Tarot 101

Tarot 101

Starting our divination series, this week we’re going to focus on the tarot cards! For those who don’t know much about tarot, or would like to learn more, this article is going to cover the important bases. We’ll be discussing the history behind the cards, how they work, and how to use them. So, let’s start with the history of tarot cards.

Tarot cards have been around for centuries and originated around the 1400s in Europe, Italy to be specific, initially intended and used as a parlor game. As tarot became more popular, artists began to illustrate and add more cards, and many of the early decks featured depictions of kings, cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks (wands). These are some of the symbols familiar to us in modern-day tarot decks. Not until the 1700s did tarot become a tool for divination when Jean-Baptiste Alliette popularized modern cartomancy as we know it today. Going under the alias Etteilla, he published a guide for using tarot cards as a divination tool. Around this time is when tarot saw a surge in popularity as a means for divination.

As we move forward in history to the 20th century, the tarot saw a transformation. The most iconic tarot deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was published in 1909 through the contributed efforts of Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. Waite wrote a book providing the meaning behind the cards and sought out Smith to illustrate the deck. Smith gave us the well-known tarot illustrations we all know today. This deck quickly became the most well-known tarot deck in history. It’s only competition comes from the Thoth tarot deck, created by Aleister Crowley, which some may be more familiar with. Crowley’s deck, published in 1969, incorporates science, religion, philosophy, and spirituality into his version of tarot cards.

“The Rider-Waite deck has since become the most popular version of the Tarot among the masses. However, in 1944 another member of the Golden Dawn wrote an even better book entitled The Book of Thoth. This next-level manuscript was painstakingly put together by none other than the famous and infamous Aleister Crowley himself. Then, he commissioned Lady Frieda Harris to paint what would become the Thoth Tarot in 1969. The illustrations of the deck feature symbolism based upon Crowley’s incorporation of imagery from many disparate disciplines, including science and philosophy and various occult systems, as described in detail in The Book of Thoth.” – Joshua Hehe.

So you have a general overview of how tarot originated, but what exactly is it, and how do you read the cards? In simple words, tarot is a form of divination used to learn more about the past, present, or future situations. There are 78 cards in a traditional deck, with each card having a specific meaning assigned to it. The tarot is divided into two distinct categories: the major arcana versus the minor arcana.

The major arcana features 22 cards that focus on the milestones in life, focusing on the bigger picture and the lessons you need to learn. The minor arcana tends to focus on our daily lives and has 56 cards, broken into four suits: cups (water), pentacles or coins (earth), swords (air), and wands (fire). These four categories represent the four elements. Here is where we see an intersection between tarot and astrology because these cards specifically are associated with the energy of their respective elements. For example, cards featuring wands tend to be associated with passion, excitement, and fleeting energy, all properties of fire energy.

Tarot can be such a beneficial tool to your life if used correctly; the cards don’t give you straight yes or no answers, unlike a pendulum, but they do give you the answers you need to hear and can provide clarity on the question asked. Tarot can offer advice, guidance, and insight into any situation you ask. So how exactly do you do tarot?

There’s this myth that you have to be gifted your first tarot deck, but this is not true. If you felt a calling towards the cards, head towards your local metaphysical shop and pick a tarot deck that resonates with you, meaning you should choose a deck you connect with. There will be plenty of options to choose from, and I must say the Rider-Waite-Smith is excellent for beginners because of the imagery and symbolism linked through the artwork and the meanings of the cards.

Once you pick a deck, you need to look into protecting and cleansing yourself, your deck, and your energy. Protection is one the most important parts of reading because you are tapping into other’s energy and need to make sure you’re not tapping into anything that can drain you or cause you harm. The easiest way to protect yourself is to say a prayer of protection to whatever or whomever you believe in. I usually pray to my spirit guides and ancestors for protection and guidance as I navigate within the spiritual realm. There are many different prayers you can say or you can make up your own. A simple one to use: “I pray to my spirit guides and those who watch over me, to keep my energy protected as I tap into the spirit. Thank you for always keeping me divinely guided and protected. I am grateful.”

You can also look into different protection oils and crystals (such as black tourmaline) and use them while working with the tarot. Another important thing to note before you begin reading is that you should always ground yourself beforehand, and you can learn how to do so here.

Now, you have your deck, and you’ve taken the necessary steps to protect and prepare yourself, it’s time to start reading the cards. I gave you a basic rundown of how the cards are broken up however, you still have to learn all 78 card meanings. You won’t remember every single one when you first start, so you should consider getting a guide book with each card’s meaning or consulting this website to learn the meaning’s as you read. Writing down key words for each card and attaching your own meaning to them will help you tremendously. It will take some time for you to know every single card, but the more you practice tarot, the easier it becomes and the more you learn.

Onto actually pulling tarot cards. There are so many different ways to shuffle the cards, and every reader does it differently, so you should try out whatever feels right to you. As you shuffle the cards and ask them questions (can be out loud or in your head), the cards will pop out at you, literally. They may come out upright or reverse, with both positions having a specific meaning, so you should take care to learn both. One good tip when reading is to learn to trust your intuition. If you ever feel unsure about a card, put it back in and re-shuffle; if the message was correct, the card will come out again. You should find that the more you practice on yourself and others, the better you become at reading the cards. Let your intuition guide you and try to learn as much as you can from others around you who have been in this practice for years.

You should also look into different kinds of tarot spreads, such as ones specifically for love or personal or career advice. Tarot cards can help you get that job promotion or see what you need to work on in your love life. It offers guidance in all aspects of life, so really dive deep into it if you feel the calling. Remember that tarot cannot determine the future because life is always changing, and so are people, but it can give you a valuable look into what life has in store for you if you continue along your current path.

Lastly, a small warning for those who are new to tarot: with power comes responsibility, and you have to make sure not to tap into other people’s energy without their explicit consent. This means that you shouldn’t ask the tarot cards about what your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend is up to because you’re tapping into their energy without their consent, and this can harm you in a spiritual and sometimes physical sense. What I mean by physical is that you may find yourself having a bad headache or feeling sick after tapping into the wrong energy. Make sure you respect people’s wishes and boundaries and only reading for them when given their express permission.

If you’ve made it to the end, thank you for learning about tarot with me today! What I’ve covered is just the basics of tarot, and there’s so much more for you to get into as you learn more about the craft. I encourage everyone to read up and learn as much as possible. This week there will be more articles featuring interviews with new and veteran tarot readers. Their advice is invaluable and can provide guidance and knowledge to us all.