This summer a series of surreptitious, unexpected, and synchronous happenings unfolded with regards to tarot. Somewhere along the line, late May, I had the inspiration to get my hands on decks that presented/portrayed a different approach to my usual Marseille Tarot and cartomancy preference. Midst attempting to wrap my head around basic astrology I thought I could use tarot to help me along the way. I already had M.M. Meleen’s Tabula Mundi deck, including the decan cards, plus the black and white Hermetic Tarot. Both these decks place a significant emphasis on the planetary, zodiacal, and decanic correspondences within the 78 cards. I turned to C.C. Zain’s The Sacred Tarot whilst also reading Christine Payne Towler’s guidebook to the Tarot of the Holy Light.
What I began was a search for a coherent system of reading planetary relationships that I could use as an added layer (when I desired to do so) when reading the cards. Upon starting, I immediately realized two main things.
First, the planetary and zodiacal correspondences in the majors, within esoteric tarot (which is my focus here), have as a central component the Kircher Tree, its ten spheres and its pathways. The Kircher tree itself varies in organization depending on a particular tarot deck’s esoteric leanings. There’s the Golden Dawn from which stem the Rider-Waite-Smith and the Crowley-Harris Thoth. Then there is the continental milieu with Papus, Oswald Wirth, Etteilla, et al. The one point all these systems have in common is that within the framework of the 78 cards, each coheres and weaves a specific network of correspondences that stages inner transformations (mutations/movements) that contextualize the whole. It is self-referential.
The Tarot is a deduction of the sideral book of Henoch, who is Henochia; it is modelled from the astral wheel of Athor, which is As-taroth, resembling the Indian ot-tara, the polar bear or arc-tura of the north; it is the major force (tarie) upon which is based the solidity (ferrale) of the world and the sideralfirmament of the earth; consequently, like the polar bear, called the chariot of the sun, the chariot of David and of ARTHUR, it is the Greek luck (tuché), the Chinese destiny (tiko), the Egyptian chance (tiki), the fate (tika) of the Romanies; and the stars, as they incessantly revolve round the polar bear, reveal to the earth ostentation and misery, light and shade, heat and cold; whilst from them flow the good and evil, the love and hatred, which form the happiness (ev-tuchié) and the misfortune (dis-tuchié) of men. In truth Sephora is one of the harmonies in that triad s. f. r., which united form the light (Sapher), the number (Sipher), and the word (Sephora) of the Hebrews, from the Sphere of the Universe. From this sphere, the zodiac the book which contains it, the stars the numbers and letters which explain it, the Anaks have drawn their Tara, the Gypsies their Tarot, the Phoenicians their As-tharot, the Egyptians their Athor, and the Hebrews their Thora. –Tarot of the Bohemians, Sacred Texts Archive.
Moreover, as I mentioned, within these esoteric approaches to the tarot exist variations, a different planetary correspondence here, an elemental variation there, etc. An example of this is found, from my small collection of decks, with the Tarot of the Holy Light, a distinctly continental pack, and the Hermetic Tarot, which arises out of the British esoteric tangent.
The point I want to make here are the different zodiacal and decan correspondences, which in turn change the elemental attributions. If you zoom in a bit you can see the planetary and zodiacal symbols in each of the cards. Tarot of the Holy Light has them all in the lower right hand corner, and The Hermetic has the symbols woven into the art of each card.
The second, and overarching, revelation, is that what I sought had no concrete answer outside myself. Meaning, there is no one universal approach to astrological correspondences within the tarot. I knew this in principle, but now I apprehended this and understood this in praxis.
Let’s look, as an example, at C.C. Zain’s The Sacred Tarot.
If you notice the glyphs on top of the picture frame in each of the cards, the astrological correspondences differ significantly from what we in the tarot community are accustomed to working with. Death as Aries? The Emperor as Scorpio? Justice as Capricorn? The Hermit or Sage as Aquarius? They all have interesting points and reasoning behind the why of these associations, nonetheless. With Zain’s approach to the tarot there is an emphasis on the astrological and numerical narrative within the deck. Typically, the majors mirror their related cards, meaning the Chariot as the 7th Arcanum will be related to the 7s in the minors and the Tower will also refer to the Chariot in some way as numerically 1+6=7. The coherence behind Zain’s approach and therefore the Egyptian Tarot, the deck that corresponds with this book is found here:
Jumping into the minor suits, I find the same quandary of correspondences unfold. The general consensus is to go with elementary associations: wands=fire, cups=water, swords=air, coins=earth. Again, I perceive this is due in part to the particular astrological foundation within the framework of the tarot pack. The minors each have decan attributions, which themselves, due to the sign within which the decan resides, have an elemental and seasonal component. Moreover there is also the inclusion of numerology, as each of the minors correspond to a numbered sphere in the Kircher tree. Variations occur, naturally, as each Tarot pack under the wing of esotericism calls on a specific school of thought•, which vary from place to place. See the Gran Tarot Esoterico or the Crystal Tarot by Elisabetta Trevisan for a divergent take on the minor and major astrological and elemental associations.
Truth be told, this search I began led to much more than I had originally bargained for, yet it also affirmed for me what I knew in passing only. There are no concrete UNIVERSAL TRUTHS within the Tarot. I sought a tarot deck I could use to understand astrology and the way the planets and signs and even houses interacted. How to verbalize these interactions and see them in images. What I discovered for myself is that if I want a deck that speaks fluidly astrologically, I have to come at it from that angle first, instead of the tarot angle. In other words, I have to learn for myself how the planets and signs and their houses interact and speak, before I land upon a deck that coheres my understanding of these concepts. It is a matter of learning the language of astrology then weaving the language with the tarot.
Despite my meandering wanderings in this labyrinth of significations, I did come upon very interesting tarot decks. The Gill Tarot came to my attention by chance, through the Reader’s Studio (I was watching recaps). It is a deck with a solid basis on the Kircher Tree, leaning toward the Thoth in the minors. Despite my general lack of interest in the Kabbalah, especially with regards to tarot, this particular deck has an unpretentious air that endeared me, tugging at the sensorial parts of me. The colors pop and move, while the aesthetic is sweet without being silly.
In my search for different astrological correspondences within tarot decks that resonated with me, I was looking for comparisons and options, my interest in Tarot of the Holy Light was reignited as well. I remember years ago when this deck first came out amidst a flurry of fans. At the time I was curious, but found the deck completely out of my depth, as in, it was more complex than I was willing to dive into at that moment. As the deck resurfaced within my attention, I decided to seize the chance and grabbed a copy (actually two, the black and white and the deluxe color version).
Additionally, I did a bit of house clean-up. As I pondered on my small deck collection I realized that there is a particular coherence I prefer in my decks, an internal reflexive mirroring, one that is somewhat aligned to the general gist of the esoteric packs, specifically with decks not related to the Tarot de Marseille school. If a deck has an esoteric framework, namely astrological, I prefer it to be solid and overt, functioning as a nexus around which all other factors, such as the art, circumambulate. This creates an overt mirrored narrative within the deck which I like.† This revelation led to a rearrangement within my collection, and I traded a couple decks in favor of others. Another gem uncovered in my search is that I really do love, dearly, Pamela Coleman Smith’s & Waite’s creation, the classic Rider Waite Smith tarot pack. I discovered I loved it more than it’s derivatives, which is somewhat of a surprise for me. I love Pixie’s art, it has a softness and a subtlety akin to the sentiment in the Gill Tarot, which really tugs at my emotional strings. So now, aside from the Centennial Smith Waite tarot pack, I also have The Albano Waite pack in my collection. I’m hoping to add a vintage University Books Rider Waite Smith deck to my collection someday.
I conclude all this with the assertion that one’s journey of learning with the tarot is never over, there is always more to learn, more to apprehend and understand. Moreover, in the midst of one’s journey there is a point wherein one comes to the conclusion that there is a (minor t) truth one will prefer over others. One which resonates with one’s approach to divining, to reading the cards, and to understanding the images. Curiously enough, as part of Runesoup’s member community, the new upcoming course was just recently decided (through a member voting process), and guess what topic won out? Tarot. Perhaps, my summer exploration was a lead up to this?
- The Sacred Tarot: The Art of Card Reading and The Underlying Spiritual Science, C.C. Zain, The Church of Light Press, Los Angeles, 2005.
- Tarot of the Holy Light: A continental Esoteric Tarot Vol. 1, Christine Payne-Towler, illustrated by Michael Dowers, Noreah/Brownfield Press, 2015. Kindle.
- Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot, designed by Vicki Brewer, created by The Church of Light, US Games Systems, 2009.
• Lodge within the western magical tradition.
† For an example of this, see M.M. Meleen’s Tabula Mundi tarot.