What is Tarot?

Tarot is the name used for cards that are said to have predictive powers. But what is Tarot? It is a set of cards used to gain insights into your situation and help you find answers to your questions. The cards have many layers to them once you get past the first look at them. At first, you see images and numbers, but later, you find a lot of symbolism within the pictures and that several mystic systems have been added to the cards.

So, depending on your mystical background, you may find very personal meaning to you, and this is how each Tarot reader can add to the overall Tarot knowledge and consciousness; reading the Tarot is a lifetime journey. Once you start, you get drawn in further and further, and this learning path keeps giving more and more over time.


A little bit on the History of Tarot

The history of the Tarot is conflicted. There are many theories, and there is little evidence of those. Some say the Tarot stems from the Romany people. They are nomadic people who used to travel mainly through Europe and are said to have brought the Tarot to the west. Another theory says that it has come from the Italian medieval courts, where playing cards were used with 22 extra cards. Others say that this all started with the one surviving book of the fire that burned the Great Library of Alexandria. It was picked up by mystics and used in magick.


What exactly is in a Tarot deck?

Tarot decks come in many different sorts and sizes these days. In the earlier years, only a few decks out there were seen from a design point of view. The available decks were driven by purpose and created by people with strong opinions about the meaning and use of the Tarot. In the past decade, the Tarot has become fashionable as well. The decks come in many shapes and designs. The themes vary a lot, but they always adhere to the basic structure that defines the Tarot.

A Tarot deck has 78 cards. These cards are split into three sections; the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana, and the Court Cards. Each group has its way of reflecting on your life and the situations you ask about. Knowing the difference alone could help you determine what is going on a large scale, even when you don’t know the particular meaning of each card. Why? Let me explain these sections to you.


The 3 sections in the Tarot

The Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and the Court Cards, in general, have a meaning. Let’s look at that so you understand why I said it can tell you roughly what is going even if you do not know the meaning of each card.

The Major Arcana cards are recognized by the Roman numbering one is shown as “I” and two as “II’ and so on. They also have a name for each card written on them. Only the Major Arcana has them both, the others have just names or just regular numbers. In total there are 22 Major Arcana cards. They deal with the major life lessons. Situations that we cannot control, happen, and we move through them, learning while we go. Read more about the Major Arcana here.

The Minor Arcana cards have numbers and are divided in 4 subsections that show are called the elements. These elements are the Cups, Swords, Wands and Pentacles. Within these elements (also called suits) there are cards numbered from Ace (1) to 10. These cards tell us about our daily life situations and how we can deal with those. These are situations we can influence with our actions.


The elements each have a specific meaning

  • Cups: The cards with the cups on them are all about feelings, relationships and intuition
  • Swords: The cards with the swords on them are about our mental processes. The way we think about people and situations and how we make decisions.
  • Wands: The cards with wands on them are focused on ambition and passion
  • Pentacles: The cards with pentacles on them are about our physical and material life and our resources.

The Court Cards have names and within the same elements as the Minor Arcana they show people. These are Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. The Court Cards are considered to be hard to read because they can mean several things. They can be about people in your life who influence you or they can be about aspects of you or the situation you are in.


Court Cards show levels of maturity that are at play

  • Pages: They are young and learning, they are the future rulers. Their influence is usually little to none. They can be seen as messengers or assistants
  • Knights: They have learned and are putting that to the test with actions. They tend to effect changes and have some influence on a situation. They tend to be more about action than about thinking things out.
  • Queens: The Ladies are mature and really influence the situations they get into. The way they do that is by expressing the feminine aspect of the element they rule. Their way of working is usually subtle and focused on people.
  • Kings: These are the rulers of their element. They embody the male aspect and full mature energy of the suit. They are in full control and work to benefit their subjects.


So, what’s going on?

So how does all this give me an idea of what is going on in a situation with no knowledge of the specific cards? Say you want to know about a work situation. Normally I am all about short and clear spreads. A spread is a layout where each card has a position and meaning. But for this example, let’s say you use 9 cards. You can lay them out in a line or a 3 by 3 square. The spread is not what we focus on, but the number of cards we find from each section,

What is the Tarot basic reading

In the image above you can see The Star (XVII) – The World (XXI) – The Fool (0) and The Magician (I) . You see that they have a Roman number and a name, except for the Fool, who has number zero. The Fool is our hero who travels through the life lessons of the Major Arcana. The cards in the top row are Major Arcana cards and there are 4 of them out of the 9 cards I drew. Than there are 2 cards that just have a name The knight of Cups and the King of Cups. They are Court Cards and then there are 3 more cards that have just numbers on them. Those are the 5 of Wands, the 8 of Cups and the 8 of Pentacles.

General meaning

Coming back to the amount of each section for the work-related question. Almost half of the cards are Major Arcana. So, whatever the question is, the person goes through life lessons. Not just 1 but 4 of them. He or she goes through a period of personal growth that they cannot stop from happening.

There are 3 Minor Arcana cards that can tell this person how to deal with the situation on a material (Pentacles), emotional (Cups) and ambition (Wands) level. As you see there is some advice for the person on how to move through this. The one element that is missing may be the biggest hint here. There are no swords, telling us that he/she may not think this through well enough.

The minors in this spread

Then there are 2 Court Cards. These are either colleagues or aspects of this person who influence the situation. Since they are both Cups, I think that this is how the person feels about the situation. The Knight wants to act, and the King wants do deal with the situation in a controlled and mature manner. So even though the minors say he/she should think it through, he/she approaches this from an emotional and relational point of view and may well be handling this intuitively.

Of course, this is very general, but you can see that even without knowing much more than what you’ve read so far, it is possible to get a general idea of a situation. You’ll find more details on answers and reading in my posts about spreads and card meanings.


As with the history of the Tarot, there are a lot of myths. And it is about time to debunk a few. Overall it is good to keep in mind that negative ideas about the Tarot find their origin in a lack of knowledge about the cards and what they represent.


Your first deck must come to you as a gift!

Honestly, no idea where that came from but the is really not necessary. You can buy your first deck. It is even preferred. When you start to learn the Tarot, it can be an overwhelming experience. Starting this journey with cards you connect with and love to work with is much better than to wait for a deck to come to you.


Tarot is from the Devil

Seriously, these are just pieces of paper with ink on them. Religion has nothing to do with the Tarot. The cards depict everyday situations and life lessons and how you can deal with those. That is just a normal thing. I think that some people saw the scarier cards and did not stay around long enough to learn their meaning. Cards like Death, the Tower and the Devil are not to be taken literal. Death indicates that a slow transformation is happening in a person’s life. The Tower is about a sudden change. The Devil is about our negative habits and addictions and it asks you to take responsibility for your life.


The Tarot is used for Fortune Telling

There we go! There are plenty movies where you find gypsy ladies with a globe and a deck of Tarot predicting all sorts of horrible things. Sadly, that is what sticks in people’s minds. The Tarot is used to understand the situation at hand and what options the person has available to him/her. It is all about insights and going deeper into a situation, your feelings and thoughts and how to act on them.

Sometimes the cards will suggest that making certain choices will lead to other situations, but isn’t that what happens in normal conversation too? While talking about a situation and your options, the other may point out that choosing one particular option may lead to success or failure. No fortune telling here, just common sense.


Set in stone or can I change my future?

In the end it also depends on what a person does with the information that comes out of a reading. That determines how that person’s life develops. Free will is the main word here. It is not set in stone; the cards just show information and options. If you choose to take a completely different path than yes, of course you change your future.


You have to Psychic to read the Tarot?

No. You need to understand the structure of the cards. There are many information methods worked into the Tarot cards. Allegorical pictures on most of the cards help tell the story. The Major and Minor Arcana cards and the Court Cards all have general meanings and when you combine that with numerology and the elements as you saw above in the general meaning example.

Every method has their meaning and learning the Tarot is about understanding 2 or 3 methods well to start with. That way you can use what you know and what your personal intuition wants to add. After this simple start you can gain more with each new way of reading the cards that you learn.


My personal experience with Tarot

I have been playing and working with the Tarot since 2000 and I love how it enriches my life. It gives me insights on all aspects of my life, and I love creating new spreads to work with. However, at first it wasn’t great for me. When I started out it was much like most people experience. I tried to learn the meaning of the cards and it totally overwhelmed me. So, the first years it was more like a love-hate relationship even though the readings I gave myself and others were clear enough.

At some point I realized that a combination of knowing the key phrase of a card, a bit about symbolism, numbers and colors can bring you far when the spread is right. This was the turning point in learning how to read the Tarot for me. I stopped trying to learn pages of information per card from books but made sure I knew what the key was in the card. Things boosted my Tarot reading career because I quickly gained confidence and I created a system that helps you learn how to read the Tarot too.

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