Luckily for us, divination has developed over the millennia so today we have a variety of choices when it comes to forms of divination. Some are more accurate than others for details, and some give a wider view but little detail. At least we do not have to cut animals open and read their entrails: one of the more bizarre ways of reading the future that was so beloved in the ancient world.
When magicians first start walking the path of magical development, they are confronted with the huge task of learning the outer court skills. One of those skills is divination. The commonest way to learn divination is by learning tarot. The vast array of tarot decks available is mind boggling and can easily overwhelm someone who is just starting out.
When I am working with students, the deck I advise them to get is the Ryder Waite tarot deck. This choice is not because it is better than all others or more profound, rather because it is universally known (and therefore is a vocabulary that can be easily used in teaching/practicing) and it connects into the lines of western magic that flow through many of today’s magical lodges and groups. Like all decks, it has its strengths and weaknesses, but for learning tarot, it is a good basic tool. Eventually, once you have learned one vocabulary/deck, you will explore further.
Before I go any further, let’s have a look at what divination actually is and also visit some of the myths that surround tarot.
People who are unfamiliar or unskilled in divination think that it is something which enables you to see everything in the future, like a TV screen – it is not… it is more like looking into a room through a keyhole. Imagine a door with lots of keyholes… you get a limited view of the room from different angles. So it is with tarot. If you are a natural seer, then the tarot will trigger your own natural sight, which can indeed play a whole scene in your mind, often in the most disturbing ways.
How does the future work in terms of tarot?
The next myth is that the future is fixed and when you use tarot to look at the future, you are seeing a series of fixed events that are definitely going to happen. Not true. What tarot or any divination or flash of the inner sight shows you is the future if you continue on the path/pattern you are currently on.
Let’s look at this in a visual way. Imagine fate/life/events as a tree. The base of the tree is the beginning of a particular chain of events, and the twigs on the end of the branches are the culmination of that chain of events.
Imagine standing at the base of a tree and looking up at the many branches and twigs. If you are stood at the base of the tree you have a straight trunk to climb, but at some point the trunk splits into two or more ‘sub-trunks’ and these have branches reaching off of them. Those branches in turn have twigs.
At the base of the trunk, you could go in any direction, any branch, any twig. So it is when you first set out on a path of events/life patterns. The decisions you make and actions you take narrow down (move you up the tree) the options before you. The deeper into a path you go, the narrow the options become as you leave a main branch and move closer to a twig.
So it is with life patterns. In turn this affects the divination ability to pinpoint something in time in the future. So for example if you did a reading to look at a specific subject/event/person, what you see and how fixed it is in terms of manifestation largely depends upon where the person ‘is on the tree’. If they are at the base of the tree (the start of a pattern of events) then they have many possibilities before them in terms of where their future may go. When a reading is done for a person who is as the start of a chain of events, the reading is often broad sweeping, can be vague and the cards can be interpreted a number of ways.
To do such a reading accurately takes years of practice and developed skill. It is like having to look for a specific face in a large crowd: most people would have difficulty with such a task, but a trained observer knows how to eliminate certain cues in the line of vision and would find the specific face far more easily. It is truly a skill.
If however, when you do the reading, the subject is high up in the tree, on the last branch and is inching towards a choice of two or three twigs, they have only those three twigs as path possibilities. This translates, in terms of readings, by the presentation of very specific and accurate answers where there is no ambiguity: it is easy to read because there are fewer options and variables that need to be taken out of the picture.
The method of filtering though the many variables is done mainly by the questions you ask, the time limit you place upon the answer, the layout that you use and your own innate ability to ‘know’ which is right.
That ‘knowing’ is something that cannot be explained, cannot be taught; it must be developed through years of practice, and even then many readers never attain it. It is not a ‘super sense’ in any sense of the word, it is simply the way the brain re wires itself through years of constant specific focus. Any physicist, surgeon, navigator, archaeologist etc will tell you the same thing: there are many within the fields of discipline who after decades of work, develop a ‘nose’ for the hidden variables within their field of expertise.
Working with a deck
There are numerous books about tarot that approach the use of such tarot as a psychological ‘development’ tool that can be used in meditation and vision – while this is a valid way to work with a deck, it tends to confuse early readers more than it helps. The biggest problem with such an approach is that is conveys a mystical deep inner element to tarot, as well as a ladder of psychological development, that is only as good as its designers. The other issue with such an approach for beginner readers is that it is trying control skills that have not yet even developed a foundation of common language.
The cards themselves are not deep mystical powers (unless the deck is a truly contacted one, but then such a deck is not a good idea for a beginner, simply because it will confuse the process of learning divination). The cards and images are simply a vocabulary, an ABC that the brain can use in order to decipher what your own consciousness is reaching for. When you do a reading to look into the future, you are tapping into a pattern of energy. Without a vocabulary to decipher what it is you are looking at, the patterns are meaningless.
I can remember, at the tender age of fourteen or fifteen, laying out the major cards (Ryder Waite) in numerical sequence. I ‘knew’ there were deeper meanings behind the images and the order in which they lay…. I ‘knew’ that if I could just penetrate that hidden variable I would become ‘wise’. It took me many years before I could lay out the cards in the same way and think, yeah, some interesting patterns, but the designers had very limited thinking in terms of magical path development. Now my opinion is, ‘yeah, whatever’.
What a tarot deck does is to give you shape to the energies so that you can translate them into meanings that you can grasp. Just as a farmer watches the behaviour of the birds, trees and creatures to decide what weather is coming over the next couple of months, so the tarot reader lays out cards in a defined way to discern what patterns are currently in play and what their longer term effect will be.
The best way to learn that vocabulary is to get to know the cards. Lay them out, group the families together, look at the images, the numbers, get to know the personalities. Look through whatever book comes with the deck and look at the pictures. Choose a key word or two for each card based on the information you have and write that keyword on the deck (or on a bit of tape stuck to the card).
Just as a child learns to read by recognising single words at a time and may not get the whole sentence in one go, so the new tarot reader needs to learn to identify key words for each card…. learning the vocabulary. Don’t dive into the mystical magical aspects of the card; just get to know the surface presentation to start with.
Do simple readings, lots of them until you are familiar with the deck, with some layouts and write down your results. Over time, go back and re read your notes, look at the readings you did and then compare them with what actually happened: so you begin to truly learn your own vocabulary along with the deck.
It is important to understand how the process works from a foundational perspective. The understanding of where you are going in your attempts will in turn help you to choose more wisely in terms of books or teachers.
Coming next – Interpreting the Future; Keys and Pitfalls