A tarot reading offers far more than looking at the future; it offers meditations on the archetypes that want to be utilized in the Present.
"Those (tarot cards) are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment."--Carl Jung
I guess my first tarot reading was when I was in middle school. I was in this large department store, and for some strange reason they sold a few tarot decks. I was drawn to them and bought myself a deck. I don't remember which one (there were not too many to choose from at the time, not like today's selections of tarot decks), but my mother remembers me playing with these strange cards. I know I did not know what I was doing; I was just playing with them.
Years later, when I was hitch-hiking across the States, when I was consciously walking the spiritual path, I came across these small group outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. The teacher was a very enigmatic figure, who looked like the Hierophant in the Rider Deck, who one day looked at me and said, "what work should you do? Tarot readings. Yes, you've done them before. Do them again."
I immediately resisted, saying I didn't know how to do a tarot reading. Give me a book, I pleaded as he threw out some cards for me to read. Just play. Pretend like you know and say whatever comes to mind. Trust.
After more unheeded pleas of preparing I gave my first tarot reading to another person. He smiled. Good. See that wasn't too bad.
After some time with this teacher I left and traveled to Australia, my plan to hitch hike around most of the continent. My first ride out of Perth was by a traveling tarot reader! I took it as a sign. Then when I made my way to Sydney I was introduced to a woman who was both an astrologer and tarot reader. She invited me to stay and study with her, and every night we gave each other tarot readings. She would not let me look at any book but to simply trust in the words.
The more I read the tarot the more the archetypes spoke to me. Every archetype offered a gift to be focused upon and brought forth. The challenge, and what the cards were so apt at showing, is the timing of when it was right to use an archetype and when it wasn't. For instance, The Emperor is a great energy to utilize when you have a position of power to uphold, some project to maintain and expand. It is not a helpful energy if you are trying to develop a more harmonious relationship with your partner, where communication has suffered. The Lovers card would be more harmonious for that goal.
After developing more of a trust in the guidance of the cards and what came out of my mouth I made my way eventually back to the states and got a job at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, the largest metaphysical bookstore in the world. I was exposed to many decks and tarot books and I continued my studies. Then the store invited me to be the store's tarot reader. I was excited and scared at the same time, as it was a highly coveted position to have for any reader. Hundreds of readings a month and now I was being paid, just like the teacher had said. The more I read and received feedback from clients, the more I trusted. The more I trusted, the better the feedback.
The following article is one I wrote for the Bodhi Tree store magazine explaining the tarot's history, how to do a tarot reading, and how the tarot actually works.
During these times of economical problems, environmental crisis, moral degeneration, spiritless leadership, people are looking for answers and looking for purpose. This is nothing new, of course. Although perhaps due to the precariousness of the human race as we approach the end of the millennium, seekers appear to have increased in numbers. And for many the answers are not coming from the traditional religious leaders of this country.
So where does one turn for such answers to such questions as to "Who am I?" or "Why am I here?" Every religion, every philosophical system attempts to answer these questions, and all have their answers and validity. However, there exists another way that an increasing number of seekers are returning to these days, and that is the Tarot. This is evidenced by increasing number of decks and Tarot books available.
Why the popularity?
For one thing, the Tarot offers one to grow on one's own. In this day and age of false religious leaders, cults, and "dollar-centric" therapy sessions and workshops, having a teacher that one can literally stick in your pocket, yet which is also able to offer profound personal insights, is perhaps one of the reasons of its growing popularity. Also, it is feminine in its nature. It is not based on sequential or rational thought. It connects one to one's intuitive knowing, that for the most part cannot be explained rationally. There has been resurgence of the feminine principle this last century, helping to restore balance by using the right side, the intuitive and emotional side of the brain, along with the over-emphasized left, the logical side. And this is exactly what the Tarot accomplishes.
The Tarot is basically a book of wisdom, given in symbols. The right side of the brain, the "masculine" side, communicates via words. While, the "feminine" side communicates through symbols, as is seen through free-flowing poetry, surrealist art, and dreams, among some of the examples.
What is the Tarot? The Tarot consists of 78 cards, 22 of which are called the Major Arcana, Trumps or the Greater Powers, and 56 Minor Arcana or Lesser Powers; each with an image and number. There is no set definition, no neat little box for the linear mind to categorize, for any card; although many decks will have personal interpretations, and there does exist general consensuses about certain meanings. The 22 Major Arcana represent what Carl Jung would call archetypes of the unconscious, or various expressions of the psyche. They could also be called a procession of the qualities of the Divine. Like a pantheon of gods and goddesses or saints. These 22 cards contain within them the most profound of teachings; thus, they were removed from our modern deck of cards, with their only reminders being the Joker and games with Trumps.
The majority of the deck is comprised of the 56 Minor Arcana. And these are what is represented in today's playing cards, barring the missing four Knights. Basically the Minor Arcana comprise the four elements one must work with: the cups representing water; the rods, fire; the pentacles or discs, earth; and the swords, air. Each suit is numbered one through 10, with four court personalities: the Page, the Knight, the Queen, and the King. They are like events or arenas that the soul will be encountering, each with their lessons to be learned, gifts to be gained and poisons to be avoided. Yet the decks vary so much. The old decks or decks designed after ancient examples will have simple 2-dimensional images in the Major Arcana and court cards, with the rest of the Minor Arcana being only the number of the particular suit (example, the Four of Cups will only have an image of four cups in a particular configuration). While modern decks can consist of exquisite artwork, with intricate images, for both the Major and the Minor. And in many now, like the Arthurian Tarot or the Alice in Wonderland Tarot Deck, the images are of a particular theme. Whereas most decks will only have words on the Major Arcana, like "Justice," "The Magician," some decks, like The Thoth Tarot Deck, will have words, such as "Cruelty," "Happiness," "Success," etc., on the Minor Arcana as well.
No deck is more right than another. And all decks are subject to interpretation. Even though a designer of a particular deck may have had various meanings assigned to each card, which will be contained in an accompanying booklet with most decks, it is like a poet who thinks a certain poem means one thing, while others will see a completely different meaning in it. The important issue is what the card or the poem stirs up and brings forth in the reader. There is no dogma, nothing rigid at all about the Tarot. That is why the Tarot is so personal and so feminine. It is fluid. And to get the fullness of the cards, the analyzing must go, the categorizing of the mind.
Also, one does not have to go to a reader to receive clarity from the Tarot, despite those who claim otherwise, who claim one should not read for themselves. True, if one is attached to a certain result, one may interpret one's own reading to show the desired outcome. But this happens only in the realm of fortune telling, which is the general misperception of the sole function of the cards. When they are used for inner wisdom and guidance, no other interpreter is needed, especially when the cards become more familiar through use.
Beware of authorities of the Tarot, who seek to cage the cards in rigid dogma.
The reason why there is really no authority (although that's not to say there are wise ones out there with plenty of experience with the Tarot), is due to the fact that the Tarot does not follow a lineage. In fact, the exact origins of the cards are unknown. Some say that the roots can be traced back to the East, particularly the Buddhist Tantra system, who used an ancient board game that is very reminiscent of the Tarot, which was then brought westward by the Gypsy people in the 10th century. Others claim that the cards originated from secret brotherhoods of Egypt, designed for initiates. Others say they were created in Europe.
The Tarot was first recorded in history at the end of the Dark Ages, possibly introduced from the East by returning Crusaders. But during this time when the church suppressed anything that threatened to usurp the "one faith," the Tarot suffered heavy attack. The church called them the Devil's cards and towns began to burn the decks; and eventually as the Inquisition began to gain momentum, burned the readers of the Tarot as well. Due to this suppression, the Tarot soon feigned as a deck of meaningless playing cards to avoid persecution, and eventually the deeper meanings became lost or went underground. And no complete deck of those times remains. Only a smattering of cards, from various decks and periods can be found in museums or in private collections.
How does the Tarot work and what are its uses?
To the rational mind a tarot reading makes absolutely no sense. Who would trust a deck of cards, laid out randomly, to offer guidance in any important matter? No doubt that is the reason why the predominate clients, as well as readers are not male; since males tend to be much more linear in their thinking.
However to those who have come to see the synchronicity of life, that nothing happens without a reason, that there is a guiding Force behind everything, a tarot reading makes perfect sense. Especially when the Universe is looked upon as not comprised of independent parts doing whatever they will, but of interdependent parts, then that Connection between all things and all action can help explain the process. For instance, today's scientist are finally catching up to the mystics, as quantum physics has shown that no experiment can be objective, that the experimenter's prejudices influence the testing. That there is no separation between the experimenter and the experiment, between subject and object. The Tarot might be said to do the same, showing the connection between reader and cards. A reading will show what the reader already knows on a subconscious or intuitive level, being that symbology operates from that realm. For example, suppose a man deeply desires a particular person. He is consciously aware of this desire. However, he inquires about his chances of fulfilling this desire to the Tarot. Yet the reading's outcome is the Five of Cups (depicting a sad figure looking down on three spilt cups, while two are full and await ahead of him). Now, unless his desire has so blinded him, his subconscious has communicated to his conscious mind what it already knows and needs. To forget that person and to move on.
What most rational people (critics, if you will) will ask is if the cards were immediately reshuffled would they be the same? Most likely not. The next reading may show the complete opposite answer. How can that be reconciled? If one lives by the premise that everything happens for a reason, then both outcomes have validity. Yet, perhaps not in the way the rational mind interprets it.
The Tarot has many uses, one of those uses, and perhaps its original design, is for the reader to know him or herself. The Tarot, like any book (whether it be holy scripture) or teacher is not there to blindly follow. It's there to reflect upon, like a mirror; to take its counsel inside and to discriminate between which course to take. The man of the example, if he quieted himself and reflected on both outcomes, would no doubt see his attachment to his desire and know he was fantasizing. But the reading would not only show the outcome, it would also show other aspects of his psyche at work. For instance, a card like The Lovers in a position of hindrance, could show this was perhaps an old pattern of looking to another for fulfillment or that it just was not the time to be focusing on romance. Now a few more issues will be needed to be reflected upon by this man, and he will find out more about himself. The Tarot, in this manner, is a great therapist, and much less expensive.
Relationships, too, can be assisted through the Tarot, as it is a way of opening up communication. As relationships progress issues will come up that are generally old issues reemerging. A tarot reading will reveal what the blockages are and, more importantly, open up discussions. It can be a wonderful tool for greater intimacy. Another use of the Tarot, which is more of its mystical aspect, is meditation. Especially with the Major Arcana, by focusing on a particular card and then taking the image into meditation, the aspects that that card represents will gradually come forward. For instance, let us say a woman wanted to bring out more of her intuitive side she might choose the High Priestess to focus upon. Or if she wanted more confidence and self-discipline perhaps the Chariot. Every quality of humanity, as well as the gods and goddesses are represented by the Tarot, from the highest wisdom, compassion and love to lowest greedy aggression and victim playing. So any quality can be brought forth if it is focused upon and desired.
Of course, there is fortune-telling. Many stories exist with a Gypsy reading the Tarot and making predictions, usually with some dire warning or unhappy ending. However, this focuses on merely events, and the Tarot, unless the reader is very psychic, cannot go into great detail. Yet, it can be very helpful in showing probabilities. Remember, back to those quantum physicists who have now demonstrated that nothing can be predicted with a hundred-percent certainty, there exist only probabilities. The Tarot is no different. And the more one delves deeper into the Tarot, one finds that the cards help one to be in the present. After all, one can never get there. Nor leave here.
But perhaps the most important use of the Tarot is simply that it forces one to take time alone, to turn off the television and to disconnect the phone, and to sit quietly and reflect. To get to know oneself, to discover the greatness therein as well as the shadow.
So how does one do a reading?
Simple. One needs a deck one is attracted to. One might be attracted to a deck because of the art work, or its theme, its nationality or ethnic orientation, or time period (most decks are European Renaissance in style), or because of its popularity or simplicity. The whole deck may be used or just the Major Arcana. A layout will be needed to follow, that will designate a meaning for each card position. Layouts can be found in the booklets that come with the decks or in books on the Tarot. The most common is the Celtic Cross, which consists of ten cards. And, of course, once some experience has been gained, one create one's own layouts.
Some readers will make a prayer asking for higher guidance or will visualize a surrounding white light. While some readers will sit silently for a moment. Incense can also help prepare for a more receptive mood. While candles can add to ambience. In other words, it's all very personal and whatever helps one to be silent and open should be used.
Then shuffle. And cut. Many readers are very adamant in how all this happens. Some say one must shuffle with the left hand and cut with the left hand. Cutting into three stacks to the left. Again, there is no authority with the Tarot. There is no dogma. Experiment. Do what feels right.
Finally lay out the cards, either face up or face down. Again no set rules. Face down allows one to concentrate on each card more; while face up will immediately show the overall pattern.
Once the cards are placed, the interpretation commences. Most will want to use the supplied booklet or another book to use for interpretations. However, this method is only a continuation of the left-brain learning process we are conditioned from early age, that is memorizing someone else's ideas. Looking at other's ideas has its place, but it doesn't allow for utilizing one's own intuition when books are the source of inspiration. To be inspired is to be filled with Spirit and that comes from within.
If one is looking for counseling, meditation or clarity, all that is needed to know in the beginning are the various elements of the suits. For example: cups represent water, emotions, love, imagination, dreams and delusions; swords represent air, the mind, discrimination, communication, learning, cutting away and conflict; rods represent fire, creativity, spirit, spontaneity, passion and forgiveness; and pentacles represent earth, money, survival issues, health, and work. And if especially the cards are expressive, like the Hanson-Roberts Tarot Deck, the characters' expressions will tell the answers. They will come alive and communicate on a feeling level.
Keep it simple, for truth is simple. And at the onset be like a child. The more one works with the cards, and does not expect great revelations in the beginning, the more books and other readers won't be relied upon. Then if the desire persists, add onto the initial experiences with more studies about the Tarot, as well as perhaps astrology, numerology, the Cabbalah, psychology, symbology, myths, whatever else one is drawn to. The Tarot is flexible enough to work with nearly any path. The Tarot is a lot of fun and wonderfully insightful, when we come to it with the attitude and fascination of a child. It reminds us of the adventure we are all on. And when each card is seen as sacred and is treated with respect, those who come into our lives, and who embody those energies of the Tarot will also be seen and treated as sacred, no matter if he or she takes on the role of "The Devil" himself.
Curses: Real or Not Contact Me for a Tarot Reading
Any comments about anything you've just read? Share your ideas so that others may benefit. Did you find anything helpful? Any opposite views? All views are welcome in a respectful manner.
For over 30 years I have been a spiritual practitioner of both Eastern and Western methods. I have studied most world religions and am familiar with many contemporary systems of beliefs. I am the author of eight books. The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with Death reflects my synthesis of East and West. I am also a storyteller, artist, Waldorf teacher, and meditation instructor, and parent. I live in Carmel Valley, California, and would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org