An Introduction to Tarot
© Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2001-2006
(This is part of a presentation that I gave for the 1st Camp Woollsey Tarot Pack at the International Guides Camp, Odyssey 2001 on August 27, 2001 at Camp Woollsey, outside Constance Bay, Ontario)
The Tarot is the world brought to life through the artwork and powerful imagery of a deck of 78 cards (78 being the sum of the first 12 numbers) which have been created based on ancient symbols. More simply stated, they are a book with no cover that contains the wisdom of the ages. Tarot is historically connected to the mythology and symbolism of many cultures. Tarot contains the common origins of all the myths that Carl Gustav Jung called the collective memory.
A Tarot deck consists of 22 Major Arcana (22 being the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet and which led to the strong connection of Tarot to the Kabbalah and Tree of Life), 16 Court Cards and 40 Minor Arcana Cards. The Major Arcana represent the universal archetypes or patterns of energy which may be working for or against us at any given time and over which we have no control. The Court Cards and the Minor Arcana are divided into the suits of Cups, Wands, Swords and Coins and are concerned with the day to dayness of our lives and the people and aspects of personality which are or which will be influencing, infecting or affecting us. They can greatly assist us with navigating our social landscape.
Cups represent the element of Water and symbolize our receptivity and sensitivity. Wands represent the element of Fire and symbolize our creative force, life itself and desire. Swords represent the element of Air and symbolize our spiritualization, action and actualization. Coins represent the element of Earth and are symbolic of fertility and regeneration as well as the inner triumvirant of Mind, Body and Spirit working together - this is the true aspect of the term "material" in Tarot.
The earliest known Tarot deck is from approximately 1392. These were made in France for Charles VI by the artist Jacquemin Gringonneur to entertain the King as he was experiencing emotional difficulties. The Tarot probably originated before this time but no one really knows where or when the Tarot was created. Tarot is probably the most flexible form of divination and there are currently hundreds of different Tarot decks available and new ones being created all of the time. It is unclear if Tarot was first created as a game or as a system of divination. Tarot has evolved to being considered a valuable tool for personal growth and healing by aiding and allowing us to integrate the psyche and create spiritual enlightenment
Tarot uses the symbolism of space . A person full face or sitting is static, observant and passive: facing left, active or physical ; facing right he is turning in on himself in meditation or prayer; standing means dynamic and active. Body symbolism is also expressed: Head: thought. Neck: importance of feelings. Bust: feelings. Abdomen: instructiveness. Hair: instinctive female force. Beard: virility. Colour symbolism is also highly significant. White: divine light or divine wisdom. Black: shadows. Red: fire or divine love. Yellow: revelation. Blue: life. Green: the manifestation of divine wisdom and goodness. The symbolism contained in numbers is also significant.
Tarot is a tool for aiding our interpretation of our perceptions. If any evil is committed in association with the Tarot, it is not by the cards but by the acts and intentions of the person using this tool. For evil to occur a conscious choice by the individual to do harm, followed by the implementation of a deliberate course of action is required. Nothing contained in or represented by the Tarot can cause this to occur by itself as the cards have no will of their own or the means to take action. Tarot has the potential to serve evil, if the individual makes that choice. Just because something is psychic doesn't automatically make it spiritual or good.
There is nothing in the Bible that directly prohibits the use of Tarot, although astrology, soothsayers, mediums, dowsers and numerologists are signalled out in this way. If you read 1 Corinthians Chapters 12-15, the spiritual gifts are explained in detail. These gifts are given to us but are not for us. They are given to us to use in a good way, for the good of all, with harm to no one. We are not to give our gift to anyone who would misuse it.
Numerology and Astrology enhance the study of Tarot in a highly complementary way but it is good to remember that they are all distinct and separate areas of study in and of themselves. Numerology takes names and birthdates and translates them into a single or double digit number. Numbers are considered to be the language of the Universe. People change their names in their lifetimes but no one can change their birthdate. Your birth number and your astrological sign are not going to change. They are areas worth developing a working knowledge of, as most reference materials, and the many decks available, strongly represent these studies in their use of symbolism and instruction.
I was born on October 21, 1958. In order to calculate the birth number you add up all these numbers. (Please use your own birthdate.)
Take all these digits 10 + 21 + 1958 and add them up. The total is 1989.
Now add up 1 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 27
Add up these two remaining digits 2 + 7 = 9
I am a 9 so my Tarot Key Card is 9 The Hermit. If you come up with a 10 as your outcome and your birthday falls on an even numbered day, you are a 10, if your birthday falls on an uneven day, you are a 1. If your number is an 11 then you are a very old soul, leave it stand. Very few people are 2's. 8, 9, 10 and 11 represent the old souls - we are here to guide the younger souls. A woman who is a 3, has been female in every incarnation. A man who is a 4 has always been a male.
According to your number, the following Major Arcana card is one of your Key Cards and makes it more significant if it appears in your reading:
Key 1: The Magician,Key 2: The High Priestess, Key 3: The Empress, Key 4: The Emperor,Key 5: The Hierophant,Key 6: The Lovers,Key 7: The Chariot, Key 8: Strength,Key 9: The Hermit, Key 10: The Wheel of Fortune, Key 11: Justice
To determine where you are in your cycle you take the date of your last birthday and you calculate the numbers as above. My last birthday was October 21, 2003.
10 + 21 + 2003 = 2034
2 + 0 + 3 + 4 = 9
I am in year 9 of a ten year cycle. Therefore, Key Card 9 The Hermit and the 9's of the Minor Arcana are more significant to me and indicative that I am on "cycle". You only break this down to a number between 1 and 10, as a 1 and 10 are a blended cycle of endings and new beginnings. Every new beginning is another beginnings end - a continuous cycle of completion and regeneration. There are many systems of Numerology and many of them differ. This is just a very simple system that I use - Numerology is quite a large and complex topic.
Setting your atmosphere and how you shuffle your cards are individual choices. Once you have a system and environment you are comfortable with, try not to change it. If it is possible you should try and create a special area to read in. A small table or a desk in a room where you are comfortable and won't be interrupted. I like to have rocks and stones on the table while I read - stones given to you by a child are a gift from nature and are to be valued. Some readers always keep a bowl of water on the table as well but it will depend on how much room you have. A nice tablecloth or special reading cloth add to the environment as well as sentimental objects - try to keep it uncluttered. I always burn a white candle when I read. White candles are used for protection - you can never go wrong with a white candle - they are also quite effective for centering, focus and remembrance. Music as a background is an absolute necessity (in my mind anyway) as music is the heart of love and only love prevails.
It is always wise to protect yourself before doing a reading and to do something that breaks the energy of the contact after a reading, this prevents any negative energies from remaining attached to you. I wash my hands and brush my teeth before and after I read and I do a full body stretch. Tasting salt or making a circle of salt are also an acceptable and easy means of protecting yourself.
I light my candle and then I use this prayer before I read. You touch your hands and make a circle around your body, touching your hands behind your back while repeating: " I am in the light, and of the light. I am the awakened Christ. I feel no evil. Nothing can get in. No one can. In Jesus name, all is well. Amen." I try and do this at least 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment.
I hand my deck with my left hand to the Querent (the person who I am reading for) and ask them to shuffle the deck while asking a question or making a wish, a hope or a wonder. If you are reading for someone at a distance you shuffle for them. If you are reading for yourself proceed in the same way. Please bear in mind that it is very difficult to read for yourself. Be careful if you must at first practice Tarot by reading yourself, the tendency to see our worst fears or our own wishful thinking is hard to avoid.
It is a very good idea when first starting out, and even when you have been at this for years, to start and keep a Tarot Journal and document your readings. This will become one of your most valuable learning tools. If possible try to find a someone who wants to learn Tarot too and read for each other. It is probably the best way to develop as a reader and to track your accuracy - it is also much easier to see for someone else.
You must instruct them to let you see any cards which fall out of the deck as usually this is an indication that the answer they seek is there so it is time to stop shuffling. These cards are more significant if they show up in the reading. I then have them cut the deck with their left hand and to the left twice. The first cut stands to the left of the remaining cards. The next cut comes from original pile and is placed to the left of the first cut. With my left hand I pick up all three stacks from left to right and proceed to lay out the cards for the reading. Left hand to left hand represents the joining of the Querents subconscious and mine. Some readers cut the deck in two or into four stacks - again the method is yours to choose but once you choose it, don't change it. Other readers also choose a card from the deck as a Significator - a card to represent the Querent. You remove it from the deck and place it on the table and proceed with the shuffle and reading. Usually a Court Card is chosen for this but you may comfortably use your Major Arcana Key Cards as well. I do not personally use this method. Keep it as simple as possible. Less is definitely more.
The Big Three Questions that a reader is asked or wants an answer to themselves are "When is he/she/they going to call?", "What is he/she/they thinking about me right now?" and "Am I going to win at bingo?" How a question is worded can affect the clarity of the answer or lesson the cards are going to share with you. Are you asking the question in a way that a straightforward Yes or No will be an adequate answer for you or are you looking for more depth? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask "Is he/she/they going to call?" or "When he/she/they does call will it be a positive experience?". These types of questions are best addressed with very strong Question and Answer layout. I will draw out "Around The Corner", "Question & Answer", "Priorities " and "Celtic Cross" Layouts.
For a straight forward Yes or No answer there are many options. You can lay out 3, 5 or 7 cards - if all or most of the cards are upright, your answer is Yes. If all or most are reversed or upside down, your answer is No, although the individual meanings of the cards turned must also be considered. You can also utilize Key 0 The Fool and Key 21 The World. The Fool is No and The World is Yes. Shuffle the two cards face down while asking your question and draw one for your answer. If you repeatedly ask the cards the same question, they will quit answering you. The first time they inform. The second time they advise. The third time they say nothing.
Never blow your candles out, snuff them. If you blow them out you are insulting the element of fire (this doesn't apply to birthday cake). As you snuff your candle, say the following: 'Though extinguished in the physical, you still burn in the astral. Lit, burn there always'
If you are dealing with a large amount of negative energy this will help burn that energy out of your environment. You need a white candle and a black candle - try and have the same type of candle. Light the white candle for your protection and then the black candle to absorb the negative energy. Let the candles burn down near you - if it is not possible to burn them completely remember to snuff them as instructed above, but you must put out the black candle first and then the white. You may find that the black candle will burn much more quickly as it takes the energy out of your atmosphere.
Your cards need to be refreshed occasionally as their energy may become sluggish from the energy of people touching them. Let them soak in the sunshine, rub them with salt, say a prayer over them or burn a white candle near them. Any one of these will cleanse them. Make sure that your deck is complete. It is easy to drop a card or forget one in the box, people may even take one. If you lose a card and you don't have a "spare" with your deck, your deck isn't useful anymore.
Eat or drink something of the earth after a reading to ground yourself. Weeding a garden, tending houseplants, feeding the birds, exercising, meditation, yoga or any creative pursuit will release the energy of the reading and ground you. It is easier to read in the evening as there is less traffic and debris on the karmic airwaves.
Always remember to use your proper protection and releasing prayers or routines. People you are trying to help by reading for them will try and internalize your strength and your wisdom, in so doing, they can affect your health. Don't give your opinion, give a reading - there is a big difference. Be kind, be kinder, be kindest and use your gift for good. Tarot has a very ironic sense of humour and many ironic insights - sometimes they are very literal in their message.
One more thing, don't forget to have fun!
Sources and Resources
"Tarot Universe", Nancy Shavick, Santa Monica Press
"The Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols", Nadia Julien, Robinson Publishing
"Tarot of the Sephiroth", U.S. Games Systems