There is no doubt that Tarot cards carry an aura of mystery about them their history is a long one going back so far in time that it is impossible to be certain about their origin.
One thing is certain, however, and that is the popularity of Tarot divination, witnessed by the great number of different decks available today. Some of these decks are quite old in their design and many of them are modern, the artwork and symbols depicted on them being inspired by many diverse ideas. Whatever the name on a Tarot deck, whether it be The Medicine Woman Tarot, The Enchanted Tarot or Tarot of the Cat People etc., the method for reading the cards is the same and it is this method which we will be exploring.
The Tarot Story
The invention of the Tarot cards has been attributed to various sources.
Some say that the name tarot comes from the name Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of magic indicating maybe that the cards were created in the temples of the East.
Some say that the Order of the Knights Templar, founded in 1188 to protect pilgrims on route to the Holy Land invented them.
Some say, which seems most likely, that the original Tarot cards were devised in Northern Italy, inspired by oriental cards brought from the east by merchants returning to the trading port of Venice and a derivation of the earliest playing cards.
How the Tarot is Structured
The Tarot does not only give insights into where you are heading in the future but it will also describe your situation in the past and in the present too. The cards will tell an unfolding story and will reveal the journey you are currently travelling.
The basic idea in using the Tarot is that the cards are shuffled by the person having the reading. Whilst shuffling the cards a question should be posed, the questioner then hands the cards back to the reader and a spread created.
There are 78 cards in the deck, which is divided into two parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The word arcana means mysteries or secrets.
The Major Arcana
There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana and these cards represent:
- significant events
- changes either internally or externally of critical importance
- milestones in a process of change
Interpretations of the Major Arcana
0 The Fool
Very freeing, moving on to a whole new cycle, you cant enter this phase unless you have cleared out all the rubbish. Moving away from the past, in-tune with yourself, intuitive. The Fool comes in when you have worked and cleared your way. Trust that all will be fine.
1 The Magician
Always positive, taking control of yourself, mastery & skill, taking things you dont like and changing them. Connecting to the power to transform. Potential is enormous. Working with balance. Able to move mountains, using all his influences for the very best of reasons.
2 The High Priestess
Lots of knowledge, understanding & wisdom. She has experienced a lot of pain and suffering but worked through it. She is true to herself and true to spirit. She has lived and learnt so much and very aware. Someone who guides other people without judging. Very balanced. Intuitive. Feminine energy.
3 The Empress
Fertility in every meaning of the sense. New growth, new life, new opportunities, abundance, happy, content, together. New beginnings, sowing seeds & ready for the harvest. Family and a secure home is important. Feminine energy.
4 The Emperor
The Emperor is the bringer of worldly power material success and wealth, seeking to establish his authority and maintain the status quo.
Can be fixed and rigid, stubborn and bloody minded. Dogmatic, forceful, can block your way dont cross him or go against him.
5 The Hierophant or High Priest
Someone who will listen but may be judgemental, a positive card but may be directive. The Hierophant is a great upholder of tradition, particularly through religious values and morality. His authority is of a spiritual and abstract nature.
6 The Lovers
This is the card of the love affair usually between two people, sometimes between a person and an object of passion. The Lovers bring an ability to see things in a new light where all seems wonderful and new. A new partnership is on the cards. This card brings harmony, balance and peace after a period of conflict.
7 The Chariot
When The Chariot appears it is an inevitable force for change and once on its way, is unstoppable. It may mean that a battle has gone on or is going on but it is a positive force that could indicate leaving the past behind, a clean break. The Chariot comes to tell us that we are moving on in a big way.
When this card appears it indicates that justice will be done. Justice brings about a balance of power neither too strong or too weak, neither too much with one person or the other. The result of balancing power is justice and this in turn means the punishing of those in the wrong and the vindication of those in the right. Kharmic.
9 The Hermit
The Hermit is a very powerful card and often means working through personal issues in isolation. It indicates that a period of solitude is called for to provide space and time to retreat from the world. The Hermit is asking you to step back and use the space and time that he is providing for you.
10 Wheel of Fortune
This card indicates the arrival of circumstances which offer good fortune. It is a very positive card but the opportunity must be seized otherwise it will pass and be lost. There is often syncronicity in events when this card appears. It may also mean movement possibly emotionally or may mean travel.
The testing of your strength and fortitude is called for here, the card also appears to show you that you have a hidden reserve of strength and that anything is possible. You will be able to overcome great difficulty and help may come from the most unlikely of places. You will receive spiritual help if you ask.
12 The Hanged Man
This card is asking that you bide your time, you are being asked to look at things differently. The Hanged Man must give in to his position of being helpless and abandon all thoughts of movement. This is time out- thinking time and once a new perspective has been gained a new freedom will be felt.
This card means a true ending and a new beginning, it represents the cutting away of dead wood, or loss of outworn, unnecessary baggage. The changes will be drastic and complete. It can mean release after a great deal of struggle, it defiantly means that you have worked through issues or situations that can now be discarded. A wonderful card.
The issue here is balance and harmony. When it appears it brings lovely friendships, compatibility, harmonious situations. Temperance is an attitude to life which involves making the best of small things, appreciating what you have and cutting down on excess and waste in all things.
15 The Devil
The Devil represents all that we think of as bad including ego, greed, anger, jealousy, suspicion, fears, temptations of all sorts. The Devil also represents the price to pay for past actions, kharma what goes around comes around. If this card appears it may mean that the time has come for past actions to be paid for.
16 The Tower
The Towers influence is unexpected and dramatic. At the very least it means that you will experience some turbulence in your life. Unexpected events will bring about changes. When this card appears, an awareness that things may get a bit uncomfortable may be helpful. May be connected to inflated ego.
17 The Stars
When the Stars appear, a bright future is indicated. Peace, tranquillity and a general feeling of happiness and well being will reign. This is often the reward of past efforts and selfless behaviour. Enjoy the calm and stillness it gives you.
18 The Moon
The Moon represents emotions and all things hidden. It is a card that indicates an ebb and flow, possibly changing circumstances so it is necessary to go with the flow and not resist it. It signifies unseen forces of change and transformation, unconscious forces at work.
19 The Sun
The Suns illuminating rays bring with it warmth and illumination that bring clarity, happiness, activity, rewards for hard work. The Sun is a co-ordinating influence ensuring that all factors in a situation work well together. It brings inspiration and a sense that life is for living. It is a highly motivating influence.
Judgement indicates that a definite decision would be appropriate, the way forward must be decided upon, situations being moved forward to a conclusion.
There is an inevitability about this card the keyword is final i.e. final decision, final reward or final punishment for previous deeds.
21 The World
This card represents completion, this is the card of success, when hopes, dreams and ambitions are realised. Everything falls into place. A time of expansion is indicated. Healing has occurred and a time of growth and expansion has arrived.
The Minor Arcana
There are 56 cards in the Minor Arcana and these are divided into four suits:
- Wands (also called Batons or Rods)
- Pentacles also called Coins
The suit of Wands corresponds to the element of Fire, it is an energy that is manageable and can be used in a very positive way to make things happen.
It represents creativity, the imagination and the will to bring ones dreams into reality. This suit also has much to do with the bringing in and using personal power through inner strength, overcoming strife and victory.
The suit of Swords corresponds to the element of Air, it is an energy that is intrusive, often forceful and cannot be ignored. It has much to do with the way we think, often suggesting conflict and strife. However, the questioner can use it to their advantage, as an awareness that this energy is present can assist in dealing with it in a positive way.
The suit of Cups corresponds to the element of Water, it is an energy that is associated with feelings and emotions. The cup represents our ability to manage our feelings and emotions as they are a very powerful force in our world. The cup can be empty or full and the liquid contained in the cup is ever changing.
The suit of Pentacles corresponds to the element of Earth, it is an energy that is associated with the material world, our possessions, our material successes and losses, whether we are prudent and thrifty or wasteful, whether we will have wealth or suffer poverty. This suit also represents earthly power and the ability to make practical changes in our lives.
Here is a summery of each card in the four suits:
Card # Wands Swords Cups Pentacles 1 New beginnings Triumph Love Prosperity 2 Strength Friendship Partnership Movement 3 Dreams into reality Strife Fruittion Establishment 4 Satisfaction Respite Familiarity Stability 5 Obstacles Futility Reassessment Material worries 6 Victory A battle won Memories Generosity 7 Determination Foresight Choice Taking care 8 Activity End of adversity Capitulation Reward 9 Strength Martyrdom Goodwill Dormancy 10 A burden Ruin Love Family security
The Court cards are part of the Minor Arcana and are therefore associated with the suits. The Court cards consist of the King, Queen, Knight and Page and they are generally thought to represent particular individuals either the questioner, people known to the questioner or people he/she will meet.
The Kings are mature, masculine, powerful people, the Queens are mature, female and powerful but have a greater sensitivity towards the inner nature of people, the Knights are younger, masculine, competent and skilful, the Pages are young, lacking in worldly experience, need to be told what to do but willing to learn.
Having said all that this information is for guidance only* The most important tool when reading tarot cards is your own intuition.
The Three Card Spread
Is the simplest of all, it is quick to prepare and are highly effective.
The cards are shuffled by the questioner and a question should be asked.
Three cards are chosen by the questioner and laid in turn in front of you.
The card to the left represents the past, it indicates the events which have led up to the present situation. The card in the middle represents the present , the current situation with regard to the question being asked. The card to the right represents the future what the present situation is leading up to and possibly the outcome.
The three cards are connected and can only be properly understood by considering their connection to each other.
The Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross spread is probably the spread most used and is suitable for use with questions which ask for an overall view of the situation.
A general life reading can be done using this spread. When considered as a whole, the Celtic Cross gives a clear view of the interconnected nature of all the factors which crop up in a reading.
The cards are prepared by shuffling and cutting in the usual way, then ten cards are selected in turn and placed face up according to the following pattern.
Card 1 this card represents the present circumstances, it also represents the questioner.
Card 2 this is positioned so that it lies underneath and across card 1. It represents obstacles or an energy that is in the way.
Card 3 this is positioned below cards 1 & 2, it represents the distant past which is relevant to the current situation.
Card 4 this card is placed to the left of card 1 and relates to events or people of the recent past now passing out of the questioners life.
Card 5 this is positioned above card 1 and indicates the crowning influences, the possibilities, things coming in, aims and aspirations.
Card 6 this is positioned to the right of card 1 and represents the immediate future, events which are coming into being they are now immediately in front of the questioner.
Card 7 this card represents the way that the questioners personality is affecting the situation, possibly relating to fears.
Card 8 this card is positioned above card 7 and often shows that fears are groundless.
Card 9 this represents the questioners hopes, wishes and goals.
Card 10 this indicates the outcome, this is where it all leads to.
Should you seek further clarification on any of the cards, particularly card 10, the outcome, you may overlay with another card or cards.
If during a reading you can allow the cards to speak through you, opening yourself to allow your imagination to work, you will find that your readings are more meaningful. Intuition and psychic abilities are encouraged. The traditional meanings of the cards are a starting point, the key is to trust yourself and your intuition.
You cant go wrong if you listen to the cards.
Lesley Skidmore - October 2003
Many books have been written about tarot cards and we did not think that we could add a great deal to the subject, so we are most grateful to our friend Lesley Skidmore for coming to the rescue by providing us with this overview to use on the site.
A word on choosing your tarot cards
Tradition says that tarot cards should always be given to you as a gift. If someone does this and you like the cards you have received, all well and good, but what if you dont like them? Your ability to work with the cards may be hindered by the fact you cant get on with the deck for some reason. It may be that the illustrations are confusing, give to much information, not enough information, colours are wrong for you, they are to big or to small, all of these are personal issues that affect the way in which you can work with a tarot deck. When you go to a shop to buy your first deck, ask if they have a brochure which shows a good selection of the cards on its pages. This is helpful as most packs are sealed and cannot be opened before purchase. Use your intuition and go with the deck you feel drawn to and which you find most attractive.
The most popular set that most people will use as teaching aids are The Original Rider Waite Tarot deck.
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