Celebrating 365 Days of Legends, Folklore & Spirituality for December 17 – 23 – Saturnalia

December 17 thru 23

Saturnalia

Out of all the ancient Roman festivals this was the most beloved. The festival grew out of the dedication-day of a temple to Saturnus, the God of seed and sowing. It is also equated with the Greek Kronos, father of Zeus, and supreme God during the age of the Golden Race. It was believed that Saturn had been the king of Italy in a time of equality and abundance.

The festival began with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, which was followed by a great public banquet. During the Saturnalia, all shops and schools were closed, and gambling-usually usually prohibited-was allowed. Each household chose a mock king to preside over the festivities, masters waited on their slaves, presents were given, and the entire household celebrated. Many of the time-honored traditions and customs of Saturnalia were absorbed into the later Christian Christmas that fell on December 25.

 

Custom-made Daily Magick for Thursday

A Present From EgyptCustom-made Daily Magick for Thursday

Well, let’s see … abundance, prosperity, and good health has been our focus for this day. Now how about a little more information and ideas for working practical magick with one of our fascinating featured deities of the day?

Juno was the Queen of Heaven. As the matriarch of the gods, she guarded over women in every aspect of their lives. Juno was thought to have renewed her virginity every year. Similar to other goddess stories, Juno was a triple goddess-a virgin who belonged to no one; a mother and woman in the prime of her life, sexual and mature; and also a crone, powerful, wise, and sometimes vengeful (as she made her husband’s many mistresses’ lives either fairly unhappy or short).

There are references to an early all-female triad of goddesses known as the Capitoline Triad. This triad consisted of Juventas, Juno, and Minerva. To the Greeks, they would have been known as Hebe, Hera, and Hecate. Ultimately the triad became Juno, Minerva, and the male Jupiter. Jupiter, another of Thursday’s gods, was Juno’s consort.

As mentioned earlier, Juno, in her aspect as Juno Moneta, was the patron and protector of the Roman mint. The coins produced at her temples were blessed by Juno and imbued with her powers of abundance and prosperity. In another of her aspects as Juno Augusta, Juno was the goddess of an abundant harvest.

In addition, another of Juno’s magickal correspondences is the semiprecious stone malachite. Malachite is a beautiful green-banded stone that was also called the “peacock stone” in Italy. The peacock was a sacred animal of Juno’s, and the magickal energies of malachite encourage health and prosperity.

Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms & Correspondences for Every Day of the Week
Ellen Dugan

Aradia: Gospel of the Witches (Preface)

Aradia: Gospel of the Witches

Preface

Charles G. Leland


This book was written by Charles G. Leland in 1890. It is not copyrighted in any way and therefore may be duplicated in any manner required for the widest possible dissemination.

If the reader has ever met with the works of the learned folk-lorist G. Pitre, or the articles contributed by “Lady Vere de Vere” to the Italian Rivista or that of J. H. Andrews to Folk-Lore, he will be aware that there are in Italy great numbers of strege, fortune-tellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked, make and sell amulets, and, in fact, comport themselves generally as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodoos in America or sorceresses anywhere.

But the Italian strega or sorceress is in certain respects a different character from these. In most cases she comes of a family in which her calling or art has been practiced for many generations. I have no doubt that there are instances in which the ancestry remounts to mediaeval, Roman, or it may be Etruscan times. The result has naturally been the accumulation in such families of much tradition. But in Northern Italy, as its literature indicated, though there has been some slight gathering of fairy tales and popular superstitions by scholars, there has never existed the least interest as regarded the strange lore of the witches, nor any suspicion that it embraced an incredible quantity of old Roman minor myths and legends, such as Ovid has recorded, but of which much escaped him and all other Latin writers.

This ignorance was greatly aided by the wizards and witches themselves, in making a profound secret of all their traditions, urged thereto by fear of the priests. In fact, the latter all unconsciously actually contributed immensely to the preservation of such lore, since the charm of the forbidden is very great, and witchcraft, like the truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply hidden. However this may be, both priest and wizard are vanishing now with incredible rapidity – it has even struck a French writer that a Franciscan in a railway carriage is a strange anomaly – and a few more years of newspapers and bicycles (Heaven knows what it will be when flying-machines appear!) will probably cause an evanishment of all.

However, they die slowly, and even yet there are old people in the Romagna of the North who know the Etruscan names of the Twelve Gods, and invocations to Bacchus, Jupiter, and Venus and Mercury, and the Lares or ancestral spirits, and in the cities are women who prepare strange amulets, over which they mutter spells, all known in the old Roman time, and who can astonish even the learned by their legends of Latin gods, mingled with lore which may be found in Cato or Theocritus. With one of these I became intimately acquainted in 1886, and have ever since employed her specially to collect among her sisters of the hidden spell in many places all the traditions of the olden time known to them. It is true that I have drawn from other sources, but this woman by long practice has perfectly learned what few understand, or just what I want, and how to extract it from those of her kind.

Among other strange relics, she succeeded, after many years, in obtaining the following “Gospel”, which I have in her handwriting. A full account of its nature with many details will be found in an Appendix. I do not know definitely whether my informant derived a part of these traditions from written sources or oral narration, but believe it was chiefly the latter. However, there are a few wizards who copy or preserve documents relative to their art. I have not seen my collector since the “Gospel” was sent to me. I hope at some future time to be better informed.

For brief explanation I may say the witchcraft is known to its votaries as la vecchia religione, or the old religion, of which DIANA is the Goddess, her daughter Aradia (or Herodius) the female Messiah, and that this little work sets forth how the latter was born, came down to earth, established witches and witchcraft, and then returned to heaven. With it are given the ceremonies and invocations or incantations to be addressed to Diana and Aradia, the exorcism of Cain, and the spells of the holy-stone, rue, and verbena, constituting, as the text declares, the regular church-service, so to speak, which is to be chanted or pronounced at the witch meetings. There are also included the very curious incantations or benedictions of the honey, meal, and salt, or cakes of the witch-supper, which is curiously classical, and evidently a relic of the Roman Mysteries.

The work could have been extended ad infinitum by adding to it the ceremonies and incantations which actually form a part of the Scripture of Witchcraft, but as these are nearly all – or at least in great number – to be found in my works entitled Etruscan-Roman Remains and Legends of Florence, I have hesitated to compile such a volume before ascertaining whether there is a sufficiently large number of the public who would buy such a work.

Since writing the foregoing I have met with and read a very clever and entertaining work entitled Romanzo dei Settimani, G. Cavagnari, 1889, in which the author, in the form of a novel, vividly depicts the manners, habits of thought, and especially the nature of witchcraft, and the many superstitions current among the peasants in Lombardy. Unfortunately, notwithstanding his extensive knowledge of the subject, it never seems to have occurred to the narrator that these traditions were anything but noxious nonsense or abominably un-Christian folly. That there exist in them marvelous relics of ancient mythology and valuable folklore, which is the very cor cordium of history, is as uncared for by him as it would be by a common Zoccolone or tramping Franciscan. One would think it might have been suspected by a man who knew that a witch really endeavored to kill seven people as a ceremony rite, in order to get the secret of endless wealth, that such a sorceress must have had a store of wondrous legends; but of all this there is no trace, and it is very evident that nothing could be further from his mind than that there was anything interesting from a higher or more genial point of view in it all.

His book, in fine, belongs to the very great number of those written on ghosts and superstition since the latter has fallen into discredit, in which the authors indulge in much satirical and very safe but cheap ridicule of what to them is merely vulgar and false. Like Sir Charles Coldstream, they have peeped in the crater of Vesuvius after is had ceased to “erupt”, and found “nothing in it.” But there was something in it once; and the man of science, which Sir Charles was not, still finds a great deal in the remains, and the antiquarian a Pompeii or a Herculaneum – ’tis said there are still seven buried cities to unearth. I have done what little (it is really very little) I could, to disinter something from the dead volcano of Italian sorcery.

If this be the manner in which Italian witchcraft is treated by the most intelligent writer who has depicted it, it will not be deemed remarkable that there are few indeed who will care whether there is a veritable Gospel of the Witches, apparently of extreme antiquity, embodying the belief in a strange counter-religion which has held its own from pre-historic time to the present day. “Witchcraft is all rubbish, or something worse,” said old writers, “and therefore all books about it are nothing better.” I sincerely trust, however, that these pages may fall into the hands of at least a few who will think better of them.

I should, however, in justice to those who do care to explore dark and bewildering paths, explain clearly that witch-lore is hidden with most scrupulous care from all save a very few in Italy, just as it is among the Chippeway Medas or the Black Voodoo. In the novel to the life of I Settimani an aspirant is represented as living with a witch and acquiring or picking up with pain, scrap by scrap, her spells and incantations, giving years to it. So my friend the late M. Dragomanoff told me how a certain man in Hungary, having learned that he had collected many spells (which were indeed subsequently published in folklore journals), stole them, so that the next year when Dragomanoff returned, he found the thief in full practice as a blooming magician. Truly he had not got many incantations, only a dozen or so, but a very little will go a great way in the business, and I venture to say there is perhaps hardly a single witch in Italy who knows as many as I have published, mine having been assiduously collected from many, far and wide. Everything of the kind which is written is, moreover, often destroyed with scrupulous care by priests or penitents, or the vast number who have a superstitious fear of even being in the same house with such documents, so that I regard the rescue of the Vangelo as something which is to say the least remarkable.

Aradia – Or The Gospel Of The Witches

The Daily OM for December 5th – A Citizen of the World

A Citizen of the World
Vacations

by Madisyn Taylor

An aware traveler sees each new journey as an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of humanity.

As the technology of travel grows ever more refined, the world grows smaller. Whereas a journey of a hundred miles once took many days, we can now travel across the globe in mere hours. The four corners of the earth are accessible by plane, train, and ship, and there are few pleasures in l

ife as soul-stirring and transformative as travel. In a new land, the simplest of joys can be profound—meditation takes on a new quality because the energy in which we are immersed is unfamiliar. Our sensory experiences are entirely novel. Yet the relative ease with which we can step out of our own culture in order to explore another means that we are ambassadors representing not only our own way of life but also the culture of the traveler. As a conscious citizen of the world, you can add value to the locales you visit while simultaneously broadening your own perspective.

A truly aware traveler sees each new journey as an opportunity to improve international relations, spread goodness, and gain a greater understanding of humanity. To immerse yourself in foreign cultures is to open your mind to fresh ways of being. Your natural curiosity can help you navigate the subtleties that define a culture. While you may not agree with all the traditions or laws of a country, abiding by them demonstrates that you understand and respect their value. Staying centered in another culture is often simply a matter of learning about your destination, being patient with yourself and others, and accepting that people may treat you as an example of your country’s attitudes. New worlds will open to you when you take part in the everyday life of a locale—the reality of a destination is in its markets, its streets, and its people.

Traveling presents a wonderful opportunity to practice being open-minded and grounded. The voyages you make help cultivate a worldwide community in which we as humans can acknowledge and appreciate our differences as much as we recognize and appreciate our similarities. Though you will eventually return home, the positive impression you leave behind will remain as a testament to the respect and amicability that marked your intercultural interactions.

The Daily OM

Your Ancient Symbol Card for November 21 is the Beacon

Your Ancient Symbol Card for Today

The Beacon

The Beacon symbolizes both guidance to safe harbors and a warning of dangerous waters. The Beacon is represented by a lighthouse atop jagged rocks with its powerful light cutting a path that leads to an adjacent entrance to a calm harbor on a stormy night. The Beacon suggest that if you look for it, there is a general path for you to follow to reach a place of peace and harmony. However,  The Beacon itself sets upon rough ground, so you must still step carefully as you follow it to quiet waters.

As a daily card, The Beacon provides guidance away from conflict. It implies that the path to resolving differences is marked and visible to any who look for it. The Beacon also warns that while there is a way to quell strife, you still must move carefully towards a solution.

Your Charm for September 18: The Crescent and Hand

Your Charm for Today

Today’s Meaning:   

Guests and visitors will come calling. Their visit brings happiness and joy. This aspect will reflect these emotions for weeks after the visit.

General Description:    

Crescents were worn by the ancients to safeguard them against witchcraft and danger. From the very early Eastern symbols, horseshoes came to be regarded by the Greeks and Romans as charms against sickness and the plague. In the middle ages horseshoes were used as amulets for witchcraft and even today are looked upon as lucky. When the representation of the hand of strength was worn with the crescent it signified hospitality and generosity. Hands of Might are painted on houses in Italy, Syria, Turkey and in the East to protect the buildings from misfortune and the inmates from death. The blue beads were worn to avert the evil eyes.

The Witches’ Magickal Thought for Friday, August 10th

Magickal Places – Crossroads

Crossroads are interesting magickal places, for in order to understand their significance and power, you need to get outside of yourself and imagine looking at them from above, as if you are hovering over them in the air. The most magickal crossroads of all are five roads that come together to make a star shape. Admittedly, these are somewhat rare, and if you do find one that is not too heavily trafficked and built up, by all means make use of it.

There is a five-pointed star crossroads near my home here in Italy, made up of unpaved country roads, with an eleventh-century chapel and cemetery on one corner – a very powerful magickal place, indeed for working all kinds of magick.

Simple crossroads, which form a cross, are good places for protective magick.

Always be certain that you can work your spells undisturbed by possibly negative outside influences. To this end, look for very quiet crossroads where few, if any, cars pass, and preferably away from human habitation. Special old or unusually shaped trees, cemeteries, wells, bodies of water, rock formations, or even a statue or monument on one or more of the corners will increase the crossroad’s power.

The meeting of three roads in a T or Y shape is also powerful, as these shapes signify the meeting of male and female energies. All crossroads signify and actually offer, a choice of paths to take and magick worked at the point where various paths of lines intersect will generate energy that goes iin the direction of your chosen path.

Incidentally, crossroads are also the best places to dispose of leftover, used, or finished spell casting or magickally charge objects such as burnt-down candle stubs, used mojo bags, bit of cloth, cords, dried herbs, flowers, berries, and other biodegradable items. You can take these things to a special crossroads at night and bury them, or safely burn them. Any remaining magick powers in them will discharge, becoming available for future use at that same crossroad intersection.

Excerpt from

Llewellyn’s 2012 Magical Almanac

Magical Places

By Suzanne Ress

Basil: The Green Leaves of Summer

by Catherine Harper

I celebrate the beginnings of several different, overlapping, summers. When April blooms into May, and the days become long, that is the beginning of summer, the voluptuous green and flowering summer that turns into warm gold autumn in August. In mid-July, when the rains dry up, and we have our stretch of dry, hot days, that is the beginning of another summer that continues through September, usually, or perhaps later. But the summer of the palate, for me, begins when the local basil begins to appear in the farmer’s markets, beginning the cycle that will bring in turn corn, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to the table.

Basil is the most delicate of herbs. While many tough, resinous herbs of the Mediterranean thrive in poor, rocky soil, developing their best flavor where water is not overplentiful, basil is a tender, soft-leaved plant. It requires as much care as all the other herbs in my garden put together, and indeed is happiest if given the rich loamy soil and regular waterings I think of as more the provenance of vegetables. I start the plants indoors, on a warm surface, and then hold off on planting them out until June. From that point on, they must be watered and tended, given plenty of sun and protected from slugs (planting basil in large pots — large so that they do not dry out too quickly — and fixing a three inch strip of copper to the rim to deter slugs is perhaps the simplest solution). And deer. And even your neighbors. Basil needs to be gathered in fall before the night temperatures fall much below 50 degrees.

I have an aesthetic preference for working closely with my local climate, and growing mostly the things that thrive here with little intervention. These plants seem, to me, to belong here. With all the culinary splendors of the world open before us, it is a comforting discipline to me to work sometimes with a more limited palate of local food. Basil, is at the best, borderline. There is a reason we have no native basil. Basil self-seeds only reluctantly here and is outcompeted by any number of plants better suited to this clime. But every year, I plant or buy my starts, and fuss over them throughout the summer months. Basil I cannot resist.

Basil is the name given to any of about 150 plants in the Ocimum family (Ocimum basilicum is perhaps the best known culinary basil, varieties of which are usually sold fresh, though Ocimum minimum, or bush basil, is also common, and often sold dried). These are native to Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia. Even inside the O. basilicum species, flavor can vary incredibly, tasting now like cinnamon, now like cloves, and here again like lemon.

Ocimum sanctum, holy basil, is a plant sacred in India to Krishna and Vishnu, and found to this day planted around their temples. To my mind, basil is an herb well-suited to temples beyond just these. Many European cultures, especially those of Latin origin, consider this herb to be associated with love. In Italy, a pot of basil displayed in a window of a family’s compound indicated that a daughter had reached marriageable age. In Mexico, there is a custom of carrying basil in one’s pocket to attract love.

But basil lore has a darker side. Culpepper, the noted English herbalist, mentions that while many Arabic physicians defend the curative properties of basil, he has found it useful only for such things as poultices for drawing out poisons, for, he remarks rather snarkily, like calls to like. The English used it to ward against insects and evil spirits. Early English sources also refer often to its unpleasant odor, a reference which quite bemused me until I recalled that garlic, too, had been referred to as foul-smelling by many. (Asafoetida, on the other hand, is a well-loved spice in many Near Eastern cuisines but is disliked intensely by most people of European descent, who see it only as a banishing herb. Tastes vary.)

Though the common name “basil” derives from the Greek word “basileum,” meaning king, the Greeks saw basil as a plant of ill-omen. The Romans, perhaps similarly, thought that basil would only grow well if abused when planted or on ground that had been cursed — a custom that seems to survive to this day. But not with me.

To me basil, with its strong clear flavor, its affinity with light foods and its splendor when served fresh, epitomizes summer cooking. Though I used fresh basil first in cooked tomato sauces, and then more heavily in Thai dishes where basil was treated almost as a green vegetable rather than as a mere flavoring, I find myself most pleased with the basil leaves uncooked. Vietnamese cooking seems to have a particularly fine grasp on the use of fresh herbs. One of my favorite of such dishes is the cool noodle salad bun, where rice vermicelli is served on a bed of shredded greens including copious amounts of basil and mint (not to mention Vietnamese coriander and perilla) topped with grilled meat and drizzled with a fish-sauce based dressing.

But one does not need to be so complicated.

Pesto

Pesto is a paste, such as might be made by grinding moist ingredients with a pestle. The proportion and ingredients vary greatly — what I include here is the recipe in its simplest and most common form. But increasingly pestos are based on other herbs than basil, or sunflower seeds and walnuts are incorporated to spare the expensive pine nuts, or spinach is added to supplement the basil. These too, can be fine (if you like sunflower seeds, or walnuts, and remember to use twice the quantity of pesto, which spinach dilutes in flavor — this is a fine way to eat spinach, but it does not save on basil). All measurements are approximate; adjust to taste.

  • 5 parts basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 part grated Parmesan
  • 1 part pine nuts
  • 1 part olive oil
  • Fresh garlic and salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Or a blender, or a food processor (though the texture of pesto worked by hand is superior). Blend ingredients until they reach the desired consistency (which can be completely smooth, or rather lumpy and grainy, as desired, but should be more or less pastelike). If you are using a blender, you might need to add more olive oil so as to have a liquid enough consistency for adequate blending. Serve tossed with pasta. Or on bread, or pizza, or crackers. Pesto can also be frozen in ice cube trays or muffin tins (and later transferred into freezer bags) yielding a number of single serving portions for less bounteous times of the year.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

By fresh, here I mean “uncooked.” This is a dish that should wait for the arrival of decent tomatoes. If the tomatoes have no scent, pass them by.

Combine the following:

  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 generous fistful of basil, sliced widthwise into ribbons (slicing basil widthwise, across the veins, best releases its flavor)

Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or a good red wine vinegar), then add salt and pepper to taste. One can also add a bit of pressed garlic, or a finely minced shallot, but in a dish so fully flavored there is no need to allow the alliums to dominate. Allow the sauce to sit for at least 10 minutes to better mingle the flavors before eating.

Serve, again, over pasta. Or as a topping for bread. For that matter, tossed with greens this sauce makes a nice salad.

A Family Struggle With a Fallen Witch

Author: Lady Sindy Aine

I am a 5th generation Witch. I have a bloodline inside of me that derives from Witches as far back as my Great-Great Grandmother. As far as we know, it could go back further I really don’t know the trail gets a little obscured in Italy where my family line comes from.

Having a firm grip on ritual and celebrations we also have a darker side of the family, not being able to give names nor would I want to but I would have to say the power of a determined Witch is unmatchable, very frightening as well.

Do you believe that from a very old family that such negativity could linger through the bloodlines not affecting all of us but enough to cause much anguish? How does one deal with the fall of a family member whom was brought up with all the same beliefs and structure… knowing all that we know, not allowing any room for mistakes that would show a disregard for what we are, what we stand for, or allow?

The subject of a fallen Witch is the pinnacle of what our family now refers to as a disgrace. Over the years, I have seen the damage that negative energies can do, not in such a direct way as when I looked into this person’s eye and saw such contempt for what is good and right in nature and life with such a disregard and hollowness that eludes me to this day.

As an old family of Witches, we know the horrible consequences of these actions. We have seen them firsthand and even with that, no warnings, no obvious signs, or even actual three-fold rules come to light to affect this person. Nothing has made these actions come to a stop. How do the negative energies engulf someone so fully? How does the purity of this beautiful harmonic natural religion fall victim to such darkness?

It is out there, it is seductive, and it is horrifying.

We all know for a fact that the yin and the yang have to exist, but that they have to exist in your own family makes it so much harder to grasp. I know this seems like a fairytale with a wicked Witch. I assure you, no one else can be appreciative of this accept for people of similar knowledge.

I feel an obligation to bring some attention to the other side that we all know too well exists. I would normally live and let live, however we are faced with this in a very personal way that allows me to convey to you that it hurts to watch someone empower themselves in this way.

I know some dabble in this area hoping for something powerful and I see how it is enticing but do they see what the consequences can be? And what if anything can one family do?

Much like an intervention for an addict in your family we have attempted discussions. This is an incredibly difficult situation. This person knows what is right and chooses to continue on this path. I fear for everyone involved. Never have I tried so hard to bring enlightenment to one person.

As a family, we have cast circles in complete dedication to this cause and still nothing. We have tried to dispel all negativity and sought our elders for guidance — again nothing. We are sneered at by this person — laughed at and ridiculed; still we try.

Allowing this to continue is unthinkable. It is eating this person alive like a cancer throughout their entire being. We have been fighting this for many years, not achieving any level of success.

The eldest member of our family, my Grandmother who is in her nineties and still very active in her beliefs has visions, which do not bode well for this person. Her wisdom tells us to allow this. That it is meant to be.

All that we can do as a family is place blessings of protection on this person and all whom may be harmed. We all keep hoping for a much better outcome. Letting go of someone you love is very painful. Not knowing what is going to happen is even more painful.

The simplest offering I have is to allow yourself the right to allow someone else the right to choose their own path without allowing indifference to encompass your being and change your views. Sometimes you have to just let life happen and hope for the best.

“We are no better than anyone else or any other path that is chosen, if all is for the purpose of good we can conquer anything in time, all will right itself”. That is a quote from Grandmother; she is a very wise woman.

I have come to the realization that this is not just a character flaw, but also something much more, very much more. I believe that this is what comes of wading in darker waters and allowing yourself to be immersed by the cold and eventually to drown in the darkness.

We have never stopped reaching out to this person. We all keep trying and we leave ourselves available, but this is a very sad outcome… so unlike a fairytale, there is no happy ending. Not yet anyway.

My hope by writing this is to let others with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters or any loved ones who suffer with this know that they are not alone in their struggle.

Feelings of hopelessness are something that we cannot help. But from time to time, we see that the light of protection which surrounds us and we feel empowered to continue on the path we have chosen.

On a positive note, you have to remember that all we have is our inner light and the ability to share that light. Even faced with a certain amount of despair, our light still shines. We still have our positive thoughts and the ability to channel those energies to those who are in need. We can heal. We can enlighten. And we can give offerings to the Goddess.

We know that all is how it is suppose to be.

Hope and Blessings to all from my Family to yours.

Lessons In Tarot – Introduction To The Tarot

LESSON 1

Introduction to the Tarot

Years ago, when I told my brother I was studying the tarot, his first comment was, “How can a deck of cards possibly tell you anything about anything?” I laughed because I thought his reply summed up pretty well the common sense view of the cards. I, too, had my doubts about the tarot, but I found out that the cards can make a real difference in the way you perceive and deal with the challenges in your life. In this introduction, I’ll try to explain why.

The origin of the tarot is a mystery. We do know for sure that the cards were used in Italy in the fifteenth century as a popular card game. Wealthy patrons commissioned beautiful decks, some of which have survived. The Visconti-Sforza, created in 1450 or shortly thereafter, is one of the earliest and most complete.

Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the cards were discovered by a number of influential scholars of the occult. These gentleman were fascinated by the tarot and recognized that the images on the cards were more powerful than a simple game would suggest. They revealed (or created!) the “true” history of the tarot by connecting the cards to Egyptian mysteries, Hermetic philosophy, the Kabbalah, alchemy, and other mystical systems. These pursuits continued into the early part of the twentieth century when the tarot was incorporated into the practices of several secret societies, including the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Although the roots of the tarot are in the occult tradition, interest in the cards has expanded in the last few decades to include many different perspectives. New decks have been created that reflect these interests. There are Native American, herbal, dragon and Japanese decks, among others.

The tarot is most commonly viewed as a tool for divination. A traditional tarot reading involves a seeker – someone who is looking for answers to personal questions – and a reader – someone who knows how to interpret the cards. After the seeker has shuffled and cut the deck, the reader lays out the chosen cards in a pattern called a spread. Each position in the spread has a meaning, and each card has a meaning as well. The reader combines these two meanings to shed light on the seeker’s question.

A simple process, but rarely presented in a simple way. In films, we always see the tarot being used in a seedy parlor or back room. An old woman, seated in shadows, reads the cards for a nervous, young girl. The crone lifts her wrinkled finger and drops it ominously on the Death card. The girl draws back, frightened by this sign of her impending doom.

This aura of darkness clings to the tarot cards, even now. Some religions shun the cards, and the scientific establishment condemns them as symbols of unreason, a holdover from an unenlightened past. Let us set aside these shadowy images for now and consider the tarot simply for what it is – a deck of picture cards. The question becomes – what can we do with them?

The answer lies with the unconscious – that deep level of memory and awareness that resides within each of us, but outside our everyday experience. Even though we ignore the action of the unconscious most of the time, it profoundly affects everything we do. In his writings, Sigmund Freud stressed the irrational, primitive aspect of the unconscious. He thought that it was the home of our most unacceptable desires and urges. His contemporary Carl Jung emphasized the positive, creative aspect of the unconscious. He tried to show that it has a collective component that touches universal qualities.

We may never know the full range and power of the unconscious, but there are ways to explore its landscape. Many techniques have been developed for this purpose – psychotherapy, dream interpretation, visualization and meditation. The tarot is another such tool.

Consider for a moment a typical card in the tarot deck, the Five of Swords. This card shows a man holding three swords and looking at two figures in the distance. Two other swords lie on the ground. As I look at this card, I begin to create a story around the image. I see a man who seems satisfied with some battle he has won. He looks rather smug and pleased that hehas all the swords. The others look downcast and defeated.

What I have done is take an open-ended image and project a story onto it. To me, my view is the obvious one – the only possible interpretation of this scene. In fact, someone else could have imagined a totally different story. Maybe the man is trying to pick up the swords. He’s calling to the others to help him, but they refuse. Or, maybe the other two were fighting, and he convinced them to lay down their arms.

The point is that of all possible stories, I chose a certain one. Why? Because it is human nature to project unconscious material onto objects in the environment. We always see reality through a lens made up of our own inner state. Therapists have long noted this tendency and have created tools to assist in the process. The famous Rorschach inkblot test is based on such projection.

Projection is one reason why the tarot cards are valuable. Their intriguing pictures and patterns are effective in tapping the unconscious. This is the personal aspect of the tarot, but the cards also have a collective component. As humans, we all have certain common needs and experiences. The images on the tarot cards capture these universal moments and draw them out consistently. People tend to react to the cards in similar ways because they represent archetypes. Over many centuries, the tarot has evolved into a collection of the most basic patterns of human thought and emotion.

Consider the Empress. She stands for the Mother Principle – life in all its abundance. Notice how her image conjures up feelings of luxuriance. She is seated on soft, lush pillows, and her robe flows in folds around her. In the Empress, we sense the bounty and sensual richness of Nature.

The power of the tarot comes from this combination of the personal and the universal. You can see each card in your own way, but, at the same time, you are supported by understandings that others have found meaningful. The tarot is a mirror that reflects back to you the hidden aspects of your own unique awareness.

When we do a tarot reading, we select certain cards by shuffling, cutting and dealing the deck. Although this process seems random, we still assume the cards we pick are special. This is the point of a tarot reading after all – to choose the cards we are meant to see. Now, common sense tells us that cards chosen by chance can’t hold any special meaning, or can they?

To answer this question, let’s look at randomness more closely. Usually we say that an event is random when it appears to be the result of the chance interaction of mechanical forces. From a set of possible outcomes – all equally likely – one occurs, but for no particular reason.

This definition includes two key assumptions about random events: they are the result of mechanical forces, and they have no meaning. First, no tarot reading is solely the product of mechanical forces. It is the result of a long series of conscious actions. We decide to study the tarot. We buy a deck and learn how to use it. We shuffle and cut the cards in a certain way at a certain point. Finally, we use our perceptions to interpret the cards.

At every step, we are actively involved. Why then are we tempted to say a reading is “the chance interaction of mechanical forces?” Because we can’t explain just how our consciousness is involved. We know our card choices aren’t deliberate, so we call them random. In fact, could there be a deeper mechanism at work, one connected to the power of our unconscious? Could our inner states be tied to outer events in a way that we don’t yet fully understand? I hold this possibility out to you.

The other feature of a random event is that it has no inherent meaning. I roll a die and get a six, but there is no purpose to this result. I could just as easily roll a one, and the meaning would be the same – or would it? Do we really know these two outcomes are equal? Perhaps there is meaning and purpose in every event, great or small, but we don’t always recognize it.

At a party many years ago, I had the sudden urge to pick up a die sitting on the floor. I knewwith great conviction that I would use this die to roll each number individually. As I began, the laughter and noise of the party faded away. I felt a growing excitement as a different number appeared with each roll. It was only with the last successful roll that my everyday awareness returned, and I sat back, wondering what had happened.

At one level, these six rolls were unrelated, random events, but at another level, they were very meaningful. My inner experience told me this was so, even though an outside observer might not agree. What wasthe meaning? At the time, it was a lesson in the strange interaction between mind and matter. Today, I know it had another purpose – to be available to me now, some 25 years later, as an illustration for this very lesson!

Meaning is a truly mysterious quality that arises at the juncture of inner and outer realities. There is a message in everything…trees, songs, even trash…but only when we are open to perceiving it. The tarot cards convey many messages because of the richness of their images and connections. More importantly, tarot readings communicate meaning because we bring to them our sincere desire to discover deeper truths about our lives. By seeking meaning in this way, we honor its reality and give it a chance to be revealed.

If there is a meaning in a reading, where does it come from? I believe it comes from that part of ourselves that is aware of the divine source of meaning. This is an aspect of the unconscious, yet it is much more. It acts as a wise advisor who knows us well. It understands what we need and leads us in the direction we need to go. Some people call this advisor the soul, the superconscious, or the higher self. I call it the Inner Guide because that is the role it plays in connection with the tarot.

Each of us has an Inner Guide that serves as a fountain of meaning for us. Your Inner Guide is always with you because it is a part of you. You can’t destroy this connection, but you canignore it. When you reach for your tarot deck, you signal to your Inner Guide that you are open to its wisdom. This simple act of faith allows you to become aware of the guidance that was always there for you.

We are meant by nature to rely on the wisdom of our Inner Guide, but somehow we have forgotten how to access it. We trust our conscious minds instead, and forget to look deeper. Our conscious minds are clever, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the full awareness we need to make appropriate choices day by day.

When we are operating from our conscious minds, we often feel as if events are forced upon us by chance. Life seems to have little purpose, and we suffer because we do not really understand who we are and what we want. When we know how to access our Inner Guide, we experience life differently. We have the certainty and peace that comes from aligning our conscious will with our inner purpose. Our path becomes more joyous, and we see more clearly how we bring together the scattered elements of our lives to fulfill our destinies.

I use the tarot because it is one of the best tools I have found to make the whispers of my Inner Guide more available consciously. The ideas, images and feelings that emerge as I work through a reading are a message from my Inner Guide. How do I know there is a message, and it’s not just my imagination? I don’t, really. I can only trust my experience and see what happens.

You do not really need the tarot to access your Inner Guide. The cards serve the same function as Dumbo’s magic feather. In the Disney movie, Dumbo the Elephant really could fly on his own, but he didn’t believe it. He placed all his faith on the special feather he held in his trunk. He thought this feather gave him the power to fly, but he found out differently when it blew away, and he was forced to fall back on his own resources.

The tarot cards may help you fly until you can reach your Inner Guide on your own. Don’t worry for now about how this might happen. Just play with the cards, work through the lessons and exercises, and see if you don’t experience a few surprises.