Fourfold Breath Meditation with Tarot Ace Visualization: Beginning Meditations

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Fourfold Breath Meditation with Tarot Ace Visualization: Beginning Meditations

In this Beginning Meditations series, I teach the basic meditations that I recommend to clients and students. Today’s post is on the fourfold breath meditation, which can be done by itself or supplemented with the tarot ace visualization. I find this meditation to be so useful that I teach it in my meditation classes, qabalah classes, ceremonial magic classes, and my tarot classes. Today’s post includes written instructions for and a 10-minute guided meditation mp3 recording of the fourfold breath meditation. Please also check out the other meditations in this series!

  1. Fourfold Breath Meditation with Tarot Ace Visualization – Today’s post!
  2. Jôshin Kokyû Hô Reiki Meditation – August 15, 2018
  3. Discursive Meditation – September 15, 2018
  4. The Middle Pillar Exercise – October 15, 2018
  5. TBD – November 15, 2018

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A Stick for the Mind

One of my Reiki teachers, Trish Edwards of OM Mountain Yoga in Loveland, told me this interesting story. In India, if you’re riding an elephant through the street market, because you can do things like this in India, you will notice that your elephant will reach out its trunk to pick up fruit and other objects of interest as it passes the stands. This of course is not only embarrassing to you, but can become costly if you have to pay for everything your elephant grabs! However, there is a simple tool for keeping your elephant polite and focused. If you give him a stick to hold onto, he walks peacefully through the market holding his stick and doesn’t bother any of the merchants!

Our mind is like the elephant. It can’t help but reach out and grab everything that interests it. What we need is a stick for the mind.

The traditional stick in Indian meditative practices is the mantra, a word or phrase the practitioner repeats over and over. But our stick doesn’t need to be in Sanskrit to work. One of the easiest ways to give the mind a stick is to count breaths. Although there are dozens of ways to do this, the one I like best is the fourfold breath, which consists of counting to four during the in-breath, holding the breath for four counts, counting four on the out breath, and then holding again for four counts. Because the mind is busy counting, it is much less likely to grab the first shiny object it sees.

About the Fourfold Breath Meditation

The fourfold breath meditation, also called square breathing, is a standard practice in the Western Mystery Tradition. Unlike meditations in which you count each breath sequentially, which can lead to getting lost or losing count as you sink into the meditation, the fourfold breath keeps the counting simple and yet also provides enough complexity to concentrate the mind. This keeps the mind alert and focused, not disappearing into the ether. The result is a meditative but objectively aware mind. The advantage is that this state links the spiritual and mundane levels, allowing the benefits of meditation to be carried with you throughout the day.

Adding the four tarot Aces visualization to the four-count breathing involves yet another level of focus. Many Western Mystery Tradition rituals require that the awareness be engaged on multiple points of concentration simultaneously, including movement, visualization, sound, and the direction of energy. Simple exercises like the breathing meditation, when combined with deeper layers like visualization, prepare practitioners for more complex rituals. Furthermore, by placing the tarot Aces in the context of the cycle of breathing, new insights and understanding of the symbolism will come to light.

Instructions for the Fourfold Breath Meditation with Tarot Ace Visualization

To start, pull the four aces from your tarot deck, or use the illustration below. Next, find a place to sit where you can lay out the tarot cards and see them easily. Now you’re ready to begin your meditation!

The Four Aces from the Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition Deck by Pamela Colman-Smith and Arthur Edward Waite, published by U.S. Games, Inc. 2009
  1. Sit on a chair at a desk, table, or altar.
    • Sit forward to the edge of the chair, spine erect, feet flat on the floor, with an alert but relaxed posture.
    • See my post on best practices for more information about meditation posture.
  2. Place the four Aces where you can see them clearly
    • Place the four Aces in front of you 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.
  3. 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.
    • For this meditation, you can either close your eyes or keep them open. If you keep them open, maintain a relaxed gaze focused on the cards or another point close by on the table or altar.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    • Keep the throat open and relaxed, not tight or clamped shut, when holding the breath. You should be able to easily breath in a little bit more without feeling your throat change.
    • Focus on the sensation of the flow of the breath and the hold in between breaths.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, or even if you do, you can keep your eyes open and gaze at each one as you perform this step.
  8. 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.
      • Fill yourself 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.
      • Let 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. Find the life in each card’s scene.
  9. Alternate Visualization
    • You can experiment with different visualizations when practicing this meditation.
    • For example, 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.

Although it is best to practice this meditation quietly at your own pace, the following 10-minute guided meditation mp3 recording of the fourfold breath meditation with the tarot ace visualization can be used to help you learn the practice. Once you are comfortable with it and know it well, you can discontinue using the recording and do the meditation on your own.

I learned this technique from The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, pp. 188-189 (now published as the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot). It also appears in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn. I first published the above version of the exercise, along with several other tarot-based meditations, on the Denver Tarot Convention Blog.


Click the image for more information!

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five 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 grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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