Maya del Mar's Daykeeper Journal: Astrology, Consciousness and Transformation

MARCH 2008

by Nancy Humphreys

Portable Magic: Tarot Is The Only Tool You Need by Donald Tyson. October 2006, Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications, pp 230.

If you judged this book by its cover, you’d think it was intended for the Wiccan crowd. It claims to use Tarot cards in order to work ritual magic. However, much of the history section on the Tarot covers Hebrew letters and numbers (The Sephiroth) from the Kabbalah. More importantly for Daykeeper readers, Tyson links Tarot cards and the magic rituals he presents with astrology.

Tyson traces the history of Tarot cards from their invention in the 15th and 16th centuries to their popularization by French and English Freemasons in the 18th and 19th centuries. He discounts any Egyptian or other ancient influences on the cards and alleges, contrary to common belief, that playing card decks came first. However, Tyson allows that the Freemasons like Crowley and Waite who formed the Order of the Golden Dawn, may have introduced Kabalistic and astrological correspondences to their interpretations of the Tarot and their Tarot cards.

If you are not familiar with Tarot decks, they contain 22 cards with symbolic images such as The Fool (like the Joker in card decks), Sun, Death, or Priestess. These cards are referred to as the Major Arcana (or trumps). The other part of a Tarot deck is similar to playing cards with suits and court cards. This part of the Tarot is called the Minor Arcana.

The Major Arcana, says Tyson, are based on a cosmological system of the astrological planets and the four elements; fire, water, air, and earth. The 12 Astrological Signs are allied with the remainder of the Major Arcana cards.

The numbered cards of the Minor Arcana are related to the Kabbalah, says Tyson. Similar to Gail Fairfield in her Choice Centered Tarot (1985, 1999), he traces the progressions as one moves through each number from 1 to 10 in the Minor Arcana. Tyson, however, explains that numbers on the minor arcana cards represent the “primal swirlings,” the zodiac, the astrological planets, and the four elements.

In between the numbered cards of the minor arcana and the major arcana cards lie the 16 court cards of the minor arcana. This way of looking at the Tarot was new and interesting to me because the 16 court cards in the minor arcana are derived from a perfectly square 4 x 4 matrix, just as the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching are derived from a perfectly square 8 x 8 matrix. And both systems of “archetypal information” are based on the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.

Tyson explains that in the court cards of the Minor Arcana, suits represent the four elements and so do the hierarchical figures. Kings signify air, Queens signify water, Knights signify fire, and Pages signify earth. Thus, each of the 16 court cards represents a doubled element. There are four pure doubles: King of Wands is “fire of fire”; Queen of Cups is “water of water”; Knight of Swords is “air of air” and the Page of Wands is “earth of earth.” In Tarot divination and magic, the 16 court cards represent 16 personality types. These personality types are derived from the four elements and the place along the zodiac occupied by each card. 

Likewise, the I Ching is based on symbols called trigrams that represent natural phenomenon that signify the same four elements doubled. The four elements, “boundless” and  “bounded” (by time and space), are found in the following pairs of I Ching trigrams: FIRE in Li (fire) and Sun (wind/wood); WATER in K’an (moisture) and Tui (lake); AIR in Ch’ien (heaven realm) and Chen (thunder); and EARTH in K’un (earth realm) and Ken (mountain). When combined with each other to form hexagrams, these trigram natural images are the basis of a book of wisdom about the whole of human nature and human society.

I have to wonder if this is just synchronicity or if the ancient world was smaller than we think, and the I Ching had an influence on the formation of the Tarot many millennia afterwards.

When it comes to divination or magic, Tyson explains that the court cards in the Minor Arcana are used as significators of persons: the person doing the divination or magic (“querent” or magician); and the persons involved in the question asked or magic to be performed.

The last two thirds of Tyson’s book instructs how to do magic using the Tarot cards. While divination using Tarot is common, magic is rarer. Tyson defines divination as a meditative process that focuses on the past, present, and future to “divine” knowledge about an issue of interest. Magic is the practice of projecting your will in the present moment to affect the outcome of some situation of interest in the future. The past has no significance in magic. Divination is done alone or with others, but Tyson recommends magic always be done alone and in secret.

The traditional magic circle of protection found in Wiccan and other rituals is created in Tarot magic by using the 12 Major Arcana cards that represent the Zodiac. Other cards are used to create simple geometric patterns like the triangle or the cross (as an altar) to amplify other desired effects, such as manifesting things from imagination or  connecting with other persons or spirits.

When practicing Tarot ritual magic, Tyson says that astrological influences of the planets are used to amplify one’s will. Cards that represent any astrological planets and Houses related to the issue at hand are placed on other cards to enhance their power to help bring about the desired effect.

I have never seen a book that explains how to use astrology in magic rituals before. For this reason, I think the author and publisher missed the boat on their choice of title. They didn’t mention astrology! Anyone who is interested in ancient systems of symbolic knowledge or is curious about the astrological references on Tarot cards will find this book offers some fascinating answers.