After taking a week off due to a minor injury, I'm back with Part III of this series focusing on Tarot.
What is Tarot?
Tarot is a divinatory system steeped in the esoteric and mystical canons of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, namely the Kabbalah, Christianity, Islam, particularly Sufism) and also ancient Egyptian spirituality, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The tarot is comprised of 78 cards split into to two groups: twenty-two are known as the major arcana numbered 0 - 21; and the minor arcana, split into four suits, cups, pentacles or coins, swords, wands or rods.
The major arcana represent major life phases and structures the human experience into a journey from 0, The Fool, to 21, The World. The minor arcana provides detailed insights into these major life phases, understanding them through the lens of the aforementioned religious traditions but also numerology and astrology. The minor arcana are numbered similarly to playing cards Ace to King, except that in place of the Jack, there is the Knight, there are no Jokers, and there is a fourth court card known as the Page. Each suit corresponds to an element: cups - water, pentacles - earth, swords - air, and wands - fire. Also, there are correspondences between the minor arcana and the major arcana, which in many Rider Waite Smith decks, are depicted in the image on the card. These elements have their correspondences in astrology and numerology, which allow for deeper meanings and readings.
Meaning in the Tarot
In my experience, the first determinant of meaning in Tarot depends on the experience and style of the diviner, and the school of tarot they employ. Many experienced readers are proficient in both Tarot de Marseille (French School) and the Rider Waite Smith (Anglophone School). Much of what you see online, particularly in the United States and the UK is centered in the Anglophone school. The difference between the two is more than palpable.
The Anglophone school, I find, is very hardline. In certain scenarios it is just downright doom and gloom; however, I will say it's thoroughness, especially in the hands of an expert diviner, never ceases to amaze. The French school, I was delighted to learn, is more hopeful across the board. As an example, when the The Tower appears, titled Le Maison de Dieu (The House of God) in the Tarot de Marseille, yes there is the immediate dismay of the crumbling Tower as a metaphor for your messy life; however, if you know anything about Catholic Churches, they often had wine in the cellar along with tombs of the dead. In the Tarot of Marseille, while the house of God may be crumbling, you will fall down, towards the cellar, and your job is to bust it open and swig some wine until the dust settles.
Comical metaphors aside, the Tarot de Marseille can be a vastly different divination system particularly where the minor arcana are concerned. Notably, the minor arcana in the Tarot de Marseille, excluding court cards and aces, employ minimalist imagery so you must know the actual meanings rather than relying on the card to guide you (see the 5 of wands referenced on the image above).
Let's look at the 5 of cups in the Tarot de Marseille. See the chart below for meanings. (I have included small portions of the meanings offered. Click bolded links for more info.)
5 of Cups - Anglophone School (Reference: Biddy Tarot)
"The Five of Cups represents a lack of fulfilment or non-attainment of expected results. You are feeling disappointed that a situation has not turned out as you had hoped, and instead of moving on to greener pastures, you are wallowing in self-pity and regret about what has been lost..."
5 of Cups - French School (Reference: Yoav Ben Dov)
Links. Popularity, relations with many people. Becoming the center of attention in a group. Relying on connections with other people to advance oneself or to overcome difficulties.
5 of Cups - French School (Reference: Predictions Voyance Avenir)
A positive period in your love life. You can count on your partner to provide you with a lot of happiness and to know how to listen. A period of pleasure and leisure with your family/
As you can see, where the Anglophone tarot has just told you are on the verge of depression, the Francophone tarot is telling you that not only are you the main event, but that your love life is blossoming.
Learning and Divining With Tarot: My Experience
As with any divinatory system, to become proficient you must study. To become an expert is a daily - intense, if not obsessive -endeavor. I have been studying Tarot since July 2017. I have pulled at least one card just about daily since then. I am fortunate to have a mentor and godmother who is a tarot aficionado and has provided a treasure trove of study materials. I am also a part of two Facebook tarot study groups that aid and add to my practice. The habit of pulling a card daily has helped me to memorize the order of the cards, the suits, the imagery (particularly important with Rider Waite Smith decks). Once I achieved that, I was able to derive greater meaning through beginning a cursory study of numerology and a gradually broadening study of astrology.
I must add, however, that my Tarot practice is quite different from many tarot readers precisely because I am an Espiritista. There is a particular muerto (dead person) I work with who pushed me towards Tarot and whose style and energy are the driving force behind the interpretations that emerge during a reading. In Espiritismo, we call this kind of engagement with a muerto, estar presente or presente (being present). It is, though some may disagree, a kind of divination conducted through non-trance possession where the medium is in a state, which permits the steady reception and transmission of messages from the muerto with whom he/she is working. When combined with Tarot, the muerto offers information using the medium as the mouthpiece, and the Tarot as the body of knowledge, together with it's spiritual assessment of the querent.
A Quick Guide for Beginners
Six steps for the emerging Tarot reader:
- Get a tarot deck based on the Rider Waite Smith standard. It's iconography provides an aesthetic roadmap to understanding the meaning of each card.
- Find a reliable source of information to help you learn the history and meanings. I cited Biddy Tarot above, which I love. There is also Labyrinthos, which has smart phone apps you can download. There are numerous books as well. One of the most popular is Benebell Wen's Holistic Tarot. I adore the Yoav Ben Dov's The Marseille Tarot Revealed: A Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings & Methods.
- Find a mentor and a reliable group of people to study with.
- Take notes on each card incorporating basic understandings of suits, their corresponding elements, as well as astrological and numerological correspondences.
- PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! STUDY! STUDY! STUDY! (this means on your own, with your mentor, and/or find classes by reputable instructors)
- Perfect your divining style. Many take an intuitive or psychic approach. Others, like myself take a spiritual approach. Study the variety of styles that exist and adopt and develop the one that feels right to you.
The forth and final installment of this series will focus on African-rooted divination practices connected to the Lukumi and Palo Mayombe spiritual traditions. Stay tuned and until next week!