Posted Under Magic & Ritual

The Philosopher’s Stone Tarot Spread

tarot cards

Of the many esoteric subjects studied by ceremonial magicians, alchemy is often considered one of the hardest and most arcane, while the tarot is thought to be one of the most accessible and "hands-on." Historically the language of alchemy, with its inscrutable riddles and metaphor, has baffled many students, while the images of the tarot are more direct and often need little explanation. Some may prefer one over the other, but like other elements of the Western Esoteric Tradition, the best way to learn alchemy and tarot is to study these topics together.

Alchemy is an early form of sacred chemistry that explored the nature of various substances. It is a multifaceted natural science-philosophy rooted in a spiritual worldview in which everything in the cosmos contains a universal spirit that is the origin of all matter. Through the Hermetic art, the alchemist sought to perfect and transform a material substance to its highest possible potential as a Universal Medicine, the Elixir of Life, or the Philosopher's Stone. At its core, alchemy is concerned with purification, transformation, and growth. Its objective is to bring all things, especially humanity, to their pre-ordained state of perfection.

Tarot is an important form of divination—a spiritual art that seeks to discover the divine significance behind "chance" events. Divination involves the development of a symbol system whereby the "diviner" can communicate with gods and angels, the archetypes of the collective unconscious. In practicing divination through the tarot or other methods, the diviner can unlock an internal guidance by constructing a link between a synchronistic pattern of symbols (such as tarot cards) in the physical world, and the eternal realm of the psyche with its universal archetypes and forces.

The Philosopher's Stone Tarot Spread is designed to utilize the spiritual wisdom of both alchemy and tarot in a simple card spread for awareness and divine guidance.

philosopher's stone spread

Card 1 represents the beginning of the alchemical process. Cards 2, 3, and 4 represent the three alchemical principles (mercury, sulphur, salt) in the reading. Cards 5, 6, and 7 represent the three primary stages of the alchemical process (separation, purification, and recombination). Finally, Card 8 represents the Philosopher's Stone and the completion of the Work.

  1. Prima Materia
    The alchemical phrase prima materia means "first matter." This is the first state of unformed, embryonic matter—the basic, primitive material that is needed for the creation of the Philosopher's Stone. The prima materia contains within itself the inherent possibilities, seeds, and potencies of all things: heaven and earth, order and chaos, male and female, spirit and body, etc.

The prima materia card represents the beginning of the querent's work of personal alchemy, as well as the general atmosphere or the current circumstances in which the querent finds him or herself, including their present state of mind. It may also indicate other people or influences (mundane as well as spiritual) that are currently at work.

  • Mercury
    Alchemical mercury refers to the vital life-force that permeates all living matter. Although it is primarily viewed as a watery, feminine principle that relates to the concept of consciousness, the principle of mercury can be described as a combination of the elements of air and water. Mercury is a fluid and creative principle that symbolizes the act of transmutation—it is the great transforming agent of the alchemical process. Mercury is the essential spirit, as well as the most important of the three alchemical principles. It mediates between the sulphur and salt (the etheric and the fixed), and modifying their extreme tendencies.


The mercury card represents those higher spiritual forces that the querent has available to him or her, and which can be used to transform the situation, or mediate between opposing forces, in a manner that is favorable to the querent.

  • Sulphur
    Alchemical sulphur refers to the dynamic, masculine, and fiery principle. Sulphur is the essential soul or an expression of the vital life force that is unique and singular—it symbolizes the concept of individuality—the true essence of each particular living thing. The principle of sulphur can be described as a combination of the elements of air and fire. Sulphur is the emotional, penetrating, passionate urge that motivates life. It is symbolic of the desire for positive change. Fire is the crucial element in the science of alchemy, and the entire act of transmutation depends upon the correct application of this vibrant principle.


The sulphur card represents the force or forces that motivate the querent: innermost feelings, passions, will power, and personal strengths that can be brought to bear upon the matter.

  • Salt
    Alchemical salt refers to the principle of substance, form, and manifestation, and can be described as a combination of the elements of water and earth. It is the hardening, fixed, contractive tendency, as well as crystallization. Salt is the essential corpus or body. While mercury mediates, salt unites, for salt is the vehicle in which the more subtle properties of sulphur and mercury are grounded and united into dense form.


The salt card represents things physical constraints upon the matter, or something that the querent is currently crystalizing or causing to manifesting (for good or ill, whether voluntarily or not).

  • Separation
    Separation is the first of the three fundamental stages of the alchemical process. This is the process of breaking down a substance into its component parts. Although this was sometimes accomplished by filtering a substance in a liquid, the alchemists of old considered separation as an introduction of air (spirit) into the work.


The separation card indicates something that the querent must separate into three aspects:

  1. What is the mercury (spirit) influence represented by this card and how can it help the situation?
  2. What is the sulphur (individual passion) influence represented by this card and how can it help or hurt the situation?
  3. What is the salt (physical manifestation) represented by this card? (Optional: how does Card 2 (spirit) interact with Card 5?)


  • Purification
    Purification is the second stage in the alchemical process. In laboratory work purification involves successive washings in a liquid. It is therefore associated with the element of water. This is a process of cleansing a substance from impurities.


The purification card indicates what the querent must relinquish in order for the Work to advance. (Optional: how does Card 3 (soul) interact with Card 6?)

  • Recombination
    The final process in alchemy involves mixing together all the purified portions of the substance into a new, cleansed, and balanced whole. In elemental terms, it is the mixing of the purified fire, water, and air, in order to create a new, refined earth.


The recombination card represents what can be used to bring unity into the process. (Optional: how does Card 4 (body) interact with Card 7?)

  • The Philosopher's Stone
    The Philosopher's Stone is a symbol of the Magnum Opus, the completion of the Great Work of alchemy—true spiritual attainment and illumination. The search for the Philosopher's Stone is the search for ultimate truth and purity. In mystical alchemy it is the transmutation of the lower into the Higher.


Combined with the influences shown by the other cards in the reading, the final card of this spread represents completion—the ultimate outcome of the matter. Depending upon what steps are taken by the querent, the result will be shown here.

The Philosopher's Stone Tarot Spread is just one of the ways that the Hermetic science of alchemy can be used in combination with the divine art of tarot to expand one's spiritual horizons and effect personal growth.

About Chic Cicero

Both Chic and Tabatha are Chief Adepts of the Golden Dawn as re-established by Israel Regardie. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Chic is the G.H. Imperator, and Tabatha is the G.H. Cancellaria, is an ...

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