Understanding the History, Practice, and Wisdom of Tarot
The Wisdom of Tarot
What Is Tarot?
Tarot is a key, and where there is a key, there is a door.
The tarot cards are keys to the doors leading to the inner chambers of the mind and spirit, often revealing unconscious motivations, hidden fears, and secret desires.
Would you like to know the future? The responsible practice of tarot is not fortune telling. Instead it is a tool to help you examine and resolve the issues in your life.
The Origins of Tarot
No one knows when and where Tarot was first practiced. There are many theories about its origin.
Some believe that Tarot was invented in ancient Egypt because many of its symbols are linked to Egyptian lore. It may have come from "The Book of Thoth," a legendary book said to contain powerful spells and mystical knowledge.
Others say that Tarot is based on the "I Ching", an ancient Chinese form of divination that uses yarrow sticks to tell the future.
Or perhaps the Tarot is based upon the wisdom of the Hebrew "Kabala", the mystical Jewish tradition for connecting with the divine.
Another theory is that Tarot was developed by the Gnostics, an early Christian sect that was forced to take its religion underground to avoid persecution.
I like to think that Tarot is an ancient system of wisdom, perhaps dating back to the beginning of civilization. Concepts were expressed symbolically on the Tarot cards, perhaps to keep the meanings secret from all but initiates, or to avoid persecution, or maybe even because written language had not yet been invented.
A Modern Understanding of Tarot
Wherever Tarot first originated, many different cultures were fascinated with the cards, and they incorporated the cards into their own cultures.
Tarot is like a living language. It undergoes constant growth and change, but at its core, its universal meanings speak to all eras and cultures. The psychologist, C. G Jung, explained the symbolism of the cards as representing universal archetypes.
The earliest known Tarot deck dates to 1390. It may have been brought to Europe by wandering tribes of Gypsies. I feel that the Gypsies perverted Tarot—instead of using it as a tool for spirituality and a source of wisdom, they turned it into a parlor trick. They told fortunes for money.
Today you can find many different decks of Tarot cards. Each artist interprets the cards in his or her own way, building upon the tradition of Tarot, but adding his own unique interpretation to the cards.
The Tarot Deck
The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards—56 cards in the Minor Arcana and 22 cards in the Major Arcana.
The Minor Arcana is similar to the playing cards we use today, except instead of thirteen cards per suit, there are fourteen cards. The cards go from one (ace) to ten and end with Page, Knight, Queen, King. There are four suits—Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. Each suit is associated with a particular realm: Wands relate to creative and spiritual elements, Cups relate to emotions, Swords relate to decision making and intellectual endeavors, and Pentacles relate to prosperity and the physical world.
The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana each have a picture, a name, and a number. The list starts with zero—The Fool—and concludes with card 21—The World. The order of the cards is not random, but is instead a progression. The Fool may represent the start of a journey while the World represents completion or culmination.
The Major Arcana
Each of the 78 cards has several related meanings. It is up to the reader to choose the exact meaning that is appropriate for the seeker. This is done through the use of intuition and the relation of the card to the other cards that have been turned face up in the reading.
There are many different systems for laying out the cards for a reading. The reader gently shuffles the deck, and allows the seeker to cut the deck while thinking about his issue. The reader then lays out a number of cards according to the pattern she wishes to use. Each position in the pattern represents a particular area of the seeker's life—his past, his present, his hopes, his fears, his loves, his character.
The cards may be face up or face down. If face down, the reader will turn the cards over one by one during the course of the reading. Sometimes a picture card from the Minor Arcana, like the King or Queen, is chosen to represent the seeker before the cards are shuffled. You can learn about the various patterns for laying out the cards in any of the many books on the subject of Tarot.
My favorite technique uses only four cards for a quick five minute reading. I deal the cards from the top of the deck face down and turn them over one by one during the reading. I find that the first two cards explore and define the issue, the third card suggests a course of action, and the fourth card indicates the outcome. As I turn over each additional card, the meanings of the preceding cards deepen and may even alter a little bit,
I keep the readings positive and constructive. Even cards with negative meanings can offer a positive message. For instance, the card "Death" from the Major Arcana does not have to mean physical death—it can mean the death of the old self, i.e. transformation, change, moving from worldly to spiritual desires.
The Celtic Cross Layout
There are many books which will help you to learn Tarot. I recommend Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners by Joan Bunning.
There are many decks of Tarot cards to choose from. Let it be an intuitive choice. Choose the deck that "speaks" to you. I like the Rider-Waite cards.
I never accept money for readings. I do it because I want to help people. Often people come to me weeks or months later and say, "You helped me so much." It is the only reward I need.
This is one of the most popular decks of tarot cards and it is the one I use. It is a beautiful deck and I find that it illustrates the card meanings very well.
This is the book I used when I was first learning Tarot. It provides a good understanding of the card and how to use them in a reading.
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© 2014 Catherine Giordano