Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Linda Falorio's "Shadow Tarot" and some Reflections on the Nature of the Tarot Itself

Linda Falorio took a difficult task upon her shoulders when she decided to attempt to create a Qliphothic Tarot deck, the Shadow Tarot. I have had the deck for a few weeks now and would like to share some thoughts about it along with some general reflections on the nature of the Tarot. Let me start my reflections by stating what I take to be the near unassailable challenge this task faced. Falorio's Tarot drew its original inspiration from the Qliphothic correspondences of the 22 paths of the Tree of Life as derived from Aleister Crowley's Liber CCXXXI and further investigated in Kenneth Grant's The Nightside of Eden. In other words, it started from a clearly defined system for presenting the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the most famous 22 cards frequently understood to correspond to the 22 paths of the Tree of Life and 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It was this portion of the Shadow Tarot which has been floating around the internet for years. The challenge is figuring out how, having started with a clear Major Arcana, was the deck to present the Minor Archana - the 56 cards from which our standard 52 card deck is derived? For this purpose Falorio drew on two sources, stars of Qliphothic importance and the spirits of the Lesser Key of Solomon or Goetia. I believe this to be, for various reasons I will explain, an inadequate solution to a very difficult problem.

The Structure of a Tarot Deck

Let me first say that the Tarot is a very complex subject and there are numerous ways to understand and structure it. I am not seeking, in this piece, to wade into these debates and assert the "right" way to understand the Tarot. The most common occult interpretation, at least since the work of Eliphas Levi and later the Golden Dawn, is one based on Qabalah. I actually suspect that the Qabalistic understanding of Tarot is not the oldest and most historically authentic, though I cannot adequately back up this claim with anything other than a hunch at this time, but this historical question will be irrelevant for our discussion. By basing her Tarot on the 22 Tunnels of Set, the Qliphothic version of the paths of the Tree of Life, Falorio has thrown in her lot with the Qabalistic interpretation and so we shall work from this understanding of the Tarot as our foundation.

The Tarot, then, has two basic divisions with a few subdivisions along the way worth considering. The main division, already mentioned, is that between the 22 cards of the Major Arcana and the 56 cards of the Minor Arcana. The 22 cards are traditionally (within the circles of ceremonial magic at least) considered to correspond to the 22 paths of the Tree of Life and the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. Ultimately the Major Arcana represents the highest symbolic levels, i.e. cosmic processes and the full cycle of life. Major life events and turning points are generally represented by the Major Arcana in a reading. The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, represent more nuanced and complex but also commonplace everyday phenomenon. While the Major Arcana is Cosmic the Minor Arcana is Elemental. Thus all Minor Arcana cards can be attributed to one of the four traditional elements: earth, air, fire and water. 

Within the Minor Arcana we encounter the subdivisions I had mentioned. The Minor Arcana can be divided into four suits made up of 16 royal cards (like the King, Queen and Jack of our traditional playing cards but including a fourth member) and 40 numbered cards (four Aces and four sets of the numbers 2-10). 

The 16 royal cards have, then, elemental attributes but also are frequently considered to have zodiacal attributes as well along with frequently having one of the four letters of the Hebrew name of God, the Tetragrammaton, attributed to them as well. So, for example, the Queen of Disks might be understood as the force of Earth (Disks), the first Hebrew letter Heh of the Tetragrammaton, and various zodiacal attributes - The Golden Dawn system and Crowley, for example, divide the signs of the Zodiac into their constituent Decans (three divisions of ten degrees each of the thirty degrees that make up each sign of the Zodiac) and then attributes the last Decan of one sign and the first two of the next to each royal card except the Princesses who are purely elemental and devoid of zodiacal attribute or understood to rule the four regions of the heavens located about the North Pole and outside the specific divisions of the circle of the Zodiac. Since each of the letters of the Tetragrammaton also has an elemental attribute this allows us to say that the Queen of Disks represents the Watery (from the letter Heh) part of Earth (from Disks) and then work out the further details of what this means in terms of the last decan of Sagitarius and the first two decans of Capricorn. This system is clearly pretty complicated but it allows us, as Crowley asserts, to understand each royal card as representing a distinct personality type until all possible personality types are encompassed. 

If both the royal and numbered cards fall within a specific element as represented by the suits what makes the royal cards distinct is their attribution to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton while the numbered cards are distinct in being attributed to the numbers 1-10. From a Qabalistic viewpoint the importance of this should be clear, the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana represent aspects of the 10 Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The Aces will represent the pure spiritual nature of the element in the Sephiroth of Kether and then each of the other numbers will represent the nature of the element as influenced by one of the lower Sephiroth. The Aces are free of Zodiac characteristics while the 36 decans are each attributed to one of the numbered cards from 2-10. To add a further complication, the decans each have a planetary correspondence on top of their zodiacal meaning. Thus, the 3 of Disks will represent the element of Earth as influenced by the Sephiroth of Binah and the second Decan of Capricorn corresponding as well to Mars. So, to over simplify, the 3 of Disks = Earth + Binah + Capricorn + Mars. 

So, to recap the key elements we might say that Qabalistically the Tarot breaks down into: The 22 Paths (Major Arcana), the Tetragrammaton (Royal Minor Arcana), and the Sephiroth (Numbered Minor Arcana). 

The Structure of the Shadow Tarot

Falorio's Shadow Tarot breaks the three elements above into the following forms: The Major Arcana (The 22 Tunnels of Set, i.e. the Qliphotic paths of the Tree of Life), the Royal Minor Arcana (what Falorio calls the 15 fixed starts of the Ancients plus the planet Nibiru/Ishtar), the Numbered Minor Arcana (40 Goetic spirits selected from the 72 spirits in the Lesser Key of Solomon). The suits, in turn, are reworked as Starfish (for Swords), Skulls (for Disks), Masks (for Wands) and Shells (for Cups). The Royal cards are termed the Priest, Oracle, Pythoness and Watcher.

The Problem of the Minor Arcana

Working from the original inspiration of a Major Arcana based on the Qliphothic Tunnels of Set the structure of the Minor Arcana becomes the main problem. I haven't, honestly, the slightest idea how to address based on this the Royal Minor Arcana. What Qliphothic structure could match the Tetragrammaton's role in standard decks? Having no answer for this question I am willing enough to accept Falorio's use of various stars though I have my doubts that the stars chosen can capture or accurately reflect the elemental, Zodiacal and Decan correspondences of the standard methods.  

On the topic of the Numbered Minor Arcana, on the other hand, the answer to the problem seems clear if incomplete. The Numbered Minor Arcana must represent the Sephiroth where the Major Arcana represent the Paths/Tunnels. Here Falorio would have material to work with, for the Sephiroth received Qliphothic correspondences before the paths ever did - in other words the Qliphoth of the Sephiroth are most traditionally what are meant by the Qliphoth and the tunnels are a later, if very useful and interesting, advancement. So, if I am wondering what the four 5s should represent in a Qliphothic text the obvious answer is that they should represent the Qliphah of Golachab (i.e. the Nightside version of the Sephiroth of Geburah) which is also attributed to the demon Astaroth (who also happens to appear in The Lesser Key of Solomon as a goetic spirit). Working this out so that we get four 5s with at least some of the appropriate elemental and zodiacal attributes will be a tricky business (perhaps one that Falorio attempted and failed at, for which I certainly can not blame her). But this would be, at the very least, consistent and from my view is the "right" way to solve the problem for a Qliphothic deck. It isn't what Falorio has done. 

Were one to refuse the course of action suggested above the other option, if the interest in using Goetic spirits was insisted upon, would be to match the "traditional" attributes of the Goetic spirits to the necessary attributes of a given card. I place "traditional" in scare quotes here because this is heavily contested ground. You can take the Astaroth of the Lesser Key of Solomon and find both Qabalistic and Zodiacal attributes for this spirit, but you will never find universal agreement about these attributes. However, the fact that the Lesser Key offers us 72 spirits and Qabalah offers us a 72-fold name of God from which 72 angels can be derived and, further, that these 72 angels can be applied to the 36 Decans of the Zodiac so that each Decan gets two angels and two goetic spirits/demons provides a nice basis from which to work (ignoring, of course, that scholars such as Jake Stratton-Kent have demonstrated pretty convincingly that the original texts from which the Lesser Key is derived offered more than 72 spirits such that the overlap of the 72-fold name and the Lesser Key is likely accidental or artificial). Falorio has also not done this either.

Examples of Mismatch

Allow me to offer you a few demonstrations of the disconnect between Falorio's deck and what one might expect from a deck modeled on either of the two above methods. Using the first method (based on the traditional Qliphoth of the Sephiroth) one would expect the Goetic spirit Astaroth to show up as one of the 5s since the 5s correspond to Geburah and Astaroth traditionally is attributed to the Nightside version of Geburah, Golachab. I am not sure what element/suit it should occupy. Instead what we find is that Astaroth shows up as a 6 (the 6 of Starfish attributed as well to Aquarius, i.e. the 6 of Swords). 

Alternatively, working from the traditional attributes of the goetic spirits to the attributes of the Tarot cards let's see what we can do. Take the goetic spirit Vepar. It is traditionally attributed to the third Decan of Taurus (for example, by Crowley). This would make Vepar the 7 of Disks (i.e. 7 of Skulls). Instead Vepar shows up as the 5 of Shells (i.e. Cups) and is attributed to Virgo. If we try to hunt down the Virgo association of Vepar we might stumble upon the attributes for this spirit derived from the Aurum Solis which does attribute Vepar to Virgo, but to the Third Decan not the First (making Vepar the 7 of Cups rather than the 5). 

Let's look back to the example we used in our origin discussion of the structure of Tarot in general. The 3 of Disks = Earth + Binah + Capricorn + Mars. Basically, what I have been saying is that our "shadow" version of the 3 of Disks can go with either the Earth/Binah correspondence and try to build off the Qliphoth of Binah (Sathariel). The likely only way to build up a Minor Arcana from this would be to disregard the Goetia and instead use traditional spirits of the Qliphothic Sephiroth most of which don't appear in the Lesser Key of Solomon. Or we can go with the Capricorn/Mars element and build off the zodiacal/decan attributes of the goetic spirits. So we would ask what the Goetic spirit of the second Decan of Capricorn would be. One traditional answer is Astaroth  or Andrealphus (according to Crowley) or Botis or Camio (according to the Aurum Solis). Falorio offers, instead, Orobas as the 3 of Disks/Skulls. Orobas would traditionally be the first Decan of Libra (Crowley) or the first Decan of Aquarius (Aurum Solis).  

I should reiterate that I am not committed to any of these "traditional" attributions and have come, in fact, to suspect them of being artificial. Nor am I at all opposed to Falorio working out her own attributes for the goetic spirits. But we should be clear that Falorio's attributes for the goetic spirits is largely her own while other sources were available and the question of which of the 72 spirits to use (since there aren't cards enough for all of them) also seems to pose a question to which there is the risk of finding no non-arbitrary answer. Ultimately, however, I wouldn't object to most of this aside from a deeper concern I have with the blending of Goetic and Qliphothic spirits that occurs in Falorio's deck. As I said, in my view the "right" solution is to disregard the Goetia entirely and work from the various entities and energies traditionally attributed to the Qliphoth of the ten Sephiroth.

Qliphoth versus Goetia       

Having worked with both Qliphothic and Goetic energies I am firmly of the opinion that they are distinctly different in both practical and metaphysical senses despite numerous overlapping of names (for example that of Astaroth). Even where names overlap, in other words, we are not talking about the same entity or energy. The same would go for pagan gods and goddessses attributed to the Qliphoth. The Hecate of the Qliphoth is not the Hecate of paganism.

I've talked a lot about the Qliphoth previously and my experience of them corresponds roughly with the "negative universe" model offered by Kenneth Grant. On the other hand Goetic spirits seem firmly this-wordly. In fact that are frequently earthy and/or necromantic rather than representing the inverse anti-reality or mirror universe of the Qliphoth. Where the goetic spirits are closely related to (and at times perhaps even able to be identified with) pagan gods, the Qliphoth are all but post-modern in their paradoxical existence as non-existence. At the base level the Qliphoth are Qabalistic while the Goetia is, ultimately, not. To those wishing to really understand the Goetia I can not recommend highly enough Jake Stratton-Kent's Encyclopedia Goetica which argues, convincingly, that Goetia is not demonic and monotheistic but rather pagan. Oddly enough a Tarot based on the Goetia could work well by drawing on the non-Qabalistic pre-history of the Tarot. Similarly, a Qliphothic deck could work by drawing exclusively on Qabalistic sources, though not Goetic ones. It is for this reason that the Major and Minor Arcana's of Falorio's deck do not hang together. In fact, there is a clear feeling (at least to me) that they rather discordantly clash. This is not a cohesive representation of reality, or anti-reality, but rather a patchwork mixing of both. I can't help but feel that it leaves Qliphothic and Goetic Spirits alike uncomfortable and displaced.   

All that being said, I must stress that the idea behind the deck was exceptionally ambitious to begin with and it is not at all surprising that its execution should be fraught with perhaps insurmountable difficulties. I am sure, nonetheless, that the deck can and will give rise to interesting and powerful results and I am happy to own a set. If you are interested it can be purchased here.


  1. Awesome! I am gratified that the Shadow Tarot has stimulated you to such in-depth thought and consideration of the subject at hand. Yes, there are definite reasons that I used the Goetic demons for the minors, while relying on Liber 231 for the majors. Perhaps some of my reasoning may be understood by reading the Shadow Tarot: Dancing With Demons with the idea that I was inspired by and seek to access and to contact more ancient and stellar systems than those you rely upon in your discussion. Included in the book please see "the Goetia Rose" in which is demonstrated how all 72 "demons" are used in the formation of the Minor Arcana - you can find the book here:
    I would like to emphasize that the attributions are my own, hard won through many magickal workings. My approach is based upon magickal workings with an intellectual underpinning, rather than from a purely intellectual and scholarly analysis, or by simply following the attributions of others - even those of Crowley!
    Thank you for your good work! Wishing you all the best, 93, 93/93 Linda

  2. "The Hecate of the Qliphoth is not the Hecate of paganism." This quotation from your review of _The Shadow Tarot_ lends me to believe you very nearly were pointed in the direction our work led our own understanding and use of terms like "Goetia." My own role over the 55 months of working was quite intentionally, with consequent effort non-rational or non-analytic. Let's just say I did not read old tomes for guidance but instead achieved intellectual passively while quite actively and directly doing the "physical" work. I say fairly that nothing of the "nightside" or "back-side" of the Tree will be encountered by any voyager you know. You won't be there to give greetings anyway. Everything about the experience was a surprise! The plan to begin with and what actually happened; the style of the images; the order of their appearance or call; coincident events. If you are there to make the metaphors in your review, couched as observations, then I don't think you are there in the first place. By all means make a "nightside" deck! There's nothing like it. And, you can arrange numbers and terms as it suits you and history. We used what we could of what we found, and shared it honestly as we willed. I enjoyed your general review of the Tarot and your thoughts on all of this. There is no once and done here I don't believe. Keep up the great work. Hide the secrets, reveal them constantly. Best wishes. xo