Meditation and Magic

The Tarot may be used for many purposes besides divination; this page will consider briefly some of them. They may be divided into two broad categories, meditation, which seeks to deepen your understanding of the cosmos, and magic, which seeks some practical end. ("Meditation" is not limited to the familiar oriental techniques for quieting the mind, but is used here in its broad, original sense, from Latin meditatio, a thinking over, contemplation, practice, exercise, or preparation. It will be apparent in the following that there is no sharp line between magic and the more active meditative practices.)


We may distinguish the more passive kind of meditation, in which the card speaks to us, from the more active kind, in which we engage in a dialog. It is best to become thoroughly familiar with the cards through the more passive exercises before proceeding to more active work. The first exercises may be termed contemplation, for they are aimed at deepening your understanding of the cosmos as mapped in the structure of the Pythagorean Tarot. These exercises may be combined with visualization practice, which is discussed after contemplation.


I assume that you have already read the descriptions of the Major and Minor Arcana so that you have an overall understanding of the structure of the Pythagorean Tarot. The purpose of the contemplative exercises is to go deeper into the meanings of the individual cards, and there are several ways to go about this. The more disciplined way is to go through the cards systematically, and several approaches are discussed below. Such an program of study is necessary for a truly comprehensive understanding of the Pythagorean Tarot. It is also possible to select an individual card for study whenever it seems appropriate. This may be a card of particular interest for some reason, or it may be one chosen at random (by shuffling and cutting the deck), which is essentially doing a one-card divination to select a card for study. Eventually, however, all the cards should be studied.


Begin your study with the court cards, which are based on the four elements and the numbers from one to four. In first working through the courts, study them in the order they are described, that is, first the Kings in the four suits, then the Queens, and so forth. This is the order of descent, IOVE. For additional insight, go through the courts again, but in the order of ascent, EVOI, that is, from Pages to Kings. After you have also studied the trump and pip cards, you may want to go through the courts yet again, but grouped by suit. That is, do all the Wands, then all the Swords, etc. It all depends on how deeply you want to comprehend them. You can study four court cards per week for four weeks.

One purpose of studying the courts is to understand the elemental properties of the suits and how they interact with the four stages on manifestation represented by the ranks (IOVE). Therefore, on each day of study, lay out all the courts in four rows of four, from Kings above to Pages below, with Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles from left to right. Then, if necessary, review the introduction to the court cards in Minor Arcana. Next, read the discussion of the chosen card in the Minor Arcana, and memorize the verses for the court rank and suit. Finally, contemplate the image for several minutes (no more than 20) to increase your nonverbal understanding. When you are done, reread the discussion. Record any observations, insights etc. in your tarot journal (described in Divination). You can extend your understanding by reading about the deity represented by the court in a Greek mythology book; do this before your contemplation.


The main ideas to get from the study of the pip cards are the Pythagorean meanings of the numbers one to ten as they manifest in the four suits. Therefore, in first working through the pip cards, study them in numerical order, as they are described in the Minor Arcana, that is, first the Aces, then the Twos, etc. For additional insight, go through the pips again, but grouped by suit, that is, the Ace through the Ten of Wands, then the Ace through the Ten of Swords, etc. This will help you to understand the progression of the decad in each of the four realms represented by the suits. You can study one pip per day for forty days, or do four per week for ten weeks.

On each day of study, lay out all the pips in ten rows of four, from Aces down to Tens, with Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles from left to right. Then, if necessary, review the introduction to the pip cards. Next, read the discussion in the Minor Arcana of the chosen pip and memorize the verse for its number (you already know its suit's verse). Finally, contemplate the image for a few minutes (at most 20), and reread the discussion. Record in your tarot journal any ideas about additional interpretations, relations, correspondences, or anything else of importance that comes to you.


The purpose of studying the trumps is to deepen your understanding of the imagery and of the mythological and esoteric background for each trump. Work through them sequentially (trumps 0 to 21 and back to 0) and spend several days, spread over a week, on each.

On each day lay out the trumps in one of the cosmic spreads. Then read the description, interpretation and commentary on the chosen trump. As you do so it may be helpful to rearrange the trumps into different cosmic spreads to display the relationships discussed in the commentary. With the enhanced understanding derived from the commentary, go back and reread the description and interpretation. Memorize the verse for the trump. Next, contemplate the image (in its place in a cosmic spread) for several minutes (at most 20). When you are done, record in your tarot journal any insights you might have. Also, over the course of the week, be aware if contemplation of the trump seems to have colored your experiences or affected your dreams, and record these observations too.

For a deeper appreciation of the meaning of a trump, read the associated myths mentioned in the commentary and listed in the Guide for Reading Myths; then reread the commentary, description and interpretation. Eventually you may find it valuable to express your understanding by drawing and coloring your own versions of the trumps (a traditional exercise in the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn).

Cosmic Spreads

In a cosmic (or universal) spread, all the cards (or the Majors or Minors separately) are laid out in a pattern that displays significant relationships among the cards.

The best-known cosmic spread is the Tree of Life, in which the Major Arcana are placed on the 22 paths of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Unfortunately, there is no agreement on the correspondence between the trumps and the paths. The Golden Dawn system is quite popular, but it is uses the modern Waite sequence of trumps, so it is not very compatible with the Pythagorean Tarot, which uses the older Ferrara order. Of course, the Pythagorean Tarot can be used with the Tree of Life, if you prefer to work with it, by placing the trumps in the Golden Dawn sequence. However, the structure of the Pythagorean Tarot will be more apparent when arranged in Pythagorean patterns. These have been presented in the Introduction to the Major Arcana: the Fire Hexactys, the Water Hexactys, the Double Hendecad (Double Keraunos) and the Heptagram of the Major Arcana (the latter being most analogous to the Tree of Life). Each of these displays a different set of relationships among the trumps (as explained in the Introduction to the Major Arcana).

When you have become familiar with the cards of the Pythagorean Tarot separately, it is worthwhile to represent them in relation. Lay them out in one of the cosmic spreads and explore the connections that are revealed (more than can be described in the commentaries). You may also want to investigate new cosmic spreads of your own design.


After you are well familiar with the Pythagorean Tarot, with each card and its relation to others of the same kind (trump, court, pip), you can proceed to exercises in visualization, which are a necessary skill for the process of active inquiry.

If you have not previously developed your powers of visualization, then it will be best to start with the simpler images of the Minor Arcana before tackling the complexities of the Majors. By starting with the pip cards you will be starting with the simplest images; indeed, the pips are not much more complicated than the Tattwas, which are used for visualization training in the Golden Dawn and related traditions. Work through all the pips in rank order: all the Aces, then all the Twos, etc. Then you can move on to the courts and finally to the trumps. Disciplined practice is required to build up the necessary skills.

If you already have good visualization skills, you can work on the cards in any order you choose, although it is generally desirable to do it in some systematic way. If you have trouble visualizing a complex image, then drop back to practicing on simpler ones to strengthen your powers.

The general procedure for visualization practice is as follows. Set up the card near a plain white surface. Study the card carefully, recalling the symbology, which you have studied, and the appropriate verses, which you have memorized. Then shift your focus to take in the whole card and observe it for about twenty seconds. Quickly divert your gaze to the white surface and you will see an inverted after-image. After a moment, close your eyes and try to see the image (reconstructing it, if necessary) in your mind's eye. When you have done as well as you can, open your eyes and you will probably discover that you have some things wrong. You can repeat the exercise a couple more times, but don't overdo it, because it is fatiguing and visualization ability grows gradually.


Once you are thoroughly familiar with the symbology of the Pythagorean Tarot and have good visualization skills, you are prepared for the more active use of the images known as
projection, pathworking and identification. Practice of these exercises will result eventually in what is called traditionally "imprinting the Tarot on the aura."


In projection exercises you imaginatively enter a tarot card so that you can experience and interact with its energies directly. In this way you acquire a deeper, experiential understanding of the Arcanum.

Although you may project into any Arcanum for a particular purpose, eventually you will want to work through them all in a systematic way (as described above under Contemplation). When you work through the Major Arcana in order, you should begin with 1.Magician, since Hermes is a natural guide into and out of the nether regions; save 0.Fool for last. Other trumps may be natural guides for you, if they represent one of your patron deities or seem to invite you into their realm. You can also do a one-card divination (shuffle and cut) to let the trumps select a guide for you.

The procedure for projection is as follows. Lay out all the card of the same kind (trumps, courts, pips) as your selected card. For the trumps, use one of the cosmic spreads; for the courts, four rows of four; for the pips, ten rows of four (see Contemplation for spreads). Set up the selected card and contemplate it as a whole; don't try to analyze its symbols. (With sufficient practice in contemplation and visualization you will not need the physical card, but will be able to construct it from memory in your mind's eye. However, it never hurts to use the physical card.)

After a few minutes close your eyes and construct the Arcanum in your mind's eye, as you have done in the visualization practice. When the image is complete and stable, allow it to grow in size and to become a doorway through which you can step. Mentally ask permission, and if the way does not seem to be barred, step into the card. Say something definite like "I enter" (Lat. ineo, pronounced IN-eh-oh; Grk. eiseimi, pron. ACE-ay-mih) quietly or in your mind. (Always use the same formula, so that its purpose will become established.)

Experience the Arcanum: don't just see the sights, but also hear the sounds and feel the environment. You may discover new things (figures or objects) within the Arcanum that are not pictured on the physical card; do not banish them, but take special note of them. (This is more likely with the pips, since they are more abstract in design.) You may approach and address any figure in the Arcanum, not just the deities, but also the animals, plants, rocks, streams, etc.; everything is alive with a spirit. You may ask them questions or engage in a dialog; the topic may be a specific matter of concern or general information, such as "What do I need to learn about this Arcanum?" These figures may challenge or test you, either to see if you are ready for what they have to reveal, or to guide your own inquiry.

When you are done or the figures seem to have withdrawn, give thanks and exit the Arcanum by the same way you entered, backing out through the doorway. Firmly say something definite like "I exit" (Lat. exeo, pr. EX-eh-oh; Grk. exeimi, pr. EX-ay-mih) to ensure that you have fully returned to the mundane world. Open your eyes wide, clap your hands, stamp your feet, stretch or yawn, to fully ground yourself in physical reality; if necessary, eat something.

Record in your journal everything you learned in your visit and all your impressions. Also notice over the following days if the Arcanum seems to be affecting your life and record this in your journal. You should subject your experience to both conscious analysis and intuition in order to understand your visions with some clarity. This understanding may not come at first; additional insights may come after days, weeks or months.

Does projection reveal the secrets of the cosmos? Or only the suppressed contents of your mind? The question is a false dichotomy stemming from a dualistic world-view. Projection allows you to journey simultaneously inward to the psychic order and outward to the cosmic order, for they are two sides of the same order. The two meet (like the body of the Pythagorean Y) in the collective unconscious, which is simultaneously subjective and objective.

Projection can also be used during divination to get additional insight on a card that has appeared in a spread: enter the card and ask what it means in that reading. (Projection should not be used out of laziness, however; the gods favor those who use their own brains!)


Traditional pathworking depends on a correspondence between the trumps and the paths between the Sefirot on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. However, as mentioned above (Cosmic Spreads), these correspondences have been made in different ways. Further, the Pythagorean Tarot is not especially suited to the Tree of Life because it uses the older Ferrara sequence, and so one must decide whether to assign the trumps in this order or in one of the conventional orders (Lévi's, Waite's or another). For this and other reasons the Sefirot do not play a major role in the Pythagorean Tarot. However, none of this should discourage you from experimenting with the Pythagorean Tarot on the Tree of Life, if you are motivated to do so. For discussions of traditional pathworking see, for example, Gray (Mag. Rit. Meth., pp. 122-4), Knight (Tarot & Mag., ch. 6) and Richardson (Mag. Gateways, ch. 7).


In the identification exercises one enters into a Minor Arcanum even more intimately than by projection. (These practices are based on Gray, Mag. Rit. Meth., pp. 124-8.) Once again, one may work through the cards systematically or select them in some other way.

Exercise 1.
In the first identification exercise, you identify with one of the "courtiers" (deities depicted on a court card). In this way you can temporarily take on some of the personality characteristics of that courtier.

First lay out the court cards in a four by four spread to review their relationships. Then remove all but the court with which you will identify. Next visualize the selected court card as in the projection exercise and let it become a door. In this case, however, you are inviting the courtier into your world rather than entering into his or hers. Say or think a definite formula of invocation, such as "Come!" (age, pron. AH-geh, in ancient Greek or Latin).

Allow the deity to enter and infuse you with his or her spirit. When you feel the change take place, begin to experience the world through the courtier's eyes. If this courtier represents a personality aspect that you would like for yourself, either temporarily or permanently, then ask that some of his or her qualities be left in you.

When you have experienced as much of this energy as you want, be sure to give thanks and ask the courtier to leave. Firmly say or think a banishing formula such as "Begone!" (apage, pron. AHP-ah-geh, in anc. Greek or Latin). Feel the courtier return through the door into the Arcanum and consciously let the image dissolve in your mind. Ground afterwards (e.g., by clapping, stamping, eating), which is especially important in this exercise. As always, record your experiences in your journal and analyze their meaning for you.

Exercise 2.
In the second exercise one investigates (first hand!) the relations between courtiers. Select two courtiers, either randomly, or to represent a relation of interest, or by working systematically through all pairs. You will identify with one of the courtiers and explore your relation to the other.

First lay out the courtiers in the four by four spread; contemplate their relations and then remove all but the two of interest. Next identify yourself with the chosen courtier by the procedure already described. Then, while you are identified with the deity, use the projection procedure to enter the Arcanum of the other courtier. Try to experience and understand how the two courtiers relate; have a discussion. Remember that if the situation becomes too intense or uncomfortable, you can always get out by throwing the "banishing switch" (e.g. "Begone!").

When you are done, reverse the projection by leaving the other courtier's Arcanum and reverse the identification by sending "your" courtier back into his or her Arcanum. Ground yourself thoroughly and explore your experiences in your journal.

Exercise 3.
The third exercise involves two court cards and a pip card, which represents the situation in which the courtiers find themselves. This may be an actual situation in which you find yourself or a hypothetical one that you want to explore. Or it may be selected randomly, in which case you are letting the cards tell you what you need to learn about.

First, lay the courtiers in a four by four spread; also lay out in a vertical column beside the courtiers all the pips of the suit of the chosen pip (i.e. if you selected Three of Cups, lay down the Ace through Ten of Cups). Take a few moments to contemplate the relations among the courts and among the pips, and then remove all but the chosen three. Place your courtier to the left, the other to the right and the pip in the middle.

Identify with the first courtier as before, and open the door of the second as in projection. Then project yourself and the other courtier into the situation represented by the pip card. Experience the situation as it manifests between these two courtiers (and don't forget your "banishing switch"!). After you are done exploring how these personalities interact in the situation, back out by reversing all of the above. Do your journal work.

Exercise 4.
A fourth exercise, suggested by Gray (pp. 130-1), could be called "the Four P's." This is because the trumps represent 22 Principles, the courts represent 16 People, the aces represent four Powers (the Elements), and the remaining pips represent 36 Practices. By selecting one card from each of these four groups you can explore (by identification and projection) an archetypal relationship. This exercise can be used with the Pythagorean Tarot, in which, however, the aces are more of a kind with the other pips.

These are the primary identification exercises with the Minor Arcana. I do not think it is advisable to practice identification with the Major Arcana. They represent archetypal forces that are "too big" for mortals. At very least it may lead to psychological inflation (see 0.Fool).

Tarot Magic

Tarot magic is based on an observation (well-known from the work of Jung) that events can be explained by either or both of two connecting principles: causality and synchronicity. Since a tarot reading is part of a synchronistic event connecting the inner and outer worlds (see pages
Introduction and Divination), a tarot spread can be used to effect changes in both of these worlds. The basic idea is that the spread and the state of the universe are synchronistically connected; changing either can alter the other.

However, for this procedure to work, it's necessary that the divination be genuinely synchronistic (see Divination for advice on how this can be brought about). Also, the magic is most likely to be successful if you have a deep understanding and identification of the Arcana because they are the "ingredients" of your spell. Therefore, practice with the meditation exercises is an important prerequisite to tarot magic.

There are two general approaches to tarot magic, which may be called reconstruction and construction. Since reconstruction is simpler and safer, I will discuss it first. [This is a brief introduction to tarot magic. Janina Renee's Tarot Spells (Llewellyn 1990) has a good general discussion and many useful spells.]

A general procedure for reconstructive tarot magic is as follows. Do a preliminary reading on the situation of concern. Analyze it carefully, using your reason and intuition, and try to determine the minimum changes to the spread that would improve the situation. Small, precisely targeted modifications are generally more effective than sweeping changes. Ask yourself, "Which one card is most important to change?" This is the planning stage; take your time with it; it's important. It might be necessary to do additional readings to get more information or inquire about potential changes. (Don't delay too long, however; the universe is in flux!)

When you are prepared for the magical operation, take the cards from the original spread and any additional cards that you need for the changes; place them on your altar. Be sure you have enough room on or near your altar for your spread. First, prepare for the magical operation in your usual way (e.g. lustral bath, circle casting) and ask for divine assistance in the working. Then say something like "This is the situation as I understand it," and lay out the cards in the spread that resulted from your preliminary reading. It's worthwhile to verbalize your understanding of the reading as you lay the cards. Contemplate the spread again to make sure you comprehend it or to get additional insights. Then ask the gods for guidance and say something like, "If it be best for all that is, may this condition change like this." Next, with will and concentration make each change in the spread, as you have previously determined them. If at some point it seems that a change is not right, you have two choices: (1) terminate the operation until you can do further analysis, or (2) make a change, different from that which you planned, guided by your understanding and the gods. In the latter case you may need the remainder of the tarot pack. It is also the more risky choice, but potentially more effective, since you may be in the cusp of a synchronistic event.

When you have reconstructed the spread, contemplate it and internalize it in your mind. Then direct it outward into the world with will and intent. You may state firmly something like, "If this be best, so may it be!" Complete the magical operation in your usual way. It is worthwhile to keep the altered spread where you can see it, and to regularly send additional energy into its manifestation. You can burn candles or incense with it too. You may even make a small drawing of the spread to keep with you as a talisman. Record in your journal the operation as well as your evaluation of its effects as they occur.

The general procedure for constructive tarot magic is quite similar and can be explained briefly. In this case we design from scratch a layout reflecting the desired outcome. Pick an appropriate spread; simpler ones are usually better, since they are more comprehensible and easier to visualize. Next, spread out the tarot deck face up and let your intuition and understanding guide your choice of the cards to fill in the spread. Now look again at the spread but without preconceived ideas, as though it were the result of a reading. Make sure it says what you want it to say. When you are satisfied, begin the magical operation as described for the reconstructive procedure.

It is probably unnecessary to say that these operations should not be undertaken thoughtlessly or frivolously. To try to engineer the "perfect life" can turn out like Midas' Touch! The gods have many lessons to teach us, and there may be great potential for growth in a situation that looks undesirable. By changing it for the better in the short term, you may miss an important long-term opportunity. Thus it is often better to use the tarot to learn how to "go with the flow," or to divert it in small ways, rather than to try to change the course of the river. Caveat magus!

Return to Pythagorean Tarot homepage

Send comments about this page
Last updated: Thu Jul 1 17:50:28 EDT 1999