Tarot Cards

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0 - The Fool 9 - The Hermit Ace of Wands Ace of Pentacles Ace of Cups Ace of Swords 0 - The Fool XXI - The World

The tarot (also known as tarocchi, tarock or similar names) is a set of cards typically featuring twenty one trump cards, the fool, and an extra face card per suit, in addition to the usual suit (face and pip) cards found in ordinary playing cards. Tarot cards are used throughout much of Europe to play Tarot card games. In English-speaking countries, where the games are largely unknown, Tarot cards are utilized primarily for divinatory purposes with the trump cards plus the Fool card comprising the twenty two major arcana cards and the pip and four face cards the fifty six minor arcana.

Tarot cards eventually came to be associated with mysticism and magic. Tarot was not widely adopted by mystics, occultists and secret societies until the 18th and 19th centuries. The tradition began in 1781, when Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, published Le Monde Primitif, a speculative study which included religious symbolism and its survivals in the modern world. De Gébelin first asserted that symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille represented the mysteries of Isis and Thoth. Gébelin further claimed that the name "tarot" came from the Egyptian words tar, meaning "royal", and ro, meaning "road", and that the Tarot therefore represented a "royal road" to wisdom. Gébelin wrote before Champollion had deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs, and later Egyptologists found nothing in the Egyptian language to support de Gébelin's fanciful etymologies. Despite this the identification of the Tarot cards with the Egyptian "Book of Thoth" was already firmly established in occult practice.

The idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Lévi and passed to the English-speaking world by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Lévi, not Etteilla, is considered by some to be the true founder of most contemporary schools of Tarot; his 1854 Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (English title: Transcendental Magic) introduced an interpretation of the cards which related them to Hermetic Qabalah. While Lévi accepted Court de Gébelin's claims about an Egyptian origin of the deck symbols, he rejected Etteilla's innovations and his altered deck, and devised instead a system which related the Tarot, especially the Tarot de Marseille, to the Kabbalah and the four elements of alchemy.

The Rider-Waite Deck | The Minor Arcana | My Significator Card - The Queen of Pentacles


To perform a Tarot reading, the Tarot deck is typically shuffled by either the subject or a third-party reader, and is laid out in one of a variety of patterns, often called "spreads". They are then interpreted by the reader or a third-party performing the reading for the subject. These might include the subject's thoughts and desires (known or unknown) or past, present, and future events. Generally, each position in the spread is assigned a number, and the cards are turned over in that sequence, with each card being contemplated/interpreted before moving to the next. Each position is also associated with an interpretation, which indicates what aspect of the question the card in that position is referring to.

Some common spreads include:

Celtic Cross (my favorite): This is probably the most common spread. Ten cards are used, with six arranged in a cross and four placed vertically beside the cross. Another card is placed horizontally across the central cards of the cross. The first central card of the cross is frequently the significator or querent and the second represents the conditions surrounding the question; the crossing card often represents an obstacle they must face, an aspect of the question they have not yet considered, etc.

Celtic Cross Spread

My method as I was taught in Calif. by experienced diviners in 1982:

Rather than being dealt randomly, the initial card in a spread (a card from the deck that best decribes that person's corresponding Tarot suit, personality traits, coloring and so forth; e.g. mine is the Queen of Pentacles) is intentionally chosen to represent the querent. This card is called the significator.

The card's are always read from the diviner's position. The cards are laid down as follows: #1-the significator is laid down facing the diviner. Card 2-This crosses you, 3-this covers you, 4-this is behind you, 5-this is beneath you, 6-this is before you, 7-this is you, 8-this influences you, 9-this is your present attitude, 10-this is the final result. I explain what each one means and it's relation to it's position in the reading then study the cards and summarize. I close my eyes and clear my mind and pass my right hand over all the cards laid out. I then pick up specific messages, warnings, answers, etc. I then ask the querent, "Did the cards answer your question?" They answer. Then I ask what their question was.

Most times the cards answer people's questions, sometimes they don't. They may tell you something completely different from what you asked; something you apparently need to be aware of at that time. They can predict events. Some readings, especially during a full moon, are very strong, others are not as intense. I was also taught when you first bought a new deck, to sleep with it, and keep it close to your body for about 2 weeks or until you feel bonded with it, so that it will be imbued with your energy and life force. Do not lend them out to anyone or let people just handle them. Keep them wrapped in purple cloth (not really sure why that's important).

Horse-shoe: Another very common question asking spread. Seven cards are arranged in a semi-circle or 'V' shape. The cards, from left to right, represent the past, present, influences, obstacles, expectations (or hopes/fears), best course of action and likely outcomes. Some variations of this spread swap the expectations and inspiration cards around.

3-card spread (too general for me): Three cards are used, with the first representing the past, the second the present, the third the future.

Astrological spread: Twelve cards are spread in a circle, to represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. A thirteenth card is placed in the middle; often the significator/querent.

1-card spread: It should be noted that a single card can constitute a spread.

Tetractys: Ten cards arranged in a four-rowed pyramid. Each row represents earth, air, fire or water and each card within the row has a very specific meaning. The single card in the top row is the significator.

There are numerous other spreads - essentially, the reader may use any card arrangement in which they find by experience to be useful.

Reversed cards

Some methods of interpreting the tarot consider cards to have different meanings depending on whether they appear upright or reversed. A reversed card is often interpreted to mean the opposite of its upright meaning. For instance, the Sun card upright may be associated with satisfaction, gratitude, health, happiness, strength, inspiration, and liberation; while in reverse, it may be interpreted to mean a lack of confidence and mild unhappiness. However, not all methods of card reading prescribe an opposite meaning to reversed cards. Some card readers will interpret a reversed card as either a more intense variation of the upright card, an undeveloped trait or an issue that requires greater attention. Some people put the card right side up and don't use reversed cards, but according to how I was taught, that alters the reading and may produce a misleading one. Cards shold be read as they are laid down. If nearly all the cards are reversed, then the diviner and querent can choose to start over with a reshuffling of the deck.

Other uses of Tarot

Poetry: Tarot was used as early as the 16th century to compose poems, called "tarocchi appropriati", describing ladies of the court or famous personages.

jk's Tarot FAQ
Tarot America
Learning the Tarot - An On-line Course
my own experience
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The Rider-Waite Deck | The Minor Arcana | My Significator Card - The Queen of Pentacles

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