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.


Rebirth and renewal

After an extended hiatus, which has involved starting up a new mundane business, I have finally succeeded in getting back on line with Sulum Factum Magus, at a new web address: The previous incarnation of Sulum Factum Magus was taken down due to being infected with some kind of malware, and with the time constraints of running a new business, I haven’t had the time to get the site sorted again. Now finally, we are back in business, and I will over the coming months re-post old content, taking the time to edit and polish as I go. Some things will probably be better left languishing, but there is much that I want to get back up for people to work with. I will also be adding new content as well. In the mean-time, I have been working with the Fellowship of the Stag and Flame, holding healing circles and discussion nights focussed on self development Neopagan style. I hope that people who find inspiration in the material that will appear under the banner of Sulum Factum Magus, might consider checking out the Fellowship of the Stag and Flame, which will in due course offer mentorship to students of the mysteries.


Robyn Wood