by L. A. Knight
What is the
The tarot is a deck of 78 cards, featuring illustrations that
can be interpreted in various ways. The deck is divided into two
sections, called the major arcana and minor arcana.
The major arcana features the 21 trump cards, and the minor
arcana is divided into four suits (wands, pentacles, cups and
swords) each with cards featuring the numbers 1-10, an ace and
four court cards (the Page, Knight, Queen and King).
Origin of the Tarot
The oldest known tarot cards originated in 15th century Italy.
The tarot appears to have started life as a card game, and was
at first restricted to the wealthy upper classes, although after
the invention of the printing press, the cards became more
Some writers have claimed (despite the apparent lack of
evidence) that the imagery of the tarot cards suggests a more
ancient origin, and have connected the tarot with such cultures
and traditions as the ancient Egyptians and the mystical Hebrew
It was not until the 18th century that the cards became
associated with the occult and mystical activities for which
they are often known today. This began in 1781, when the
freemason Antoine Court de Gebelin made the claim in his work
'Le Monde Primatif' that tarot cards contained hidden meanings
(which he associated with the ancient Egyptians) that could be
used for divinatory purposes.
Since then other mystic and magical traditions, such as the
Order of the Golden Dawn, have claimed that the tarot has
ancient roots, together with hidden wisdom to impart to those
seeking enlightenment. The tarot was especially popular among
such groups in the 19th century.
The tarot became more widely known with the publication of the
Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot in 1910. Arthur Edwards Waite was a
Golden Dawn member, and in this new deck, drawn by the artist
Pamela Colman Smith, images with occult symbolism were included
on the numeric cards, as well as the trump cards. This deck was
very successful (and remains popular today), and since then,
hundreds if not thousands of diverse new decks have been
published, with many enthusiasts creating their own.
Uses of the Tarot
The tarot has several distinct uses, including:
This was its original use, and it is still used for gaming
purposes in some European countries.
Carl Jung was the first mainstream psychologist to attach
meaning to the tarot cards, when he associated them with the
fundamental archetypes that he believed to reside in the
collective human unconscious. Several therapeutic tecniques
involving the tarot have developed from this insight.
Many artists and writers have produced works inspired by the
Fortune telling is perhaps the most common use associated with
the tarot. The images on the cards may help the person seeking
the reading to tap into their own subconscious knowledge. Others
believe that the cards themselves hold some kind of inherent
divinatory power, which may be read by a skilled person. For
this reason, handling another person's cards is generally
frowned upon in
occult circles, as their energy could become contaminated.
Doing a Reading
There is no set method for performing a divinatory tarot
reading. However there are several popular layouts or 'spreads',
with perhaps the most well known being the Celtic cross. This is
usually the first method taught to beginners, although it is by
no means the most simple. Experienced tarot readers will often
invent their own spreads, with their own means of
Once the cards are selected by the person receiving the reading,
the reader lays them out in a spread and analyses them, taking
into account the positions relative to each other, the symbolism
of the individual cards, and their position (upright or
Meaning of the Cards
There is no generally agreed upon interpretation of the tarot
cards. They all have imagery of varying degrees of compexity,
and the wide range of decks available makes the situation even
more difficult. Nevertheless there is a huge amount of writings
available on the symbology of the tarot, and on the most basic
level, the 22 major arcana cards are thought to represent the
journey of the Fool from ignorance to enlightenment.
In addition, the minor arcana cards have their own symbolism.
The numbers are most obsviously associated with numerology, and
the suits are linked to the four elements (Swords=Air;
Cups=Water; Wands=Fire; Pentacles=Earth). The tarot has also
been linked with other mystical and occult systems such as the I
Ching, astrology, and the Kabbalah.
Choosing a Tarot Deck
There is a huge range of tarot decks to choose from. The
symbolism-rich Rider-Waite deck remains extremely popular, as
does Crowley's Thoth deck. The early Marseille deck (used by
Gebelin to illustrate 'Le Monde Primitif') is another important
deck, also. There are also many less conventional decks to
Feminists, for example, might like the Motherpeace Tarot with
its round cards and exclusively female imagery, whereas some of
those interested in Paganism might enjoy the Witches deck or the
DruidCraft tarot. Tarot decks can be found representing animals
too, as well as various sports, natural imagery and other common
activities. In fact, there's a tarot pack available to suit
every taste, and most can be bought online as well as from
bookstores, new age shops etc.
Where to Start?
If you're interested in learning more about the tarot, I
recommend checking out some of the numerous excellent
tarot-related sites on the net, as well as online and local book
stores and new age stores. One thing's for sure - there's no
shortage of information available!
Copyright ©2006 L. A. Knight
L. A. Knight believes that the primary purpose of life is to
enjoy it, and is webmaster of http://www.quantumbliss.com - a
site dedicated to providing tools to help others to maximise
their personal power and enjoyment of life.
Visit QuantumBliss to find out more about exploring the awesome
powers of your mind, and if you'd like to find out more about
the tarot, check out