Interview With Christine Payne-Towler – Part IV

Interview With Christine Payne-Towler – Part IV

Welcome to Part IV of my interview with Christine Payne-Towler.

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: This question is really for Michael. How did you become involved in this project, and how did the artwork evolve?


MD: From the very first days I met Christine she was talking about and showing me these images she had collected of alchemical engravings from the 1600s. These intrigued me right off the bat as I’ve always had an interest in old black and white engravings and what priceless collage material they could potentially be. As a student of art and art history these engravings reminded of the work that the great surrealist Max Ernst did and always wanted to try my own collages using this medium. One day Christine and I sat down and talked about what visual elements could be used to create a tarot card and I sat down using PhotoShop and whipped out the design for the Devil card. We were quite delighted with the results so I went on to another card, and then another, and before you know I was hooked and completely compelled to do the whole deck. 4 1/2 years later we had a tarot deck.


After all is said and done, this experience was extremely intuitive for me. As I went on creating each card I became more and more sensitive to the material. One by one the images were being created from a deeper place inside me. The last couple of years it seems the cards were created by an invisible hand that pointed in certain directions. Many times I felt like an empty vessel, as though someone was watching over me, guiding my hand and my thoughts to create a finished image.


CPT:Let this be stated for the record; I didn’t have to give Michael a lot of suggestions or dictate his every artistic decision — far from it!  I set him up with a few references that I know to be trustworthy, and I also gave him a few rules to follow in the course of framing his ideas. But he’s the one who burned the midnight oil, poring over my library of magical art to find the ideas he wanted to portray. More often than not, I was the last one to know what would be on the face of the card!

Michael’s background makes him a perfect appreciator of the flash-card method of idea delivery. I have reasonably good taste and I know what I like, but he actually understands how to take a flat image and give it depth, how to express motion, how to lead the eye and arrange the elements of a larger thought so a person could comprehend the nuances. There are images in this deck that make my heart skip a beat every time I see them!  And of course, he was standing in the footsteps of the esoteric master-artists of the Renaissance, who collectively changed our understanding of what can be conveyed through the sacred image.  This whole pack is largely an homage to their visionary creativity.

That being said, there are aspects of these cards that clearly betray Michael’s personal journey as an artist, and the unique aesthetic  he developed during his years as a book editor in the cartooning and graphic novel world. Certain things he tailored to my preferences, for example the incredibly lush  palette of colors which please me so much to gaze upon and fall into.  But at every level of these compositions, Michael’s visionary imagination is at work, making a unique magical world for users to enter and move around within. There’s a thousand hours in every card, some many more. Every pixel has been laboriously inspected and corralled to make these collages come together so smoothly. If admirers of this pack take the art of the Tarot of the Holy Light  as seriously as people have done with the Waite or Crowley packs, they will find layers of fascination and instruction hidden in these images.

BC:  What were the rules that Christine gave you, that you used to assemble the cards?


1) No human faces on the numbered Pips. They represent Natural Laws. We could have angels, animals, the “hand of God”, but not people.  Also, accent on the geometry of the numbers instead of plucking people’s emotional strings all the time. I wanted a quality of objectivity or detachment to prevail, at least in the Pips.

2) Something unique for the reader to fix on if a card is reversed compared to being upright.

3) Please minimize the horrible chrome orange or bloody red colors. I have an aversion to Tarot cards full of stress and carnage, which I discovered after I bought the Solleone Tarot and had to give it away because of all the blood!  I want my ‘holy blood’ to stay within the Grail Chalice, please! This also connections with the reason I dislike the Sola Busca Tarot as well — too much testosterone, thank you very much!

4) The Fool can stand at the front or the back of the sequence (he does both), but the Magus starts the Alphabet at #1.


BC: You and Michael very graciously allowed me to view a few of the cards from your upcoming deck. Where did you get the inspiration for the color scheme that you used?


CPT:  I wanted to look into the cards and see Great Nature, so that was one of the design criteria. We happen to live in a veritable paradise along the Columbia River in America’s Pacific Northwest, so watching the seasons change out our windows  provides daily inspiration. Our soundtrack is birdsong and farm animals, so we live in an ambiance that is reminiscent of the less-developed times and circumstances of the Reformation era.  And of course, Michael was collaging with ingredients derived from the landscapes that appeared in the Alchemical illustrations, which  provided a range of seasons, times, and animals.


BC: Let’s talk about the Hermit!  I love the Sun as the lamp, and the red robe the Hermit is wearing! How were these choices made, and  what is encircling the Hermit’s robe at his feet?


CPT: This card is a perfect example of Michael including more in the images than he was consciously aware of. The creature circling the Hermits feet is  the terrestrial Leviathin, the worm  or water-serpent of  material time.  There are actually two Leviathins, the terrestrial (female) one being associated with the Serpent of Genesis. Overhead is her mate, the Aeonic serpent called the “teli”,  marked out by the  constellation Draco. This constellation surrounds the ecliptic pole in the sky, having stars in all 12 signs of the Zodiac. The Hermit is in communication with both the spirit of time and the spirit of transcendence as a result of his yogic cultivation.


MD: It was my goal to try and go beyond the typical stereotypes of the tarot, to find new combinations of images to tell the stories of the cards. This whole pack is about the Light, so using a sun instead of a lamp helped me show the old man offering the world a new millennium of cosmic light. As to the red robe — he’s a yogi and has accumulated a lot of life force through his practice. Don’t mistake the white hair for a loss of vitality, far from it!

BC: The Ten of Disks follows the Tree of Life graphic. What is the reasoning behind this?


CPT:  I’ll have to leave the question of “reasoning” to Michael, as in my memory he didn’t show me this image until it was nearly complete. However, it looked perfectly natural to me, because 10 is Malkuth, complete manifestation of the Kabalistic Tree. Also the suit of Disks as a whole represents what the Kabbalists called “Asiyyah, the world of Action”, the place where all the ramifying consequences of movement in the upper sworlds are registered in time, space and matter. A phrase sticks in my mind from a childhood TV commercial — in the 10 of Disks, “you get what you paid for”.


MD: I was trying to look through the older forms and see what’s on the other side of them. Past versions weren’t discarded entirely — you’ll see echoes of older packs all through The Tarot of the Holy Light.  In Christine’s library I’ve seen the Tree extended to show it’s expanse over the 4 Worlds of the Kabbalists.  I was trying to take that idea one step further, and make every station of the Tree a world of its own. That included a search for symbols to express the character of the Planets. Finally there was the issue of spreading the rainbow across the descending Tree. That took me several nights of pondering!


BC: The Three of Cups is very graceful with the center heart, and the three golden cups. How did that come about?


CPT: This is a fragment of a larger engraving from  Jacob Boehme, found in Theosophische Wercke, published in Amsterdam, 1682. The title of the engraving is Christi Testamenta,  and its a meditation on Boehme’s cardinal theme of ‘turning wrath into Love’.  Michael lifted out the upper half of the image, where the Divine Heart assumes the cross of matter, emanating through the descending triangle of Light (the heavenly Sophia).  What you don’t see on the card is the lower half of the image, as the central shaft of the cross penetrates down through an upside-down heart inside an upward-ponted triangle of flames. At its base the shaft takes the form of the trunk and roots of a tree which sinks into the earth and buries itself in the globe of earthy condensation.  Meanwhile two branches  rise from the trunk to support the two winged, one-eyed vessels that catch the effulgence pouring out of the Divine Heart.  The downward-looking eye on the left represents the practical and unemotional Mother Pillar of the Kabbalah tree, whereas the upward-looking eye with the tear trickling out represents the repentant and devotional consciousness of the Father Pillar. Michael positioned the cups so that they would cradle the two eyes and the Dove.

This diagram is meant to illustrate how the judgmental Wrath of the Old Testament Jehova (the fire triangle rising from the earthy side) is  penetrated and healed by the descending Light of the Logos (Christ/Sophia, symbolized as the Dove). The Dove fearlessly enters the Wrath and stills it, quenching any drama held in the Pillars and bringing the opposites into harmony at last. The rising vine ripe with grapes is reminiscent of the self-fulfilling Sacrifice which must be accomplished anew in every heart. According to the Protestant Theosophers, when the Triangle of Light (Love) fully penetrates and absorbs the Triangle of Fire (Wrath), we will have “a new heaven and a new earth”, both personally and collectively.  We talk about these ideas more fully in the book for The Tarot of the Holy Light, as this theme is at the heart of the Spiritual Alchemy the Boehme taught and which spread through the Rosicrucian, Masonic and Martinist Lodges of Europe thereafter.


BC: What do you want people to know about the Continental Tarots, and why you are bringing this tradition back into the mainstream?


CPT: The Continental Tarots are the vessel that the first 500 years of Tarot mysticism was cultured in. We moderns are not unique in our projection of spiritual, psychological and emotional meanings onto the cards, far from it. As soon as the 78-card pack appeared in Europe, people began making correspondences to it and using it as a “philosophical machine”, in the tradition of the Llullian Wheels, astral charts, Geomantic oracles, and all the rest.


What is particularly striking about the Tarot of the Holy Light  is that it represents the spontaneous upwelling of authentic Christian gnosis that is devoted to the Divine Feminine (in the person envisioned as the Holy Spirit). In my opinion the Tarot as a whole is the testimony of the Religion of the World as practiced by the polymorphous-perverse Catholic and Protestant magi. These devoted scholars refused to let go of the Goddess whether She is envisioned as Anima, Mother of God, Sophia, Soror Mystica,  Divine Lady, Schekhihah, Matronit, or any other form or designation.  The Tarot of the Holy Light is just one attempt to vision forth this larger worldview. Hopefully, it will make the job easier for those who come after me to delve into the times and worldview with greater confidence.

To state this case systematically, I recently made a two-hour set of DVD’s with Linda Marson’s Global Spiritual Studies to talk about the emergence of the Goddess in the traditional Tarots. I wanted to research the body of ideas that produced icons like the Priestess, Empress, Strength, Temperance, the World and the Queens in the European psyche. The two lectures are:

a) the formative ground of western civilization before 1400 (the date of the first pack of cards with female figures found in Europe), and

b) the proliferation of magic imagery after 1400, showing the this older Goddess mysticism spilling into Tarot packs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time on the details of Boehme’s unique synthesis of Sophianic occult mysticism during those two presentations, since their goal is to address the larger context wherein Protestant Sophianics appeared. The whole remarkable story is shared in the book supporting The Tarot of the Holy Light.


BC: What final words do you have for our readers?


CPT:  There is one final thing I’d like folks to know. When I first discovered the Tarot, there were very few books around to explain it. There was so little on the art of divination that I used these instructions for years: “Ask a question while you are shuffling, throw out a few cards, and then make up a reason why these cards came up.”  Truthfully there’s actually more to work with on the faces of The Tarot of the Holy Light than there were in the first decks I learned from!

Therefore the cards and LWB that come with it are simple and don’t require that one purchase the book. One will see the standard numbers, suits and titles, plus Michael’s luminous and evocative illustrations. Each card is supplied with simple zodiacal references that explicate the  Cosmos of the pack (Zodiac, Planets and Elements) across the three populations — the Trumps, the Royals and the Pips.  This is a fine framework for a contemporary Tarot reader to work with in the divinatory style of our times. Also, people who have my first book The Underground Stream will have a head start to the deeper implications of these cards. Over time the user can incorporate the astrology,  plus bring their understanding of Number Theology, Kabbalah and Elemental Magic to bear.

Nevertheless, all of that can also be easily ignored, due to the fine iconic statements made through the images. Michael has done a masterful job  of conjuring a magical world full of energies, emotions, transformations and awakenings, which should offer the sensitive user plenty of fuel for their divinatory instincts. I’m not inclined to burden the world’s Tarot-card intuitives with a complicated constellation of esoteric considerations right out of the box! I hope people, find themselves attracted to the Tarot of the Holy Light for it’s beauty and usefulness in the context of a reading, because that’s the proof of the pack’s practical value right there.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper esoteric paradigm embedded in these cards, which allows the Tarot of the Holy Light to calculate and render remedies from the discipline of Spiritual Alchemy developed by Paracelsus and brought to a mystic peak by Jacob Boehme.  I have argued in other places that Tarot has been one of the tools that the Rosicrucians, Martinists and Masons have cultivated for centuries, long before Etteilla re-profiled it for the masses.  The research done for this pack of cards has brought this material up to the surface again, particularly while meditating on the art inspired by the writings of Jacob Boehme. This is a very big and deliciously esoteric subject, absolutely not suitable for treatment in a Little White Book! Therefore, the full discussion and explication of the theurgic astral-medicine paradigm that invisibly supports The Tarot of the Holy Light will be found in its accompanying book, which is soon to emerge.

Don’t get me wrong, I think everybody who enjoys this Tarot should also buy the book, hands down  That’s where you’ll find the full treatment of every card , which the regular user will benefit greatly from. Plus I unveil a little-known but incredibly influential Goddess-focused magical Christian theosophy that has come forward from the 1600’s. This rich complex of astral-alchemical archetypes has doubtless contributed to Tarot’s interior universe of meanings, at least within the Lodges of the 16- and 1700’s.  But, as they say, there’s more! (Smiley) Here’s a clue to tantalize your readers, Bonnie. There is a detail in the progression of the Pips from 1 to 10 that people who are astrologically and/or Kabalistically attuned will notice and wonder about. It will be invisible to many, but glaring to a certain group who will trip over it and wonder.  At the point a user of this Tarot stumbles upon this detail, when it starts to intrigue their mind and stir up questions, then it’s time to get the book if they haven’t already. That will be the point to investigate the Paracelcian Astral Remedies that are the secret powerhouse of this pack.

I want to thank both Christine and Michael for their time and effort in bringing us a better understanding of the Continental Tarot. I can’t wait to work with both the deck (which is gorgeous!) and the companion book!

Part I can be seen here –

Part II can be seen here –

Part III can be seen here –


© September 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

Interview With Christine Payne-Towler Part II

Welcome to Part II of my interview with Christine Payne-Towler.

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: Next up – what exactly is background of the Continental Tarot?

CPT: Continental Tarots are those which are made in the footprints of the oldest 78-card packs of Tarot cards. Virtually every Tarot deck made in the first 500 years of it’s history was a Continental deck — these are the decks from “the Continent”; Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Czekoslovakia and (later) Spain. They aren’t all alike by any means, but they have certain features that tie them together as a group. Over the first 500 years of their appearance, this group of packs tend to show only simple unadorned numbered pips like those of the Marseilles pack. (There’s an early exception to this rule, the Sola Busca, which the Waite pack imitated, evoking our contemporary appetite for full illustrations on every card.) The Continental packs distribute the alphabet along the Trump sequence in its natural order (from A=1=Magus to Tav=0=The Fool). Continental decks also present the Trumps in one of the three historical orderings that have been found by the researchers of playing card history. The simple rule of thumb here is that any pack in circulation before the Waite/Smith pack is 99% likely to demonstrate the Continental pattern.

I have made such a fuss about this ‘detail’ of Tarot history because the entire time I have been a reader, I have had to listen to fellow Tarot professionals saying absurd things like “The Chariot is Cancer” and “The Devil is Capricorn”, although such assertions defy the record of history completely. The very elemental alphabetic research I was able to do way back in the mid-1970’s made it clear that #7 goes with Gemini and #15 with Sagittarius, whether you have Tarot cards in the mix or not!

For example, early on I found William Wescott’s little book on numerology, which was published before he became invested in the OGD paradigm. From this I could see what the historical bedrock was; it wasn’t concealed if a person was ready to look around and read beyond the Tarot world. Half the books I could get my hands on during those early years taught the historical basis, while the other half offered this mixed-up hash with a lot of mumbo-jumbo laid over the top. By the time Crowley’s book fell into my hands, it was easy to see the ragged seams of their cut-and-paste job within the alphabet. Crowley’s desire to be systematic crossed wires with the need to keep the OGD’s little secret under wraps, so he included a chart that (to me) made the hack-job explicit. I thought “who’s buying into this nonsense?” and confined my studies to those packs that represent the linguistic facts of history. Invariably, those would be the Continental Tarots.

Over time it got through my thick skull that the Tarots propounding the error were more popular by far. Mary’s wonderful Women of the Golden Dawn made it clear that the OGD creators chose to aggressively obscure reality of history to invent a whole parallel reality that would justify their “creativity”. For a decade or longer, I thought this attraction to misinformation was a quirk of the uneducated English-speaking masses, lacking in curiosity about anything written in another language. But ultimately I learned that such a mystique and religious-type attachment has grown up around these 20th century English-style Tarots that it was worth my scalp to show up in public and point out the fallacy! Without the encouragement of Mary Greer at pivotal moments, I would not have had the courage to stand up and state my piece, much less endure the rain of tomatoes that followed. As one might guess, this was during the years when I could be found slugging it out at Tarot-L, defending my first book and my right to say “But the Emperors (Waite and Crowley) have no clothes!”

I would like to add a caveat at this point. The first deviation in the historical stream of Tarot was the Etteilla pack, which is the original referent for the phrase “The Book Of Thoth”. Etteilla’s pack made a huge visual deviation away from the normative Marseille packs that had preceded him. He reframed the mythos supporting the Trumps — from a Biblical base to a Hermetic base — so the Trumps were rearranged and re-imaged to tell a different story. For the first time, overt astrological symbols and Masonic titles appeared on the faces of the cards. Etteilla’s new approach recruited a huge number of users, becoming the most popular pack and style of reading, in demand at the Tarot salons across Europe. For nearly a century Etteilla’s packs caused traditionalists to despair that the older packs would simply disappear in the dust of history. Multiple bootleg copies were made for distribution outside of Europe.

It wasn’t until after Etteilla’s death that his Italian students brought out the pack currently called Cartomanzia Italiana, wherein Etteilla’s Trump disguises were peeled away and arranged in their Marseille-style alphabetic order again. I would infer from this little revelation that Etteilla’s Masonic and Martinist superiors weren’t comfortable with him sharing their Tarot esotericism nakedly in public. So Etteilla scrambled the Trumps and overwrote the correspondences, creating a whole second oracle on top of the seed-bed of the originals. At the Tarot parlors, people tended to read the cards “from their faces” anyway, and Etteilla’s cards helped that process along with cheat-words printed at either end. But Etteilla’s long-term students followed his lead into Kabbalah, astrology, and Pythagorean numerology, learning the larger body of teachings for which Tarot provides the perfect flash-cards. His packs also implied a full angelic and zodiacal catalogue, though the hints were somewhat sketchy on the faces of the Pips. It wasn’t until Papus wrote his summary of the Etteilla packs (The Divinatory Tarot, recently translated and republished by Aeon Books) that one could be entirely clear how the system was meant to be used. (Full disclosure here; I haven’t made the graph yet that would detail whether Papus edited Etteilla in this book or not. There’s a research project right there — tabulating the AAN of various editions and revisions of this tripartite lineage in chronological order.)

Etteilla’s era of influence is what the English Tarot apologists were referring to when they said “the older Tarots are full of blinds and snares, necessitating that we correct the correspondences”. This stance is a bit fallacious, however, because the deck now called Cartomanzia Italiana (see S. Kaplans Encyclopedia Vol 1, p. 143) first emerged in the 1800’s and put Etteilla’s visual ideas back in Marseilles order again. Etteilla’s AAN correspondences match exactly the esoteric stream coming out of the Masons and Martintists (see Etteilla column on Kaplan’s graph P. 4 of same). Etteilla’s students included Julia Orsini, D’Odoucet, Mme. Lenormand, the makers of the Cartomanzia Italiana, Magus Edmond (maker of the Grand Tarot Belline) Paul Christian, Eliphas Levi, Papus, Wirth, and others. This group of intelligent, literate and prolific individuals had the entire century of the 1800’s to re-attach the traditional correspondences to the cards in their aboriginal order, or to contest the system outright. (A few took it upon themselves to tweak Etteilla’s correspondences a little for Kabbalistic reasons — hence the two other variants in the Continental family.) To judge from the stream of Tarot writings we can collect from the 1800’s and early 1900’s, these correlations were publicly available, having been transmitted in coherent and correct order by multiple books and packs across the latter half of the 19th and the first third of the 20th century. In other words, there really wasn’t very much of a “mess” from Etteilla’s camouflage operation left to clean up.

Meanwhile, nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, justifies the explicit act of war perpetrated on Levi when the OGD boys posthumously translated his works! This was simply wicked literary evil, an attack on the fabric of history, and an unprovoked attack upon their future students as well. Unfathomable! If I were Dante I would immortalize them at the very bottom rung of Hell, as turncoats within the esoteric paradigm.

This leave us with a mystery. Why did Waite spend his professional career defending a plagiarized and broken system when he absolutely knew better? I just don’t get it! Now that there are whole wings of academic study devoted to the topic of Western Esotericism, the historians have to avoid Waite and all of his cronies because so much of their distortions and misdirection have proved factually unreliable. It’s more trouble then it’s worth for a historian to separate the facts from the fictions that were spun to support their Tarot deck. Why was Waite willing to corrupt his lifetime literary catalogue over this? Did he think that nobody would ever notice?

In fairness, Jung added to the problem. He was a student of the Renaissance as well; it was one of several great intellectual passions of his, from which he borrowed vocabulary when it suited his purposes. (The concept of Archetype, for example, had a whole prior history and meaning before Jung found and repurposed it). Jung was not an astrologer, which means that he was not equipped to fathom all of the technical jargon of the astrologer’s kit and kabootle. I believe this limitation must have frustrated him and made him cranky. Both Jung and Waite pulled long faces and said to the academic world “Oh no, don’t go back there, it’s a jungle of irrational and impenetrable correspondences that nobody can make sense of anymore. Pure claptrap, fabulation and superstition mixed together. Just let me lay it out for you in simplified, homogenized form and you’ll know everything you need to get by.” These guys were academics, respected authorities in their fields, so who would feel confident enough to doubt them? Thus several generations of Tarot students have sincerely and trustingly believed their teachers and left the details to the experts.

It’s been a long goose-chase to get Tarot rescued from the briar-patch that it was consigned to after those twin Sphinxes ran the biblical and esoteric Chariot off its traditional road. But finally I think we are rounding the bend and rediscovering the true Tarot again. Hopefully the research done while making The Tarot of the Holy Light will help make the historical issues a little bit clearer, while also providing a fresh inspiration for people who would like to see some new Continental Tarots appear.

Part I can be seen here –

Stay tuned for Part III – the influences behind the Continental decks.

© August 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

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

Tetractys and the Suit of Pentacles

In a previous post ( I introduced the Pythagorean concept of the Tetractys – a triangle consisting of the numbers one through ten (ten being the most significant number). In this post I am going to look at the concept of the Tetractys as applied to the Pips (numbered cards) in the Tarot. We are going to look at each suit separately, starting with Wands.

Following is a schematic of the Tetractys. A good visual aid would be to take out your deck of choice, and place the cards from the suit of Pentacles in this format:

3      2
6     5     4
10      9      8      7

Following the pattern of the numbers will create a facsimile of the lightning bolt path that we see on the Tree of Life. Something else that we need to remember is that the number ten (1+2+3+4) is considered by Pythagoreans to be a pure number. The Tetractys triangle itself represents creation … form coming into being. Each of the four suits represents another world coming into creation.

With the suit of Pentacles, we are looking at the Qabalistic world of Assiah, the Manifest world. The first row, number One, represents the Monad. The second row, numbers Two and Three, represent the Dyad, or essential principles. The third row, numbers Four, Five and Six, represent the Triad, or spiritual forces. The bottom row, the Tetrad, represents the material world.

The suit of Pentacles represents the world of Assiah (manifestation), and the element of Earth. Through Earth, and its connection with the physical world, we enter the world of manifestation. Here the Seeker manifests their literal physical health, as well as that “safe place” that consists of their home environment, along with financial stability. Here is where the Seeker experiences prosperity in a physical and material sense. The number One in the suit of Pentacles acts as the potential, or the seed, for the Seeker using their inherent skills and talents to manifest a supportive environment for themselves and those that are close to them.

Numbers Two and Three represent the Dyad, or opposing forces. For the suit of Pentacles, the number Two indicates a need for patience, as all the facts are not in, so a decision cannot yet be made. Time is on the Seeker’s side – they do not have to make an immediate decision. The number Three in the suit of Pentacles is considered the card of the Master Craftsman. It is the manifestation of great thought into the physical world.

In the suit of Pentacles, the number Four represents the need for deliberate thinking and action, the ability to assess risk, and the need for the Seeker to not allow the comforts that they have worked so hard for to lull them into a false sense of security.

The Five’s are always a little chaotic. The Five of Pentacles brings with it a sense of loss … loss that was brought to the Seeker through their own actions. The loss here can be on a spiritual, as well as a physical/material level. The Seeker needs to bring a balance to their outer physical/material world and their inner spiritual world.

The Six’s are all about the Seeker’s own personal truth, and their own personal version (and vision) of success. Six’s are celebration and victory. The Six of Pentacles represents balance, fairness, and equilibrium, especially in regard to finances. There is an indication that the Seeker is headed into a cycle that represents generosity and things of a positive nature.

The final row – numbers Seven through Ten – represents the material world, and the four elements (from right to left – Fire, Air, Water and Earth). The Seven of Pentacles shares it’s place with the element of Fire. The Seeker has a passion for nurturing the seeds that he/she has sown in their life. It is a time to pause, reflect, and evaluate.

The number Eight share’s its place with the element of Air. The nature of the number Eight is all about change, and keeping up with change. Change in the physical world, the world of formation, is brought about by the Seeker making best use of their skills and abilities. This is indeed a time of intense focus, and intense work. The Seeker needs to be clear on what they are trying to accomplish, as working just to be working sends the Seeker down a rabbit hole of their own making.

The number Nine shares its place with the element of Water. One cycle is coming to an end, and another is about to begin. There is a sense of security in the life of the Seeker because of their efforts, their hard work, and the result of that hard work.

The number Ten shares its place with the element of Earth. Ten’s talk about endings and new beginnings, but they also talk about putting all of the energy, focus and will power that you have into your project. The Ten of Pentacles represents a time of prosperity and happiness, of celebration and sharing with family/community.


This is not meant to be the final word on the Tetractys and the Pips. It is actually a mere whisper, as seen through my eyes. Place your cards in the pyramid shape of the Tetractys. Move your hand over the lightning path, and see what feelings/knowing come to you. Treat the numbers as rows, instead of a straight line. See how they work together, instead of focusing on individual meanings.

It’s all good!

Here are a couple of links that will allow you to use the Tetractys as an actual Tarot spread: Aeclectic Tarot Forum (,

© August 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

Tarot News For July

The first news that I have is the release of my new book – “Tarot, Birth Cards and You”, due out from Schiffer Books on August 11th. I am blogging on birth card pair a month, and have also created a little Animoto video for each pair. They can be seen on You Tube – my account there is crystalgate1.

On August 27th I will be doing a webinar with Mary Nale on my book, and how to best use it. When we have the time set, I will let you all know. On August 28th I will be doing an Internet radio show with Dax Carlisle, Mark Reed, and Mary Nale of the Tarot Guild. We will be discussing my book, what it represents and how it can be used as a tool of empowerment for our clients, as well as for ourselves. The time for this show is 10 am. On September I will be doing a webinar with Linda Marson of Global Spiritual Studies. I will be sharing the information on t his webinar as soon as it is posted.

Christine Payne Towler has two excellent webinars up on Linda Marson’s Global Spiritual Studies site – The first of a two part series, “The Cathedral of Tarot” is completed and may be purchased on the site. The second part of this series, “The Coming of the Goddess To Tarot” is scheduled for Tuesday, August 9th. Christine is an incredible presenter, and Linda is highly professional in everything that she does. Please don’t miss out on this incomparable work!

Available for purchase as online audio’s, or in DVD format are Evelynne Joffe’s webinar on the Devil, Linda Marson’s webinar on Storytelling, Mary Greer’s webinar on An Analysis of the Role of Cartomancers through Western Art, and Rachel Pollack’s webinar on Major Arcana Only Readings.  Coming up from Linda Marson in the near future is a webinar from Mary Greer on her revision of “Tarot Constellations”, entitled “Who Are You In the Tarot?: Discover Your Birth and Year Cards, and Uncover Your Destiny”.

We have the incredible ATS conference coming up in Ste Suzanne, Mayenne, France, in association with Roxanne Flornoy. Presenters include Jean-Michel David, Christine Payne-Towler, Robert Mealing, Marcus Katz, Joep van Loon, Yoav Ben-Dov, Russell Sturgess, Fern Mercier, Enrique Enriquez, Dan Pelletier, Major Tom Schick, Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov, Mafalda Serrano, and Lyn Olds. Christine will be launching “Tarot of the Holy Light”, a deck/companion book project done in conjunction with her partner, Michael Dowers. Major news here, as this deck follows the Continental Tarot template!

Last, but not least, is a little book that I just read, thanks to one of Buddy’s wonderful sales on Discount New Age Books . It is a lovely little book entitled “Hand of Fate”, by Dotti Enderle. Very gentle reading, meant for young girls. A nice entry into the world of psychic intuition. This book is part of a series (The Fortune Teller’s Club) – one that I highly recommend, if they are as good as this one is! Great “little” presents, or a nice “just because” gift.

Wishing you all a wonderful summer!

(c) August 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

A Few Notes On The Minor Arcana

When we think of the Minor Arcana, we think of the 40 pips (numbered cards) and the sixteen Court cards. We might think along the lines of Marseilles (icons only, no imagery) versus non-Marseilles (those decks that show imagery in the Minor Arcana). Our minds might, momentarily, wander over to the four suits, their differing names from deck to deck, and the elemental association of Fire with Wands and Air with Swords, and how in some decks this association is reversed. Our minds just don’t stay for too long with the Minor Arcana.

There are many different decks out there, representing many different schools of thought. What they have in common are: (1) they have four suits, with Elemental associations, (2) each suit has ten numbered cards (Ace through Ten), and (3) each suit has (traditionally) four Court cards, titled Page, Knight, Queen and King (or some similar titles), or a variation with Princess, Prince, Queen and Knight (the “Thoth Tarot”). Additional cards have been added to some decks, but this is the foundation for the traditional Minor Arcana.

Something that we often only pay passing attention to is the importance of the numbers themselves. The play an important part in bringing “order” to the foundation and geometry of the Minor Arcana, and its ability to drive the “story” of a reading or meditation. In her “Essay On The Minor Arcana”, Christine Payne-Towler talks about Pythagoras, a sixth century BC teacher and prophet. There are some very interesting concepts here, about each number having a specific vibration, and specific properties. From here Pythagoras developed the harmonic theory, which is expressed through music, but which he also applied to the relationship amongst the stars, and at the atomic level.

Pythagoras used numbers to drive his philosophy. Whole numbers, in his world-view, embraced and illustrated the Great Laws of Nature. In both the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana, we are dealing with numbers, numbers which act as the foundation for the card being examined, not to be viewed as a system (numerology) that was super-imposed on the Tarot. The geometric figure that Pythagoras used to express his philosophy was the Tetractys, a pyramid a ten discs, with each disc bearing the geometric figure of a whole number.

Every numbered card in the Tarot takes on the sacred geometry of the number that rules it. Aces represent a whole, and opportunity. Two’s represent duality, while Three’s act to balance and bring together the the properties of each element. Four’s form a foundation, while Five’s act to challenge each individual. Six’s can be seen as two three’s working together, and move the individual forward. Seven’s represent the spiritual triangle in the physical square. Eight’s can be seen as two connected squares, while Nine’s become the “perfect number”, in the form of three triangles. Ten’s act to continue the cycle, as they move into the Ace of the next element.

In future blogs I am going to be taking a look at the sequence of numbers as they play out in each of the suits – how the structure of the number blends with the essence of the Element to make the Tarot what it is. What are your thoughts on numbers as related to Tarot? Do you consider them significant to your readings? Do you see them in an individual format, or as part of a process, with each number holding its own position and responsibility?


Christine Payne-Towler: Essay On The Minor Arcana

(c) June 2011 Bonnie Cehovet




Christine Payne-Towler Book Recommendations Part 3

I am still happily cruising through Christine’s book recommendations, and drooling a bit! Horrendously long wish list now … and growing! Here are a few books to think about:

Christopher I. Lehrich, “The Occult Mind: Magic In Theory and Practice”. Positing magic as a mode of theory that definitely thumbs its nose at common conceptions of reason and truth.

David Williams, “Financial Astrology”. Certainly a key reference book for these changing times!

Elizabeth M. Butler. “Ritual Magic” (Magic In History Series). A classic, first published in 1949, this book addresses our ability to control the spirit world through ritual.

Gyorgy E. Szonyi. “John Dee’s Occultism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). A highly regarded work on John Dee and his thoughts on exaltation.

Note: All of Christine’s book recommendations can be seen here:

(c) May 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

Christine Payne-Towler – Book Recommendations Part 2

I am happily ensconced on Christine Payne Towler’s site, I could stay there for hours, looking at her book and deck recommendations, reading (and many times rereading) articles, essays and Arkletters. Today I want to bring Christine’s own book into the spotlight, as well as two other highly valuable reference books. I love building a personal library, and it helps to get recommendations from someone of Christine’s caliber.

The first book that caught my eye was Carl Jung’s “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle”. This is an extract from Volume 8, a parapsychological study of the meaningful coincidence of events, extrasensory perception, and similar phenomenon. While not directly related to Tarot, it certainly has an application in how the Tarot is perceived by the reader as well as the Seeker. Not bad reading if you want to take Tarot to a deeper level.

The next book that caught my eye was Caitlin Matthews’ “Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom: The Divine Feminine From Black Goddess To World Soul”. Here the journey moves from pre-Christian spirituality to present day, seeking out the presence of the Goddess, the divine feminine power of wisdom. Throughout history, the Goddess and Goddess wisdom has been shunted aside – buried, if you will. In current times, focus is returning to the divine feminine in all of us.As readers, we use the Tarot as a tool of empowerment in readings, ritual, visualization and journey work. It is there to help us access our feminine wisdom and put it to work in our lives.

The third book, and one that I highly recommend, is Christine Payne-Towler’s “The Underground Stream: Esoteric Tarot Revealed”. This book makes you think, an I am quite enamored of it. Even if you don’t agree with everything Christine has to say, it makes you think about why things are the way they are in the Tarot world, and the world of esotericism. She discusses ancient knowledge, evolving magical traditions, weaving them together to illuminate the blind spots that hold us back from understanding the origins of the Tarot. She combines ancient astrology, Hebrew Kaballah, Alexandrian Hermeticism, Renaissance Magism and a history of the European Secret Societies to show the esoteric structure at the foundation of Tarot. Blatant self-promotion – my review can be seen here –

© April 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

Back In time, With Christine Payne-Towler

I love a good blog,  and one of my favorite Tarot people – Christine Payne-Towler – has a blog that I truly admire. On Tarot University Arkletters she gifts us with an absolute ton of in-depth information, which is nicely defined, and easily accessible. Not too long ago Christine was doing what she called a “World Servers Spread”. I thought that it would be interesting to go back to April of 2010 and see what Christine had to say.

<Que “Star Wars” music>

April, 2010: Christine is musing about how the events of the past few months have been making a difference to her focus and goals for the year 2010. Her partner Michael is going great guns on his WIP – the new, Continental style deck that will accompany her WIP – a book on the Continental Tarot. Stunning synchronicity on how their differing talents come together in a major project like this!

She talks about pattern recognition, and “wearing the hats” of the various archetypes to bring her work together. I love the thought that she expresses about studying the Mysteries from “within” the Mysteries, as opposed to being on the outside looking in. She also talks about why Tarot became the epicenter of her focus. I think this section of the article alone is worth its weight in gold! How many of us work within multiple modalities, and find ourselves having to defend this practice. A look into Christine’s life helps to give clear focus to our own lives.

Another really cool section is on how esoteric values “gravitated” onto the cards. You would swear that you were sitting at the kitchen table having coffee and conversation when you read this article! Bits and pieces of things t hat you have read in books, or heard expressed in online forums, suddenly begin to come together and make a very clear picture.

I hope that I have given you enough information here to pique your interest, and head you over to Christine’s blog! Enjoy!

Read Christine’s own words here: World Tarot Servers Spread.

(c) April 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

Christine Payne-Towler New Moon Tarotlogy January 2011

Some of you out there HAVE to be rolling your eyes and thinking to yourselves “Ummmm Bonnie … This is April, not January! You did, however, get the year right. All is not lost.” You are paying attention! Good! We are entering the second quarter of 2011 … what I see in my life, and the life of my clients, is that major changes are happening, and life is moving faster and faster. We have to know what we want to leave behind, what we want to bring in, and what the environment that we are doing all of this in has to offer. This is why I am reintroducing the link to Christine Payne-Towlers January New Moon 2011 article.

Christine talks about January’s partial solar eclipse in Capricorn, and other astrological positions. She uses the Continental model as a reference for her work, which in these articles is to provide commentary from the Tarot on current astrological positions. Here is Christine’s summation – I hope that it encourages you to read the entire article!


As a whole, this group of cards seems to be quite coherent, in the sense that all signs point to exercising the instinctive native genius instead of repeating pre-programmed reflexes entrained through acculturation. The Venus card suggests that you let yourself steer away from things that feel malevolent to you. The Jupiter card reminds that there is no need to hurry; natural momentum is your ally at the moment. The Mercury card assures that we each have everything we need to go forward with confidence.  The Saturn card suggests that we lend aid to those who find themselves falling short in these difficult times.  Finally, the Mars card implies that its time to engage the community in a problem-solving expedition that can backstop tried-and-true approaches with fresh viewpoints and new tools.  In composite, it seems that this Capricorn NewMoon is offering us a chance to come to a new focus, defend our boundaries, go with what’s working but also be quick to change when better ideas come along. This is perfect advice for the New Year, so I’ll leave it here in trust that my readers know just where these ideas are meant to be applied.”

The article can be seen here – Touching base with this article will help you clarify where you are, where you are going, and what you will be facing inhte coming year.

(c) April 2011 Bonnie Cehovet