Friday, October 29, 2010

Tarot guidance from Dion Fortune


Dion Fortune (born Violet Firth) was one of the great esoteric teachers of the twentieth century, and a true priestess of the Western way. I've returned to her works again and again over many years, and I believe I have dreamed of her. One of the most refreshing things about her writing is that she brings pithy common sense to the most complex and abstruse matters.

Anyone embarking on the study of Tarot would do well to listen to the simple and helpful counsel Dion Fortune offers in Practical Occultism in Daily Life, first published in the 1930s.

Here are some of her key points (the subtitles are mine):

Start out with a new deck and get to know the cards intimately

"To use the Tarot properly... requires a very great deal of preparation, and the preparation does not consist merely in a knowledge of the significance of the cards, but in getting in touch with the forces behind the cards... Obtain a new pack of Tarot cards, for a used one will be too full of other people's magnetism to be reliable, and carry them on the person, and sleep with them under the pillow, and handle them and ponder upon the meaning of the pictures in the light of what the book of instructions has to say about them until the significance of each picture is realized. It does not matter greatly which pack is used.

Test your trial divination three times

Having got in touch with one's chosen pack, the next thing is to lay out a divination according to whatever system is chosen...and note down the results obtained and the position in which the cards fell. Repeat the process a second time, and a third time, upon each occasion keeping accurate notes of the fall of the cards, and, of course, thoroughly shuffling the cards between each lay-out. If certain cards keep on coming up, and especially if they come up in approximately the same positions, or even if cards of the same type predominate through the three divinations, it may safely be concluded that the system is working satisfactorily, and a divination may be made on the basis of the recurring cards. But if the three divinations bear no resemblance to each other; if even the balance of the four suits does not remain constant for at least two out of the three, and if none of the Greater Trumps turn up more than once, then it must be concluded that the Tarot is not working for the diviner, and the divination should be abandoned.

Trust spontaneous impressions and learn by trial and error

Divination is a thing that cannot be learnt out of books, but builds up gradually as a system of associated ideas in the mind of the operator. Moreover, one varies very much in one's capacity for divination; upon one occasion one may be absolutely inspired...at another time, one may have to spell out the meaning of the lay-out with reference to the book for almost every card. It will always be found that it is useless to force a divination; if the interpretation does not leap spontaneously to the mind it is unlikely to contain much insight.

The image of the 4 of Pentacles is from a recently-produced "Dion Fortune Tarot" that was not designed by her but claims to be based on her principles.

15 comments:

Leanne said...

Hello Robert, what an evocative picture and interesting post. As a long time tarot reader (relucant at times) I can only agree. When I do read which is not often the images speak to me and I find myself seeing into the pictures. Occasionally though the tarot will not speak and on those occasions I simply put them away as I know something is not in sync (most likely myself). I have had my deck now for 35 years and it is a part of me and I find my relationship to it interesting to observe. It can sit silently on my bookcase for months on end and then one day with no seemingly obvious need I hear it's call and am drawn to the images again, like a moth to the flame. Your post may be that call to go check out my beautiful deck yet again. Thank you. Leanne.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

One tarot practice I like to use is to rub my hands together and impart some of the warm energy to the cards, a practice I learned from Louis Martinie in his book on the deck he helped create "The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot".

The writings of Dion Fortune are a true gift, and as you say, bring much practical and common sense insight into the esoteric. Available writings on the Western tradition often were very esoteric and when I was first delving into these matters she shed light on things that would have otherwise remained obtuse.

I find her fiction most instructive, such as the short stories collected in "The Secrets of Dr. Tavener" and the novels starring her alter ego Vivian La Fay Morgan, "The Sea Priestess" and "Moon Magic".

Thanks for sharing some of her Tarot insights.

Robert Moss said...

Justin - Yes, Dion Fortune's fiction is great good value. I prescribed the Dr Taverner stories may years ago for an advanced class studying astral travel and psychic self-defense. My personal favorite among her novel is "The Winged Bull".

Robert Moss said...

Leanne - You are wise to notice that there are times when the tarot "will not speak". There are also times when we need to notice what is speaking through or beyond the cards. Working tarot sometimes puts us in touch with the intelligences of those who developed and used certain systems and images, in ritual and pathworking and on the inner planes as well as for divination.

Nancy said...

When I saw this graphic I thought "Oh, that's the Fort Knox (or Fortress) card", my internal image of the 4 of disks from the Crowley deck, which I used when I studied Dreamer's Tarot with you. You told us the tarot images are "memory palaces", holding ideas not always safe to write down: I felt like I was joining a secret society! I dream of tarot pictures still, most often the Aeon or 20th trump. Thanks for the lessons!

Savannah said...

Nancy's comment reminds me that whenever I dream of Tarot or any other divination decks it's always been one of my own creation. I've tossed with that idea in waking life; it seems like rather a daunting undertaking but one that still calls in a way. Reading what you've shared of Dion Fortune's thoughts on this (which make wonderful common sense to me,) maybe I can be satisfied with making an existing deck my own for now... Very interesting post, thank you!

Robert Moss said...

Savannah - When I was leading my Tarot for Dreamers course an assignment for each class was that students should create at least on personal tarot card. While none of us (including me) got as far as producing an entire deck, this was a fabulous exercise in growing personal awareness of the cards and bringing them alive. Some of the individual cards created were wonderfully creative, and I was especially impressed by the deepening sense in the group of the elemental qualities and the movement of the numbers through the suits - beyond received attributions and numerology - that came as the work progressed.

Robert Moss said...

Nancy - That was a fun series. Yes, a prime function of the tarot images (crucially important in earlier times) is to serve as "memory palaces". I can't think of the Chariot trump, for example, without remembering both (1) how its appearance in a reading has anticipated travel, especially in cars and (2) stories of the mystical Chariot, the very mention of which - in some accounts - makes things happen differently.

Savannah said...

Thanks, one card sounds much less intimidating... and well worth the creative investment from your account! I have a sense of which might be calling to me first... Tarot for Dreamers sounds fun!

Robert Moss said...

Savannah - I also know a fellow who made a composite deck, melding the versions of the cards that most appealed to him from several decks.

Savannah said...

A composite deck's an interesting idea! Funny, I just went on Amazon.ca to check out Fortune's book... it's available for pre-order, with an anticipated release date of January 1, 2035. Hah! Either a slip, or someone consulted the tarot to come up with that date. By then I likely WILL have my own deck...

Robert Moss said...

Savannah - Glad to know that Dion Fortune will be current in 2035. Just for clarity: don't look to the book I quoted as a guide to tarot. It's much more general in nature, but full of useful knowledge and counsel.

Nancy said...

I can't resist: 2+0+3+5=10, and the 10th tarot trump is Fortune! Savannah, I created several of my own tarot cards, as Robert said the ones that spoke to me the most, giving them images which meant something to me personally. I framed a few of the good ones to put on my wall and when someone asks me who drew them (they are kind of cartoon-like), I said my child did, meaning my Inner Child, of course. This is an exercise very much worth doing if you are so inclined.

Robert Moss said...

You are G-O-O-D, Nancy!

Savannah said...

That's too perfect, Nancy!