“BodhidharmaYoshitoshi1887” by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi – en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BodhidharmaYoshitoshi1887.jpg#/media/File:BodhidharmaYoshitoshi1887.jpg
Do you suffer from talk overload in your tarot practice? After a day of reading for others sometimes it’s hard to turn it all off and hear the silence. It’s important for our health and our development as readers to let ourselves become quiet and contemplative with our cards for a period of time each day.
Meditation is an important part of my daily practice. Over the years I have learned many tarot meditations that I use for myself and with my students. I have compiled some of my favorites here for you to try or revisit.
Because meditation is designed to take us out of our analytical mind and allow us to enter a more expansive awareness, using tarot card meditations can create opportunities for insight that you cannot experience from doing non-meditative tarot readings or academic work with the cards.
Ultimately, regular meditation practice opens up insight, intuition and psychic abilities. Then our work with readings can pull from both knowledge-based and insight-based practices, integrating both sides of the brain. The practical result is very powerful, inspired, clear, and detailed readings.
1. Fixed Gaze Meditation
I learned this technique from a friend more than twenty years ago; we weren’t using it with tarot images at the time, but with some simple geometric shapes printed large on regular copy paper. I more recently looked the technique up online and discovered that it is a yoga meditation called Trāṭaka and can be used to open up psychic powers.
The meditation consists of fixing your gaze on a symbol or object while allowing natural thoughts to arise, and then letting them go. The goal is to become completely absorbed in the symbol, which in turn stills the mind, releasing the brain from the limitations of time and space and opening up spiritual consciousness.
In my Esoteric Tarot class, we use this exercise to focus on either a single astrological symbol or an astrological decan ruler and sign (such as are associated with the non-Ace pips, and which DTC presenter Austin Coppock will address in detail). Some other tarot-related focuses could include a single symbolic element within a tarot card (like the crossed keys at the feet of the Hierophant or wreath on the wand that is held aloft in the Six of Wands or the snail at the bottom of the Nine of Pentacles). This exercise might also work well for simpler cards, such as Waite-Smith style Aces or any unillustrated pip card (such as those of the Tarot de Marseilles). It’s certainly possible to focus on the entire image of a more complex scenic card or Major Arcanum. Ultimately, though, this technique is most effective with a very simple focus. You may like to try the scanning technique, number three in this list, for full cards. But as always, do what produces the best results for you.
- Sit or stand in proper meditation posture and remain still throughout the meditation. Situate yourself so that your gaze naturally falls on the image or object that you wish to meditate on.
- Using a soft focus, gaze at your chosen symbol or card element.
- The gazing is done without blinking or straining; when your eyes start to water, you may shut them and hold the image in your mind’s eye.
- Pay attention to the thoughts that come up (without holding on to them) as they may provide insight into the meaning of the symbols. Don’t try to understand the symbol, only gaze at it, but also be aware if your consciousness changes and you begin to receive insight.
- The meditation can last from a few seconds up to 10 or 15 minutes.
2. The Four-Fold Breath with Tarot Ace Meditation
I learned this technique from The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, pp. 188-189. It also appears in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn.
- Place the four Aces where you can see them clearly. Put them in this order: Ace of Wands, Ace of Cups, Ace of Swords, and Ace of Pentacles. Examine the cards carefully, memorizing every detail of their images.
- Bring your awareness to your body. Make small, slow adjustments to move your body into a comfortable meditation posture. Sit forward on the edge of your chair, feet flat on the floor, spine erect. Feel relaxed but alert.
- Next bring your awareness to your breath. Simply breathe, and be aware of your breath. Be aware of the breath entering the body; be aware of the breath flowing through the body. Follow the in and out, expansion and release of the breath cycle.
- Holding the breath. Breathe in, then hold the breath for a moment at the point of fullest inhalation. Breathe out, and then hold the breath for a moment at the point of complete exhalation. Continue this cycle. Focus on the sensation of the flow of the breath and the hold in between breaths.
- Counting the breath. Each stage of the breathing cycle is given four counts. The count of the breath is “in-two-three-four, hold-two-three-four, out-two-three-four, hold-two-three-four,” repeating this at a pace that is comfortable for you. Continue to maintain your awareness of your body and how the breath is flowing through you as you count your breath.
- Adding a visualization. Our next step is to visualize one of the tarot aces at each of the four parts of the breathing. On the in-breath, clearly see in your mind’s eye the Ace of Wands, the Ace of Cups on the full hold, the Ace of Swords on the out breath, and the Ace of Pentacles on the empty hold. If you don’t know the cards well, you can keep your eyes open and gaze at each one as you perform this step.
- Experience the energy of the visualization. Once you can see each card clearly in your mind as you progress through the breath cycle, allow that card to become alive with energy. Feel yourself fill with the energy of the Ace of Wands on the in-breath, feel the abundance of the Ace of Cups pouring over you on the full hold, feel the release of the Ace of Swords free you from anything that is holding you back on the out-breath, feel the groundedness and security of the Ace of Pentacles on the empty hold. Discover your own personal understanding of the cards, the images and the energetic component. Allow each card to become a living scene.
- If you are not familiar with tarot, try imagining a fruit tree, such as a cherry tree, through the seasons. At the in-breath, visualize the tree in blossom. At the full hold, see the tree laden with fruit. On the out breath, see the tree’s leaves blowing away in the wind in the fall. At the empty hold, see the tree stark in winter with bare branches.
3. Card Scanning
I first came across this exercise in Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magic, p. 99. It’s a wonderful exercise to help you truly see the card.
- Choose a card to work with.
- Mentally divide the card into narrow strips, perhaps ¼-½ inch wide. Scan the top strip of the card by slowly moving your gaze across the card noticing every part of the image in that narrow area down to the smallest detail.
- Repeat on the second strip from the top, and continue scanning the card strip by strip.
- You are using your eyes rather like a computer scanner that picks up every pixel of an image by moving across the image then down then across then down.
- Once you have mentally scanned the whole card, hold it in your mind with your eyes closed for a period of time. Continue to see every detail of it.
- If you like you can continue on to the next meditation, Entering a Card, or you can end your meditation here. Kraig also suggests a further component in which you “de-scan” the card, erasing it strip by strip from bottom to top, and then sitting in the resulting experience.
4. Entering a Card
The Fool from the Servants of Light Tarot, by Jo Gill. Cover art from Inner Landscapes by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, published by The Aquarian Press, 1989.
I’m not sure where I first learned this exercise—it’s a very common one and taught by a lot of tarot authors as well as ritual magic authors. I do remember doing this exercise with the Sun card from the Dowson Hermetic deck with lovely results.
This exercise is principally taught as a way to enter into qabalistic pathworking, but it can be done for any meditative purpose or to learn more about the card. I often teach this exercise for people to use with their Soul Card (as taught by Angeles Arrien and DTC presenter Mary K. Greer).
The basic idea is to see the card become a door that you open and enter. Instead of seeing a door, you can alternately see the frame of the card as an arch or opening that you walk through to enter the landscape of the card illustration.
I have on occasion used this exercise placing two cards next to each other and entering both at the same time, with startling results. If you’re not already familiar with this technique, though, I’d start with just one card.
The following is adapted from Mary K. Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, pp. 46-47.
- Chose a card to work with. Memorize the details of the card using the card scanning technique. Take a minute or two for this, or as long as you need.
- Begin the four-fold breath. (Steps 2-5 of the exercise, just the breathing part, not including the visualization.) Follow the breathing meditation for several minutes until you are in a deep meditative state.
- With your eyes closed, see your chosen card in front of you. It starts to expand, larger and larger. It grows until it is the size of a door, a door that matches in every detail the image on your card. You see it perfectly clearly.
- You see a handle on the door. Open it. When you open the door, you see that behind it is the exact scene of your card, life-size and in three dimensions, perfect in every detail.
- Step through the door and enter your card. The landscape now extends in all directions. Look around you. Where are you? What do you see? Do you hear any noises? What can you smell? What is the temperature? What time of day is it?
- Explore this landscape as much or little as you like. Can you touch or utilize any objects here? Do you see anyone? If you like, interact with any tarot natives you meet here.
- When you are ready to leave, turn around and see the open door. Step through the door back into your waking reality.
- Shut the door carefully. You see the door shrinking down, smaller and smaller until it is just a tarot card again.
- You are back to normal now. Open your eyes. Record your experiences in your journal.
What are your favorite tarot meditations? I’d love to learn some new ones! Please share your meditative tarot practices in the comments!
Here’s my short list of books that contain tarot meditations:
Ashcroft-Nowicki, Dolores. Inner Landscapes. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian, 1989.
Cicero, Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1991.
Greer, John Michael. Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practice of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1996.
Greer, Mary K. Tarot for Your Self. 2nd ed. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2002.
Knight, Gareth. Tarot and Magic. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1991.
Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1991.
Regardie, Israel. A Garden of Pomegranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life. Ed. Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 1932, 1999.
Joy will be speaking on “Lock in Your Transformation with the Empyrean Key” at TarotCon Denver 2015. Visit our Speakers page for the full line-up of presentations and workshops.
About the Author
Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visitJoyVernon.com.
© 2015 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.