I’ve talked a couple of times on the blog about card meanings, how to read tarot, and what it means when a deck doesn’t feel right, but I realized that I’ve never talked about the basics. I just assumed that anyone finding my blog would A.) already know or B.) be able to find the basics elsewhere since there are so many websites out there now that cover this topic.
But I’m about to add one more.
I realized if I’m going to talk about the more advanced stuff, I should probably also cover the basics as well. Not only does this help add more information to the topic, but it also gives my readers a basis of where I’m coming from and how I work. Which seems like a pretty good idea to me.
Please keep in mind, not every tarot reader works the same way. I’m quite certain there are other readers out there who do things very differently. And that’s OK! That’s awesome! One of the great things about reading cards is that there are so many different ways of doing it and each reader is free to find the way that works best for them.
So, to begin . . .
What is Tarot?
Tarot is a tool. The cards can be used to gain insight and perspective into the self and situations. Tarot cards aren’t inherently bad or “evil”, though there are some negative stereotypes that persist about the cards and readers. Anyone can read the cards, though in my experience, some of the best readers are those who have spent some time studying the symbolism and meanings of the cards.
Tarot has been around since at least the 15th century and was originally a card game. At some point, they became a tool for divination. Probably the most well-known deck, the Rider-Waite, was designed by Arthur Edward White and published in 1910. Depending on how you’re taught, some say that the tarot cards are the journey of the Fool, the first card of the Major Arcana, and that the Fool travels through the deck to experience each card.
How are Tarot Cards Different From Angel and Oracle Cards?
For the most part, tarot cards are set up as a specific system and angel and oracle cards aren’t. The primary purpose of most angel and oracle cards is to be read intuitively and with very little or no study of the cards needed. With tarot, the reader often benefits from studying the cards as well as reading intuitively. There is a specific number of cards in any tarot deck (78), and they generally stick to a system of four suits plus the Major Arcana. Angel cards tend to be a deck of cards of any number with images of angelic beings. Oracle cards tend to be a deck of any number and usually with custom artwork or images of any variety. There are some varieties of tarot that deviate from the typical 78-card system and don’t stick to the popular Rider-Waite imagery, but they still tend to be divided into the suits and the Arcanas.
What are Tarot Deck Basics?
A typical tarot deck consists of 58 Minor Arcana cards and 22 Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits: pentacles, swords, wands/rods, and cups. The names of these may be different depending on author, but they tend to be relatively interchangeable. For example, I’ve seen the pentacles suit called the coins suit.
Each suit consists of fourteen cards: ace through ten, page, knight, queen, king. Again, the names of the royal cards may be different depending on deck, but they tend to follow a hierarchy. For example, I’ve seen the page also called the princess and the knight called the prince. It depends on the author of the deck. The Minor cards tend to be symbolic of everyday life and indicate everyday issues.
The Major Arcana is 22 cards going from the Fool to the World. These cards tend to reflect archetypes or overall lessons. Some say that the Major cards indicate karma or karmic rules, but not everyone agrees on this.
How Can I Learn What the Cards Mean?
There are many different ways of doing this. Some people take years to study and read up on the cards. Others don’t. I have a couple of suggestions for those who want to learn what the cards mean:
- Keep a tarot journal. Record your impressions of each card as you come across it. You can even photocopy the card you want to work on a tape or paste it into the journal. Then study the card and write down any impressions you get. What does it mean to you? What to the symbols tell you? Listen to your intuition. Then, once you’ve recorded what the card means to you at the time, look up what it means to other people and see if there’s anything you want to add. A good website I’ve used before for card meanings is http://learntarot.com/cards.htm.
- Pull a card a day. Every morning, shuffle and ask the deck what your day will be like. Pull only one card, study it for a few minutes, write down initial impressions, and then leave it alone. Come back at the end of the day and see how you did.
The suggestions above are more for those who want to learn what the cards mean to them on an intuitive level. I usually say that the cards have different meanings for different people. You can certainly look up what the cards tend to mean, and I encourage you to do so, as studying the symbolism can really help understand the nature of the deck. But I also contend that there’s an intuitive element to reading and the usual meanings will not always apply in every situation. This is why I encourage a mixed approach–practice the intuitive while also studying the symbolic.
That’s all for Part 1 of Tarot 101. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!