How many ways can you explore the world that lies beneath the surface of the images on Tarot cards? ‘Infinite’, says Linda Marson, former President of the Tarot Guild of Australia. ‘The magic of the Tarot is that the images talk to you in different ways at different times in your life. And they can talk to you through the prism of spiritual practices or disciplines. Two that resonate with me are the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah and the nature spirituality of Druidry.’
‘The common thread linking Tarot, Kabbalah and Druidry is a desire to explore what lies beyond the everyday world, a desire to follow a path that embraces both spiritual and worldly needs. All three traditions open doors to self-awareness and ways to live rewarding and joyful lives. In other words, they answer the BIG questions in life!’
In this post, Linda shows how an understanding of Kabbalah reveals another layer of meaning to the Rider Waite® Tarot, and how Druidry provides yet another perspective through the images on the DruidCraft Tarot.
If this discussion whets your appetite to know more, check out Linda’s course, Live and Learn the Tarot. Her approach to teaching Tarot is unique in that it draws on the wisdom and spiritual practices of Kabbalah and Druidry. In addition to the eight classes, Linda gives you week-by-week practical support through an online discussion forum, activities and practice readings.
You might also like to purchase recordings of three master classes by Evelynne Joffe who has taught Kabbalah and Tarot in Melbourne for more than 20 years. They are:
Kabbalah and the Rider Waite® Tarot
Search the internet for information on the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah and you’ll come away none the wiser. But don’t be bamboozled by the reams of confusing information, just think about Kabbalah in terms of a single word – balance. It’s about following guiding principles enshrined in the diagram known as the Tree of Life, a map that shows how the universe was created, a process we, as humans, can follow to manifest things in our lives. This map shows you how to navigate, in a balanced way, through relationships, career, health, ambitions, through every experience or situation you encounter in life.
In the centre is the Pillar of Equilibrium, flanked on one side by the Pillar of Mercy and on the other by the Pillar of Severity. Situations in life call for input from one or more of the ten energy spheres (Sephirot) that form the structure of the Tree. When you find yourself making harsh judgements in a situation, the Tree reminds you not to lose sight of the need for compassion and mercy. When you find yourself totally overwhelmed by emotion, the Tree advises you to step back and exercise some cool, clear-headed thinking that takes emotion out of the equation for a while. The Tree of Life gives you a way of understanding the stage you have reached in situations, the energies that are operating and it shows you the path that leads to achieving your goals.
Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, the creators of the Rider Waite® Tarot, were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn who had a deep knowledge of Kabbalistic teachings and practice. The ten Sephirot on the Tree are connected by 22 paths, so how could you not associate the Tarot with Kabbalah – ten cards in each suit and 22 cards in the Major Arcana.
Tree of Life imagery is startlingly obvious on a number of Waite-Smith Major Arcana cards. The High Priestess sits high on the Tree midway between the black Pillar of Severity and the white Pillar of Mercy. The veil hides the Pillar of Equilibrium but she holds the answers to life’s questions in her lap – the Torah.
As you would expect, Temperance too sits on the middle pillar. She has one foot in the sea of emotions and the other on dry land and she pours their essence between two cups in search of balance. She’s on a path that leads to the Sun in the centre of the Tree and ultimately to Kether, the crown at the top of the Tree.
Let’s see how Kabbalah adds another dimension to one of the most feared cards in the deck. How many times have you heard ‘Oooh…I don’t like the look of THAT card’ when it turns up in a reading. We all have our ways of conveying its meaning and relating it to the question being asked. I usually talk about the option of exercising free will. ‘Look how the chains around the two people’s necks are loose,’ I say, ‘they have the power to remove them, to free themselves from the fearsome devil, the restrictions they believe are holding them back.’ The Devil is about challenging the notion that there’s no way out, that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
Now let’s add Kabbalah to the mix. Each Major Arcana card is assigned to one of the 22 paths of the Tree. The Devil sits on Path 26 which goes from Hod on the Pillar of Severity to Tipharet in the centre of the Tree. Think of Hod as a place where scientists, academics and computer nerds live, a place where emotion and feelings are of little importance. It’s also the home of dogma, the energy of ‘this is the one and only way to think, thou shalt not stray from the herd’.
The Devil path leads to Tipharet, the centre of the tree on the Pillar of Equilibrium. This is the Sephirot of the ‘Self’, the essence of who you are as an individual, the essence of what defines you. So the journey on Path 26 leads you away from the herd, away from the restrictions that come from dogma to the freedom of knowing who you are. It’s called the Dark Night of the Soul of Wisdom, it’s a lonely path because it’s about thinking for yourself, about challenging your culture, your education, your upbringing, everything that you accept as gospel.
Each path on the Tree is assigned a Hebrew letter and Ayin is the one for Path 26. Ayin means ‘eye’ and its property is ‘mirth’. The qualities of this letter reveal a deeper meaning for The Devil. Ayin says ‘don’t just look with your physical eye, look with your inner eye, look beyond the dogma. Question what you see around you, if you don’t, you’ll stay stuck forever in a place of restriction or bondage’. The key to moving along this path is laughter – don’t take it all so seriously. Laughter lessens fear, if you look with your inner eye you’re likely to find something ridiculous in the situation, something to laugh at and somehow that makes it easier to move away from the herd to a place which reflects the person you truly are.
In 2013 a series of events led me to join the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and commence their course of study. The answer to the question ‘what is Druidry’ is given simply on the OBOD website…’OBOD works with Druidry as a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom. Each of these yearnings comes from a different aspect of ourselves that we can personify as the Singer, the Shaman and the Sage. In Druidry, Bardic teachings help to nurture the singer, the artist or storyteller within us: the creative self; Ovate teachings help to foster the shaman, the lover of Nature, the healer within us; while the Druid teachings help to develop our inner wisdom: the sage who dwells within each of us.’
A year before joining OBOD I bought the DruidCraft Tarot. Created by Phillip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm and illustrated by Will Worthington, the images on these cards speak to me in a way that no other deck does. It follows the Rider-Waite tradition but places a Druidic layer onto the meaning of the cards. The theme of transformation, of dissolving and reforming flows through much of the imagery. This is what happens in the natural world, we are part of nature and we should not fear the cycle of change, the turn of the wheel of the year.
Central to Druid practice are the concepts of Awen, inspiration, and Nwyfre, instinct. Think of Awen as the ‘superconscious’, intuition, the place from which inspiration flows. Nwyfre is the life-force, the realm of primal instincts.
Let’s look at how The Devil is depicted in the DruidCraft Tarot. The first big difference is the name – he’s not The Devil, he’s Cernunnos, the Lord of the Animals, guardian of the powers of Nwyfre. Phillip Carr-Gomm explains the change in name:
‘Calling the figure represented by this card The Devil suggests that the forces he represents are evil. We have renamed the card Cernunnos, after the horned god of fertility, because in Druidry and Wicca the powers of the animal, instinctual, sexual and material worlds are not considered evil. In fact, they represent the very forces which govern life on earth in all its abundance. However, it is undeniable that many human beings find it hard to accept, mediate and utilise these forces in responsible ways…’
The message of the Cernunnos card is not dissimilar to that which comes from looking at Path 26 on the Tree of Life. Cernunnos is challenging you to ‘come to know and accept Nwyfre in all its power into your being, without being obsessed by it, and without using it exploitatively’. In other words, don’t be seduced by the outward manifestations of power in the material world, don’t think like the herd. Follow a path which leads to a real understanding of the life-force and how to channel its energy responsibly for the greater good.
‘The figures of the lovers who sleep before Cernunnos will one day wake up. They will learn that the powers of Nwyfre that create children and animals, plants and trees, that nourish them with the energy they need to create wealth and beauty on earth, can flow freely and powerfully through them, once they accept their destiny as conscious moral beings on earth.’ In Kabbalastic terms, once they walk the path of the Dark Night of the Soul of Wisdom that leads to Tipharet.
About Linda Marson
Linda Marson is a former President of the Tarot Guild of Australia and author of Ticket, Passport and Tarot Cards. Before the manuscript was even finished, Linda was onto the next stage of the Ticket, Passport and Tarot Cards journey – a series of 22 short programs for community television in Australia – one segment for each of the 22 Major Arcana cards. The series won an award for the best personal or spiritual development program on Australian community television in 2006.
Linda has been reading Tarot cards for over 25 years and for many years wrote for, and edited the Tarot pages of Spheres, a spiritual magazine in Australia. She has presented workshops on various aspects of Tarot practice and organised major Tarot events involving internationally renowned Tarot experts. In 2011 she established Global Spiritual Studies. For more information about Linda’s Tarot courses and master classes visit her page on Global Spiritual Studies and her Experience the Tarot website.
Over to you!
What path on the Tree of Life are you walking in this lifetime? What path have you walked in a previous lifetime that is helping you this time round? Click here to download a copy of the Tree of Life with all the paths and their corresponding Major Arcana cards marked. There are instructions on how to work out your life path based on your date of birth and how to determine a path from a previous lifetime based on the letters in your name. And best of all, there’s a crib sheet that gives you a quick overview of what each path means.
Do the paths and Tarot cards resonate with you? Did you find Linda’s discussion of Kabbalah and Druidry helpful in opening up another layer of meaning for the cards? We’d love to hear from you.