Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Piek Anéma: Introduction to the Study of the Tarot II

Translator’s Introduction

Following on from Part I, we continue with the second part of Piek Anéma’s proposed methodology of Tarot study.

Part II, section ii. Examples of Correspondences between the Cards, needs further explanation. While the differing structures proposed by various authors are usually based on – or conversely, serve to prop up – mystical theories, here, Anéma is suggesting that these structural elaborations can be used to find further connections between the cards in a given framework. This exercise will prove invaluable to those who seek to use the Tarot either for divination, or for narrative purposes, as well as the grey area where both these domains overlap (assuming that they are not, in fact, identical).

Naturally, one need not wholeheartedly believe or follow a given interpretation or structural arrangement, but the logic behind the organisation will provide further insights into how the cards might be arranged in such a manner, which will in turn enrich a divinatory reading if and when a particular combination of cards should turn up.

While the method of meditation suggested has also been formulated by A. Jodorowsky, Tchalaï Unger, J.-C. Flornoy, among others, Tchalaï is the only one to have proposed a serious rational and empirical method of investigation.

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  II. The Study of the Tarot

Piek Anéma


There are two methods of tackling the Tarot: either intellectually, or intuitively. These two methods are not incompatible and may be pursued simultaneously.

The first, also known as the empiric method, follows the method of classical study. The second, or analogical method, is based on meditation. The latter may raise a problem to the adepts of empiricism because they will have to adapt to a different mode of thinking and of reasoning. The more one has been scientifically trained, the more difficult it will be to adapt to the analogical method which relies on meditation in order to acquire knowledge.

The majority of writers who have dwelt on the question say that the first thing is to know and to memorise the cards in their tiniest details, which demands a an almost inhuman capacity for concentration. For St Bonnet, the Tarot may be used for the exploration of the personal and collective subconscious, and for the stimulation of the intuition. To each his own interpretation and each system only serves to shore up the flow from the source.

Goal of the Study:

On the empirical plane:

  • The exercise of the mind;
  • The acquisition of vaster and deeper knowledge on the physical plane.
  • The development of the world of thought, for example: the study of the Juggler I helps to develop the capacity for concentration; that of the Popess II the capacity of memory; that of the Empress III, the creative imagination, etc.

On the analogical plane:

  • The exercise of the mind, for Crowley, all symbols exist beyond reason, and the most important goal is to train the mind in clear and coherent thinking.
  • The acquisition of vaster and deeper knowledge. This, for Ouspensky, is the development of the capacity to combine and to comprehend symbols and higher dimensions.
  • The acquisition of wisdom.
  • The acquisition of knowledge of the higher realms.
  • Developing an awareness of the hidden properties of nature, in the widest sense. (Paul Foster Case)

Beyond the scope of this book, there are works dealing specifically with the Tarot, iconography, history, etc.

For divination, it seems logical to follow the analogical method. Doane, Keyes and Zain propose four different paths:

  • Research in the domain of vibration;
  • Research in the domain of the mind;
  • Divination based on the cards;
  • Divination based on the numbers.

For these authors, these are fundamentally different methods: the first two are positive, esoteric, and scientifically-founded. The first is the path of study by vibrations, of which the number provides the key. This is not the path of numerology though, it belongs rather to physics. It determines the vibrations of thought in the astral substance [presumably ether] and its influences are measured by its volume and is pronounced, but it is not the sound which is the most important thing, but the resulting vibrations.

The second path is philosophical, leading to a complete system which gives the base of an awareness of the essentials of human relations: it is the esotericism of material life, and the esotericism of the essence of the soul and of its life after death.

The last two methods are negative and exoteric. Doane, Keyes and Zain even indicate the Tetragrammaton as the basis of this division:

  • I: Leo, fire, vibration.
  • H: Scorpio, water, divination by the cards.
  • V: Taurus, earth, divination by the numbers.
  • H: Aquarius, air, spiritual study.
  • Nonetheless, this theory does seem quite arbitrary.

Study Documents:

To go deeper into the study of the Tarot, it is recommended to consult the works of authors which seem to best correspond to one’s personality, if possible, referring to the decks which they describe. Those who follow the method of meditation should note down any new insights and understandings, or what appears to be such, with the date and atmosphere of the moment; familial, professional, or other, for new understandings may appear by reconsidering, combining and refocusing these notes. Eerens goes so far as to propose making a sort of rosary with a larger bead for the Mat (0) and 21 smaller ones for the numbered trumps.

Empirical Method:

This follows the fundamental lines of all scientific study.

Analogical Method:

Paul Foster Case writes that this is the only method that is both certain and regenerating, because it draws its strength from the genital organs without becoming fixated thereto.

Place and Method of Meditation:

Insofar as possible, one should choose a quiet room, calm and without outside noise or anything which might distract one’s attention and concentration inside. The lighting should be soothing, extending to total obscurity. The seat should be comfortable without being too comfortable because one should not run the risk of falling asleep, especially if one is sitting in darkness or with eyes closed. One should wear loose and comfortable clothing which will not get in the way.

Before beginning, physically relax, empty one’s thoughts from one’s mind. For this purpose, all serious esoteric methods are suitable, for example, systematic conscious relaxation of each limb and each muscle, rhythmic breathing. To empty the mind, repeat an invocation one has already learned in the beginning, and eventually one will arrive at one’s own invocation when one penetrates deeper into esotericism. Here are two examples of invocation:

  • a): A Rosicrucian formula, partially derived from Gnostic sources (and taken up by English and American authors), based on the expression Heru or Horus:

“I invoke thee, IAO, that thou wilt send HRU, the great Angel that is set over the operations of this Secret Wisdom, to lay his hand invisibly upon these consecrated cards of art, that thereby we may obtain true knowledge of hidden things, to the glory of thine ineffable Name. Amen.”

  • b): A more practical formula is that proposed by Papus in his Tarot of the Bohemians: it follows the coherent explanation of the sequence of the cards. Having repeated the invocation out loud, if possible, sit oneself down comfortably on the seat facing East – ex Oriente lux –, feet firmly on the ground, back straight, hands on the knees. Look at or visualise the cards to be contemplated by allowing thoughts to arrive, then attempting to retain them and make a note of them after the session.

Benn suggests beginning with the card which corresponds best to one’s own personality, then continuing on with those which correspond to one’s entourage. In the beginning, this meditation should be no longer than 5-10 minutes, and a certain period of time will be necessary before results appear. This period of time depends both on one’s aptitude to practice the contemplative method, as well as any blockages that may occur in the communication between the supraconscious, the subconscious, and the conscious minds. One may meditate on whichever suit of cards one wishes, but it is recommended to begin with the Majors. Some authors even think that meditation on the Minors is useless because they view them as only being capable of describing material life. This is logical for those numbered cards only if they are unillustrated: Waite’s deck [i.e. RWS] offers enough symbolism worthy of meditation. The same goes for all those decks as far as the Horseman is concerned, as it represents thought, and the other court cards evoke precisely-defined characters.

Too much passivity is ill-advised: instead of waiting for thoughts to form, one must consciously invoke the force corresponding to the card to make it emerge from the unconscious. The majority of authors are in agreement for a regular and daily meditation, for the unconscious adapts itself to a given rhythm. Among others, Bennett indicates for each card the most favourable times and places [for meditation].

Methods of Study:

Their goal is to direct one’s attention towards the correspondences between the cards, then between the cards and other systems, or between the cards and other subjects.

i. General Remarks:

Papus, in his Traité Élémentaire de Science Occulte, proposes a study plan of the esoteric aspect of the Tarot. This plan is found in the section on mathematical Adaptation and includes:

  • The Tarot and its elaboration;
  • The keys of 4, 7, 10, 16 and 22;
  • The Major and Minor Arcana;
  • Detailed study of the Majors;
  • Detailed study of the Minors.

Papus states that it is enough to take the third card preceding and the third card following a particular Major to find its originating and derived cards. It follows that when two cards added together give an even number then half of the resulting number will indicate the card connecting both of the cards involved. Moreover, each Major has a complementary card whose number added to its own gives 22.

If we study a number of cards together, Eerens advises to calculate the total figure by theosophic reduction as this resulting number will contain the essence of their combined significations.

ii. Examples of Correspondences between the Cards

[Follows a succinct discussion of the structures of the Tarot proposed by various authors.]

The method of meditation proposed by Glahn is interesting, it follows the Jesuit method which consists of reliving intensely, within oneself, in the most minute details, physical and psychic [i.e. mental and emotional], the life of Christ, that is, to penetrate into a card and to relive it within oneself. Next, one must integrate the card within oneself and attempt to bring it alive and make it talk: the result will be such that the cards will become part of oneself. In order to achieve this, it is recommended to set up a dim light behind oneself, to place the card on a black background in front of oneself and to gaze at it intensely and to live it. Then turn off the light all the while keeping the image of the card in mind. Switch the light back on keeping the image of the card within oneself for as long as possible.

[Follows a further discussion of the structures of the Tarot proposed by various authors.]

Zain recommends studying the correspondences between the cards as though they were algebraic equations, with numbers and letters.

There is also a method linked to numerology, starting from magic squares. But this is relatively difficult to undertake in its highest form because one must first construct one’s own square: we here find ourselves on a purely personal path.

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Piek Anéma: Introduction to the Study of the Tarot I

Translator’s Introduction

A little-known but nonetheless important figure in recent Tarot history was the  Dutch Tarot collector and writer, Piek Anéma, who wrote an encyclopaedia of the Tarot in French, of which only 3 small volumes were published in the 1970s; an introductory volume, the volume dealing with The Lover, and a volume giving his own peculiar views on the origins and usage of the Tarot. It is unfortunate that the other planned volumes never appeared, for reasons that are unknown.

The two most relevant and important entries from the first volume, Initiation au Tarot (Robert Morel, 1977), form an excellent overview of the means of approach to the study of the Tarot. This study is by no means limited to the Tarot of Marseilles and might be applied to any deck in theory.

Anéma’s work has the merit of distilling the essence of the works under consideration and developing a clear typology of methodologies. Furthermore, his twin approach using both empirical/analytical as well as intuitive/analogical methods is also notable for prefiguring the work of Tchalaï Unger (who uses the terms rational and irrational). Finally, his insistence on the need for study, contemplation and continual refinement will serve as a much-needed corrective to some of the currently prevailing notions on the Tarot of Marseilles in English.

Anéma presents a typology of study methods, as opposed to proposing a single one, or endorsing one rather than another. In this way, the reader will be able to better understand the mechanisms involved from a solid basis, rather than merely taking one author’s claims for granted. For this reason, the discussions of the generic interpretations have been omitted since the reader will easily be able to consult any number of similar ideas and interpretations.

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I. Introduction to the Tarot

Piek Anéma

Reading works on the subject of the Tarot may well prove fascinating provided one approaches it with an intuitive mind. If, on the other hand, one were to approach the subject with a more analytic mind, it may well be the case that the first book leaves one bewildered, the author may appear illogical and not at all persuasive in his arguments, his conclusions vague and unproved, and the absence of decisive elements to follow the proposed system will be one further reason the reader will be disconcerted. The reader then takes up another book, which quite likely will be either a carbon copy of the first, or else full of contradictions on every point, and a new disappointment will follow.

A third work will refute the first two, and so on. All these contradictions are to be found regardless of the subject matter: the origins of the Tarot, the sequence of the cards, their meanings, their correspondences with other esoteric systems, etc.

Although we may find ourselves somewhat lost at first glance, it would seem, on reflection, that things could be otherwise only with great difficulty.

If we analyse, for instance, the works of P.D. Ouspensky [The Symbolism of the Tarot] or Joseph Maxwell [The Tarot], we find ourselves confronted with very clear and complete systems for the analytic mind. The first was a judge, and the second was a mathematician, thus the both of them were rigorously trained in logic and systematic thinking. This would tend to prove that it is indeed possible to write on the subject of the Tarot, or on any esoteric subject for that matter, in a manner that would satisfy the scientifically-minded (taking the word in its analytical sense). But this scientific mind accepts only with difficulty and badly understands the mode of analogical thinking, which contents itself with sketching out the rough outlines, and feels no need to say everything or to tarry over contradictory details. It must be said that such minds as are capable of being both analytic and empirical [presumably a typo for analogical or intuitive] at the same time are rare and that is why authors like Ouspensky and Maxwell, who have this dual faculty, are precious, even if they are not necessarily the best.

Ouspensky’s mathematical mind revolts against many authors, and he explains himself in his New Model of the Universe by writing of his disappointment of never having found in any of the works on the Tarot, on occultism, or on Theosophy, what was promised. If every book does contain some interesting elements, we also find a lot of nonsense, due to the fact that these authors deal with the matter perfunctorily, in a purely scholastic manner, and arrive at insufficiently considered conclusions, presented in lofty terms to hide their incomprehension. They thus avoid the difficult problems and indulge in imperfect speculations, introducing useless complexity and asymmetric constructions.

Ouspensky finds this especially in Papus, who was, however, one of the most influential authors of his day. He recognises nevertheless that Papus wrote that complexity is synthetic and that simplicity is at the base of even the most apparently complex phenomena.

All this is correct, and it is this simplicity that is most lacking in the commentaries on the system of the Tarot. We can this state that even a close reading of these works will bring but a little understanding of the system or of the symbolism of the Tarot, or of its practical application, whether in metaphysics or in psychology.

Everyone magnifies the Tarot and presents it as a universal key, yet no one can provide this key.

[Follows a succinct discussion of various authors and their interpretations of what the Tarot is.]

From the foregoing, we see that there are two fundamentally different schools of thought, for the former, the Tarot is an independent system, for the latter, it is linked to other esoteric systems. Thus, the former concentrate on the sole study of the Tarot, and the second seek further correspondences. Naturally, this latter method is judged sterile by the former.

[Follows a second discussion of various authors and their interpretations of the Tarot, its functions, and its symbolism.]

But what of the true Tarot? This is the question which preoccupies many authors. What of the original drawings, the original symbolism of the cards, so often copied and redrawn by artists who may not have been initiated into the Tarot? We have two diametrically opposed replies to this question: the first says that the Tarot of today is intact, complete, and has not been practically desecrated, even if through the redrawing, errors have crept in, the one who has pored over the secret sciences will easily find the way.

For the contrary response, the Tarot such as been handed down from the 18th century, is structured according to a tradition of which we do not know the exact importance, relies on symbols which have been diluted over the generations, beyond all comprehension. It is rather born of the psychological qualities of the interpreters rather than by their esoteric knowledge.

Between these two extreme opinions we find a diversity of opinions, and it is clear that each author will focus on the particular points that fascinate them the most, and the same could logically be said of any esoteric discipline.

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Read Part II.

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