportunity to speak. Once the breakthrough occurs, synchronistic events of all sort may take place, in the physical environment as well as in the cards. However, the "window to eternity" stays open for only a brief time, after which the ordinary temporal order resumes. (von Franz 157, 185-6, 200, 223, 225-7, 246, 262)

From a religious standpoint, we are in effect requesting an audience with the Gods. We are asking that They give us advice on a problem, reveal Their Will, or give us a glimpse into the future. It should be apparent that we should not present the Gods with trivial or frivolous questions. Further, we should not resort to divination before we have availed ourselves of more mundane means of problem solving. "Hermes will help you to get your wagon unstuck, but only if you push on it," as an old proverb says. So we should have a serious concern to present to the Gods and we should show Them we are sincere in our petition. One way to do this is to conduct the divination as a sacred ritual including prayers, vows and offerings to the Gods. Finally, the supplicant should submit himself to the Will and advice of the Gods.

Accepting the Will of the Gods is not the same, however, as a passive fatalism. A divination reveals Their Will as it is at a given moment of time. The future is not fixed, for Gods may change Their minds, and sometimes a supplicant can convince Them to do so. Also, a supplicant may enlist a God to work in his favor and intercede on his behalf with other Gods. Further, oracles are often conditional: "if you do this, such and such will happen," so the choice remains with us. Even when the Gods' minds are made up and they cannot be swayed, we are free to choose how we will raft the river of fate.

"The Master Speaks But Once"

We consider the advisability of repeating a Tarot reading to test its "reliability." The ancient oracles (and traditional usage of dice oracles etc.) were interpreted as petitions to the Gods for guidance, and were generally accompanied by prayers, vows, sacrifices etc. Under such conditions the God can easily determine the outcome of a cast without violating the laws of statistical probability, since the cast is a singular event. Impious moderners can imagine "testing" the God, by repeated casts, but as Jung says in his forward to the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I Ching (p. xxix), "To ask the same question a second time would have been tactless and so I did not do it: `the master speaks but once.'" Naturally, materialists will consider his attitude unscientific, and so it is - intentionally so. As Jung says, "The heavy-handed pedagogic approach that attempts to fit irrational phenomena into a preconceived rational pattern is anathema to me."

If we doubt the God and test the oracle, we deserve what we will likely get: the results predicted by chance. For to ask the very same question of the Gods a second time, merely for the sake of repetition, and not for greater insight or some other genuine need, is to try the Gods' patience. To perform a divination under "controlled conditions," without proper ritual and mental attitude, is sacrilegious. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances the Gods give misleading answers or no answers at all?

From a psychological standpoint, there is no such thing as repeating a divination, since each reading is unique. At very least the "psychic charge" decreases with repetition, which decreases the likelihood of a synchronistic event. Divination accesses "psychological probability," the expected evolution ("rolling out") of archetypal processes, which is completely different from the statistical probability of the sciences. Divination requires an unconscious "cut," isolating the qualitative character of a moment in its physical and psychic wholeness, whereas science requires a conscious "cut," which isolates a phenomenon from the rest of existence. (von Franz 44, 198-9, 223-4)

Importance of Ritual

I hope the foregoing has made clear the important role that ritual plays in divination. The exact form of the ritual is not so important as the sincerity with which it's conducted, and different magical and religious traditions will have their own methods; the divination ritual that follows has a Hellenic orientation. Some readers will be put off by its complexity. Certainly it is not necessary to include every aspect of it in every reading; the substance of the ritual should be suited to importance of the divination. However, before adopting a very casual approach to divination, I would remind the reader that in ancient times (before "the decline of the oracles"), supplicants would often travel many miles by foot to visit an oracular shrine, where they would make expensive sacrifices and significant vows before requesting an oracle. In deciding how much effort to put into a divination, you should ask yourself, "How badly do I want to know?"

2. Suggested Divination Ritual (Ritus Divinationis)

This divination ritual derives from a number of sources, including ancient divination practices, the theoretical discussions in von Franz' Number and Time, and practical suggestions in Gad's Tarot and Individuation (349-53), Blofeld's I Ching (ch. 4), Renee's Tarot Spells (241-4), Knight's Tarot and Magic (126-8) and "Book T," the Golden Dawn Tarot manuscripts (Regardie IX.29-31, 33-4, 46-7; Wang 103-108, 126), among others.

i. The Consecration (Consecratio)

The Divination Area (Templum Divinationis)

The divination should be performed in sacred space, which may be permanently consecrated (e.g. a temple or shrine) or established pro tempore for the purpose of a divination. Furthermore, the area should be clean and uncluttered, with subdued lighting and free of distractions. Pick a time and place so that the divination will not be interrupted; the presence of others beyond the reader and querent will probably interfere.

Within the sacred area is the Focus (Latin, altar hearth), the table upon which the divination is performed. Place on the Focus the following: the Deck in its cover or container, the spread cloth (if used), censer, candles and any other ritual instruments (e.g. wand or athame).

The Deck (Triumphi & Chartae)

The Tarot deck should be consecrated as a tool (see, for example, my
Lesser and Greater Tool Consecrations); thereafter it should be treated with respect, as would any sacred object (e.g. an athame or wand). It is often valuable to establish a bond with the deck by keeping it with you for at least a full day after consecration. It does not need to be consecrated more than once.

It is traditional to keep a Tarot deck wrapped in black silk, since black is a neutral color and keeps out extraneous influences. Or you may choose to keep it wrapped in some other clean cloth or to house it in a clean, attractive container that is not used for anything else. The point is to treat the deck with respect.

ij. The Preparation (Preparatio)

Formulating the Question (Descriptio Quaestionis)

The first and most important step in the divination is to formulate the question or request. Try to get to the essence of the matter; you are seeking the advice of the Gods, so ask what you really need to know. It is often worthwhile to formulate the problem in consultation with other people who can provide additional perspectives (e.g. the querent may do it in consultation with the reader).

Here are some general guidelines. Avoid either-or questions or questions about a future event at a specific time; the answer to such a question may be accurate but irrelevant. Better questions are "What will be the result of doing ...?" or "How may ... be accomplished?" Often the most useful request is "Comment upon ...," since it invites the God to offer the most relevant advice and doesn't force the response into a particular form. In any case, although formulating the question is important for your own clarification, you must expect the Gods to respond to what you need to know, even if it is not what you asked. Be open to Their gifts.

The question should be brief, so that it can be held in the mind easily; further, it is helpful, though by no means necessary, if it can be expressed metrically (so that it can serve as a sort of mantra). Write the question down so that it can be kept in sight.

Purification (Purificatio)

In preparation for divination it is helpful to fast for seven hours, or at least to abstain from heavy food. You may also want to deprive yourself of sleep the day before; this facilitates entering a liminal state in which your conscious mind is less likely to block the synchronistic event. Immediately before divination, take a lustral bath during which you contemplate the question. (If a bath is infeasible, at least wash your hands.) Don ceremonial robes for the divination itself. Do a preliminary grounding and centering.

iij. The Entry to Sacred Space (Introitus ad Templum)

If you do not have a permanent, consecrated ritual area, then create sacred space by casting a circle in your usual way. When you enter sacred space, leave outside all anger and resentment, love and hate, hope and fear, and all strong emotions, for they will interfere with the divination.

iv. The Opening Prayer (Preces)

Call upon the Gods, make an offering to Them, and pray that They reveal to you what you need to know regarding the question, which you should ask as previously formulated. Visualize the incense carrying your prayer and question up to the Heavens. Here is an example prayer:
We call You, Lord Apollo, Pythian,
the Ruler of the Delphic Oracle,
or by whatever name You would prefer.
Attend us and accept these offerings.
(pour libation, burn incense, etc.)
Be kind to us and send us lucid signs;
reveal the Will of Heaven so we may comply.
The problem that we bring to You is this:
(state the question as formulated)
Be kind to us, Apollo, Lord of Light.
In wisdom may we live by Your advice.
If a libation of Holy Water is poured, both reader and querent may also drink some of it, from a silver vessel, for inner purification. Continue to hold the question in your mind.

v. The Charging (Potestatem Facere)

First purify the deck. Hold it horizontally in your dominant hand and pass it to the right through the incense smoke while reciting your question. Next empower the deck. Hold it in your left hand (your right, if you are left-handed), and with your dominant hand, possibly holding a magical tool, make an invoking pentagram (top to lower left) over it. Then charge it while saying,
Apollo, Lord of Prophecy, I call!
The Art of Secret Wisdom is Your realm,
and therefore I request You place Your hand
upon these consecrated Cards of Art,
so I may better know the Hidden Truth,
and praise the vision of Your Shining Light.
You should pay careful attention to everything that happens from now on during the reading, not only with the cards but also in the surroundings. You are arranging for a synchronistic event to take place, which may manifest, both physically and psychically, in many ways. In addition to physical phenomena, you should note ideas, images, emotions, etc. that may enter your mind. This is especially true after the Cut, which is intended to trigger the synchronistic event.

vi. The Shuffle (Miscere)

Shuffle the cards in any way that's convenient. While you are shuffling, keep the question clearly in mind, and try to keep your mind clear of everything else. Stop shuffling when it feels right to do so.

Since medieval times it has been considered very significant if a card falls out of the deck during shuffling. "What falls, comes" (Quod cadit, venit). Such a card must be interpreted as defining the atmosphere of the entire divination. It should be shuffled back into the deck, and if it appears in the spread it should be considered especially significant. (Hamaker-Zondag, Tarot as a Way of Life, p. 105)

vij. The Cut (Secare)

The moment of the cut is the most crucial part of the divination, since it is the act that isolates the qualitative instant, which will be explicated in the spread. (In Latin, the momentum is simultaneously the featherweight that tips the scales, the impulse, the creative cause, the decisive change, and the instant in time.) Therefore, in preparation for the cut, you should quiet your mind, clear it of all thoughts and desires, and open yourself to a sign from the Gods.

When the moment feels right, cut the deck. The cut should be made with the left hand if you are right-handed and with the right if you are left-handed. The cut should be clean and decisive.

If you make a "false cut" (drop one or more cards), then replace them in the deck and reshuffle before cutting again. Another false cut indicates that this is an inauspicious time for divination. (The Golden Dawn manuscripts suggest that an important divination be delayed for at least twelve hours if a false cut occurs.)

viij. The Spread (Ducere)

Before spreading the cards, visualize in your mind the spread you will use, and think about the meaning of locations in the spread. Meditate on the spread as a mandala, that is, as a cosmological map of the archetypal realm. To this end, it is helpful if the Focus is covered with a cloth marked with the spread.

Place the cards face down in the spread in the prescribed order. (They are placed face down to prevent the reader's or querent's mental reaction to earlier cards from influencing the choice of later ones.) Then turn them all face up, again in the prescribed order, before beginning the interpretation. In this way you will able to see all the relationships among the cards without undue bias from the earlier cards.

ix. The Interpretation (Interpretatio)

Intuition is much more important than analysis for interpreting the cards. This intuition is built in part on prior analysis: study of the commentaries on the cards, meditation on their images and associated myths, and practice reading with the deck. However, the reading is a unique event in time and space, and so your intuition should also be used to incorporate the particulars of the reading into your interpretation (i.e., consider the circumstances of the reading, the people involved, etc.). Typically, some parts of the reading will have meaning only to the individual querent or reader. Don't be "bound by the book" (i.e. my commentaries).

If some aspects of the reading are unclear, it is possible to do a secondary reading. For example, if the problem is at a particular location in the spread, one to three additional cards may be dealt to that location in an attempt to clarify the corresponding aspect. Place them above the spread if the ambiguity is more pervasive. If the entire reading suggests another question or problem, then a complete additional reading can be performed, by addressing the new problem to the God, reshuffling the deck and respreading the cards.

The original spread, its interpretation, and any secondary spreads and their interpretations should all be recorded in writing to facilitate follow-up interpretation or reinterpretation. Some aspects of the reading may become clearer as events unfold.

x. The Closing Prayer (Gratiae)

When your divination is complete, offer thanks to the Gods for Their guidance. Burn incense, pour libation or make other offerings. Here is a typical prayer:
Apollo, gracious Lord of Oracles,
receive these offerings for all Your gifts,
and for the guidance You have granted me.
I gladly give You many heartfelt thanks,
for I am grateful for Your watchful care.
Then rewrap the cards, extinguish the candles, etc., and retire from sacred space.
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Last updated: Tue Jun 22 20:04:34 EDT 1999