Paul Hughes-Barlow is a mystic and magician who has specialized in studying spiritual and magickal techniques for developing higher states of consciousness using the Tarot. The fruits of some of this work are found on the SuperTarot website and in his recently released book, "Tarot and the Magus" , which explores divination, magical and spiritual techniques, based upon the Golden Dawn methods of the Opening of the Key Spread.
As well as writing Book II on the Opening of the Key Spread, which will explore more new methods of interpreting the Tarot, Paul is also working on revelations connecting the Atbash code with the Tarot.
VSB: Mr. Hughes-Barlow, thank you for giving me this opportunity to interview you. With your book, Tarot and the Magus , just out I am sure our readers will be interested in learning both more about you personally and the process by which this book was "born."
PHB: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the book!
VSB: Of course I have to begin by asking you how you got your start with Tarot.
PHB: When I was thirteen, I saved up pocket money to purchase the Marseilles deck. It probably cost around £2, (a little over $2). There were not any 'New Age' shops in those days, and finding a Tarot deck was not easy. I think I looked through it several times, and then it was forgotten.
VSB: And from there? How did this first interaction with the cards affect you?
PHB: When I was fourteen I learnt Transcendental Meditation, which took me away from the Western Mysteries and into the Eastern Mysteries. At twenty-four I had moved to Brighton where I live now, and I heard some people talking about an Indian Palmist somewhere in town. I couldn't find him, but I used to hear his name in my head. Eventually I found him, and became his secretary. I now know he was waiting for me... Eventually he tricked me into doing palmistry, but the questions people asked were too difficult when reading palms. Punditt said he would help me with tarot, so I got a deck. He shuffled the cards, dealt out four, turned them over and pronounced: 'Swords cards show problems...'. Since that is all he said, I knew I would have to study by myself! By the next day I had a very vague idea about what some of the Major Arcana represented, and I started doing professional reading using the full deck.
The reading obviously worked at some level, and I was studying from several books between readings for years afterwards. My epiphany came after one particularly brilliant Tarot reading. After the deliriously happy woman left, I went through the book divinatory meanings, and realized I had got every card completely wrong. Some Tarot readers would have doubted their ability at that moment, but I was determined to find out what mechanisms were at work, and eventually I discovered Elemental Dignities, largely through Emily Peach's book Tarot for Tomorrow , and
eventually the Golden Dawn systems upon which it was based.
VSB: You say you got it ‘wrong'… Don't you feel that perhaps you got it right intuitively in spite of the textbook meaning of the cards and din spite of the fact that you were a novice at the time? I ask this because the first time I got a hold of a deck in my early teens I knew instantly what the overall reading was saying, but could not have told you how I knew via a precise card-by-card delineation…
PHB: Well, the thing is, I realized I had been getting readings consistently 'wrong' for some time - it wasn't just that reading. By the time this event happened, I had been reading for some time, and I was familiar with the cards. If I am honest, I think my knowledge of the divinatory meanings
of the cards has changed little since then.
Since the DM's have never had a high priority, my focus has been on the relationships between the cards. My Holy Grail has been to find a consistent method for determining the relative strengths and weaknesses of the cards that does not depend on the divinatory meanings, similar to the methods in astrology (exaltation, fall, detriment etc.). So while different readers would agree on those strengths and weaknesses, the interpretations would of course still depend on the readers.
VSB: I see… I am sure most of our readers are familiar with your SuperTarot website. When did you first put that online and what were your initial goals with the website?
PHB: At the end of 96 I got my first PC, a Pentium 70 with 25mb of memory, and so I could surf. First priority was to find anything about Elemental Dignities. Once I discovered that a) there wasn't much, and b) nobody would tell me even if they did, I decided to write about the subject myself. I posted several articles on alt.tarot, which Michelle Jackson put on her Tarot site, The art of Tarot (now TarotPassages, run by Michelle's chosen successor, Diane Wilkes.) Once I had learnt enough html I started a website in 1997 that eventually became SuperTarot.
I wanted SuperTarot to be comprehensive and authoritative, and to inspire other readers to learn EDs and the Opening of the Key Spread.
VSB: How has the website evolved and how does familiarity with it complement your book?
PHB: Everything on SuperTarot can be related to Tarot in some way, even if I do not make an explicit link. SuperTarot went through many versions when an extra ten or so pages are added the navigation bars begin to look messy, and then the whole site has to be restructured. It was a
huge learning curve for me as I was (and still am) doing everything on my own.
VSB: I have watched SuperTarot evolve over the years and I think you are doing a great job of updating it, especially since you are a ‘one-man-show.' Many people don't realize what a huge job it is to be author, reader and webmaster concurrently.
PHB: I decided early on that the book would have to be very different from the website. Writing for a website is very different than for a book anyway. I did have a go at a rehash, but it was awful. I sat for a month wondering what to do until I took the brave leap of writing about strings of cards, rather than triplets on their own. As a result, tarot students have now been presented with two different methods of learning EDs, card counting and pairing. If they get stuck on the book, maybe the website will provide the answers and vice versa. The bottom line is that I did not have to change much, except add the bonus pages on the tarot tables that were omitted from the book.
VSB: I understand… How has your Tarot vision changed over the years?
PHB: My understanding of the Tarot has been changing constantly over the years. It is still changing. Writing Tarot and the Magus was such a liberating experience creatively and spiritually. The real explosion in my vision and ideas for Tarot came after the book went to the printers. It was quite amazing. I was going to start writing on Book II, which will complete the first stage of the Opening of the Key spread, but I was so inspired by some of the more esoteric aspects of Tarot and the Magus that it will have to wait.
VSB: Being a writer myself, I understand exactly what you mean. It is fascinating to watch your own idea evolve, expand and mutate as you write. It is like that connection to your personal Muse (would that be Clio or Polyhymnia… or perhaps a tenth unnamed Muse?), infuses you with ideas you never knew you had.
Different people use Tarot for different things. What is your primary use of it?
PHB: As it has been for years: Reading Tarot professionally - it pays the bills. Research does not pay, but it is very satisfying and fulfilling.
VSB : I have both read and reviewed your book. What would you cite as the most important reason for a person who has not yet read it to do so? What will they learn? What is the most unique thing about your book?
PHB: It will open their eyes to the potential of Tarot. In terms of structure and ideas, it is unique. I have not changed the order of the cards, their names, their attributes, or the divinatory meanings, but the reader will see Tarot differently; as a result, I hope they will experiment, and I hope they will follow their own insight and intuition to come up with their own ideas. The book was meant to be for 'beginners' - it still is, but the process of writing the book resulted in new knowledge and ideas that will appeal to experienced tarot readers and students. It will also delight magicians who have never really bothered with the tarot, as they will find new ways of working with spirits, and discover some of the secrets of Tarot that have been hidden for far too long.
VSB: Thank you, Paul! From one Tarot experimenter and explorer to another, I have enjoyed this interview immensely and wish you well in your future explorations with the Tarot.