- Can a deck of 78 cards with illustrations help people?
- What are the historical origins of this deck of cards?
- What type of things can the cards be used for?
These questions and more will be examined today as we engage in a brief introduction to eh tarot.
First, however, it should be noted that the tarot is a deck of 78 cards. Each card contains an illustration. This deck has two parts, the minor and major arcana.
The minor arcana consists of 56 cards that resemble a regular playing card deck. There are four suits commonly referred to as the wands, cups, pentacles, and sword. The cards are numbered ace through ten for each suit. Each suit also contains what are called court cards. Those cards are the Page, Knight, Queen, and King, and there is one for each suit.
On the other hand, the major arcana consists of 22 trump cards that explore the soul’s journey through both the physical world and in terms of the spiritual and psychological journey one takes throughout their lifetime.
The History of the Tarot
Tarot started as a card game in Italy around the 15th century. This game was played mainly among the wealthy and upper-class people. It wasn’t until the advent of the printing press that the cards became increasingly accessible to others.
Many writers have tried to imply that the Tarot is much older than this. Some say the cards date back to Egyptian times. There are also a significant number of mythological stories about the Tarot. These stories claim the cards are connected and can be traced back to the lost city of Atlantis. Some even claim they were given to us by an alien race of people. None of these have been substantiated as accurate.
For over 200 years, the cards have been used for gaming. It was in the 18th century that they got their first occult association. In 1781 Antoine Court de Gebelin, a freemason, wrote in his book “Le Monde Primatif” (translates to “The Primitive World”) that the Tarot images have hidden meanings in them. These meanings can be used for predicting the future and other divination practices.
Since then, various writers, scholars, and teachers have tried to imprint on the minds of others that the mystical tradition of the TarotTarot contains hidden wisdom meant to help with the enlightenment of mankind.
Various philosophical and occult organizations like the Golden Dawn and Rosicrucians have even focused a part of their training on understanding and using the cards for this purpose.
The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is perhaps the most widely known and used deck. It came about from the minds of Arthur Edwards Waite and Pamela Colman Smith in 1910. Mr. Waite was a founding member of the Golden Dawn and created much of the occult symbolism that many readers find themselves learning and using even today. Pamela Smith was the artist behind the deck. Her artwork has been used as the basis for countless other variations of Tarot decks.
Today there are hundreds if not thousands of different types of decks available. Many, as mentioned, have taken their artistic inspiration from Pamela Smith. Still, some decks of cards have no links to her original artwork.
What Can the Tarot be Used for?
There are five main things people use Tarot cards for.
Many people simply enjoy the artwork and style of various decks. They collect them and display them in the same manner that a sports card or coin collector would display and admire their collections.
- Inspiration and Storytelling
Some people use the cards to help give them inspiration for the novels they write.
There are various methods for doing this, but one of the more common is to draw a card for each character in the novel and allow the card to inspire that character’s traits. Another method is to draw three cards, with the first representing the beginning of the story, the second the middle, and the last one the ending.
Though hard to believe, people still use the cards only for games. This tends to be more accurate in European countries than in others. The most popular game is akin to what we in the United States would call trumps.
By far, the most common use of the cards in this age is for divination and foretelling. There are essentially two ways to “read” the cards. The first is through one’s intuition and psychic ability. This is when a person meditates on the card image to get information. The second method is the symbolic method, where each card is attributed to specific symbolic meanings. Through memorization, a reader learns how to put these symbols together. Some readers will use a combination of both methods.
In any case, a spread is typically used in a reader. A spread is a fancy word for how the cards are laid out. There are one, two, three, four, five, six, all the way up to 22 and more card spreads. Each position has a different meaning.
A reader will lay out the cards in a spread then analyze them. As the reader does the analysis, they consider the positions of the spread, the meanings of the individual cards, how the cards relate to one another, and if the card is upright or upside down (called reversed). All this information is used to pass along insights to the client (usually called querent).
Finally, there are various psychological uses of the Tarot, including several different therapeutic techniques intended to draw out information and insights. The famous psychologist Carl Jung, a former student of Freud, is most responsible for using the cards and inspiring further research into them and their potential uses.
What do the Tarot Cards Mean?
There are many excellent books available that discuss the symbolism of tarot cards. Almost nobody agrees entirely on how to interpret each of the cards. The closes one can come is that the 22 major arcana cards, as previously mentioned, represent the soul’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment.
Unfortunately, the fact that there are so many schools of thought on the cards’ meanings ends up confusing a large majority of students. This is one reason many students are asked to study only one symbol method at a time. It’s not that other teachers are wrong. It simply helps to cut down on the confusion as a student initially learns.
The other thing most readers agree on is that the numbers of the minor cards can be linked to numerology, and the suits can be tied to the four elements. The most common association of elements is Fire for Wands, Cups for Water, Earth for Pentacles, and Air for Swords. Though even some of these are rearranged in some systems.
Though the Tarot can also be linked to the I-Ching, Astrology, and Kabbalah, it’s recommended that beginning students avoid trying to learn such symbolism. The only exception is when a person comes to the cards already familiar with those systems.
How to Choose a Deck
An old saying is that a Tarot student must be gifted their first deck. This is nonsense. Any deck a reader or student uses should be one they resonate with and like. If a person absolutely must live by this superstition, choose your own deck and ask someone else to gift it for your birthday or Christmas.
Always research a deck you are thinking about buying. Don’t just look at the package the cards come in, but try to see some examples of the actual cards inside. Again, you want to own and use a deck you resonate with and feel connected to.