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What is tarot? What is the meaning of the tarot?

What is Tarot

What is Tarot?

This question has intrigued many Tarot enthusiasts but it’s not something that can be answered conclusively as the origins of the Tarot’s history is unclear.

It was suggested in the Court de Gebelin writings in Le monde Primitif, in 1781 that the Tarot cards derived from the ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth. Thoth was an earlier Egyptian king and inventor of the hieroglyph system. Hieroglyphs as we know, are a means of communicating through imagery and symbolism. When we study the Tarot closely we can see similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Tarot cards.

Others claim that the origins of the Tarot can be traced to a much later period in history, in a game called Ludas Cartarum that was played around 1377. Although it is widely accepted that the first known complete 78 Tarot deck came about during the renaissance period in Italy in the latter part of the 14th Century.

What are the Tarot cards?

Tarot cards were initially used as playing cards, and there are accounts that state the Tarot cards were passed down throughout Europe by the Gypsies for the use of fortune telling.

Today, they are a tool used for divinatory purposes, providing guidance for those in receipt of a reading, they can shed light and clarity on life events. In a reading, there is always an enquirer and a reader who is well versed in the Tarot. However, a person can play both roles and provide a reading for themselves.

The Tarot cards today

The Tarot cards encompass beautiful imagery and there is a collection of decks that have been created expressing different artistic styles. Most Tarot cards contain the same themes throughout depicting religious allegories, historic events and archetypes from the collective conscious. To those initiated with the occult practice the cards hold power through illuminating our most complex dilemmas and desires.

What is included in a Tarot Card deck?

The Tarot cards are made up of the Major and Minor Arcana. Within the Minor Arcana we have the four suits which are the Cups, Wands, Swords and the Pentacles. Each of these suits connect to the Universal elements, as follows:

  • Cups – water
  • Wands – fire
  • Swords – air
  • Pentacles – earth

The Minor Arcana also include the Court Cards, which are representative of personality traits. The Major Arcana are made up of the trump cards.

The Tarot Cards, Major and Minor Arcana

The Tarot cards include the 56 Minor Arcana and the 22 Major Arcana, thus forming a 78 Tarot card deck. Both the Major and Minor Arcana reflect different meanings in a reading, depending on their position, sequence and relation to each card in a Tarot card spread.

How can a Tarot reading assist me?

During a Tarot card reading we gain insight into the enquirers inner and outer worlds. The inner world represents the souls journey through life and consists of things that are not visible to us in the physical sense. In contrast, the outer world relates to the physical body and the earth plane. Things that we can touch, feel and see on earth and events that happen to us. Both the inner and outer worlds, although we are not consciously aware, are being played out at the same time. During a Tarot reading we are observing both worlds;

“The Tarot becomes more than a tool to divine the unfolding pattern of our lives in the outer world. Rather, it offers us the opportunity to observe the workings of our own soul and the ways in which this affects, and is influenced by, the workings of the world”.

Can a Tarot reader help me?

An experienced Tarot reader will be able to pick up on energies that are influencing the enquirers life. Becoming aware of this makes the Tarot a very powerful tool. When we become aware of that which has been hidden from us we gain knowledge and insight into our psych. The psych influences the decisions we make, even if we are not consciously aware of this. Being ignorant to these circumstances can restrict us in the way we live the course of our lives, leading to discourse and suffering. With the Tarot, we become aware of our actions and the destructive patterns in our life. We can also gain insight into the people that surround us, whether they are negative or positive influences can be revealed by the Tarot.

What are the Minor Arcana?

When a card from the Minor Arcana is drawn in a tarot reading these cards indicate events that occur in the physical world. Including, money, property, family, career, business and the like. They aren’t specifically regarded as life changing event per se, but they could be stepping stones and lessons that we learn to make big changes in our life.

What Tarot cards are included in the Minor Arcana?

The Minor Arcana are made up of 56 Tarot cards and included within these cards are the four of suits, Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles. Each suit has its own Court and Ace card.

The Court Cards

The Court cards form part of the Minor Arcana and they represent different personality traits. When brought up in a reading they are more commonly associated with people in the enquirer’s life, although their meanings can sometimes relate to events. The court cards are:

  • The Prince / Knights
  • The Page / Princesses
  • The Queens; and
  • The Kings

The Ace cards

The Ace cards in the Minor Arcana are in each set, they are the Ace of Wands, Ace of Cups, Ace of Pentacles and the Ace of Swords.

The Wands

The Wands correlate to the fire element and primordial energy. Fire is the building block to life and the Wands embody that. The Wands relate to creativity, expansion and action. The Wands can be viewed as a seed that has been planted and that has yet to be manifested in the physical world, they represent the foundations.

The Cups

The Cups relate to the water element. The Cups deal with the emotional aspects of life from love, relationships, intuition, feelings, romanticism and creativity and psychic abilities.

The Pentacles

The Pentacles relate to the earth element. They represent all things in the physical world, materialism, money, property, abundance, poverty and luxuries. The Pentacles connect to the astrological sign, Taurus.

The Swords

The Swords relate to the air element. They represent our mind, thoughts, ideas, intellect, and ambition. When brought up in a reading they can also indicate ambition and conflict.

The Major Arcana

The Major Arcana, or trump cards as they are more commonly associated with, include 22 cards in total. The Fool is the only card that is not numbered as it represents the souls journey through the Major Arcana.

When we bring out any cards from the Major Arcana we can predict life changing events in a reading. These events can be themes or repeated patterns that play out. This is where the Tarot can help the enquirer, by shedding light on destructive patterns in their life, helping them to work through difficult areas in their life.

What Tarot cards are included in the Major Arcana?

1 The Magician – Relates to the alchemist. A person who holds a skill or becomes a master of their profession. The card deals with intellect, diplomacy and self-confidence.

High Priestess –  Related to the hidden mysteries in life, silence tenacity and wisdom. She guards the hidden mysteries of the inner world, psychic abilities and intuition.

The Empress – Associated with things that have come to fruition. The card of action and initiative. She is also related to fertility, beauty and intuition.

The Emperor – Associated with masculine traits. Power protection growth, aid reason and intellect.

Hierophant – A religious figure, associated with making decisions, morality and union through marriage.

The Lovers –  Relates to unity, romance, attraction, beauty and trials in life to overcome.

The Chariot – Deals with duality in life, control, direction, attainment and triumph.

Strength –  A card that accords to compassion, unconditional love, power and energy.

The Hermit –  Relates to introversion, quietness, wisdom and the high level of spiritual attainment through knowledge and isolation.

10 The Wheel of Fortune – Relates to the ups and downs of life, success, destiny and change like the seasons.

11 Justice – A card that accords to law, order, victory, balance, justice, equity, fairness and rightness.

12 The Hanged Man –  Relates to seeing things from the opposite side, sacrifice, prophecy and wisdom.

13 Death – Relates to morality, the end of something, destruction of the old and a start of new beginnings.

14 Temperance – Relates to finding middle ground, moderation and avoiding excess. It can also signify reaching a compromise, experiencing harmony and cooperation.

15 The Devil – Relates to materialism, extraordinary efforts, mental slavery and servitude.

16 The Tower – Relates to the breaking down of the status quo, a collapse, adversity, instability and insecurity.

17 The Star – Symbolises wishes, hopes and bright prospects.

18 The Moon – Relates to mystery, hidden enemies and deception.

19 The Sun – Relates to happiness, wellness, fortune, marriage and contentment.

20 Judgment – Renewal, new ideas, new perspective, renewal and a change in position.

21 The World – Signifies completion, wholeness, success and travel.

The Fool – Relates to being care free, striking out on a new path and heading into the unknown.

The Tarot Spreads

To provide an accurate reading the cards are laid out in a spread. This is important because positions of the cards can relate to each stage of the enquirers life, such as past, present and future.

There are various spreads that the reader can use including, the basic three card spread, the relationship spread and the well-known Celtic cross spread. The reader is always free to create their own spread if preferred.

For the more advanced Tarot reader they will consider card reversals. Reversed cards could flip a card meaning and therefore conclude a different set of circumstances, that’s why reversals generally provide more insight into a situation and provide accurate readings.

All images in this article are courtesy of The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

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