Ioan P. Couliano, in his sublime Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, analyzes the categories of magic made by Giordano Bruno in the late 1500's (Couliano p. 157-8):
"Of the categories of magic in the Renaissance, the most interesting is undoubtedly that of Giordano Bruno. He lists nine categories: sapientia, magia naturalis (medicina, chymia), praestigiatoria, a second form of natural magic, mathematica or occulta philosophia, a magia desperatorum, which is demonomagic, also called transnaturalis seu metaphysica or theourgia, necromantia, maleficium (of which veneficium is a subcategory), and divinatio or phophetia (De Magia, III, pp. 397-400) ...
The outline, furthermore, can be simplified: the first four kinds of magic make use of natural means; mathematical magic -- which Bruno prefers -- is intermediary; the last four kinds employ extra-, supra-, or transnatural means:
'The methods of the fifth kind of magic are words, charms, the reasons of numbers and times, images, forms, seals, symbols, or letters. This magic is intermediary between natural magic and extra- or supranatural magic. The most suitable name for it is mathematical magic or, rather, occult philosophy . . . . .
[Meanwhile, the ninth category] divination is practiced by soothsayers (divini) and it is to them that Bruno ascribes all forms of supernatural magic, which he qualifies as divine."
Fascinating! Words, numbers, times, symbols, images, letters and seals, in short occult philosophy as a whole (including the traditional hierarchies of Angels, Planets, Spirits and other potentized Names) are parts of "mathematical magic", and partake of both natural and supernatural characteristics. Diviners and soothsayers who have access to these tools can turn them to supernatural ends if they so choose.
Lest we should assume that this is Bruno's conception only, and limited to his times, let's take a parallel quote from Christopher I. Lehrich about Agrippa's understanding of divination and the divine magus, just to be clear that this is a standard understanding across several centuries.
Lehrich has extracted these quotes from Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy and interwoven them to express a view of imagination's realm that reinforces what we are learning about the early Renaissance worldview (p. 183-4 of The Language of Demons and Angels; Brill 2003):
"Having established that the invocation of divine names is legitimate, [Agrippa] moves on to explain that the power of the divine names emanates downward 'through all the middle causes into these interior things,' because the execution of the divine will is distributed to various ministering angels, and thence to the stars, 'but as it were by instruments, that after this manner all things might work together to serve him . . ..
'Therefore the heavens receive from the angles, that which they dart down; but the angels from the great name of God and Jesus, the virtue whereof is first in God, afterward diffused into these twelve and seven angels, by whom it is extended into the twelve signs, and into the seven planets, and consequently into all the other ministers and instruments of God, penetrating even to the very depths . . .. if a man capable of the divine influence do make any member of his body clean and free from filthiness, then it becometh the habitale and proper seat of the secret limb of God, and of the virtue to the which the same name is ascribed . . .. These members therefore in God are like to ours, but the Ideas and exemplars of our members, to the which if we rightly conform our members, then being translated into the same image, we are made the true sons of God, and like to God, doing and working the works of God. '
"The implication is clear; through meditation, contemplation, and ritual invocation of the divine aspects, the magician's soul and body come to conform with increasing exactitude to the nature of the divine, until eventually the magician becomes a 'true son of God' and a miracle-worker. "
Further, from Lehrich p. 193-5:
"[Agrippa's] Chapters 45-52 discuss 'soothsaying and frenzy' (vaticinium et furor) by which 'oracles and spirits descend from the gods or from demons upon the magician.' This is one of the highest forms of ceremonial magic, because the soul becomes aligned to and strengthened by the demon that enters it. Thus through frenzy and ecstasy the magician's soul rises to the divine and is perfected.... There are three major forms: frenzy (of which there are four kinds), ecstasy, and oracle . . .. None of this discussion is apparently unorthodox; prophecy and divine frenzy are well-attested in Christian literature from the Bible onwards, and [Agrippa] carefully cites the apostle Peter. At the same time, we must bear in mind that [Agrippa] discusses such frenzy as part of ceremonial magic. In essence, the claim is that divine frenzy and ecstasy are produced by the very techniques -- elevated to their highest forms, to be sure -- of demonic magic!
The logical and structural continuity of the chapters on angelic names with those on frenzy thus constructs a radical thesis in an apparently orthodox manner. If it is granted that the highest form of prophecy... is caused by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a human soul, and that lesser forms of prophecy are caused by a similar indwelling of angels, then we can logically extend this progression downwards to ordinary demonic powers. Therefore ceremonial magic, which aims primarily to contact and manipulate demonic beings, is simply a general category at the apex of which is a kind of sainthood."
Now we can begin to see the line of logic forming: The magus learns to work the tools of "occult philosophy," thereby making himself available to the progressive hierarchy of graded spirits. He learns to climb ever higher on the scale of Powers, until with his own consciousness he can reach right up to the empyrean and simultaneously all the way down into the elemental sphere, uniting heaven and earth under a single divinized will. Put into modern terms, (from Hidden Truths; Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult, ed. by Lawrence E. Sullivan -- selections from The Encyclopedia of Religion):
"Various magical theories have purported to discover powers of will at different depths: in human desire, affection, or intention; in the attractive or repulsive forces found in the elementary structures of all matter, such as gravity, magnetism, or absolute motion; in the creative love or jealous uniqueness of supernatural beings who affect all created reality, and so on. When magicians, alchemists, and occultists align themselves with the hidden forces that magic reveals, (through divination, geomancy, necromancy, oracles, astrology, or identification with transmuted matter), magicians hope to explore, modify or move the border between what we know and what we can only hint at with our knowledge, and between what we signal in our communication and what we are as forces in the world.
"Magical diviners have organized the outward signs that disclose the inner structures of all existence into various systems of correspondences, much in the same way that chemists have mapped the variables that organize the relations among the elementary structures of matter into the periodic table of elements. Once the outward signs of inner structures are charted in this way, and once the controlling correspondences between the structure of the subject and objective reality are established, those signs can be manipulated at will to advance the frontier of knowledge. Matter conforms to the human will in the same measure in which the human being is empowered by making symbolic life conform to the fundamental structures of reality.
"Magicians have viewed the imagination as covering both sides of the gulf between the seen and unseen, the known and the unknowable, because the image or symbolic gesture participates in both the inner realm of fantasy and in the outer realm of concrete expression. The imagination thus encompasses both poles of truth, both poles of reality. With this expansive faith in the imagination -- the power of fantasy to conjure up images of the unimaginable and to craft concrete signs that embody the inner power of will -- magic takes up residence in the space that otherwise separates what is evident from what is obscure, what is spoken from what is spoken about . . .. From the point of view of many magicians, magic aims to close the gap between a sign and the real power to which it refers. Magical speech and acts bring into the light of day the power and truth that lie hidden behind the signs of ordinary discourse and gesture . . .. The magical forces of fantasy can make present and subject to human control the powers hidden within the dynamic structures that create arbitrary order in culture and cosmos . . .. Magic is the science of hope because it cultivates the human capacity to face the future -- and all other forms of unknown, hidden reality. Magic allows hope to become a dominant, concrete force in structuring the world and restructuring time and space; through magic, human hope allies itself with the forces that order the cosmos . . .. The history of magical ideas, systems, and techniques... can be fruitfully set beside the study of the history of law, art, religion, science, ethics, politics, or other cultural forms of knowledge, which respond creatively to the tension that inevitably arises between what ought to be and what appears to be the case, between what we know to be true and what we will to have otherwise. " (Pp x-xii)
Note the hint of technique here -- outward signs that point to inner realities are organized into various systems of correspondence. Using the image or symbolic gesture as a lever between realms of reality, the future is reflected and possibly even structured according to the developed will of the operator.
This operative model of magic has been essentially unchanged from antiquity to the present. Once the Cosmos was understood and diagrammed via the symbols of a given culture's occult philosophy, all the pieces fall into place for a divinely inspired mage to "read the will of God" and make divinations. From shamanism through priestcraft, medicine and finally science, the process works the same way in every case, because this is the natural shape of the human psyche in expression.
To refresh our memories, let's notate the core ingredients of the Hermetic Cosmos from the Alexandrian Synthesis: Pleroma, Zodiac, Planets, Angels and other Spirits, Elements, and Numbers.
Some familiar signatures whereby we can recognize the inherited Hermetic/Cabbalistic model would be: Alphabetic letter-numbers, number-mysticism, musical medicine, Pythagoras, Lamdoma, Tetractys, astrological healing, Lullian wheels within wheels, Religious Hermetism and the ancient gods and heroes, Cabala Tree, Merkabah Chariot, and the writings of the so-called prisca theologia. After the 1400's the category grows to include the Trumps of Tarot, the Mantegna emblem series, the Lazzarelli emblem series and (eventually) the game of Labyrinth; the wonderful proliferation of alchemical and emblematic art; the technical compendia of the Renaissance polymaths, (especially Fludd and Kircher); the Rosicrucian and Bohemenist literature and art, and so forth into the 19th century revival of esoteric Tarot.
Returning to the research on our Renaissance magi -- Lehrich, by the end of his masterful presentation, takes a tremendously bold stand, stating in essence that divination is the nexus point at which all the Renaissance Magical arts and sciences converge, be they astrological, Kabalistic, Hermetic, Lullian, or any other derivation. The paradigmatic Renaissance mage operates from the certainty that speaking, writing and reading are especially potent behaviors, which link the potential with the actual, the transcendently real with the momentarily apparent. In Lehrich's words, (p. 171...)
"...the diviner is a professional reader. Random chance -- defined culturally as god, gods, spirits, nature, the dead -- produces a complex sign, of whose interpretation the client probably has very little knowledge. The reader, using a culturally determined canon of interpretive techniques, texts, images, and myths, reads the text, taking into account what he or she knows of the client's situation. In a way, it is surprising that this theory has not been proposed before, given that every Western form of divination known to me uses the terminology of 'reading'."
In the above definition of divination, Lehrich does not narrow his focus to target any one style of occult philosophy (whether the chosen method be through scrying, astrology, inspired song, manipulation of numbers, contemplation of images, geomancy, etc.) Instead it is the reader's grasp of the "culturally determined canon of interpretive techniques" that qualifies him to pronounce upon the interpretation of the "complex sign," implying immersion in and familiarity with the popular tools of his era. Obviously, literacy at a very high level was a prerequisite for Magi-ism in any era, but also specifically in the first two centuries after Tarot's appearance in 78-card form.
Lehrich further proposes that the performance of a ritual is itself the text by which communication between the worlds is effected, thus transposing our usual concept of temporal cause and effect in spirit communications. As we know, even without being enacted, the ritual as inscribed in the grimoire is already magically compelling by virtue of being written with consecrated ink on consecrated vellum, using names, images and signs that resonate directly with the spiritual entities and things being petitioned. Just as surely, an experienced and prepared operator will have his or her own connection to the Divine already developed, whether or not a formal ritual structure is being enacted at any given moment. But with the fully-prepared operator's performance of a ritual, conditions are fulfilled for a return response, both from angelic and divine levels (on high), and from the demonic levels (here below) which are compelled to conform to the illuminated will of the apotheosized operator, just as they would be by God. Whether the ritual is as simple as spontaneously lighting a candle and meditating into a chosen emblem, or alternately is the astrologically-timed, hours-long performance of a full church-style Mass, the magical effect always shows the same internal signature: "Linguistically, we might say that God writes His message upon the magus, and the magus translates that message into the speech of the World."(Lehrich, p. 209)
By definition, then, the Renaissance magi are diviners. They use contemplation, meditation and ceremonial magic to allow their own souls to rise through ever-subtler levels of reality, or alternately to allow the Angelic, Zodiacal and Planetary spirits to descend and enter the sublunary world through the being of the Magus. The tools of the practice are "words, charms, the reasons of numbers and times, images, forms, seals, symbols, or letters” as delineated by Bruno. Experience with these tools and techniques progressively divinizes the practitioner and increases the profundity of his illumination, prophecy, oracle, or gift (of translating the will of God into the speech of the World). And remember, due to the "as above/so below" reflective nature of creation, both the numeric, alphabetical and symbolized "speech" of the Magus and the divine response/speech of God combine to compel the demons to conform earthly reality to match. This is both the mechanism and the method of Ceremonial Magic.
Let me emphasize again that the mage's method is that of contemplation, meditation and ceremonial magic. Divination is not separate from those activities; it is comprised of these activities, according to the testimony of the practitioners themselves. One contemplates, meditates, and ceremonializes, in order to divine the Will of Heaven. Whatever symbols, images, words, numbers, forms, seals, or special times were useful to either flesh out or seal the meditations, were of course included or taken into consideration as part of the overall practice. This means the dichotomy that Tarot researchers have erected to hold the 78-card Tarot pack out and away from the trend of religious Hermeticism, Cabbala, and astrology comprising the occult philosophy is a false one. Tarot is just as surely informed by the occult philosophy, as was Cabbala, Pythagorean numerology, or the later alchemical art.
When summing up his conclusions, Lehrich observes that
"...a theory of magic which cannot treat divination is fundamentally unsound, rather like a theory of religion which ignores ritual. As we have seen with [Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy], both in the ritual magic per se and in the mathematical magic [Bruno's fifth magical category above], divination is readily understood as writing, and indeed is rather difficult to interpret otherwise. Thus the ritual-as-writing approach goes some way toward clarifying the centrality of divination in magic." (p. 212
This juxtaposition of texts from researchers in the history of magic explains a lot that's unspoken about Tarot. There is no need to keep looking for missing manuals of Tarot usage for magical purposes. The defined values of the Trumps, Royals and Pips, composed as they are of numbers, traditional names and titles, symbols and elements, (behind which stand the Angels, Signs, Planets, Spirits and Elements of the Hermetic Cosmos), were already fully embedded in the occult philosophy when Tarot cards first appeared. No "books of instructions” for divinatory Tarot would have been necessary at the time, because the books on Ars Notoria and the memory arts, ceremonial magic, Cabbalistic practices and astrology would collectively supply that need.
A mage observing all the niceties in the "ancient style" might still make talismans and emblems by hand for specific ceremonies even through the 1600's. But once Tarot appeared, the option was open for a practitioner to use flash cards to spell out a goal in image and symbol. Cleverly, the fact that most packs of cards were printed instead of handmade would indemnify the casual user from contamination by demons, at least according to popular belief of the time. But in the hands of a cultivated magician, every symbol, number, name, image and sign would be meaningfully "opened" via the practitioner's awareness of correspondences. To make the link between the cards and the Cosmos, all that would be required would be a correspondence list like that of Thenaud, Gaffurio or Capella, which show how the numbers relate to the Spheres, Angels, Muses, Planets and/or whatever other values a practitioner would want to contact and activate.
As I have said before in so many ways, the central mystery of Ancient Theology, whether transmitted aboveground and underground, no matter how it was talked about and under which veil it was hidden, has centered on the transmission of the Hermetic Cosmos. This ancient model of the three worlds (celestial, astral and material) is held in common across the astrological, Hermetic, Hebrew and Christian spectrum, though the clashing terminologies used in alternate cultural contexts can make it seem as if the different magi are talking about separate things. Not that the Renaissance Magi themselves were confused -- the confusion is more a symptom of we who are looking backwards, trying to undertake the deep investigations necessary to reassemble the model again after all these centuries of forgetfulness. As Lehrich says about Agrippa's works (which is true for virtually every Mage we have named and examined),
"[Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy] makes many of its most exciting arguments hard to find in order to preserve these secrets from the eyes of the foolish. If only 'the wise' will discover the secrets of magic... then wisdom is partly connected with a willingness to read closely."
And should we wonder what the consequences of failing to read closely would have upon the results of our magic, let's listen to Lehrich one last time, in a passage wherein he is comparing ritual to reading and writing yet again (p. 211):
"[One] written-like characteristic of ritual language is the disjuncture of the final text from its author, which entails that interpretive control is in the hands of the recipient, rather than the producer. Once the signs are formed, the interpretation of the message is entirely up to the demons -- the magus cannot correct misinterpretations. This is one of the dangers of the ceremonial magic: if you get the signs wrong, the demons will not act according to your intention, but only according to the instructions actually given, rather like a computer program. Indeed, if the ritual is badly written, either (1) the demons will not understand that they are bound to interpret and obey it, in which case the ritual has no effect; or worse (2) the wrong sort of demons will take the opportunity to pretend that the ritual was correctly written, at which point the magus is likely deceived by them, and begins down the slippery slope to perdition . . .. Once the ritual is written by the magus and read by the demons, we may note that the demons essentially respond in writing. First, they may write effects into the world -- being celestial or divine, they do not speak their effects, as noted above [instead they communicate via signs and symbols]. Second they may produce prophecy or oracles; this should be understood as writing, since the interpretive control does not remain with the message's demonic producer, but is rather interpreted at the magician's leisure.... Third, in frenzy and ecstasy, the demons write upon the magus' soul; it is not so much that they communicate anything to him in the normal sense, but that they write effects, just as in other circumstances they write effects into the world."
The issue of moral consequence stems from the fact that the magus' soul is the medium in which the magic is performed, the locus wherein the divinization process is either fulfilled or failed. Should the demons get the upper hand, and the Faustian legends make it clear that they sometimes do, then the magi's interior reality is overtaken, threatening his sanity and possibly even his spiritual connection with God for eternity. The stakes were high, but surely the risks were considered worth taking when viewed in proportion to the rewards.
To wrap this discussion back into the practical Tarot, we have to consider our own relationship with our cards. To the extent that we are attracted to Tarot's images and meaning-categories without the motive of "playing the game of Tarot," we are already flirting with the magical worldview of Tarot's time of origination. If we study our way into the imagery at all, whether the subjects introduced by the titles or suits, or the history of ideas those words and images refer to, we are already contemplating the cards. The contemplator might well discover that s/he is standing in the footprints of previous contemplators, some of whom have left coherent bodies of associations and correspondences as the fruits of their labors. One might find that the imagery or their ideas start popping up in one's dreams, reveries or daily synchronicities. In that case, by Renaissance standards, one is receiving communication from the Spirits and energies of those named and pictured entities.
If one should further find oneself inspired to write, teach, create or enact something in response to the Tarot's effect, then one is taking on the role of mage, fully vested in the conversation between the Celestials, the elementals, and the human world. Nowhere in this process is it necessary that the particular modern ritual called the "Tarot reading" have taken place! The 'reading', the 'writing', the entire conversation and exchange between the witness, the sign and the thing it refers to are all going on inside the consciousness of the operator. The cards, or more precisely stated, the ideas the cards represent and refer to through their individual collections of words, signs and symbols, take their full shape and order inside the expanding awareness (and self-awareness) of the user, the one whose inner life is the theater for these contemplations, meditations, and exchanges.
From the point of view of Tarot's cultural matrix, the 78-card deck is truly a "pack of demons", defined by the mathematica or occulta philosophia of the magi. As such it is available to be used for either natural or supernatural types of magic. But it is not the cards themselves that have any "power". Even arranged in meaningful patterns of word, image, sign and symbol as they are, the pictures are just neutral flash cards, simple placeholders suitable to entirely secular and non-magical purposes if so desired. In the case of Tarot's inclusion in the toolkit of a Magi, the "secret ingredient" is the attention (meditation, contemplation, conversation) of the operator, which then activates the links and correspondences spreading out into the seen and unseen world. None of these 'special effects' can be expected to happen when a person with no inner life handles the cards.
But in the case of a person who has been opened up to the magical paradigm
-- well, the sky would be the limit, both then and now. On their faces,
Tarot pictures forth a program of progressive self-apotheosis via the
upward path illustrated in the Trumps, paired with the ideal order
projected by the Suits onto the sublunary realm. However, viewed in
context with it's supportive cultural props -- astrology, the
cabbalistic number-letters, harmonic musical philosophy, the memory
arts, ceremonial magic and theurgy -- there can be no question that the
Tarot pack also served as a sophisticated Hermetic/Cabbalist Christian
occult computer for any who had the motive or the imagination to
respond to it.
Research: Esoteric Tarot, Literature and Practice; Tarot.com
Publisher, The Tarot Arkletters
Bishop, Gnostic Church of St. Mary Magdalene
Founder: Tarot University;
Author: The Underground Stream;
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Saturn's Square: - http://altreligion.about.com/library/glossary/bldefkamea.htm
Meditation by Carol Buchman: http://www.explorefaith.org/oasis/art/meditation.html
5 Diviners: Zoroaster: http://www.fravahr.org/spip.php?article34
Haida Shamen: http://www.civilization.ca/aborig/haida/haash02e.html
Honing the Spear of Lleu: http://www.lugodoc.demon.co.uk/MYTH/MYTH06.HTM#math