A Brief History of Tarot
Interpreting the casting of a spread of tarot cards, called reading, has been associated with Witchcraft and magical practice for many decades, and with Gypsy fortunetellers for centuries. In Witchcraft, the tarot is used today as a tool for divination, psychic readings, meditations, personal growth pathworking, and spiritual insight, but what is the origin of the tarot and how did this intriguing set of cards evolve? This mysterious deck of cards began its career as the game of tarocchi in fifteenth-century Italy, recognizable today as the game of Trumps or Whist. Subsequently, the tarot cards have been embraced by people, denounced by Christian clergy, banned by kings, revived by kings, and regulated by laws. Over the centuries, the tarot evolved into today's recognized system of divination, beginning with the writings of an eighteenth-century Mason named Antoine Court de Gebelin and a host of French clairvoyants operating on the premise that the cards were of Egyptian origin. The designs, numbering, interpretations, and reverse interpretations began to take the familiar present-day shape through the efforts of nineteenth-century Ceremonial Magicians. These people were Masons who operated in the secret societies and occult orders popular in the Victorian Age, in particular those of the Grand Order of the Rose Cross and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Many people contributed their special insights on the cards from the eighteenth through nineteenth centuries, and by the early twentieth century the tarot form most familiar in America was that of Arthur Waite, painted by Pamela Coleman Smith, and known as the Rider-Waite deck.
Today, the typical deck has seventy-eight cards divided into two parts, with the Major Arcana representing archetypal powers, universal imagery, and cosmic fates, while the Minor Arcana represents the interactions of daily life. The Major Arcana contains twenty-two cards, of which twenty-one are numbered, plus the unnumbered Fool, which is usually assigned the 0. This 0 card may begin or end the deck, depending on your point of view. The ordinary pack of playing cards descends from those of the Minor Arcana, although with only three of the possible five court cards for each suit. The four suits of the Minor Arcana are variously labeled Pentacles, Coins, Disks, and Bells; Swords, Knives, Daggers, and Leaves; Wands, Batons, Rods, and Acorns; or Cups, Cauldrons, Bowls, and Hearts. Depending on the tarot deck, the terms for the suits may vary, but these became in modern playing cards, respectively, the suits of Diamonds, Spades, Clubs, and Hearts.
There are a number of opinions on how the tarot came to Europe, but I feel the most plausible is that the Romany Gypsies, migrating from India through eastern Europe and into northern Italy during the Middle Ages, brought the cards with them. Any suggestion that ancient Egyptians used tarot cards results in the uncontrolled raising of an eyebrow since there is no evidence to support this theory. The earliest tarot deck of Europe still in existence with nearly all the original cards (five have been reconstructed) was made in 1450 in Milan for Viscount Sforza, although playing cards are mentioned in writings from 1397 and 1441. This tarocchi deck had no titles or numbers for the distinctive cards that are now identified as the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana consisted of the four suits containing Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages as Court Cards; the Aces; and the cards numbered 2 through 10 as pips like modern playing decks, making reverse readings out of the question. In fact, the idea of reverse meanings is a relatively recent invention. The Ace of any suit may be read as a 1, or as a trump card of greater power than a King card, so it may be at home on either end of the four suits of the Minor Arcana, somewhat as the Fool card may be placed on either end of the Major Arcana.
All subsequent tarot decks show the influence of the Sforza deck, and examining this deck reveals the evolution away from the earlier Pagan images. There were several aspects of the Goddess Diana and examples of tools from the Etruscan and Roman period, and more contemporary tools, such as a war wagon carrying an enthroned woman and being pulled by golden-winged white horses without reins, and the accouterments of the Medieval street magician. The Diana images were replaced in later renderings by generic females, and the battle wagon became a chariot with unruly teams of horses or sphinxes held in check by the sheer will of a dominant man. The mages controlled the Elementals through intellectual power, and the original's floppy hat evolved into the cosmic lumniscate, while the hourglass of the gentlemanly Old Father Time became the lantern of the monkish Hermit. The Popess, a reminder that a woman was once elected to rule the Church based upon her ability when no one knew her sex, only to be deposed upon discovery, became a less intimidating High Priestess. The Wildman awakening the Earth, a custom still followed in German, Romanian, Austrian, and British villages with variations of the British Morris Dancer tradition, and possibly derived from rites of Dionysus and Bacchus, was changed to the Fool, heedlessly stepping off into danger. The Sun of Apollo, spreading joy and erasing fear, became the Sun of twins or a child on horseback. It is in the many aspects of Diana that most changes took place. Diana releasing the Star of Hope from her open, outstretched hand (the rays of which fall in front of her hand) became a generic woman pouring out waters on land and sea beneath the stars. Diana of Temperance, pouring from one pitcher to another the dark wine that symbolized the blood of the resurrecting God, giving it thus the breath of life, became an angel pouring water between pitchers. Diana of the Moon, standing with her bow in one hand, broken in remorse for accidentally killing Orion with an arrow, holds the waning crescent Moon in her other hand, showing that life passes into death and hence into immortality, for Orion was reborn as a constellationthe same one that the Egyptians named after their God of the Underworld, Osiris. This image vanished to become a Moon between towers, bayed at by a wild wolf and a domestic dog. The Tower in the deck is actually erupting, releasing the Star and the Eclipsed Sun in a demonstration of the power of internal enlightenment and passage, but this image evolved into the Lightning-struck Tower, showing outside influence rather than internal inspiration.
While a variation of cards was also being used in China, with the contact between China and India it is difficult to determine who influenced whom. Those of India, however, have suits that may be matched to the accouterments of either the image of Shiva as Ardhanari (Shiva as Half Male and Half Female), or that of the Goddess Durga, the Great Goddess. Since the Gypsies came from India and used the cards first in Europe, it seems reasonable to link these two indicators as the predecessors for the European tarot.
Very quickly, the cards were adapted to provide the user with a Christian interpretation of the archetypes, and by the eighteenth century the depictions showed the influence of the divination structures reflecting Christian culture and the Jewish Kabbalah that were favored by Ceremonial Magicians. Differences of opinion as to the exact lineage of the tarot continue, with about the only consensus being that the tarot is not of European origin. As instruments of divination, it seems likely that since these cards were in the hands of the Gypsies first, and they have a strong tradition of reading cards, that the origins of divination with the cards may be misplaced in the salons of gentility in Paris. This is supported by the use of the cards for visions or oracles in the sixteenth century, long before being associated with fortunetelling. The difference as I see it between the two terms is that the first uses mediumship and spiritual connection for counseling, while the other relies on fixed meanings for the cards in a manner that does not allow much room for working with the energies indicated. Overall, I do not see the quibbling as vital to the use of the cards today as a tool of mediumship and spiritual guidance, for, in Witchcraft, this is what divination is actually about.
Modern Tarot Decks
In the latter part of the twentieth century, depictions on the cards in many new tarot decks returned to Pagan themes, and others related to fantasy worlds and international ethnic archetypes or mythologies. Indeed the proliferation of new decks shows that nearly any taste can be accommodated to the tarot. Most of these decks come with little pamphlets or booklets tucked inside with the interpretations for each card provided. When you go looking for a tarot deck, keep in mind the point of view of the creator of the deck. You may be thrilled with a vampire version of the tarot, or quite frustrated with the images when trying to match the pamphlet descriptions to the scene, or blending both with your usual values for the cards and your own psychic reception. You may be drawn to fairies, unicorns, dragons, or fantasy, but have difficulty relating these images to real-life matters. I have found over the years that I like to have a variety of tarot decks, not only for the beauty of the artwork, but for the sensations they evoke, and that by handling the cards and examining them for their esoteric insights, any deck can become a useful companion. Some of my decks feel best during holidays, others are more attuned to one of the four seasons, and a few are distinctly aligned with the energies of specific people for whom the cards are most often read.
I have over fifty tarot decks now, and I use almost all of themalmost, because some things are a matter of live and learn, and I have found that despite handling, examination, and ritual dedication, a couple of my decks are so gorgeous and decorative as to be works of art rather than avenues to psychic awareness, so that instead of finding the common thread within, my eyes wander over the swirling designs. I also have heard people complain that a deck may be too overbearing in a theme for them, or so restrictive to a theme as to block psychic input, but other than being drawn to admire the beauty rather than focusing on the reading, I have not found any deck to be impossible to work with.
Some typical themes found in tarot decks include following a format of suits structured to fit a set of myths (Celtic, Greek, Norse, Arthurian, etc.); blending cultures and traditions from around the world; and generating the ambiance of Gothic, vampire, fairy, nursery rhyme, feline, wolf, gnome, unicorn, dragon, and other such motifs into a coherent spread matched to the arcanas. There are a number of choices in buying a tarot deck suited to your particular taste and interests, but be aware that there are also decks in which the normal number of cards may be expanded, or that there may be cards absent that are familiar to tarot. A deck may have additional cards for the four Elementals (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), the four Virtues (Hope, Faith, Prudence, and Charity), and even the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The deck with the Virtue cards is curiously missing the High Priestess card, so for me to read with this deck, I substitute Prudence for the Priestess and set the other Virtues aside (which somehow seems appropriate, for if you are prudent, the rest will follow). Elemental cards may seem a bit redundant since Aces are the power cards of the Minor Arcana and double as representatives of the Elementals as well, but each person is different, and you might actually find these useful as guides for timings as with seasons.
Since these decks can be quite expensive, ranging from $10.00 to $30.00 or more, you should be prepared to buy with care. Many of the larger bookstore chains, and even some of the smaller independent shops, have a tarot card reference book in which one or two sample cards of the various decks are displayed for your examination. Otherwise, check the bookshelves in the New Age or Metaphysical section of the bookstore and flip through some of the books on tarot so you see images of cards used to illustrate the text and identify the deck of those cards that catch your eye. With care, you should avoid the pitfall of buying a deck that does not work for you. In Europe there have always been many varieties, easily purchased at the shops in the railroad stations that crisscross the countries, with especially prominent displays in the shop windows lining the platforms in front of the rails of the Italian stations. It is wonderful that the different decks so readily accessible in Europe have finally reached across the ocean to America with the Lo Scarabeo collection of tarot decks distributed now by Llewellyn Publications.
The Meaning of Reading Cards
The most common reason I hear for reading cards is to "divine the future," but I do not consider this a totally accurate description of what is actually going on. There are states, and counties within states, in the United States that view tarot or other card reading the same as fortune-telling, and require that, in order for you to do public readings, you must have a license indicating that you are an entertainer affiliated with an entertainment corporation or business, or a person of moral character if reading independently, usually with a number of signatures from people who will vouch for your integrity. Again, this is not what card reading means to me. While there are instances of people being mistreated through the use of cards, generally involving turning over large sums of money to the reader to avert a disaster or remove an alleged evil influence, I feel there are sufficient laws in existence to treat such cases the same as any other scam or swindle rather than directing the laws at the process of reading the cards.
For me, reading cardsbe they tarot or regular playing cardsis part of the spirituality of the Craft, so much so that even as a child, visions and perceptions used to leap out at me in card games as innocuous as gin rummy and solitaire. The very act of divination in Witchcraft requires a link with the Lunar aspect of the Divine, such as with the Goddess Hecate, Cerridwen, Bendidia (Bendis), Artemis, Diana, or Isis, each of whom is considered a Goddess of Witches. When you read the cards, you are connecting with the energies of the Divine for insight and guidance. You also connect with the Elementals through the process of grounding and centering before a reading, thus aligning your internal energies with those of Nature and the Spirit, while opening your psychic sight for a consultation for yourself or someone else. The cards do not of themselves tell the future, but they offer the reader a focal point through which to access Divine energy and gain visions or interpretations of influences surrounding a particular question or person as illustrated by the cards that are pulled.
Before you rush out and buy a tarot deck, you should examine your reasons for using cards at all. If you feel that the cards will tell you all there is to know about a situation and what the future holds, you are missing the true purpose for reading cards. The future is not some pre-ordained, immovable series of events. If it were, there would be no point in card reading, no point in spell craft, no point in learning the art of Witchcraft, and indeed, no point in any type of spiritual or religious pursuit and prayer since nothing would be changeable. As a third-generation Family Tradition Witch (described in my books on Green Witchcraft: Folk Magic, Fairy Lore & Herb Craft, 1996; Green Witchcraft II: Balancing Light and Shadow, 1999; and Green Witchcraft III: The Manual, 2000; and Green Magic: The Sacred Connection to Nature, 2002, all with Llewellyn Publications), my point of view is quite clearly in opposition to predestination and unchangeable futures. The movement of time and events is fluid, and the energy of the Divine as the Power may be called upon to bring guidance, to show how things are currently aligned, and to suggest options for making desired changes. This ability to make changes and shape our own future is what defines both the magic of Witchcraft and the exercise of Free Will.
While I consider the term "divination" insufficient for readings, it is the one generally used and commonly understood. However, I must emphasize the explicit spiritual interpretation of the Divine within divination. My feeling is that the cards provide a venue for connection of the reader with the Divine, being a visual, tactile object through which the Divinethe Goddess and the God to the Witchmay offer counseling to the inquirer or querant by the opening of psychic pathways. It is through this linking that the reader and the querant ask the Divine for direction and advice to aid in the making of informed personal decisions. The key here is that it is up to individuals to make the choices that are appropriate to them, whether they feel comfortable with these choices, are willing to try something new, or are disposed to accept the possible results of their actions or lack thereof. Not everyone makes use of the information presented in a reading, but often simply being aware of the possible consequences or flow of energy is sufficient for them to be prepared for whatever reason. It is important to recognize that the cards do not spell out your fate, that they do not control anything, and that there is nothing scary about them. Their function is to provide a venue for a reader to access the psychic intuition that is naturally present in all people, but more developed in some than others.
For the reader, the connection with the Divine implies a reciprocal understanding that what is being seen in the cards is a sacred trust. If you are not clear on what you see, winging it is not an option. People who go to readers are seeking advice and may be in an emotional state at the time. Trying to carry on a reading when you are simply not getting anything on the psychic level is not a good idea. You could explain that you are having an off day, and that while you could describe the meaning of the cards as they lie you are not up for a deeper reading. Be attentive to the reactions of the people you read for, since at times a person may be nervous or upset, and you do not want to further alarm him or her by not offering at least a cursory reading of the cards.
Reading the Tarot
Reading cards is a talent that anyone can develop. There are two basic ways to read cards: by the surface meaning of the cards and by the intuitive meaning of the cards. The first method requires only the memorization of the meanings for the cards, which are then recited as the cards are turned up in a spread. While not totally dissatisfying, this technique is very limiting and, if used without any psychic input, may be difficult to interpret coherently since each card has more than one meaning. This method requires the reader to find the common thread among the cards in the spread as relating to the question asked, and if this is not addressed, then there is a possibility that there is a different message being brought forward. The second method, however, utilizes both the general meanings of the cards and the psychic visions that come to the reader while looking at the cards. This provides an in-depth interpretation and, with the psychic intuition engaged, may also run into ancillary matters. You could reshuffle the remaining stack of cards after a layout to set out modifying cards, or follow a train of thought from any one of the cards in the spread in this manner. My own Tree of Life spread, as an example, may use fifteen cards or all the cards of the deck. Using the tarot regularly, even when starting from the recitation method, will actually help you develop your innate psychic abilities so that, with practice, more than the surface becomes apparent to you.
I started deliberately reading cards (as opposed to automatically seeing things in the cards during card games) in my mid-teens, using a regular deck of playing cards and depending almost entirely on my intuitive feelings and visions. In fact, I created my Tree of Life Spread at this time based on the seven-card layout of a standard solitaire game, then moving on from that as the inspiration came to me. The seven cards became the branches of the tree, then there followed a tree trunk of two cards linked to the center card of the branches, a circle of roots of five cards, and within this the heart of the tree with one card. The spread simply came to me, as did the name for the spread, and it has been a highly successful means of reading for me. While you may start working with one or two spreads, do not be surprised if you begin to create your own patterns.
The combination of assigned meanings and psychic perception will be slightly different for each person who reads cards, but he or she will have to learn to be confident and trust their own intuitive powers. I have known readers who began by carefully adhering to the written pamphlet correlations between cards and their import; after a time they found themselves qualifying their readings with their own impressions that began to appear jointly with the cards. This is a case of developing those psychic gifts that reside within each of us. When you start looking at cards and checking your sources for the intent of the card, you may recognize a different meaning in the card than is given in your source, so do not feel your intuition has less value than the written words. As your skill increases, you will see images superimposed over the pictures of the cards, and after awhile you will be able to look at any given court card and see someone relevant to the person for whom you are reading. From there it is a short step to seeing motion in the cards, with events unfolding before your psychic eye as the querant seeks further information on some portion of the reading.
Ground and Center for a Spiritual Reading
When you read the cards, you may do so either without any verbal contributions from the querant or with the person's active participation as you consult over the relevancy of a card and your impressions of a particular question from the querant. The method is up to the individual. When going into a reading, the important thing is to ground and center, so that you can focus on the reading itself, not on attitudes, making an impression, being self-conscious, or saying the right or wrong thing.
The term "ground and center" is used frequently in Witchcraft in relation to ritual, magic working, and spell casting, but it is also a vital step in tarot reading. What you are doing is focusing your personal energy inward and draining off into the Earth beneath your feet any chaotic or tension-inducing energies so that you are relaxed. Next, you pull up into yourself the powerful energy of the Earth, seeing and feeling this energy blending with your own, perhaps following the cycles of the chakras or, more simply, weaving the energy around your body internally and into your hands while holding the cards. I usually hold the cards to my heart for this, but it is the passage of energy that matters. When the reading is over, touch the ground with the palms of your hands, envisioning the excess energy draining out, leaving you with sufficient personal energy so that you are not left feeling depleted. If you do not ground a second time, the energy builds up internally and will manifest through nervousness, headache, tension, and irritability. I know some readers who will run outside after a reading and hug a tree to release the energy, but I prefer to touch the floor or ground, envisioning the release through the palms into the Earth, where it can be used as needed.
The way I like to do readings is to shuffle the deck of cards, then have the querant make a fist and soundly knock on the top of the deck as it lies face down on the table. I immediately put my hands together side by side, thumbs touching, so the palms are open over the deck and facing the individual, and I state firmly, "This is YOUR deck." The energy of the knock from the querant is bounced off the palms and into the deck, reinforcing the connection with the querant while also linking to me through the palms for a meaningful reading. After the reading, I shake my hands in the air, releasing any residual influence, and touch the floor.
In a convention or festival situation, in which numerous readings may take place in the space of an hour, I find that I can utilize the energy drawn up from the Earth without grounding again until the end of the session. For these events, wherein there is usually a line of people formed and waiting for readings during a predetermined time slot, I will lightly shake my hands and shuffle or fan the deck of cards to wave through the air quickly between readings, thus releasing the influence of the previous querant prior to having the new person knock on the deck.
I find there are some people who want to discuss a specific issue, and we have a quick consultation that is very focused, with an ongoing conversation relating to the cards. In this type of reading, a person may want to pursue the relevancy of a card, and I find that through discussion, my psychic impression of the card will change to follow the direction of the inquiry. This does not change the reading, but allows a glimpse into peripheral regions relating to the reading. Occasionally someone will sit at the table, knock on the deck, and sit back slouched with folded arms, waiting in silence to see what I have to say. I recently had a man sit for a free reading during such a convention and he had all the body language of self-assured skepticism. Because I ground and center, I am no longer aware of the person's incredulity, but focused on the cards. In this case, I remember it distinctly because of the man's reaction. Looking at the cards, I read them, recounting the visions and stating what I saw. As I spoke I became aware that the arms unfolded, the man sat upright, and his mouth fell open. When I finished, he stood up and said shakily, "You have no idea how exact you were." Well, actually, I did, but I let it go at that. He left the table telling the people in the line, "She's GOOD!" While it is always gratifying to hear praise, I am also amused. I do not seek to startle anyone with a reading or to impress the querant, but know instead that what I do is through the gift of the Goddess, and so there is no doubt in my mind that I will see what She feels is relevant. It is a matter of trusting the intuitive insight She provides. In this sense, I often feel I am merely the conduit for Her purpose, and that suits me just fine.
To Charge or Not to Charge, That Is the Question
One of the questions about reading cards is whether or not it is morally or legally right to charge a querant money for a reading. This issue is one that you as a reader must decide on your own, but for what it is worth, I shall put in my two cents. I have read for many friends without charge, simply because I enjoyed the cards and the experience, read for people who were total strangers and charged for a spiritual consultation, and read for strangers without charging. My feeling is that when people are charged money for a reading, they tend to assume the role of a customer, and are psychologically more likely to expect to have a lot of time and energy expended on their behalf whether the cards warrant this or not, until the reading runs to their satisfaction. If you are not comfortable with this, but would like some kind of monetary compensation, you might want to simply have a container labeled for donations.
Be aware that there are folks who will want what they consider to be their money's worth, and there are folks who will feel that they are in the position of consumer with the reader as some kind of retail spiritual clerk. I avoid doing readings for people who address readings as commodities, but that is just my preference. Dealing with the public at large may work for you, or you may find there are people you read for who annoy you, in which case it could be the circumstance rather than the reading or the people. My preference is to read for people who appreciate the reading. Barter is always a fun experience, or trading readings with one another. You have to determine your own preferences, but do not let yourself be bullied by anyone who attempts to press for one practice or another. The idea of never charging is not a practical one. If you want to try and make a living from doing readings, first check on the local and state laws relating to psychic readings. Then make an honest assessment of your abilities. It is best to start off doing free readings among your friends and family when first learning the tarot. Make an effort to know the cards, for people obviously will not want to pay you if you are flipping through a pamphlet to do readings. The amount you charge is up to you, based on your experience, ability, and what the local reader's market is like. Do not demean yourself by undercharging if you feel your readings are worth a certain amount, but remember that the cost of the reading should not be your focal point, or your mind will be on the payment instead of on the cards.
Decide where you want to read. You could approach a shop that sells Wiccan supplies, for example, perhaps offering to do a few readings for free one day as a means of attracting customers to the store. Or the store may allow you to set up a table in a room and/or by the door. Do not be surprised if the store expects a percentage of your earnings, for they are in business after all. You may want to place an ad in a store or selected newsletters for individual or party readings, and there are many corporations who hire readers for entertainment at conventions or company events. Some people do readings in their homes, and again, you need to be aware of the laws and community regulations regarding having a business in your home. If you do have readings at home, these ought to be by appointment and scheduled with plenty of time between sessions so you do not become fatigued, have people milling about the house unattended, or cars jamming the street and annoying your neighbors. Have a room set aside for readings that is comfortable and not ostentatious. The drama of many lit candles, tons of incense smoke, or scarves draped over the lamps is up to you, but remember that the people for whom you read may have allergies, that candles generate heat, and that a tipped-over candle can cause a devastating fire. While I have heard readers talk about one extreme to the other in decorating taste, I really do not feel that it is anyone's place to tell you how to design your reading area. Go with what you are comfortable with, what you feel will draw rather than repel people, and what gives you a sense of grounding and connection to the Divine. If things do not work out, you can always change the decor. The key is to be flexible.
Relating to Various Tarot Decks
As I mentioned before, I find that certain decks have a feel to them that makes them more attuned to specific types of readings. I find The Nigel Jackson Tarot Deck (Llewellyn Publications) to be excellent for doing many readings in a row. I call this my Teflon deck because the energies of the querants do not stick to it as they do with other cards. This makes the deck especially good for readings at conventions, gatherings, festivals, and anywhere that numerous people are involved because I can move from one person to another without having to expend energy releasing the influences of the previous querant. Some decks are a lot more absorbent and need a good pass through incense smoke to be readied for the next reading, and others are so spongy that I reserve them for specific people I read for frequently or for myself.
Good, all-around versatile decks include The Robin Wood Tarot (Robin Wood and Michael Short; Llewellyn Publications), which utilizes sumptuous colors in traditional visuals, and The Sacred Circle Tarot (by Anna Franklin and Paul Mason; Llewellyn Publications), which follows Celtic and Pagan themes. The Witches Tarot (Ellen Cannon Reed and Martin Cannon; Llewellyn Publications) is a powerful deck with clear-cut Wiccan imagery. Now that Llewellyn Publications is the U.S. and Canada distributor of the European tarot decks of Lo Scarabeo, along with their own beautiful and meaningful tarot decks produced by various writers for the publisher, the world of choice has opened quite a lot since the days when it was impossible to find anything in America besides the bright yellow Rider-Waite deck. These European decks are fascinating, not only because they are noted in Spanish, Italian, French, German, and English, but also because many are facsimiles of historical tarot decks from parts of Italy and France dating from 1450 to 1725, 1760, 1780, 1810, 1835, 1860, and 1880, plus there are a number of excellent theme decks that are beautifully illustrated. The Secrets Deck is romantic and darkly gothic in tone, while the charmingly earthy Fairy Tarot utilizes the German suits of Bells, Acorns, Leaves, and Hearts. The Celtic Tarots (G. Gaudenzi and S. Tenuta, Lo Scarabeo) is a modern rendition that includes motifs arranged by suits for myths; the Tuatha de Danann, who are the Sidhe or Fairy Folk of Ireland; heroes; and history. With so many styles and designs to choose from, you are bound to find a deck that seems to speak to you, that reaches out to you. When you feel this sensation in the presence of a tarot deck, it is likely to make a good choice.
Methods of Reading Tarot
Since the reading of cards is one of individual psychic development, you need to discover through trial and error what method works best for you. I have experimented with different shuffling techniques and layouts, and have found the type that suits me, but these may not be right for you. For myself, I first fan out the cards in a deck and wave the cards through the air or through incense smoke to clear them of residual energies and to awaken them if the cards have sat in a box or bag for a while. The next thing I do is shuffle them a bit to energize them, then set the deck on the table. I ask the querant if there is a particular matter to be addressed, and if so, I ask that the person focus on this, then rap the deck with the knuckles of the fist of the power hand (the one favoredusually the writing hand). I then ground and center, taking the deck and holding it in my hands close to my heart as I feel the energy rising from the Earth through my feet, up my body, down my arms, and out of my hands into the cards, while also feeling the opening of the crown of my head to the bright white light of the Divine. In this way, I become a conduit for the Goddess of the Earth and the Universe, channeling the energy into the cards and opening my psychic vision. This done, I shuffle the cards, focusing on the issue the querant desired information about, or simply on the querant if a general reading is sought.
When the time feels right, usually indicated by repetition in the shuffling pattern, I set down the deck and cut it into three stacks. The bottom of the deck forms the first stack, the middle section of the deck forms the second stack to my left of the first stack, and the top (remaining) section of the deck forms the third stack to my left of the second stack. Now I pick up the second (middle) stack, then place it on top of the first stack (to the right of the middle), and under these combined stacks goes the third stack (to the left of the middle). The cards are ready to be dealt out in any pattern, called a spread, that I feel appropriate, and the reading commences. It reads like a long procedure, but actually it takes only a few moments. When the reading is over, I shake my hands, gather up the cards, shuffle them, fan them out, and pass them through incense smoke or wave briskly in the air, freeing them of any residual energies. If a reading is lengthy and complex, I may feel a need to touch my palms to the ground afterward to release the tensionotherwise, I may do several readings before touching the ground. You will simply have to judge when to do this.
Of course there are other methods of preparing for a reading, and some readers prefer to have the querant handle the cards, shuffle them, or draw the proper number for a spread out from a face-down fanning of the deck on the table. Do what feels right for you. I have had times when I wanted the querant to select cards randomly from the fanned-out deck, and others when I wanted the person to hold the deck and focus on the issue of concern. The difference seems to be in the energy flow of the querant, which is something that I sense and work with.
In learning to read the tarot, the listings of meanings for a card should be whittled down to what relates to the information sought, question asked, or surrounding cards, as with a nonspecific reading when the querant seeks only a general idea of current surrounding influences. This means that not all meanings listed for a card apply in any given reading. Nothing can be more confusing to the querant than to have a list of possible meanings rattled off with no clue as to which one is pertinent, so use your intuitive powers to get an overall impression from the cards present so they form a cohesive unit. Visions or sensing a strong interpretation for a card should prevail over all, since the tarot is a tool of mediumship, channeling, and connection with the Divine in counseling. You may want to read each card as it falls, or turn over a laid-out spread one by one, or you may prefer to see the spread all at once for a unified impression. Usually, the cards can be connected into a lucid sequence of events and impressions, and this is how you should read them. Other times, there are specific areas covered in a placement, and the card should be read to relate to that place meaning. Even after following the place settings of the cards, there is still a flow between them that you will perceive and relate to.
I feel that since reversed cards are a recent innovation, and there are sufficient cards in the deck for a concise reading, these reverse meanings may be ignored as you right the card, or else they may be read as lessening the influence of the card or delaying the influence. Again, you will learn to trust your intuition with practice, and let this be your guide in the interpretations. For me, the Aces are power cards, and I always read them as upright. Remember that in the original tarot decks the number cards were double-sided, meaning that there were no reverses for these. The court cards and Major Arcana were pictures that could be seen as upside-down, but as these were considered power cards or people cards, they were righted for the readings. Today, all the cards tend to be illustrated, so you must decide for yourself what avenue of approach to use, and I will list suggested reverse meanings later on.
There are those who say that you must stick to one style of reading so as to gain proficiency, but I believe that nothing in Nature is stationary, so why should we attempt to be contrary to Nature? If you normally turn reverses right side up, but in a reading your psychic pull tells you that a reversed card should be read as delay or lesser power, then do so. If the spread you use has a set guide for each space where you place a card, but you see an unfolding series of events, read it the way you see it. The reading is not for you, but for the querant, and if there is something that the Divine wants to impart, it will be there.
In the area of revealing the import of the cards, tact is a major consideration. You need to be careful with how you phrase things. I did a reading for a woman who was trying to come to a decision about a man she said was her boyfriend, and while the cards were obviously telling her it was time to let go, she was the type of person who needed to be told in no uncertain terms what was being indicated. I prefer to let people draw their own conclusions from the influences indicated in the cards, so that they can see what the possible outcomes are for any particular action they might take. This woman, however, was not content with that, and wanted the blunt, in-your-face meaning of the spread. Her strong energy was clearly reflected in the cards, and she was finally satisfied with having this presented to her in no uncertain terms. For her, the reading progressed from showing that the influences for a relationship were not there, to flatly stating that the cards showed the guy simply was not interestedso how could he be her boyfriend much less a candidate for marriage? She accepted that, and I felt she had to already know this, but wanted to ground herself psychically before accepting his rejection of her romantic overtures. For her part, she acknowledged the reality of the situation and even admitted that the man was really only an acquaintance whom she was pursuing, and recognized that she was on the borderline between ardent and harassing. With that understood, she was able to let go without a loss of self-esteemthe chemistry or energy for a relationship just was not there.
Care must be taken in reading cards in a spread that may seem to have a heavily negative overtone. The individual cards themselves depict various influences and conditionsthings that you may interpret as giving warnings about negative energies, about delays or obstacles, and offer alternative avenues of approach to a problem or situation. If you see a physical death in the cards, should you reveal this? Tough decision. By withholding the information, a person may be shocked when the event occurs, but by giving the information, a person may blame you for the event. You need to determine what the person seems willing to listen to, and approach with consideration to the person's feelings. You could ask if someone is ailing, if this is what you see, or if the querant has checked with a close relative (for example) lately, and if not, that this might be worth doing.
When I see something momentous in a reading, I will try to draw out from the querant what this relates to, and usually the person is already aware of a problem and appreciates the confirmation in order to be prepared. In other cases, I prefer to give a more indirect warning, so that instead of saying, for example, "You will be in a car wreck in two days," I would say, "You have to be very careful, focused, and aware of your surrounding when driving for the next two days because there is a lot of chaotic energy around you and automobiles." The first interpretation leaves no opportunity in the mind of the querant to avoid the situation, while the second interpretation offers the querant a chance to avert an accident. Remember that the primary goal of a reading is to see what energies are influencing a situation and how to work with them or deflect them as desired by the querant.
Not all negatively influenced readings reflect the true situation, so be prepared to assess the emotional state of the querant. There are times when the person getting the reading has already determined that everything is awful, and this is passed on into the cards. To overcome this, you must draw up additional energy from the Earth and from the Universe to get a clearer picture of any given situation.
The other end of the spectrum is what I like to call the "happy, happy, joy, joy" readings, where the querant is so enthusiastic and optimistic, and everything turns up gloriously in the cards. Perhaps this is a realistic assessment, since there are people who, without thinking about it, manipulate energy by sheer upbeat personal energy. These are the rare, haloed onespeople who succeed at everything with very little effort, and I can only imagine that they are high up in the spiritual scales. With these people, you have to look through the overlay of optimism to see what is really happening below the surfaceotherwise, all you can say is that everything is just great. By focusing beneath or past the aura, which looks like a bright sparkling haze, you can then make out the sensible information. Yes, this is generally a reading of good things, but beyond that, you can see what is going on when and where, in career or family, and so forth.
Once you have given your reading, there may be some areas needing clarification, so you may want to take one of the cards from the spread and use it as a base for another spread laid over it. In this case, you are focused on the issue represented in the card, and you gather, reshuffle, cut, collect, and cast the next spread to broaden the scope of the information received through the earlier card. With my Tree of Life spread, illustrated later on in this book, I can lay out the spread in a single layer, and if seeking more information, continue to lay out the cards without reshuffling. Another technique is to lay out the cards in a spread, then reshuffle the remaining cards in your hands and lay out one or more to extend the reading of a particular card in the spread. These additional cards form little rivers or branches extending from those cards being further investigated. This type of layout is done after the complete spread is first laid out. If a spread has ten cards, for example, you would cast the ten cards, and as you are reading them, you might pause at one of these cards, shuffle the remaining deck again, and run a few cards off the one that interested you for clarification. An important thing to keep in mind when expanding a reading is to not over-stress your own energy levels. If you feel you are becoming tired, fuzzy-headed, or headachy, draw up more Earth energy for support.
Some people become tarot addicts and want a reading every day, or even several times a day. This is not a good idea, and unless you want to get calls at all hours of the day and night you should advise people that once a month is more than sufficient, with once every six months being the best practice. You do not want to enable the tarot as a tool for someone to put off the decisions of daily life, so you may find you need to put your psychic foot down with the querant who never seems to get enough information before taking any type of action.
As you experiment with the tarot cards and develop your psychic abilities, avoid letting the cards become the end all of your activities. The key to readings is that they provide insight for a situation, but the situation will not be resolved simply by reading the cardsaction or response of some sort must also take place. The cards only offer a glimpse of how things are currently lined up, but that can change depending on what is or is not done by the querant. This is not to say that the tarot may not be used daily by any means. Drawing a single card at random from your deck in the morning while focusing on asking what the tone for the day will be can help you see at the outset what influences are working around you. This does not entail a deep reading with a detailed card spread, just a quick glance at what is in the air, and is much like pulling a daily rune from a rune pouch. Doing a daily spread for yourself is fine for the practice, but after awhile you will probably discover that there simply is not enough time between readings for them to offer much variation, and with mostly mundane matters reflected in the cards, the scope of the readings becomes very narrow.
Numbers and Suits
Numerology can play a part in the readings, and there are additional meanings for multiples of numbered cards. Each number, 2 through 10, has its own significance in the tarot, and is influenced by the suit. Each suit has its own qualities and influences the tone of the spread by the amount represented, so that if, for example, the cards are mostly wands, the reading is mainly career and creativity focused. If there are three or more cards of one number, the number itself indicates the focus of the reading, so that if the spread with the mostly wands cards contains several 6s, you know the reading is more likely attuned to career and an impending decision. The suit of an Ace in a spread of cards may be used to indicate a timetable, subject to interpretation, which is covered in part three.
I see an overall influence in a spread by the general interpretation for the pips or court cards, as well as by additional meanings for multiples of 3 and 4 of the same card. Thus, there are three or four suits represented to achieve the multiples of a number2 of wands, swords, cups, and coins gives you four 2s. An additional number comes from the Major Arcana, so that if, in this example, there is also the Drawing Down the Moon (High Priestess) card in the casting, then there are five 2s, since this is the numeral usually assigned to that Major Arcana card. While doubles of the numbers 2 through 10 in a spread are not normally given special significance, I generally interpret this as a lightweight influence of the number, so a spread with two 10s, as an example, indicates moderate success in the subject of the reading. When there are several sets of multiple cards, I read them as a coherent and interrelated whole based on the other cards and the subject of the reading. Aces and court cards have additional meanings for doubles, with Aces indicating something powerful and impressive, and court cards relating to people interactions and social events. The Aces are also matched in the Major Arcana with the Witch (Magician) as the number 1.
Meditations and Pathworking
Meditation is a good process for gaining a feel for the cards of the Major Arcana, for it involves looking inward without paying attention to the externals, and provides a means of receiving information from the Divine and the Universal Unconsciousthe storehouse of universal experience accessible through altered states of consciousness. There are different ways of meditating, and you should follow the type that suits your needs. When you have an issue requiring clarification, a problem for which you cannot seem to find a solution, or a remedy you cannot quite grasp, meditation will often remove the barriers to creativity and lucid thought. Through meditation you release the subconscious mind to work on a problem that your conscious mind was perhaps too busy or impeded to properly address. Conscious fear of change, inadequacy, hopelessness, or uncertainty can stymie the creative process on that level, so this is when you tell the conscious mind to lie down and take a rest, and let the enthusiastic energy of the subconscious mind take over. For each type of meditation, you first focus on the issue you want to see resolved, then dismiss it from your mindstop thinking about itand proceed to the meditation.
One method of meditation is to simply go for a walk. Your conscious mind is actually occupied with the activities of moving your feet, noting the distances and motions of objects, the scent of the air, the sounds of the birds, and the view of the landscape around you. While this is happening, the subconscious mind is plugging away at the problem, and the answer will burst upon your consciousness as a sudden bolt of insight. You snap your fingers and say something like, "Of course!" and finish your walk with a happy, light step. A second method of meditation is to think about what you are seeking, then lie down and relax, releasing your cares into a half-sleep. During this time you are accessing the subconscious mind, but you are not in a dream state. This method is best for healing and matters of the heart: love, loneliness, remorse, companionship, and the like.
For tarot meditations, there is a third stylesitting comfortably but erect, with both feet on the floor and hands resting in your lap, so that you are ready to gain insight into specific problems or issues by addressing them. The procedure is usually two-fold: breathing and visualizing. Begin with breathing and muscle relaxation exercises to release tension, (a pattern of mentally counting "one, two" then holding a count while inhaling, and exhaling to "one, two" and holding a count before resuming the process, while also tensing and relaxing the muscles from the feet upward and down again), then move into a visualization to take you to a safe place from where you move on to find a solution as presented to you by the beings you encounter in your travels or from looking into a reflective surface at the destination (a pool, well, cauldron, etc.). You can also slip into a meditative state by standing in a relaxed position and letting your thoughts detach and take flight. For meditating with the tarot, the easiest method is to be seated at a table while gazing at a selected card, seeking from within yourself the hidden meanings of the symbols and how they apply to you. This enables you to tap into the Universal Consciousness of symbols and unspoken interpretations, of senses and feelings, of intuition and comprehension.
Pathworking is also a method for developing your insight for each card of the tarot. It is very much like a sitting meditation, only what you are doing is encountering specifically the beings on each card, walking with them for a while in their setting, listening to what they may speak or indicate through gesture and action, and learning directly from the card what meaning it holds for you. The technique is often used in association with a Kabbalah pattern for magic called the Tree of Life (different from my card spread), which depicts three pillars containing ten forms of being, interlinked through pathways. The whole is a blueprint for showing the process of bringing something into being through the application of manifesting force into a formthat is, creating through concept. The cards of the Minor Arcana are aligned with the forms by suits and court cards, while the cards of the Major Arcana are the twenty-two pathways between these ten structures, or emanations. This area of study was popularized by the Rosicrucians and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and plays a strong role in Ceremonial Magic. It is because of two separate ideas of where the Major Arcana cards should be placed on the Tree of Life that the Strength and Justice cards may be reversed in their numbering, with the Golden Dawn changing the numbers from 11 for Strength and 8 for Justice to 8 for Strength and 11 for Justice. Today, depending on the tarot deck, these cards have either number, with most of the older numbered decks favoring 11 for Strength, but the newer decks (as with the various interpretations of the Rider-Waite Tarot) using 8 for Strength since it actually fits on the Tree better at that position. However, the earliest decks from five centuries ago were not numbered at all, and any numbering is only a couple of centuries old, so use what you feel is appropriate.
The archetypes of the Major Arcana may be applied to any magical system simply because they are universal concepts. Pathworking, then, may be done with or without the Tree of Life method, simply by moving with the card imagery, or through envisioning the starting and ending points on the Tree and traveling along the bridgeway linkage with the card imagery. In either situation, you are opening yourself to the subtle meanings of the card. Pathworking may also be done as a guided meditation by having someone else work with you, or by using a recording that you have purchased or created for yourself.
Now that you have a little background information on the tarot, take out your deck to use along with the next two parts, or use the illustrations provided, and let's get started on the cards. Part two is devoted to the Major Arcana, and part three looks at the Minor Arcana, including the multiples. After this the cards of the individual suits are addressed, followed by information on using spreads and looking at the relationship between paired cards. Finally, a list of key words, tarot exercises, and a record-keeping chart rounds out the text. The idea of tarot reading is to enjoy what you are doing.
If you would like to consecrate your deck before using, you may do so by stating, "I call upon the Goddess and the God, the Power of the Earth and Sky, Moon, and Sun, that this deck be consecrated to my use." Then sprinkle a little sea salt over the deck as you state, "by Elemental Earth"; pass the deck through incense smoke, "by Elemental Air"; pass the deck quickly through a candle flame as you state, "by Elemental Fire"; and sprinkle very lightly (so as not to damage the cards) with spring water as you state, "and by Elemental Water" (wipe off any water spots), "is this deck cleansed and made ready for my use, so mote it be." An alternate method is to pass the deck through incense smoke and set it on the pentacle while stating words of purification and consecration: "Through incense smoke is this deck cleansed and purified, grounded by the pentacle, and consecrated to my use by the power of the Lady and the Lord. So Mote It Be!" Wrap the deck in silk or cotton cloth without the box it came in. Any color may be used for the cloth, but it should have significance for you, such as black for protective power and warding negativity, purple for spiritual power, green for Earth power, red for success power, silver for Lunar power, or gold for Solar power. Place the wrapped cards in a box or other special place where you may safely keep them when not in use.