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To quote from Wikipedia: ‘The belief that apparently unconnected things share a mystical connection is common to most cultures; it is one of the principles of sympathetic magic identified by anthropologist James George Frazer in The Golden Bough. Examples of the theory of interconnectedness in Western culture include the Platonic concept of macrocosm and microcosm, expressed in Hermeticism by the aphorism, “as above, so below”; the doctrine of signatures advocated in the Renaissance by Paracelsus; the Jewish mystical practice of Kabbalah, which Renaissance humanists attempted to Christianize; and the doctrine of correspondence in the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg.’

The four suits have been with us since the earliest days of the tarot (indeed, they probably pre-dated the Major Arcana), and we have no idea what ‘correspondences’ were in use at the time, although we may surmise that Swords were linked to the army, and Coins to merchants, while Cups could have been associated with the Church, and Wands or Rods to the court or the peasantry. However, according to fraterbarabbas , the concept of linking the four medieval elements (fire, earth, water, and air) to the suits is a fairly recent idea, and certainly over the last few centuries the associations were fluid. Cups were not always linked to water or the emotions, Staves also had roving correspondences, and fire was often connected to the suit of Swords – which makes complete sense to me.

However, since the Rider Waite deck was published, it has become traditional to link the element Water and feelings with the element of Cups (very few people argue with this one), Earth is identified with Coins or Discs, Air with Swords and the intellect and Wands with fire (the creative force, ‘fire in the belly’). As with every tenet, arguments can be made for and against, and I am not overkeen on Waite’s views becoming Dogma with a capital D. After all, as I said above, we have no way of discovering how the original cards were used, and what correspondences medieval users saw (if any). Even if we did, our views on the tarot have presumably moved on – and after 600 years, one might hope that we can see things in a more nuanced light.

Tarot cards were described in Western Europe around 1425 – by priests railing against these works of the devil (presumably because the first decks were used for gambling and, perhaps, foretelling). The first decks we know of were large illuminated cards produced for the nobility (e.g. the Visconti and Charles VI decks), although it’s pretty certain that there were smaller cheaper versions around as well. The Sola Busca deck was produced around 1492 and, as it is fully illustrated (pips as well as trumps), we can assume that there was a predictive element to it. However, as society moved on we hear of very little to do with the Tarot until the 1770s, when a series of books were published on the tarot and how to use it. The dates tend to be slightly confusing as one of the writers, Jean-Baptiste Alliette – who, once he’d had his grand awakening to the tarot decided to call himself Etteilla – claimed he started card readings in 1750 and first came across the tarot in 1757. However, his various books Manière de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes (“A Way to Entertain Yourself With a Deck of Cards”, and Jeu de Tarots, ou le Livre de Thoth (1783-1787)), were published a few years after the other writer, Court de Gébelin, published a massive eight-volume tome entitled Le Monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (“The Primeval World, Analyzed and Compared to the Modern World”) (1781). In these books, de Gébelin posited the idea of the Tarot as an arcane repository of ancient esoteric wisdom. He had been initiated into freemasonry in 1771 so the elemental correspondences could well have originated there. He also suggested a correspondence between the 22 trumps and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet which has since fuelled enthusiastic debate linking the tarot and the Qabbalah.

Etteilla, meanwhile, designed a deck specifically for divination which was published in 1788, and is still in use today. He was the first person to use reversals, and popularised the idea of linking the four medieval elements (fire, earth, water, and air) to the tarot suits, as well as identifying correspondences between the tarot, astrology, and the four classical elements and four ‘humours’. These were personality characteristics, which in Greek times Hippocrates had described as sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and literal), and phlegmatic (relaxed and thoughtful). In medieval times Galen, a well-known physician/philosopher, used these characteristics as a basis for medical treatment. He later extended the correspondences to connect the humours to the four elements and to the tarot itself. (The tarot had been used as early as the 16th century to compose poems describing personality characteristics (tarocchi appropriati)).

After De Gébelin’s and Etteilla’s publications, the next influential writer was Eliphas Levi, author of Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1855). Levi, a French occultist whose original name was Alphonse Louise Constant, published the actual correspondences with the Hebrew Alphabet (which de Gébelin had posited but not defined), and the elements. Levi reversed the order of the tarot as it had been known to Etteilla and de Gébelin, which was designed to be ordered and read from the twenty-first card to the zero, or Fool.

In the late 1880s, yet another influential writer on the Tarot appeared – Gerard Encausse [Papus], a physician and hypnotist. He studied the Qabalah, alchemy and magic, and was a member of Madame Blavatsky’s French Theosophical Society for a year in 1884. He too formulated a system of tarot in a book The Tarot of the Bohemians. Like earlier writers he wanted to marry together various different occult theories into one system (for instance Qabalistic associations and astrology). Papus reassigned the Fool card to number 21, even though it remained unnumbered in the deck.

Soon afterwards the Order of the Golden Dawn, a late Victorian esoteric society, took the lore of tarot to a new level, linking it to their initiations and spiritual teachings. Arthur Waite (1857–1942), an influential Freemason, joined the Golden Dawn in 1891, and although he left in 1914 to form the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, his writings were particularly well-received. He asked Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith to illustrate a new tarot deck and, crucially, they decided to illustrate all the cards, rather than having the pip cards purely symbolic. The deck was first published in 1909 and – rightly or wrongly – has become the pattern for most subsequent decks. (Interestingly, the model for the deck was the Sola Busca, published in 1492 – Coleman-Smith cleverly adapted many of the concepts in that deck. We know so little of the early history of tarot that the extent of the tradition and artistry behind the Sola Busca will probably never be known; and the RWS is now seen as classic tarot.)

Aleister Crowley, occultist, ceremonial magician, mountaineer and poet, had joined the Golden Dawn a few years before Waite. The two men could not abide each other. Crowley considered Waite an upstart, and in 1938 he decided to design an alternative tarot deck using the artistic talents of Lady Frieda Harris. This became the Thoth tarot, and – while extremely well thought of and undoubtedly aristically far superior to the RWS – does not enjoy the same popular appeal as the Rider Waite (having said that, this is probably in its favour). Crowley changed the titles and order of some of the cards, but the correspondences remain as Waite identified them.

Relation of various four temperament theories
Classical ……. Element ……. Adler (modern)
Melancholic ……. Earth ……… Avoiding
Phlegmatic ……… Water …….. Getting
Sanguine …………. Air ………….. Socially useful
Choleric ………….. Fire ………… Ruling

In one of my many books I found a table giving the different correspondences from writers such as de Gebelin Eteilla, Papus, etc. and began this blog post thinking I’d be able to insert the table. Unfortunately, I can’t find it now – so if anyone knows the book or the table, I’d be most grateful. (There is a website that purports to list all the correspondences, but it isn’t what I was after.)


Intuitive Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Tarot Card Decks No Comments »

I am designing a new deck which – though still under wraps – has occupied me for 18 months The Majors are now complete and look really good, though I say it myself; now I’ve started on the Minors.

A friend recently asked whether, when designing a deck, do I work with a particular type of person in mind? Or turning the question round: when designing, say, my latest deck, do I bear in mind what sort of people would buy it/ not buy it / love it/ not want to work with it?

The answer is that when I start designing a new deck I do it because it calls to me, and then somehow uses me to design it. I began my first deck, The Intuitive Tarot, one evening when the Fool drew himself onto my pad (don’t ask me how that happened, I just know it did: I was doodling; I looked down at the drawing pad and found the Fool there … I’m sure I’ve told the full story in another part of the blog, so won’t repeat it). In the new deck it was the Hermit who called me in. I work in an esoteric bookshop in the centre of London and one day I noticed a post card with an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was actually an icon of Elijah:

Elijah Sinai

but to me it was clearly The Hermit. I borrowed the postcard and placed it in a ‘would like to do’ folder in my mind, and there it would have stayed, except that one night I was invited by an American friend to the launch of a new tarot – the Nostradamus Tarot by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan. I wouldn’t have gone to the launch normally, but I hadn’t seen the friend for a long while, so I went. Chatting to John Matthews after the presentation, I mentioned my interest in this icon, only to find that he had wanted to do a deck based on these sorts of images for a long time. ‘But if you’re going to do it, I guess I had better give up the idea’, he said slightly wistfully. But John is a writer and I’m an artist – it wasn’t a problem in my book. We could work together on it. He wrote a proposal and I started researching the imagery, and found that it all fell into place, like magic. Those synchronicities – those meaningful coincidences that keep on coming until you take notice! – are usually a green light from the universe, so I began to paint.

So … back to the questions. Do I paint a deck with any particular type of person in mind? Yes, someone who’ll appreciate the work. Someone who wants a bog-standard empty deck to play with isn’t going to like my tarot – I don’t use Rider Waite imagery, I often change the elemental correspondences, and it has a few extra (historical /cultural) dimensions I discovered while painting it. Those will of course be included in the book when it’s published (2015).

When I design, do I bear in mind who will buy it? Yes, obviously, when it’s published we want lots of people to buy it – they will probably be collectors, people who have been working with tarot for a while, professional readers (I hope), and anyone interested in an iconic style of art and culture, as stated above. But in actuality, I paint the deck I want to use.

Do I bear in mind who will not like it? Yes, I bear it in mind – though I don’t worry about it. As an artist, I know that some folks really get my work and love it, and others probably think it’s a load of baloney. The Intuitive Tarot has passionate fans, but there are a lot of people who don’t like it at all. It doesn’t bother me – I still love reading with it, and still get fan mail. And the people who love it are impressive – they look deeply into life, are knowledgeable and insightful, and have usually done quite a bit of self-awareness work. What else can I say?

And the latest deck – I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, bar none, and a few detractors or critical words are hardly going to worry me. The only criticisms have come from people who know little about tarot or the culture that birthed this particular deck, and they have been interested enough to research what I told them about it. So the deck is already doing its job, and I am really looking forward to being able to post images of it! (Watch this space…)

A question about prediction

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A friend whose cards I read recently was querying why her reading hadn’t warned her about the problems with her relationship, which appeared a few weeks after her reading. She had asked ‘was there anything she needed to do with this relationship’ and had been told that all seemed fine. A few weeks later it became apparent that her man was unbearably insecure and was capable of complete meltdown when things didn’t go his way. She wondered if the limitation had been her own thoughts – that is, that the reading gave her a reflection of her hopes, not about what was about to happen.

Well, it’s a good question. Could a client influence their reading to that extent? I think it’s possible, if they are particularly focused on getting what they want (and don’t want to hear any negatives), but they themselves would have to have fairly powerful psychic gifts. And many tarot readers refute the idea that tarot is a predictive tool. I have seen it predict accurately on many occasions, though I usually warn against taking a reading as a certainty (given the complexity of the future, all we can do is predict possibilities), but in the reading I did for my friend, the man’s insecurities would have been there, albeit hidden. How is it I didn’t pick up the looming difficulties?

After thinking about this, I wondered if perhaps we should have asked a few more searching questions – one of them being the likely outcome of the next few months. Querying what she needed to do with the relationship, and getting the answer that it seemed really good, must indicate a limitation in my reading (relationship readings are not my speciality), but we were perhaps playing it safe by avoiding a card for the likely outcome. I’m surprised we didn’t, as I usually make a point of taking an outcome card to close the reading.

Alternatively, I could have used the spread below which should cover all eventualities! (Click on the image to see a readable version.)

relationship spread lg

Hermann Haindl

History of Tarot, Tarot Card Decks No Comments »

I’ve just seen on Rachel Pollack’s Facebook page that Hermann Haindl, the creator of the Haindl tarot, has died. He gave a talk at a UK Tarot Conference a few years ago, and made an unforgettable impression to all lucky enough to be there. Safe journey, Hermann.


The Passing of a Giant.
Our beloved Hermann Haindl has returned to the Earth. I am writing this in an Australian hotel room at 5 in the morning so will make it short. Of all the original tarot decks created in the second half of the 20th century, only one in my opinion reaches the stature on Waite-Smith or Crowley-Harris. That, of course, is the Haindl Tarot. Hermann’s deck came out of his spirituality and his life, for the two were inseparable. He was also one of the finest painters ever to create a tarot deck.
I will say more when I return.



New Spread

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This is a spread I created a couple of days ago. It doesn’t pull any punches, or didn’t with me. I’d welcome feedback, so please have a go and let me know what you think.

I – Physical
1 – Body issues
2 – Anything you need to do
3 – Story (past)
4 – Story (present)

II – Emotional
5 – What are you feeling?
6 – Anything that needs to be expressed?
7 – What do you need emotionally?

III – Intellectual
8 – Career / intellectual challenges
9 – Anything you need to do intellectually?

IV – Spiritual
10 – Your spiritual path
11 – Next steps on spiritual path

V – Integration
12 – Challenges to integration
13 – The gift within integration
14 – Your essence (and what to do to regain it)


Update on this spread – trying it out on a couple of willing guinea-pigs, it has continued to be very powerful. Unfortunately it is not available as an online spread, though. You’ll have to do it with a real tarot deck!


Tarot Card Meanings, Tarot On Line No Comments »

I have drawn some cards to look at the outcome of the US election in two days’ time, though unfortunately it doesn’t look too hopeful – every card I’ve drawn is reversed.

The card for Mitt Romney is the Star (reversed); Obama gets the Ten of Cups (ditto), and when in desperation I asked well, who will be the president in the end, I got the King of Discs reversed.

I can’t say this makes me optimistic for the outcome: it certainly looks like America’s love affair with Obama is over, though I don’t need a crystal ball (or whatever) to tell me that.
TenCups reversed

Romney’s card is a Major Arcana, and is usually read as hope renewed after the trials and tribulations of life. But reversed it’s more about fading hope, the need for a new perspective and (I like this bit) unresolved pain disguised as arrogance or pessimism.

And what to make of the last card, the Presidential outcome – The King of Discs reversed?

King Discs Reversed

I’d say it looks like a hung vote which will need to go to a final recount – as happened with George W Bush and Al Gore and, given that the outcome is the King of Discs as opposed to, say, the King of Wands or Swords, it looks like Romney will get it. The reversal then indicates that it’s not a particularly great outcome. The King of Discs upside down is a businessman (i.e. Republican), obstinate, arrogant, insensitive, who considers his tactlessness ‘plain speaking’. He can be dull, greedy and inconsiderate, manipulative and controlling.

So unfortunately it looks like we’re going to return to an America with a dodo for president. The only consolation is that there are so many checks and balances on a bad president that he doesn’t get too many options to show his true colours. But our experience with Bush and, probably now with Romney, indicates that the Americans still tend to believe in pie-in-the-sky: Obama has done a huge amount quietly, taking risks when necessary but being cautious when he needed to be. Unfortunately he isn’t someone who enjoys talking himself up, and the GOP is very good at talking him down. All in all, if my interpretation of the cards is right, it’s a win for style over substance.


7th November 2012

Well, all I can say is thank god my interpretation was wrong!!!



Learning Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Self Development, Tarot Card Decks, Tarot On Line No Comments »

For those of us lucky enough to be in London at the moment, it has really been our year. The Queen’s Jubilee was a pageant on the grandest scale; the Olympics have been stunning and inclusive, making us proud to be part of this great city; and, just before autumn begins to draw in, we have the icing on the cake, in the form of the UK Tarot Conference at the Thistle Barbican Hotel on the 12-13th October.

Rachel Pollack, a well-known and highly-respected visitor from the US kicks off with a talk on what tarot is, what it does, and how it does it (I wish all clients could come to this one), goes on to look at multi-diimensional readings; and finishes with all the different books she’s had published this year. Juliet Sharman-Burke investigates The Hermit (a subject dear to my heart right now, as I’ve just started painting a new tarot, the inspiration for it being The Hermit – I’ll be posting the images as I complete them, so keep checking). Tiffany Crosara speaks about ‘Bringing the Tarot Alive’ and – a real treat this – Alfred Douglas is attending to have an informal talk about the tarot and magical orders.

Also, in the afternoon on Saturday I’m talking about the Tarot and the Shadow. We all enjoy getting the ‘good’ cards, and cringe when the difficult, awkward, shadow images turn up. Why, though, do we try to avoid them? One of the great things about the Tarot is that we are actually encouraged to explore the shadow sides of ourselves through cards like The Moon, The Devil, 5 and 7 of Swords, etc. Working through these unpleasant aspects of ourselves is one way – indeed, the only way – to reach the state of integration depicted in The World. This integration is, I believe, what the Mystery religions were all about, and their many initiatory levels are reflected in the different stages of understanding depicted in the Major Arcana.

Intrigued? Come along to the Conference – we’d love to see you there.


History of Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Tarot Card Decks No Comments »

I went to the launch of the Nostradamus Tarot (The Lost Tarot of Nostradamus) last night at Watkins Bookshop (Cecil Court, London). Compiled by John Matthews and Wil Kingham, it’s a very interesting deck using images that were probably drawn by Nostradamus’s son using concepts of the man himself.

The basic artwork was taken from a book found only recently in the Central National Library of Rome. In this volume were 80 watercolour images, with arcane and sometimes heretical imagery (popes and cardinals doing strange things, often to monsters). The men who discovered the volume were excited to find the name ‘Michel de Nostredame’ on the title page, and published their findings as The Nostradamus Code (Destiny Books, 1998), and in 2007 a History Channel documentary was made on The Lost Book of Nostradamus.

This is where John Matthews and Wil Kingham came in. Neither the book nor the documentary had pointed out the similarity of the imagery to tarot symbolism. John Matthews, however, an acknowledged expert on the tarot, picked it up immediately, and began to collect the eighty images. He was not permitted to photograph the original volume, still held in the National Library of Rome, so piecing the deck together took some time. Indeed, one might call it a labour of love, as John slowly collated the images to fit with the Majors, facecards and suits, and Wil Kingham began to produce the collaged backgrounds, as well as bring the original sketchy watercolours into a fit state for publication. However, the more they worked on it, the more the whole thing fell into place, and the end result is a fitting tribute to the seer, as well as an excellent addition to the tarot.

What makes the deck sing for me, though, are the quatrains produced by Nostradamus – his prophecies or ‘Centuries’ as they are called – and translated  by Caitlin Matthews. These add an extra dimension to the tarot meanings for each card.


Tarot Card Meanings No Comments »

I have recently found a beautiful image of Elijah, from the St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, and it’s fired me up about Byzantine art. There is already a Russian Orthodox tarot, the Golden Tarot of the Tsars, but it’s not painted by a tarot user so comes across more as an illustrated deck (not that this is a disadvantage for many people). It’s very beautiful, as the cards have embossed metallic backgrounds – Lo Scarabeo have really pulled the stops out for this one.

However, I’ll see how my guidance goes. Certainly, seeing this Elijah has sent me off on another journey to discover Byzantine art. And a recent holiday to Crete helped, as Crete – in addition to wondrous Minoan ruins – has a host of Byzantine images in monasteries and churches!


Self Development, Tarot Card Meanings 1 Comment »

The Tarot Association of the British Isles has a tarot blog ( which I often find thought-provoking. Today’s was about epiphanies, which started me thinking about what the word implies.

According to, the use of a capital letter Epiphany refers to the Christian festival on January 6th, when according to scripture the infant Christ encountered the Magi from the east. The Magi themselves conjure up interesting associations, but that’s a digression.

What I find particularly interesting is the next definition in the online dictionary, which is that of ‘an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity’. If we read the ancient scriptures – the Bible and the Sanskrit Vedas and Upanishads, for instance, or even myths from around the world, it’s apparent that people used to encounter deities regularly. Even today, in our rushed materialist world, there are a surprising number of encounters with other-worldly beings: angels, devas, faeries, whatever you want call them. While the communications from these beings is often through synchronicity – odd coincidences that are strangely meaningful to the recipient – it may be much more like a ‘sudden, intuitive perception or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something’.

We usually associate this sort of sudden revelation with The Tower. But if I draw a card, what epiphany does the tarot present me with today?

It’s the Temperance card – reversed.

Temperance is one of my favourite cards: an angelic being pouring liquid from one jug to another. It’s about being able to bring oneself into a deep state of equilibrium; and when it’s reversed it is probably about a lack of balance (yes, I can relate to that!). My book from The Intuitive Tarot suggests ‘Closing down on possibilities; refusal to see opportunities. Fear of being hurt; resisting life. Concentration on one aspect of life to the detriment of another; often an unwillingness to see anything but the outer form of material reality.’ I was going to say that the only thing that doesn’t apply is the very last bit – but then I began to wonder whether perhaps I am missing a trick here (something I asked to be shown this morning!) Epiphany doesn’t have to be something that knocks you off your horse and leaves you blind for three days (referring to Paul’s epiphany on the way to Damascus).
It can be as quiet and unassuming as a blog that asks what your epiphany will be today.

So it’s time to go back to the meaning of Temperance reversed, and look at where I’m closing down on possibilities and resisting life. We all do it, often without realising it. With the outside world so full of stimuli, noise and opportunities, it’s sometimes hard to stay open. And resistance in our everyday lives means we sleep badly, get ill, fight with our family and friends, project everything outwards.

Resist as much I please, though, an epiphany requires me to change. It does not allow me to return to my previous state of somnolence. So the appearance of the deity (through the synchronicities I described earlier, including of course the Temperance card – an angelic being in its own right) invites me gently to wake up, smell the new-baked bread, and revel in being alive. If I still continue to resist, I guess they’ll send the bigger guns in. Watch this space. I’m not planning to travel to Damascus anytime soon, though…