Tarot Course Materials

Most of the material linked to, below, was developed for a class which was offered at a local bookstore in 2017.   These links can also be found under our new Tarot Course Materials menu item.  Some aspects of this material will be revised and supplemented as time goes on, but for the most part this is probably its final form.  Please email the webmaster to report any broken links, errors, or omissions! 🙂

The following topics were touched upon in the class:

. . . Why Meditate on the Tarot?

  1. The Tarot as We Know It
  2. Two Watershed Moments in Tarot History
  3. Comparing the Marseille & Waite-Smith Tarots
    1. Comparing the Minor Arcana
    2. Comparing the Major Arcana
      A More Detailed Look at the Major Arcana
  4. Aesthetic Roots and Resemblances Prior to 1770
  5. The Philosophical and Theological Milieu
  6. Archetypical Psychology and Spirituality
  7. Outline of Seminal Figures in the History of Occult Tarot
  8. Two Esoteric Schools Worthy of Special Mention
  9. Contemplative Tarot

Works Cited and Additional Resources

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The French Tradition

Editor’s Note:  Recently, while preparing to give presentations touching on the history and symbolism of the Tarot, I came across the following resources at Tarot-History.Com.  The owner of that site kindly agreed to my use of this beautiful and historically illuminating material here and in my classes.  Many thanks to Roxanne Flornoy and Tarot-History.Com !!!  🙂

The Tarot has always fascinated the casual inquirer and amateur as much as the seasoned initiate.

Here we deal with both the history and legend of tarot cards, as well as the tarot as game, magic
and “journey of the soul“.


These reflections are centered around the following traditional “Tarot of Marseille” preserved in the French National Library :

Tarot of Jean Noblet and of Jacques Vieville c.1650, Tarot of Jean Dodal c.1701, Tarot of Nicolas Conver 1760.

There are only three (plus another of a slightly different tradition) Tarots of Marseille which have come down to us complete and unaltered. It is these which are the foundation and source of all modern tarots. They were produced at a time when traditions were still alive, and it is to them that this site is dedicated

Our principal activity consists in re-editing these few historic, popular Tarots preserved in the French National Library:

This tradition, seven centuries old, originates in the knowledge, science and art of the men who built the cathedrals.

All tarots which are not rooted in this tradition (effectively dead by 1730) can be called “fantasy”, and just reflect their authors. Personal creations remain creations which are only personal, however erudite or beautiful.

–> Tarot-History.Com

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The Soul’s Choice

[Editor’s Note:  Go to The Soul’s Choice menu for a recently revised and expanded presentation of this material (or scroll down to continue reading this newly reformatted and illustrated, single page version) ~ Nov. 2018 ]

The Lover
 stands in equilibrium between two gravitational fields—the world of the serpent, on the one hand, and the world of the Word, on the other (cf. the “psychic man” in Letter XII).


MOTT References:
“spiritual fornication“ (143); “It is love which awakens” (126); “the ‘psychic man’ ” (307).




The Wheel of Fortune— aka the world of the serpent —suggests separation and duality (cf. fallen creation, maya, samsara, or simply the rat race).

MOTT References:
”the world of the serpent” (242-243, 246-7, 253 – cf. 143;203).


The World indicates union / nondualitythe world of the Word (cf. true nature, moksha, nirvana, the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God).


MOTT References:
”creative joy” (644); “the world of the Word” (143);
“the kingdom heaven” and “nirvana” are not equivalent in MOTT.




The Moon points to our empirical  ego and personal self-image—and, more generally, to discursive thought and instrumental reasoning (cf. analysis, calculation, ratiocination—see also The Ace of Swords).

MOTT References:

“materialist intellectuality” (494).

The Sun suggests our transcendental Self—the light of awareness in which we are called to walk (cf. I John 1:5-7).  See also Matthew 18:3 — “Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom…”


MOTT References:
“the look of a child” (552).



The Tower of Destruction points to the destiny of the egoic mind together with its projects—i.e. the inevitable end of “the story of me”, however successful “I” may be along the way (cf. “the tower of Babel” or “the house built on the sand”).


MOTT References:
“confronted by divine reality” (444).


The Hanged Man suggests the possibility of taking up our cross— of “dying before we die” —and entering the kingdom NOW…  (aka transcending the ego, being crucified with Christ—cf. Romans 6:4-6; Galatians 2:20).


MOTT References:
“attraction from above” (307).


The Ace of Swords, in this context, indicates the rule of the empirical / dualistic / egoic mind (cf. the all too often “arbitrary will” of the “emancipated personality” per MOTT ).

MOTT References:
“arbitrary will” (411); “emancipated personality” (119—cf. 116, 125, 127). 
NOTE: The Tarot Aces are not discussed in MOTT and it’s treatment of the Tarot suits is Kabbalistic whereas this approach is best characterized as Neoplatonic.

The Ace of Batons points to Spirit / Presence / Awareness / God’s will / our real will— as we are in the beginning in Christ, the image and likeness of God (cf. GK Nous / Logos / Mind of Christ / Divine Intelligence).

NOTE: “Action” as in Divine activity; the ground of authentic action… (not fallen reactivity).

MOTT References:
NOTE: The Tarot Aces are not discussed in MOTT and it’s treatment of the Tarot suits is Kabbalistic whereas this approach is best characterized as Neoplatonic.


The Devil indicates the temptation of duality and forgetfulness (in material, ideological and/or sensual pursuits).


MOTT References:
“two personages” (404, 408ff – see discussion of “egregores” for the ideological aspect).

alerts us to the call of conscience
(mindfulness / recollection / remembrance / Divine presence); helps bridge the gap (functionally) between the image and likeness of God in us…


MOTT References:
“faithful ally” (375 – see pages 374ff for the distinction between image and likeness).



The Ace of Coins here suggests the ego’s preoccupation with “laying up treasure on earth” (See Luke 12:15-34; Philippians 3:18-21; I Timothy 6:9-10; James 4:1-3).


MOTT References:
NOTE: The Tarot Aces are not discussed in MOTT and it’s treatment of the Tarot suits is Kabbalistic whereas this approach is best characterized as Neoplatonic.

The Ace of Chalices suggests a heart that is open to Spirit (“If you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above…” See Colossians 3:1-3; Luke 12:15-34).


MOTT References:
NOTE: The Tarot Aces are not discussed in MOTT and it’s treatment of the Tarot suits is Kabbalistic whereas this approach is best characterized as Neoplatonic.

The Soul’s Choice…
A Thirteen Card Spread of Inspirational Trumps & Aces:
[ Introduction | Commentary | Acknowledgements | Download ]

 Whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely…

[See TTTarot Hermeneutics for additional background on this arrangement of images.]


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“Two Gravitational Fields” (Pope Benedict XVI)

In one of our initial posts (Let the journey begin), we suggested that Meditations on the Tarot might be linked to Pope Benedict XVI through Robert Spaemann (the same Robert Spaemann who wrote the forward to the German edition of MOTT, Die großen Arcana des Tarot).  And just recently, additional evidence has come to our attention which also suggests that Benedict may have been familiar with our anonymous author.  Indeed, it is not at all farfetched to think that, in addition to the Fathers of the Church, Pope Benedict may also have had Letter VI and (especially) Letter XII of MOTT, in mind as he wrote the following lines for his 2011 Palm Sunday Homily:

“The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.”

By way of comparison, consider the following paragraphs from Letter XII of MOTT:

Now, the domain of freedom— the spiritual life —is found placed between two gravitational fields with two different centres. The Gospel designates them as “heaven” and “this world”, or as the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of the prince of this world”. And it designates those whose will follows or is submitted to the gravitation of “this world” as “children of this world”, and those whose will follows the gravitation of “heaven” as the “children (or the sons) of light.
 The human being participates in these two gravitational fields, as the apostle Paul had in mind when he said:
<<< For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh: for these arc opposed to each other, to prevent vou from doing what you would. (Galatians v. 17) >>>
These “opposing desires” arc the tendencies through which the two gravitational fields manifest themselves. The man who lives in the grip of gravitation of “this world” at the expense of the gravitation of “heaven” is the “carnal man”; he who lives in equilibrium between the two gravitational fields is the “psychic man”; and. lastly, the one who lives under the sway of the gravitation of “heaven” is (he “spiritual man” (MOTT, Letter XII, “The Hanged Man”, 306-307).


Less explicit, but very helpful by way of background, in Letter VI, our anonymous author writes:

“The choice before which the young man of the sixth Arcanum finds himself placed is of greater significance that that between vice and virtue. It is a matter here of choice between on the one hand the way of obedience, poverty and chastity and on the other hand the way of power, richness and debauchery. The practical teaching of the Arcanum “The Lover” is to do with the three vows and the three corresponding temptations.
“The three vows are, in essence, memories of paradise, where man was united with God (obedience), where he possessed everything at once (poverty), and where his companion was at one and the same time his wife, his friend, his sister and his mother (chastity). For the real presence of God necessarily entails the action of prostrating oneself in the face of Him “who is more me than I myself am”— and here lies the root and source of the vow of obedience; the vision of the forces, substances and essences of the world in the guise of the “garden of divine symbols” (the garden of Eden) signifies the possession of everything without choosing, without laying hold of, or without appropriating any particular thing isolated from the whole —and here lies the root and source of the vow of poverty; lastly, total communion between two, between one and another, which comprises the entire range of all possible relationships of spirit, soul and body between two polarised beings necessarily constitutes the absolute wholeness of spiritual, psychic and physical being, in love —and here lies the root and source of the vow of chastity. One is chaste only when one loves with the totality of one’s being.
Chastity is not wholeness of being in indifference, but rather in the love which is “strong as death and whose flashes are flashes of fire, the flame of the Eternal”. It is living unity.
“The Christian doctrine and experience of grace expresses the very essence of chastity, just as it also contains the principles of poverty and obedience. It is the doctrine concerning chaste relationships between that which is below and that which is above. God is not an object and neither is he an object of knowledge. He is the source of iiluminatory and revelatory grace. He cannot be grasped, but he can certainly reveal himself.
“Here we have chastity, poverty and obedience underlying the Christian doctrine and experience of grace. Now, all Christian esotericism or Hermeticism, including here all its mysticism, gnosis and magic, is founded on the experience and doctrine of grace, one of the results of which is initiation. Initiation is an act of grace from above. It cannot be achieved or produced by any technical outer or inner procedures. One does not initiate oneself; one becomes initiated” (Letter VI, “The Lover”, pages 124, 133-134).


To meditate on these themes more profoundly, let us re-read Letters VI and XII in their entirety and meditate on the image below.  Our study guides should also be helpful, but are no substitute for a close reading of the primary text.

–>  See Study Guides VI. The Lover and XII.  The Hanged Man

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Why Meditate on the Tarot?

Cultivate the Seed of Self-Transcendence:

  • The Self is a relation that relates to
    itself and to the power which grounds
    (cf. Kierkegaard).
  • The idea of “the separate self” is an
    illusion to be transcended.

Serious Students May Reasonably Aspire To:

  • Enhanced Self-Knowledge
  • Authentic Inspiration and Creativity
  • Clarity and Grace in Thought and Action
  • More Effective Communication and Better Interpersonal Relationship Skills

Students May also Come to Recognize and Honor their Eternal Life NOW:                                                      

  • Each of us participates in the magic, eternal life that NOW IS.
  • The Tarot provides a context for concentration and mindful introspection.
  • Fear, desire, resentment, and wishful thinking are observed–not served.
  • Courage, Courtesy, and Self-Reliance are cultivated in the process.
  • If and when conditions are right, the “separate self” will be seen through.

Students Who So Desire May Begin Learning “The Four Precepts” as an Initial or Supplemental Approach to Self-Inquiry:

  • Remember Your Divine Essence
    (Remember your essential Self—Christ-in-you, the hope of glory…)
  • Say Yes to Life Unconditionally
    (Harbor no regrets, no “if onlys”…  Rather, take up your cross…)
  • Overcome the Spirit of Resentment and Revenge
    (Don’t blame others for your problems; both your neighbor and your enemy are yourSelf…)
  • Follow Your Bliss
    (“Love and do what you will…”  Discover your real will…)       

Quoting P.D. Ouspensky:  “If we imagine [the] twenty-one [numbered Tarot  Trumps] disposed in the shape of a triangle, seven cards on each side, a point in the centre of the triangle represented by the zero card [the Fool], and a square round the triangle (the square consisting of fifty-six cards, fourteen on each side), we shall have a representation of the relation between God, Man and the Universe, or the relation between the world of ideas, the consciousness of man and the physical world.  The triangle is God (the Trinity) or the world of ideas, or the noumenal world.  The point is man’s soul.  The square is the visible, physical or phenomenal world.  Potentially, the point is equal to the square, which means that all the visible world is contained in man’s consciousness, is created in man’s soul.  And the soul itself is a point having no dimension in the world of the spirit, symbolized by the triangle.  It is clear that such an idea could not have originated with ignorant people and clear also that the Tarot is something more than a pack of playing or fortune-telling cards” (The Symbolism of the Tarot).

Questions?  Email:  Self-Enquiry@TeenyTinyTarot.Com

–> Download Contemplative Tarot Brochure  (PDF File)

2019 Contemplative Tarot 3.34.jpg

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The Hanged Man — Again!!!

Don’t be surprised if we return again and again to this arrangement of images with our primary focus, perhaps, remaining on The Hanged Man.   In any event, consider, for a moment, that Christianity, construed as an exoteric tradition, is designed for us as apparent individuals (playing The Wheel of Fortune) whose understanding is darkened (cf. The Moon) and who, as such, have nothing to look forward to but death and destruction (The Tower).


Biblical narratives– insofar as we find them in some sense captivating or compelling –remind us that there is more to us than meets the eye; that the operations of our minds shine in a borrowed light; that we are, in fact, chosen/created in Christ before the foundation of the apparent world; and that we would do well to wake up and turn our hearts and our minds toward home.

Thus we are invited to repent (cf. The Lover) to take up our cross (cf. The Hanged Man), to become like little children (to walk in the light as He is in the light–cf. The Sun); and to enter into the life of the Spirit NOW (cf.  Le Monde); with our hearts wide open to the Spirit and Word of God (cf. The Ace of Chalices and Batons).

The Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that hears say, Come.  And let him that is thirsty come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).

–> XII. The Hanged Man


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TTTarot Hermeneutics

One of my fantasies is to open a little brick and mortar meeting place called The TeenyTinyTarot © Cafe and Community Center with a study area devoted to Tarot Hermeneutics.  With regard to the Tarot Hermeneutics study area, I would designate it by that name for couple of reasons–partly in honor of my friend, Paul Nagy, who happens to host a website by that name…

…and partly because the expression so brilliantly captures (what our anonymous author refers to on page 7 as) the game of tarot, while at the same time subtly  suggesting how much light an understanding of the history and usage of the Tarot can shed on the subject of hermeneutics in general!

But this post is not really about my (imagined) TeenyTinyTarot © Cafe and Community Center with its (imagined) Tarot Hermeneutics study area– nor is it about the kind of light which an understanding of the Tarot can shed on our understanding of hermeneutics in general –rather, it is about a concrete example of tarot hermeneutics involving myself, Paul Nagy, and my little booklet, A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits.  It’s a bit tedious at times, but it accurately reflects several aspects of my thinking about The Hanged Man  and The Soul’s Choice as it has developed, here, over the last 4 or 5 years.   Follow the link and scroll down if you’d like to continue…  [updated 10/27/2018]

—> Tarot Heremeneutics



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New “RWS Style” Tarot Trumps

RWS Bookmark 1.16 gold.jpg

150px-ArthurEdwardWaite~1880pamela-colman-smith“TeenyTinyTarot” © is proud to introduce this new set of Waite Smith style tarot trumps based on the original Waite Smith design, first published in 1910 (or 1909, depending on who you talk to).  As you may have already guessed, RWS in the title of this article –refers, respectively, to the original publisher, “William Rider & Son” (London); to the author, designer, and project originator, “Arthur Edward Waite“; and to the artist and collaborator, “Pamela Coleman Smith“.

rws-00-10-scan0268-croppedOur goal is to share Meditations on the Tarot and the path of Christian Hermeticism more widely by offering this more colorful, more popular set of tarot trumps in addition to the more traditional “Marseille style” trumps that we have been offering since 2014.

Despite the significant differences between the two sets of trumps, the Waite-Smith design retains much of the same imagery as the Tarot of Marseille while at the same time (it seems) appealing to a wider audience.  In any event– since its initial publication here in 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. –it appears to have provided the primary point of entry into the Tarot tradition for the majority of people in the United State and it continues to have a broad appeal.   Indeed, if its popularity has waned over the last 2 or 3 decades, that is only because of the competition from hundreds of new decks which it has served to inspire.

–> “TeenyTinyTarot” © “Waite Smith” Style Trumps


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Study Guide VII. The Chariot

smalll7.2 The Chariotjung four fold mandela.pngA new “study guide” for  Letter VII on The Chariot has just been posted.  While reading this summary is obviously no substitute for reading the original, it should offer a good review for those already familiar the text and may help to focus the new student’s attention on the core issue(s) being discussed.

In the process of revisiting this letter, a review of Jungian psychology also seemed in order.  Here are some resources that were helpful:

Introduction to Carl Jung – The Psyche, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious:

Introduction to Carl Jung – Individuation, the Persona, the Shadow, and the Self:

Carl Jung Depth Psychology: Jung on the “Self” – Anthology


–>  VII. The Chariot

totality of self vs ego.jpg

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A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits

[Editor’s Note:  This material has been significantly revised (at least twice!) since it was last updated, below.  The most recent version (3.2) is available in PDF format (Download PDF).  More recently, however, it taken on another form:  Neoplatonic Symbolism in the Tarot Suits.]

Please note that, while the Anonymous Author of Meditations on the Tarot cannot necessarily be appealed to as the authority for (or even the primary inspiration behind) this approach to the tarot suits, it is nonetheless generally consistent with his work— see, for example, the beginning of Letter II, “The High Priestess”, pages 29-31 —and also this brief discussion 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; cf. “Figure 1 below).


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

It is also worth noting that this is a work in progress which has been kept intentionally brief (and very dense) for ease of printing in these few, short pages. Additional clarification and elaboration is definitely in order. In the meantime, suffice it to say that the activity of Spirit cannot be grasped conceptually and cannot be used as a means to some merely personal/egoic end. It is nevertheless the case that the realization of Spirit does indeed constitute the true meaning and purpose of our lives and that such realization does have a practical impact on the apparent world. Moreover, we become more attuned to Spirit, 1) as we learn to distinguish between “awareness”, as such, and the incessant “mental chatter” which tends to accompany most of our perceptions (i.e. the habitual, usually unconscious “self-talk” which continuously expresses and reinforces our personal fears, desires, judgments); 2) as we begin to practice breath awareness and inner-body awareness as an aid to meditation; and 3) as we begin to anchor lives in “aware presence” or “alert stillness” — the pristine, lucid Way of Truth and Life which leaves unnecessary mental commentary and distracted, ineffective action beneath itself. Honest and sustained self-observation is essential to this work—discursive thought or dialectic is merely preparatory (see the discussion of “concentration without effort” in Letter I of Meditations on the Tarot, page 8).

A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits (excerpted from version 1.63)
(Tarot images from cbdtarot.com ~ CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov)

Wands/Batons           Element = Fire           Symbolizes:  Spirit (Creative Mind)CBD Ace of Wands

  • 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 / The Dynamic Ground of Creative Manifestation
  • 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 / Intuition / Contemplation
  • 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 a politician).

Swords/Blades    Element = Air            Symbolizes:  (Discursive) Mind
CBD Ace of Swords

  • 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.
  • On the one hand, “mind” is that aspect of ourselves that must be Transcended – that is, we must transcend the mind-made sense of self (i.e. the “arbitrary personality” or “separate individual”) which seems to obstruct the intuition of our unity with or connection to God, Nature, or Humanity as a whole.
  • On the other hand, 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 egoic/analytic mind makes “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 to 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 egocentric “consumer” mentality —the material world is understood primarily in terms of desire (a kind of self-indulgent “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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