The aim of this course is to acquaint you with the system of Tarot, uses, the background behind it, and hopefully you will finish the course with a deep understanding of the cards and the knowledge needed to interpret them. Throughout the course we will cover diverse topics ranging from the history of the Tarot to intuition, how to read for others, and Tarot spreads you can use. After some of the lessons there will be extra 'tasks' for you to do. These are optional, and are aimed at those who wish to study Tarot a little deeper. After the lessons there will also be a Further Reading list if applicable, for those who wish to expand their knowledge of specific areas of the course. There will also be a list of Key Terms arising from each lesson at the end of the lesson, so you can re-cap on what you learned and turn to if you are not sure what a term means.
You may notice as we progress through the course, that we do not touch upon the actual meanings of the cards themselves until quite late into the course. This is for a specific reason, and is not just because of incompetence on my part! Tarot essentially, is an art form which employs the intuition, imagination, and a deep understanding of 'the way things are', and as such, it is a very personal art form, which differs from person to person. The traditional meanings of the cards, whilst being useful, are only a rough guideline as to what the cards mean: Ultimately, it is your intuition and understanding which tells you the meanings, which can change from reading to reading depending on the question or person you are reading for. This course therefore, aims to help you develop the understanding needed, and guide you to ways in which you can cultivate your own approach to the Tarot, which will provide you with a platform from which to leap into a system of divination which can become a lifelong study!
You will need a Tarot deck for this course, though it is not essential until we reach Lesson 3, and Lesson 4 will provide you with information on how to choose a Tarot deck. This course does not require you to own a specific deck, though there are recommendations of decks in Lesson 1. These recommendations are not set in stone however, as personal taste, religion, and interests will affect which decks you find most suitable.
For your benefit, here is a brief outline of the course, so you can see what topics we will be covering.
What is Tarot?
What are its uses?
Tarot myths and superstitions
Book and Tarot deck recommendations
Does Tarot work?
Why should you care?
History of the Tarot: Where does the Tarot as we know it come from?
What are the implications of this?
Choosing the right Tarot deck
Caring for your deck
Shuffling the deck
Getting in the mood for a Tarot reading
Methods of learning the meanings of the cards and getting acquainted with them
Different methods of interpreting the cards, and their advantages and disadvantages
Keeping a Tarot journal
Getting practice at interpreting the cards in different ways
Tarot spreads: An introduction
Making up your own spreads
Symbolic systems associated with Tarot: A quick introduction
A word about the previous 'extra' task
Developing your intuition and ability to interpret the cards intuitively
Reading for yourself vs. Reading for others
Types of questions: Most commonly asked questions, yes/no questions, general questions, questions which are too specific
The meanings of the cards: Introduction
The Fool's Journey, both Kabalistic and modern version
Questions to ask when studying the Major Arcana
Symbolic systems and their relevance:
The High Priestess
The 'What if I do/What if I don't?' spread
The High Priest
Three Card spread and its variations
Four Card spread and Elemental spread
The Wheel of Fortune
Five Card spreads
The Hanged Man
The Horseshoe spread
The Celtic Cross spread
Tree of Life spread
Types of questions requiring only Major Arcana
What does it mean if I get all Major Arcana in a reading?
Always looking on the bright side: More words on Death, the Devil, and the Tower
Introduction to the Minor Arcana
Questions to ask when approaching the Minor Arcana
The elements and the Minor Arcana, and a word from Carl Jung
Is there a basic theme in each suit?
The Court Cards
The suit of Cups
The Court cards of Cups
Spreads for matters of the Heart
The suit of Wands
The Court card of Wands
Spreads for the Spiritual side of life
The suit of Pentacles
The Court cards of Pentacles
Material spreads, for work, money, and family
The suit of Swords
The Court cards of Swords
Using 'Keys': The Missing Card in a 'split run' of cards
Dealing with difficult questioners/questions
Laws on Tarot: Is it legal in your state/country?
Setting the atmosphere for a reading
Chatting isn't cheating: Interactive readings
The Happy Squirrel: Telling the questioner bad news
Creating your own Tarot deck
Looking at why people go to Tarot readers: Mental health and our responsibility to the questioner
The next step:
Coming out of the 'Tarot closet'
How to further your study:
Places for fellow Tarot Lovers
Groups and Societies
There will also be periodical tests for you to complete. The tests are designed simply for you to gauge your progress and understanding, and pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. With that all said, I think the only thing left to do is dive straight in!
Some have declared that the Tarot is a map of the Universe, some that it is an ancient initiatory procession. Others say that the Tarot is a method of fortune-telling, a way to solve your problems and explore possibilities, and a means of counseling and advice-giving. Another theory is that the Tarot is the esoteric wisdom of the ancients, hidden in an innocent-looking card pack, and others say it is merely a game. Whatever the theory one uses to describe the Tarot depends on your personal feelings about it, and I will not say that any of the above theories are more trueR than others, for this very reason. What I can tell you is that in this course we will be exploring Tarot as a map of the Universe, a method of fortune telling, problem solving, and counseling, and a game.
The Tarot deck itself is a 78-card pack, consisting of two parts: The Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana (Otherwise known as Trumps, Triumphs and Majors) has 22 cards: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The High Priest, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, The Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgment, and The World. The Fool is the only un-numbered card, with The Magician bearing the number 1, The High Priestess the number 2, and so on until we reach The World with number 21. The Fool has no number, and instead bears a '0', because of the nature of the card itself, and because it is widely held that this card is separate from the other Majors: Instead of being part of the 'journey' of the Majors, it is the actual traveler which has to face that journey! These Major Arcana represent archetypes such as the Mother, Father, and Wounded Healer.
The Minor Arcana are very much like our modern day playing card pack, with four suits. The names of the suits are different to a playing card pack however: Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles. These suits roughly correspond to Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds respectively in playing card packs. In each suit there are 10 pip cards known as Minors, which are numbered from 1-10, and 4 picture cards, known as Court Cards, which are similar to the King, Queen, and Jack of a playing card deck. The Tarot deck's Courts are known as King, Queen, Knight, and Page, and they often refer to people, emotions, or characteristics.
Most people, when they think of Tarot, immediately assume that it is merely a fortune telling tool which tells you who you're going to marry or how many children you're going to have. In truth however, the Tarot is not as limited as this, and it has many more uses besides the usual fortune telling (Or divination as it is often called, and as it will be called through this course). Since the modern revival of Tarot in the 19th century, it has been widely used as a method of problem-solving and counseling, much as a session with a psychotherapist is. With this application, the cards are used as a focus for exploring the questioner's feelings about a situation, person, or event, and from this the reading aims to guide the questioner to a discovery of the solution to their problem, or to the deeper insight they are searching for. Later on in the course, we will look at how to conduct this kind of reading.
The Tarot can also be used for gaming purposes. As you will see in Lesson 3, Tarot originated as a game much like Whist, in Renaissance Italy, and today you can still play the original games, or games which are geared more towards the modern day interpretations of the cards and their meanings. Games such as Tarot Charades can be played to acquaint people with the meanings of symbols of the cards, and you can use games which focus on certain aspects of the cards (Such as Court cards or animals in the cards) in order to help children understand Tarot a little deeper. Of course, it also serves as a very fun way of spending a boring Sunday afternoon!
In the nine years I have been studying Tarot, I have also come across a use for the Tarot known as character creation, where you use the cards to invent characters for stories you wish to tell, or role-playing games you wish to play. In this application, the cards tell you the personality of your new character, their background, their likes and dislikes, possibly what they look like, and their actions in the story.
One final use of the Tarot which is very popular, is magic. The cards can be used in spells and rituals just like candles, incense, and talismans would be, and the images in the cards act as a focus for the mind during the spell. For instance, if you were considering performing a healing ritual for a friend, you may wish to use the Star card or Temperance card, or even both, to focus on and meditate on, just as you might concentrate on a candle flame when trying to contemplate or scry.
The wonderful thing about Tarot is that it always offers the student opportunities to find new ways of using it and understanding it. As such, there are more applications of Tarot than I have listed which individuals have discovered, and as we progress with our study of Tarot, it is obvious that we can find more!
Even in this modern age of science and technology, those who know little about Tarot, and even those who know a lot about it, hold superstitions which have no basis in fact, and which are dangerous not only for the public face of Tarot, but for the person who believes them. I know of people who have become overly anxious and afraid to be alone at home because they think that their Tarot deck had evil instilled in it, and brought demons into their house.
There are two types of people who believe such superstitions. The first is the general public, and people who know hardly anything about the Tarot. Such peoples' fears and superstitions are fuelled by movies and the media, hell-bent on making things sensationalist: You can't have a decent occult/spooky movie without a Tarot reading which portends sure doom, or depicts Tarot in the hands of the bad-guys. We have seen an example of this recently in the news, when the Washington Sniper in the USA apparently left a 'Death' Tarot card at one his killings. The fact that the police department in charge said that this was a false claim did nothing to stop the media sensationalizing the story, and fuelling the belief that Tarot is evil.
The second type of person to believe superstitions such as 'Tarot controls demons' are the Tarot readers who desire nothing but to seem more powerful than other people, and to scare people into feeling smaller than them. These people are very bad adverts for Tarot, and make other Tarot readers look bad. In an effort to maybe open peoples' minds to the Tarot, I have put together a list of the most common superstitions and myths spread about the Tarot, and an explanation as to why they are not true.
1)Tarot tells you what will definitely happen, and you can't change the future that has been foretold
One of the things I hear most from people who are not used to Tarot is that they would rather not know what's going to happen to them: They’d rather it was a surprise and they wouldn't want to know if something bad is going to happen. They assume that you cannot change the future, but the truth is that you can, and therein lays the whole point of Tarot! The future is wholly dependent upon the present, and by choosing to do something different to what you were going to do in the present, you are changing the outcome. For instance, on a very mundane level: You are considering making the final commitment to your partner and you want to ask them to marry you. Given that if you ask, he/she will say yes, the most likely future for you is marriage. But if you go against what you were considering, and don't ask, then the most likely future is that you won't get married. It really is up to you which to choose. The Tarot tells you the future you will have if you carry on the way you are going. It will tell you what will happen if you do ask your partner to marry you. If the future looks good, then you can be content in the knowledge that you are going the right way. If however, it is bad, you now have the knowledge that you are probably going the wrong way, and you can start changing things so that you take a different, better route in life. In this way, Tarot does tell the future, but as a tool for making the most of life. Incidentally, the Tarot can also be used for many other things instead of 'fortune-telling', such as problem solving and counseling, the former being the use of the cards to get some idea of what is going on in a situation, and how to solve it, and the latter being the use of the cards to get some idea of what is going on inside the person, relating to the situation. Counseling with the Tarot is basically the same as normal counseling, where the person tries to come to terms with their feelings and the cause of such feelings.
2)The Tarot is evil/has evil spirits in it/will corrupt all who go near it
This is a view most usually held by those who know little or nothing about Tarot. For some reason, Tarot has had a severely bad rep. ever since Victorian times, when its use for divination was widespread. It was first persecuted however between 1450 and 1480 by a now anonymous friar, whose sermon against it called it a tool of the devil, saying that the cards were:
"Given their names by the Devil himself, who invented them." This was not, however, because the Tarot was used for divination - At the time, its only use was for gaming and gambling, hence the anonymous friar's hatred of it. Victorian Catholicism and Christianity branded the Tarot as evil, based on the aforementioned sermon, and the fact that it was used for fortune-telling, divination, etc which they claimed was incompatible with the Christian faith. This again, is a fairly common assumption amongst the general public, who are largely what we may call 'token Christians': They celebrate Christmas and Easter, and maybe go to church once a year, and adhere to Christianity's general rules, but are not devout. Usually, the quote 'suffer not a witch to live' is used to prove that Tarot is against Christianity, but it is easy to see where this claim falls down. For a start, not all who read Tarot are witches. The second quote used against Tarot is in Leviticus 19:26, where it says: 'do not practice divination or sorcery.' This is blatantly a law against any kind of divination, and on it's own it does justify the claim that Tarot is incompatible with Christianity. Yet when we read the two verses which follow that quote, we get a law against cutting hair and trimming beards, and another one against tattoos and piercing... Next time somebody uses Lev.19:26 against Tarot, ask them if they have their ears pierced! Of course, there is also plenty of divination, prophesy, and fortune-telling in the Bible, for instance Joseph, son of Jacob foretells the future by interpreting dreams in Genesis 37:1-45:28, and a man called Balaam utters five oracles in the name of God in Numbers 23:1-24:25. And of course we have the book of Revelations at the end of the Bible, which itself is pure prophesy. Despite all these things though, the view that Tarot is incompatible with Christianity has been passed on and fuelled by fundamentalist Christians to this day.
For those who are Christian, it is often difficult to convince them that the Tarot isn't evil. For those who aren't Christian, it is usually very easy. Most see the Tarot as just a pack of cardboard pictures, incapable of being evil. After all, how can inanimate objects be evil? It is true however, that the use that the object is put to can be classed as evil, but this is very rare with the Tarot. What possible evil uses can it have? So far, my experience with it has been one of immense good in fact: I know of many Tarot readers who use the Tarot as another counseling tool and this way they do good with it, helping people understand themselves and the situations they are in.
3)If you buy the deck yourself, it is bad luck and you won't be able to use it: The deck must be a gift/stolen
This is a surprisingly pervasive myth, which says that you won't be able to read with any deck you buy for yourself, and if you do buy the deck, you will have immense bad luck. According to this superstition, you must have a deck given to you as a gift to be able to use it properly. Indeed, it is amazing how many Tarot readers are told off by shop- workers at tills who, when they are handed the Tarot deck by the purchaser, ask in a very low and menacing voice, 'I hope you're not buying these for yourself...??!!' as if it is company policy or something!
It is of course, a fallacy, and quite a laughable one. Let's be down-to-earth here folks: How could the way you get a deck affect the usability and your ability to read with it? I'm sure most scientists will agree with me that it's pretty unlikely that the method of obtaining a tool will not affect its usage. For instance, one doesn't bother worrying about how one should purchase a saw or drill, just in case they purchase it incorrectly, maybe using the wrong hand to give the money, maybe forgetting to twirl around thrice, recite an occult chant, and jump up and down on one leg whilst handing over the money... Because heaven forbid, doing it wrong could mean you can't saw a piece of wood in half with your newly purchased saw! So, you get the picture here. The only way the acquisition of a deck could affect your ability to read it, is if you did steal it, and were so racked with guilt that you couldn't bring yourself to use the deck. This is one of the reasons why the myth that you should not exchange money for a deck (Steal it) is exactly that: A myth. There are also practical implications of you stealing a deck: Each deck has a creator, an artist who spent sometimes as much as 20 years of their life slaving over the deck, writing the book for it, publishing it... More than likely they had to spend lots of money to get it published and pay for the original materials as well. They deserve (And sometimes need) the money from the deck when people buy it. By stealing a deck, you are denying that artist the payment they deserve/need.
Back to being given a deck as a gift... Whilst it is very nice for people to give you a deck as a present, it is highly unlikely they will. If all the Tarot readers I know waited until they were given a deck before beginning, most of them would still be waiting! You will also find that the person who gives you a deck will not have got you the one that is 'right for you'. Only you can know which deck is the one you are most attracted/called to, and it's important that you do get such a deck because it is almost impossible to read with a deck you don't like. There are literally thousands of decks available, believe it or not, and each is different. Some may have different artwork, approaches, designs, symbols, themes, etc... Out of the thousands around, what are the chances you will be given the one right for you as a gift...?
The actual origins of the myth can be found in the modern revival of the interest in Tarot in the 1960's, when decks were virtually impossible to buy. You couldn't just walk into a shop and see Tarot decks on the shelves. They were sold 'under-the-counter', and you had to know someone who knew someone who knew someone else who could obtain you such an item. Tarot back then was still highly taboo, and there were, in the USA, still laws against it in most states, so unless you were given a deck perhaps from your mother who was given it by her mother, or through contacts, you could not get one. Buying one was absolutely unheard of and highly dangerous.
4)You must never let anybody else touch your cards
This is only a half-myth. There are many valid reasons why you may not want others to touch your cards. Some readers believe that their 'energies' are stored in the cards and they don't want anybody else’s energies 'contaminating' the cards. Personally, I don't hold with this: Logically, if you are worried about others contaminating your cards with their energies by touching them, surely you should also not let anybody touch you ever, as you have energies inside yourself which somebody else's touch may contaminate. And of course, living life like that is downright stupid and impossible...
As far as I'm concerned, a Tarot pack is nothing special. It is a deck of 78 pretty pictures on bits of cardboard you will find pretty much anywhere. Putting 'energy' into the cards isn't going to make them any more magical or effective than they already are: It’s you that does that with your interpretation of the cards that come up. Ultimately, nobody is going to die by touching somebody else's cards. Unless of course the owner of that deck has been watching 'The Name of the Rose' and has poisoned the cards...
Another valid reason why people may not want others touching their cards is because they don't want the deck damaged or stained. This is fine, but again, personally, I don't hold with it. If you asked me which deck I would prefer to use more: The deck which is kept wrapped in black silk, in a special box, and only bought out once a year within a cast circle after being purified with incense and chanting, or the deck which lives in a smoky pub, is used for gaming by day, and by night by the landlord's daughter to find out who she will marry... I'd choose the old and tattered one from the pub, simply because I know that people I am reading for have more trust in me if I have a worn, old deck, because they can then tell how long I have been studying and using Tarot... They can tell I have some decent knowledge of it, and that I will most likely give them an honest reading. If you have a brand new shiny deck, the questioner will feel as though you are still new at all this, and may not give a reliable reading.
5)You cannot read for yourself
This myth stems from the fact that most readers find it difficult to read for themselves usually because they don't remain objective: They only see what they want to see in the cards!! Nearly all readers are like this, no matter how long they have been studying Tarot. Personally, if I read for myself, instead of being able to formulate words and sentences to convey the meaning of the cards, I just get a general sense of what the cards are saying, and thud have a tendency to bypass important details! However, this can be overcome by forcing me to write down the reading: I have to create the details in sentences if I'm writing it down.
Despite this, the way most readers practice and learn Tarot to the level where they feel confident enough to read for others, is to read for themselves all the time. So, in that way, reading for you, whilst difficult, isn't impossible.
6)You must be psychic to read the cards
If you have to be psychic to read the Tarot, why are there thousands of books dedicated purely to the study of how to memorize the meanings of the cards? Whilst it is obvious that a little intuition would not go amiss (And there are very simple ways that you can improve the natural intuition that everybody has!) you will find that most good Tarot readers are as psychic as a piece of toast. There are exceptions however, but psychic Tarot readers don't actually 'read' the cards as such, but use the cards more as a foothold into a trance-like predictive state, or to open themselves up to psychism. Non-psychic readers actually interpret the cards based on the given meanings, or, depending which approach they take, by just saying what they think the pictures on the cards mean to the person who is having the reading.
7)Tarot is difficult to learn
It can be, but only if you try and do it the hard way by attempting to memorize all the meanings for the cards. If this is the approach you take, it can take around 4 years to become confident enough to read for others without having to look the meanings up in a book.
However, if you forget trying to memorize the meanings, and quite literally just 'say what you see' the pictures on the cards, you can pick it all up in a week. A week does sound as though you won't be doing it in depth, but in the end, this form of reading is just a small part of studying Tarot. It merely gives you the idea of how to read, and means you aren't solely dependent on book meanings and memorized lists of keywords for a reading. After you have learned to read with the 'say what you see' method, you can always go and read the meanings from books, and you will be shocked to see how close to those meanings your own ones are! You can if you wish, use both the book meanings and your own intuitive meanings, but using just the book meanings is going to leave you with 4 years of pure hell, as readings will be more about you trying to guess which card means which, and giving yourself a pat on the back each time you 'get a card right', than they will about helping the questioner and working out what the cards mean for that individual.
As you study Tarot for longer, you will find a whole host of personal and private beliefs and superstitions that are held by readers. Do not be put off by this: In the end, the study and use of Tarot is a very personal thing and you cannot expect all readers to do things exactly the same as each other. I have, in this article, tried to break down the myths that cause people to be wary of studying Tarot, even though they may want to, and the superstitions that have a tendency to hinder the Tarot student's learning.
Before we progress further into the course, it may be useful for you to take a look at some of the books and Tarot decks available to you. There are no specific books that are essential for this course, though there are some which will be useful. The Tarot decks I recommend are those which are best used when reading intuitively, which is the method of reading we shall be focusing on in this course.
For your convenience, links have been provided to amazon.com if you wish to purchase any of the items.
|Pictorial Key to the Tarot|
by Arthur Edward Waite
|Tarot Shadow Work: Using the Dark Symbols to Heal|
by Christine Jette
by Janine Renee
|The Tarot Companion; An Essential Reference Guide|
by Tracy Porter
by Yasmine Galenorn
by Terry Donaldson
|The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Tarot|
by Rachel Pollack
|Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot|
by Rachel Pollack
|The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot|
by Rachel Pollack
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume I|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume II|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume III|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|Robin Wood Tarot|
by Robin Wood
by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith
|Osho Zen Tarot|
by Ma Deva Padma
|Roots of Asia Tarot|
by Klanpracha, Amnart Klanprachar, Thaworn Boonyawan
|Medicine Woman Tarot|
by Carol Bridges
by Kay Steventon
by David Palladini
by Mary Hanson-Roberts and Dorothy Morrison
|Universal Waite Tarot|
by Pamela Colman Smith (Illustrator), Mary Hanson-Roberts (Illustrator)
by Eileen Connolly, Peter Paul Connolly (Contributor)
|Arcus Arcanum Tarot|
by Hager Gunter
by Louisa Poole
|Vision Quest Tarot|
by Gayan Sylvie Winter (Creator), Jo Dose
by Melanie Lofland Gendron (Creator)
|Ancestral Path Tarot|
by Tracey Hoover, Julie Cuccia-Watts (Illustrator)
|Morgan Greer Tarot|
by Bill F. Greer (Creator), Lloyd Morgan (Creator)
|Light and Shadow Tarot|
by Brian Williamshael Goepferd
|New Palladini Tarot|
by David Palladini
by Norbert Losche (Creator)
|The Glastonbury Tarot: Timeless Wisdom from the Isle of Avalon|
by Lisa Tenzin Dolma, Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, Caitlin Matthews, John Matthews
|Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot: Discover the Magic in Nature|
by Poppy Palin
|Manara Erotic Tarot|
by Milo Manara
by Carl Rohrig
|Nigel Jackson Tarot|
by Nigel Jackson
|Legend the Arthurian Tarot|
by Anna-Marie Ferguson
by Mary Hanson-Roberts
|Celtic Dragon Tarot|
by D. J. Conway, Lisa Hunt
by D. J. Conway, Sirona Knight, Lisa Hunt (Illustrator)
|Cosmic Tribe Tarot|
by Stevee Postman, Eric Ganther
|Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot|
by Aleister Crowley (Designer), Frieda Harris (Illustrator)
|Major Arcana||The name for the 22 numbered cards in a traditional Tarot deck.|
|Minor Arcana||The name for the four suits of the Tarot deck -Cups, Pentacles, Wands, and Swords.|
|Court Cards||The 16 Minor Arcana cards that are represented by people -King, Queen, Knight, and Page|
In the last lesson we briefly looked at what Tarot is and what it can be used for, so in this lesson we shall be trying to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Tarot:
Does Tarot Work?
Why Should I Care?
When reading for other people, especially people you don't know very well or have just met, you may find they ask you the question, 'So, you believe in all this stuff then?' The question on closer analysis does seem like a silly one: You're using Tarot after all, so the chances are you do believe in it! But the reason the question is asked isn't to find out about your beliefs at all, but to gain assurance that the method they are looking to for answers is going to be helpful and trustworthy. This is why, if you are looking to make the person you are reading for (The querent) feel comfortable, you should be able to give them some idea of how you think Tarot works. After all, if you asked a brain surgeon how a scalpel worked and he couldn't tell you, you wouldn't want him performing any brain surgery on anybody, would you? The same is true of Tarot: If you are using a tool, yet you have no idea at all how it works, you look as though you don't know what you're doing, and this is not a good way to begin a Tarot reading!
So, does Tarot work? Personally, I would answer 'yes', simply because I have had experience of it and have seen it work with my own eyes. Some people may say 'no', but this is usually based only on a single visit to a very bad Tarot reader, and is not based on years of experience at all. There is also another reason why I always answer 'yes', and it links into the next question:
How does Tarot work? Many Tarot readers dread this question, because there is no cut-and-dried explanation as there is for 'how does a scalpel work?' One way out of it is to simply say, ‘I don’t know, it just does,’ but this can hardly be said to be satisfactory. In the age of science, we can at least try to hypothesize about how the Tarot works, even if our theory turns out to be incorrect.
There are many such theories as to how Tarot works, the simplest being the idea that there is some divine force, be it God, the Goddess, angels, or spirits moving the cards or your hands to produce the cards which will answer the question best. It is a very nice theory, but it does involve personal belief, and trying to explain it to a skeptic or somebody who doesn’t hold a similar viewpoint about the Divine is very tricky, especially considering such a theory will not hold with a skeptical scientist or complete atheist! After all, they may say, how can God be bothered to move around these cards, when he can’t even be bothered to save starving people in the Developing World? This theory is also a difficult one to believe, since there are plenty of Tarot readers around who are complete atheists.
The second theory is what I will title the Energy-Influence theory, where is it believed that the deck ‘tunes in’ with the reader and querent’s unique, personal energy, and this somehow causes the most helpful cards to come up. People using this theory believe it is important to create a close bond with their deck, through practices such as sleeping with them under their pillow or ritually consecrating them. Again, it is a very nice theory to hold, and fits in with quite a few superstitions and myths surrounding the Tarot (As seen in Lesson 1), but it is significantly weakened by the fact that I can give you a perfectly good and accurate reading with a deck of cards I have only just purchased.
A third theory is a Higher Self theory, which is very similar to the divine intervention theory (The first one), in that instead of a divine being influencing the cards or the shuffler’s hands, it is the reader and querent’s higher self doing the influencing. Either the higher self influences the actual order of the cards, or the thoughts and interpretations of the cards’ images by the reader. This theory is slightly stronger against the skeptic than the previous two, but some people feel a bit wary of the idea that there is something ‘out there’ influencing our hands and thoughts!
Fourthly, we have the Collective Unconscious theory, which is based on the psychologist Carl Jung’s view of the human mind. In his view, the mind was split into four sections: The conscious, subconscious, unconscious, and collective unconscious. This collective unconscious refers to the minds of all the people who have ever lived and will ever live, in a collection, which the Tarot reader ‘taps into’ to get answers from when they interpret the cards. The idea is that the collective unconscious, because of the number of minds it encompasses, has the answer to everything, and the Tarot merely acts as a tool to find the right answer. It would be wonderful if we could verify such a great theory, but unfortunately, due to its nature, we cannot. Whilst Jung has given us a very good way of explaining a plethora of spiritual phenomena, we cannot prove that he was right. But then again, we cannot prove that he wasn’t either!
A fifth theory is based around the view of Tarot not as the answer in itself, but as the tool, or key, to the answers, which are hidden deep within our unconscious mind, which knows everything. This theory (Which I shall call the Key to the Unconscious theory) says that our unconscious already knows the answers to any questions we may ask, and the Tarot simply acts as a mirror and reflects the answers to our conscious mind so that we are aware of them. A bit like Vipassana meditation or contemplation might do. With this theory, it is not the Tarot that has the answers, but our own minds, which is a theory many people in today’s society favor simply due to the fact that it gives them more perceived control over their lives. I think I would agree that it is a very good and strong theory, not because it can be proven true in any way, but because of the effects it has on people: In this day and age, we see all around us people with horribly low self-esteem, who consider themselves as worthless, and who believe that life is controlling them, not the other way round. It is such a shame that so many people feel this way, and this theory of how Tarot works seems to go some way to encouraging the reader with low self-esteem to start once again believing in their own capabilities and to begin grabbing the reins of life and steering it where they wish it to go.
The final theory, which I will call the Interpretation theory, continues this train of thought about the Tarot merely being a tool, but takes it one step further: Instead of our unconscious having all the answers, it is our conscious and subconscious minds as well that have the answers, and the Tarot is a platform from which we leap into finding out these answers and confronting the answers we cannot accept. This theory says that it doesn’t matter which cards come up, and they could come up purely by chance, because what matters most is what our minds make us see in those cards. As we will see later in the course, each card doesn’t just have one single meaning: It has hundreds of others, and they all depend on factors such as the querent, the question, the situation surrounding the question… It is the reader’s job to look at the images in the cards and simply say what they see: If they see two people staring deeply into each others eyes and sharing cups in one of the cards, then they will interpret this image in a way that fits the question and situation. For instance, if the question is about a relationship, the reader may see these two people in the card, and realize that the relationship in question is a very happy one, full of trust and friendship. The reader doesn’t have to know anything about the traditional meanings of the cards for this to happen, as they are simply saying what the images and symbols in the cards mean at that time. In this way, because the mind knows the question, it will apply the apparent meanings of the images and symbols to that question, and often it will see what it wants to see in the cards, or at least what it should see. With this theory, the Tarot is used more as a way to explore situations and questions than give any definite answers. It acts more as a counseling session would, and often brings out feelings and understanding of situations which the querent would not otherwise have been able to accept.
Whichever theory we choose to believe, and even if we find some more, it is important to remember that they all hold that the same premise is true: That in a Tarot reading, a meaningful link is made between the images and symbols in the cards, and the events or situations occurring in the querent’s life, be they internal or external. There is a problem however with trying to prove or disprove any theory about how Tarot works in this present day and age, since we cannot prove whether a card came up by chance or whether it was influenced by a higher power, and until science has worked out a way to find this out, we are limited to mere theories and hypotheses, which is better than nothing, but not as good as the possible best result.
The above theories differ between themselves about what Tarot actually is. Some see Tarot as a tool or key to the answers that are found elsewhere. Some see the Tarot as the answer in itself, and others see the Tarot as the on-switch for the tool that is the mind, so that the mind can then find the answers. There is no right or wrong way of viewing Tarot, and there is no right or wrong theories. We have to, however, be careful when choosing which theory we like best, as some will not be accepted by people around you.
Why Should I Care?
There is not necessity in knowing how Tarot works, however it is useful, and, as mentioned above, makes querents feel much comfier coming to you for a reading, because it seems as though you know what you are doing.
Why should you care? The simple answer is that you don’t need to care, but it’s nice if you do. After all, we can simply acknowledge the possible theories of how Tarot works, and simply rest easy in the knowledge that we know it does work, and leave it at that.
In the previous lesson we took a look at some possible theories of how Tarot works, so in this lesson we are going to explore how the Tarot came to us: Where it came from, who, when, and most importantly, why.
The history of the Tarot is a subject that many people are misinformed about. Some say it comes from Atlantis, some from Egypt, some from the Gypsies, and some say it is a Celtic creation. Romantic as these theories are, they are sadly untrue, and the origins of Tarot are much more down-to-earth than this. This is important, because I find that when Tarot is blown out of all proportion, people lose sight of its roots and the ways we can use it in our everyday lives. The Tarot is, ultimately, a very grounded, very common sense system of divination, and it is a shame sometimes that the fantastical myths about its origins turn it into some airy-fairy, unknowable and mysterious system. To be fair however, it wasn't until very recent years that we began to uncover the truth of the Tarot's origins, so the old myths still hang around, and they are quite fun to entertain every now and then!
Where does the Tarot as we know it come from?
As has already been mentioned, the Tarot did not originate in Egypt, Atlantis, or Britain, and the Gypsies certainly did not bring it with them on their travels (Though they did adopt it a number of centuries later, along with the rest of the Western world!). It would be foolhardy to say that it is beyond all doubt that we know exactly where the Tarot originated, but we can deduce a major possibility from the facts that we do have. The history of Tarot is full of assumption and leaps of faith, as we are never given any solid evidence for where and when and why the Tarot was developed, though we do have significant clues. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to investigate these clues, since they are only told to us by other Tarot writers, so in this lesson, I will only be repeating what dozens of other writers have already said, though in my own words.
We can be almost certain that the Tarot did not start life as a divinatory system, or indeed anything esoteric, but as a card game (Though not just one card game: A series of many different games, known collectively as ‘Trionfi’ in most places.) The earliest mention we have of Tarot differs however, between 1332AD and 1450AD, depending on which book you are reading! (It should be mentioned here that it is not unusual for Tarot writers to re-invent a few facts of the Tarot’s history in order to make the theory more plausible or exciting, (More on this later.) The 1332 mention is apparently when King Alfonse XI banned the practice of using cards in general, and there are many other writers who have different dates but who all use the banning of the practice as proof. It is not however clear as to whether the practice banned involved a normal four-suited deck, or a Tarot deck, so we cannot be certain that any of the dates given in the 14th century are accurate. What is clear though is that the earliest mention of the Tarot is found in Italy, and that the first indubitable record we have of it (Which specifically mentions the Tarot pack, not just card packs in general) is in a letter from Duke Francesco Sforza to his treasurer, asking him to find a Tarot deck for him, and if one couldn’t be found, a normal pack of playing cards. This letter has been dated to 1450, so the Tarot has its first indubitable record in the Renaissance period. This is why so many Tarot decks still use Renaissance, Catholic imagery, and also the reason for many of the card titles such as Pope and Popess (Now called Hierophant/High Priest and High Priestess.) The fifteenth century references to Tarot only refer to it in a gaming context however, not a divinatory or occult one, and it does seem that the evidence is in favor of Tarot being invented as a game. It seems these games were very popular, and many still survive in Europe today, mainly in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
So why all these other theories about the beginnings of Tarot? I suppose the most prevalent theory is that the Tarot comes from Egypt, and this has it’s origins in the fantasies of a man named Antoine Court de Gebelin, who some time in the 1770’s first encountered the Tarot being played by his hostess at a dinner party, and after fifteen minutes of examining the deck, claimed it to be Egyptian. His ‘observations’ were first published in his book Le Monde Primitif in 1776, and again in the book Le Jeu de Cartes in 1781. From Gebelin we get the theory that the Tarot is actually the last pieces of the libraries of Egypt, which he says were written on plates and later became cards. He seems to have totally ignored the fact that the Egyptians used scrolls to record their information! Another reason why the Egyptian theory is still with us is because of a man named Comte de Mellet, who used the word Tarot to prove that it is a ‘Book of Thoth’, and thus came originally from Thrice-Great Hermes, or Hermes Trismegistus. It seems Aleister Crowley liked this Egyptian theory, since he writes about it in his aptly entitled ‘Book of Thoth’ (An explanation of his Tarot deck, the Aleister Crowley-Thoth Tarot). The problem was that the famous occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette believed Gebelin, and redesigned the cards to fit the ‘original’ Egyptian cards, which he claimed had been printed incorrectly by card makers and printers. Alliette, more widely known as Etteilla, seems to be the person who made divination with the cards popular as well, even though there are a few records of it being used for such purposes before that. (These records come from the time when it still wasn’t very popular though.)
The Gypsy theory was expounded originally by a very confused man known as Jean-Alexandre Vaillant, who said that the Gypsies were not only responsible for bringing the Tarot with them to Europe, but they were also responsible for most other things in the world, including various deity cults which were usually associated with the Greeks, and of course, civilization. It is also certain that the Gypsies arrived in Europe quite a few years after the first introduction of the four-suited pack of cards, so they couldn’t have brought that with them, and the Tarot Trumps (Major Arcana) are full of Catholic Renaissance imagery. If the Gypsies had brought the Trumps with them to Europe, we should have at least some evidence for it: After all, we have plenty of cards from the fifteenth century Renaissance packs, so we can rightly assume the Gypsy decks may also still be around somewhere. Yet we have none.
The other theories, such as the Atlantis theory, really have no basis in fact or believable fiction whatsoever. Atlantis itself cannot yet be fully proven to have existed, and that is pretty much all we need to say about that theory of the Tarot’s origins!
One question you may be asking though, is how did the Tarot, which began as a gaming deck, become a widely used divinatory tool? What changed it from gaming to occult use? Well it seems the aforementioned Etteilla was one of the first people to try to mingle the Tarot with other occult practices such as Astrology, and this marked a very popular trend in Europe. It came hand in hand with the ‘Occult Revival’ in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, where we see many ‘secret societies’ and occult orders springing up all over the place. A man called Eliphas Levi (Born Alphonse Louis Constante) also helped the Tarot to make the switch, by ascribing Qaballah to it for the first time. Levi felt that the Jews were the originators of all magical teachings and writings, and that the Tarot and Qaballah were linked because of this. The fact that there were 22 Trumps and 22 Hebrew letters in the Qaballah served to give him his ‘proof’, and Levi went on to create a system of Tarot which has survived to this day and which is still used widely by Tarot readers and occultists alike. In this way, Levi firmly established the Tarot as part of the Western magical tradition. When he died however, there was an apparent lull in occult activity in Europe, until 1888, when Stanislas de Guaita founded the Cabalistic Order of the Rosy Cross. This man met another, Oswald Wirth, a Freemason, and together they designed a new Tarot deck, based on Levi’s work, which was published in 1889. This deck seems to be the forerunner of today’s modern Tarot deck, with its images and symbols being similar, if not identical.
Later on the Golden Dawn was founded in Britain, and the founder (Samuel Liddel ‘MacGregor’ Mathers) and his wife became very interested in Tarot, and so incorporated it into their order. Now, in this order were the three most well known Tarot deck creators in the world: Aleister Crowley, Paul Foster Case, and Arthur Edward Waite. At that time it was expected that all members of the Golden Dawn create their own Tarot deck and these three particular members were all trying to recreate the ‘true’ Tarot deck. Waite and Case pretty much followed the same route with their decks, and if you compare the Rider-Waite deck and BOTA deck, you will see they have amazing similarities. There is much debate as to whose deck came first, Waite’s or Case’s, and who copied who, but to me it doesn’t really matter! Crowley on the other hand (Who seems to have danced to his own tune anyway!) differed quite radically in his deck, and including more Hermetic/Golden Dawn philosophy in the deck than the other two. His deck, the Crowley-Thoth deck, is usually considered the most beautiful and effective deck out of the three, but all three are referred to as either decks which can be used very effectively, or decks which should be studied thoroughly in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the Tarot. Indeed, nearly all modern day Tarot decks are based on these three decks, though most are based on the Thoth and Rider-Waite deck, fewer on the BOTA.
Many are saddened by the fact that Tarot seems to have its origins as a game in Renaissance Italy, and some feel this takes away its mystique and power, but it doesn’t. Yes, the Tarot may have begun as a game, but now we have made it much more. We have added so much esoteric and occult symbolism to it, and we have formed a system of divination out of it. It may not have been occult back in the fifteenth century, but it certainly is now, and that is what counts!
A few historical decks from before the Occult Revival:
IJJ Swiss Tarot
Visconti Sforza Tarot
Minchiate Etruria Tarot
Tarot of Lombardy
Tarot of the Master
Ancient Tarots of Bologna
Sola Busca Tarot
Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot
It is important to remember that most of these decks were created for gaming purposes, so their images may differ slightly from the more modern decks, and many may not bear any symbolic significance whatsoever. Many of the Trumps from these decks have different names, different numbers, and different images, and some even have extra Trumps and Trumps which are ‘missing’. The Minchiate Etruria for instance, which was created in 1725, contains 41 Trumps, but does not include the Popess. It does however, include four virtues typical of eighteenth century Europe (Hope, Prudence, Faith, and Charity), the four elements, and twelve zodiac signs. All the above Tarot decks are available to buy, most from the company Lo Scarabeo, a company that specializes in art decks and historical decks.
|A Wicked Pack of Cards|
by Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis (Contributor), Michael Dummett (Contributor)
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume I|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume II|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Volume III|
by Stuart R. Kaplan
|Twelve Tarot Games|
by Michael Dummett
Choosing the Right Tarot Deck
It is surprising how many people all over the world are attracted to the Tarot: Some just read about it in books, without ever going any further and using the knowledge they have; some read a little, get a deck, use it every now and then, but do not go any deeper into it. Still others read about it, get a deck, use it frequently, and start studying the Tarot more. The people in this last group are what we may call 'Tarotholics': They love Tarot, they live Tarot, and they buy Tarot, in fact, most buy too much Tarot! It is not commonly known that there are around 1000 Tarot decks available on the market, with more being created and published every year, and there are thousands of books dedicated to Tarot as well. So, for the Tarot lover, there is a wide range of decks and books to buy, and more often than not, they do! The Tarotholic is somebody who buys lots of decks, even though they do not need them, and they probably will not use them. Why do they do this? people ask. It only takes one deck for a Tarot reading, so why buy anymore?
There are two reasons. The first is that some people are in search of the 'perfect deck': The deck that they click with instantly, love the look of, and can read with very well. Such a deck is, however, hard to find, and it differs from Tarot reader to Tarot reader, depending on religion, spirituality, gender, taste in artwork, and how much they know about Tarot.
The second reason is that some people simply want to collect Tarot decks! We know of people who collect stamps, postcards, thimbles, and other curious miscellanies, so really Tarot deck collecting is no different to stamp collecting. Usually the collector wants to collect Tarot decks because of the varying artwork, the themes of each deck, the associations of the deck with famous books, films, people, or because the deck is slightly unusual. For the Tarot collector, a deck is a wealth of knowledge, especially the unusual ones: Those that have 'themes' such as Arthurian Legend, the Kalevala, or erotica. With decks such as these, one can learn far more about the subject of the deck than one expected.
Whatever the reason for buying Tarot decks however, people always face the same dilemma: How do I know which one to get? This question is more important to the person searching for the perfect deck than the collector, as for the collector, any deck is better than no deck, so even if they do not like the deck they have bought, it is still a valuable part of their ever-growing collection (More on deck collecting towards the end of the course.) The person searching for their perfect deck though, often does not want more than one deck, and does not want to waste money on decks that they will not be able to use. This is perfectly reasonable, considering the high prices of decent decks, which range from around £12 to anything around £40 (In the US prices are slightly lower, since the distributors of the decks are usually based in the US), with still other decks which are either rare, out of print, or privately published costing much more than this. (I have seen decks such as these priced around £150!) So, in this lesson we shall look at some tips on how to choose the Tarot deck that is right for you, how to avoid buying decks which are either tragically terrible or more for collecting than using, and how to find and know a good collector's deck when you see one!
Searching for the Perfect Deck
When I say 'perfect deck' I do not mean that there is one deck out there which is better than all others. Instead I mean that each person will naturally be able to use a particular deck more effectively than others, and he or she will usually be attracted to one deck more than the rest. Sometimes this is called 'clicking' with the deck, although I prefer not to use that term since it sounds so wishy-washy! 'Clicking' with a deck usually happens when you first see pictures of the deck and admire the artwork or the approach it has. It is just like seeing a beautiful painting which you instantly fall in love with and wish you could buy it and hang it on your wall. Because this instant attraction is triggered initially by the artwork of the deck, people will feel repulsed by some decks yet clamor for others, all depending on their character and tastes. Not surprisingly then, decks which use fine art, pastels, oil paints, or bright colors are usually the most common decks people buy, simply because the artwork appeals to many people. This sounds like a good way to choose a deck, doesn't it? Just look at some examples of the cards in a deck on the internet maybe or in a friend's deck, and then go and buy it. Unfortunately, this is not by any shot the best way to choose the 'perfect deck'. Just because something looks attractive to you does not mean you will be able to understand it, get along with it, or use it. Tarot decks are like lovers: You may see a man or woman who looks very attractive, and start talking to them, only to find that they are shallow, mean, or hold views which you find abhorrent. You may buy a deck which looks good, get it home, start using it, and, no matter how much you already know about Tarot, and no matter how experienced you are at readings, you cannot read with the deck. You don't agree with the deck's 'approach' or theme, (e.g.- You don't agree with radical feminism, so don't agree with a feminist deck) you find the symbols inaccessible and badly chosen, or you find the correspondences for the cards do not fit into your way of seeing things. (e.g.- In Arthurian decks, Guinevere is often chosen to represent the Empress, which to most readers seems shallow since the Empress means fertility, and Guinevere was barren.) So, be careful when buying a deck just because of its artwork! I have done this far too many times, and remember many decks which looked great, and even seemed easy to read and symbolic, but which had diverted so drastically from the traditional Tarot deck that they were, sadly, unreadable. The worst thing you can do when looking for your perfect deck, is to buy the deck based solely on its box or on one card you have seen. Here, you may come across the same problems as with buying the deck because it looks pretty, but there is another added problem: Often, the card on the box or cover of the deck, or the one card you saw when the deck was being advertised, is either the only card you like in the whole deck, or the only card which could be construed as readable! This latter possibility is a little different to the former, since the former is based solely on personal taste, but the latter is usually a more universal feeling. This is because of the harsh truth that there are some really bad decks available, which are so terrible that nobody can read with them and their only value is for the laugh factor. I have had the misfortune of buying such a deck a while ago, which I subsequently reviewed for an online Tarot site, and cannot now believe I could manage to write such nasty things! Everybody I spoke to about this deck agreed with me however, proving that some things are universal when it comes to Tarot: Such as bad decks!
I have mentioned reviews of Tarot decks. Here is another way to choose a deck, which is slightly better than choosing based solely on the artwork. Due to the wonders of modern day technology, we have the opportunity of using the internet, which serves as a resource for all things Tarot. On the internet are dozens of sites with hundreds and hundreds of reviews of Tarot decks, written by people from all around the world. These reviews tell the reader about the artwork of the deck, its theme or approach, any symbolic systems it uses, e.g. -Qabbalah, numerology, Runes, astrology, and whether or not it is easy to read with. This last one will depend upon whether the symbols the deck uses are ascribed effectively to each card (There's no point, after all, of having a symbol of a skull and cross bones on a card which represents peace and love!), whether the images are too cluttered or easy on the eye, and who the deck would appeal to, e.g.- Advanced readers or beginners, children, sensitive people, erotica fans, Pagans, Christians, Buddhists... The list goes on, and not surprisingly since there are decks out there which cater for all kinds of people! Often, the reviews also include images of the cards, and a description and further review of any accompanying book which may come with the deck as well as the author's personal reaction to the deck, and how they found it when using it. As I said previously, this is a better way of choosing a Tarot deck than the first way, but it still isn't perfect. This is because the reviewer of the deck may be totally different to you, and thus have a different opinion of the deck's theme, artwork, and readability, causing you to possibly bypass a deck which you probably would have liked were it not for the review you read about it. When looking at reviews of decks, make sure you read at least three of each deck you are considering buying: That way you get a wider view of the deck, and the problem of the reviewer being different to you is somewhat alleviated. It also happens sometimes that some reviewers pick up on aspects of the deck that other reviewers missed, so by reading multiple reviews of the same deck, you are alleviating yet another potential problem!
Along the same lines as reviews are word-of-mouth recommendations or recommendations from books written about Tarot. The most common of these is when you have a friend who is also studying Tarot, and recommends you get a deck she thinks is better than most others. Usually this deck is one the friend him/herself uses, and this fact gives you a hint as to the problem with this method of choosing a deck. Just like the reviews, a friend is often quite different to you when it comes to tastes in art and symbolic system: You may be almost identical to each other in ways such as dress, speech, beliefs and hobbies, but when it comes to symbolic systems, it is often the case that the two of you will prefer totally different ones, for instance, you may find numerology the easiest to use, whilst your friend may find Qabbalah the most effective. Nobody is quite sure why we prefer certain symbolic systems over others, but certainly background and religion do help: For instance, Christians are less likely to use a deck which has Goddesses as it's symbolic system than a Pagan is, and those who detest mathematics probably will prefer all other systems except numerology.
There is one other way in which people choose a deck, which I would not recommend to anybody. This method usually occurs with the person's first deck, where they go around all the bookshops and New Age shops in their town, and buy the first deck they see which is the cheapest. Only last week I saw this happening in Waterstones, and because the Cardiff Waterstones has little by way of decent Tarot decks, the poor girl concerned, who looked only about 15, bought one of the 'bad decks' which do exist but shouldn't be allowed to, and which bookshops who generally know little about Tarot decks tend to stock. No matter how desperate you are to get a deck, please do not put yourself through the un-necessary search and waste of money by doing what this girl did. There are much easier ways of choosing and buying the right deck, and sometimes you don't even have to leave the house!
Most methods involve the internet. The first step in any search for the perfect deck is usually to look at reviews and images of decks on websites such as:
and decide on a top twenty list from those that take your fancy. At this stage, it doesn't matter if you are only attracted by the name or the artwork, because usually you will find something that speaks to you through more than just these shallow features. When you have your top twenty list, read the reviews: On the three above sites there are usually two or three reviews for each deck anyway, but you may have to try a search engine and type in the name of the deck to search for other reviews of it. Eventually, you will have scaled your deck list down to around five, and at this point it's time to get on some message boards and ask other peoples' opinions. www.aeclectic.net, as well as having loads of brilliant reviews written by a wide range of people, has a wonderful message board, full of Tarot lovers. On this board there is a forum entitled 'Tarot Decks' where you can ask questions about any deck you wish in order to get more information about it, opinions on it, and possibly links to other reviews of it. www.aeclectic.net is also a great place to talk about all other Tarot related subjects and subjects such as spirituality, and divination, and it also has forums on which you can buy or trade Tarot decks with other members around the world.
But what criteria to use to get your list scaled down to five? Some important questions to ask, or things to look out for are:
- Artwork. I know I said it was a bad thing to choose a deck solely for the art, but in the overall choice, it is better that you choose based on the artwork and many other things. The artwork will obviously play a big part in whether or not you can use a deck, so if you don't like oil paintings, don't choose a deck that is painted that way. And if you don't subscribe to Salvador Dali's work, or William Blake's art, don't get the William Blake or Salvador Dali deck! On the other hand, if you have a penchant for Blake or Dali, you may want to check out these decks (Though they're both nearing the £80 mark price-wise!)
- Theme. Tarot decks tend to have a theme, and this theme can be practically anything, from baseball, to Hello Kitty, to Arthurian Legend. Some themed decks are very serious decks, and these themes are usually mythological, although other themes such as the aforementioned Hello Kitty are more for show or the comic value than anything else. When you come across a Tarot deck, check to see what theme it has: Is it feminist? About animals? Based on Arthurian legends or Norse deities? Is it erotic, comical, or deadly serious? Is it based on any books, films, or comics you particularly enjoy? Do you have a hobby which ties in with a theme nicely? These are all questions you need to ask yourself, and ultimately, if you are not familiar with, or do not like, the theme the deck has, there is probably no point in getting that deck!
- Religion. When I say this, I refer to both your religion and beliefs, and the deck's religion, for want of a better word! The earliest Tarot decks, as we found out in the previous lesson, came about in Renaissance Italy, and so were instilled with Christian symbolism such as the Devil and Pope (Cards XV and V), but in modern times the Tarot deck has been changed and altered, and decks are created all the time which take a different approach to things, and which are aimed at different people. This is of course a good thing, since in Renaissance Italy, circumstances, religion and variation of people was totally different to the 21st century west. It is, therefore, possible to find Pagan decks, Wiccan decks, Shamanic decks, Asatru decks, and Hermetic decks, not to mention evangelical Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Catholic decks. It is a good idea to find out what 'religion' the deck is before you buy it, since you probably will not find a Christian or Catholic deck usable if you are Pagan, nor will you enjoy using a Shamanic deck if you are Catholic. Most importantly, when a deck has a 'religion' it tends to use that religion's symbols in its cards in order to convey meaning. So, if you do get a deck whose religion is not similar to your own, you may find yourself unable to understand the symbolism, or that you disagree with the meanings of some symbols. A very common example here would be the difference between Christians and Hindus when faced with the symbol of a snake: The Christian would ascribe evil to the snake, whilst the Hindu would ascribe sexuality and 'kundalini'.
In many Pagan decks, you will find that the Devil card has been changed into the 'Horned One', or maybe something like 'Chains', which also serves to illustrate the difficulties which could be faced when using a deck which your belief system is alien to. The images themselves may also differ depending on the religious content, with some intensely Christian decks bearing images of Jesus, and some Pagan decks decorated with pentagrams, triskeles, the Horned God, and magical tools.
- Nudity. There are a couple of cards in the Tarot deck which, in the traditional Rider Waite and Thoth, have more nudity than other cards, these cards being the Star, Sun, Judgment and in the Rider Waite, the Lovers. Due to the fact that nearly all Tarot decks today are based on one of these two decks, most decks have nudity on the aforementioned cards. Some however have much more, and the amount of nudity depends largely upon whom the deck is aimed at, and the theme of the deck. Decks such as the Hanson Roberts and Whimsical Tarot, both drawn by Mary Hanson-Roberts, the latter in partnership with Dorothy Morrison, are aimed at children and people who are more sensitive to issues such as nudity. However, there are decks which have nudity in nearly every single card, these decks being those more for collecting purposes and those whose theme is erotica: Decks such as the Black Tarot by Luis Royo and the Manara Erotic by the Spanish pornographic comic artist Milo Manara fall into this category, and both heavily feature sexual activity and very realistic nudity. These decks however, are only painted, not photographic, whereas the Cosmic Tribe Tarot has a naked person in every single card where this is a person, except for the Moon, and they are all photographed! If you find that nudity throws your mind off-course or distracts you (And one can see why it would!) or even repulses you, then the simple answer is to steer clear of decks with lots of naked people! After all, if all you can do during a reading is giggle and point at the images, you aren't going to be a very effective reader.
- Illustrated Minor Arcana. The first Tarot decks were used for gaming, and as such, only the Major Arcana, or Trumps, had images on them: The Minor Arcana merely had, like our modern day playing cards, the number of objects they represented, without any other imagery at all. It wasn't until Tarot started being used by occultists in the 18th century that the Minor Arcana were given anything resembling images, and it wasn't until Arthur Waite and his contemporaries that we saw Minor Arcana like the ones we see in modern day decks. There are some modern day decks which take their cues from these pre-18th century decks however, and so we see many decks having beautiful and meaningful Majors, but we are then disappointed by the Minors which are, because of their lack of pictures or symbols, much harder to read and a lot less attractive. One is almost tempted with such decks to look at the Four of Wands and say to the querent: 'I see.... I see.... Four wands in the very near future...’ The disadvantage of non-illustrated Minors is that as the reader we have to literally memorize the meanings of each Minor Arcana card, and we get no help or hints as to what this meaning is from the cards! Tarot reading should not be about trying to memorize long lists of keywords for 56 cards, and instead it should be about gaining insight from the images you see in the cards. Non-illustrated Minors do not give the reader this latter opportunity. This is only my personal opinion however, and there are Tarot readers out there who are strongly attracted to pre-18th century decks, and so prefer non-illustrated Minors. So, when choosing a deck, it is always advisable to know which type of Minor Arcana you prefer, and to find out whether or not the deck you want has the Minors you want. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, as books and reviews tend to only show examples of the Major Arcana cards, but if you are lucky they may show Minors. This is sadly out of my, and your, hands however, and all we can do is attempt to find out as much information as possible. If you are at all concerned or confused as to which type of Minor Arcana a deck has, you could try finding out a contact for either the creator of the deck or the publisher and find out that way.
- Size. There are an increasing number of young people attracted to Tarot, and these young people usually have smaller hands than the average person. Many adult Tarot readers also have very small hands, and as such, find it difficult to shuffle and handle Tarot decks of the normal size, since Tarot decks are larger than playing cards, and some decks are even bigger than normal Tarot decks! It is useful then, if size is a concern because you have very small hands, for you to find out the size of the cards. This is something most reviews fail to mention unless the size is a striking feature of the deck. Most of the time, decks which are normal size have reviews which do not mention size, whilst decks such as the Rohrig which is actually longer in length than my hand, or the Smallest Tarot in the World which is around 2.5cm long, have reviews which will probably mention their size. Again, looking at multiple reviews of the same deck helps, as whilst one review may miss this important feature, another will probably pick up on it.
- Tradition. As I have mentioned previously, many decks are based on the Rider Waite and Thoth, and it has become common in the Tarot world to call the Rider Waite and Thoth decks 'traditional', despite their being around 500 years later than the first decks, and very much changed! The title of 'traditional' given to these decks is mainly due to the fact that they were amongst the first modern day Tarot decks to be published for the public to own, as most other publicly published decks tended to have different ordering to the Major Arcana or did not have illustrated Minors. The Rider Waite and Thoth were also the first decks published publicly which were intended for magical and occult use instead of just gaming, as previous decks were. These two decks give us our 'stock symbols' for modern day decks, and we use them as a measuring post to decide how traditional a deck is. There are so many decks now available which divert drastically from the traditional Tarot deck, some adding new Major Arcana, some taking away Major Arcana, adding an extra Minor Arcana suit, changing the titles of the cards, changing the images, meanings, and numbering of the Majors... The most common change that decks make, which is not usually seen as anything but good, is a change to the images in the cards. The image used to replace the traditional one largely depends on much of what I have said in the previous sections: Religion, gender, theme, etc. Often these changes are not so drastic that the new card is unrecognizable as what it is supposed to be, which is always helpful for beginners, though some decks do change things to such an extent that there is discussion as to whether or not they can be classed as Tarot decks at all! This is the same for decks such as the Deva Tarot, by Herta Drnec and Roberta Lanphere, which adds a fifth Minor Arcana suit: It has been hotly debated whether or not a 93 card deck qualifies as a Tarot deck, which traditionally only has 78 cards. Decks such as the Sacred Circle Tarot not only change the titles of the Majors, but also change the ordering of them, which can be confusing for a beginner, and using such a deck can subsequently make it more difficult to use a more traditional deck.
How traditional you like your decks to be depends on personal taste. If you feel you would feel comfier with a deck which changes the titles of the Majors, then that is perfectly reasonable, as is if you decide you would rather keep Tarot how it is.
- Accompanying Book. This is only a minor consideration, and does not affect the deck itself. The only reason I have chosen to mention it is that often decks are published in two formats: Deck only, or deck with an accompanying book, usually A4 size or larger, with lots of information about the deck, the cards in the deck, and in-depth guidelines on Tarot spreads and things such as caring for the deck and interpreting the cards. Nearly all single decks come with a very small white pamphlet explaining quickly the simple meanings of the cards, but not going beyond this. If you have the option of getting the deck you want with an accompanying book, it is usually preferable to do so, since the book, whilst costing around £12-£15 extra, does go into great detail what each card from that specific deck means, what each symbol from that specific card means, and often it tells you the reasons for the creation of the deck and some of the philosophy behind it. The publishing company Llewellyn prefers to publish decks with accompanying books, though if the book written for a deck is published by a different company they won't include it in a deck and book set, as with the Robin Wood Tarot. (Llewellyn published the deck, Living Tree the book.) US Games also do this, though not as much as Llewellyn, and LoScarabeo unfortunately do not publish accompanying books at all. Often, reviews of decks will tell you if there are any accompanying books to go with a deck, and they will tell you what the book is like as well.
These are just a few suggestions, and there may be many more things you would like to take into consideration based on more personal preferences. Of course, sometimes the only way to know the answers to all your deck questions is to actually handle the deck itself, which is not always possible considering nearly all shops which sell decks do not permit them to be opened at all before purchasing, for safety reasons and for more spiritual reasons. Some shops do not even let you return the deck after you have opened it, even if it is in perfect condition with the receipt, for the latter reason. As long as they have some form of sign saying this which is in full view in the shop, this is their prerogative.
If you wish to buy decks online, after you have decided which deck could be your 'perfect deck', then I strongly recommend www.tarotgarden.com, which is run by two very friendly Tarotholics, Jeanette and Lori. Service is quick, reliable, and honest. You could also try amazon.com, which has always been known for its excellent service, or if you are looking for a bargain, you could try your luck with ebay.co.uk at the auctions. Just type in the word 'Tarot' in the search box, and you will be presented with a list of around 30 pages worth of Tarot auctions! This is very much luck-related though, and you have to be careful you don't spend more than you mean to. It is also advisable for you check the prices of the deck you are bidding on elsewhere, at Amazon, Tarotgarden, or if you know any, at bargain sites. A useful one if you are in the US is buy.com, but it only ships internationally if the order is over $500. If you do not own a credit card, buying from the internet can be a little tricky, especially with the non-auction sites, which usually do not accept payment in any other form. If you use eBay, you need to check what payment options the seller prefers: Some will not accept certain types of payment. Most accept Paypal, but this requires a credit card.
Alternatively, if you feel a little concerned about buying anything online, the easy option would be to go to any local bookshop, and ask them to order the deck you want for you. They will usually ask for your name, address, telephone number, and quite a few ask for a deposit on the deck, which comes out of the total price of the deck. They will then order the deck from the publishing company, and it will usually get to the shop in 7-10 days, ready for you to pick up. This method does not, however, give you any leigh way to bargain hunt as you can do on the internet, so expect to pay the full price for decks! (Around £25-35 for deck and book sets, £15-20 for decks)
Hopefully, this has given you some advice on how to find the Tarot deck that is right for you. Don't worry however, if you don't find the perfect deck first time round: You can always try again, and you'll find you have more fun trying to find the perfect deck than actually finding it!
Caring for Your Deck
Many people feel the need to keep their deck protected and cared for, and this is understandable. However, as I mentioned in Lesson 1, there is no necessity to do this and it is entirely up to you as an individual as to how you store and care for your deck. Most Tarot readers will try and keep their cards clean and unbent, simply because they can become difficult to shuffle or unsightly, though it is generally agreed that a little accidental wear simply looks as though the Tarot reader is experienced!
There are a few approaches to caring for your deck. One involves keeping the deck in some sort of special box, bag or cloth, sometimes even all three or a mixture of them, and cleansing them regularly with sunlight, moonlight, or crystals. Many Tarot readers suggest placing your deck in the light of the full moon once a month to give it extra power and to push any negative energy from the deck. Many cleanse their deck after every reading they do, for the same reasons. To do this they may meditate with the cards, sending their own positive energy back into them, and visualizing the negative energy, or the energy of the person they were reading for, leaving the deck. Some people keep a quartz crystal with their deck for the same purposes.
Then there is the more practical approach to caring for your deck. This involves a few simple rules:
1) Keep the deck away from toddlers (Especially when they have crayons in their hands!)
2) Keep the deck away from pets who feel hungry or playful (Dogs have a nasty habit of eating Tarot decks!)
3) If at all possible, try not to deface the cards (It just makes them look ugly!)
4) Keep the deck away from spillages. (A friend of mine spilled lager all over my main reading deck, and it still smells quite heavily of the lager to this day! There is the possibility with spillages that they may discolor your cards or bend them out of shape, making them more fragile and more difficult to handle.)
5) When carrying a deck with you, make sure it is protected from damage. Keep it in its box to prevent bending, or in some sort of wrap.
Basically, respect the deck. Just as you would respect a watch, or your CD’s, and try not to do anything to it which will cause it to bend, discolor, etc.
Shuffling the Deck
It may surprise you to know that there are many different ways of shuffling, and all have there own technical names. It is all a matter of preference as to which way you shuffle your cards, but you must bear in mind that Tarot cards are much larger than playing cards, and usually of better card stock, so you may find it more difficult to shuffle them than the usual playing cards. Some types of shuffle may also cause a little damage to the deck if done irresponsibly.
The first type of shuffle is called the Riffle Shuffle. To do this, you split the deck into two piles, one in each hand, and gently bend the corner edges up, and riffle the cards into each other, interlocking them all. This shuffle gives you the most effective mix of cards, but it can damage the deck by bending it. If you want to try this method, you may like to practice on a normal deck of playing cards first until you get the hang of it.
The second kind, and possibly the most popular of all the methods, is the Hand-over-hand Shuffle, where you hold the deck in the hand you don’t write with, and pick up a small stack of the deck with your other hand, placing that stack, bit by bit, elsewhere in the deck. This method is easy to use and gentle on the cards, but it may take a while for the cards to be thoroughly mixed.
The third kind of shuffle is one which will suit people with small hands, but it won’t suit people who don’t use reversals. (More on reversals later in the course) It is called the Mixing Shuffle where you place the cards on the table or a flat surface, in a ‘pool’, and simply mix them around with your hands. This can be damaging if you do it roughly, but it does ensure a thorough mixing of the cards. However, if you do not use reversals it would be an unsuitable method, since it does cause reversed cards to appear in the deck.
The shuffling method you choose depends on factors such as hand size, whether or not you wish to use reversals, etc. Really, there is no right or wrong way to shuffle a Tarot deck, so it is entirely up to you which method you use!
Getting in the Mood for a Tarot Reading
Some people call them Tarot reading ‘rituals’. Others call it ‘getting in the mood’. There are as many ways to get in the mood for a Tarot reading as there are Tarot readers, and, like the shuffling methods, it is entirely up to you what you do to prepare yourself for a Tarot reading: There is no right or wrong ways to do it! In this lesson we will look at just a few ways of getting in the mood, and the purposes of it.
So why use a ‘ritual’? Why prepare yourself for a reading? There are many reasons, on two different levels: The internal and the external. Internally, any ritual or practice you do before a Tarot reading signals to your mind what you are going to be doing. It says to your subconscious: ‘Time to stop worrying about the daily grind, and start focusing on this Tarot reading’. On a more conscious level, you become more aware of what it is you will be doing, and you can focus yourself on the task in hand. You can get rid of all the daily clutter from your mind and open yourself to the images in the cards. You can also begin to work out what question you will ask, and how you will spread the cards (More on this later in the course.) Externally, you can prevent circumstances around you interfering with the reading, and you can make yourself and the person you are reading for (If indeed there is another person!) feel comfortable, happy, and prepared. So, let’s look at some ways of getting in the mood for a Tarot reading.
1) Meditation, Relaxation
Many people I know take some time before a Tarot reading to just sit down in a comfortable spot and meditate or relax. The meditation doesn’t have to be heavy or serious, as its only purpose is to relax and open your mind. Many people assume that during a meditation you must push everything from your mind and focus on nothingness, and this certainly is true of certain kinds of meditation techniques used in Buddhism, but for our purposes this will not help. Instead, when you meditate before a reading, you should let any thoughts that come into your head stay there until they go away of their own accord: Forcing them away will just cause them to come back later and interrupt your reading. The main focus of this kind of meditation is to just let yourself relax, switch off any niggling worries you have, and sort out any annoyances from the day which could affect the reading. To relax in this way, simply find yourself a comfortable spot to sit in, close your eyes, and breathe deeply and regularly, letting your mind wander until it has finished wandering. Alternatively, you could try a counting meditation to help you relax: When you have found your comfortable spot, simply count as you breathe, counting to eight when you breathe out, and counting to four when you breathe in. This serves to regulate your breathing, and also lower your intake of oxygen, which is itself relaxing. It won’t harm you, since this is how your body breathes naturally when you are asleep, and it just relaxes your body, and provides you with a focus for the meditation if you feel uncomfortable to just let your mind wander.
Alternatively, if you feel uncomfortable with those methods of meditation, you could try a visualizsation to help yourself relax and focus. A visualisztion is where you basically imagine things during the meditation. For instance, you may want to imagine yourself lying down on a lawn in the summer, with the sun beating down on your face, or you may wish to imagine yourself as a tree, with your legs becoming roots and rooting themselves firmly to the ground. You may wish to visualize a protective sphere of light around you, or you may wish to imagine the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water surrounding you and strengthening you. I know of a few people who find that a chakra opening visualization works very well, where they imagine each of their chakras opening like flowers. In the end though, it is up to you to decide what kind of meditation or visualization you wish to use, if you do choose to use them at all!
For those who are used to casting a circle and creating sacred space, a ritual may be useful for you to get in the mood for a Tarot reading. With the ritual, you are signaling to yourself that during the Tarot reading you wish to leave behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and focus on something higher. Creating sacred space serves to place you in a state where you feel closer to the Divine, or closer to your higher self and intuition, which is always useful in a Tarot reading. To create sacred space, you may use the method used in neo-Paganism of casting a circle, calling the quarters, and invoking the Gods. Or you may use a simple affirmation that the space you will be doing the Tarot reading in is set apart from everyday life. There are many ways to cast a circle and create sacred space, so I won’t go into that. If you do not know how to do either of these things, you can find excellent information about them on the internet by browsing through websites dedicated to neo-Paganism and Witchcraft.
3) Creating Ambience
For those who wish to feel more comfortable and ‘mystical’ during a Tarot reading, creating the right atmosphere is the key. You may wish to burn some incense, dim the lights, light a few candles, put on some quiet, relaxing music, and tidy the room. When you tidy a room, you feel more organized, happy with the place you are in, and less likely to worry about it. There are also fewer objects around you to distract you, and the place you are in will feel a lot more comfortable than if it was messy. Lighting candles and incense, and putting on music are simply outward signs to yourself of what you will be doing, and they are aimed at keeping you relaxed during the reading.
Anybody who loves to sing will benefit from a simple chant to get you in the mood for a Tarot reading. Sounds, especially when they come from us, are powerful and very effective in any kind of ritual, which is why the Druids chant the ‘Awen’ at every ritual, and why so many Hermetic rituals included some form of chanting or intonation. The chant, when repeated enough, can also send us into a form of altered consciousness, or at least a very relaxed state of consciousness that is perfect for Tarot reading. You can pick any chant you like, as long as you like it. My personal favorite is one I first heard at a netball match when I was 15, which I changed slightly over the years without realizing it, but which I then found out is a variation of ‘We are one with the infinite sun’, quite a popular chant amongst Pagans.
For those of you who wish to gain some form of divine guidance during the Tarot reading, prayer may serve a dual purpose. Firstly, you can try to gain that help from the Divine, and secondly, prayer, like chanting, is a very powerful way of relaxing and getting into an altered state of consciousness ready for the Tarot reading. Many people I know have a specific prayer they use before every Tarot reading, which states what they are going to do, and asks for guidance from whatever Gods they believe in, and help in opening up to be able to interpret the cards accurately.
6) More Practical Matters
On a more practical note, you may wish to prevent external circumstances from interrupting your Tarot reading. As such, disconnecting the telephone, or at least switching on the answer phone is a good idea, and if you live in a house with other people who are likely to disturb you, try putting a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door, and telling them that you don’t want to be disturbed for the next hour/half hour. Also make sure you have everything you need for the reading, as you don’t want to interrupt yourself by having to go and fetch something you forgot! If you have kids, you might also be best waiting until they are fast asleep in bed!
Or alternatively, you do not have to do any of the above things. You can do a mixture of them, or you can try some methods you have thought of yourself which I have not mentioned here. Personally, I only do something like mentioned above if the Tarot reading is very important for somebody else, otherwise I just pick up the cards and start shuffling! Sometimes it is not always convenient to cast a circle and start meditating, as you may not always be in your own home when you do the Tarot reading. The only tools you need for a Tarot reading are the cards themselves and yourself. As long as you are focused, the reading will be good, and whilst some people need to do some of the above things in order to focus themselves, many people do not, and can instantly focus on the task at hand, no matter where they are.
Once again, it is up to you what you do!
This is the first ‘Extra Task’ you can do after you have done the lesson. The Extra Tasks are not regular, and are optional, simply because they are there only for those who really want to delve into the study of Tarot deeper. They encourage you to begin study on your own, away from the lessons, which you will need to get used to if you wish to continue studying Tarot after the course is finished!
The first Extra Task is very simple: Get a Tarot deck! This is extremely useful since from this point onwards in the course you will need a Tarot deck in order to understand the course properly. It does not matter what deck you get, as long as you can read with it and feel comfortable with it. The guidelines given at the beginning of this lesson will help you choose your deck.