How to Use a Magic Word as a Tarot Spread Template
(from our guest post at Thematic Tarot)
The great alchemist John Dee designed a protective magical talisman under the direction of the angel Uriel: crossed lines, a central circle, and the letters A, G, L, and A. These letters constitute an acronym (also known as a kabbalistic "notariqon") of the unspeakable primordial name that was lost through the ages. It's a well-kept secret that this talisman can serve as a revealing template for a four-card Tarot spread.
The Hebraic words of the acronym are understood to be: Atah Gebur Le-olahm Adonai. This sentence is translated many ways, but you'll see the underlying similarities:
- "You reign for eternity, O Lord."
- "Thou art mighty forever, O Lord."
- "Thou art strong to eternity, Lord."
- "Thou art mighty to the ages, amen."
- "Thou art great forever, my Lord."
- "Thine is the power throughout endless ages, O Lord."
(Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, Christians in Germany used AGLA as a talisman against fire, the letters standing as an acronym for a German sentence meaning, "Almighty God, extinguish the conflagration," as noted in The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion by Adele Berlin.)
We'll explore three approaches to AGLA for purposes of Tarot spreads. The simplest is based upon this interpretation of the Hebraic words:
"You are strong through the ages, so be it."
The card placed upon "You" is, of course, the significator. The card placed upon "Are Strong" refers to the querent's greatest strength. The card placed upon "Through the Ages" refers to an ongoing issue that seems woven into the entire course of one's lifetime. The card placed upon "So Be It" refers to a truth or certainty that one need not waste energy upon resisting.
Here's how such a reading might go. Drawing cards from the Tarot of Portmeirion, we place the King of Wands on A, "You"; the Ace of Swords on G, "Are Strong"; the Empress on L, "Through the Ages"; and the High Priestess on A, "So Be It." As the significator, the King of Wands depicts a golden Burmese statue of a dancer high atop a stone column, communicating artistic flair and confidently setting a glowing example far and wide. As the symbol of strength, the Ace of Swords depicts a sea-beaten shaft of iron that has survived the cliffside structure it once supported, symbolizing a steadfast spirit undaunted by adversity. As a symbol of the ages, the Empress depicts a statue of the Nordic all-mother Goddess Frigga (labeled "Frix" on the plinth). Wielding a broken crossbow in her left hand and the hilt of a sword in the other, the Empress stands assuredly atop a limestone pedestal, head turned toward her right. She is framed by greenery and overlooks a small fountain -- a popular wishing well -- establishing her as a heeder of prayers and granter of desires. Her broken sword (presumably ruined over time) is of interest, as it symbolizes a firm grip on intention, free from lacerations. Within the context of this spread, we can interpret the Ace of Swords as depicting the Empress' lost blade. The "So Be It" High Priestess is a trompe l’oeil mermaid "sculpture" painted on sheet metal. She sports two tails, symbolizing duality. They curl up to suggest, along with her curved arms, a figure-eight/infinity shape. The infinity shape is echoed in the dramatic curls of her hair. Eyes closed, she cradles a large fish from whose mouth flows the water of the deep realm of the unconscious. The High Priestess, framed by an archway, meditatively sits atop a sphere in a stone pavilion near a tollgate. In terms of "So Be It," she indicates the wisdom of the inner voice during contemplative silence, the need for patience, and the importance of a deep understanding.
Another way to approach AGLA is explained in Eliphas Levi's The History of Magic. Levi proposes that the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, signifies unity; the letter Gimel, the third in the alphabet, signifies the triad and hence fruitfulness (as in two parents creating a third life); the letter Lamed signifies the perfect cycle; and the duplicated Aleph signifies synthesis.
Levi offers a third way to understand AGLA: syllepsis, analysis, science, synthesis.
Syllepsis (from the Greek meaning "taking together") is a term of semantics and refers to a word or expression that is simultaneously figurative and literal. It's a word that we can understand in two different ways at the same time. But those two ways are bound together like two sides of the same coin, as the theorist Riffaterre has put it. Whatever card is placed upon Syllepsis refers to something whose polar opposite we're overlooking, like what's embossed on the back of a coin. In other words, there's an inescapable duality at play. To find the bright side, look for the humor in this, because Syllepsis is a form of punning, a wordplay of double meanings.
The card placed upon Analysis refers to what needs to be examined in detail to determine its constituent elements or structure. Analysis comes from the Greek word meaning to "unloose," so on the bright side this is something about which we can loosen up, quite literally.
The card placed upon Science refers to something that could benefit from discipline, observation, and experimentation.
The card placed upon Synthesis (from the Greek meaning to "place together") is a call to combine ideas into a theory or system.
Levi reminds us that "according to Kabalah, the perfect word is the word realised by acts." Acting upon AGLA with Tarot cards can be a profound way to translate its knowledge into action and thereby understand its mysteries.
For more details about the talisman AGLA, see The Young Wizard's Hexopedia (pictured below) and Magic Words: A Dictionary.
—Craig Conley is author of The Young Wizard's Hexopedia, the Tarot of Portmeirion, HarperCollins' One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, Pomegranate's One Letter Words Knowledge Cards Deck, and Weiser Books' Magic Words: A Dictionary. He is co-author of New Star Books' Franzlations: A Guide to the Imaginary Parables. He has published dozens of articles in such magazines as Verbatim, Pentacle, Mothering, and Magic. His work has been profiled in the New York Times, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News, Publishers Weekly, The Associated Press, and dozens of others.