The Opening of the Key Tarot Divination Re-evaluated

© Alex Sumner 2013

© Alex Sumner 2013

This post has come about due to a Facebook conversation about what Divination I tend to do before Magick. Actually I found this so inspiring that instead of just another FB reply I thought i would devote a whole blog post to the subject.

My favourite method remains the one I outlined in the blog-post How to Use Horary Astrology With Tarot, i.e. cast a Horary figure for the question and to use that to cross-check a Tarot divination for the same question. My Tarot spread of preference is a 15 card spread which I believe was created by Robert Wang in connection with the Golden Dawn Tarot. The advantage of this spread is that it is fairly short and easy with which to get to grips, and is thus suitable for answering simple questions.

Recently, however, I have been trying to get to grips with infamous Opening of the Key method, as outlined in the original Golden Dawn papers. I say infamous because it appears at first sight to be extremely long. Wang himself said it “could take hours for a complete reading,” which corresponds pretty much with my own early experiments with the method. Nick Farrell, in the FB conversation to which I referred above was even more vociferous, saying “it takes days” and “I still do not know what Westcott was smoking…”

Westcott might have been smoking anything he liked – I was always under the impression that Mathers wrote that particular manuscript!

Anyway, the actual authorship of the method is a side-issue. People with whom I have spoken privately consistently concur with the above sentiments, by complaining about its overlong nature. However, I think I have found a solution! The breakthrough, for me, was realising that it is only overlong if it is done by the book in the style of the book. 

Here instead is my suggestion. When you come to a card – or in the pairing off part which ends each section, a pair of cards – think up a single word which sums its meaning. At most, two or three words to make it fit into context, but preferably aiming for a single word wherever possible. Then connect them so they make a coherent narrative – that is the operation done.

Done this way, it reduces the duration of the Opening of the Key from a matter of hours – or, if you are Nick Farrell, days 😉 – to a far more reasonable half an hour at most. What is more,  this is a perfectly valid cartomantic practice: at least, that is the impression I get from the accounts of Tarot readers who have never been exposed to Golden Dawn methods.

Where Mathers / Westcott went wrong was that they took each card to be a complete sentence or couple of sentences – instead of words within a sentence. By changing ones point of view regarding the style of card-interpretation to something like I suggest, one can still use the actual Opening of the Key method but in a way which is ultimately more satisfying.


Filed under Supernatural

3 responses to “The Opening of the Key Tarot Divination Re-evaluated

  1. Nice post! I completely agree with you that each card combination can be read very quickly with word pairs or short phrases–the Regardie Golden Dawn big book includes examples done presumably by Mathers that demonstrate that he was going fairly quickly through the pairs. Remember that the GD was developing their techniques based on writers such as Eteilla, so there is a surprising amount of fortune-telling or cartomancy reading style going on here. In many ways this technique reads more like Lenormand than intuitive tarot. I can do the first op for a client in 20-40 minutes depending on the reading time frame and how in-depth the question is. When you really get going with it, the cards just start unfolding stories and each op seems to answer the next set of questions the client has. It really gets going pretty fast. When I first did it for myself, years ago, I remember how overwhelming it all was (I was still trying to learn just the counting at that point) and I spent three hours on it before giving up. But I was reading for myself and trying to journal it as I went which is very time-consuming. But when you’re in a client situation you’re talking the reading out, not writing it out, and the cards come together and speak quickly and directly. It’s amazing to watch them morph to address different aspects of what’s going on. Love this spread!

  2. I tend to use a slightly different method… I just use the old cross method but deal two cards to each section… the real card and then the signify which indicates if it is weak or not. A trump underneath causes the card to be emphasised and a court card underneath is read on the basis of its element

  3. I also only do the first step (the “horseshoe” I call it), which helps. This seems to have been an acceptable, or maybe common, practice among the original GD members; Annie Horniman’s theater readings being a notable example.

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