Tarot Decoded: Understanding and Using Dignities and Correspondences
Tarot Decoded is an introduction to the complex subject of using and understanding dignities and correspondences with Tarot cards. Ror the intermediate and advanced Tarot reader.
By Elizabeth Hazel
Book - Published by Weiser Books
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
This was a book whose arrival I eagerly awaited. I was even more excited when I saw the sub-title - "understanding and using dignities and correspondences". In my opinion, working with dignities and correspondences opens up the doors so that we in the Tarot world are darn near talking to the Secret Chiefs themselves! Tarot Decoded does not fail to present this important work in a very usable manner. One thing that I would note, however, is that while numerological and elemental dignities are discussed, the weight of this book is on astrological and planetary dignities and correspondences. Thank heaven's Ms Hazel seems to have found a connection to the Astrological Secret Chiefs - the work is palatable even to me, who gets along quite well in life with only a slightly greater than minimal understanding of astrology!
In her foreword, Ms Hazel talks about the added layers of enlightenment that dignities provide to the basic Tarot tools of symbolism and divinatory meanings. Ms Hazel makes a very good point when she says that there are two areas that each individual reader needs to come to terms with for themselves: the choice of attribution systems (they do not "all" have to be used at the same time!), and the techniques used to apply these systems to a reading.
Dignity is defined for the purposes of this book as being the relationship between cards in a spread. This is further defined as being either good, neutral or bad. (I like to think of them as supportive, neutral and challenging, while others view them as friendly, neutral and unfriendly. The terminology may change - but we are all talking about the same thing.) As well as determining dignities by their relationship with their neighbors, Ms Hazel also speaks of looking at the location of each card, and how well (or poorly) the location of the card reflects the cards inherent attributes.
The specific types of dignity that Ms Hazel addresses are:
Elemental Dignity - This refers to the four elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth), and how they are reflected in the four suits and the trumps.
Modal Dignity - This is an attribution that can be made for any card with a zodiacal attribution, the three modes being cardinal, fixed and mutable.
Shared Status - (From the book) "Shared status is a specialized form of dignity for court cards, the sixteen cards designated by ascending royal titles. Court cards are assigned both element and mode. Shared status applies when sets (mode) or sequences (element) of court cards appear in a reading. For example, a set is a pair of Knights in a layout, and a small sequence the King and Queen of a single suit."
Numeric Dignity - Here we are dealing with the metaphysical (cartomantic) meanings of the card numbers. Sets increase the influence of the vibration of a given number, while sequences a progression - either forward or backward - in the issues involved in the reading.
Locational Dignity - Related to the astrological concept of "accidental dignity", this occurs when a card is in a position int he spread that either enhances or undermines its strength and meaning.
Planetary and Zodiacal Dignities - These are dependent on the system of attributions being used. For the purposes of this book, Ms Hazel works with the Golden Dawn attributes. If a reader uses another system, the basic approach for interpretation would still be the same.
Court card interpretation presents somewhat of an issue for most readers. Ms Hazel does a commendable job of presenting their dual nature - that is, their elemental attribute by suit, and their elemental attribute by title. I thoroughly enjoy delving into charts and graphs - for me, they are major learning tools. Ms Hazel has used them to great advantage in this book, especially in the chapter on court cards. She also does a nice job of discussing significators (which I do not use, by choice), and of Jung's four personality types and functions. She also employs a sample reading as a teaching tool - to great advantage!
The chapter on modal dignities includes a very workable synopsis for each of the three modes (cardinal, fixed and mutable). From the book:
Cardinal signs are feisty, charge-ahead, vigorous signs. Their keynote quality is their "capacity to conceive and give birth". This mode is represented by the Zodiacal attributions attributions to the Queens, who own the four solstice and equinox cusps.
Aries: fire conceives identity, idealism and quests.
Cancer: water conceives family growth, domestic stability and motherhood.
Libra: air conceives primary communication, codes of behavior, ethics, and formal relationship agreements between people, such as marriage and business partnerships.
Capricorn: earth conceives material foundations, hierarchies, ownership, leadership and parenting.
Cardinal signs courageously accept risks and are skilled at promoting their reputation and pet projects to others. The challenge is the potential for bullying, impatience and shocked outrage when others fail to fall into step with their latest idea. Cardinal signs tend to assess loyalty in terms of validation, confirmed when others see their achievements in a positive manner and willingly support their goals. Cardinal signs are the sprinters, the signs moving most quickly to the next opportunity. Yet they may be winded by the time the goal is in sight, or the goal may lose their interest if not quickly obtained."
Numeric dignities are also presented in a manner that is, quite frankly, great fun to work with! From the book:
The number four is the number of foundation. There are four elements, and in this number, a stage of initial stability is taking place. A square has four corners, and this is a very stable and well grounded geometric shape. The productive capacity of the three has come to a point of rest, where the identity is solidified.
Pair: Promises are kept, invitations to events.
Three: Agreements, contracts, unity of purpose.
Four: Long lasting results, immortal quality.
Five (four Fours + Emperor or Death): Formal agreements that are the foundation of long lasting structures in historic events."
The one quibble that I might have with this book is that the definitions of the positions within a spread take a very low priority to the dignities and attributions involved in the reading. My personal feeling is that spreads are birthed in a certain way, reflecting both sacred geometry and positional meanings. They are the basis for the reading, which is then layered with basic card meanings, the symbolism seen within the cards, the attributions and dignities of the cards.
Having said that, I want to point out that Ms Hazel makes best use of graphs and charts, and includes well done sample readings that take the reader right along with her through the interpretation. A good thought for the reader would be to take their favorite reading deck and lay the readings out in front of them to ponder as they follow her logic. At the end of the book we are gifted with several appendices, dealing with charts for: Golden Dawn attributions; attributions for the minor arcana and court cards; attributions for the minor arcana pip cards; pip cards by element; as well as planetary dignities; zodiacal dignities; dignities of the twelve houses and four elements; and a locational dignities diagram form.
There is much more to this book - such as tidbits about reading by location in the spread (above the horizon, below the horizon, left side and right side), and the modal qualities of the numbers. I highly recommend this book to students with an intermediate or higher level of understanding of the Tarot, and at least a minimal understanding of astrology. There is a world of learning in this book! I would not be surprised at all to see an e-group or two evolve strictly to work with the information contained between these pages. This is definitely a book to be held onto for reference purposes!
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.