The following is an extract from my forthcoming book. This section explores Tarot cards; what they are, how they are used and how to learn from them. I hope you enjoy whilst learning:
Tarot: A Tool For Self-discovery
As a tool for self-discovery and to connect with energy beyond our own, the Tarot is an invaluable resource for anyone searching for spiritual understanding. This chapter will outline the nature of the cards, and a basic outline on how to use them.
Tarot cards are well-known and you likely have a rough idea what they’re all about. Tarot as we know it today first originated in the 15th century, so the practice is quite old though not really ancient.
The standard Tarot deck has 78 cards, broken into two sections: the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana has 22 cards and each one symbolizes a significant archetype, and the Minor Arcana has the remaining 56 cards and these are very similar to a typical deck of playing cards (4 suits of 14 cards each). Though the deck is used as a whole, each section deserves a further explanation of its own.
The Major Arcana
These are also called the Trump cards, and they are the more powerful symbols in the deck. The are numbered as follows:
- The Fool
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
As you can see, these cards all embody very fundamental concepts, though some might seem a little odd at first. And yes, the Fool card is actually numbered as zero.
There are some traditional images found on each card, that hold further symbolic meaning beyond the simply meaning of the card itself. They can be quite detailed and many tiny elements can have something to say. For the purpose of this introduction, here is a very brief description of each card.
- Fool – New beginnings, optimism, naivety
- Magician – Creativity, mastery over the 4 base elements
- High Priestess – Mystery and the unknown
- Empress – Nurturing motherhood
- Emperor – Authority and power
- Hierophant – Organized religion, social stability, traditions
- Lovers – Partnerships, completion, life purpose
- Chariot – Controlling opposing forces, a possible journey
- Justice – Balance, fairness and legal issues
- Hermit – Contemplation, consideration, quiet thought
- Wheel of Fortune – Good luck, success
- Strength – Power and energy
- Hanged Man – Reflection, personal sacrifice
- Death – Change, transformation (not literal death)
- Temperance – Removal of extremes, balance
- Devil – Excessive attachment to material things or addictive vices
- Tower – Destruction, chaos, fundamental personal conflict
- Star – Possibilities, optimism and hope
- Moon – Deep emotions, hidden secrets, psychic abilities
- Sun – Happiness and good fortune
- Judgement – Breaking from past mistakes, atonement
- World – Completion, fulfilment and success
Modern decks have gone a step beyond the traditional designs and recreated the meaning of the card with new symbolism. In some cases, they have held onto most of the smaller symbols but some have taken a rather blunt-nosed approach to only recreate the one central meaning of the card, thus losing the depth that the original images would have held. That’s not to say that the original cards hold the only possible collection of symbols that could ever be used in this way. Many modern decks have a very refreshing and creative way to summing up these concepts and can be a great choice for additional Tarot learning.
Another way of viewing the 22 cards of the Major Arcana is as a pathway of personal development, that starts with the innocence and naivety of the Fool and ends with the enlightenment of the World.
The Minor Arcana
These cards are far less rich in their meaning and their imagery is usually a little more simplified as well. There are 4 suits, each with 10 numbered cards and 4 “face cards” (usually page, knight, queen and king). They are very similar to plain playing cards. The suits will vary by deck, but will be some variation of coins, swords, wands and cups.
Since we already outlined the meaning of the Major Arcana, the rest of the cards should also be described as well though the list is a little long.
|1||New job||New creative choices||New learning opportunity||New emotional period|
|2||Juggling too many things||Opposing forces||A choice or decision||New relationship|
|3||Success at work||Heartbreak and suffering||Signs of success||Celebration, happiness|
|4||Grasping at money||Take a break and relax||A foundation has been laid||Boredom, stagnation|
|5||Material or financial losses||Accepting failure gracefully||Discord and in-fighting||Focus on the positive|
|6||Acts of charity||Let go of your problems||Passing of struggles||Pleasant nostalgia|
|7||Patience is necessary||Betrayal is coming||Take a defensive position||Overwhelmed by choice|
|8||Time to develop your skills||Paralyzed by fear or indecision||Control the situation||Leaving the familiar|
|9||Enjoy a little luxury||Facing your fears||Overcoming discouragement||Getting your heart’s desire|
|10||Financial prosperity||Struggle, despair and suffering||Handling a burden||Happiness in the family|
|page||A message of good luck||A message of a problem||A message of travel or career||A message of love|
|knight||Local travel||Travel by air||Distant or exotic travel||Travel by water|
|queen||Improvement in finances||Opportunity for a presentation||Employment advancement||Beginning of a relationship|
|king||New business opportunity||New viewpoints or ideas||Desire for something new||Motivation for a project|
The court cards (page, knight, queen, king) can also mean specific people rather than the meanings above. Pages are usually young people, under the age of 18. Knights are men in their 20s or 30s. Queens are mature women and kings are mature men. Oddly, there is no female equivalent to the knight figure.
How to Read the Cards
Like with most metaphysical practices, everyone has their own way of doing things so you can’t always get a perfect description of any particular practice. The general idea for reading Tarot cards is that you shuffle the cards while thinking about a certain question or situation and then deal out the cards. There are hundreds of ways to lay out the cards, and we’ll handle that in a moment. Once the cards are spread, you can see either an answer to your question or some other sort of insight into the issue. The meanings of each card are read as you see them above, but their position within the layout gives those meanings more context.
For example, a reading with the 5 of cups in a position that represents your personal goals would have a different overall meaning than that same card in a position that indicates a past difficulty.
There are literally countless ways to lay out your cards, but certain patterns have been around a very long time and have become the most typical spreads. The one we’ll outline here is called the Celtic Cross and is a good one to show how the cards work.
Once shuffled, you lay out the cards as per this diagram. The positions in the spread have the following meanings:
This card represents you or some aspect of your position in this situation
- Crossing – This card shows you your immediate obstacles or conflicts
- Crowning – Describes the immediate situation
- Base – A deeper influence to the situation
- Past – Recently passed influences
- Future – Events that are just about to manifest
- Present – This describes your role in the situation at present
- Opinions – What others may be thinking or doing about the situation
- Hopes – This shows your true hopes/fears about the situation
- Outcome – The final outcome of this issue
It’s not the simplest spread but it does show how much more in-depth a Tarot reading can be besides a simple yes/no style of fortune-telling. Another option is a 3-card spread, showing a basic past, present and future layout.
You read each card based on both its meaning and position, which gives you an almost infinite number of possible readings even if you stick with one spread each time. The answers to your questions aren’t always clear and it can take some thought and further study to understand what the cards may be telling you. Unlike depictions in the movies, the cards can’t yell out a certain person’s name or anything that specific.
As you learn to read the cards, make a lot of notes and record the spreads that you do. Answers and understanding may not come until later on, when you suddenly see what the cards were talking about.
How Does it Work?
There are 2 theories behind how the Tarot cards work. You are either tapping into your own natural intuitive skills, or you are allowing an outside energy to guide the cards. To some, it makes no difference either way as the final result is all that matters. But if you are going to use these cards as tools for further personal development and exploration, you should decide which school of thought you are going to follow.
In either case, continued use of the cards will help build your intuition and hone your own awareness of situations around you.
Learning with the Tarot
The Tarot is best known as a divination device, and it certainly works well as that. But as a tool to learn more about spirituality and possible Divine energy, how would that work?
First, you would want to take on a more detailed study of the symbolism that each card holds. Using a deck with detailed imagery (ideally the traditional style if you are a novice at Tarot), take one card at a time and learn the meaning behind the many images that it holds. To illustrate, let’s take a closer look at the Fool.
The traditional image shows a young man about to step off of a cliff, which makes a clear picture for the naive outlook that this card represents. But further study can tell you more. The man is looking up rather than focusing on where he is heading, which shows not only the obstacle of the cliff but also that he is not going to be ready for it due to his own foolishness. He carries a pack, representing that he has the skills or “goods” to get by on this trip. Lastly, a small dog jumps at his feet. The dog can mean a possible loyal friend who is trying to warn him of the upcoming disaster.
Exploring the symbolism will help you find a much greater understanding of each card, but also a better feel for the archetypes and concepts that tend to be present in nearly any situation. These elements in the cards are there for a reason. By seeing how each card holds various images together in one theme, you can learn more about how emotions, events and attitudes connect and that can help you handle situations better in your own life.
Also, there are patterns and connections between the cards and other areas of esoteric study that can be very enlightening once you start to see them. The cards connect very strongly to astrology, numerology, and even mythology.
For example, the hanged man card shows the image of a man hanging upside down from a tree by one leg. This is extremely similar to the story of how the Norse God Odin hung by a tree in order to gain the wisdom of the runes. The theme of self-sacrifice is important in both cases.
Tarot cards also make excellent points of focus for meditation or even astral travel. That subject is covered in more detail elsewhere in this section so you can learn about these techniques there.
Contacting Other Realms
As mentioned earlier, there is some debate on whether Tarot uses your own natural abilities or is used as a conduit for other spiritual beings to communicate through the reader. Regardless of which is correct for your average reading, you can use the Tarot as a tool to reach a little farther into the astral world.
This technique can take a bit more time to master and it may not work for everyone, but asking for communication from spirit guides or astral beings can be another use for the cards. You would typically already have learned some ways to do so via meditation or astral travel, but once you have done so, you can ask your guides to help you with answers through the cards.