The tarot is rich in symbols and The Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot is especially well endowed. Each symbol on the tarot cards has been carefully thought out, placed strategically and colored appropriate to its interpretation. Everything that appears on these tarot cards carries a symbolic meaning.
Symbols are so powerful in our lives. We struggle every day to attain them in the form of money symbolic of energy or bits of intellectual brilliance stored in handy, easy to tote notes, we save them in the form of numbers in a savings account, we squander them on the latest gadget or fashion. We rejoice in symbols, we weep for symbols; we even bleed and die for them.
It is worth the time to learn to recognize a symbol for what it is, a representation of something else; a whole bundle of emotions, hopes, fears, desires and needs in a, usually simplified, representation.
When you first look at a tarot card you will see a few symbols. If you study a tarot card in depth more symbols emerge. Most of us never go beyond the first glance. We see the billboard and fail to read the fine print.
The first symbols that gain your attention in a tarot reading are almost always significant. It can be quite useful to ask your recipient to list the symbols that are readily apparent to her. Those symbols that you discover as you study a card define the meaning of the tarot card. The longer you study a tarot card the deeper your understanding of the meaning will become. If you have never noticed the vulture on The Fool and then one day it rivets your attention then it may be time to revisit the meaning of the vulture, in this book, in your society, and, most importantly, in yourself. It will expand and clarify the meaning of The Fool in that moment.
It is important to train your eye to detect symbols and to recognize that you have emotional and intellectual responses to them. That is why it is important to be able to distinguish the symbol from what it represents. Wars are fought for a flag, which is a symbol of a political entity, often without understanding how that flag is being used to manipulate us into being willing to kill or die for it. You may find yourself fighting for a political entity while you thought you were fighting for your god, your country, your family or your home. Our elections are contests to determine who gets to define and manipulate the symbol of our country, our flag. Our soldiers are trained to fight for the flag, the symbol, because it is uncertain that they could be recruited to fight for the intentions of those waving the flag. (Sorry about that, couldn’t help myself. It won’t happen again!)
By looking to the symbol on a tarot card that first attracts and holds your attention you will find it easier to interpret the meaning of a card. This method is especially good for times when you pull one card to get a better understanding of the situation but works well in all kinds of readings. For instance if you pull Fortune and the first thing you notice is the ape struggling to reach a higher position on the wheel it is probably a good time for you to expend a little more energy and rise above your presumed fate. If this card is in the context of a reading that makes Fortune ill-dignified then you should conserve your energy so you can act at a more fortuitous time.
It is significant if the same symbol turns up repeatedly in a reading.
Symbolism is not a straight forward language. It requires a certain creative and imaginative mind set to understand symbols, much like it requires a few mental gymnastics to fully understand foreign language, but with time. Patience and practice it can be learned.
In esoteric terms symbolism is the language of the initiates. The deep study and eventual understanding of symbols can reveal, to the uninitiated, the secrets of the initiated. I know that the initiated would call this heresy but it may be the initiated mind that is failing to comprehend the full scope of the mysteries they hold so closely because they are understanding from a trained mind rather than an intuitive mind learning what they are taught rather than through epiphanies of intellect and spirit of the individual. This is always the danger in transmitted wisdom. If one link in the chain misunderstands a passage his misunderstanding in then transmitted to the next link in the chain and something, often something critical, may be forever lost.
When the language of symbols is treated as an alphabet (A=apple) then the system dies, the symbols become static and ultimately meaningless. The symbols lose their luminosity and cease to inspire us. It is a sad tarot user, or reader that is uninspired.
I am offering you, here, guidelines with a few riffs on various symbols (see the Priestess, as an example) to stimulate you to dig deeper into your conscious and unconscious storehouses to fully understand the symbols. In that spirit I am merely pointing out the symbols on the cards and giving my understanding of these things. It is up to you to pick up that ball and run with it.
I understand that in many traditions, running with the ball is not encouraged, however, what the gurus don’t want you to know is that each of us has a small piece of the puzzle and the full picture will never be fully revealed if we eliminate the small missing pieces that each of us carries. This is all assuming that you and I and the gurus and the Universe are all relatively sane.
We live in a changing world. The advent of the internet has made secrets much harder to keep. Structures that have depended on secrecy are starting to crumble and hidden knowledge lies in the dark corners of the internet just waiting for the right search engine to come along. In short, we have available to us now opportunities for discovering for ourselves much that has been held too sacred for the profane mind of the uninitiated to touch. Learning to use and understand symbols is the key to it all.
When an occultist strays from the realm of imagination and inspiration he drifts into the common reality and may be lost forever. When his activity ceases to be synthesis and becomes analysis he immediately limits his exploration to known concepts and possibilities.
Do not go where the ancient wise ones went. Seek what they sought.
When an occultist strays from the realm of imagination and inspiration he drifts into the realm of set interpretations he has entered the common reality and may be forever lost. When his activity ceases to be synthesis and becomes analysis he immediately limits his exploration to known concepts and possibilities.
It is often said that the lantern, cloak and staff are the symbols of initiation but if this is true then the symbols are meaningless and initiation is a finite and brittle thing. Both the symbols and initiation are so much more. The strict defining of symbols makes them hide bound and will ultimately restrict the growth of the initiate who does not allow his imagination and intuition to carry him beyond the bounds of the set meanings of the symbols and the state of initiation.
abracadabra, Abraxas, air, alchemy, Ammut, androgens, Anibus, animal, animals, ankh, anointed one, ape, architectural drawing, armor, arrow, Babalon, bees, Black, black hair, Blue, blue hair, bow, Blue-green, bow and arrow, Bow of Artemis, breast, brown, brown hair, bull, butterfly, Caduceus, caduceus staff, camel, cauldron, Cerberus, chalice, chariot, cherubim, children, circle, clothing, clouds, coins, color, concentric circles, crab, crayfish, crescent moon, crescent moon staff, crocodile, cross, cross and orb, cross and orb staff, crown, crystal, crystal staff, crystallization, crystals, Cup, curly hair, Death, desert, direction, disheveled hair, dog, dolphin, dove, dove and ram staff, eagle, earth, east, egg, eight petal rose, eight petaled rose, eight pointed star, Element Air, Element Earth, Element Fire, Element Water, Elemental, Elephant, Eve, eyes, face, faces, facial expression, falling, feet, fire, fish, five petal rose, five petaled rose, five point star, five pointed star, flag, flaming staff, flower, flowers, flowing hair, Fluer-de-lis, Fluer-de-lys, flying, forest, forty-nine petal rose, forty-nine petaled, fountain, four directions, four elements, four pointed star, fruit, full moon, gateway, goat, gold, gold hair, grapes, gray, gray hair, green, green hair, grey, Hadit, hair, hands, Heka, hell, horns, horse, Horus, Ibis, Isis, indigo, infinity, lamb, lance, lantern, left hand, leopard, light, lightening, lightening staff, Lilith, Lily, lily, lion, long hair, lotus, lotus staff, magickal tool, Maltese cross, man, mask, Maltese cross, maw of hell, Messha, Messianic bloodline, Messianic Dragon, dragon, moon, mountains, musical instruments, new moon, nine pointed star, no hair, north, nudity, Nuit, Numbers, Nut, orange, orphic egg, orphic egg with wings, Osiris, Ostrich, Pathway, peacock, pelican, pentagram, phallus, Phoenix staff, pine cone, pineapple, pink, pink rose, polarity, power of words, priest, priestess, purple, quality, rainbow, ram, Ram staff, red, red hair, red rose, right hand, rose, ruling planet, scarab, scepter, scorpion, scroll, season, four seasons, Set, Seth, seven petal rose, seven petaled rose, seven pointed star, six pointed star, sixteen pointed star, skeleton, skull, snake, Sobek, Sobek- Ra, south, sparrow, sperm, spermatozoon, sphinx, spiral, staff, Staff of Heka, stag, stage of life, star, star of Babylon, styled hair, Suit of Cups, Suit of Disks, Suit of Swords, Suit of Wands, Sun, Sun and Moon staff, Suit of Cups, sun staff, swan, sword, tarot suit, ten pointed star, testicles, third eye, Thoth, three inter woven ring staff, three interwoven rings, thunder bolt staff, Thyrsus staff, tiger, time of day, tortise, tower, trees, unicursal hexagram, Uraeus, Uroboros, uterus, veil, violet, violet hair, Visita interiora terrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidem, vulture, walls, wand, wands, waning moon, Water, waves, weapons, web, wedding, west, wheat, wheels, white, white hair, white rose, wild staff, window, winged sun, winged sun disk staff, wings, woman, woods, words, wreath, yellow, yellow hair, yellow rose, Yellow star, yin-yang, yoni, zodiac