Tarot Pathworking

Practical work with the archetypes of the Tarot is essentially a matter of using the imagination. It may well be that first efforts are barren or subjective, or appear to be. Persistent use will sooner or later demonstrate that through the use of the imagination, a new sense of perception is being developed, that opens upon an objective world or worlds other than the physical.

There are various means of training and using the imagination in this way but essentially they embody the same process. The ancillary symbolism and structural order of the images is far less important than many students appear to think. Thus there is little point in agonizing over whether Eliphas Levi's attributions are superior or inferior to those of the Golden Dawn or vice versa. More important is the act of selecting one particular system that comes readily to hand, and that is personally congenial. The practical results that will accrue from putting it into practice will give a basis of personal experience upon which to make one's own street maps of the inner worlds.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had a technique along these lines which they called Scrying in the Spirit Vision. The details can be found in Israel Regardie's Golden Dawn but, in our view, the instructions and method are extremely cumbersome, involving the frequent use of coded planetary sigils as a means of checking against memory, mind wandering, psychic interference and other possible blind alleys or side tracks. This may appeal to certain temperaments but is rather like driving a veteran car in preference to a modern one.

In our experience one soon develops an instinct for when one is being side tracked. And even if one does go down the occasional blind alley the experience is usually educative and there are ample opportunities to try again. The chances of getting into serious difficulties are quite remote provided one is not into drugs or on the verge of neurosis. It is spiritual will and intention, rather than formulae taken from a book, that rule the inner planes effectively.

The historical development in the Western Tradition from this Golden Dawn technique is commonly known as 'Path working', so called because in its original form it was usually concerned with treading in visualization one of the Paths of the Tree of Life.

This indeed remains an excellent formal training method. Generally speaking one builds up a starting point, a 'composition of place' in one Sephirah, usually in the form of some kind of temple, and proceeds to walk into a picture of the appropriate Tarot Trump. Halfway down the Path one will expect to meet the appropriate Hebrew letter and any personal symbolism or realizations associated with it. And at the further end of the Path at the gateway to the next Sephirah will be found, in similar fashion, the appropriate astrological sign. In fact if one does not find these landmarks of symbolism naturally building up, one puts them there. Magical use of the imagination consists of a skilled blend of deliberately visualizing a formal symbolic structure and spontaneously allowing images to rise.

Which symbols are appropriate to which Path is a matter of reference to various tables of correspondences. My own A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism gives much of this kind of information in considerable detail. To the dismay of the more eclectic student it will be found that there is considerable variation between different esoteric sources as to which are the best attributions.

This apparent confusion does not give occultism a good name in the view of the logically minded outsider, or the beginner, used to the more or less stable structures of the physical plane. However, what may appear as unsupportable intellectual deliquescence to the worldly wise man is a free flowing ocean of delights for those who have developed the capacity to swim therein. And the inner planes, like the sea, have their laws just as inexorable as those of the physical world - but they are different. Not least of all they have a disconcerting fluidity.

All this is demonstrated in the glyph of the Caduceus of Mercury wherein the entwined serpents, as they alternately come together and move apart, demonstrate the alternate rigidity and fluidity of physical, astral, mental, intuitional and spiritual levels of cognition and existence. Physical and mental levels are comparatively rigid; astral and intuitional levels fluid, (this is the old alchemical dual principle of solve and coagule); and at the spiritual level one spreads wings, beyond which are the heads of the Serpents of Wisdom where truths can only be expressed to everyday levels of consciousness in highly poetic or prophetic form.

This should demonstrate the sterility of too much intellec-tualizing about the images and attributions. The Treasure House of Images derives its symbolic wealth from the fluid astral or imaginative level which is best comprehended by the free moving intuition than the categorizing intellect.

Thus an image can have one meaning one day and another meaning in different circumstances. It can be of different significance to different persons. This does not mean that all meanings are arbitrary. Dream images, for instance, can be very powerful and meaningful for the individual dreamer, and demonstrate much wisdom, in certain cases, even for outsiders. But the 'dream meanings' that one reads in a popular fortune telling manual are, for the most part, demonstrably arbitrary and worthless. These untamed images from the deep will not readily be confined in intellectual cages.

However, having said this, it is undoubtedly a help to have some kind of structure to use initially, until experience has given the ability to come to terms with the fluidity of the astral plane. This is the reason for the formal attributions. They should be regarded as a scaffolding rather than a confining structure; a crutch that is, in time, to be dispensed with.

The mention of the term 'astral' brings up the inevitable question as to whether this kind of work is 'astral travelling' or 'astral projection'. We would do well to make a clear distinction between the meaning of these two loosely used phrases. We would say that path working is certainly 'astral travelling' but is not necessarily, or even desirably, 'astral projection'. In astral travelling one is always, to a greater or lesser extent, aware of being located in one's own physical body, with its various minor discomforts and distractions. In astral projection one has dissociated consciousness entirely from the physical body.

The latter condition is rare and not particularly to be sought after by the average Western practitioner. It is not necessarily pathological but it is certainly abnormal. All that one normally needs to do of a magical or psychical nature can be effected by astral travelling. It may be that projection, to a greater or lesser extent may take place, and in a deep working there is invariably some small displacement of the etheric vehicle, but one should try to avoid complete loss of consciousness of the body. Failure to maintain this connecting link may simply result in a loss of conscious awareness or memory - to all intents and purposes one has fallen asleep. Or one may become entranced and possibly 'freak out'.

Trance is simply a letting go of the lower vehicles so that they can be controlled by another being, or by a different level of one's own being, usually referred to as the subconscious. Whilst on rare occasions this kind of thing can be helpful, it is not a condition to be encouraged. True magical ability is demonstrated by conscious awareness and functioning on more than one objective level of perception at the same time. Trance, or astral projection, is an abrogation of this principle - a limitation rather than an expansion of consciousness and responsiblity.

The method of systematic visualization of images was part and parcel of St Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, and it should be emphasized that these were spiritual exercises, not mere astral exercises. For St Ignatius they were a preliminary to divine contemplation or spiritual colloquy. A similar higher intention should be the object of the esoteric student. This is not necessarily, as with St Ignatius, a preliminary to affective prayer. The occultist is concerned with working with inner aspects of the creation, and so is not exclusively concerned with contemplation of the Creator, as is the religious mystic.

However, the intention of the dedicated occultist should certainly be aimed rather higher than 'day tripping' in the inner country of the soul. Probably for most beginners the primary higher motivation will be the seeking of higher consciousness or the resolving of particular psychological problems. In this the technique will be found in various workshops of 'transpersonal psychology'. The magically oriented occultist goes on from this stage to an awareness of group dynamics and inner objective realities.

One method that spans the range of possibilities is The Inner Guide Meditation of Edwin Steinbrecher. Briefly, this method is to visualize entering a cave - akin to the famous cave of Plato. The way out of the cave is through a passage, led by an animal -which is, in effect, a personal totem. One emerges to a scene through which one travels to meet a Tarot archetype, recommended in the first instance to be The Sun.

Ed Steinbrecher uses traditional Golden Dawn attributions to create a link between the Tarot archetypes and the astrological birth chart. He also introduces results of his own researches that categorize people in various ways. Of particular interest is the way that, whether he realizes it or not, the general method is almost a direct reconstruction of the Renaissance natural magic of Marsilio Ficino, who investigated formal meditation upon images to counteract undesirable astrological portents, at about the same time that the Tarot first appeared.

The school founded by Paul Case, Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), also utilizes Tarot images for meditation work, not only in laying out the cards in various permutations and combination, as magic squares and so on according to their accepted number symbolism, but also by techniques of personal identification with certain of the figures as a means of psychological integration.

Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips represent a third American initiative in making these once esoterically reserved techniques available to a wider public. Considerably experienced in the deeper aspects of the Western Mystery Tradition, their book The Magick of the Tarot strips the images of much of their more recondite ancillary symbolism and introduces them as dynamics for group and individual dramatic therapy. There is, of course, a very close connection between drama and ritual, between theatrical and magical experience.

However, useful basic structures for imaginative working with the Tarot archetypes can be found from a variety of sources. The simplest is perhaps that of the disciple of Eliphas Levi, Paul Christian. He simply ranged the Trumps in two files in which one could imagine oneself as a candidate for initiation traversing between them. He chose to present the Trumps in ancient Egyptian guise and in the context of an initiation beneath the sphinx and pyramids. This is no bad method for anyone who is drawn to Egyptian symbolism, and indeed may suggest parallel techniques for those who are attracted to other specialist esoteric packs, from meso-American to Tibetan.

In 1899 a Sufi gloss was given to the images in The Mystic Rose from the Garden of the King by Sir Fairfax L. Cartwright, who was at one time a member of the British diplomatic corps in Persia. Here the seeker for wisdom is directed to a triangular tower

Figure 33

surrounded by a circular colonnade. The latter shows the cycle of life from birth to death but the ascent of the tower is the way of wisdom. This, we find, is divided into seven stories, with three chambers on each floor that contain within them thinly disguised representations of the Tarot Trumps. (See Figure 33.) The text is reproduced in full in The Mystical Tower of the Tarot by John D. Blakeley, Watkins, 1974.

Another important and useful source of imagery is Charles Williams' novel The Greater Trumps. Here, the fictional device is used of having the protagonists possessors of a set of sculpted images that are the models for the original cards. These images are kept in a locked curtained room, and when one penetrates to this room one is aware of a low powerful humming and a pale golden light emanating from the figures, that gyrate in dance upon a circular table. The figures are the Tarot Trumps with one figure, the Fool, stationery in the centre, as lord of the dance. However, those who are sufficiently spiritually mature are able to see that the Fool dances with the other figures as well as maintaining the central position.

Charles Williams was a former Golden Dawn initiate and this scenario is in effect a magical composition of place for work with the Tarot archetypes. In fact the inner room represents the inner planes, and the mobile figures the archetypal forces that are behind every set of Tarot cards in existence.

This composition of place was utilized for a working I conducted at Hawkwood College in December 1984. This working is in effect a form of the exercise known as Rising on the Planes, often mentioned in Dion Fortune's writings. It is a simplified path working of the central Paths of the Tree of Life from Malkuth to Kether; that is, comprehending the 32nd, 25th and 13th Paths.

It is possible to traverse this journey without meticulous attention to the symbolic detail of all the Paths, although I did bear in mind the appropriate positions of all the Tarot Trumps and managed to give at least a brief mention to most of them in passing. The working was entirely spontaneous apart from this rough ground plan, which of course serves as a useful aide memoire akin to the type of memory system used by Robert Fludd and other antecedent magi. (cf. Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, Theatre of the World, etc.)

The outline scheme is given in Figure 34 and more specific notes are given at the end of the transcript, which has only been lightly edited to omit repetitious verbiage.

Tree Life Kabbalah Tarot

The Path Working

We are gathered together in a group in an open space before a large wide cave.1 We enter the cave in the cliff before us. Be aware of the rock and earth under your feet and of the feel of the rock above you and on each side. We are going quite far into this cavern. I will lead the way and R. will bring up the rear; and J. on the right and C. on the left will see that we are all kept together.2

As we proceed into the cave we come upon a dark leather curtain which stretches right across the opening. There is just enough light coming in from behind us for us to see our way and the division in the centre of the curtain. This is held up for us by a figure on the inner side, who scrutinizes each one of us as we pass through.

As we come to the other side of the curtain we find that the cave is lit with a certain effulgent light of its own, which is coming from a golden round table upon which the Tarot images move. And we are aware that the Guardian who let us in is in fact the naked hermaphroditic figure of the Tarot Trump of the World, who passes between us to the other side of the table and motions for us to follow.4

It is as if we are moving into a dark elliptical wreath, for at this point in the cavern the cave is circumscribed with bay leaves, which we pass through.

We find ourselves going onward and the sense of the confining rock goes from us. In the dark we can see very little but we can sense ourselves approaching two great guardians.5 The one on the right has all the feeling of Moon force, and one is just aware of a feeling of dark clouds and night sky. And on the other side we feel a figure, barely to be seen, an angel with a long trumpet. We pass between these figures, feeling their presence, and onward into a landscape which gradually becomes lighter.

We find that we are approaching a lake.6 We are walking on grass now and on a gentle slope downwards. The lake is before us in the very early morning light when there is hardly any sign of the sun but a greenish tinge in the sky. We are aware of the dark indigo purple of the lake before us, and approaching us over the lake, very silently, we see something moving in the darkness. It is a great barge.

There is a figure in the back of it, an angelic figure holding two cups and pouring water from one cup to the other.7 We are aware that this water is the water of life; and that this great figure is one who guards the boundary between life and death. And that when a new soul is incarnated the waters of life are poured into that soul as from one cup to another.

We are invited onto the barge, and when we are all safely in, it silently glides across the dark waters. As we glide across we are aware of a bright morning star shining in the sky to our right, and to our left the blazing tip of the dawn sun begins to rise over the horizon.8 We pass onward and see before us a green shore line.

The barge grates onto the shingle of the shore and the Angel with the Two Cups stands protectively to one side to supervise our disembarkation. The sky is getting lighter now and our path is more easily seen. We find we are walking over green downland. We seem to be on an ancient trackway.9

We press on for what seems some time over the open land and then, ahead of us, we are aware, in the middle distance, of what seems to be a roadway crossing our path. Unlike the green trackway it seems to be made of stone, of cobbles or even tarmac. And in our path we see there is a tall tower at the cross roads.10

At the door of the tower at its foot there are two custodians, who invite us to enter. There is a spiral stairway within. Indeed, the tower seems to be nothing but spiral stairway going up and up, with windows. If we look out of the windows, to one way, to our right as we had been proceeding, we can see in the far distance along the roadway, a tall conical hill. Looking the other way, to the left, there is a great city in the distance.11

As we watch from out of the windows, we are aware of a great wind which seems to be gathering force and to be driving along from the green hill, past the tower, toward the city. The force of the wind gets higher and higher, 'til it is howling and screaming around the tower. Suddenly, there is a burst of thunder and lightning, and the whole tower is lit up on the inside with a flash of light.12 We see ourselves, in that instant as we really are. That incredible flash of white light shows up everything - our whole souls inwardly. And the effect of that flash, almost like a photographer's flash, is to imprint upon our minds the state of ourselves as we really are, which we can at a later time, at the end of our journey, reflect upon. The naked spirit of truth has struck the tower of our own self-regard and idea of what we are.

We are now aware that the two custodians of the tower are standing at the bottom, ushering us out, and as we proceed, somewhat chastened, but also cleansed somehow, we pass in single file back onward onto the green track that we have been following.

The sun now rises high in the sky before us, and we are climbing.13 We are on high rolling downs and we see just ahead of us, on the top of a hill that is the highest point for miles around, a circle of stones.

We enter into it, into this great ancient sun temple.14 There are those here to greet us, custodians of this place. There seem to be many of them. I get the impression of druidic looking figures, in white and bearded. Now I see what it is. The custodians of this place are similar to certain of the Tarot Trumps.15 There is one that is like the Hermit. He is the figure with the beard whom I took to be a druid. There is another like the Emperor, who is certainly very druidic in appearance but also a king. It is much as if they are priest-kings, the two of them. On the other side there are priestesses. One a priestess of love, and another who has with her a great beast. I would not describe it as a lion but it is certainly a hunting beast, which she holds on a very delicate-looking short rein. And before us we see two upright stones. Between them is the figure of a high priestess. As we stand before her, somewhat awed, she indicates to us, telepathically almost, that we be aware of what is behind us.

We look behind us and to our right side there is an image of death. And behind us and to our left side there is the image of a devilish monster.16 The high priestess before us smiles a little at our alarm and holds up a mirror, indicating that these two images are parts of ourselves. Then she pulls aside the veil between the pillars and we see a road going forth into the sky.17

In the distance we can see a crossroads upon it, with a figure of justice, a female with drawn sword and a balance.18 We are told, or it is impressed upon us, that to pass that figure we have to be pure in intention.

We each of us step forth, with an act of faith, upon this golden way that leads from the top of the hill towards the figure of justice. Upon reaching it, each one of us in turn stands on one side of the great golden balance, and on the other side of the balance are the figures of death and the devil, and we are aware of vertiginously swinging.

As we do so we look out to one side and see there a female figure in the midst of a complex system of rings and circles. She is indicating to us that she is, in a sense, cosmic time, and that all will in time be healed, and all will be well.19 And looking the other way we see a figure of a man hanging, upside-down, and he is radiating to us the impression that the realities of the higher worlds are the only realities that are everlasting, and that through the intercession of the higher beings we will be saved and the balance made right. But we are also aware that this is through the principle of sacrifice of higher beings and also the mercy, in a sense, of time, of cosmic time. Very deep mysteries here.

We are now aware that the high priestess who ushered us on to this way is now indicating that we descend from the balance and proceed onward and upward. There is a certain feeling as we do so of great abstraction and even vertigo. We are proceeding over a great abyss and it is like going through clouds.20 I think the clouds are there for our peace of mind and protection.

Suddenly we find ourselves at a pair of golden gates.21 The high priestess makes a signal in some way and the gates open and we see behind them the figure of the Empress who is in a beautiful garden. In fact we are entering a vast ornamental garden high above the world we know. It is laid out in geometric patterns it would seem, but there is no sense of rigid formality about it. The Empress greets us and invites us to wander in the gardens. There are fountains and singing birds, butterflies, little creatures looking at us. The first impression I had was of a very formal garden but as one goes on further into it one sees a great riot of individuality and ordered freedom, quite impossible to describe, one just has to observe.

And we are aware of a winding golden way continuing through the garden and we are invited to proceed along it, and we see before us something rather like Mont St Michel or St Michael's Mount, a tall spiralling castle on a high mount. Tall spires brilliant white in the sunlight. We proceed up to the wide double doorway and as we enter we find we are in fact entering the portals of a mighty abbey or cathedral. It is vast. And there are great stained glass windows, quite unlike any stained glass windows one has seen on Earth. One is also aware of the chanting of mighty choirs, with a music one can see, it is in colours. 2

There is a great multitude in here, a multitude that spreads not only throughout but also up into the heights. There are angels there. There are stone figures, all of which are like a great choral organ sounding forth tremendous symphonic harmonies. And one is aware that somehow those harmonies drive the spheres, drive the stars of the physical universe. That the whole creation below, whether it be stars and planets, cosmoi, galaxies, even atoms and molecules, the rise and fall of nations, in millions and millions of worlds, are all driven by this great orchestrated sound.23

And we see that toward the east there is what would correspond to a conductor or organist. It is in fact the mighty figure of the Magician, who is standing at what could be an altar, or alternatively a great organ keyboard. He simply stands there, an incredible figure, there are great spheres of light all around him, rays of light, from which it seems the sound comes as he manipulates the light which fills, translated into harmonies, this great abbey, the great cathedral, this great castle.24 And one is aware of the scent of incense as well. Every sense that one possesses is aware of this web of harmony.

And then we look past him, up toward the glorious stained glass window in the East, which opens in a blaze of light, and there stands a figure radiant in rags, with feathers in his hair. A figure of utter simplicity and poverty, from whom the most incredible force of love is coming to the meanest and most deprived of all creatures in the universe.25 For he is making himself at one with them, and raying forth a healing love to the meanest of all that have fallen or are in difficulty throughout the whole cosmos. We pause to open ourselves to this force, this atmosphere.

You may be aware of beings among us who bring help and healing. It is almost like the coming of the Holy Grail. Whatever one needs, whatever one most desires, can be given to you here by those whose very being is incandescent love.

We are aware that the whole thing seems to be moving now. We are, it would seem, descending through the clouds.26 The whole edifice, ringing with sound, vibrant with light, pulsing in every conceivable way with light and love, is coming down toward the stone circle on the hill top.27 It passes through it, for it is more solid than that.

Down towards the lake.28 It passes through the surface of the lake, down through it, for it is more solid than the lake, and it takes up within its ambit all the beings of these lower worlds. There are birds, fish, every kind of creature one can think of whose element one has passed through, being taken up into this great influence. And down we come, into the cave. The forms of the great abbey are no longer discernible but the feeling is there, with each one of us. We have in us, and the ability to take away with us, that which has been given us, and has been presented to us in the forms of colour, shape and sound.

The hermaphroditic figure is standing at the curtain and smiling at us, opening it for us to pass back through, leaving the golden table behind us with the Tarot images upon it, which are themselves a map and indicator of the way that we have been and of the realities that we have contacted. We pass into the main body of the cave. R. is the last to come through, and we come out slowly from the mouth of the cave and stand in a group.

Gradually we are aware of consciousness coming back into our everyday present personalities and bodies in this hall. And so I ask you to move yourselves about and make sure that you are fully back with us.

Notes on the Path Working i. The way to the stars is into the Earth. Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem. See R. J. Stewart, The Underworld Initiation for a detailed treatment of this. Steinbrecher also uses this starting point in The Inner Guide Meditation from a more Platonic standpoint.

2. A useful traditional device in a group working to help keep intention and experience unified but there is no fool proof way of shepherding the more wilful sheep. Generally speaking they come to no harm and their dissipating effect is minimal.

3. This is the induction imagery to be found in Charles Williams' The Greater Trumps.

4. In Qabalistic terms this is an invitation to tread the 32nd Path from the Earth Sephirah Malkuth to the inner worlds.

5. These are the guardians of the 29th and 31st Paths on the Tree of Life, whose Tarot Trumps are, in the traditions we are using, the Moon and the Last Judgement respectively.

6. This is the equivalent of the Sephirah Yesod. The Lake also has an important role in Arthurian legend. Refer to my Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend.

7. The figure of Temperance, allocated to the 25th Path of the Tree of Life from Yesod to Tiphereth.

8. The gateways to the 28th and 30th Paths, from Yesod to Netzach and Hod, which have as attributions the Tarot Trumps the Star and the Sun in the system we are using.

9. This is the 25th Path from Yesod up to the crossing point of the later 27th Path.

10. The Tarot Trump the Tower, allocated to the 27th Path that runs across the 25th Path, between Hod and Netzach.

11. The Sephirah Netzach and the Sephirah Hod.

12. This is a particular experience, appropriate to this point, of the Lightning Flash, a glyph that can be placed on the Tree of Life to show the descent of Divine Power through the spheres.

13. This is the 25th Path from the 27th Path crossing point to the Sephirah Tiphereth.

14. The Sephirah Tiphereth.

15. These are the Tarot equivalents of the complex of Paths proceeding onward from Tiphereth - Strength, Love, the High Priestess, the Hermit and the Emperor on the 22nd, 17th, 13th, 15th and 20th Paths respectively.

16. The Tarot correspondences of the 24th and 26th Paths that run into Tiphereth from Netzach and Hod.

17. The 13th Path. In this exercise of 'rising on the planes' this is our route of progress.

18. It will be noted that I have not followed the Golden Dawn practice of counterchanging Trumps VIII and XI. Justice seems eminently suited, for our purposes, to the 19th Path balancing the Sephiroth Chesed and Geburah. And Strength seems perfectly adequate representation for the Path between Tiphereth and Geburah.

19. An awareness of the side Paths, the 21st and 23rd, as we swing in this balance point of the Tree, represented by the Tarot images of the Wheel of Fortune and the Hanged Man.

20. Crossing the Abyss by the cloudy or invisible secret Sephirah Daath or Knowledge.

21. The gateway represents the crossing of the 13 th Path by the 14th Path beyond the Abyss.

22. At this level there is a general unification of the powers of the higher Paths and the Supernal Sephiroth, the 16th represented by the Pope or Hierophant, the 18th represented by Triumph or the Victory Chariot.

23. This is the function of the primum mobile in Kether.

24. An experience of the 12th Path, if distinctions mean much at these unificatory levels. An emanation of Kether.

25. Similarly, the nth Path as an emanation of the Highest Crown.

26. In a sense, this is a combination of the descending Chariot of Triumph with the mediating powers of the Hierophant.

27. Tiphereth.

28. Yesod.


Not many of those who experienced this working, even if Qabalistic students, recognized the general structure. Most found it to be a profoundly moving experience. In fact one comment was that we seemed to have come back to the wrong place - that the logical outcome was to find oneself transported physically into the glory of Chartres cathedral. Perhaps therefore in the consciousness of those present a little bit of the New Jerusalem was made manifest. It is then up to those so privileged to try to express it in actuality in their everyday lives. This is the magic of planetary, as opposed to individual, healing and regeneration.

Continue reading here: Tarot Ritual and Divination

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