Welcome! My name is Professor Swithun, and I am your new professor of Divination here at Hogwarts is Here. Professor Cattercorn formerly led this course; therefore, you will find references to her in Years Two through Five. You may notice some minor edits here and there, but rest assured that you will not be held responsible for any of these small changes on your assignments and exams. I will strive to keep this transition as cohesive as possible. I have exciting plans for Years Six and Seven! I’m working hard to have Year Six prepared and published as soon as possible.
My lovely group of PAs and I are happy to answer any questions or concerns about the course. If you have a question about grading, please send an owl that includes the grade ID for that assignment and why you are appealing. Please be respectful (and remember that we are all volunteers!)
If you have any areas of interest related to Divination that you’d like to learn more about in the upcoming curriculum, now is your chance to voice your ideas! I love to hear from students, and questions, constructive comments, and suggestions are all welcome. My office door is always open to accept owls.
See you in class!
Lesson 7) Altars and Other Spaces
Professor Cattercorn paces as she waits for the students to settle in. “Quickly, now. Quickly! We have a lot to discuss and so little time! Waving her hands in an excited manner, she waits for the students to settle down before beginning.
Hello! I’m glad to see that you survived the list of cards discussed last lesson! Good news, though. That’s it. No more cards to memorize! Today we’ll be discussing how to set up a reading space and how to interpret a reading as a whole. It’s important that you dedicate time to review today’s lesson, as it is the culmination of everything we have been learning up until this point.
What is an Altar?
This word may be conjuring up images of churches or pagan sacrifices. I assure you, it is nothing this complicated. An altar is simply what many practitioners of the tarot call the space where they choose to perform their readings. This can be a specific space that you use every time, while others have a few different spaces, while some always carry their cards with them and do readings wherever they want. There are no specific required items, though later we will touch on qualities and conditions that need to to be present to regulate the atmosphere of the reading area. Here are a few different kinds of spaces that are pertinent to mention:
A Specific Altar
Some seers may choose to have altars focusing around certain ideas or kinds of readings. For instance, if you specialize in readings on financial matters, you may choose to have your altar reflect this. For instance, you might have a green altar cloth or set out malachite or smoky quartz -- some of which are hypothesized to interact with the correct magical energies, and some that simply help put you in the right mindset. You may even choose to set out a specific tarot card that is within the suit of pentacles to help you focus your Inner Eye on the meaning of that card. However, if this is done, it should be an extra card from another deck. Never do a reading with an incomplete deck.
A Mobile Altar
Some people like to do readings everywhere and anywhere, taking things on the go with them so that they can set up a reading space wherever they want. These people will take more compact versions of the things above, often using the cloth they wrap their cards in as surface to lay their cards on. They may not use gemstones at all or may keep small ones in a bag. The important thing when creating a bag for a mobile altar is making sure that when putting things together they aren’t going to get damaged. Herbs can easily be ruined inside of a bag and damaged by gemstones.
There are those who choose not to have an altar at all. This is also perfectly normal. The important thing about an altar space or lack thereof is to do what feels right for you. Just as no two wands and no two people are the same, no one’s divinatory magic is the same as yours. Divination, and more specifically tarot, requires a great deal of knowledge about the self and relying on your magical instincts and intuition, so you don’t do what everyone else is doing for the sake of being “correct.” Doing what feels right for you will put you more at ease and help you focus more on the readings instead of the things around you that you don’t like and are now acting as distractions to your magic.
Many professional tarot readers either have their own building in which they conduct their business or will work out of their home. This permanence allows you to have control of the environment and the energy within it. They have the ability to cleanse the space when they wish attune it to their magical signature, bring in herbs and crystals with particular magical significance, and to have things set up precisely the way that they wish without fear of it being disturbed by other people. It also prevents other people’s magic from getting “stuck” in their reading area.
But, even with all that in mind, there are no specific requirements about a space for a tarot reading. Most people generally prefer somewhere with low lighting to encourage a relaxed atmosphere. Also, it’s generally agreed that it is important to find somewhere that isn’t in the middle of the open or around people who do not believe or agree with you as that invites all sorts of factors that could cause your cards to become less attuned and impair your readings, as we’ve mentioned in prior lessons, but these constraints are minimal.
Cultivating a Divinatory Atmosphere
For any tarot reader, there are certain things that every tarot reading space must have, “official” altar or not. Whether or not you do readings in multiple places, carry your cards with you and do readings on the go, or have a dedicated area solely to perform your readings, there are four essential things that you must have. These are easily obtained, however, as they pertain to your person.
An Open Mind
It is important that you are open during your readings, no matter the situation. Not only does this put your querent at ease, but it also makes you receptive to things you may not otherwise notice. Being open is the act of being willing to take in the information being presented without rejecting the information if it isn’t something you want to hear. This goes for both information that your querent gives you about themselves as well as what you see in the cards. It is important to keep this openness if you’re doing readings on yourself as well.
Staying calm is something that will allow you to listen to your intuition and your inner guide when doing a reading. If you find yourself in a state where you are unable to be calm, you will find yourself doubting the reading. Picture yourself as water. Tarot has subtle hints within a reading. If you are calm, your water is still and so you can sense each ripple in the water. However, if you are in turmoil you are going to have waves and splashes in your water that will overshadow the small ripples of a reading.
Faith, or Respect
Respecting the cards will make it more likely that they will give you the advice and answers that you seek. As you likely learned as First Years, if you cast the Wand-Lighting Spell while not expecting to succeed, you will not. Instead of a magical reaction, you will have just wiggled your wand in the air. The same goes for tarot. Think of this as the same as the component of willpower in your spellcasting. You are using your own magical energy to read these cards; believe in it, exert your will. Also, understand their role in getting the information that you desire and treat them with honor. You wouldn't (or shouldn’t!) casually toss your wand on the ground, because in your mind it is a tool whose power and potential you respect.
You need to be attentive to the reading at hand. If your mind is wandering throughout the reading, you could get a muddled reading that doesn’t make sense to you or your querent. Even if the reading is logical, if you aren’t concentrating on the cards, the magic which allows you to glimpse into the future will not be present. Due to the fact that reading the cards takes much longer than a normal incantation at the Second Year level, this will take much more concentration. Therefore, if you are tired or distracted, you will find that you have a hard time reading them.
As long as you keep these factors in mind and keep yourself open, calm, respectful, and focused, you will find that your readings will come easier and will tend to be more accurate. It is important that you keep these things in practice with every reading that you do. These are the essentials to having effective and thorough readings.
This topic is specifically for those who choose to have an altar dedicated to something particular to guide their readings and, in part, a continuation of our discussion of how to store your cards. As we mentioned in Lesson Three, some people use crystals and herbs in an effort to “charge” their deck with the right kind of magical energy or shield their cards from accidentally absorbing foreign magical signatures This is not necessarily an uncommon practice, though many simply prefer a more simplistic approach. The reason we are bringing this up again is that some seers -- though certainly a smaller proportion -- choose to have altars dedicated to specific things, such as fire or water, or things like financial prosperity using similar tools.
While not really a magical tool, it is a nice aesthetic touch and, in a practical sense, keeps your cards from getting dirty no matter what surface you lay them on. Altar cloths can be made from a variety of materials ranging from cotton to silk to polyester. The material itself does not matter. The cloth should be big enough to cover the area that your cards are on and, if you wish, the other items you choose to lay out along the altar. Some people choose to use the cloth that they wrap their tarot cards in. Others choose to buy a specific cloth just to use for their altar space. Some have found that certain patterns or colors help them focus and ease the difficulty of long readings, or put them in the right mindset for specific types of readings, but this is something you will need to discover about yourself over time. The most common color to be used with tarot is white, as it does not distract from the cards.
Gemstones and Herbs
As we covered when discussing storing your cards, various tools like crystals and gemstones are experimentally used to create magical resonances within your cards, and keep foreign magical signatures (from the neighbor stopping by for tea or young nieces and nephews who cannot yet control their magic) from “settling” in your cards. Remember, unlike wands, decks of tarot cards are not so loyal, and can become easily unattuned to you when presented with other magical signatures. We went over a handful of some gems and herbs for a basic array of needs already and these same guidelines and recommendations still apply, even though they are not simply being used for storage. If you would like to refresh your memories, feel free to revisit that lesson or do a little researching of your own. Since we have limited time, I will only be going over a few more here to add to your repertoire.
As discussed before, crystals and gemstones have a history of being used for magical purposes -- their use in staves and amulets dates back nearly to the emergence of magic itself -- however, much of what was known (if indeed it was known) has been lost. Various magical arts are attempting to tap back into this wealth of power and catalogue various magical uses and properties, such as magically-enchanted jewelry, the use of gems in foci (though sadly, the practice is not very practical for European wands) and, obviously, divination.
A commonly-believed “generic” crystal, this gem seems to have potential for use in divination, particularly as a “filter” for magical energies other than your own. While it is also believed to be able to slightly amplify one’s magical energy as well, this use has not caught on in the making of magical staffs as it seems to lack some inner strength that is necessary for its use as a direct conduit for your own magic.
This gem is certainly eye-catching and used quite frequently in magical amulets and staffs. It is rather expensive and therefore rarely used in tarot. However, should you have the means and the motivation to do so, its purpose in magical uses appear to center around health and vitality; useful in healing magic and also in protecting the user against illness and harmful hexes. In divination, this gem would be well-suited for questions about health.
Another eye-catching, but expensive stone for your altar, sapphire does appear to significantly increase the accuracy into readings regarding potential prosperity, whether that is in the positive sense (in terms of a promotion or important life events) or the negative sense and a lack thereof. Some also believe that this gem might have some use in deciphering dreams, but this theory is new and yet unproven.
As for herbs, there is an obvious magical link there, as so many plants are ingredients in potions or have other magical uses. We mentioned in Lesson Three that herbs can be used to promote certain effects whether within yourself -- as many plants have calming or centering aromas that can help you focus on your magic -- or on the world at large. Keeping herbs to use alongside of your readings is a common enough practice and, when used in a reading, can take slightly augmented effects, as the magic you are directing towards the cards can intertwine with the herb, causing a magical reaction similar to a potion (though on a much smaller scale).
Interestingly, this plant is not only useful in that it is particularly good for women readers, but also will aid in answering questions about women, and the effects are twofold if both the querent and the reader are both female. It will also protect your cards from absorbing other magical signatures -- though some say this particular use isn’t as strong.
This common household flavoring is useful if, for some reason, you find yourself having to read in a space where there may be a non-believer (for example, forced to read in a large, open area whose population you cannot control, or among those who may be keeping their skepticism secret). It will almost ward them off, in a sense, though the specifics are not well-documented. Additionally, it is a natural bug-repellent, which while not terribly pertinent to the Inner Eye, is great for outdoor readings if you are less than fond of insects, as I am.
The petals and leaves of this plant give off a wonderful smell, but can also be used in altars or questions that center around financial prosperity, as we mentioned frequently earlier. As a more general, non-divinatory benefit, chamomile also has excellent calming properties and may be used to augment the focus of particularly nervous or new readers.
All in all, the most important thing about any altar space (or any lack of altar space) is that what you do feels right for you. If candles put you in the right frame of mind, use them. If having an altar cloth doesn’t feel like something you want, you aren’t required to have it. Your altar space should feel like your tarot home. It is a place for you to be comfortable and confident so that you can do the best reading you are capable of for every querent that comes to you.