A Brief Introduction to the Tarot

The first seven "major aracana" or "trumps" of Fournier's "Tarot of Marseille"My introduction to the Tarot came about quite unexpectedly through Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism (hereafter “MOTT“–reputed to be among “100 best spiritual books” of the 20th century).  Prior to reading MOTT, my evaluation of the Tarot was little different to that of most of my friends and colleagues in academia–or, for that matter, to my friends and family in the Bible belt.  Indeed, my typical reaction to any mention of the Tarot  would generally be comprised of about 2 parts of ridicule and 1 part of fear–with little or no energy left for open, honest engagement (much less meditation).

Over the past couple of years, however, however, I have become increasingly fascinated by this 600 year old text which comes down to us from 15th century Italy in the form of 78 cards (more on this below).  Moreover, I have also discovered (through both observation and experience) that if they are approached in the right spirit, these cards can constitute a profoundly effective teaching tool.  Indeed, when the circumstances are right, they can contribute substantially to the opening of hearts and minds to a deeper, more intimate relationship to Reality — i.e. to God, to other human beings, and to creation as a whole.

–> Continue reading A Brief Introduction to the Tarot…

Petrarch’s Triumphs on Cassone: Follower of Mantegna; Italian, c.1460s.

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A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits

While the Anonymous Author of Meditations on the Tarot cannot necessarily be appealed to as an authority for (or even as the primary inspiration behind) the following approach to the tarot suits, I think it is generally consistent with his work and with his brief discussion of the suits in Letter XXII:

“Concerning the four “suits”—pentacles, swords, cups and wands —they correspond exactly to the structure of the sacred name YHVH and, consequently, to the four elements. Wands represent the emanating principle, the YOD of the divine name; cups represent the conceiving principle, the first HE of the divine name; swords represent the formative principle,the VAU of the divine name; and pentacles symbolise the principle of form, the second HE of the divine name” (Letter XXII, “The World”, page 654).


Figure 1 The information on the Tetragrammaton (YHVH, IHVH), above, is a screen shot from: http://symboldictionary.net/?p=1355

Note:  This material has been kept purposely concise (and rather dense) in order to fit on a single page in an MS Word document or as a PDF.  Keep in mind, also, that it is a work in progress.  Additional clarification and elaboration is definitely in order.  In the meantime, suffice it to say that Spirit and the workings of Spirit cannot be grasp conceptually and cannot be used as a means to some merely personal, egoic end.  Nevertheless, the realization of Spirit constitutes the true meaning and purpose of our lives and does have a practical impact on the world of our experience when we recognize and honor it as an end in itself.  We make effective contact with Spirit, 1) by learning to distinguish between “awareness”, as such, and the incessant “mental commentary” (hopes, fears, and judgments) that tends to accompany our perceptions; and 2) by anchoring our minds and hearts in “aware presence” or “alert stillness” — the pristine and lucid Way of Truth and Life which leaves unnecessary mental chatter beneath itself.  Honest and sustained self-observation is essential to this work (cf. concentration without effort).

A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits (version 1.21)
(Tarot images from cbdtarot.com ~ CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov)

CBD Ace of WandsWands/Batons           Element = Fire           Symbolizes:  Spirit

  • Spirit (pneuma) / Divine Intelligence (cf. Nous or Logos) / Our Real Will / God’s Will / Truth & Being / Authentic Life / Pure Activity / Divine Presence / True Nature
  • Spirit is our Transcendent Aspect / Our Eternal Life / The Source of Meaning and Purpose; Authentic Inspiration; and True Vocation
  • Spirit is reflected in and through the medium of the material world (including our apparent bodies and our material circumstances and resources).

Cups/Chalices            Element = Water       Symbolizes:  HeartCBD Ace of Cups

    • Heart / Openness / Receptivity / Attunement / Contemplation / Intuition / Inspiration.
    • The Heart is our Transcending Aspect — the organ through which we become attuned to and are able to contemplate Spirit – i.e. our authentic life — and share it with the world at large.
    • As our hearts open (in contemplation) we naturally turn away from a life of self-indulgent consumerism and towards our true vocation (whether that appears to be the life of a hermit or a healer; that of a poet, artist, or craftsman; or even that of a scientist, a priest, or politician).

CBD Ace of SwordsSwords/Blades    Element = Air            Symbolizes:  Mind

  • Mind (psyche) / Ego / Analysis / Calculation / Instrumental Reasoning / Conceptual Frameworks (including the “ideas”, “beliefs” and “worldviews” that constitutes us as “separate selves”).
  • Mind can be a hindrance or a help– an adversary or an ally –in our efforts to realize Spirit.
  • In some respects “mind” is that aspect of ourselves that must be Transcended – that is, we must transcend the mind-made sense of self (aka the “arbitrary personality” or “separate individual” which has no real intuition of its unity with or connection to God, Nature, or Humanity as a whole).
  • In other respects, the practical operations of our mind begins to function better than ever once we realize that we are not what we think–once our egoic mind surrenders to the life of the Spirit . . . (the analytic, egocentric mind “is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master”, as is sometimes said).
  • Transcending the ego does not mean fleeing our material existence–rather, from this point forward, we begin relate properly to the material world for the very first time.

Coins/Pentacles       Element = Earth       Symbolizes:  The Material World

  • CBD Ace of CoinsMatter / Body / Material Resources / Circumstance / Medium of Manifestation / Creation / Incarnation
  • For the “separate self”— i.e. the egoic, “consumer” mentality —the material world is understood primarily in terms of desire (a kind of “playground” for our appetites and inclinations as we continue to play the wheel of fortune).
  • But for Spirit [and for the person/mind/psyche that is surrendered to Spirit] matter is a magical medium of artistic, poetic, religious, and political expression as we participate in “the respiration of eternity”—i.e. the One life, Divine.

–>  Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of Marseille

Sermon on the Four Suits - revision1.2

The Tarot images on the outside margins of this graphic are from the CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.  The images on the inside are from the “Pocket Edition” of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck by US Games Systems, Inc.

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Marseille Montage On Instagram

Nice montage of Major Arcana from the Tarot of Marseille — can you find them all!?  Enjoy!🙂

tarot of marseille instagram luizcarlos.tuca(posted on Instagram by Luiz Carlos Tuca Guimarães)

–>  The CBD Tarot of Marseille



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The CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov

Introducing the CBD Tarot by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov:

To be fair, our TeenyTinyTarot” © Trumps are especially designed with Valentin Tomberg’s “Christian Hermeticism” in mind.  They’re great for personal study, meditation, and contemplation–and they are very inexpensive!  But for those who are looking for a complete set of full-sized cards, the CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov is clearly the way to go!  This premium Tarot deck is not only larger (2.5″ x 4.75″), it is also more colorful– more graphically and technically precise –top of the line in every respect!

Click to enlarge... The CBD Tarot is based on the standard 78 card deck published in Marseille by Nicholas Conver in 1760.  A “Quick Reference Guide” (or “Little White Book”) is also included.  To learn more about this Tarot deck, visit CBDTarot.Com.  To purchase a set in the United States or Canada, follow the link below:

–>  CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov

Order the premium, 78 card "CBD Tarot de Marseille" by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

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Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of Marseille

This document grew out of a student’s question.  The student inquired as follows:

“…a couple of questions on the tarot card analogy that was discussed this past class. Do the tarot cards have a specific order in which they can be arranged in order to convey a particular meaning? How do the tarot cards relate to Plotinian thought or other ancient Greek philosophies?”

With regard to the Tarot cards, here is the series of images in question:

Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of MarseillePerhaps you have heard our conventional existence in time and space referred to as the horizontal dimension (or plane) — in contrast to the vertical dimension which is accessible to us if and only if our hearts are open to it. This distinction is key to understanding the universal symbolism of “The Lover” who is pulled in two directions (reminiscent of the myth of the soul in Plato’s Phaedrus). Those who choose the route of separation (seeking to secure their personal power, pleasure, and prestige on the horizontal plane) encounter mixed success, at best, and then face death and destruction; while those who “die before they die”— those who become attuned to deeper/higher levels of reality — realize their eternal life NOW (i.e. the vertical dimension).

Click on the link, below, to read additional commentary on these images:

–>  Christianity, Platonism, and the Tarot of Marseille  (Download PDF)

NOTE: The PDF file is designed to be printed as a booklet (i.e. to be printed on both sides, flipped on the short edge, and folded & stapled in the middle). It should print very nicely in “draft” mode if you wish to save on ink.

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Side by Side with the Solitary Man

“The Hermit of the ninth Card is a man of heart,
a solitary man who is walking.”

the_hermit -the golden tarot“The Hermit is neither deep in meditation or study nor is he engaged in work or action. He is walking. This means to say that he manifests a third state beyond that of contemplation and action. . . . the term of synthesis, namely that of heart. For it is the heart where contemplation and action are united, where knowledge becomes will and where will becomes knowledge. The heart does not need to forget all contemplation in order to act, and does not need to suppress all action in order to contemplate. It is the heart which is simultaneously active and contemplative, untiringly and unceasingly. It walks. It walks day and night, and we listen day and night to the steps of its incessant walking. This is why, if we want to represent a man who lives the law of the heart, who is centred in the heart and is a visible expression of the heart — the “wise and good father”, or the Hermit — we present him as walking, steadily and without haste” (226).

“The Hermit of the ninth Card is a man of heart, a solitary man who is walking”
(“Meditations on the Tarot”, Letter IX, “The Hermit”).

gold tarot strength
O you who reads these lines,
Do you believe in my promise ?
Your heart answers “yes”
Why are you waiting to follow Me ?
Do you not feel that I am calling you ?
– But who is this I
who calls me ?
I am telling you :
This I that calls you
Is none other than yourself.
– But then, I am two ?
No, my child, you are one.
One with me,
Who is the Christ in you.

~ Living Waters: Voice of the Heart


–>  Living Waters: Voice of the Heart

raven sunshine cloud

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Review by Fr. Thomas Keating

MeditationsoftheTarotBook Review: Meditations on the Tarot *
by Fr. Thomas Keating, OSCO

This work was originally written in French. A German translation with an introduction by Hans Urs von Balthasar appeared in 1972. A second revised German translation was published by Herder, Basel in 1983. The first French edition was published in 1980 and revised edition in 1984, both by Aubier Montaigne, Paris. The author wished the book to be published anonymously and posthumously.

In his foreword to the German edition, von Balthasar writes: “A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us to symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis, and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy. These symbols are summarized in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.”

This may be regarded as one of the great spiritual classics of this century. In the hands of this author of immense erudition and deep contemplation, the Tarot cards of ancient Egypt reveal their universal archetypal symbolic nature and become a school of objective insight. The meditations are, in the truest sense, a school of lectio divina requiring an activity more profound than that of study and intellectual explanation. The author gathers us into his own spiritual journey to the authentic Source of all true knowledge and compassion. This book in my view is the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the high Middle Ages. With its firm grasp of tradition, its balance, wisdom, profundity, openness to truth, and comprehensive approach to reality, it deserves to be the basis of a course in spirituality in every Christian institution of higher learning and what would be even better, the point of departure and unifying vision of the whole curriculum.

* Note: This review first appeared many years ago and has since been mirrored on a number of websites.

About the Author:

Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO, has written many books on contemplative prayer, especially Centering Prayer, which he is credited with popularizing in the United States. Among these are Open Mind, Open Heart, The Mystery of Christ, and Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit. He lives at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, and serves as an advisor to the Board of Directors of MID.

–>  Batgap Interview of Thomas Keating

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