Tarot and Astrology: Combining Two Forms of Divination
Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
An international group of tarotists are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers. Arwen Lynch of Tarot by Arwen offered up the straightforward and interesting question, “Do you combine Tarot with any other divination system?” Although I’ve worked with a variety of divination systems, my two favorites by far are tarot and astrology, which easily combine in a reading.
Before Tarot and Astrology
Prior to learning tarot in 1991, I had never worked with any kind of divination system. The spiritual teacher I began studying with in the early nineties taught me tarot as well as the I Ching and pendulum dowsing. He also gave me a book on the runes. He taught me each as a stand-alone system, each having a certain type of question it answered best.
I liked the I Ching because it was easy–you just toss the coins and look up the answer in a book. The pendulum never worked for me. I got more into the runes about ten years later when I had a friend who studied them. And I took a really excellent rune class recently with Jeffrey Gray of Alchemical Base. I have to say that learning the runes from a proper teacher and not from a book makes a world of difference! But back when I was starting out, tarot cards worked best for me, were tricky in a way that inspired my creativity, and had those beautiful, mysterious images that so captured my imagination.
Astrology was a curiosity but never an interest–newspaper horoscopes rarely seemed relevant and reading about my sun sign, Aries, never made that much sense to me. But one day I was sitting in a coffee shop in Fort Collins, and flipped open a coffee table book on Moon signs–I had a Cancer Moon, and all of a sudden astrology meant something. Not enough to go and study astrology! But enough to make a mental note in the back of my mind that maybe there was more there than met the eye.
First Came Qabalah
I started studying qabalah around 2005 or 6. I was curious about two things–if there was a correct order to the tarot suits, and why the Kings and Knights were assigned different hierarchical positions in different decks. Researching both questions led me to the nineteenth-century French esotericists and their successors, the Golden Dawn. The answers to the questions lay in the qabalistic overlay the tarot received during this time period. Oswald Wirth became my faithful friend. Then I finally opened a copy of Paul Foster Case’s The Tarot that I had picked up used at one point. Damn these Golden Dawn people for confusing everything with their veiled and misleading attributions! Then I finally realized there were simply two ways of making the correspondences. I relearned everything.
Discovering a deck that had the qabalistic and astrological correspondences on the cards at a used bookshop, I snapped it up. I was so happy with it! It was so beautiful and now I could finally learn all this important knowledge. I rushed off to show my qabalah mentor, a teacher I was working with at the time. He hardly looked at five cards before saying, “These are wrong. There are two cards with cheth and none with heh. Heh should have a gap at the top of the left-hand leg.” No! Not my beautiful cards. I put them away.
I finally had to learn astrology as part of the requirements of a magical group I joined in 2008. Once I looked at my whole chart, with the overbearing discipline of Saturn conjoined to that Aries Sun, and not only my Moon in Cancer but also my Ascendent, and indeed a grand trine in water, I suddenly could see *me* in astrology. It came alive for me the way tarot did–I not only saw the glyphs and colors of the chart, but to my eyes they arranged themselves into patterns and images, lakes and swords, rivers and trees. Astrology came alive for me.
I was so excited to learn astrology and share the amazing insights I had from examining charts using my unique approach. Sharing my thoughts with several experienced astrologers, most of whom were in an advanced tarot meetup I was leading, I received a variety of hesitant responses. Varying from, “Huh. That’s interesting. I’ve never seen an astrology chart read that way before,” to those furtive glances of disdain exchanged across the table supposedly unbeknownst to me, I could tell I wasn’t in the club. Recommendations were offered on good books on astrology. Then all the people in my meetup group dropped out. Maybe my astrology wasn’t as good as I thought.
First Forays into Tarot and Astrology
Somewhere in all this I did my first Opening of the Key tarot reading. I remember sitting on the floor in my ritual room, flickering candle light, cards spread out all around me, balancing the unwieldy brick called The Golden Dawn, opened to Book T, notebook and pen nearby. The first step of the first operation went just great–it makes a fabulous four-card spread! And how interesting to unearth the significator in that most significant pile. Then spreading out the cards into the horseshoe. Then the tedious counting–I didn’t have any of the correspondences memorized and had to look up each card as I went. Getting stuck on Aces thinking they were 1 instead of 5. Three hours later I had not finished the first operation and gave up on ever being able to do it correctly. There was so much to know!
Reading for Others
Meanwhile, my astrology skills grew. The spiritual group I was in at the time required an application and interview process for all new members. We were growing quickly and had a lot of applications. Potential members were required to provide their birth data, and we would print out charts for each interview. Along with other members of the group, I might make a few comments on what I saw in the chart. Soon this became my expected task and I did short readings for everyone who applied to the group. This process helped me grow very quickly as an astrologer and soon I was being teased again–but now about the accuracy and hard-hitting truth can I could find so quickly in the chart. The leader of the group recommended me as a reader to a local metaphysical shop and I got my first gig as a store reader–as an astrologer, not a tarot reader.
Combining Tarot and Astrology
Saturn conjunct my Sun came in handy as I buckled down and started memorizing the correspondences. I made flash cards. I mentally reviewed correspondences when waiting in line or riding the bus. I still do! Now it’s soothing. After the aborted attempt to find a deck with Hebrew letters, I never used a deck with the correspondences printed on the cards (although I recommend some Golden Dawn cheat-sheet decks in this post). I simply went straight to memorizing them.
And then the magic happened. I would lay down a card for a client and mention its astrological attribution and that would be the client’s Sun or Moon sign. Tarot clients when posing their question would describe a situation that clearly matched a current transit. I started offering a “Half and half” reading providing thirty minutes of astrology followed by thirty minutes of tarot–the cards would allude to the astrological chart, offering deeper insight. And the Opening of the Key is a spread I perform so frequently for clients that I can read the first operation sometimes in as little time as forty minutes (although it’s still a big spread and usually needs more time!). And people are so impressed with the counting! It’s like a magical vortex as I whip around the circle of cards counting and nudging until the unique cards holding their story sit at attention, waiting to be read.
Astrology offers insight into our innate personality and unique strengths while transits describe the ebbs and flows we are currently experiencing. Tarot offers specific details in answer to a question or situation. Astrology is the architecture, tarot the design. Astrology is the spine of our life, while tarot fills in the colorful and unique details. Astrology is the macrocosm, tarot is the microcosm. Reading both together lets us shift from the outer to inner, inner to outer, placing the details in perspective of the big picture, and offering the big picture as motivation for the details. Working one against the other is the magical reflection of above and below, bringing astrology down into the tasks of daily life and inspiring tarot upward towards our higher purpose.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.