Daily Notes #5
Tarot in action: the magic path
Today’s door opens into the Tarot precinct of magick . . . .
From this vantage, you will see Tarot as a toolset for invoking divinities, obtaining desired outcomes, or transforming consciousness through ritual practices or experimental methodologies. |Along the magick path, you can expect to see shamanic traditions, alchemical explorations, Kabbalistic pathworking, Wiccan spellcasting, and more.
And serendipity continues to be on our side.
First of all—I’ve just finished revising “Makers of Modern Tarot,” the third chapter of History, Mystery, and Lore, and will be posting it in three parts:
“Complicated Beginnings” traces formation of the Golden Dawn.
“Splinters and Seeds” recounts the schism and its creative aftermath.
“Turning Points” examines two decks that reset Tarot for a century.
The colorful makers who shaped this period—roughly 1888-1920—include MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats, Alister Crowley, and Arthur Edward Waite. Jesse Weston, Pamela Colman Smith and Lady Frieda Harris also play important roles.
The association between Tarot and various forms of magick did not begin here of course. If you want to refresh on the previous history of esoteric Tarot, all the links are listed here. But there can be no doubt that the turn of the 20th century marked a new point of departure.
Today’s Tarot is built almost entirely on foundations constructed by a dozen or more “secret societies” and “mystery schools” that bubbled up during this period. Yet the average 21st-century practitioner/enthusiast has scarcely heard of them, I think.
And to be honest, I had not given them any thought for many years. But now, as I worked through the “Makers of” chapter, I was fascinated. Not just by the soap opera aspects—which are not that dissimilar from the interpersonal turmoil found inside most creative movements—but also by the audacity of their ideas.
By now alert readers may have noticed that I feel a personal connection with Tarot divination. I’ve never felt drawn to occult studies, however, with or without Tarot as a component. So I just don’t have a personal sense of what lies beyond the esoteric and magick doors.
I’m rethinking, though. And my attention was caught recently when someone with an awe-inspiring knowledge of Tarot remarked to me that “the occult tradition and the divinatory . . . have such different approaches, goals, and methods.”
This statement seemed obvious as soon as I read it—but it also surprised me. I just hadn’t thought about it that way.
I’ll go into more detail when the divination door opens. Right now, though, I’ll share my initial thought about the difference between occult and divinatory approaches: they align differently with “self-care,” “self-development,” and all the other “self-X” applications of Tarot that seem dominant right now.
I think of all those personal-life applications as being located on the therapeutic path. Which I value as an important aspect of Tarot use—there’s a lot on that subject in my second book, and it was certainly part of my own Tarot practice when I was reading professionally.
From that perspective, I envision the therapeutic and divinatory paths often crossing, or running close to each other. But I think the occult/magick path does not overlap with either.
Instead, it branches off from the esoteric path and connects up with the creative path. Or at least that’s how I’m looking at it today.
Magick is essentially esoteric philosophy plus creative imagination. And its defining attribute is action. Actually doing things, acting things out, activating both human and cosmic potentials. (By “esoteric philosophy” I mean a whole range of belief systems, not just Western hermeticism.)
That’s just a rambling reflection on the place of magick in the Tarot landscape. But it reminds me to share this party favor: a way to see all the doors at once instead of one after another. Just in case that might be handy sometime . . .
Thanks for reading! The new survey launches tomorrow. C