A Bit Of History
So, what exactly is tarot? What does the imagery on the cards mean and how are they used? Tarot fundamentals are easy to understand once you break it down. Here’s what every beginner should know about the history of tarot, as well as tips and tricks for getting you started with your own practice.
Tarot is actually a relatively modern art of divination. Though tarot decks date back to the 1400s, they were originally used just for parlor games rather than prediction. Cartomancy, or fortune-telling through the use of playing cards, actually wasn’t developed until 1785, by French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette or otherwise known as; Etteilla, created comprehensive links between illustrated cards, astrology, and ancient Egyptian lore.
In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith designed and published a tarot deck known as the Rider-Waite deck and is still the most popular tarot deck for both beginner and professional card readers.
Choosing Your Cards
So how do you choose a deck among the hundreds and hundreds in print? Since the mid-twentieth century, hundreds, if not thousands of decks of all different imagery styles have been published. The Tarot de Marseille deck is a gorgeous of a classic French deck; the Wild Unknown has become one of my most trusted decks of choice.
Some tarot readers believe that your first deck should be gifted to you. I don’t adhere to this as I am perfectly ok with gifting myself. Some also believe that tarot cards should not be passed down or given second hand to anyone. I believe that as long as you properly cleanse the cards with sage or palo santo and bless them with good intentions it’s ok. Personally I don’t use second hand decks.
You can shop online or in-person, but it’s important to observe your emotions and any sensations as you browse different tarot decks and look at their imagery. What does it make you feel? Does the one you’re considering make you feel energized or tapped out? Do you feel an air of caution? Here’s where I will say, trust your gut intuition! Utilize the imagery as a journey, where do you want to go? Where are you drawn to? Look at the symbolism, is it drawing you in, telling you a story? There is no wrong or right deck, no deck that is better or worse. It’s all on your own discernment and intuitive feeling. For instance I am not usually drawn to bright colors, they overload my intuitive senses. I stay with subtle or no color. I have a deck that is filled with bright colors but it’s used for children or for healing of the inner child, Inner Child Cards: A Fairy-Tale Tarot. For me and for what the reading I do with these cards, the color is as important as the drawings.
What’s the difference between the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana cards?
Any magical practice; tarot, astrology, pendulum, charms, etc… are the macrocosm of the cosmos is reflected in the microcosm of individual experience. So in other words, the entire universe exists within a tarot deck, with each card representing a person, place, or event. These symbols are depicted in both the Major Arcana cards, which speak to deeper secrets and that of the unconscious mind, and the Minor Arcana cards, which speak to much of what you deal with day to day in our lives.
The Major Arcana cards represent the big bang, groundbreaking, life changing type influences. They punctuate our journeys and each stands alone as a powerful message, representing motions that define the beginnings or ends of cycles. These cards appear during major transitions, and important events signaling distinctive moments of transformation. The cards are numbered to represent stations within our greater journey through life; their chronological order reveals the passing of time.
The Minor Arcana cards, on the other hand, reflect everyday matters. These cards showcase ordinary people engaging in day to day life activities. They suggest action that is triggered by human behaviors and appear during gentle transitions that may be temporary or have only minor influence.
The Minor Arcana cards are broken up into four suits, each containing ten numbered cards and four court cards. In the Minor Arcana, the card’s number reveals the stage of an event: The ace card represents the beginning, while the 10 symbolizes the end. Similarly, the progression of the court cards demonstrates our understanding of circumstances on an individual level, representing either personality types or actual people. The Page (or Princess, in some decks), Knight, Queen, and King interpret circumstances with increasing levels of understanding and wisdom.
The suits (Wands, Pentacles, Swords, and Cups) correspond to their own unique areas of life and astrological elements. Wands symbolize passion, inspiration and drive (corresponding with the fire element), Pentacles represent money, abundance and physical realities (corresponding with the earth element), Swords depict the intellect, learning and wisdom (corresponding with the air element), and Cups illustrate emotional matters like love (corresponding with the water element). These suits reveal which influences are being activated, offering guidance on how to best manage any circumstances at hand.
How do I get started reading the cards?
Together, the Major and Minor Arcana create a comprehensive language and story in pictures. It is important to remember that all the answers we seek exist innately within the deck, with each card illustrating a person, circumstance, or potential outcome. Since there are no secret puzzles or hidden agendas with tarot, the ability to discern meaning lies within your own narrative interpretation.
Before any reading, be sure to shuffle (or “clear”) the deck. This deliberate gesture of vibration by shuffling should become a meditative moment or two. Feel the physicality of the cards in your hand, and visualize your question. If you’re reading for another person, use this moment to get to the root of their situation and focus on the person. Take as long as you need. Clearing the deck is a critical first step in reading tarot cards, as it opens the pathway between spiritual dimensions. Whenever you’re ready, cut the cards into three and reorder the pile, face down. On your favorite cloth (treat your tarot like it’s a priceless gem), prepare to pull cards for your tarot “spread.”
The “three-card spread” is one of the most simple and effective tarot spreads. You can adjust the categories to accommodate any situation (past, present, future; yourself, the other person, the relationship; opportunities, challenges, outcomes; mind, body, spirit). The cards and their corresponding positions will effortlessly expose emotions and the dynamics of the question and the person seeking guidance. But before reading the straightforward explanation of each card from the book that comes with the deck, take a moment to create your own story based on observation of the imagery and relationship of the cards as they are read, one to another. How do the cards you drew make you feel? What are the colors and symbols? If there are characters, are they facing towards or away from each other? Do the illustrations seem cohesive or disjointed?
Though each card has classic associations, the most powerful resource available is your own intuition. Note your immediate emotional reaction. Your instincts will inform your study, guide you and strengthen your pictorial memory. Eventually, you’ll develop your own systems and patterns, and individual cards will carry meanings specific to you. Your distinctive lexicon of interpretations will guide your readings, allowing you to create specific narratives that can be applied to any circumstance or situation. Tarot is the development of intuition and deep insight. Some are born with an innate ability for visioning and discernment but even if you’re not born with the instinctive gift, with practice you can hone and develop intuition over time and with practice. We all intrinsically possess the skills necessary to produce honest and accurate divination. Tarot is simply passion + logic + curiosity, and add some intuition and before you know it you to can be a reader of the tarot!