If, like me, you happen to frequent specialized community bulletin boards that focus on various occult disciplines — such as, say, Tarot or Runes or Astrology — you’ll notice that a very common question crops up all the time: “How can I learn [Tarot or Runes or Astrology or whatever] faster…?”
The presumption behind this question seems to be that there exists some secret technique for fully, instantly internalizing an entire library of arcane symbols, their ranges of meanings, and the limitless combinations into which they can be grouped…and that if the questioner only hits up the right person, they, too, can be granted access to this secret technique! And then five minutes later, they, too, will be a world-class expert in Tarot or Runes or Astrology. Or whatever.
And I don’t mean that to sound nasty or judge-y — I understand that the question stems from a deeply held fascination for the subject matter, coupled with frustration at not being able to leap right into expertise with it. I’ve totally been there.
The thing is…unless you’re one of these characters on a USA Network show with an astonishing eidetic memory (i.e. total recall, yo), there’s really only one way to learn things: time-consuming study, practice, and repetition. Sometimes to mind-numbing degree. This holds true, actually not just for aspects within the esoteric sciences, but for almost any complex field: mathematics, music, medicine… And rightly so — if it were easy, anyone could do it, and how much of an accomplishment would learning it be?
That business about how nothing worth having comes easy has some very real basis in truth…
If you want to learn Tarot (or Runes, or Astrology…or whatever), you need to put in the time, and you need to put in the work. Hard Truth dropping right there.
While there are no secret methods for instantaneous mastery (or…if there are, I don’t know them, so if you happen to stumble across one in your own travels, you know where to reach me with details…), there are always study techniques you can try out, to see if they help. I thought I’d share one that’s worked well for me (although fair warning: utilization of said technique will not cut years off of your learning curve, and I in no way promise that — it just may help what you do learn to sink in a bit faster and a bit deeper for you as you go, that’s all…but that would still be a pretty happy result, wouldn’t it…?).
So this begins with the oft-recommended suggestion that you start up a journal for your studies of…Tarot-or-Runes-or-Astrology-or-whatever. And I’m going to just talk about Tarot (and later, Runes) from here forward, so as to spare us all any more repetitions of the “or Runes or Astrology, etc.” refrain, but the technique should work equally well with respect to any field of study that might interest you… But so yes, start with the journal:
And here’s where I think the usual recommendation about journaling falls slightly short of maximum utility: most people seem to advise newcomers to write every day, generally by picking one Tarot card (and remember, this can be one major symbol in any system you’re studying) for the day, and then writing your brains out about it. Not a horrible undertaking, and you probably will learn a lot. But in a field of divination, especially, I’d suggest going one step further: write not just about what that card (/symbol) means to you in general, but at the end of the day, circle back and jot down what ended up being the major highlights of that day as you moved about through the world…and then see if you can find any ways to tie the meaning of your card for the day to what happened to you during that day. You won’t always succeed in spotting common themes actually manifesting in your daily life that correspond clearly to the card you drew for that day…but sometimes you will. And either way, I believe that coming at the process in this way personalizes it intensely.
Not only do I predict that you’ll begin to remember the basic, generally accepted card meanings better than if you were just doing book-based study, but you’ll also find yourself starting to build up a more individualized catalog of card meanings that are specific to you. You’ll develop your own viewpoint on the cards, and your own individual style of reading them, that much more quickly.
You can even go one step beyond that in studying what the symbols in question mean to you, and how they seem to inform your life: you can record and maintain an ongoing body of statistics. At the risk of sounding crazily obsessive, I’ll state here that almost a year ago, I wanted to bolster my studies of the Runic system known as the Elder Futhark (an alphabet used by Germanic tribespeople centuries ago for not only writing, but also for divination and magic)…so I began not only doing the “draw one symbol per day” thing I just mentioned, and not only examining my daily events so as to compare them with the meanings and themes of that day’s Rune, but I would also log my Rune draws into a spreadsheet that I created. Three hundred-something days later, I’m still doing this faithfully, each and every day, and the results are always fascinating. The Elder Futhark is often studied in three segments of eight Runes each, as the Futhark contains a total of 24 Runes. Each set of eight Runes is called an Aett (plural: Aettir).
If you had to guess by filtering through the view that we, as a people, seem to hold regarding a “Law of Averages,” you’d likely assume that I draw Runes from each of the three Aettir such that each Aett accounts for about a third of the draws. At least, that’s what I’d been assuming when I first dove into this exercise. I figured things might start off a bit lopsided in one direction or the other, but that they’d more or less equalize over time. And yet…that’s not how it’s playing out. At this particular moment in time, the First Aett and the Third Aett have represented themselves almost equally, but the Second Aett has fallen significantly behind. Instead of a rough 33 1/3% — 33 1/3% — 33 1/3% split, my tallies currently stand instead at about 36% — 30% — 34%.
Why would this be? Does the middle Aett like me less than the other two Aettir do? Does it have less to teach me, or do I need its lessons the least during this phase of my life? A: “Maybe,” to all of these questions. I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m certainly curious, and I’m definitely paying close attention, which is a huge part of the trick.
And I can also vouch for the part about building up one’s own meanings. Here’s an example… The Rune called Gebo — which is the Futhark’s equivalent for our own “G,” but which, interestingly, looks instead exactly like our own “X” — stands for the concept of “Gift.” Without getting too deep into more specifics, it can represent an actual gift, and it can also foretell developments in the area of relationships, and even marriage. As I kept up my journal, though, I started to see that whenever I ordered occult study materials from Amazon, they would, almost without exception, later appear on my doorstep or in my mailbox, during afternoons when I’d drawn Gebo as my Rune for the day. I hit upon the notion that Gebo — for me — means not just “Gift,” but more specifically, “Gifts I Give to Myself.”
Connecting up the Runes I draw with the events of my own life helps me to have stronger recall of both the commonly held Rune meanings, and the more unique meanings they have for me, as revealed over time. My grasp on the Runes as an overall system, and my understanding of them as 24 distinct symbols, have all leaped forward during this time of journaling, and if you really want to get your own head around a given occult system involving multiple symbols, I can’t recommend it enough. Just try your hand at not only journaling about the symbols themselves, but adding that extra step of connecting them to your own life. Nothing fascinates us like ourselves, and I feel very strongly that this method can help you (over some amount of dedicated practice…) as it’s helped me.
Although again, if you do happen upon that easy quick-fix technique for downloading an entire system into your head all at once, you know where to find me with the particulars…