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.
Fretboard of Life
by Hope Diamond
Since spring of 2016, I’ve been conjuring up big dreams for an illustrious musical future in fantasy infused heavy metal rockstardom. Prior to last November, my musical skills consisted of singing and writing lyric-focused songs, reinforced with a faded familiarity of the piano from years of highly loathed childhood lessons.
Subconsciously, I knew I was very limited in my technical understanding of music as a whole. I didn’t like that I only knew how to sing. Sticking to the instrument of voice works for some people, but I like to know my shit from the ground up in an all-encompassing capacity. Knowing my shit in the world of music means hammering some theory basics into my brain and revisiting the idea of playing an instrument in addition to my own vocal chords. I knew I didn’t want to be parked behind a keyboard all the time. Instinctively, I felt drawn to the aggression and wild sexiness of the guitar.
I began to take guitar lessons last November. Some interesting differences arose between my former knowledge of piano-based music theory and the fresh perspective provided with guitar. Keyboards moved on one plane. You could play a keyboard back and forth from left to right, but the direction was always horizontal. Even the slightly raised black keys were just little hiccups in a continual horizonal direction. There was one way forward and one way backward and that was that.
Guitars moved along the fretboards up and down the neck of the instrument. BUT (and here’s the first giant revelation that blew my mind), you could also play the guitar in a totally perpendicular direction in relation to the six strings! This was (and is) an incredibly exotic concept to my piano-indoctrinated brain. Different notes could be made depending on which string you pressed and in what place that string fell upon the fretboard. BUT (and here’s the second giant revelation that blew my mind), although the strings sounded individual, the pattern of notes remained consistent for each string. The only difference was that the strings started on different notes because each string was intrinsically tuned to a different note from the get go. So much balance is within this imperfect perfection, a simultaneous contradiction and affirmation of its own existence. Consistency within chaos.
I began to see similarities between the components of the guitar and the human experience. There are different strings. There are different people. Sometimes, you retune a string to become another note. Sometimes, you retune a mind or a heart to become another person. And sometimes, a person retunes themselves.
When guitar strings are properly tuned, each string will sound unique even when it’s played on the same fret. The song of life presents humanity with a similar set of choices and potential experiences (frets.) But who we are as people (strings) determines what choices (frets) we will make to create the life (song) we want. Not every person wants to play the same song. But every person must play a song. Even if your song is simply the continuous sound of the string that you are, that string keeps strumming until the day you die.
Make sure your string is in tune with who you know you are. Some strings have been made ridiculously out of tune since birth. Other strings are ridiculously twisted out of tune later on in life. It is your duty to yourself as a string to get in touch with your intuition. Your intuition will whisper in the tiniest and most quiet voice of perfect truth what note you are as a string. Listen to that little voice. Tune accordingly. Once you are properly tuned, you will make choices that compliment and complete the song of your own life.
On that note (no pun intended), I shall leave my keyboard (cue: unintended second pun), get up from my computer and play guitar.
Photos by Tifani Truelove.
THE TOWER is the 16th card of the Major Arcana. When this card comes up in a reading, you don’t have to explain any hidden mysteries of what it means. Almost every person for whom I’ve pulled THE TOWER immediately displays a visible sign of anxiety or annoyance when this card gets turned over. This goes both ways, as THE TOWER also arises in a large percentage of the Tarot readings I’ve performed on myself. “What a nice Tarot reading I’m having…ohh great, THE TOWER. Now what?”
A somber stone tower, build upon a mound of rough rock stands etched against a cloudy blackened sky. A zig zag bolt of yellow lightning strikes the top of the tower, tossing off the golden crown that seems to have been resting atop the tower’s pinnacle. Flames erupt from the striking point of the lightning bolt, spreading throughout the body of the tower and spilling out the windows. Falling down from this catastrophe are a man and a woman. Both figures are cloaked in flowing garments, and the woman wears a crown. Their faces show expressions of almost comically caricaturized fear and surprise.
Traditionally, THE TOWER represents dramatic change. Just as the lightning disrupts the monarchy of the crown and burns up the inside of the tower, swift alterations will also come into your own life. Forget peaceful transitions! THE TOWER is like a slap in the face. Most often, you find yourself assuming that this predicted change will be a negative once. But guess what? Change can be most excellent. If you’re focusing on making your own life a better experience, than have no fear if this card shows up in your Tarot spread.
Maybe you’ll suddenly realize that a friend you thought you could trust has actually been spreading nasty rumors about you. Or perhaps you’ll get fired from that boring yet steady job that paid the bills but drained your artistic spirit. Situations like these can be stressful, but try to force yourself to be grateful for these experiences (I know, it’s easier said than done.) Your lightness and good is unable to flourish if you’re surrounded by negative people or negative things. If a close friend is actually a backstabbing gossip, then what true encouragement or support could they offer you? Take such a falling out as an opportunity to become more aware of hidden motives, but also as a moment in which you can lay fresh earth for new seeds of friendship to grow. If you lost your day job, think of your newfound free time as a well to zero in on personal goals, learning new skills, or cultivating your creative skills and hobbies.
THE TOWER does not symbolize change that is wholly positive. These aren’t the kind of changes where a wonderful lover walks into your life out of the blue or a vocational door randomly opens. THE TOWER is filled with fire. Fire cleanses. If you don’t want this fire to demolish what you want to remain in your life, then you must bring forth something for the fire to consume. You must give something up. In order to gain, you must make a sacrifice. And sometimes the sacrifices you must make aren’t in the power of your own will. If change a la THE TOWER seems to be happening to you right now, try to focus on the empty spaces that have been created due to this alteration. Fill these empty spaces with good things, better things. It may take time, but your future self will thank you for it. Weeks from now, months from now, or even years from now, you’ll look back on this time in your life and be able to give thanks for what THE TOWER means.
Photos by Tifani Truelove.
Photos by Roxana Puiu Photography.