The Real True Meaning of the Tarot

•September 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

Curiosity killed the ape

Nothing is as enticing to a human being as a secret. The moment we see a locked door, our imagination immediately latches onto it with awe and wonder: something amazing and really cool must be behind that door. Why else would there be a lock? There’s got to be something mysterious, dangerous and exciting behind that door or else there wouldn’t be a lock, now, would there?

This urge to know what is behind locked doors drives the human species to continually expand, explore and experiment. There’s an endorphin rush when we learn something — a moment of indescribable euphoria at the moment the unknown becomes known. This has been clinically shown. Learning involves a whole bunch of processes, one of which is the forming of new neural pathways. When a new pathway is forged it is accompanied by a flood of the neurochemical called seratonin — the same chemical responsible for the feeling of being “in love.” In other words, figuring out something new feels gooooooooood. This endorphin rush not only makes evolution possible, it makes evolution addictive.

Conventional Development – Differentiation

Human beings are pack animals. We thrive in communities. Communities are interdependent groups. In order for an indivudual to fully take part in an interdependent group they must develop the skills to operate independently, which is the point at which an individual becomes a functioning adult.

Before a person can take part as a fully functional interdependent member of a community they must learn a set of basic skills that every person needs to learn in order to survive. Ideally, when a person grows up the community teaches them these skills. Once you have learned these skills, you can then specialize in a way that benefits the community. The process of learning these basic skills has been called Conventional Development.

The conventional phase often referred to as “Differentiation” because in it an indivudual develops the skills and awareness that allow them to operate as an independent individual.

Post-Conventional Development – Integration

Once an invidual has reached a point of independent functioning, they begin to combine the basic conventional skills in new and exciting ways, often continuing to develop additional basic skills to add to their “bag of tricks.” Often individuals will continue to extend their basic conventional skillset, exponentially increasing the potential for innovation.

Developing a unique skillset through integrating the basics, an individual “specializes,” developing a unique place in the community.

This post-conventional phase is referred to as “Integration” because of the innovative ways each individual combines the conventional skills.


Okay, Jonathan, get out of the fricken pulpit and tell us why you’re going on forever about social theory and brain chemicals when all we want to know is the real true meanings of the Tarot cards.

Bringing it home

Tarot is not a basic skillset, it is post-conventional framework made up by integrating several conventional building blocks of knowledge. This means that in order to really understand Tarot you will need to understand several other areas of knowledge: primarily Kabbalah, Astrology and the classical Elements. Other areas such as Alchemy and Geomancy also enrich your understanding. Tarot is a pretty complex area of study. Because of its complexity, if you talk with two different people about the meaning of a particular card, you are likely to hear two different meanings. The more you learn about the basics, the deeper and richer your understanding of the cards will become.

The Hidden Meanings

Hidden meanings are like locked doors. They are enticing, tantalizing and frustrating. They are more frustrating than locked doors. It takes time and patience to develop the basic knowledge that will allow you to arrive at deeper levels of understanding. The more you learn, the greater the number of insights you will gain, and the more you will understand about the Tarot.

So, is there a Real True Meaning of the Tarot?

Of course.

It’s a Secret.

A 15 year journey — addendum

•September 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

There has been a lot of traffic on the post entitled “A 15 year journey.” In that post I made the statement that I was not going to redo the Ra Horakhty Tarot with the new color scheme.

That is not entirely true. In readying the deck for publication, some things came to light. Even though the originals had been stored properly, the colors of some of the pigments had faded, in some cases drastically so. In addition, there were a few card where the colour scale was partially wrong.

So, some of the cards have been corrected, and in a four of cases I have repainted them completely. All of them are being “color corrected” to make up for the pigment fading. It’s turning out to be a longer process than I initially anticipated.

But it’s all worth it.

32 Paths of Wisdom

•August 30, 2009 • 3 Comments

I use some really strange language to describe the different cards in the Tarot deck. Some of you may think that it sounds cool and mysterious, others may think that it sounds like I’m a complete nut case.

There is actually a method to my madness.

In order to give you a reference point so that you can understand some of the words and phrases that are used, I’m going to continue with a basic overview of the Kabbalah from the hermetic point of view.

In the last post we went over the Tree of Life and some general attributions to the Tarot. Let’s delve deeper into these concepts.

The structure of the Tree of Life is described in a really old book called the Sepher Yetzirah, which loosely translates into, “The Book of Creation.” The information in it was passed from teacher to student verbally, presumably for centuries, before it was recorded in a book. Sepher Yetzirah describes the act of creation from God to the physical universe in 32 steps. These are the 32 Paths of Wisdom, and these paths take shape as 10 stages and the 22 relationships betwen the 10 stages.

According to the Sepher Yetzirah, God “carved out” 10 spheres from nothingness. The concept of “carving out” would be like taking a big bucket of ice cream and digging out perfectly round balls of ice cream from it. After you have scooped a ball of ice cream from the bucket, you are left with perfectly round holes that you can now fill up with really yummy chocolate. In the case of Creation, God carved 10 empty spaces out of nothingness, and the really yummy chocolate is energy. Each sphere gets filled with a particular form of energy, or a vibration of the Breath of God.

32 Paths of Wisdom

32 Paths of Wisdom

The Tree of Life is all about objects and relationships. Objects are “things.” Relationships are the interactions between things. Relationships can’t exist until objects are created. The 10 empty spaces, or Sephirah, are levels of existence: they are things. As the Spheres fill up with energy they reach a point called “critical mass” where the attraction between them spontaneously happens. This spontaneous attraction is like gravity. The Earth and the Moon have a strong attraction to each other, so much so that the Moon orbits around the earth. If you draw a straight line between the center of the Moon and the center of the Earth you show the line of strongest attraction between the Moon and the Earth. This is the same concept behind the 22 Paths on the Tree of Life: each path is the strongest point of attraction between two Spheres.

This diagram shows the numbering of the 32 paths of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. It is the natural order of Creation. First you see the Sephiroth, numbered 1 through 10, in the order they were “carved out” of nothingness. Then you see the paths, numbered 11 through 32, in the order they appeared as the Spheres reached critical mass.

Now when you see a statement like, “The 29th path is the Corporeal Intelligence,” you can look at this diagram and see where the 29th path exists in the scheme of Creation.

In the beginning…

•August 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

berashith bera

The Golden Dawn approach to Tarot leaves both the casual student and the adept scholar in wonder. The amount of information associated with the Tarot is encyclopaedic. Research and practice extends what passes as a simple divination tool far beyond the scope of the simple card readers of the middle ages.

So where would a beginner start to understand the Tarot?

Very simple: at the beginning.

The Tarot has three major divisions. Twenty-two Trumps, or Major Arcana; sixteen Court Cards, or Royal Arcana; and forty Pip Cards or Minor Arcana. The Court Cards and the Minor Arcana are similar to what you would find in a deck of playing cards: Knights, Queens, Kings and Princesses followed by 10 pip cards, all grouped into four suits.

TOL This diagram is a glyph called the “Tree of Life” from the hermetic school of Kabbalah. It represents the whole of creation from the first breath of God down to the roots of material existence. This diagram shows 10 spheres connected by 22 paths. This represents the process of involution (incarnation) and evolution. The 10 spheres represent states of existence and the 22 paths represent the transitory states between those states of mind.

Why did I go all into a discussion of Kabbalah, God and Creation and existence? Because from the Golden Dawn point of view the Tarot deck is a pictorial representation of the whole of creation and can be represented by the Tree of Life. Twenty-two Trumps representing twenty-two paths. Ten cards representing ten spheres. Four suits representing Four Worlds of emanation.

Key 18 – The Moon

•August 22, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Twenty-ninth Path is the Corporeal Intelligence, so called because it forms every body which is formed in all the worlds, and the reproduction of them. – W. Wynn Westcott, The Sepher Yetzirah

According to “Book T” – Dissatisfaction, voluntary change. Error, lying, falsity, deception. This card is very sensitive to dignity.

There is a branch of scientific investigations called “Artificial Life.” In this line of study scientists study the behavior of automata – small machines that do nothing more than interact with their environment. Each automaton has a set of instructions embedded within it that define its behavior pattern. The instruction sets are simple, and mostly mechanical – in other words they utilized the actual structure of the machine. Such a behavior could be, “Go forward. When you hit something reverse and turn 30 degrees to your left for 3 seconds then go forward again.” In software we would abstract out such a behavior pattern into a structure known as a “loop.” In the course of investigations it was discovered that an additional implicit set of behaviors would emerge for an automaton based on the environment in which it was placed.

When many identical automata were placed in the same environment something incredible happened. A group pattern of behaviour emerged. This pattern became more complex in relation to the number of automata.

The experience of The Moon places you within the realm of simple intelligences based on the body. Not jut our human body, but all bodies. These intelligences are basic primal and seem alien to our rational minds. Instincts. Reflexes.

Our physical bodies are made up of many interdependent systems that are not dependent upon conscious control. Consider the mere act of bleeding. If we had to consciously tell our body to repair itself of every minor cut then we would bleed to death. The nature of our blood allows for clotting to take place allowing other automatic systems to kick in and our wounds heal.

The Moon governs our behaviour patterns, from the basic four “F’s” (fight, flee, feed and fornicate) to the neurotic way we treat our spouses. From the limp caused by a congenital shape of a femur all the way to the strange eye “tick” that develops when a neural episode messes up some of the axons in our cranial nerves.

The lesson of The Moon is acceptance of ourselves as natural bodies with natural behaviour patterns.  Like the scientists, we cannot tell our bodies what patterns will emerge from ourselves. We can only let go of the illusion of control and observe the patterns as they emerge. The Adept then learns how to control his or her own body by changing the environment around the body.

Working with Flashing Colors

•August 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Flashing colors have a powerful psychological effect.

I’ve been working on the last repaint, and, no, I’m not going to tell you which card it is. (Suffice it to say it is Major Arcana.) I’m really excited about it because the colors not only flash, they REALLY FLASH. So much so that it has taken me two days to do what normally takes about eight hours.

At first I was really excited about the effectiveness of the flash, then the effects set in. First visual aberrations, the inability to focus and weird little glitches in the peripheral vision. Next emotional reactions, mainly irritibility. Finally the physical effects set in: minor disorientation, followed by vertigo, and then the most loved by all, nausea.

When my body is ready to pitch out a puddle of cheezy-poofs mixed with a half a glass of merlot on the floor I usually decide to take a break.

And I’m still excited about the colours.

Key 14 – Temperance

•August 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“The Twenty-fifth Path is the Intelligence of Probation, or Temptation, and is so called because it is the primary temptation, by which the Creator trieth all righteous persons.” – W. Wynn Westcott, The Sepher Yetzirah

According to “Book T” – Combination of forces, realization, action (material effect, good or evil).

Temperance rises like an arrow from the sphere of Yesod to the sphere of Tiphareth, piercing the Portal between conventional linear reasoning and post-conventional understanding. Two different effects are represented by this path. The path leads from a mental impulse of Differentiation to one of Integration.

The sphere of Yesod is the center of the ego, the Differentiating Mind. It is a realm of differences: “I am different than you.” It is a realm of separation: “This is mine, that is yours.” The conventional mind operates by defining “OR” relationships: this OR that; me OR you. The sphere of Tiphareth is a realm of commonalities, where differences complement each other in an interdependent fashion. The post-conventional mind operates by observing “AND” relationships: this AND that; me AND you. A great example of the progression from differentiation to integration is shown by the shift between Adam Smith’s capitalistic economics and Robert Nash’s dynamic economics. In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” a young Nash explains this using an example of four men competing for a beautiful woman. If the men use the competitive viewpoint described by Adam Smith, if they think only about their own greater good, then one man gets one woman, and everybody else loses. If, however, the men think of the greater good of all of the men, none of the men compete for the one woman and all of them succeed. The side effects of this kind of approach are staggering: four men and four women’s needs are met, resulting in the probability of an exponential population expansion.

Temperance represents the long march from living an “OR” life to living an “AND” life. The Sepher Yetzirah refers to this journey as the primary temptation because this journey is fraught with an increasing awareness of “side-effects.” A classic is the temptation of a very rich personal life, whether the richness is power, wealth or familial contentment. The temptation arises from Yesod with the dawning awareness of the Tiphareth mindset,  much like the appearance of the beautiful woman in John Nash’s story.

The terrible lesson of Tiphareth is that in order to experience unimaginable success you have to give up chasing these temptations.

The only way to do this is to make a Leap of Faith.

The Keys to Everything

•August 5, 2009 • 2 Comments

In a previous post I mentioned that there would be no booklet to accompany the Ra Horakhty Tarot, and that this blog would have all the information about the cards and layouts that are traditionally in a booklet.

A problem came up right from the get-go: organizing the data.

The other day I put together a great article on Key 13 – the Trump card known as “Death.” After setting it up on its own page under the Major Arcana I happily went on my way writing, researching, drinking coffee, only to find a couple days later that by setting it up in the “Pages” section of this blog, it didn’t register in the blogroll.

So, here’s the plan: each card that is written up will be posted, and the post will be added to the “Pages” section of the blog for easy reference. Hopefully that will help.

Oh, and I reposted the writeup on “Death” to the actual blogroll so that it will burn out to the feeds.

Key 13 – Death

•August 5, 2009 • 1 Comment
The Twenty-fourth Path is the Imaginative Intelligence, and it is so called
because it gives a likeness to all the similitudes which are created in like
manner similar to its harmonious elegancies.

“The Twenty-fourth Path is the Imaginative Intelligence, and it is so called because it gives a likeness to all the similitudes which are created in like manner similar to its harmonious elegancies.” – W. Wynn Westcott, The Sepher Yetzirah.

According to “Book T” – Time, age, transformation, change involuntary (as opposed to 18, Pisces). Or death, destruction (only latter with special cards).

The Imaginative Intelligence is represented in the Tarot Deck by the Trump Card known as “Death.” This path leads from Netzach, a state of development characterized by abstract though, material love, material sensuality and theocentric devotion to Tiphareth where bliss is characterized by detachment. Individuals who are dominant in the emotional world would rather die than give up their attachments. However, in order to grow an individual must let go of their attachments. To the emotionally centered person, this is Death.

In the 8 Circuit Model of Consciousness developed by Timothy Leary, the Fourth Circuit, the Socio-Sexual Circuit is analogous to the stage of development represented by Netzach. Leary postulated that the Fourth Circuit was triggered by a neurotransmitter called “oxytocin.” Oxytocin is an interesting little guy. It is the chemical of emotional attachment, and it is unique to mammals. It floods through mothers during childbirth, triggering mother-child bonding. It is also triggered by the high levels of seratonin present when two people are “in love.” This little chemical is responsible for our family ties and our social circles. The Fourth Circuit is also about religious devotion. Religion is another one of our social behaviors that binds communities together. If you think about coming of age rituals like batmitvahs, confirmations and dozens of other ceremonial bindings, they occur during adolescence – the time when the Fourth Circuit is imprinted.

When you consider the social binding power of oxytocin, think back to your first crush or your first love and feel that euphoric high. Now remember your first breakup — that devastating, soul-wrenching experience. People kill themselves or other people during breakups. The ripping pain is the root of violent divorces, powerful fatal attractions and operatic suicides. That pain is the power of the Death Card. Think of the pathos with which battered spouses defend their partners. That is the power of oxytocin.

If we take Leary’s cue and then apply that little neurochemical to religion then a big light is shone on the strength with which people defend their religious devotions. If anyone has ever experienced a “falling away” from the religion in which you were brought up, you will recall the numbing loss, depression and bewilderment of spiritual crisis.

So, after all that operatic pathos, why would the Adepts refer to this path as the Imaginative Intelligence? Because Imagination is how you create things. Create an image with the power of your heart, represented by Tiphareth, and fuse it with all the power of desire and emotional devotion from Netzach and you will create what you want.

Before you can do this, however, you must learn how to detach. You must experience the emotional patterns of letting go.

This is the lesson of Death.

Somewhere that’s Green…

•August 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

“Every 300 sheets of paper costs us a tree.”

I received an email from a colleague with the quote cited above. It made me think a little bit about publishing a physical deck of cards. Creating thousands of copies of a Tarot deck at at time when the word “Green” carries so many layers of environmental subtext could be seen as hypocritical as a vegan banging on a goatskin drum. I’m glad that I did my research before hand.

The Ra Horakhty Tarot will be printed on Casino Grade cardstock — I chose this for several reasons: 1) It sounds really cool and professional, 2) It is known for durability and quality, and 3) it’s made out of cotton.

Years in the limited edition art world conditioned me to pick cotton stock for printing this deck. Cotton is acid-free – this means that the cards will not deteriorate over time. Much better for the consumer, and much better for the trees.

The other decision that has a direct relationship to saving a tree was the decision to not include a booklet with the deck. You will be able to view the card descriptions and the reading layouts here in the blog. A pdf version will be available for download from the website. One thing though – if you decide to print the booklet, please use recycled paper.