What is the Alchemical Tarot?

The Alchemical Tarot is a deck created by Robert M. Place.  In late 1987, Place had a revelation about a relationship between historical alchemy and the Tarot system.  He was studying an alchemical hieroglyph when it occurred to him the four alchemical elements contained within the hieroglyph could be related directly to the four tarot card suits; and the hieroglyph’s design was similar to the tarot World card.  Within moments he also realized that the entire set of 22 tarot trump cards could also be an allegory for the alchemical opus, or ‘Great Work.’  The idea for the Alchemical Tarot was born.

This notion of the Great Work being similar to the Fool’s journey is genius.  The neophyte alchemist plays the part of The Fool card, and journeys through the four color stages of the opus: the black, the white, the yellow, and the red.  The alchemist ends his journey at The World card where he attains his prize, the perfection of the alchemical work.

Anyone familiar with modern Tarot systems can read with this deck.  Many of the minor arcana cards have similarities to the Rider Waite system or the Tarot de Marseille pip cards.  Other minor cards are direct reflections of alchemical processes.  No special knowledge of alchemy is required to read with this deck, but the reader who does not take the time to explore links to historic alchemical concepts is missing out on an entire world of possibilities.

The deck has gone through four cosmetic revisions, and the most recent revision included a few symbolic improvements.  All of the deck versions are a testament to Mr. Place’s impeccable artistic style and scholarship.  The books Alchemy and the Tarot, An Examination of the Historic Connection andThe Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism are companion books to the deck.

I often use the Alchemical Tarot in my practice.  It is very neutral in its voice, and allows me to read deeply into the tarot message without a lot of ‘noise’. One of the byproducts when employing the Alchemical Tarot is that it often results in a reading that offers advice beyond what is asked, and that information can be hard to hear.

If you would like to explore how a reading with this deck can help you, I would love to hear from you.

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