Category Archives: Tarot

A Finer Division of Energy

One of the fundamental guiding principles of many Neopagan paths, and indeed the Western Hermetic tradition, is the characterisation of all phenomena into the system of the four elements, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Many add a fifth element – Spirit, which combines, centres, and harmonizes the other four. In my own work, I use the four elements to characterise the energetic essence of all phenomena that interest me. Books and lists of elemental correspondences are an important step in learning the craft, learning to recognise the common energetic signatures of phenomena and entities from the different dimensions of existence. For example, an elemental association can be found for herbs, gems, metals, minerals and trees by consulting various sources of traditional lore.
However the division into just four energetic types is too gross a division to account for all the fine differentiations one finds in the world of nature. For example, there are thousands of different herbs in use, and their characters and properties are all unique. In order to begin characterising energies on a finer division, one system that can be employed is the sixteen fold division of energetic movement. This subdivides each element into four aspects, themselves corresponding to the four elements. Thus we have Air of Air, Fire of Air, Water of Air, and Earth of Air. Where as Air as an element corresponds to beginnings, thoughts, communication, the mental realm, and changeability, Air of Air corresponds to the quintessence of Air, the beginnings of thought processes, the conceptions behind planning, the guiding principals, the rules of logic, the very beginning of any enterprise, etc.
Fire of Air is the next stage, corresponding to the action stage of mental endeavour, such as fleshing out a novel once the plot and characters have been defined, talking about plans with others, developing ideas with others, allowing a touch of inspiration into one’s plans. Water of Air is the next stage of the process. It may correspond to getting feedback about one’s plans, it may symbolise the beginnings of emotional attachment to one’s goals and plans, it may correspond to sharing, or the desire to share one’s plans with others, perhaps to gain their support, or admiration. It may symbolise the contribution that the unconscious impulses may make to beginnings and plans, or which may unsettle the mind and cause changeability, or lack of confidence. Earth of Air then corresponds to the process of bedding down, locking in, and making a commitment to the proposed course of action, which prepares us to move onto the element of Fire, which symbolises action.
First is Air of Fire, which symbolises the initial steps, the beginnings, the first testings of action. It may also symbolise actions which are achieved or take their form through mental processes, such as writing letters, creating works of literature, or other mental activities that are themselves acts which affect others. Fire of Fire is the essence of movement and action, enthusiasm and inspiration. Water of Fire represents responsive action, guided and directed by feedback from its environment, or the things upon which the action is directed. Earth of Fire represents habitual action, action that has been locked into place through habit and repetition, or action that is practical in nature, or actions that build over time and repetition to achieve their constructive purpose. Whereas Air of Fire is changeable, Earth of Fire is solid action, and almost impervious to influence.
After Fire in the sun cycle of manifestation, is the element of Water, generally taken to be associated with the harvest, the rewards of action. Also associated with compassion, intuition and the subconscious, and the womb of the great mother. So we might take Air of water to represent the beginnings of the harvest or the rewards, with more still to come. We might also take Air of Water to symbolise intellectual expressions of compassion, or intellectual descriptions of the psyche – such as various forms of psychology and psychotherapy. Indeed any intellectual description or categorisation of intuitive, unconscious, dream or other non-waking realities, could be described as Air of Water. Fire of Water moves us into the active phase of reaping our harvest, and the activity of compassion, intuition, and delving into the greater self in some way. Water of Water, brings to mind the quintessence of Water, of compassion, intuition, the inner life. It is the returning current, and it is the mystery of connection. Earth of Water brings to mind the practical expression of intuition, compassion, and inner development, inner connection with the Great Mother: the habit of openness, the habit of compassion.
The Earth element then takes us through a period of stasis, of breaking apart, of composting to form the substrate for the next cycle of manifestation, the time of digesting experience. So Air of Earth is the intellectual expression of deconstructing one’s experience in order to do something better next time, a conscious reflection on events. Fire of Earth brings to mind a cheerful reflection on how things went, bringing to bear humour on a situation. It is also the active step in decomposition, perhaps symbolised by a wriggling mass of worms turning vegetable scraps into compost. Water of Earth is the final return, the reward of one’s reflection, and the processing of one’s subconscious mind, and of the group mind, below the level of awareness. Earth of Earth, is the final stasis after deconstruction and reflection and intuitive insights have been digested, leading to a stable foundation for a new cycle of manifestation.
Further insight into this division of energy may be gained by considering the court cards of the tarot deck. For example, the Pages represent Air, the Knights Fire, the Queens water, the Kings Earth. So Page of Coins is Air of Earth, Queen of wands is Water of Fire, etc.
This illustration of the four fold division of each of the elements is just one means of further characterising energies, and refining correspondences. We may apply further dimensions of characterisation. For example, we may characterise people physically, emotionally, intellectually and according to personality, each according to the 16 elemental divisions described, which gives approximately 64,000 different characterisations of a person. While every individual is unique, the richness of such a characterisation is sufficient for most purposes!
If you want to play with this system of characterisation, starting with people is reasonable, as people are something everyone has experience with. You might also like to consider dog breeds, birds, flowers, herbs, trees, classical music or motor-cycles – whatever your area of interest is. Select one example a day. For your example, decide first which element to place it in. Then within that element, which division. Consider everything you know about the item. Consider also how you feel about it, what you sense about it, and your perception of its energy.
Be prepared to revise your assessments as you go!
I am sure you will find this a rewarding experience that deepens your relationship with the elemental energies.
In Her Service,

The Sword

In this essay, I would like to explore why the sword is used to esoterically represent the mind. My understanding is that the tradition likens the action of the mind to a sword or a knife, cutting something into separate pieces. The mind establishes categories, labels and names, so that we can understand the world we experience around us, and remember our experiences and learn from them. Ideally, our system of categories and names corresponds reasonably usefully with the reality that they try to represent. For example, if we can recognise, name and remember a useful food plant, we can seek it out again, talk about it to others, and remember when it is in season. If our main interest is in recognising useful plants, we are likely to have a different system of classification to someone who is mainly interested in how plants evolved.

If we get our food from the supermarket, and have no interest in botany, our personal classification system for plants is likely to be very simple. Trees, shrubs, flowers (perhaps a few named varieties), weeds, some vegetables, maybe a couple of different types of trees. For example, when one person sees a Gum tree, someone else might see a Mountain Gum, and a third person might see Eucalyptus Dalrympleana.

Take another example. Someone who is interested in Astrology might categorise people as Cancers, Gemini, Libra etc. When meeting a person, they may enquire as to their birth date, and they might be careful to get compatible star signs when putting together a group for some purpose. Or they may meet a person, and decide that they fit the profile for a certain sign, and then use that information in order to conduct their relationship in the most harmonious way possible.

Another person might think star signs are a bunch of baloney, and categorise people according to Meyers-Briggs personality types, or Jungian types, or even in simple terms such as friend or foe. All these ways of classifying the world, and our experience are represented by the esoteric symbol of the sword.

The Ace of swords tarot card in the Rider-Waite tarot deck depicts a sword piercing a golden crown, from which hang two boughs of wood. On the right, appears to be a palm branch, on the left is what appears to be a laurel, with red berries, or perhaps an Olive branch. According to Paul Fenton-Smith in “The Tarot Revealed”, the crown represents the material world. The symbolism may be deepened by noting that the arrangement of the sword and crown is representative of the union of male and female. Traditionally (in Western Anglo-Celtic Esotericism), the material world is seen as feminine, as in Mother Nature, and the Goddess of the Spring, the Goddess of the Flowers.

This union of the material ground of being (feminine) with the mental perceptive apparatus (masculine) gives rise to the phenomena of existence, just as a mother and a father give rise to their children. The symbolism reminds us that our experience has two sources – raw undifferentiated nature, and the mind’s categorising and sense-making efforts. The mind is nothing without something to work on, and raw experience is unintelligible without a mind to categorise it and find commonalities and regulaities.

This symbolism is also expressed neatly in the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

In meditating on the symbol of the sword, hold the intention of becoming aware of how your experience of the world has two parents – the external undifferentiated reality, and the internal categorisation you place upon it. Every name becomes a symbol that holds both a cultural and collective experience, and a personal resonance of lived experience. As useful as the mind is, it brings this baggage to everything we experience. This can be incredibly useful, and also a mechanism for holding us in bondage to our past. The symbol of the sword reminds us of this, and reminds us that we can turn our perceptive powers on to ourselves, and free our selves from the bondage of mental constructs that have outlived their usefulness.

To meditate upon the symbol of the sword, a useful practice is to place the Ace of Swords from the Tarot at eye level. Establish sacred space in your usual manner, and invite the presence of your spirit helpers and Deities, and become relaxed. A useful method is to focus your attention in turn on the right palm, the left palm, the sole of the right foot, and then the sole of the left foot, and then the third eye. One can also move the attention in the manner of a pentagram. The third eye represents the point of spirit. The right hand represent the point of Air, the left hand the point of Fire, the left foot the point of Water, and the right foot represents the point of Earth. Different paths may use different attributions, this is the attribution used by the Fellowship in the Southern Hemisphere. Move the attention from Spirit to Water to Air to Fire to Earth and back to Spirit again – Brow, Left foot, Right Hand, Left Hand, Right Foot, Spirit. This movement represents the the divine impulse working in the life of the Adept. The spark of spirit causes the intuition Water) to deliver images, feelings, or knowingness to the self. These inputs are then processed by the mind (air), and appropriate action is decided upon. Action is then taken (Fire), with the intention of honouring the Divine impulse. The action is grounded (Earth), drawn to completion, and the ground of being responds. The cycle then begins anew.

Once you have become relaxed and have harnessed your attention, then begin to move your attention between the tarot card and your third eye. Move it out to the card as you breathe out, and back to the brow as you breathe in. Visualise a thread connecting the third eye to the card. Do the first few with eyes open, then with eyes closed, visualising the card in as much detail as possible. Continue this exercise for at least four or five breaths, more if you feel that would be useful. Open your eyes and look at the card if you need to refresh your visualisation. When you feel it is right, begin the next part of the practice, which is to be receptive, and to allow whatever insights and inspiration you may be priveeged to receive to arise. Gently note them mentally as they arise, so that you can write them down afterwards.

And of course conclude by thanking your Spirit Helpers and/or Deities, and returning the space to normal.

I am sure that you will find this exercise beneficial!

Blessed Be


Getting to know the Tarot Minor Arcana

A lot of people work with the Tarot as a means of gaining insight into their lives and the lives of friends and family. To do so, it is not necessary to know all the meanings of the cards off by heart. However once one begins to know intimately the meanings and symbology of the cards, they will begin to open up in a new and much more powerful way. Here are a couple of ways of working to improve your understanding and memory of the card meanings. First an exercise for the minor arcana.

Take a large sheet of paper, and rule it into six equal columns. Then rule across to make a table with 12 rows. Leave the first row blank for now. In the second row, leave the first two cells blank, then write “swords” in the third cell, “wands” in the fourth, “cups” in the fifth, and “pentacles” in the sixth.

In the second column, starting in the third row, write the numbers from 1 to 10. In the cell above “swords”, now write down the attributes of the swords suit. For example, you may write “conflict”, “intellect”, “air”. In the cell above “wands”, write down the attributes of the wands suit. For example, you may write “creativity”, “action”, and “fire”. Carry on with filling the cells above “cups” and “pentacles”. Of course, use your own understanding of the suits, but if you are just starting out, and are unsure about the attributes of the suits, do some investigating first, in your favourite Tarot books, on the net, and in your own mediations. Of course, the suits correspond to the four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, so the attributes of these elements may also be used as the attributes of the corresponding suits.

In the cells to the left of each number, write down the meaning of each number. Use your own knowledge of numerology, or knowledge of the cards. However if you are just starting, it may be difficult to find the meaning of each number, apart from in combination with a particular suit. The basic meanings I work with are as follows:
1: beginnings
2: relationship
3: creative offspring
4: Materiality
5: Limitation
6: Harmony – as above, so below
7: Underworld – dreams, shadow
8: Abundance
9: Completion
10: New beginnings

If you have been a previous reader of these pages, you will see that these meanings resonate with previous explanations of the numerology system that I work with, and correspond reasonably well with the standard meanings given in the tarot. You may care to work with these meanings, or to work with your own, based on your own studies and insights.

Having reached this point, now go through each card, looking at the meaning attached to the number, and the meaning attached to the suit. How do these two qualities interact to create a new and specific meaning? When the answer suggests itself to you, write it in the corresponding cell, and go on to the next card, until all the cards have been done.

This may be done in one sitting, or over several days, according to how easily the answers flow for you. In either case, it doesn’t matter, because it is simply the way that you are working in this moment.

When all the cells have been filled with a meaning or key, pick up your favourite tarot book, and read the meaning giving for the first card. Compare it to your meaning, and look for the similarities and differences between what you have written, and what you found in the book. Resolve any differences between the two meanings by adding to your understanding or deepening your interpretation, or perhaps re-thinking your viewpoint. When you are satisfied any differences are resolved, do the same with the next card.

Once again, you may do this in one sitting, or over many days – it doesn’t matter – just work at the pace that is right for you at this time.

At the end of this exercise, you will have a much deeper appreciation of the meanings of the minor arcana, and will find that the juxtaposition of number and suit leads you directly to the cards meaning, without having to memorise anything at all.

Robyn Wood

Getting to know the Tarot Trumps

Here is an exercise that you might find useful with your work in the Tarot. Indeed, the following method can be used with almost any symbolic representation, in order to contact the astral and spiritual energies and forms behind the appearance. I will describe the exercise in terms of using a tarot card, but you can adapt it as you see fit. To gain the full benefit from this exercise, you should have some ability to move the attention, to visualise, and some experience with activating the third eye chakra. Here is what I do:

Select a card from the major arcana that you wish to work with. Many authors recommend starting with the fool, and working through in sequence. Sit in a comfortable and warm position. Sitting up in bed just before lying down to sleep for the night can be very effective, as the exercise will also then create an impetus to dream on the same subject. Hold the selected card in front of you, and stare at a focal point of the card. For the cards with human figures, stare at their third eye chakra, just above and between the eyebrows. After awhile, your vision will begin to play strange tricks, as the cells of your retina become habituated to the image. Keep staring at the same point, and allow your vision to do what it will. You may find yourself involuntarily moving your focus, which resets your vision to normal. Don’t worry, just keep staring at the same fixed focal point.

When the vision has started to shift due to the phenomena above, begin the following breathing sequence, keeping the eyes focussed on the focal point you have chosen in the card. As you breathe in, place your attention between your own eyebrows, on your own third eye chakra. As you breathe out, place your attention on the third eye chakra (or focal point you have selected) of the figure in the card. Keep breathing slowly, deeply and smoothly, in a relaxed manner, alternating the attention as described. It may help to visualise a white thread linking your third eye to the third eye of the figure in the card, with your attention moving between the two ends like a bead on a string.

Continue the breathing, with the alternating of the attention for up to ten minutes, all the while keeping the eyes focussed on the third eye (or chosen focal point) of the figure in the card. Now allow your eyes to close, and try to see the card in your mind’s eye, and continue the breathing and alternation of attention. However, now your attention moves to the card you see in your mind’s eye, rather than the physical card. If you can’t see the card with your mind’s eye, no matter – just visualise the card as best you can with your imagination. As you visualise, sooner or later, you will begin to catch glimpses of the card with the inner sight, which will seem to poke through your visualized imagery. If it doesn’t happen on one occasion, it will certainly happen at some stage as you continue working with the attention, visualisation, and the third eye chakra.

After another five minutes or so, or the length of time which feels right for you, transfer your attention to the personage in the card, and leave it there. Allow the experience to unfold in the way that is right for you. You may find yourself receiving impressions, images, or communications from the personage. You may find yourself viewing things from the perspective of the personage. You may find yourself “inside” the Tarot card, looking at the card from the inside. Each person will be able to carry on the experience in their own unique way.

When I have done this exercise, I have found that the subsequent day or two becomes powerfully influenced by the energy and archetype of the card, and the resulting experiences have provided profound insight into the corresponding aspects of life. I hope that you will find the same, and that this method helps you to grow towards your true nature and its full and ecstatic expression.

Robyn Wood

Origins of The Tarot

When I first started studying the Tarot, I worked with the Aleister Crowley “Thoth” deck. His explanation for the origin of the Tarot was that it emerged from the Egyptian mysteries. Indeed, Thoth was the Egyptian God, cognate with Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, and the conveyor of wisdom and esoteric knowledge to mankind. Thoth’s title “thrice great” was carried over into the name “Hermes Trismegistus.”


The name “Book of Thoth” is thus singularly suitable for the Tarot, which is regarded as conveying, especially in its major arcana, the concentrated wisdom of the pathway to illumination. Indeed, Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, first published, in 1781, the claim that the major arcana of the Tarot represented the mysteries of Thoth and Isis. However the Egyptian origin he claimed, and following him, the occultists of the Golden Dawn, and French occultists such as Eliphas Lévi, is now considered by mainstream historians to be without foundation.


Playing cards are known to have been brought to Europe, around the time of the 14th century, and were in wide use by the end of that century. One theory is that they came via Persia and Egypt from China or India. Certainly the original Italian decks shared with the Egyptian Mameluke deck the suits of sticks, coins, swords and cups. These are the same suits as appear in most Tarot decks today, which are first recorded in northern Italy in the early 15th century. However the fact remains that the sequence of trump cards does not appear to be found in decks of playing cards outside Europe. We may therefore assume them to be graphical representations of archetypal images, seemingly associated with a European spiritual tradition.


It is now accepted by mainstream scholars that a series of images given in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” correspond closely to the images of the major arcana. Dante was also reputed to be a member of the Rosicrucian fraternity, at least according to some Rosicrucians. Be that as it may, he was certainly influenced by the troubadours, if not more intimately involved with them. The troubadours were the poets of southern France, and related linguistic areas of northern Italy and Spain, who flourished in the 12th to 14th centuries. They adapted and expanded upon the corpus of Arthurian romance, which originated in the bardic traditions of Celtic Wales. R.J Stewart, in his discussion on the life of Merlin makes the argument that many of the archetypal images contained in the “Vita Merlini,” represent the oral teachings of a Celtic mystery tradition, and are identical with the images in a number of the Tarot trumps.


The Cathars and Templars were Christian groups that some say were responsible for introducing the Grail mysteries into European literature and public consciousness. There is a school of thought that the Templars transmitted a body of esoteric lore emanating from Jewish mysticism (The Essenes), based on the teachings of King Solomon, and through him, on the mysteries of ancient Egypt. The Templars gave rise in their turn to Freemasonry, according to some speculators. The Cathars are thought to have espoused Gnostic doctrines, with their emphasis on personal gnosis, or experience of the Divine. The Gnostic tradition has also been linked to the Egyptian and Judaic mysteries, and Christian sects who venerate John the Baptist. Both the Cathars and the Templars were active in the centuries just prior to the life of Dante, and both were being viciously suppressed by papal decree in the early years of the 14th century, when Dante was writing the Divine Comedy. Certainly Dante was no lover of the contemporary popes, reserving a spot for them in Hell, stuffed upside down in holes, with burning flames applied to the soles of their feet! While this may indicate some sympathy, at least, with the Cathars and Templars, Dante belonged to an anti Papal political faction of Florentine nobles, which is usually considered sufficient explanation of his willingness to publicly mock and denounce the papacy.


The Tarot cards may represent in pictorial expression the merging and fertilisation of classical and medieval Christian symbolism with one or more of these esoteric traditions – the Templar/Masonic stream, the Cathar/Gnostic stream, the Egyptian/Rosicrucian/Hermetic stream, and the Celtic/Bardic stream, perhaps through the Troubadours, the story tellers of Europe. In particular, the Troubadours and Cathars both flourished in the south of France, which is famous for its black Madonnas, which some have linked to the cult of Isis.


So it may be that Anntoine Court de Gébelin was actually not far off the mark when he declared that the Tarot was the “Royal Road” of the Egyptian mysteries of Thoth and Isis, when one considers the influences bearing on the imagery. Practically speaking, if this wasn’t the case originally, it may as well be the case now, through the influence of people such as Eliphas Levi and Arthur Edward Waite, who both were firmly rooted in the Hermetic and Masonic traditions, and whose influence has set the mold for the Tarot of today.