One of my first spiritual teachers told me not to “confuse the map with the terrain”. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but as I grew a little bit wiser, I began to understand. The terrain of the Universe, and spiritual experience in general, in its most raw form is hard to navigate. We need a map. The various metaphysical and occult systems that exist are our maps to help guide our way. Tarot is one of those maps and our spiritual changes and growth can be mapped onto the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana can be seen to tell the story of how an individual changes from innocence to spiritual mastery. Readings do well to tell us where we are in our journey, and meditation helps internalize its wisdom. Another tool that I have used is to embody the Tarot by looking at each card as an ecstatic body posture for the purpose of drawing the energy of each card into and through me.
Ecstatic body postures are poses made in meditative trance to connect with a certain spiritual force. The work was pioneered by the linguist and anthropologist Dr. Felicitas D. Goodman, who wrote about her work in such books as Where the Spirits Ride the Wind and Ecstatic Trance: A Workbook, along with several others. Dr. Goodman studied various poses found in the painting and poetry of several cultures ranging from the neolithic and nomadic humans from around 15,000 B.C. to the South American cultures of the Olmecs and Maya. She found through research and experimentation that if she held certain postures while going into trance, there would be different spiritual effects and energies. Some of the energies evoked would aid in divination, while others helped in healing and self-transformation. For example, look at the postures of the “Woman of Moravia”, a statue found in the Czech Republic dating back more than 9,000 years ago, with her legs together, and her arms up out as if to receive something. You could use the posture to receive Universal energy for the purpose of healing the heart. While Dr. Goodman worked with postures from ancient and indigenous cultures, we can adapt her ideas to the modern iconography of Tarot and use it to feel the energy of each card in our bodies.
The method of using postures in ecstatic mediation is usually simple. Beforehand, one should practice making the pose; immediately before making the poses, I would advise meditating first and spending some time to study the card and its meanings. I would advise having some music or drumming to help you get into a trance state while you make the chosen pose. This can be live or recorded. Close your eyes and assume the pose for between ten and fifteen minutes. If you need to, have the card in front of you for reference, but it works much better when you have all the symbolism memorized. While you are making the pose, let the music and your breathing take you deeper and deeper into a state of trance; deeper until you cannot go any further. After about ten to fifteen minutes, slowly come out of trance (if you are still in it) by bringing your awareness to your physical body. Ground and center if needed.
The Major Arcana
I want to look at the first three cards of the Major Arcana to illustrate how “embodied tarot” can work. If we look at the Fool card, we can make note of the figure’s unique pose. One leg is steadied, and the other is extended outward at about a 45-degree angle in a carefree manner. One hand is holding a rose that perhaps symbolizes freedom, and the other is holding the rod of bindle that many symbolize carrying the tools of the Magician from the next card in the series.
Taking this pose in meditation, I have felt the energy of being carefree. Instead of balancing on one foot, I had one foot firm while I put my weight for the second foot on my toes. This helped me feel like I was balancing before a cliff, like the card illustrates. Remembering that the god in the Fool card can symbolize base desires and longings, I felt myself being pulled in two different directions: one towards my base needs and wants and the other pulling me upwards into a sort of spiritual optimism, as if I was beginning on a new spiritual adventure. As I extended my arms with the rose and the bindle, I felt their weight. Ironically, I felt the bindle getting lighter while the rose was getting heavier. Perhaps this was a symbol of how the freedom symbolized in that rose comes with a price.
The Magician is arguably my favorite card in the Tarot. When taking this pose and embodying its energy, I feel like I am a channel for the energy of Spirit and Matter. The magician holds their hands as if they are channeling spiritual energy in their right hand, while manifesting in their left. The symbolism speaks to the mystic truth in the saying “as above, so below” where matter is spirit manifest, and spirit is the liberation of the earthly. I felt that the spiritual vision and freedom from the Fool was directed into the tools before me, and the energy of the flower blossomed the more I held the pose. I found it interesting that I felt the energy of the Magician’s belt, really an ouroboros — the snake that devours itself and can represent infinity — around my center and felt its rejuvenation and dynamic force. With the energy of the Magician, I felt that all things were possible.
For the pose of the High Priestess card, I sat and imagined the lunar energies coming from her horned headpiece descending through me and manifesting at my feet. I held my arms, with my elbows tucked, as if I was holding the scroll that contained all of the knowledge of the Universe. It was as if the energies of the Above and the Below were balanced between my hands in the “scroll”. I also felt like energy was being generated within me from being between the two Kabbalistic pillars of Freemasonry — Joachim and Boaz — and that I was embodying the mystery of being able to not only balance those forces but have those great forces in a manageable form. I feel that the cross of manifestation on the High Priestess is also the cross of balance. I did feel the energy coming from the veil with pomegranates on them, and I take that as the fruitfulness and fertility that comes with learning the occult mysteries.
Embodying Other Arcana
Going with further cards, I found that there was a thread of energy connecting them all and that each card was a step in the transmutation of my spiritual energy. For cards where it was difficult to get the pose just right, I did the best I could. For example, I did not have a horse for the Death card, so I just sat as upright as I could mimicking the pose. For the Tower, I decided dangling myself from a building was a bad idea, so I did the pose of someone falling while lying down. With cards, where there are multiple figures, I would try doing the pose for each figure separately. For example, in Judgement, there is the angel blowing their horn with figures underneath them. There was a difference between embodying the energy of calling Judgment to happen versus the energy of being the one called to resurrection.
This technique can be applied to other metaphysical systems, or artwork, other than tarot. I did some experiments using poses from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and found myself in some interesting trance states.
In closing, I would ask that you think of the teaching of the British occultist from the last century, Austin Osman Spare, who taught that anything created in an alternate state of consciousness can be transmitted via a physical medium. In other words, art created with the energy of Tarot transmits that energy as a type of psychic receiver. In embodying the Tarot, we are the psychic receiver for those forces. By bringing those energies embodied into our lives, we can transform them, and bring about the changes that we need to become better people and help heal the world. That is after all the Great Work that is always spoken of, and hopefully the work we can all assist each other in.
Goodman, Felicitas D., and Nana Nauwald. Ecstatic Trance. Binkey Kok, Holland, 2003.
Gore, Belinda. Ecstatic Body Postures. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 1995.
Gray, Eden. The Complete Guide to the Tarot. Bantam, 1982.
Waite, A. E. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Courier Corporation, 2005.
[Mark NeCamp, Jr. is a tarot reader, healer, writer, teacher, spiritual alchemist, modern day practitioner of the Art, and a devoted family man. He teaches classes using magic as a tool for personal growth. He is passionate for how we each can, through the alchemical process, turn our spiritual lead into gold as individuals and as a global tribe. He has led many community groups in the Midwest; and taught at events such as Pagan Unity Festival, ConVocation, Starwood, Paganicon and many others. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @marknecampjr for any questions.]