old books


By Daniel Moler


Just because you are a spiritual person, doesn’t mean your opinion can outweigh fact.

I rarely participate in online discussions but when I do, it is usually for a very passionate reason. Maybe not an important one, but certainly it would be something that really gets my blood boiling.

Recently I was watching a discussion ensue on a forum for Tarot, the centuries-old divination tool comprised of pictorial cards. The initiator of the thread was having a hard time with understanding the cards, its symbols, and—in her words—“getting it.”

So, I referred two or three books from some of the better tomes on the subject. They were nothing you would find on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, since most of that would be your common run-of-the-mill categorical fluff that you could just as well find on a Google search.

I referred her to books rife with heavy research, scholarship and thick appendixes that are above and beyond the trite New Agey-ness that is often just regurgitated from book to book nowadays. I told her in order to understand Tarot, one needs to understand Qabalah (of the Western Mystery Tradition) and its primary symbol, the Tree of Life.

The response by other members in the forum:

convo 1

And more and more of:

“Just follow your intuition.” “You don’t need to read any books, come up with your own meanings” and one person even suggested, “watch YouTube videos.”

I had to breathe.

It just so happens, you do need to “grok” Qabalah, astrology and numerology in order to understand Tarot. You do need to study the traditional meanings of the cards; it’s not just about your intuition.

So, I replied:

Convo 2

Apologies for typos, but I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet and I’m still getting used to my touchscreen phone.

So, the people of the forum weren’t going to have that. The onslaught of burn-the-books mentality swelled to daunting proportions.

One commentator even went as far as saying she was a teacher of Tarot and always taught her students to “put down the books that come with the decks.”


So, not only forget any history on the subject to be learned, but dispense of the original instruction of the individual decks themselves? By the artist who even created them? I would shudder to think we would put operators behind the machines that run our world, without them even looking at the instruction manual.

I really didn’t know how to respond. I was going to let it all pass and forget about it. That is, until someone veered off-topic a bit and brought up an even more potent discussion.

And they were directly addressing my comment anyway, so:

Convo 3

The commentator went on to say in other comments that attributing “intuition” to the feminine and “mind” to the masculine was something engendered by the Golden Dawn, a masonic mystery school from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that did contribute much to the occult arts, Tarot included.

However, they didn’t originate that particular designation for the dualities of heart and intellect.

Convo 4

Her response:



I thought “occultnik” was a pretty interesting term. I’m from the Midwest, so I thought maybe it was “occultist” and “redneck” compounded together at first, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt and going for an “occultist” and “beatnik” mash-up instead. Somewhere along the way somebody mentioned the concept of duality as a means to enlightenment.

My final response:

Convo 6

Which, to be honest, was only my final response because nobody else was willing to tango anymore.

But, my blood’s still boiling.

This age of alternative spiritualism has lost something. In our efforts to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of orthodoxy, we have mistaken religion for fundamentalism, devotion for institutionalism, and scholarship for…well, it’s too much effort for people.

We have a culture of followers—instead of leaders—that form their ideologies from internet memes and artificial platitudes from self-help pseudo-gurus.

Nobody wants to do their research anymore—to do the work required to legitimize their spiritual framework on a practical level—and it is affecting our entire society, not just the spiritual community. Opinions are somehow strong enough ground to build a house on, instead of critical analysis and logical inquiry. And, frankly, it’s making us—the spiritualists—look like idiots.

I looked for hours through my own personal library to find a quote to use, something to convince readers that there is a place for our own spiritual wackiness, as well as the logic of reason, within our lives. They can co-exist together. We can have our ideas and reality too. In our efforts to dream big in the cosmic woo-woo, we can allow empirical research to guide our vibes and intuitions to a more practical state of living within the world, and thus, a more realistic effect on changing it for the better.

The only example I can think of is through the Tarot itself.

The Sun card is the 19th Trump of the Major Arcana, the primary sequence of symbology within a Tarot deck. The common image is of a two children dancing in a garden under the sun, enclosed by a garden wall. Another is a single child on a horse, the garden wall in the background. The card normally signifies illumination, inspiration, the Sun outpouring the forces of Light and Love upon humankind below (by “below” it is meant, the manifest world).

However, a more thorough and engrained study of this card can be found from one of the most prolific researchers of the Western Mystery Tradition, Gareth Knight. Knight’s analysis into the deeper meaning of this card includes:

“The wall signifies an enclosure, the limitation which is a protection, the cultivated growth within a garden which is sealed off from wild nature. This has its higher implications on a Cosmic level, for it is by limitation only that growth can be attained.” 1


Our spiritual culture is infected. There is a tendency to believe that one’s belief is all that is required for self-liberation: a common goal in modern spiritual movements. There is a yearning for the spiritualist to be free from limitation, most particularly in their yearnings to liberate themselves from traditional upbringings. But, that is all hubris.

It is only by limitation—by the concrescence of boundaries—that we understand our place in the world and develop our understanding of it.

It is by understanding that “spiritual attainment” (whatever that means) is only reached through discipline and hard work. Not by “feeling” and “intuition.” A thorough study of the Tarot illumines this, as the traditional Sun card, as well as every card in the Major Arcana, is a replication of the balance between male and female—the masculine and the feminine—to portray the path to Knowledge.

These depictions of the masculine (Mind) and feminine (Emotion) represent the two Pillars of Manifestation in the Mysteries, as seen in the Temple of Apollo and in the Judaic traditions of Qabalah. These two Pillars stem from the highest supremacy of the feminine and the masculine principles of the Universe. It is within the uniting of these dualities that we experience the limitations of form, but also the harmony of true singularity. This unity is likened to Nirvana in Buddhism, as well as Moksha in the Hindu traditions. It is the closest attainment one can have in union with the Source of All Being, with God, or what we in the shamanic circles often call the Great Originating Mystery.

The Universe isn’t limitless.

It has rules, boundaries, limitations. And Tarot, among other methodologies such as Qabalah, shamanism, and Hermeticism help us understand those rules and learn how to utilize them for our own potential growth.

The science of deduction, the art of critical thinking, and the methodologies of research do not have to exist independent of one’s spiritual framework. In fact, it can only strengthen it. So, don’t be afraid to let your current paradigms be challenged.

If you open yourself up to the wisdom-keepers that came before us, you just might find solid foundation to build a not only a house, but maybe a temple as well.




  1. Knight, Gareth. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism (Boston: Weiser Books, 2001), Vol. II, 52.


Daniel MolerDaniel Moler is a writer, artist, educator, and shamanic practitioner. He has published fiction and nonfiction works around the world in magazines, journals, gaming modules, and online, as well as the author of two books: RED Mass and Machine Elves 101. Daniel is a THOTH-endorsed teacher of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition, a form of Peruvian shamanism. You can read other works by Daniel at www.danielmoler.com.


Photo: James Whitesmith/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall