A friend expressed to me her interest in exploring the Tarot, asking if I could give her any advice for a beginner. I figured she’s not the only person out there who’s curious about the Tarot, so I present to you my nutshell-version explanation of the Tarot. Please understand that this is my own personal understanding and interpretation of the Tarot. Always make sure to explore multiple sources of education and opinion concerning such matters!
WHAT IS TAROT?
The Tarot is a specific type of card deck (similar but not exactly like the traditional card deck depicted in Alice in Wonderland), originally created some time during the 15th century.
Personally, I believe that the gap between entertainment and divination use of the Tarot is nonexistent. The intensely symbolic meaning within the actual structure of the cards is such that it seems very unreasonable to assume that this tool was not fundamentally created without the intention for personally-applicable spiritual guidance.
Hands down, my favorite Tarot deck is the Rider-Waite. I believe that this deck most clearly depicts the messages found within the Tarot. (Any visual verbiage in this article will be in reference to the Rider-Waite deck.)
THE INTENSELY SYMBOLIC MEANING OF THE MINOR ARCANA
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Standard playing cards have four suits: Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds. The Tarot also has four suits (or four Houses): Pentacles, Cups, Wands, and Swords. These Houses are called the Minor Arcana. Each house has a King, Queen, Knight, Page, Ace, and numeric 1-10 cards.
The House of Pentacles corresponds to the element of Earth. Pentacles represent our worldly and physical matters: our jobs, our careers, our money, our material possessions, and our grounding. This is the house of having your shit together. Practicality can’t directly buy you emotional satisfaction, but it can put a roof over your head, feed your family, and provide you with material possession that you have every right to appreciate and enjoy.
The House of Cups connects to the element of Water. Cups symbolize our feelings and our emotions: our feelings of fear, our feelings of numbness (yes, feeling numb is a feeling), our feelings of love, and our feelings of joy. Cups show how our feelings affect our relationships and interactions with other people. May your cup runneth over with the emotion of pure love and subsequently result in respectful and loving relationships with other people.
The House of Wands hails to the element of Fire. Wands correlate with our personal wishes, hopes, and dreams. This is the house of creative pursuit and expression via the arts, writing, entrepreneurship, science, and innovation. If you can dream it, you can make that dream happen—so dream big. All you need is one little match or one tiny piece of flint and steel to set the sparks on the bonfire waiting to happen.
The House of Swords represents the element of Air. Swords stand for rational thought, logic, and conflict. Where there is a will, there is a way. Sometimes, wills clash externally between opposing forces or internally between contrasting decisions. But conflict isn’t always bad or stressful. It’s important to be able to focus and think when presented with emotionally-charged dilemmas or problematic areas of life. In the words of Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.”
APPLICATION OF THE MINOR ARCANA
These Houses of Minor Arcana demonstrate the ways in which life presents us with an ever-evolving set of unique circumstances. In a Tarot reading, the cards of the Minor Arcana are meant to offer insight as to the practical, emotional, creative, and rational makeup regarding our current state of being.
THE INTENSLEY SYMBOLIC MEANING OF THE MAJOR ARCANA
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The Major Arcana is something you don’t find in a standard set of playing cards. Numbered zero through twenty-one, these twenty-two cards are as follows:
0: The Fool, I: The Magician, II: The High Priestess, III: The Empress, IV: The Emperor, V: The Hierophant, VI: The Lovers, VII: The Chariot, VIII: Strength, IX: The Hermit, X: Wheel of Fortune, XI: Justice, XII: The Hanged Man, XIII: Death, XIV: Temperance, XV: The Devil, XVI: The Tower, XVII: The Star, XVIII: The Moon, XIX: The Sun, XX: Judgment, XXI: The World.
APPLICATION OF THE MAJOR ARCANA
While the Minor Arcana represent different aspects or situations in life, the Major Arcana signify specific individuals that step in and out of our experience. The Major Arcana can help to identify other people or showcase our own incarnation of self (or the way in which we view ourselves in our own mind’s eye.) The Major Arcana is a legacy of archetypes, like a set of mystical and historic cartoon characters.
I find it helpful to choose to identify with one or two of these Major Arcana as a way to gain added practical value and spiritual insight in my own Tarot readings. The High Priestess and The Star have always spoken to me the strongest. Intuitively, I felt connected to these two cards since my first understanding of the Tarot. As I’ve grown over the years, it becomes more apparent to me how the specific meanings behind these cards have always related to my own past experiences, present journey, and future goals. Perhaps for you, it can be equally comforting to forge this type of bond with something so symbolic and universal.
READING THE TAROT
Now that you hopefully know and understand a little bit more about the Tarot, it’s time to talk Tarot reading as a practice. There are many ways to give (or receive) a Tarot reading. Personally, I find that using your intuition is best when orchestrating the layout of the cards. Your intuition should also be a building block of the message you see within the cards, grounded on the intrinsic meaning of the Minor and Major Arcana as previously elaborated.
A simple, yet insightful layout is a three-card reading. Shuffle the deck, then divide the deck into three stacks (of balanced or disbalanced proportion.) Pick the top card from each stack, setting aside the rest of the cards. The first card represents your past, the second card represents your present, and the third card represents your future if you continue on your present path with no change. If you’re totally stumped and need extra advice, feel free to pull a fourth card from the set-aside stack.
Don’t stress out if you feel that you don’t “get” Tarot right away. Tarot is a spiritual tool that’s meant to help you, not a be-all-end-all fortune telling device. Ultimately, it’s not a good idea to put your entire future and personal responsibility in the hands of a card deck.
If you’re using a can opener to open a can of tomato sauce, the end goal is to enjoy the sauce inside the can. If you’re having trouble opening the can, you may want to make sure the opener is working properly. (Or you may want to take a look at the can itself to make sure that it’s not covered in grease or that you’re not placing leverage on an area of dented can.) If you become overly distracted by the can opener, you won’t be able to appreciate what’s inside the can itself.