For years I've been telling readers that an entire system of magic in the Western tradition could be worked using nothing other than a deck of Tarot cards. In my books and articles, various suggestions were given as to how this might be done in part—for example, I described the laying out of a magic circle using the Tarot, and also the use of Tarot Aces as elemental weapons. Portable Magic presents for the first time the complete system that I evolved for my own use. As far as I am aware, no one else has ever devised a system of practical magic based solely on the Tarot.
The advantages of being able to do magic with only a deck of cards will at once be obvious. The materials needed for conventional forms of Western occultism tend to be complex, expensive, and difficult to gather or make. High ceremonial magic often requires a room that is set aside as a working temple of the art with an altar, ceremonial robes, and instruments such as a wand, a sword, a chalice, an oil lamp or candle. In addition to the larger furniture and instruments there are countless other little objects such as a ring, a ritual book, a circlet, a sash, a kind of personal talisman known as a lamen, and substances such as holy water, consecrated oil, sea salt, crystals, incense, and so on.
The Tarot magic presented in my book requires only a deck of Tarot cards, nothing more. It can be worked on any convenient flat surface, such as a coffee table, the foot of the bed, or the cushion of a sofa. Decks of smaller cards require less working space. In my own rituals I use the miniature Rider-Waite deck for this reason, but any deck of Tarot cards will do just as well. Even very big cards can be laid out on a surface no larger than a dining-room table.
The secret to this amazing compactness is that the cards themselves serve as the ritual instruments of practical magic through symbolic representation. Instead of an altar, cards are used to represent an altar. Instead of drawing or marking a magic circle on the floor, cards are laid out to represent the circle. The magician does not need to physically stand within the circle of cards, because a specially chosen card represents the magician. In this way the circle can be made quite small without losing any of its effectiveness.
It may seem strange to those who have only thought of the Tarot as a way of telling fortunes that it can be effectively used for practical magic, but this potential has been known about, or at least suspected, for centuries. Eliphas Levi, the great French occultist of the nineteenth century, devoted a significant part of his writings to an analysis of the potent significance of Tarot symbolism, and his work was carried even further by those influenced through his example, such as Gérard Encausse, S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley, and Paul Foster Case. These magicians recognized the immense potential in Tarot symbolism, but their use of the Tarot for active magic remained limited.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the magic organization created in Victorian England by MacGregor Mathers and fellow Freemasons, taught a system of scrying that relied on the Tarot cards as astral portals. The four Aces of the Tarot were recognized as the purest embodiments of the four occult elements, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The twenty-two picture cards of the Tarot, called the trumps, were integrated by Mathers and his group into the Kabbalistic design known as the Tree of Life. However, even in the Golden Dawn the Tarot was not used in any cohesive way as a system of magic complete unto itself. The cards were merely employed as aids in more conventional ritual settings.
Portable Magic takes the very best feature of the Golden Dawn, its occult Tarot correspondences, and uses these as the framework upon which to construct a system of Tarot magic that requires nothing other than the seventy-eight cards of the standard Tarot deck. Because it is based on the Golden Dawn Tarot correspondences, it is fully integrated into the modern Western esoteric tradition. Yet it can be done by anyone, with no ritual instruments or materials, and there is no need to learn the Kabbalah or any of the other difficult aspects of the magic of the Golden Dawn.
Those who love the Tarot and sense its immense potential, but have only used it in a passive way to tell fortunes, owe it to themselves to investigate its active side, the working of ritual magic. You may find that the cards are the only things you need.
Donald Tyson is an occult scholar and the author of the popular, critically acclaimed Necronomicon series. He has written more than a dozen books on Western esoteric traditions, including Tarot Magic, and edited and ...