What is the
Tarot, and where does it come from?
Well, we really
don’t know for sure. What we do know is that in the fifteenth century,
brightly colored decks with detailed pictures were commissioned by
wealthy patrons, for the use in games of the time.
Some of these
decks, such as the Visconti-Sforza,
created around 1450 still exist. Any card decks from much earlier times
have been lost to us, so we really don’t know when the first decks of
cards were created. We do know that cards similar to our modern poker
decks were used for games of chance as early as the middle ages.
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these
were discovered by Occult Scholars, who recognized that the intricate
pictures on the cards could be more than simple decoration used in
games to amuse bored Aristocrats. These same scholars revealed, or
created the “true” history of the cards, by connecting them to various
mystical systems, such as Egyptian Mysteries, Hermetic philosophy,
alchemy, and the Kabala.
These ideas of
ancient wisdom carried down through
captured in picture cards were continued into the twentieth century by
various secret societies, such as the Order of The Golden Dawn. Such
societies attached numerological significance to each card, as well as
using other pre-existing systems.
Tarot has been used by occult
several centuries, it wasn’t until popular movies introduced them to
the masses, that it has become more main stream. Unfortunately, the
writers of those movies usually took the pictures of the various cards
in a much more literal way than is correct.
So you get a
the reader lays down cards, one after the other in a dramatic fashion,
and almost always the last card to be dealt is the Death Card, which in
the movie, foreshadows some terrible calamity.
positive side, the popularity that came
with the movies,
has allowed for a much wider variety of Tarot decks. Not only can you
buy in almost any bookstore, the venerable Rider-Waite deck, but there
are now decks of all types and styles. These include Native American,
Angels, Goddess, Norse, Arthurian, and the deck I use, the Witches Tarot.
Before you can
read Tarot, you must choose a deck.
great variety of decks to choose from, it can be a daunting task to
choose only one. So how do you choose? You need to find a deck that
“talks” to you. What do I mean by a deck that talks? Most decks now,
have pictures on every card. It used to be that only the Major Arcana
had pictures, all the rest (the 52 Minor Arcana) simply showed number
and suit, just like regular playing cards.
the Tarot, it is best to get a deck
on every card. Most metaphysical bookstores will have display decks for
each kind that they sell, so that you can look through them before
buying, your average bookstore may not. What you are looking for, is a
deck with pictures that seem to tell a story to you. Each card tells a
different story. When you find a deck where the story just seems to
come out on several cards, that deck is talking to you.
on each card are symbolic
representations, and are
interpreted, similar to dreams. Just like dreams, each person is going
to interpret the same picture differently. The cards are simply tools,
they have no way to magickally forecast the future. The pictures on the
cards help stimulate a connection with the subconscious, and as you’ll
remember from What
Is Ritual, the subconscious speaks in images.
subconscious somehow allows us to tap into
energies that are
not bound by the concept of time or space. We already know from Quantum
Mechanics that certain particles exist in flux, and seem to move
through time and space, first appearing in one place, then nearly
simultaneously moving somewhere else. It seems that the subconscious
has an ability to access information from some source unknown to us,
that is not bound by our limited perceptions.
I look at a card from the Witches Tarot such as the nine of
Pentacles, the first thing I see is a woman in a field of sunflowers.
Next, I notice that she is visibly pregnant. Finally, I note that she
seems to be looking off into the distance, as though looking or waiting
This card to
me, seems to tell the story of a
walking calmly through the countryside, thinking of her lover. To
someone else, it may tell a completely different story. But by looking
at the stories of each of the cards laid down in the spread, knowing
the meanings of the suits, and where in the spread the card sits, I can
give a reading to another person without ever asking what their
to access unknown information is not
trickery or magick, it is simply a matter of practice.
Once you have
chosen your deck, you must spend
some quality time
with it, getting to know each of the 72 cards in turn. This is not
something to be rushed.
looking at each card, perhaps
meditating on it, and learning its story, can you begin to read the
cards. This is why I prefer Tarot to other methods such as Runes. Rune
staves just don’t talk to me.
I don’t have
the space here to teach a full course
in Tarot, though there are online courses
available. I can however give you some basic information so that you
can decide if Tarot is something you wish to pursue further.
In the normal
Tarot deck, there are a total of 72
Major Arcana and 52 Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are each numbered
one through twenty, and each has a title. The Death Card used in the
movie example above, is in the Major Arcana.
Arcana is very much like a standard card
are 52 cards labeled Ace through ten, and three Court cards, divided
into four suits. The Court cards in a standard playing deck are jack,
Queen, and King. In the Tarot, they are Page or Knight, Queen, and
King. The Witches Tarot is a bit different from the average Tarot deck,
in that instead of a Page or Knight in each suit, it has Prince and
The four suits
of the Tarot are Swords, Wands,
Pentacles. These four suits can be equated to the suits in a regular
playing deck, Swords/Spades, Wands/Clubs, Cups/Hearts, and
Pentacles/Diamonds. This pairing with the regular card deck can be
useful when learning what the suits represent. In the Tarot, the suit
of Cups represent emotion (Hearts), and Pentacles can represent wealth
(Diamonds) or material gain. The suit of Swords represent action
(Spades), and Wands represent knowledge (Clubs).
You will also
notice that each of the four suits
are Tools used
in ritual, and therefore each represents a Direction, and as well as an
Element. If you are unsure of what Direction/Element each suit
represents, look at the Tools page.
So, how does
knowing what the suits represent,
help us in a reading? Let’s use the Ace of each suit as an example.
The Ace by itself represents something new, but what is
it that is new? Since Swords represent action, if the ace of Swords
came up in a reading, it would most likely tell the start of a new
action. The person with the question is, has, or will, do something
The Ace of
Cups? Cups are emotion, so the querent
may be looking at a new relationship of some kind.
Ace of Wands
represents new knowledge or learning,
questioner may come into new information relating to the question they
have, or a new idea may strike them. Ace of Pentacles is new money, or
material gain. Perhaps a new job?
These are of course the most simplistic of
interpretations because the cards are taken out of context. Where do
you find the context? You find context in the way the cards are laid
out, which is called the spread. There are an innumerable number of
spreads, and variations. In fact, you can create your own if you wish.
The most common spread, is probably the Celtic Cross.
Celtic Cross is a ten card spread. But
ritual (there’s always a ritual). Before laying the spread, the person
with the question shuffles the cards. They are usually instructed to
shuffle the cards in any fashion they like, for as long as they feel
they need to, while concentrating on their question. Once the cards are
shuffled, the querent is asked to cut the cards into three piles from
left to right, usually with their left hand. The reader then gathers
the piles together in whatever order seems right.
no trick to this, both the querent
reader are allowing the subconscious mind to control their actions. The
one with the question shuffles the cards while thinking about their
question, and the reader picks up the three piles randomly, or uses
Now it’s time
to lay the spread. In the Celtic
Cross, the first
two cards are laid down, one on top of the other, perpendicular to it.
The top card crossing the bottom card. The third card is laid to the
left of the first two, the fourth above the first two, the fifth to the
right, and the sixth below. Now you have a cross, with two cards in the
center, and one card at each of the points. The last four cards are
laid to the right of this in a vertical column, from bottom to top.
The cards can
be laid face up or face down.
Typically, if they
are laid face down, they are turned over one at a time and the
interpretation given as each card is revealed. If they are laid face
up, the interpretation is given as each card is laid.
Now comes the
tricky part. Each card has two
dependant on its orientation. If the card appears right side up to the
reader, it means one thing. If the card appeared upside down to the
reader, it has another meaning known as the reverse meaning. Many
times, if the card means one thing right side up, its reversed meaning
is the opposite, or that it won’t happen.
in the spread also has a meaning.
- In the Celtic Cross, the first card represents
This can be influences on the person asking the question, or on the
situation the question is about, but the influences are happening now.
- The second card, which crosses the first (the
represents present events which will affect the person asking the
- The third card represents past events which
will affect the querent.
- The fourth card indicates past, or passing
influences. Again, this can be about the querent, or the situation
- The fifth card represents future events. It is
remember that the future is fluid. This card represents what is most
likely to happen, if nothing changes. We all have free will, after all.
- The sixth card is future influences. Again,
these may or may
not happen, depending on what action the querent takes due to the
- The seventh card represents the querent’s
environment. These are things like home, friends, and work.
- The eighth card represents the querent’s
strength. How are
they able to handle whatever comes at them? Do they have the will power
to do what must be done?
- Card nine represents the hopes and fears of the
You will find that this card always can be looked at both ways. On one
side, you hope for this, on the other, you fear that.
- The tenth and final card shows the final
this is based on there being no change in the situation caused by the
Cross is a standard spread, and learned
by most beginning
students. It has several variations that can be used to add detail to
the reading. For example, should the querent have questions about any
of the cards in the spread, three more cards can be drawn in order from
the top of the deck, and interpreted as they relate to the position of
the card in question.
must always be careful not to put
personal bias into
the reading. This is why most people have a hard time reading for
themselves. Usually if you have a question that requires divination, it
tends to be a question of some importance. It’s only natural to want a
particular outcome. This will tend to affect how you interpret the
If you are
reading for yourself, especially when
starting out, it’s best to ask general questions, such as “How will my
day go?” or “What is in store for me this month?”
to keep in mind, is that a question
than once, tends to give cards that make no sense when interpreted
together. The cards seem to say, “You asked your question, you got your
answer, stop asking for answers you already know.”
can be as simple as asking a yes/no
drawing the top card from the deck, and doing a basic interpretation,
or it can be as complex as you want to make it.
The main thing
to remember is to look at each
card, and let it
tell you what it means. As you practice, you will find that certain
cards seem to always mean the same thing, and that certain cards always
seem to come up for the same people.
magick involved, but there can be a
great deal of
psycho analysis. The Tarot allows the reader to create a connection to
their subconscious, and thereby tap into knowledge not usually known.
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