Divination comes from the Latin word divinatio which means the power of foreseeing. However, it is not an easy thing to characterize and has many definitions.
Aleister Crowley reduced it to the use of two questions: “Of what are things composed?” and, “How shall we combine them to our greater advantage?“(1).
The Farrar’s conceived of divination as being “clairvoyance using tools” where it “is the art and science of being aware of facts, objects or situations by psychic means when they are not available to ordinary awareness“(2).
For famous Golden Dawn Magicians, the Ciceros, it is “the art of uncovering the divine meaning behind chance events“(3).
And for Starhawk “all divinatory techniques work essentially to focus awareness and engage in the heightened intuition and perception that are possible in trance.
Today these techniques are not used for “fortune telling” but as methods of “spiritual and psychological counselling”(4).
If we were to draw these together we can understand that divination allows us to take an overview of a situation or a thing, to a degree that is not normally possible and, using this knowledge as a basis, it allows the diviner to see a future progression. This information is then offered to the seeker as analysis and advice.
For Witches, the Tarot is perhaps the most widely used of divinatory tools. It is as a set of seventy-eight cards of an ancient provenance. Twenty- two are known as Major Arcana cards. Each of these has a title such as The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Moon, The Sun and The World etc. The other fifty-six are Minor Arcana cards. These are divided into four suits, most commonly as Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. Each suit has numbered cards from Ace to ten and four court cards generally (but not always) referred to as King, Queen, Knight and Page.
Tarot cards can easily be obtained from major book sellers and occult specialist shops; both On-line and in the real world. In some quarters there used to be a notion that Tarot cards should not be bought and that one should wait to receive them as a gift. As romantic as this notion may seem, in reality, it makes no difference to the card’s effectiveness whether you bought them on sale online, or received them as a gift from a great aunt who has practiced divination for half a century.
What is important, is that you connect with them, whether sentimentally, artistically or spiritually. They must speak to you and you must be able to hear them. After that, it is what you do with them that counts.
Broadly speaking the Tarot has two uses; as a spiritual, self-help tool of enlightenment, or a tool for divination. And often, both. However, not every Tarot deck is designed to have a deep range of uses. Many are little more than a showcase for an artist’s skills, although admittedly lovely to look at.
For a Tarot to be effective it must have a system of symbols, but symbols in the Jungian sense of the word. Jung defined a symbol as:
“…a term, a name or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning it has a wider ‘unconscious’ aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the scope of reason…” (10).
Symbols that can be defined in this way have mind enhancing powers that expand the range of their activity. Tarots that have such symbolic qualities include the Rider-Waite Tarot, the Tarot of Marseilles and Robert Wang’s Tarot of the Golden Dawn. There are, of course, others of value too, but if one of these is chosen it will make an ideal place to start.
Tarot symbolism is complex and for many, presents a significant initial difficulty (especially as the sheer number of cards with multiple meanings overwhelms) This initial challenge can be overcome by working with the cards through meditation or divination, as well as studying their imagery over a period of time.
Start by separating the minor arcadia cards into the four suits. One suit at a time, spread the cards and observe the overall theme, or realm, of the suit as a whole before trying to decipher the meaning of cards individually. Note the symbols that are obvious and search out those that are hidden. Little by little they will reveal the meaning that they have for you.
Quite literally the Tarot can be seen as a symbolic representation of everything in existence, representing the forces of life and how they interact in various ways. Because of this it is able to widen the individual’s view of the world and show them their place within it.
There are a variety of approaches to using the Tarot for divination and an infinite amount of spreads to use. At first, beginners are advised to use the well known Celtic Cross spread made popular by A.E. Waite, one of the creators of the Rider-Waite Tarot (the other being the artist Pamela Colman Smith):
The Celtic Cross
- The Significator-This card shows the general atmosphere and influences that surround the question. Some readers choose this card to represent their client; others just deal the card out as it comes.
- This card is laid across the Significator and is always read as if it is the right way up. This card represents the specific forces of the moment that affect the issue be they opposing or otherwise.
- This is the basis of the matter. These are the things that have happened in the more distant past.
- This is what is behind. These are the things that have happened in the immediate past.
- This is the crown of the matter. This card shows things that may be coming in the future.
- This is in front. This card shows the immediate next turn of events.
- These are the fears. This card shows the individual’s worries about a matter.
- Environmental factors. This card represents the influences of family, friends or colleagues.
- Hopes. This is what the individual hopes to be the outcome.
- Final outcome. This card tells of what the end of the matter will be.
Most decks of Tarot come with a little booklet that explains the divinatory meanings of the cards. These should be learnt; it is most important though that a card reader builds up their own understanding of the cards based on the meanings of its symbols and how it appears in divinatory spreads.
This is something that takes time and to aid development it is a good idea to start a notebook where each card has a page devoted to it. Over time patterns of use and meaning will emerge that will provide the diviner with the knowledge they need for an in-depth Tarot practice.
Here are two charts I created to help my students understand the tarot cards:
Buy a Tarot Deck
I want to tell you about the one thing which you should have now (if you want to be a witch or gypsy like me): A Tarot deck.
The best decks for use in this course are:
- The Golden Dawn Tarot
- The B.O.T.A. Tarot — Builders Of The Adytum
- The Hermetic Tarot
Acceptable decks for this course include:
- The Rider-Waite (or Albano Waite) Tarot
- Tarot decks based on the Rider Waite, such as:
- Aquarian Tarot
- Morgan-Greer Tarot
- Royal Fez Moroccan Tarot
Decks not acceptable for this course include:
The Crowley Thoth deck, which is an excellent deck but too complex in symbolism for beginners. If you are not a beginner in working with the Tarot and you really like the Thoth deck, go ahead and use it. If you are not familiar with this deck, avoid it for now.
Under no circumstances should you use a “non-standard” deck; that is a deck with more or less than 78 cards as described above. This would include the Secret Dakini Oracle, I Ching, Lenormand or Gypsy Witch fortune telling cards and many others. This is not to say that these decks are bad or wrong, only that they are not relevant to these lessons.
Tarot decks can be purchased at most major bookstores; however, I suggest that you patronize metaphysical bookstores or occult supply shops. The people who work there are generally far more knowledgeable, friendly and helpful than those at a general bookstore.
Divination is a necessary component of witchcraft, and each person should learn at least two divination methods. As there are so many divination methods, you, the student, will have vast options to assess both your own skill level, and your comfort level in the divination method.
In this book, we offer the reader complimentary access to our popular numerology video course (Valued at $700). And student discounts 25% off Divination tools and books in our store.