An Increase In Interest
Over the past few weeks I’ve received an unusual number of emails asking for information about the tarot, their history and general overview. I’m not sure what has sparked this increased interest, but I’d like to know. Was it a TV show? A movie? A new popular book?
Whatever the reason, I thought it would be easier to reply to those notes in a post that hopefully folks can find through an online search. I hope this provides some quicker answers than waiting for me to get through my email.
A Basic Overview
They are called the messengers of the Divine, the window to Universal Law and the sacred symbols of the higher consciousness. Whatever their auspicious synonym, the Tarot has been mentioned in ancient texts for over 35,000 years.
One such text, from the Hermetic Kabbalah, tells of 108 stone tablets that lay beneath the ancient pyramids at Giza. 78 of these tablets are called the Exoteric Tarot, the remaining 30 are the Esoteric Tarot. This text goes on to say, that one day these tablets will be uncovered and will explain Universal Law and the soul’s path through the cycle of rebirth.
While their existence has been referred to in texts for thousands of years, the first known “decks” come from 12th century India. Here spiritual symbols were placed on small tablets and tied together with string. These spiritual belts were worn by priests and were often referred to for advice or in service to a parishioner.
It was during the Crusades that the Tarot came to Europe. Soldiers of the Crusades returned to Europe with these spiritual “decks” as trophies of war. Wives and other relatives became interested in the symbolic and spiritual significance of the telling stones/decks and began experimenting with them. Of course the early Church discouraged their use and anyone caught using them was branded a heretic.
In order to appease the Church, European artisans began creating their own versions of these religious decks by mirroring the current structure of their civilization for the symbolic images. Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, and clergy replaced the images utilized by the decks from India. These early European decks were the initial creation of our modern playing card decks.
In the 16th Century the Tarot really began its invasion through Europe by traveling Gypsy caravans. More cultures became interested in their ability to “foretell” the future, but they were also turned off by the European version of the cards. Again artisans stepped in and an unofficial attempt to return the symbology back to its original source was underway.
No one is quite sure who established the “official” version of the Tarot we use and see today. Even in our modern versions, one can find slight variations in the “face” cards. And new images are created and offered each year by new and incredible artists. And that’s actually a good thing.
The Modern Tarot
One of the most renowned versions of these new decks was called the Baldini- Mantegna, named after the artist Mantegna who inspired their creation. This deck separated itself from other “religious” interpretations and encompassed a universal theme. It grouped the cards into 10 classes, the first 5 being:
- The Celestial (the planets)
- The Virtues (hope, justice, etc.)
- The Sciences (Theology, astrology, etc.)
- The Muses (Apollo, Clio, etc.)
- The Conditions of Life (The Pope, the King, the Beggar, etc.)
As travel became easier and more extensive, different experiences began to influence the Tarot into the many different decks we see today.
Early in the 20th Century occult scholar Dr. Arthur Edward Waite encouraged Pamela Colman Smith to produce a tarot deck with appeal to the world of art that would represent the spiritual significance behind the cards similar to the pre-history tablets. The result between this collaboration was the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Initially published in 1910, this has became the most popular deck of it’s time. That popularity lasted way into the 1980s, when a renewed interest in the occult exploded around the world.
Today many Tarot readers refer to the Rider-Waite deck as the Traditional Tarot. It is considered to be the forerunner of the modern spiritual variations of the tarot today. It’s also the most common deck used to teach others how to read the Tarot. It is my recommended suggested first deck for anyone interested in learning about the tarot.
The Modern Decks Of Today
Modern Tarot decks typically contain 78 cards which are divided into two sections.
The Major Arcana:
The Spiritual view. This section depicts the path or journey to enlightenment. These cards begin with the Fool, numbered at 0 and end with the Universe numbered 21 (22 cards in all). They help us understand the overall spiritual purpose of things. From karma to spiritual lessons and energy connections we have with situations in our lives.
The Minor Arcana:
The Physical view. This section depicts the fabric of life, the actions and values of existence. The Minor Arcana is separated into four groups, each group depicts an overall essence of life through a mind/body/spirit perspective. In other words, it’s how we view life from a physical perspective, how we think consciously and subconsciously from the mind and how these impressions impact or reflect from our soul.
The following are the most common groups in a tarot deck and how they relate to the modern playing deck. Many new artists are designing their own decks and some of these groups maybe substituted for other symbology. For instances a Wand might be a staff. Each suit can also be related to a suit in the modern playing card decks. For the Tarot, there are 14 cards to each suit.
|WANDS = Clubs||Represent the essence of Enterprise & Inaction, Inspiration & Pessimism, Distinction & Disregard.|
|CUPS = Hearts||Represent the essence of Emotions & Apathy, Happiness & Despair, Abundance & Lack.|
|SWORDS = Spades||Swords represent Strength & Weakness, Struggle & Endurance, Animosity & Respect.|
|PENTACLES = Diamonds||Represent the essence of Finances & Debt, Possessions & Trappings, Business & Self Interests.|
Choosing A Good Tarot Deck
When you go shopping for your first deck of Tarot cards, you want to look for a few specific things.
- The major characteristic should be that each card is unique or has symbology that sets it apart from the other cards in the deck and within its own suit. One of the best examples of this is the Rider-Waite deck. When you perform your divination, you want to see as much detailed symbology in the ‘pictures’ of the card as possible. Take a side by side look at some of the cards from the Mystic Faery Tarot by Linda Ravenscroft.
- The second thing you want to look for is a deck that easy to handle. Many new Tarot decks are being created as large cards that are difficult to shuffle and hold. If you don’t feel comfortable with your deck, then you’re going to have a hard time making a connection to it.
- Lastly, if you plan on using your cards a lot and you really like the deck you’ve chosen, I suggest you buy two decks. Set the second one aside somewhere for future use. When your first deck begins to wear out through use, you’ll always have a new deck waiting in the wings. Many people get attached to one specific deck and when the time comes to replace it with a new one, they are terribly disappointed to find that it’s no longer in print or available. So plan ahead.
How many decks you have is up to you. But I suggest getting connected with one deck and using it as your primary tool for at least a week or two before you change to a new deck. We’re all human and we all have our varying levels of boredom. If you get bored easily, try to stick it out for a week with the same deck before switching. There’s no set rule for how long you should or can use a deck. I’ve been working with the Faery Tarot for several years now and I’m not bored yet. So it’s really up to you.
Several people have asked how many decks does the average professional tarot reader have? I don’t know if there is an average, but for myself and the readers I’ve gone to over the years, I’d say about 4 to 5 might be the average number. Some of us have more, some less. Some are given to us as gifts, but unless it’s a deck we’ve already been interested in, I haven’t met a reader yet who uses the gift deck for reading. It’s that “connection” thing.
Introduction to Your Tarot
When ever possible, handle your Tarot deck. This doesn’t mean you need to continually layout spreads, or conduct readings. Simply hold your deck, shuffle the cards, spread them on a table etc. This manipulation solidifies your energies to your deck. It helps your higher consciousness link with your deck and makes it easier for you to connect with the cards when it comes time to use them. Keep in mind a channel would never conduct a reading with an “un-seasoned” deck.
Once you’ve connected with your deck, never let anyone else handle them. The only exception to this rule might be in allowing a client to cut the deck before laying out a spread. But this depends on preference, it’s not a rule. For instance, I do not allow anyone to touch the tarot deck I’m working with at the time.
Think of it this way. The deck is your connection to the divine. You are the person who is reading the messages within the cards, so your connection to them is what’s important. The connection to the client is created through you. You are basically an extension cord between the client and the cards. There’s no real reason they need to touch them.
There are several methods in storing your deck. Some practitioners, like Eileen Connolly, recommend that you keep your deck wrapped in a silk pouch and then inside a wooden box when not in use. Others suggest keeping your deck wrapped in any natural fiber, such as cotton or silk and keeping them with you. Personally I think it’s up to the individual. They’re your cards, and you need to feel comfortable with how they’re handled and even how they’re stored.
The general rules are, store them in natural materials not synthetic. That means cotton and silk cloth. Boxes made of natural materials, wood, gold, silver, platinum, any kind of natural rock or stone. Brass is not a natural metal, neither is copper. So you wouldn’t want to use these kinds of metal boxes to store your cards.
Setting The Table
The information I’ve provided here is a small selection of an article I wrote many years ago about Tarot What They Are and How To Use Them. You can find much more information about how to prepare for a reading, the table, tools, spreads and divination, in that article. Along with additional information about the topics here in this over view.
It also includes additional links for more information, reading suggestions and some of my favorite Tarot Spreads, how to lay them out and how to read the cards in those spreads. Complete with pictures too. 😉
I hope this shorter version at least answers some of the general and common questions about the Tarot. And that it prepares you for selecting your first deck and starting your journey into their symbolic insight.
© 2013 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.