Interview With Christine Payne-Towler – Part I

Interview With Christine Payne-Towler – Part I

Christine came under my radar in the “way back when” days of Tarot-L, when the excitement was during the midnight hours, where the “names” slugged it out. Since then, Christine has published the seminal work “The Underground Stream”, designed the online Tarot reading program for, founded the Tarot University Online (, and began publishing a monthly newsletter entitled Arkletters (

Christine’s focus is on promoting the understanding and study of Tarot from the point of view of its astro-alpha-numeric content, in particular its roots in the esotericism and magic of the Renaissance. She wants to make sure that the original impulse that birthed the Tarot is not lost to the twenty-first century. Her latest project is a Tarot deck and companion book (The Tarot of the Holy Light), being made in conjunction with her partner, Michael Dowers. This could be the very first truly new Continental Tarot deck to be published in the twenty-first century.


Christine is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Association of Tarot Studies conference in France, where she will be presenting her latest research in a talk entitled “Alchemy, TheoSophia and Tarot”. She will also be introducing her new deck, with the companion book to appear shortly thereafter.

For more information on Christine, and to read the body of her work, go to

BC: Christine, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your new project. Before we get into the new deck and companion book, I would like to set the foundation by asking you to explain what astro-alpha-numeric content means in relation to the Tarot.


CPT: An important insight that is emerging in the new academic discipline of Western Esotericism is that the magical tradition in the West rests on alphabetic foundations. The alphabet is a system of sonic notations, meaning it is made up of a range of squiggles that refer to the sounds of speech. It’s not tied into to any given language at all, it just represents the collection of  sounds we make in our mouths that add up to speech. Since humans generally use a narrowly-boundaried range of sounds to speak to one another, the alphabet can travel from one civilization to another just like a virus, as it did in the ancient world.  The alphabet is magical to the n-th degree, because it serves as a “cabinet of mysteries” that collates learning from the whole world down to a tidy 22-section outline.

Everywhere the alphabet has traveled across the millennia, we see it being used in the same a-b-c-d order. This order has been maintained so solidly because the list was also used numerically, as tokens for counting and calculating.  The alphabet comes to us with correspondences for both the now-familiar Hindu (AKA “Arabic”) numerals, and also for the system of Roman Numerals (which are also written in letters).   As a result, words made up of these “loaded” letters not only refer to things in the world, but also to numbers equations and ratios, which reveal the magical frequencies and energy-values associated with the thing being named.  To anybody who understands this fact, all the words making up the vocabulary of the Mysteries are revealed as “spells” — they evoke precise vibrational effects that alter the way matter arranges itself. Thus any spoken language is capable of functioning as precisely as mathematics does, if the user but knows how to spell.

Those letter-numbers were from the beginning identified with the Planets, Signs and Elements of the Hermetic Cosmos, as given in the western world’s premier astrological text from antiquity, the Sefer Yetzira. During their captivity in Babylon, the Hebrews assimilated the sexugesimal mathematics of the temple astronomers. From this they created their religious and shamanic alphabet-mysteries, used to train their menfolk in the priestly arts.  Since the letter-numbers were the ancient calculation medium to make astrological and navigational computations, they served as a kind of shorthand for “the contents of the sky”.  The Hebrews taught that they originally found the letters among the constellations, written in tongues of flame among the stars. This is likely a mythopoetic conceit, but it does effectively encapsulate the properties of the astro-alpha-numberic web of the alphabet.  And this is what I think (and what I think history will show) is the guiding outline of the Trumps of the Tarot.

Stay tuned for Part II –  the Continental Tarot defined.

© August 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

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