A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. July's Theme: "Key to Heaven"
Volume 3 Issue 5 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Technically Tarot
Can Tarot Unlock the "Pearly Gates?"

with Jeannette Roth

NOTE: This article was written with the intent of presenting a non-denominational discussion of certain mystical/spiritual concepts. However, limitations of the English language make it impossible to present the subject matter in a truly "generic" fashion without the extensive, awkward use of multiple pronouns and "synonym chains." Therefore, in the interest of readability, all references to the "Divine Source" will be referred to with the male pronoun and the deity designation "God." Readers should feel free to substitute their own terminology as necessary to best reflect their own spiritual path (e.g., "She" for "He," "Goddess" or "Allah" or other deity name for "God," etc.).

If there is a heaven (however you care to envision the particulars of that concept), then it follows there should be some interest in the knowledge of how to attain or experience it. In general, it is represented as a destination (in the sense of an elevated spiritual state) to which passage must be earned - or at the least, we must allow ourselves to be bound by certain behavioral, ethical, and/or moral restraints in order to avoid being denied entrance.

For spiritual paths taking a more "black and white" approach to the divine source, the procedure is simple: if one follows the rules, then one's admission to heaven is assured. However, those who embrace an esoteric or metaphysical method for reaching heaven's gates may view the process as more encompassing and interactive. To the mystically inclined student, the road to heaven is a personal journey. The seeker is charged with the task of discovering the Divine Will and incorporating it into his or her own soul.

Within the esoteric, mystical, and occult disciplines, tarot has frequently been held up as the key - or at least, a key - to achieving this lofty goal. We have been assured by any number of writers on the subject that through study and meditation upon the images of tarot, we can come to know ourselves, our universe, and our God. But this seems a rather bold statement to make about a "simple" pack of cards. Is there any real, logical basis for such a claim?

Early theories declaring tarot to be an expression of some "ancient spiritual wisdom" passed down through the ages are no longer well-supported by the most current research. Many contemporary approaches to the subject rely instead on more psychologically-oriented constructs; for example, positing how the images present universal archetypes, thus allowing the viewer to tap into the Jungian "collective unconscious." What follows here, however, are a few of my own "metaphysical musings" on the question - mostly in a curious, exploratory spirit inspired by Rachel Pollack's tarot opus, The Forest of Souls. It is not an original series of ideas, but hopefully I have condensed and rephrased the concepts presented so as to provide a somewhat interesting and understandable introduction to students who are relatively new to the topic.

Metaphorical Foundations: Creation and the Hermetic Axiom

As we explore the premise of "tarot as the key to heaven," we'll begin by posing what may appear to be an unrelated question: Why did God create the universe? Spiritual seekers generally reject the notion that He was simply bored and had nothing better to do. So what other explanation might we propose?

Kabbalistic doctrine suggests that God needed to create something in order to truly know Himself. (See, for example, Chapter 2 of Sanford L. Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah, Roman & Littlefield, 2000.) The universe, then, becomes "God's mirror," in which the Almighty can reflect upon what He is. His potential is expressed - made manifest - and therefore can be observed. And a thing that can be observed can furthermore be better understood.

As we move on down into more of the "specifics," we find that many, perhaps most, religions consider man to be a key element in this "divine mirror." It is man who is presumed to be the creature most like God. As anyone with reasonable exposure to Western theologies knows, the Bible notes that God "created man in his own image" (Genesis 1:27). God's nature is in our nature, and His quest, therefore, becomes our quest. The famous Hermetic Axiom succinctly states this principle thus: "As above, so below." As God desires to know Himself, so man desires to know himself as well.

Tarot as "Spiritual Mirror"

If we accept the proposition that man is a microcosmic representation of the divine macrocosm, then it follows that man might yearn to create his own spiritual/psychological mirror - something which could reflect his own inner or "divine" nature. With such a mirror, man could observe and learn, and in the end, would presumably be able to come to a better understanding of God (since he is himself a reflection of God). In essence, the "mirror" becomes a "key" for unlocking divine knowledge, which is effectively the gate into heaven.

Now we move from our original question - why did God create the universe? - to the parallel question which is at the heart of this essay: why did man create tarot? Even if tarot was originally fashioned for no higher purpose than to function as a card game for the Italian nobility, it would not necessarily be a stretch to suggest that it was recreated by the 18th and 19th century European occultists, who moulded it into a "spiritual mirror" with the potential to give us a glimpse into the Divine Mind. Just as God creates the universe and looks at man, so man creates tarot and looks back at God.

Tarot's archetypal, time-tested images provide us with an entire universe to observe, explore, and reflect upon. We shuffle the cards and lay them before us; they move between our fingers and intermingle with one another in a seemingly infinite number of combinations, presenting us with an endless dance of possibility after possibility after possibility. And with each encounter, the cards may unlock another small corner within our psyche, allowing us to see for the first time something that was hidden: another piece of the image of God within us.


While the preceding attempts to provide a foundation supporting the idea that tarot can function as a highly effective spiritual tool, it is only a beginning. In The Forest of Souls, Pollack quotes Mari Geasair as noting "God lives in the spaces between the cards." Tarot's images may reflect God, but they themselves are not God. They can unlock the doors of divine knowledge, but open doors are useless unless we step through. If we allow tarot to lead us to the gates of heaven, then we should also be prepared to apply what we have learned once we get there. In this way, we may harmoniously reunite with God in those "spaces between the cards," where images lose their meaning as they give way to understanding.

Jeannette Roth has been collecting and studying tarot decks for over 20 years, and has presented lectures on topics related to tarot evolution and imagery around the midwestern U.S. for nearly 15 years. She is the co-owner of The Tarot Garden, which maintains the largest publicly-accessible database of 20th and 21st century tarot and cartomantic decks in the world.

Feel free to check out Tarot Garden's auctions on eBay!

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