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Divinitory Meanings of the Tarot by Baird Stafford


The Tarot has been around for a long time - several centuries at least.  Over those hundreds of years, each of the cards came to have a generally accepted meaning or set of meanings when it appeared in a layout.  If one accepts, as I do, continued use of and belief in objects, tools, rituals and even the Powers themselves grants added puissance (producing what the Golden Dawn terms an "egregore"), then it makes sense to avail one's self of this added dimension.  Accordingly, I have written a series of articles on the cards dealing with no more than their divinitory meanings.  I shall not discuss the "higher" meanings of any of the cards - not even the Triumphs (or Trumps) - and shall avoid all discussion of the placement of the cards on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, which superimposition did not occur until the nineteenth century, in any case.

The basic source from which I shall extract these meanings is A. E. Waite's Pictoral Key to the Tarot.  The "Rider-Waite Deck" based upon his designs and the accompanying book cited above were the first examples of either published in English to gain wide readership and eventual acceptance.  Granted, the works of Court de Gebelin, Eliphas Levi and Papus made their appearances either earlier than Waite's work or more or less contemporaneously, but they have the disadvantage of having been written in French (which is not one of my languages and therefore gives me a splitting headache when I try to read it).  All other discussions of the Tarot in English with which I am familiar are derived in one way or another from Waite's work: either in opposition to it, as was Crowley's Book of Thoth. or in an effort to modify the symbolism to gratify a particular magical or religious theory.  (Waite and the Golden Dawn were by no means immune to this temptation:  I view their transposition of the numbers of Triumphs 8 and 11, Strength and Justice, in an effort to make them fit better on their version of the Tree of Life, with much the same jaundiced eye that I view the lab reports of a scientist who fudges the evidence to fit his conclusions.)

Waite was not, however, much interested in the divinitory meanings of the cards, which he regarded as their lesser, almost negligible attribute.  He appears to have copied them more or less as they came to him, weighted with the usage of generations of gypsies and other common fortune-tellers who had no interest in their "higher" meanings.

I do not, however, mean to limit myself to Waite.  Other writers during the course of this century have published insights into the divinitory meanings which complement or expand those given by Waite.  Also, the Tarot has been my principle tool for divination for something over a quarter of a century:  any summary such as I am attempting will necessarily be filtered through my own experiences with the cards.

Nor shall I recommend any particular deck.  There are several currently on the market which I consider excellent, many which I think are acceptable, some which I would purchase only if they were the only examples available, and a few which cause me to shudder whenever I look at them but which other people whom I respect couldn't live without.  Similarly, I shall try to avoid all discussion of the symbolism included by any particular artist in his or her deck:  such a treatment is not germane to this summary, nor within its scope.

Each article in the series will be designated by the number or name of the card(s) with which it treats:  i.e. "1" will discuss the four aces, "Queen" will discuss the four queens, and the Triumphs will be discussed each in a separate article.  I shall also use the terms "Favorable" and "Unfavorable": not all methods of reading the cards recognize "upright" versus "reversed;" some readers prefer to lay all the cards upright and derive unfavorable readings from the neighboring cards.  Other methods may differ even from these two, which are the more common.

I shall make one other departure from common practice:  I prefer the name "coins" (from the French "denier") to "Pentacles" for that suit.  The latter has, for me, a patina of superimposed mysticism (largely thanks to the Golden Dawn) which I find unnecessary for divinitory purposes.

With luck, some of you will find this series of articles useful.  Others will find areas of disagreement, while still others will have insights of their own to offer.  Maybe, among us, we can generate enough signal to drown out some of the noise on alt. pagan.

Blessed be,