A.O. Spare, fortune telling and the Tarot

A.O. Spare had a unique perspective on Cartomancy and Tarot, including the intriguing idea of developing different decks according to the use or application. While the narrative below deals with ordinary playing cards, there is no reason why the techniques discussed cannot be used for Tarot. Spare is emphatic on the importance of the state of mind during the reading, and comprehending the combinations of cards rather than individual cards. This is something that has been neglected in Tarot, to our detriment for far too long. Since Spare was a member of the Golden Dawn it is reasonable to believe that he was exposed to the Tarot, particularly the Tarot Spread used by the Order. Spare was one of the great Occultists of the century, and finally he is receiving the recognition he justly deserves. Two Formulae on Tarot are included within the nine formulae in his Zoetic Grimoire of Zos, an indication of the importance Spare placed on divination.

'Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare' is a fascinating book. The first part chronicles the letters exchanged between AOS and Kenneth and Steffi Grant. Apart from the occult insights, it is fascinating to see a slice of London life between 1949 and 1956. Spare enjoyed the company of working class people in pubs, and he was well acquainted with the prostitutes of the area as the letters and diary entries make clear. The black and white, and colour plates give justice to Spare's extraordinary talent for portraying magickal realms. The second part of the book is the Logomachy of Zos, from which I present a small part. Purchase the Book!

Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare

Fifth Formula: Of Fortune Telling by Cards (Foretelling by Familiars)

Foretelling the future by cards or other means: What is of consequence, and portentous, is the 'state of mind' that is induced in the consultant by the method and downright explanations given to him: there is an indirect or transposed auto-suggestion. Anything so entertaining the near-subconscious must reformulate and re-suggest itself with commitment to a later, similar, event. Likewise, the sorcerer's shaft pierces through the protective aura by assertion becoming indirect suggestion as the consultant's own. Paradoxically, the quickest way of susceptibility is by denial as disbelief.

Cards may be used for formulating the will, casting spells, mathematical numerology, and fortune telling. I was taught quite early in life by the greatest Witch of recent years [Mrs. Patterson]. Here is a rough synopsis of my formula based upon what I remember of hers.

First I need certain condition: Silence, and light just sufficient to work by. I even close my eyes when shuffling and always do so before handing the cards to the querent for reshuffling.

To begin with, I used ordinary playing cards but soon found it expedient and of greater service to make my own packs, using sixty cards. Divided as usual into four suits, the Court cards representing people. The different suits represent the common factors of life, i.e., business, social relations, objects, events, and emotional qualities, etc., no individual card having itself much significance. I am giving only general principles; I shall not repeat what may be gleaned from a summary of books on the subject. Events and all else are given importance, in degree, by simple or more complex combinations of similar or relating cards. Illustration: The two of Spades means simply 'slight indisposition'; the nine of Spades means 'annoyance' or 'pain'; the ten of Spades means 'sorrow'. Thus, these cards in that order mean 'serious illness'. If the card representing the enquirer is there, it means their own illness, and with the card representing 'fatality' for good or evil (reverse or otherwise), it could mean death.

A different arrangement or sequence of the same cards would give a different equivalent, extended meaning, or definition. Thus, the two of Spades isolated from similar cards could mean 'slight illness', faintheartedness', or 'reluctance' etc., depending on which other cards it 'falls' against. The cards should not be too ambiguous and should become definite and different by combination. This is sufficient information for beginning to create the 'meanings' of cards, the only difficulty being to give appropriate meanings to individual cards so as to have a complete vocabulary capable of covering all exigencies. Start with what you can manage and build up by constant addition and rectification. Combinations are endless - always make them rational. The more rare the event, the greater the number of cards necessary to the combination. It takes months of work to create a really rational pack. Start with playing cards, writing your meanings on them. Later, make your own pack and draw your own symbols - geometrical shapes will serve. Be original - it gives the best results. My own four cards mentioned above:

Tarot spread using AO Spare's method

Methods of laying out cards are numerous. The best, for general prediction, is serpentine: [see image] reading from left to right in rows of nine cards.

Synopsis: I do a short horoscope by laying eleven rows of five cards, each row relating to: House, Love, Self, etc., - every four rows being relative to each other... (one or two words illegible here)... and answer to wish. The five cards left over indicate the immediate event. Make your own rules and keep them, consistency in this case being a great virtue.

It is possible to predict anything, but special packs with their special meanings have to be made, a difficult and laborious task.

Alternative Fifth Formula: Technique of Fortune Telling

First obtain a good book on 'fortune telling' by playing cards. This will give you a general idea for the making of a suitable pack for your own purposes. Procure a pack of ordinary playing cards, and mark them, top and bottom (cards have a reverse). Rely on the 'book' only for general direction and method - the remnants of a traditional and lost art. You should evolve your own meanings, symbols and methods. This is vital. Here are the salient points to note:

Individual cards are indicators, not events - at least, not the important ones, and so we make separate cards mean the small commonplaces - emotions and abstracts (love, hate, fear, etc.); 'people' are indicated by the Kings and Queens, and 'children' by the two Knaves. The different suits symbolize the different kinds of events or emotions, etc. Thus, Spades relate to sickness, mourning, death, disappointment, fear, hatred. Hearts indicate love, marriage, friendship, happiness, generosity. Diamonds indicate money, success, fame, honour. Clubs indicate business, officialism, power, knowledge.

You will find fifty-two card more than adequate to cover the small meanings. There are a number of meanings that do not fall under any one suit in particular, such as 'speedy', 'accidental', 'legal', etc.; these should be placed in any suit where is room. Put similar meanings on one card, such as 'conclusion' and 'death'. The reverse of a card means the same but more intensely or extensively. Thus: 'slight sickness', reversed, would mean 'real sickness'. Also, a special card is made to intensify any card it falls against; reversed it means 'continuous' or 'regular'.

It is the combination of certain cards that indicates the meanings of the more important events and episodes of life. For example: a combination of Spades - 'Nine', 'Ten', and 'Ace' - when so closely juxtaposed would mean death very soon and, in combination with cards meaning 'accident', 'sickness', 'hate', would mean death by accident, sickness, murder or suicide, and so on covering every possible event.

The mathematical computations of fifty-two cards are almost limitless. Write your meanings and principle combinations on the cards, and when you have fully memorized them change them into symbols - even if your imagination cannot suggest more than geometrical signs. This change to symbols is very important. To save overloading the cards with writing or symbols, write down a list of the rarer combinations and their meanings. Study (from books on fortune-telling) the different methods of laying out the cards for reading; ultimately you will evolve the method that suits you best.

My method is simply to lay them out in a line (or four lines of thirteen cards) and read from left to right, but it is difficult and only adepts succeed [This may be a reference to the GD Four Pile Spread. PHB]. This is my process:

First the operator must shuffle the cards whilst looking into the eyes of the querent. The pack is then passed to the querent with a request to shuffle whilst thinking about whatever he desires to know. Then lay out the cards and read, special note being made of the juxtapositions of combinations. When close together it means the even will occur soon.

However combinations there are you will always find some of unique and baffling meanings, and this is where the actual skill of the operator comes in. The solving of the problem(s) will be found far more interesting than any crossword puzzle. Imaginative methods help. A simple illustration:

One card means 'fear' and the other 'honour'. This could be read as meaning that the person in question is 'fainthearted' but has the necessary ability, as against 'he fears for his honour' - if it does not seem to be implied by other factors.

Remember, there is a rational and true interpretation if you can find it. Whether you believe in the subject or not it should be approached as you would approach any other Art or Science - with an open mind. As to the attitude of the querent, his belief is immaterial but he should be willing to be unprejudiced; any facetiousness is fatal. I can assert - judging by the results of others who have used this method - that any person of normal intelligence who follows carefully these suggestions and who uses his imagination, with sufficient practice, will be able to accurately predict future events. Don't expect too much too soon. I have not only had the characters of persons accurately described, but even their hidden physical marks. Education has little to do with this faculty.

In conclusion: it should take about six months to create a satisfactory pack of cards, and another six months to gain the necessary facility by practice. There is no limit to what may be predicted, using special packs.

Finally, scientists will never prove or disprove anything relating to 'foretelling the future'; it is a work for great artists. But science may subsequently confirm more fully what the artists have already discovered. Note well: all the indications essential for the Psychic Knowledge necessary for developing this specialized ability are given in The Logomachy.

Extract from: 'Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare' published by Fulgur Limited, 1998, ISBN 0 9531019 0 6

Austin Osman Spare met Alistair Crowley on a number of occasions.