New to the Craft

A Tarot Primer

One of the most popular methods of divination today is the use of tarot cards.  Commonly linked with witches and gypsies in the popular imagination, tarot has a fascinating history that some groups say can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt.  Though their exact origin is debated most tarot decks can be shown to incorporate a wealth of symbolism in their artwork that gives depth and variety to their possible interpretations in a reading.  The standard Rider/Waite deck was developed by members of the Golden Dawn in the early 20th century, and it intentionally makes heavy use of Qabalistic and astrological themes.  Other newer decks range in subject from pagan deities to angels to basic archetypes.

While modern tarot decks vary greatly in artwork and content, most tend to keep the same basic structure of 22 trump cards, called the Major Arcana, and 56 suited cards, called the Minor Arcana.  The Major Arcana are a pictorial representation of the deck’s theme, usually a variation on the soul’s journey to enlightenment.  Below are a couple of examples of the most common first trump, referred to as The Fool:




In the Rider/Waite and other decks derived from the Golden Dawn symbol system each trump card is associated with a particular path on the Qabalistic Tree of Life and an astrological sign, planet, or element that gives it an added layer of meaning.  The Minor Arcana cards also relate to the elements via the four suits of wands (fire), cups (water), swords (air), and pentacles (earth).  These cards number from 1 to 10 with the addition of the king, queen, knight, and page cards.  Some versions amend the knight to a prince or the page to a princess.  Each of the minor cards then has their own significance as related to the Tree of Life!  Knowing the added symbolism of each card isn’t necessary to enjoying and using the tarot, but it can be a great aid to the reader in attempting to interpret spreads that might otherwise seem confusing.

To conduct a reading with the tarot the reader shuffles the deck and lays out the cards in what is termed a “spread”.  The most commonly known is referred to as the Celtic Cross, which has the reader turn over a total of 10 cards in a specific order and relation to the others.  Each card is meant to reveal a particular aspect of the question at hand.  For instance the first card, the significator, reveals the general influences surrounding the matter, while the tenth card reveals the predicted outcome.  As each card is turned the reader interprets its meaning within the reading, tapping the subconscious but also using knowledge of what each cards symbolizes to understand the picture being presented.  Tarot readings, as with other forms of divination, offer a glimpse into the current state of influences affecting the matter concerned.  A reading doesn’t need to be taken as a future set in stone, but rather more information to be considered before proceeding on a particular path.  Each card can act as a mirror, reflecting back and revealing meanings specific to the person concerned.  In this way tarot helps us to explore both our future paths and our subconscious for greater understanding of our lives.

Until next month, blessed be! )O(