Review: Tarot & Magic by Donald Michael Kraig

I pulled this book out of my collection of books. Sometimes you come across some strange and interesting titles and “Tarot & Magic” by Donald Michael Kraig is one of those curious titles. Often books on tarot are very focused on methods for tarot reading. This book however attempts to look at different ways to use the tarot deck.

First a few words about the author. Donald Michael Kraig was a tarot master and practicing occultist. He was the author of the popular “Modern Magick – Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts” which is a really good introduction to Golden Dawn-style classical magick. In that book he also ties together tarot practice and the kabbalah and gives some cool exercises you can do with tarot to try and gain a deeper understanding of the cards.

That is a really good book, which comes highly recommended. When I say highly recommended, it means that it is a good introduction. Not that I necessarily agree with everything that is written there, but it is a good starting point of doing your own studies and could help you to spark that interest.  Plus that if you have an interest in tarot it will be adressed there. Many books on the occult choose to ignore the tarot completely.

As that book is not exclusively about the tarot, he also wrote the book “Tarot & Magic” which is an attempt to put the tarot into a magickal context. My version is the first edition, second printing from 2003. Originally I think it was released back in 2002.

What I like about this book is that it is very different from most other books about the tarot. It does not focus on card meanings or tarot reading at all. This one is purely about tarot and how it more specifically relates to magical practice. It says that it is intended for those who already have some experience with the tarot and magic, but honestly, it is not all that complicated. Maybe it would be good to have a general idea about the tarot, but it is not so complex that any in-depth knowledge is required. A basic understanding of the cards should be more than sufficient and anything more than that can be developed through studying.

In total there are nine chapters covering nine very different topics. Unfortunately, that is also the issue I am having with this book. It is only 175 pages long and some chapters are more interesting than others. Those chapters that are interesting could have been more in-depth and when you read it, you will only feel that you have scratched the surface. I suspect that this was also the author’s own intention as there is a chapter dedicated to “Tarot and Magic – continual evolution” which encourage people to experiment on their own and develop their own methods.

And when I say that some chapters are more interesting than others, I also find that to be one of the problems with this book. There are a whole lot of very different ideas in here and you will not like them all. Normally, I would say, that is not an issue when reading a book as it usually stays on one topic. Tarot & Magic doesn’t. If you are interested in Ceremonial Magic, you are not interested in reading about Wiccan tarot spells. And a Wiccan is probably not interested in reading about kabbalistic pathworking or ceremonial magic spells. The book would probably benefit from a little bit more focus and go a little bit more in-depth on certain topics instead of trying to appeal to practioners of every kind.

The result is that I find 3 chapters really interesting, a couple chapters are okay and the rest are largely irrelevant. Chapter 4 called “Dancing the Tarot” was my anti-climax and nearly made me put the book down, but I am glad I didn’t. The book is only 175 pages long to begin with and with so much content that will not be relevant to you, there is not all that much you will find to be of any substance.

There’s also a bibliography for further reading, which is great, but it is not sorted after the chapters, so it can be a little bit difficult to understand which books are relevant for the topics you are interested in.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book. After having read it I sit back with a feeling of wanting more. It will spark your curiosity, it will drive you to have a go at it. And I suspect that was also the main goal of the author writing the book. In the closing comments of the book he even writes “If you are a Tarot reader now, learn to use the Tarot for magic and share your techniques with your clients. Also share them with other Tarot readers. Start websites and magazines with ideas for doing Tarot magic. If they are modifications or additions to what I have presented here, fine. If they are new and different concepts, even better.”

My closing comment is that it is an affordable book with some interesting ideas. It is nowhere near as good as his book “Modern Magick”, but if you take it for what it is, and don’t expect it to give you a full intoduction into tarot magic, and can accept that it will only will present you with some ideas, that you will need to work on and develop yourself, then this can be a good book to pick up at an affordable price. I suspect  that after “Modern Magick” a lot of people would have expected something different, but Tarot & Magic isn’t a new “Modern Magick” on the subject of tarot magic. It is still a decent book on the subject though.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

 

TarotAndMagic

First Edition, second printing 2003 paperback edition

Review: Arcanum Tarot – artwork by Renata Lechner

I am not sure how many reviews I will be doing on this blog. I guess it depends a little on whether I get any feedback from it and people seem interested in them. I suppose there are plenty of people doing reviews already. I only recently got this deck and as it was released in April 2018, I thought why not.

The first thing I want to say about this deck is that it is created by an artist called Renata Lechner and that it is the second deck in a planned trilogy of tarot decks. The first one was released in 2015 and is called the Thelema Tarot (it has nothing to do with Aleister Crowley’s religion. It’s similar in name only. It doesn’t even follow Crowley’s swaps for the Thoth deck). The Arcanum was recently released in 2018 and a third deck called the “Millennium Thot Tarot” is due to be released either in 2019 or 2020. It is therefore difficult not to compare them to each other and talk a little bit about both decks released thus far. The review is meant for the Arcanum Tarot, but most of what I say here will be applicable for the Thelema Tarot as well.

I don’t know anything about Renata Lechner or any of her ideas around the tarot, so this review will be based on how I experience the deck and my own tarot knowledge.

Arcanum Tarot, as the Thelema Tarot, comes with a neat little box that protect the cards. It is definitely a nice upgrade from most other decks which only get a simple box. This box offers some additional protection for the cards and it looks quite nice too. It also comes with a small color-printed booklet with brief meanings of the card meanings written by Jaymi Elford. You don’t get this deck for the booklet though. I don’t find it descriptive enough to be of any particular interest, but could be of use if you need to be guided to what you see on the images.

Artwork:

The artwork was what brought the Thelema tarot to my attention and the Arcanum tarot continues the trilogy in a similar style. Visually they look quite similar to each other. Both are borderless with the title of the card neatly situated at the bottom of the card. and have rich colorful style with almost photo realistic images. The cardback has a nice design, but I don’t think it is meant to symbolize anything in particular. I think it is just  a fantasy design that looks quite cool. At least, it doesn’t tell me anything.

I think the artwork is the main strength of this deck. Most of the images are really beautiful with a nice colorful and glossy print.And I think I prefer the artwork in the Thelema deck slightly over this one. The aesthetics of both the decks give me a slight feminine vibe, which I think is the case with a lot of visually pleasing tarot decks.

For some of the cards that might even be an issue. They can perhaps be a little too beautiful when they are supposed to communicate a little bit more of their raw energy, but generally it is not too much of a problem.

Card Examples

Arcanum Tarot at the top and Thelema Tarot at the bottom. The three first cards hint at a future blog post and Temperance I just added, because  it’s my favorite tarot card from any deck.

Symbolism:

Neither the Thelema Tarot or Arcanum Tarot have the esoteric symbols added on to them. There is space to add them yourself if you want, but I am not a fan of adding my own ugly handwriting to my cards.

It seems to be based on the traditional Rider-Waite Smith symbolism and the cards have the same names and numberings as in that deck.

The images here are a little different from the Rider-Waite Smith deck and that makes it a little bit more difficult at times to capture the essence of the cards. Subtle differences can sometimes make a significant impact on how the cards are being perceived. Some cards are also quite far from the traditional images

If you are very familiar with the Rider-Waite Smith you will recognize them though, but it also means that you probably need that Rider-Waite Smith knowledge in place already to use this deck properly.

Conclusion

If you already have the Thelema tarot, and you like that one. I would consider getting this deck too. If you don’t already own the Thelema tarot, I would probably consider getting that one first. Not only is it the first deck in the trilogy, but I also think its imagery is a little bit better.

The beautiful artwork is the main reason to get any of those two decks. They’re both not great for symbolism, but it works quite ok if you already are familiar with Rider-Waite Smtih.

Big plus for the nice box that comes with it. Definitely something more publishers should be doing and it saves you from buying extra tarot pouches.

The card quality is also good and I am not afraid to use these cards (just don’t put them under your pillow while sleeping).

Another idea, that I guess some tarot purists will hate, would be to take the favorite cards from each deck of the trilogy and put them together to your own super-deck with the cards that resonate the most with you. They are all the same size, so it would work.

Overall I am glad to have both Thelema Tarot and Arcanum Tarot in my collection. As the decks are both visually pleasing I find that they are great for tarot contemplation sessions for those cards that I think capture their essence in a great way.

Arcanum Box

Arcanum Tarot (2018) by Renata Lechner

Beyond the darkened skies

Tarot is in my experience a rather unforgiving tool. It will try and force you to be honest with yourself and your situation whether you like it or not. And that is probably why it by some people has received a darker reputation. Some people try to remedy that by creating decks where all the cards have had their negative meanings removed. I don’t agree with that at all. Cards like the Tower, the Devil, the 9 and 10 of Swords etc all have their uses. Rather than trying to remove the negative message that these bring I think it is more important to meet them with acceptance and an open mind.

Even if one or more of these mentioned cards reveal themselves in a tarot spread, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a looming disaster around the corner. That is probably number one to remember when these appear. The second thing is of course that they can appear very dramatic and the message they bring is often not the most positive. The Tower for example has probably the most sinister reputation of all the tarot cards. Usually it is pictured by a tower in a thunderstorm struck down by a lightning strike. Many people are frightened by thunderstorms too and it is not so difficult to understand why when you experience these powerful forces of nature. They often tend to focus on its destructive forces though. I rather see it as a tension that has been built up which finally gets its release. After the thunderstorm the air feels so fresh again. And I think it is the same when the Tower finds its way into a tarot reading. The cards are always meant to be read together to create a context (a reason why I am not very fond of one card readings).

The Tower is attributed to the planet Mars, which has resolution through conflict as one of its domains. The keyword here is resolution, not conflict. The conflict is just a method to find a resolution. Sometimes there can be other ways to find that resolution, but sometimes you find yourself in a deadlock and the solution comes through some kind of conflict. The tarot was never designed to deal with people’s everyday problems, even though it can help out with that. There is so much more to it. On a grander scale for example you can see how The Emperor relates to the Tower through the martian energies – the ruler that goes to war to settle a dispute.

My point is that I think it is more constructive to try and understand the forces in the cards and  what kind of function they have in the universe. Once that is understood, it is also easier to relate to the cards on a more personal level in a tarot spread. When you realize that it has a function and although it might not be pleasant, the universe did not put it there to make your life miserable or more difficult.

I freely admit that I was not thrilled when the Death card appeared in my own yearly spread for 2018. I did not like it back in January, and I still don’t like it now that it is May. I feel somewhat resistant to any grand changes in my life right now, but maybe something happens so I don’t get to choose during the summer period. And if that happens I only have the option to accept it, transform and adapt. But I am not thrilled about it – even if it long term would benefit me. Short term it sounds like a lot of work and hassle. It’s just how things are. That’s the thing though, while it doesn’t mean that everything will go all south for me, it doesn’t mean that I need to embrace it and be all excited about any changes either. It could be something quite neutral.

And I think that is a very viable option when those difficult cards appear – to accept that it doesn’t have to be all black and white, good or bad. It’s so very human of us to feel the need to relate to something as either good  or bad for us. It’s so coded into us that when we learn a new language some of the first words we learn are “Yes” and “No” and “Good” and “Bad”. As you get more proficient in a language more opportunities open up to express yourself in a more complex way and gain deeper understanding. And that is how tarot works too. In a way, it is its own symbolic language.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

Darkened skies

The evening skies at home…

Why I don’t like reversed cards

There are a lot of opinions about the use of reversed cards in various tarot communities. Some people like them and some people don’t. In general those who use them think you might miss out on half the deck if you don’t use them and those who do not use them either think they are too negative or make it too complicated. I don’t use them either, but for a very different reason and here is why.

In all tarot decks you have the four suits corresponding to each element fire, water, air and earth. Sometimes they differ in name. For example wands may be called scepters, pentacles may be called coins or disks etc, but they still represent the element of fire and earth. That is not something random. The tarot is designed around these elements and how they interact with each other. Some elements are hostile towards each other and would influence each other negatively such as for example fire/water or air/earth. So when you have cards next to each other in a spread, you can see which elements are influencing the others either positively/negatively or in a neutral way. If you have three cards for instance you would then look at the card in the middle to determine how it is influenced by the elements to its left and right.

So, if you have one fire card in the middle with two water cards next to it, it would be influenced negatively by the element of water. This could mean that the meaning of the fire card is weaker or that it takes on a more negative meaning similar to that of a reversed card. It is called looking at the cards’ “Elemental Dignities”.

Another benefit of this method is that it forces the tarot reader to look at the relationships between the cards. This is a good thing and a good habit to develop for tarot readers. A lot of readers who start out find that to be troublesome, but when you make a habit of using a method that will force you to look at the cards in relation to each other you will naturally develop that skill faster than if you do not practice it.

In short, there is already a system place within the tarot to determine if the card meanings are positively or negatively influenced that will also encourage you to get good reading habits and look at the relations between the cards, so what then, is really the need for reversed cards? And in my opinion, it is much easier to learn than how to use reversed cards.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

Reversal

A few random cards from the Arcanum Tarot

 

I don’t want to miss a thing!

All tarot readers secretly live by the title of this Aerosmith song. It hurts both our pride and self confidence when we aren’t spot on with our readings, but the fact is that it happens to all of us. No matter how good we are.

The question is then how to handle it. The first step is to accept that we cannot always be right. We need to be open for that we might have missed a clue, misinterpreted a card and so on. There is a big but here though, and that is that even if that is the case, it is still us as tarot readers who need to be in control of the situation. It is our reading, our mistakes, and it is not up to our clients to tell us how we should have or could have interpreted our own reading. So don’t invite them to do that.

The second step is to realize that it isn’t as easy as it sounds to admit a mistake. Pride is often in the way both for the tarot reader and the client. It is not uncommon to come up with ideas that the client will not relate to immediately. Perhaps they don’t sit on all the information for it to make sense yet as events may be revealed to them in time. It can be particularly tricky if the client is just after getting a confirmation of how they think or wish something should be. So before you admit to doing a mistake it would be wise to at least map out the situation and find out whether the client is that type of client or not.

If the answer is no and the client seem pretty open-minded about the reading, but it still seems completely off to them, it is time to open up for the possibility that you as a reader might not have the best day. And you need to allow yourself to not have the best day every single day. It’s not a defeat. The best advice would probably be to politely ask them to reschedule for another reading at a later point. Don’t try to do a new reading then and there. That would be extremely awkward for you when you miss a second time. If the client doesn’t accept it, offer them a refund, if you take payments for your readings. If you are being polite and humble about it many will show empathy and try to understand you. If you slander someone for being honest, polite and humble about a mistake I would argue that the problem does not lie with you. So if you can manage to be humble and polite then you are less likely to take a reputation hit as well.

In classical magic there are strict protocols for when and how various beings can be contacted. Usually there is always a specific time window when contact needs to be established based on astrology, where you are in the lunar cycle, time of the day and so on. If you are into esoteric tarot, you might want to have a tarot journal where you log these events as it potentially also could influence your tarot readings. After a while maybe you will find a pattern for when you have on or off days. Unlike the books of old, it will not tell you when the best time for a tarot reading is. So here you are left to do your own research for the best timings.

The third and final step is to not dwell on what happened. You need to move on. Perhaps it is best to take a break for that day, but don’t let it discourage you from taking on new clients. Your confidence will come back with the next good tarot reading.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

clouds-cold-dark-540518

Another mountain to overcome.

Signifier cards – are they worth it?

This question pops up every once in a while for tarot readers. Should I or should I not be using signifier cards? There are many ways of how to decide what signifier cards to use,  I prefer to pick one of the court cards that I think suits best with the client’s personality, but I will not go into detail of this method here.

Most of the time when I am doing tarot readings I use a spread called the Opening of the Key. It is standard for that spread to use a signifier, but even when I use some of the more popular tarot spreads I prefer to have one. Probably I use it in 9 out of 10 readings.

A lot of people are concerned that when they use a signifier card they will take a card out of the deck and therefore potentially miss out on information. I reject that idea. By choosing a signifier card I get a focal point for my reading and all the cards that I draw will somehow be related to the signifier card. Sometimes I can even get clues depending on where the other cards are located compared to the signifier card. Perhaps it is looking backwards towards the past or maybe forwards towards the future or maybe you see a father looking over his son like a guardian? There are many possibilities when using them.

I think it gives the reading an extra depth that would not have been possible if I had not been using a signifier card. The benefits of it outweigh the cons by a great deal. In my experience it can be the difference between a hit or a miss when doing a reading. If you have not tried it, I encourage you to try it out. It is not complicated and I think it helps to give a reading more structure.

 

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

court-cards.jpg

Court cards of fire and air from the Tarot of Stars Eternal

 

How often to do a tarot reading for the same person?

Have you ever wondered how often it makes sense to do a reading for yourself or maybe even how frequently it makes sense to do a reading for others on the same topic? I have some thoughts on that.

Generally I would say that it doesn’t make sense to do a reading too often. The point of a reading is often to map out a situation and see certain plausible scenarios and then make a plan according to that. If you then decide to have readings done too often are more likely to than not to get a very unclear picture of what is really going on after a few readings. So what I recommend is to maximum get a reading done every 3 months for the same topic.

There are many people out there who come to tarot readers just to get confirmations from someone – or perhaps they are looking for that easy solution and just want to hear that it will work out. I suspect there will be more posts about that in the future, but that is not a proper tarot reading though. In fact, I find it unethical to “read” tarot that way just as a means to get an income. Often many of these people are in a vulnerable spot in their lives, and even if it is their choice to come to you and pay you with their money, it is still your own choice if you want to give them that or not. It is probably more responsible to try and help them out and empower them to make active changes in their lives. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy to hear that. Particularly not if they just came to get a confirmation of their own feelings in the first place, but honestly, then they shouldn’t have come for a tarot reading. That is not what it should be all about. That is not a way of reading tarot that I would be comfortable with.

It is not any different when doing readings for myself. I try to limit it to 3 months for the same topic and during that period I work according to my plan. I make my own decisions, never the cards.  It would be irresponsible if I did not. It is I that must live and learn.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

Tarotkort