READING CARDS: TAROT 101
Tarot reading has been experiencing a recent surge in popularity, but long before the Wild Unknown deck began gracing Instagram feeds, and even before it was used as a tool for divination, tarot decks where used by European nobility simply to play card games.
Intro to Tarot
Playing cards were brought to Europe from the Middle East and they swept through Italy between 1375 and 1378. In the mid 1400s, a game called trionfi, meaning “triumphs” in Italian, became increasingly popular with the upper classes. Wealthier families even had customized playing cards painted. The game was similar to bridge except there were 21 cards which served as permanent trumps. When people began to approximate the game with other decks, the name was changed in order to specify, and the deck began to be referred to as tarocchi in Italy, tarock in Germany, and tarot in France.
Poets used the cards as a basis for psychological portraits or “readings,” but the cards were never used for divination. Though the imagery was based on Christian imagery, conservative nobility were offended by the Death, Devil, and Tower cards, and religious leaders in turn spread the idea that tarot was invented by the Devil to win the souls of people who used them.
Divination using the cards happened occasionally in the 1500s but did not become popular until sometime in the late 1700s. The Tarot de Marseille deck emerged in the 1600s. French and English occult enthusiasts developed an interest in tarot and began to record more consistent meanings for the cards, seeing them as metaphorical keys to life.
In 1910, Arthur Edward Waite commissioned fellow member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Pamela Coleman Smith to create new art, and the Rider-Waite deck was born, one of the most recognizable tarot decks today. Smith innovated the addition of minor arcana imagery that illustrated each card’s meaning. The deck is sometimes referred to as the Rider, the Waite or the Smith deck, or some combination of their names. Many decks designed today are based on the Rider-Waite system of imagery. Interest in tarot reading surged in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which leads us to its popularity today.
Intro to Reading
The Rider-Waite deck is a frequent choice for beginning tarot readers and is typically the deck you’ll use if you sign up for a class, but the most important thing is that you feel some connection to the imagery. Just keep in mind that the names, suits, or order of the cards may vary depending on which deck you choose. Workshops, classes, books, and other tarot readers can be valuable resources when learning the many finer points of tarot reading, from the meaning of suits to the symbolism of a particular card’s imagery and related numerological associations.
A simple way to start learning tarot is to draw a card and ask yourself (or a higher power), what you need to know for the day and reflect on the meaning. Doing this daily can help as you develop an intuitive understanding of the cards.
The 22 main cards in a tarot deck are the ‘Major Arcana,’ sometimes referred to as the ‘Fool’s Journey.’ Each card is a metaphor for a step on life’s path, from innocence to spiritual enlightenment. Major Arcana cards are stand-ins for ourselves, in relation to the Minor Arcana cards, which typically represent circumstances or events. There’s a multitude of spreads a reader can use for any particular purpose.
Some Notes on the Cards
The Death Card: Even though it’s a common pop culture trope that drawing a Death tarot card is an ominous sign, the card doesn’t actually predict imminent death. The card more represents rebirth, moving on to a next phase, or stagnation depending on the way it’s drawn. Above all, it’s important to remember that tarot is a tool for insight and self-awareness, more than a method of 100% predicting the future.
The Tower Card: This card signifies chaos, which understandably makes people nervous about drawing the card. However, tarot readers note that even positive changes can feel like upheaval when we’re in the midst of them and that the current structure of our lives sometimes needs to crumble so a new form can take shape. For this reason drawing the Tower card can often signal the coming of new opportunities and perspectives.
The Fool Card: A common fear is that drawing this card means you’ve committed a blunder or are ignorant of critical information, but the Fool card actually connotes potential and experiences that help us to better our decision-making abilities. The Fool card is the starting point of the Major Arcana and should not be seen as part of the journey.
Looking for Love
In honor of June’s theme, here are some tarot spreads that can be useful in the search for love. There’s a multitude of spreads that can be used when it comes to love and romance. Here are three that I’m a fan of.
“Somebody to Love” based on this spread.
This spread is a good one to use if you’re not in a relationship. The first card, the Sun card at the center, connotes that I’m experiencing a period of confidence and success. The second card, the reversed Six of Cups suggests that I’m going to start addressing the behavioral patterns I’ve exhibited that have been affecting my relationships. The third card, the reversed Ten of Wands signifies the need to confront the truth about a difficulty in an existing relationship in order to find love. The fourth card, the reversed Seven of Wands indicates the need for an adventurous approach to finding love. The fifth card, the reversed Four of Pentacles indicates needing to let go of fear of rejection in order to let love into my life.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” based on this spread.
This is a good spread to use if you’ve been dating someone for a while and would like to introspect on how things are going. The first card, the Empress, connotes prosperity and sensuality. The second card, the Ace of Pentacles suggests that this is a good time to meet people and that existing relationships will soar to new heights. The third card, the reversed Knight of Swords indicates that it might be a good idea to look below the surface and either check if something’s bothering a partner, or give someone you might not usually be into a closer look. The fourth card, the Page of Cups suggests that someone younger than you by even just a few days may sweep you off your feet.
“All You Need is Love” based on this spread.
This is a spread you can use when in a long-term relationship, with an eye towards improving or maintaining it. The Justice Card indicates that you’re experiencing harmony in the relationship. The Hanged Man card indicates that your partner feels they are becoming their best self due to the relationship. The Ace of Pentacles indicates that you’ll soon feel extremely positively about your partner. The Page of Cups indicates that you’re partner might like to see a more playful side of you more often. The reversed Knight of Swords card however indicates that something may be bubbling under the surface that could drain the both of you if it’s not addressed. The reversed Two of Pentacles signifies that both of you may have a lot on your plates at the moment, and that it’s particularly important to make sure to show your appreciation of each other.