Today I am going to talk about something that I have been doing for nearly twenty-five years. I started when I was about twelve, and just never seemed to stop doing it. I have been told that I am fairly good at it, though I hate to brag about such things. My husband rarely asks me to do it for him, while others frequently request the act, and I avail myself if time or situation permits. (After all, you don’t want to be caught doing such a things just any old place, because some people are uptight about it.)
Now, get your mind out of the gutter for ten minutes and lend me your ears.
I am talking about reading the tarot.
One fine Christmas, many, many, many, many moons ago I asked for a tarot deck as part of my Santa haul. Santa came through like a good chap, and I received my first deck, the Rider Waite. Ever since then I have been a casual user of the tarot, and by this I am saying that I don’t consider myself a professional reader by any means. (Mostly because I don’t see the sense in charging folks so much for so little… but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
I have been asked, on several occasions, to explain or enlighten or just flat out tell folks the big secret to reading the cards. I intend to do that in this blog post. (For the sake of space I am not going to go into the whole history of the tarot. If you want to learn more, check out the wikipedia entry.)
Before we cover the stuff that tarot is good for, lets start out by talking about the things tarot will not do. In my experience, tarot will not:
Tell your fortune.
Give straight answers to your intimate questions.
Make decisions for you.
Give you secrets or tips about the future.
Tell you the winning lottery numbers.
Looks bleak, don’t it? I mean, why bother with the darned things if they aren’t going to do any of this stuff? Isn’t this list exactly what the long time readers of tarot purport the cards to do? Well, allow me to take the mysticism out of the cards for you.
The tarot originated as a card game around the mid 15th century. Yes, you read that right, a card game. The original use, intention and purpose of the cards were to play games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot. (Tarocchi, by the way, is super amounts of fun! Try it sometime!) It wasn’t until later, in the late 18th century, that folks started associating the cards with divination. The art on the cards, trumps in particular, were intended to represent members of the current social structure, with the score composition of many games based around the escalating point status of each trump. Later, this same art developed into a series of symbolism that was believed to reveal the future when used by folks with the talent for interpreting them. And now these folks charge you one hundred dollars an hour to shuffle, flip over and ‘interpret’ a bunch of cards that were intended to play a game.
I think I will crack out my Monopoly and see if I can get someone to pay me to tell them what Boardwalk is supposed to mean in their life.
Now that I have made the cards sound utterly useless, let me explain what I have been doing with them for the last twenty-five years. The cards are good for divination. Okay, have I confused you yet? Let me back track a bit here. Divination in its truest sense is the attempt to attain advice or answers by the gathering of symbols or events. Again, this doesn’t mean that the divination techniques will reveal the future. Instead, they are designed to help the querent gain insight to their every day lives. Divination can range to everything from reading stars, to interpreting dreams to even looking for symbols in ripples of water. Tarot is another of these symbol gathering practices, and one of the easiest to learn because the symbols are fixed, and can be memorized and categorized a lot easier than a random splattering of tea leaves or poking around in the innards of some poor animal.
So what good is all this symbol gathering for in the first place? These symbols are a way for us to connect and speak to our inner selves. That’s the guy inside that seems to know everything, but says nothing. You can compare this inner self to a combination of the Id and Super-Ego of Freud’s work, or as the higher self. (Check out True Magick by Amber K for more on this concept.) This inner self knows the ins and outs to most of our problems, and holds the answer as well as the reasoning behind most of our worries, but the inner self is really hard to communicate with. Thus the idea of divination. Through the symbols of the tarot we can look deep in our own psyche and pull out the things that trouble us at the core. Think of it as a counseling session, or a little light-handed psychotherapy. Jung was the first psychoanalyst to understand the importance of the symbols of tarot, regarding the cards as representing archetypes associated with psychological issues. And through the exploration of the cards we can address our own concerns by connection with these archetypes.
So, what I am saying is that the Tarot can help you address your problems by gathering them all together in a bouquet of symbols, of which you can decide which are more important and which are not. This all makes sense for self-readings, but how does this apply when reading for others? Is it possible to interpret these archetypes for other people?
A good reader will not attempt to ‘cold read’ someone, they won’t just sit down and say “I’m going to tell you this and that about yourself and you’re going to listen.” They should draw the subject out by just asking direct questions. It’s their reading, not yours, so don’t try to guess what the symbols represent to them. Explain what they symbolize traditionally, what you think they stand for, then ask the querent how they think these things apply to themselves. The true talent of a good reader is to combine all of these aspects into a relatable concept that the querent can associate with.
Yes, it’s that simple. No magic. No hoodoo. Just a little show and tell of the soul.
And the key to reading? The secret to interpretation? The big song and dance of how it all works? That is even simpler. Practice, patience and persistence. My advice to anyone who wants to learn the cards is to get a good deck and a good book and read as often as you can. The more you read, the better you get. The more you see and interpret the symbols, the more they stick with you and the easier it will become. Just like playing the piano, its all a matter of learning the keys.
The hard part is selection. There are thousands of different decks, ranging from fancy gold edged cards painted by Dali, to miniature decks worn on a necklace. My recommendation is that the beginning reader should start with the Rider Waite. This is one of the first established occult decks, intended solely for divination. It is also the deck most other decks are based off of. If you can learn the Rider Waite you will be set for life.
I have a crap load of decks because my husband likes to buy them for me as gifts, which I of course love! My personal fave is the Mythic Tarot. It uses Greek myths for the symbolism of the cards, which is great for me because I have always enjoyed those myths. (I think it's out of print right now, but it looks like they are launching a new version next year. Very excited about that!) I also have a Wizard of Oz deck, an Alice in Wonderland deck, a Phantasmagoric deck, and even a Vertigo Comics deck.
As far as books go, most decks will have a decent book with them. Otherwise I recommend Tarot for Dummies. It’s a great beginner resource. And don’t be ashamed to pull the book out and use it when you read. At first you will need the printed word to help you make associations, but as time goes by you will find yourself relying on it less and less. Trust me. If you stick with it, this will happen.
So there you are. Get a deck. Get a book. Read both. Practice, practice, practice!