A Guide to Understanding and Using Tarot Cards.

Page Contents.


Purpose of Tarot Cards


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Tarot cards are a tool for gaining insight into the mind, in cases where normal introspection is blocked by repression and self-censorship mechanisms. Sometimes, simply talking to another person is sufficient to bypass these mechanisms--the other person can see and reveal to us what we hide from ourselves. In other cases, the other person's repression and self-censorship mechanisms are as much a problem as our own--it is for these cases that Tarot cards are particularly useful. The advantage of using Tarot cards versus other props--such as tea leaves, or Rorschach ink blots, or cards other than Tarot cards, or the querent's palm, to cite just a few examples--is that Tarot cards provide a better map of the human condition than these other props.

How Tarot cards are used depends on the reader--the following is but one possibility. Reader and querent discuss the querent's problem. Querent then formulates a query. Reader shuffles, deals out three cards, contemplates for a few seconds, then recites a story based on the three cards--this story answers the query. While reciting, the reader should try to keep the conscious mind still and allow thoughts to well up spontaneously, thereby bypassing the repression and self-censorship mechanisms of both the querent's mind and their own.

The query should be spiritual, rather than material, since neither the Tarot nor any other psychic discipline is of much value concerning material queries, except insofar as a material query is associated with a related spiritual query. Spiritual refers to what is inside the querent's mind. Material refers to what is outside the querent's mind, including everything that can be perceived with the senses and whatever is in the minds of other people besides the querent. An example of a material question is: "Does my boyfriend still love me?" This is a material question because it concerns the contents of a mind other than that of the querent. An example of a mixed material and spiritual question is: "Will me and my boyfriend break up soon?" This question is material to the extent that the answer depends on what is going on the boyfriend's mind, and spiritual to the extent that the answer depends on what is going on the querent's mind--a Tarot reading can only give guidance concerning the spiritual aspect of the question. Examples of purely spiritual questions are: "Why do I doubt that my boyfriend still loves me? How would I feel if my boyfriend left me? Do I want my boyfriend to leave me? Am I trying to drive him off? Why did I choose a boyfriend I knew would eventually leave me? Why do I need a boyfriend? How long before I would recover from him leaving me and be able to fall in love with another boyfriend?" These are spiritual questions because they are concerned solely with the contents of the querent's own mind.

It might seem that the querent would be able to answer spiritual questions by themselves, without the trouble of using Tarot cards and a reader--after all, it's the contents of the querent's own mind we're talking about and who should better understand and be able to answer questions about those contents than the querent themselves? The reason this isn't always possible is that there are times when the querent has some sort of mental block which prevents clear introspection--these are the times when Tarot cards and a reader are useful.

It might also seem that spiritual questions are less interesting than material questions, but in fact the opposite is true. The only important thing in life is happiness, which exists in the mind and which is only to a limited extent dependent on material circumstances. Someone who has every material blessing--wealth, health, love, beauty, youth--can be unhappy, whereas someone who suffers from every material curse--poverty, sickness, solitude, ugliness, old age--can be happy. Furthermore, even the determination of material circumstances is dependent on the mind--a rich person can feel poor and a poor person can feel rich, a beautiful person can feel ugly and an ugly person can feel beautiful. Finally, even if our happiness does depend on material circumstances, it is first necessary to understand exactly what we truly want in the way of material circumstances, which is a spiritual question--and a difficult one.

Consider that so many people say they want money. But when a person truly wants something, they will enjoy every aspect of the quest to obtain this something. It is notorious, for example, that lovers enjoy everything concerned with trying to win their beloved's heart. Someone who truly wants money should likewise enjoy everything associated with making money--even failures should be regarded joyfully as learning experiences on the road to success. The fact that so many people don't enjoy the effort associated with obtaining money but rather prefer to spend their time and energy in ways which do not result in their obtaining money, suggests that these people don't really want money. These people's insistence that they do want money suggests that they don't really know what they want. What's more, until the spiritual question of what they truly want out of life is answered, these people will obtain neither the money they say they want, nor whatever it is they truly want, nor the happiness which is the ultimate goal in life--all of which goes to show how much more important are spiritual than material questions.

The success of a Tarot reading depends both on the skill of the reader and on the psychic compatibility between reader and querent at the time the reading is performed. A reader may have great success with a querent on one occasion, but fail utterly on another occasion with the same querent. Or a reader may have great success with most querents on most occasions, but fail every time with one particular querent, even though that querent seldom has problems with other readers.

It is possible to perform a self-reading, in which case reader and querent are the same person. Keeping the conscious mind still is particularly important during self-readings, since it is generally more difficult to bypass the mind's repression and self-censorship mechanisms when reading for ourselves than when reading for someone else. Advantages of self-reading include convenience and that psychic compatibility between reader and querent is not an issue. For self-reading, an optional alternative to the reading procedure described above is to simply flip through the cards one by one and reflect upon each card and how it relates to current circumstances.

The interpretations of Tarot cards below are my own, and are provided merely as suggestions to be used by other readers. However, it is my belief that the interpretations below, which are a modernized version of the Golden Dawn interpretations, will give better results than naive interpretations based solely on the pictures on the cards--at least when used with tarot decks derived from the Golden Dawn deck, such as the Rider-Waite and Crowley Thoth decks plus all decks derived from the Rider-Waite deck. It must always be remembered, though, that the goal of using Tarot cards is to provide the querent with insight into their own mind--in particular, to provide the querent with insight into their underlying desires and how their current belief system is failing to achieve satisfaction of those underlying desires and how this belief system might be changed in order to better achieve satisfaction of those underlying desires. Any interpretation of Tarot cards, and any method of using them, which accomplishes this fundamental goal of giving the querent insight into their own mind, is as good as the interpretation and method of use described in this document.

This document is based on the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. I highly recommend the pocket sized deck (2.25 by 3.5 inches / 5.7 by 8.9 cm) which is about 25% smaller than the standard sized deck, and hence easier to shuffle and otherwise work with. The miniature sized deck (1.75 by 2.9 inches / 4.4 by 7.4 cm) is handy for carrying around in a purse or backpack, but is too small for easy shuffling. Something I've found very useful is to glue an entire miniature sized deck to a piece of foam board from an art supply shop (2 rows of 8 court cards at the top, followed by 2 rows of 11 trump cards, followed by 4 rows of 10 numbered cards), so that all the cards can be contemplated at once. Order cards direct from U.S. Games Systems if not available at your local bookstore.


The Nature of the Mind and Spiritual Illness.

Mind is the thinking capability in humans and other intelligent animals. Mind is thus an abstraction, which is realized via the physical body--primarily the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Some parts of the mind never change--these parts might be called instinctual intelligence. Other parts of the mind do change--these parts might be called learned intelligence. The more intelligent the animal, the greater the percentage of the mind that is learned. Humans, being the most intelligent animal, have the highest percentage of learned intelligence. Increasing the percentage of learned versus instinctual intelligence provides advantages--in particular, greater and faster adaptability to changes in the environment--at a cost of increased risk of mental illness.

In the remainder of this document, the term "spiritual illness" is used instead of "mental illness", in order to emphasize that a cure does not require changing the entire mind, but rather only a small part of the mind--this part is called the "spirit" in this document. The term "spirit", in turn, is replaced by the term "moral code"--this is avoid confusion, since "spirit" has many other meanings in common usage besides the meaning used in this current document. "Spiritual change" is thus synonymous with "change to the moral code". The term "spiritual growth" is deliberately avoided, as "growth" suggests that the old moral code was in some way defective or inferior to the new moral code. Frequently, the moral code becomes more complex as a person ages--in addition to coping with current circumstances, the moral code of an old person contains provisions for all previous circumstances faced by that person. In these cases, it might indeed be appropriate to speak of "spiritual growth". But it is also possible for the moral code to grow simpler with age--many people become increasingly rigid as they age. When the change to the moral code is in the direction of simplification, "spiritual growth" seems misleading. The neutral term "spiritual change" suggests merely that the old moral code was suitable for the old circumstances, but now that circumstances have changed, the moral code must change as well, if pain is to be avoided.

Spiritual illness is a way of thinking which results in more pain than would result from a different way of thinking. Spiritual health is a way of thinking which results in the absence of any significant amount of pain, including such purely mental forms of pain as boredom. Note that the complete absence of pain is never achieved by us mortals--the best we can achieve is the absence of any significant amount of pain. In this document, "happiness" is sometimes used as a synonym for "state in which pain is at a minimum"--"contentment" and "bliss" are other possible synonyms for this state. All of these synonyms are somewhat misleading, however, and should be avoided where precision is desired, in favor of phrases based on the word "pain".

The definition of spiritual illness given above is subjective or relative, meaning it depends on what is going on in the person's mind, rather than on their outward behavior--if a person is not suffering significant pain, then they are spiritually healthy, regardless of their behavior, while if they are suffering significant pain and this pain is strictly due to the functioning of their mind (rather than being caused by some malfunctioning of their brain or other part of their body), then they are spiritually ill. It is more common to use an objective or absolute definition of spiritual illness (it is also more common to use the terms "mental illness" and "mental health"), meaning one which depends on external behavior rather than what is going on in the person's mind. According to the objective definition of spiritual illness, to be spiritually ill means to behave in a manner which deviates from the behavior considered normal by whoever is currently in charge of defining spiritual illness, regardless of whether the person is suffering pain or not. In many cases, a person who is subjectively spiritually ill is also objectively spiritually ill--and so the distinction between subjective and objective doesn't matter. It must be emphasized that the remainder of this discussion relies on the subjective definition of spiritual illness.

Bodily illness is functioning of the body which results in more pain than would result from alternative functioning. Since pain is always experienced in the mind, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate bodily and spiritual illness--especially when it is considered that: (a) bodily illness can have spiritual illness as a symptom (various disorders of the brain); (b) spiritual illness can have bodily illness as a symptom (psychosomatic disorders); and (c) sometimes the mind distorts the reasoning process so as to misclassify spiritual illness as bodily illness (this issue will be discussed at length later).

The above definitions of spiritual and bodily illness can lead to bizarre results under certain extreme situations. Suppose someone moves to a new country but doesn't speak the language there, and as a consequence is persecuted, and so suffers more pain than they would suffer if they knew the language--does lack of knowledge of how to speak the language constitute spiritual illness, and does learning the language constitute a cure for this illness? Suppose there is a society where it is the custom to install piercings directly into the skull, and these piercings cause terrible headaches, but people without these skull piercings are persecuted, and this persecution causes more pain than the headaches, so that a person suffers more pain without piercings than with piercings--does lack of piercings and the associated headaches constitute bodily illness, and does being pierced and thereafter suffering terrible headaches constitute a cure for this illness? Even if our answer to these questions is yes, that doesn't really invalidate the above definitions--the test of a definition is how it works in the typical situation, rather than situations which are unlikely to be encountered in practice. Furthermore, other definitions of spiritual and bodily illness would likely lead to equally bizarre results under either the above or other extreme situations.

Curing an illness means changing the mind or body so as to reduce pain to an insignificant level. A cure which works in the short run might fail in the long run--alcohol and illegal drugs are examples of such short-run-only cures. In general, an illness which is cured by changing the body is a bodily illness, while one which is cured by changing the mind is a spiritual illness--what is difficult is distinguishing bodily from spiritual illness before the illness is cured.

In the past, it was common to treat certain bodily illnesses, especially bodily illnesses of the brain, by treating the mind--such as by treating schizophrenia with psychotherapy. This was almost never effective. Today, it is common to treat spiritual illness by treating the body--such as by giving anti-depressant drugs to someone whose depression stems from purely spiritual causes. This appears to be fairly effective. However, to achieve a true and permanent cure of spiritual illness, it is necessary to treat the mind.

For purposes of this present discussion, it is only necessary to understand the value-judgement part of the mind--that is, the part of the mind which distinguishes good versus bad, worthwhile versus a waste of time, and so on. The remainder of the mind consists of innate abilities, meaning value-neutral instinctual intelligence, and knowledge, meaning value-neutral learned intelligence.

The first level of the value-judgement mind consists of underlying desires. When these desires are satisfied, pain is reduced to an insignificant level. When these desires are not satisfied, we experience pain, which can take many forms--hunger, cold, sleepiness, exhaustion, aches and other so-called bodily pains (so-called because all pain is ultimately mental), anger, grief, worry, boredom, depression. It is usually not possible to satisfy all underlying desires simultaneously, and thus as long as we are alive, we will always be experiencing a certain base level of pain. Some names for the first level of the mind include id, inner child, animal nature, unconscious, bliss sheath (anandamaya kosha in Sanskrit), libido, soul--the term used in this document will be underlying desires (or sometimes soul).

The second level of the value-judgement mind is the result of applying innate reasoning ability to learned knowledge and underlying desires, with the goal being to maximize satisfaction of the underlying desires. Some names for the second level of the mind include ego, inner adult, mental sheath (manomaya kosha in Sanskrit)--the term used in this document will be reasoning mind.

The third level of the value-judgement mind is a set of rules which overrides the reasoning mind, so as to ensure we don't engage in certain very dangerous behaviors, regardless of whether the reasoning mind detects these behaviors to be safe or not. The third level of the mind is constructed by the second level, and can be modified by the second level--however, the third level tends to strongly resist such modification. The third level of the mind is partly hidden from consciousness. Some names for the third level of the mind include superego, inner parent, voice of conscience, worldview, belief system, spirit, super-conscious, moral faculty, censor, repression mechanism, intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosha in Sanskrit)--the term used in this document will be moral code (or sometimes spirit).

Value judgements which cannot be changed without changing the body are underlying desires. (Note that changes to the body can take many forms--including taking drugs, changes in diet and physical exercise habits, hormonal changes, and bodily changes which occur as a result of the aging process.) For example: "I want sex, but not enough to risk a sexually transmitted disease."



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Value judgements which can be changed without changing the body, and which change easily in response to new information or better reasoning, are part of the reasoning mind. For example: "Have sex, but use a condom for protection, and avoid sex altogether with sleazy-looking people who might have sexually transmitted diseases." Note how this rule attempts to maximize satisfaction of the underlying desires by means of reason and knowledge.

Value judgements which can be changed without changing the body, but which are difficult to change, are part of the moral code. For example: "Avoid sex with sleazy-looking people." Note how this example moral code rule is a condensed version of the reasoning mind rule, except lacking the reasoning element. The advantage of the moral code rule is that we don't have to think about whether it makes sense or not, as we must do with the reasoning mind rule. Once the moral code rule is installed in our mind, we just obey. Over time, through housekeeping procedures whereby information stored in the mind is gradually organized and simplified, the moral code rule might be mistakenly shortened to "Avoid sex"--at which point we have a problem, since such a rule is likely to cause us pain. This is not to suggest that mental housekeeping is always this incompetent--but it is a fact that the mind does tend to make mistakes, including mistakes like the preceding. The preceding mistake is especially likely to occur if the surrounding society is constantly sending messages to the effect that "sex is bad."

The essence of spiritual illness is a conflict between the moral code (or spirit) and the underlying desires (or soul). To resolve this conflict, it is the moral code which must be changed, since it is almost impossible to change underlying desires. Spiritual illness can thus be redefined as "having a moral code which results in more pain than would result from an alternative moral code".

Determining where a value judgement belongs in the three level hierarchy of the mind is complicated by the fact that the moral code tends to distort the reasoning process so that value judgements are assigned to the wrong level--this is a defense mechanism used by the moral code to protect itself from pressure to change.

An example how the moral code can distort reasoning about whether a value judgement is instinctual (underlying desire) or learned (reasoning mind or moral code) is as follows. Suppose a person has an underlying desire for sex, but the moral code prohibits sex. The moral code distorts the reasoning process so that the person comes to the false conclusion that their desire for sex is a learned one--the result of living a sex-obsessed society or whatever--which implies that pain would be reduced by unlearning the supposedly learned desire for sex, in order to make way for the supposedly true underlying desires to appear. The moral code has thus tricked the rest of the mind so as to better enforce its prohibition against sex. As to why a moral code prohibiting sex would come into being in the first place--most likely it results from an attempt to satisfy an underlying desire for high social status (which requires conforming to society's rules) in a society which regards sex as bad.

In modern societies especially, the moral code has a tendency to overdevelopment (sometimes called over-socialization). That is, the moral code becomes clogged with obsolete rules which increase rather than reduce pain (such as the rule to "avoid sex" in the example above), or else the moral code overemphasizes satisfaction of the desire for high social status at the expense of satisfaction of other underlying desires. Because we humans are a social species, the desire for high social status is an underlying desire--what is spiritually unhealthy is to overemphasize this desire, since this overemphasis results in more pain than would result from a more balanced approach to life.

An example of a moral code which typically reduces overall pain in modern society, and is thus spiritually healthy, is one which prohibits murder, since in modern society there are seldom circumstances in which committing murder would result in less pain than not committing murder, after taking into account the risk of being caught and punished. The advantage of having a moral code prohibiting murder instead of relying on the reasoning mind to rationally determine that murder might result in our being caught and punished is that the reasoning mind sometimes reasons incorrectly--and in a case like this, we can't afford to make mistakes. By contrast, in some primitive societies, where there is no law-enforcement system to protect against criminals, someone who refused to consider murder as an option might be a target for exploitation and other types of abuse. In such societies, a moral code prohibiting murder might be spiritual unhealthy.

An example of a moral code which typically increases overall pain in modern society, and is thus a form of spiritual illness, is one which prohibits enjoyment of sex, since the desire for sexual pleasure is among the strongest we have, and failure to satisfy this desire leads to great pain, and there is typically no good reason in modern society not to satisfy this desire, assuming the proper precautions are taken against venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancy. By contrast, in the past there were often severe punishments for persons caught engaging in socially disapproved sexual behavior, along with a much greater risk of dangerous and untreatable venereal disease--syphilis, in particular. Because of these punishments and disease risks, moral codes prohibiting enjoyment of sex and masturbation may well have reduced pain in the past, since the desire to stay alive and reproduce (lack of sexual pleasure doesn't limit the ability to reproduce) is even stronger than the desire for sexual pleasure. Perhaps because of their usefulness in the past, moral codes prohibiting enjoyment of sex and masturbation continue to be very common even in modern societies. To the extent that such moral codes are no longer useful--that is, to the extent they increase rather than reduce overall pain--they are a form of spiritual illness.

As to why societies so often severely repress sexual behavior and impose punishments on persons violating these regulations, there are many theories. One is that sex interferes with military preparedness. Societies with liberal attitudes towards sex tend to become militarily weak and to be conquered by sexually repressive societies. Ultimately, the only societies which are left are the sexually repressive and militarily strong ones.

Note that it is never societies which are spiritually ill (at least as that term is used in this document) but only individuals--the subjective definition of spiritual illness applies only to individuals. Of course, minimization of pain for an individual might easily depend on the individual trying to change and/or refusing to conform with society. In other words, it is quite possible for a spiritually healthy individual to be in conflict with society.

Returning to the issue of spiritual versus bodily illness--the moral code tends to distort reasoning on this issue, such that spiritual illness is misclassified as bodily illness, or else the pain caused by spiritual illness is blamed on "external factors". (To be sure, external factors are usually involved when there is pain caused by spiritual illness--however, the whole point of spiritual health is to adapt to the external world, whatever it may be, so as to minimize pain.) This distortion in reasoning occurs because the very existence of spiritual illness implies that the existing moral code needs to be changed--overcoming spiritual illness (as opposed to bodily illness of the brain with spiritual illness as a symptom) always involves changing the moral code--and the moral code always resists change.

Another reason why spiritual illness might be misclassified as bodily illness is so as to satisfy the underlying desire for high social status. Initially, it is the reasoning mind which concocts a distorted rationale for why the illness is bodily and not spiritual, in order to avoid losing social status. With time, the conclusion of this rationale--"the cause of my pain is bodily, not spiritual"--becomes installed in the moral code as an automatic response to the question of why the person is suffering pain, and the person forgets that this conclusion was originally a fabricated one. (Incidentally, this is an illustration of the general rule that if a line of reasoning is repeated enough times, the conclusion of that line of reasoning tends eventually to become part of the moral code.)

When the world around us is rapidly changing, as is often the case in modern societies, our moral code must also rapidly change, if we are to avoid spiritual illness. This presents a problem, because the moral code is specifically designed to resist rapid change--there is no easy solution to this problem. This explains why spiritual illness is so common on modern societies.


Trump Cards

The trump cards illustrate the typical process by which the moral code is changed. (The process of spiritual change, in other words.)

Fool is the person whose moral code is being changed. The image on the card shows the fool carrying a satchel, which contains the treasure of true happiness, though apparently the fool isn't aware of this. The treasure of true happiness is always at hand, regardless of our material circumstances--we don't need money, we don't need love, we don't even need bodily health. Happiness is in the mind, and the mind we can control and change (at least to some extent).

Another interpretation of the satchel is that it represents all that can be created by our imagination. Imagination allows us to create whatever it is we want, and thus is our most valuable possession--but the fool seems unaware of this.

The image on the card also shows the fool about to step off a cliff. The solidity of the cliff itself represents the certainty of the existing moral code, while the abyss below the cliff represents the uncertainty that results when, as part of the process of spiritual change, an existing moral code is abandoned and a search is made for a new moral code.

Finally, the fool is sometimes associated with the Uranus principle -- "an original impulse coming from a strange and unexpected quarter" (from the instructional booklet by James Wasserman for the Crowley Thoth Tarot deck (1978)).

World represents satisfaction with life.

Judgement represents dissatisfaction and desire to change.

Once dissatisfaction is admitted, the next step is to take stock of the existing situation in the mind.

Sun represents the reasoning mind. The reasoning mind includes the ego, which distinguishes and thus imposes a barrier between the self and the not-self--this barrier is symbolized by the wall in the image on the card. The reasoning mind is the most visible part of the mind, hence its association with the sun, which is the brightest object in the sky.

It is also possible to regard the sun as representing the body or material world, thus allowing for the sun, moon and star to represent, respectively, the traditional triad of body, soul and spirit. The desires of the soul can be satisfied in one of two ways--through actions of the body which affect the material world, or through thinking, which involves the spirit. For example, we can satisfy our desire for too much food by either overeating and then purging or exercising or taking dieting drugs to get rid of the excess calories (a material world approach using the body), or by reflecting on the fact that more food will lead to fatness and bad health and other consequences that will cause more pain than the pain of hunger (a spiritual approach). The more spiritual a person is, the more they try to satisfy desires by thinking rather than by trying to use the body to change the material world. Changing the material world using the body is the more obvious approach to satisfying desires, which is why this approach is associated with the sun, which is the most obvious object in the sky.

Moon represents the underlying desires, or soul. Underlying desires are often hidden, which is why they are associated with the moon, which is associated with the night and darkness. The towers in the image on the card represent the idea that some underlying desires are so deeply hidden in the unconscious that it as if they were protected by fortresses from the prying conscious mind.

The fourteen or so small curved shapes below the moon and between the towers on the Rider-Waite card are Hebrew Yod characters. Yod is the initial letter of the Tetragrammaton--the four letter unutterable name of God, which is normally written as YHWH in English, or Yahweh if vowels are included--and a Yod by itself represents God. But what is God? God is ourselves--or rather our mind, to be exact. Our mind creates the universe that we experience.

Star represents the moral code, or spirit. Alternatively, if sun represents the material or bodily approach to satisfying desires of the soul, then star represents the spiritual or thinking approach to satisfying these desires.

The woman on the card is pouring water onto earth, which represents material reality, and also back into a pool of water, which represents the pool of underlying desires or the unconscious soul. Pouring one jug of water onto the earth and the other jug back into the pool of water suggests that the moral code or spirit is prioritizing desires, so that some are satisfied in the material world while others are poured back into the unconscious and remain unsatisfied, with the goal of the prioritizing being to maximize satisfaction of overall desire and thus minimize pain of unsatisfied desire. Prioritization is necessary because it is typically impossible to satisfy all desires at once.

Another interpretation of water and earth is that the optimal moral code results from relying on a blend of emotions (associated with water) and sensation (associated with earth) to guide us in the process of change. This issue will be discussed further in the section on the numbered cards.

We now begin the process of destroying the old moral code.

Tower represents a violent rebellion against the old moral code--it is as if we were breaking open the walls of a mental prison. A little discussed esoteric meaning of this card is that it represents the rite of circumcision--the tower is the penis and the crown is the foreskin. The rite of circumcision is in turn connected with the idea that a certain amount of destruction is needed before there can be progress.

In the Crowley Thoth deck, the image on this card contains an eye, whose iris resembles a puckered anus--this is the secret symbol Crowley alludes to in The Book of Thoth, whose "meaning will only be understood by initiates of the XI° of the O.T.O." (the O.T.O was Crowley's sex magic organization). The secret of the XI° was sex magic in which a presumably heterosexual man (no women, since Crowley was sexist) submitted to receptive anal sex. The XI° breaking of sex taboos is representative of the general rebellion against restrictive moral codes signified by the Tower card, which is why that degree is associated with this card. Note that though both the Rider-Waite and Crowley Thoth decks use symbolism based on male sexuality, the underlying meaning of the Tower card is applicable to both sexes.

Devil represents confrontation with socially disapproved underlying desires. Very often, a moral code that is causing problems for a person is one which has not properly taken into account these socially disapproved desires. This is why there is a separate card for these desires, in addition to the Moon card, which represented the totality of underlying desires. In the Crowley Thoth deck, the image on this card is strongly phallic--this reflects the idea that the most significant socially disapproved underlying desires are those involving sex.

Temperance represents an attempt to rational analyze the existing moral code. This card is related to the alchemical process of purifying a substance through a series of dissolving and combining operations. As in the Star card, the pool of water in which the figure on the card is standing represents the pool of underlying desires or the unconscious soul, while the earth represents material reality where desires can be satisfied--by having one foot in water and another on the earth, there is the suggestion that both underlying desires and material reality must be taken into account in the process of rationally analyzing the existing moral code.

In the Crowley Thoth deck, the image on the card shows a cauldron containing a mixture of white and red fluids--this cauldron represents the vagina at the conclusion of an O.T.O. IX° sex magic operation, at which time it contains the "Elixir of Life", meaning a mixture of semen and amrita or female ejaculate (and possibly menstrual blood as well), which is to be consumed by the sex magic participants. This symbolism reflects Crowley's idea that sex is the key to many cases of spiritual illness. Also, Crowley renamed this card to Art, to reflect the idea that skill and carefulness are involved in this stage of the process of changing the moral code.

Death represents the final destruction of the old moral code, allowing for the creation of a new moral code. In the Crowley Thoth deck, the image on the card shows bubbles rising up in the wake of the scythe of death, with the figures inside these bubbles bearing a strong resemblance to figures inside the testicle-like objects on the Devil card--this reflects the idea that sex and death are both necessary in order to allow new life to be released into the world.

Once the old moral code has been destroyed, it becomes time to create a new moral code. But first, we need to develop certain character qualities--otherwise, the new moral code is likely to be no better than the old.

Hanged man represents the ability to see that every experience of suffering has something to teach us, and that, to a great extent, we are the cause of our own troubles in life.

Justice represents the power of correct judgement and common sense and healthy skepticism. Healthy skepticism includes healthy skepticism about the Tarot and astrology and alchemy--there is wisdom to be found here, but also a great deal of nonsense. The weakness of Western science is that, in addition to rejecting false ideas, it also rejects many true ideas, simply because they cannot be tested by reproducible experiments--but this doesn't mean the scientific method is worthless, nor that every sort of "New Age" hocus-pocus is true. Fuzzy-mindedness doesn't lead to enlightenment.

In the Crowley Thoth deck, this card is named Adjustment, probably to avoid the moralistic connotations of "Justice".

Wheel of fortune represents the power to accept fate. If some people are born physically deformed while others are born healthy, then we must just accept this as the way things are--it isn't our business to judge the universe as a whole.

Hermit represents the ability to accept guidance from others. In the image on the card, the hermit is holding a lamp which casts a light--this light represents the wisdom available from others.

Strength represents the power of control over the body, symbolized by a tamed lion. Note that the lion is tamed rather than dead. It is the body and its pleasures--exercise, food, touching another person, dancing, music, sex--which are the true source of pleasure and zest in life. When we deny ourselves bodily pleasure, we lose our zest for life--we kill the lion. In the Crowley Thoth deck, this card is named Lust and the image is of a naked woman astride a lion-like beast (the Whore of Babylon astride a seven headed Great Beast--Crowley identified himself as this beast--is a reference to the Biblical Book of Revelations), thus emphasizing the importance of sexual pleasure. For very poor people, zest in life might come from anticipation of a good meal at the end of the day. For rich people, on the other hand--including almost everyone in the developed world, for whom food is only too easy to obtain--the primary sources of zest in life are likely to be sexual pleasure (including sexual pleasure from masturbation) and physical exercise. Pleasures which involve the mind--love, friendship, learning, reading, gourmet cooking as opposed to simple cooking--are merely ways of amplifying and extending the duration of physical pleasure, or else are perceived as pleasures because they are ultimately associated with physical pleasure. We mustn't forget that without the body we are nothing--life literally begins and ends with the body.

Chariot represents the power of control of the mind, symbolized by a team of horses or sphinxes in harness. Controlling the mind means not allowing it to be excessively disturbed by emotions such as anger, greed, fear, worry, jealousy, etc. Even such apparently good emotions as joy and love can be harmful in excess (traditional Chinese medicine regards excessive joy as one of the causes of heart disease).

The Golden Dawn deck shows the image of two horses--one white and one black--pulling a chariot through the air. This image is probably based on the image in Plato's Phaedrus, of the soul being like a chariot pulled by a pair of winged horses, one of which "soars naturally upwards into the heavens--there to behold beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the other things of God by which the soul is nourished--while the other tends to sink towards the earth and besot itself there with brutish pleasures." Some people are born with the noble horse naturally stronger than the base horse, in other people the opposite is true. Even if the base horse is naturally stronger, it is still possible for the chariot as a whole to rise, provided the charioteer, which represents the mind, restrains the base horse and allows the noble horse to take control.

In the Rider-Waite deck, the alternation of black and white stripes in the manes of the sphinxes represents the idea that dualisms--such as good versus evil, or love versus hate--are misleading, since in the real world the components of any dualism tend to be intermixed and difficult to separate. A better moral code requires that our thinking move beyond over-simplified dualisms.

We are now ready to formulate the new moral code.


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Lovers represents a union between all components of the mind--underlying desires, reasoning mind, moral code--such that the reasoning mind and moral code work together to satisfy the underlying desires to the maximum extent possible, thereby minimizing pain of unsatisfied desire. In alchemy, this union is called the "marriage of spirit and soul". In the image on the card, spirit or moral code is represented by the male figure, soul or underlying desires is represented by the female figure, and the reasoning mind is represented by the angel (and sun behind the angel)--reason guides and oversees the union.

Behind the figures of the man and woman on the Rider-Waite card are the tree of good and evil and the tree of life, from the Biblical Book of Genesis. One explanation of the fruit of the tree of good and evil is that it represents dualistic thinking, which leads to an invalid moral code and consequently a split between spirit and soul, which causes pain. The fruit of the tree of life, by contrast, represents understanding the unity of all creation, which leads to a better moral code and thereby enables the reunification of spirit and soul, which reduces pain. Eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil is not necessarily a mistake, since it is necessary to pass through the stage of dualistic thinking before we can properly use the unified thinking associated with the tree of life.

Some older Tarot decks, such as the Marseilles deck, name this card The Choice and show an image of a man choosing between two women. The idea seems to be that the person is faced with making a decision at this point as to what to include in the new moral code and what to exclude.

The Golden Dawn deck shows the image of a man flying down from a cloud and wielding a sword and shield with which to slay a dragon and free a woman who is chained to a rock. The man represents the new moral code (or good spirit or alchemical good king) which is destroying the obsolete moral code (or bad spirit or alchemical tyrant king), thereby freeing the underlying desires (or soul) to achieve greater satisfaction than was permitted with the obsolete moral code.

Hierophant represents the idea that helping and teaching other people allows us to construct a better moral code. Solitary thinking is often confused and irrational--in order to explain our ideas to someone else, we are forced to make our thinking clear and logical.

Emperor represents the idea that taking an active role in life--the masculine principle of activity--allows us to construct a better moral code. Merely thinking about what we should do isn't sufficient--we must test our ideas by putting them into practice and seeing what works and what doesn't.

Empress represents the idea that experiencing pleasure or pain--the feminine principle of receptivity--allows us to construct a better moral code. Imagining that we will enjoy something isn't enough--we must experience pleasure in reality to know for sure whether it is right for us or not.

At this point, the new moral code has been formulated.

High Priestess represents the serenity generated by the new moral code, along with the sense of having an intuitive grasp as to the right and wise course of action to take in life. The old moral code, by contrast, had led to discontent, due to frustration of underlying desires, along with a feeling of floundering about without internal guidance.

Magician represents how the new more code unleashes powers and allows for mastery of all aspects of the mind, symbolized by the magical implements (wand, sword, cup and pentacle). The old moral code, by contrast, had led to depression and feelings of powerlessness.

In the Rider-Waite, Crowley Thoth and Golden Dawn decks, there is a figure-8 shape, or lemniscate, above the magician's head. A lemniscate is the apparent path about the sun, as seen from the earth, of a planet whose true path about the sun is an ellipse. Also, the figure-8 shape if often used in a type of design, intended for use in meditation, which appears as a snake when seen from one side and a rope when seen from the other side. The figure-8 shape thus represents notions of appearance versus reality, and how, at the level of the magician, we are able to see through superficial appearance to the reality that lies beneath.

World represents renewed satisfaction with life--and thus we return to the starting point, with the cycle repeating each time the moral code becomes obsolete.



Court cards

The Queens, Kings and Knights represent the cardinal, fixed and mutable astrological signs of the element corresponding to the card's suit (where wands=fire, swords=air, cups=water, pentacles=earth), along with the planets and houses associated with those signs. It is not significant that the cardinal signs are associated with a woman and the other signs with men. The Pages represent a combination of the three astrological signs of the element corresponding to the card's suit. Page of Wands thus represents the undifferentiated fire personality type which underlies the differentiated Aries, Leo and Sagittarius fire personality types. (In readings, the Pages can also be interpreted as a power or opportunity falling into our hands, with the exact type of power or opportunity corresponding to the suit of the card--see the section on numbered cards for further information on the meanings of the four suits.)


Sign, Planet, House

Concept (one of many)

Queen of Wands Aries, Mars, 1 Recognition of desire and will for satisfaction.
King of Pentacles Taurus, Earth, 2 Material satisfaction of desire in crude sensual manner.
Knight of Swords Gemini, Mercury, 3 Attempt to understand desire and what is required for full satisfaction, using simplified, dualistic type reasoning: black versus white, us versus them, right versus wrong.
Queen of Cups Cancer, Moon, 4 Emotions roused by as yet unsatisfied desire, tending towards moodiness and other forms of childishness, as desire is still at a primitive level.
King of Wands Leo, Sun, 5 Creative expression of will to satisfy desire.
Knight of Pentacles Virgo, Vesta, 6 Repression of desire, to some extent, in light of realities of material world.
Queen of Swords Libra, Venus, 7 Attempt to achieve balance between expression and repression of desire, by means of reason.
King of Cups Scorpio, Pluto, 8 Emotional stress of expression versus repression conflict leads to transformation of desire into spiritual form--meaning emphasis on mind rather than body--with possible uncovering of taboo aspects of desire during this transformation process.
Knight of Wands Sagittarius, Jupiter, 9 Formulation of and expression of the will to satisfy the spiritualized desire.
Queen of Pentacles Capricorn, Saturn, 10 Spiritualized desire structured and disciplined as realities of material world are taken into account, which implies a double dose of discipline and structure, since the spritualization process itself requires discipline and structure.
King of Swords Aquarius, Uranus, 11 Reasoning about the spiritualized desire, in a clearer and more detached manner than before, since reason is no longer clouded by the exigencies of material desire.
Knight of Cups Pisces, Neptune, 12 Refined emotions associated with spritualized desire, including a longing to escape forever the limitations of the material world for the boundless realms of pure spirit.


Concept (one of many)

Page of Wands Desire and expression of will to satisfy desire.
Page of Pentacles Material realities connected with satisfaction of desire.
Page of Swords Understanding of desire, satisfaction of desire, material reality.
Page of Cups Emotions roused by desire and satisfaction or lack of satisfaction.

Note that Taurus is traditionally considered to be ruled by Venus, but this is unsatisfactory--Earth itself seems a much more appropriate ruler. Unlike the planets, Earth does not appear in astrological birth charts. This is because planets represent energies of personality, whereas Earth represents the purely passive medium upon which these energies operate. In interpreting birthcharts, Earth qualities of solidity and inertia would reveal themselves in the empty houses (i.e. houses which do not contain planets).

Note that Virgo is traditionally considered to be ruled by Mercury, but this is totally unsatisfactory--Mercury's association with mischievous trickery, in particular, is completely at odds with the purity normally associated with Virgo. Vesta is one of the larger asteroids in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Though not the largest of the asteroids (Ceres holds that distinction), Vesta is the most visible asteroid from Earth, and is also the only of the asteroids with a core. The asteroid belt is probably the remains of a planet that was destroyed by collision with a comet or other object. This destroyed planet is what should be associated with Virgo, but since the planet no longer exists, a fragment of that planet will have to suffice. Vesta was the "Greek Goddess of purification and the energy at the heart of life and society." The astrological Vesta is associated with "personal integration, work, devotion, commitment, sacrifice, alienation from personal relationships, and a range of sexual complexes based on denial and fear of intimacy" (Asteroid Goddesses by Demetra George and Douglas Bloch (1986)). Note how much closer the above description of Vesta is to the usual understanding of Virgo and the 6th house than is the typical description of Mercury. More information about Vesta is available in the article Vesta and the Planetoid Belt by Hans-Hinrich Taeger (1999), available online at

Note finally that astrology is governed by the Hermetic doctrine of correspondences, as expressed in the famous dictum of "as above, so below". Hermetic sciences, including astrology and alchemy, relate material world phenomena to the spiritual phenomena of the mind, thereby enabling us to better understand the mind. The Hermetic "above" refers to the spiritual world of the mind, while "below" refers to the material world, consisting of that which can be perceived by the senses--"above" and "below" do not refer to sky and earth. Relationships between sets of purely material world phenomena are not Hermetic correspondences, but rather fall into the domain of material science, and hence are governed by the material science requirements for testable hypotheses and reproducible experiments. Among the ramifications of the Hermetic nature of astrology are that any birthchart will work for anyone, and that every person includes all twelve signs in their personality makeup. It is common to misuse astrology as a material rather than Hermetic or spiritual science--this misuse is due to the common lack of appreciation for how much more important is the spiritual as opposed to material world. What happens in the mind is more important than what happens in the world outside the mind. Astrology can be validly used for clarifying or otherwise obtaining insight into our subjective perception of our own or someone else's personality--subjective perception is a spiritual phenomenon. Astrology cannot be validly used for gaining insight into the objective reality of our own or someone else's personality--objective reality is a material phenomenon.


Numbered cards

These show how the various aspects of the conscious mind behave in the face of a need for spiritual change (i.e. a need for a change to the moral code). The association between tarot suits, elements of the western alchemical tradition and aspect of the mind is as follows:

Suit       Element       Aspect of Mind
Wands Fire Volition or desires
Swords Air Reason
Cups Water Emotion
Pentacles Earth Sensation

Aspects of the conscious mind not included in the above list, such as memory and imagination, are either unimportant in the process of spiritual change or can be lumped together with reason. Be careful of the English word "feeling"--as this can refer to any aspect of the mind. "Intuition" refers to any mental operation hidden from consciousness other than for the final result--intuition is not a separate aspect of the mind.

The schemata below, involving dividing the mind into four aspects and then assigning nine ways in which these aspects react to changes in the moral code, appears forced and artificial in places. However, it is necessary to come up with some schemata lest we be lost forever in confusion, and there doesn't seem to be any obviously better schemata. What is important is that the overall conclusions of this schemata are sound. To wit, to know whether a moral code will reduce pain or not, we first examine our senses, then our emotions, and finally our desires. If behavior feels good to the body, and the emotions associated with this behavior are pleasurable, and there is desire to engage in the behavior--then the behavior is probably one which should be condoned rather than condemned by the moral code. It isn't necessary to reason about the behavior--if the behavior will truly lead to bad consequences in the future, then the emotion associated with the behavior will be fear. Reason is a great tool in purely material matters--however, in spiritual matters (those concerning changes to the moral code), we are much better off listening to the body (senses) and heart (emotions). Since the body (senses) is the ultimate cause of all pleasure and pain, the body (senses) is likewise the ultimate authority on whether a change to the moral code should be made or not.

Aces show the aspect itself. (In readings, the Aces can be interpreted as a power or opportunity being handed to us, with the exact type of power or opportunity corresponding to the suit of the card.)

Wands Volition or desire. Conscious desires are usually the direct manifestation of underlying desires, and thus can be useful in guiding the process of change to the moral code--however, desires can also be confusing or conflicting and thus mislead us.

Desire and the activity associated therewith are quintessentially masculine or yang in nature, and so the entire suit of wands is considered masculine or yang in nature, and any particular wand represents a penis. In the Rider-Waite deck, the wand on the Ace of Wands card resembles a circumcised human penis, complete with bulbous head and urethral slit at the top.

Swords Reason. The dominant aspect of the conscious mind and also how the moral code most readily reveals and defends itself. Because the moral code is able to influence reason, reason cannot be trusted in spiritual matters. That is, reason cannot be used to guide changes to the moral code, since the result will be for the mind go in circles and end up with the same moral code as before. Reason can be trusted in purely material questions, of course. When the moral code is attempting to defend itself against the pressure to change, reason sometimes disguises itself as volition, emotion or sensation.
Cups Emotion. Typically, emotions physically affect the heart. Fear, anger, love, hate, anxiety, joy all raise the heart rate, while sorrow causes a contraction near the heart.

Emotion and the passivity associated therewith are quintessentially feminine or yin in nature, and so the entire suit of cups is considered feminine or yin in nature, and any particular cup represents a vagina. In the Rider-Waite deck, the cup on the Ace of Cups card is overflowing with some sort of liquid--possibly the vaginal secretions associated with sex, which are sometimes referred to as "amrita". A dove is depositing a host (the piece of bread given to worshippers during the Christian mass, which supposedly represents Christ's body, and might alternately represent the semen and sperm of the male ejaculate) into this overflowing cup--perhaps this symbolizes the idea that sex is the key to peace, while sexual denial and repression leads to violence.

Pentacles    Sensation, as in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. The contact between the mind or spiritual world and the material world, and thus the ultimate source of "reality". The senses can lead us astray--a sensory pleasure now might result in sensory pain in the future--but there is no denying the reality of sensory pain and pleasure. By contrast, the pain and pleasure associated with the other aspects of the mind--volition, reason and emotion--are somewhat "unreal".

Twos show symptoms of a moral code in need of change.

Wands Unsatisfied wants. Restlessness. Feeling that desires are blocked by inhibitions and that we are trapped inside a prison of our own making. We have the world in our hands, why not act?
Swords Confusion, inability to make decisions.
Cups Internal conflict and emotional turmoil. Image on the card represents the desire to end this conflict, by changing the moral code in such a way that underlying desires are better satisfied--to achieve the marriage of spirit and soul, in other words.
Pentacles    As noted in the discussion of the Magician card, the lemniscate or figure-8 shape refers to issues of illusion versus reality. The use of the figure-8 shape on the two of Pentacles card suggests that when the moral code is in need of change, we are unable to distinguish true and lasting from apparent and illusory sensory pleasure and pain.

Threes show result of changing moral code in response to pressures felt before change was made.

Wands Desires that were previously frustrated are now satisfied. Willpower that was previously stagnant is now operating freely.
Swords Mental pain. Since reason is the tool of the moral code, we can never trust reason concerning changes to the moral code. The mental pain will disappear eventually, assuming the change to the moral code was indeed one which increases overall satisfaction of underlying desires.
Cups Joy in place of emotional turmoil.
Pentacles    Sensory pleasures give more lasting pleasure than before.

Fours show result of changing moral code by injecting element of self-discipline.

Wands Sense of assurance--desires need to be disciplined.
Swords Cessation or reduction of mental pain--reason reacts very well to discipline.
Cups Faded joy.
Pentacles    Dulled pleasures.

Fives show result of changing moral code by eliminating self-discipline.

Wands Harried feeling from will being exerted in all directions at once.
Swords Furious reasoning as the moral code attempts to defend itself--all sorts of guilt and other pseudo-emotions, which are really manifestations of reason.
Cups Emotional exhaustion.
Pentacles    Physical exhaustion from overindulgence of senses.

Sixes show result of changing moral code in a balanced way.

Wands Willpower flows freely, leading to satisfaction of desires.
Swords The only good use of true reasoning in spiritual matters is to combat false reasoning--true reasoning allows us to continue the journey of spiritual change, but never provides useful guidance as to what direction to take.
Cups Happiness.
Pentacles    Happiness from balanced sensory pleasures--neither restriction nor overindulgence. Sensory pleasures which were being indulged in a full degree before are now indulged in to a lesser degree, in order to enable indulging other sensory pleasure which were being denied before. Result of this balancing of pleasure is to increase overall happiness.

The Sevens, Eights and Nines show what can happen when the aspect of the mind is used to guide change to moral code before the change is made, rather than to evaluate changes after they have been made.

Sevens show errors of deceit and weakness in guiding change to the moral code.

Wands Misled by desires. Sometimes we think we want something when we don't.
Swords All sorts of deceptive reasoning, as the old moral code deviously attempts to defend itself.
Cups Misled by emotions. Fear at what is currently happening is a good sign that something is wrong, but fears about what might happen can easily be mistaken. Likewise for other emotions--joy, sorrow, excitement.
Pentacles    Misled by senses. Something we thought would give us pleasure might not. The food that looks so good turns out to make us sick.

Eights show errors of partial success in guiding change to the moral code, in the sense of being correct in small matters, but incorrect in large matters.

Wands Over-emphasis on one desire at the expense of the others, then compensating for this error, so now another desire is satisfied but not the first, and so on. Desires are constantly fluctuating, and thus give poor guidance as to what the moral code should be. Feeling of not being "grounded".
Swords We get one thing right and everything else wrong, and end up caught up in the snares of our own thinking.
Cups We concentrate on one emotion, but ignore the others, and the result is suboptimal satisfaction of underlying desires, and hence suboptimal happiness. For example, we heed our fear, but ignore joy, or vice-versa.
Pentacles    A trivial sensory pleasure chosen over a more substantial pleasure. We gain momentary and trivial pleasure from overeating, and lose the greater pleasure of good health that would have come from moderate eating.

Nines show the best case result of guiding change to the moral code.

Wands Overburdened with resolutions and vows. Desires provide an excellent indication that change to the moral code is necessary (namely, we feel frustrated when change in necessary), but desires are not particularly good at guiding change.
Swords Mental anguish.
Cups Happiness. However, because emotions are one step removed from the reality of the senses, especially when judging a change that has not yet been made, there is the risk of settling for less than optimal happiness.
Pentacles    Sensory pleasure and happiness.

Tens show the overall result of using the aspect of the mind to formulate a new moral code.

Wands Overburdened with resolutions and vows.
Swords Great unhappiness. The moral code does not like change and reason is the tool of the moral code--when reason is used to judge change to the moral code, the result is that nothing changes and we are left unhappy.
Cups Happiness.
Pentacles    Richest and fullest possible happiness.


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