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Humans have an age-old enchantment with the tarot. Although theories abound, nobody really knows its exact origin. The earliest-known versions come from mid-fifteenth-century Italy and were used for a game called "Tarrochi." Using the tarot for fortunetelling did not become popular until much later. And it wasn't until the nineteenth century that members of a spiritual order known as the Golden Dawn began to link the cards to esoteric teachings such as astrology and Kabbala. This began the practice of finding deeper meanings in the cards and using them for meditation and study.
In 1910, Pamela Coleman Smith, working on a deck for fellow Golden Dawn member Arthur Waite, made a radical change to the tarot. She replaced the geometrical depictions on the minor arcana of previous decks with pictorial images. The deck they created, the Rider-Waite Tarot, has become the most popular and well-known tarot of all time.
In the World Spirit Tarot, Lauren has drawn from Pamela Smith's designs as well as from those of another Golden Dawn artist, Frieda Harris, who worked for Aleister Crowley on the Thoth Tarot. She has also added new symbols and images and, in some cases, created an entirely new scenario, to make a deck that is more globally oriented and suited to our times. In the World Spirit Tarot, people of many colors and cultures enliven the cards.
Each tarot card has potent symbols that help enrich its meaning. Many are traditional, hearkening to earlier versions of the cards. We explain some of them, but many we leave for you to assign your own meanings. Remember, the tarot is always open to interpretation. For more information on tarot symbolism or other esoteric correspondences, please refer to our bibliography, in particular to the works of Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack.
Tarot, as we see it, is a mirror for self-reflection, a way to stop and pay attention to what the world has to say to you. We wrote this book for people who want to use the tarot as a tool for helping to make conscious choices. It is meant to be practical and designed to give immediate insight into the situation at hand. We hope it will be a trusty guide, and that it will help you access your own inner wisdom.
About the Cards
The World Spirit Tarot is truly an extraordinary deck. Each card is a hand-colored linoleum block print; to create the final piece of art, many steps are involved. First, Lauren sketches her idea onto a block. Then, with an array of chisels spread before her, she begins to carve. Each cut creates white space; what is left uncarved will pick up the ink and be black. The cards evolve like living organisms, for each cut is irreversible and influences the next. After the carving is complete, the block is sent through a press and prints are made of the image. The ink cures for two weeks, then the print is colored by hand. The entire process for each card takes several weeks.
Structure of the Tarot
A tarot deck has seventy-eight cards, arranged in two main sections: the "major arcana" and the "minor arcana." The major arcana consists of twenty-two cards, numbered 0, The Fool, to 21, The Universe. Each of the majors is an archetype, embodying a fundamental lesson. The minor arcana is very similar in structure to playing cards. It has four suits that correspond to the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth.
The suit of wands embodies the element of fire. It symbolizes will, creativity, passion, action, energy, and power.
The suit of cups embodies the element of water. It symbolizes the emotions, love, receptivity, dreams, and desires.
The suit of swords embodies the element of air. It symbolizes the mind, thought, speech, communication, and struggle.
The suit of pentacles embodies the element of earth. It symbolizes the earth, the body, health, money, material things, and survival.
Each of the suits has fourteen cards numbered ace through ten, followed by four "court" or "people" cards. Each of the people cards is a character sketch. Traditionally, these have been depicted as Page, Knight, King, and Queen. We have replaced these with the Seer, Seeker, Sibyl, and Sage. They are not meant to be hierarchical; rather, they speak to different stages of development.
The Seers are students, curious about the world around them. They are young and delicate, and need nurturance and protection.
The Seekers interact more dynamically with the world, questing for answers and challenges, taking risks, and trying to get things done. As young adults they lack experience and maturity, but not enthusiasm.
The Sibyls are the mature embodiment of their suit. They use their energies wisely and know how to govern their realms with ease.
The Sages are accomplished in the world. They bring a broad perspective garnered by age and responsibility, and they possess great authority.
In readings, the people cards usually represent an aspect of yourself or possibly your role in a situation. At the same time they may stand for another person in your life. Either way, it may be just one characteristic of their personalities that is speaking to you.
How to Use the Cards
Tarot isn't just for psychics. Even someone with no experience can do a reading for themselves or for someone else. You can use this booklet as a resource and you always have your own intuition to guide you as well.
The tarot, like any oracle, will serve you best if you treat it with respect. You may want to store your cards in a special place, perhaps in a wooden box or wrapped in a silk cloth.
Most people find that a quiet and focused atmosphere is essential for doing readings. Setting up a sacred space need not be complicated; light a candle, spread out a pretty cloth, maybe burn some sage. Both the reader and the person with the question can do a brief grounding meditation to put aside distraction and be fully present.
When you are ready, shuffle the cards while meditating on your question. The more specific your question, the more clear your answers will be. Split the cards into three piles, then stack them back up in whatever order feels right. Some people like to do this with their left hand since the left is considered the receptive side of the body. You can then pull cards off the top, or spread them out in a fan and pick whichever ones you're drawn to.
Our favorite reading, especially for a yes or no question, is a simple three-card spread. First, you meditate on the "yes" possibility, picturing in your mind this option. Then pull one card. Next, do the same thing with the "no" possibility. Last, clear your mind of all thoughts and pull a "wild card." This card covers possibilities that you haven't thought of yet or simply gives more information about the situation.
The Three Card Spread
This spread is helpful for specific questions as well as for general insight into your life. It is adapted from a spread taught to Jessica by Susun Weed.
1, The Inner: this card represents your relationship with yourself. It refers to your private thoughts and feelings, the parts of yourself that others may not see.
2, The Outer: this card represents your relationship with the world around you. It can be about your home, work, friends, or family.
3, The Past: this card speaks to a situation that is ending or a way of being that you are in the process of moving away from.
The Seven-Card Spiral
4, The Present: this card shows significant issues regarding your situation.
5, The Future: this card shows what you are moving toward or a situation that is just beginning.
6, The Lesson: this card shows what you most need to learn at this time.
7, The Wild Card: this card shows an aspect of a situation that you have not yet considered. It may help to tie together the rest of the reading by speaking to the overall theme.
The Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross is one of the most popular tarot spreads. With ten cards, it gives you a lot of information. This version is based on the traditional meanings for the positions.
1, "What covers you." This card speaks to the general environment or atmosphere of the situation.
2, "What crosses you." This card shows the conflicts, obstacles, and challenges involved.
3, "What is below you." This card shows the foundation-the root cause-of the situation.
4, "What is behind you." This card speaks to what is ending, or to influences from the past acting on the present.
5, "What is above you." This card shows your goals and aspirations.
6, "What is before you." This card is about what's ahead if things keep moving in this direction.
7, "What is inside you." This card is about how you see yourself.
8, "That which surrounds you." This card speaks to your environment: home, work, family, and friends.
9, "Your hopes and fears." This card covers your desires. We are often afraid to get what we hope for.
10, "What you will learn." This card shows the outcome or resolution of the situation.
More spreads can be found in Mary Greer's excellent books.
Keep in mind that even if you come up with a very specific question and lay out a spread with clearly defined positions, the tarot will often ignore both in order to say what's most important at the time. If, for example, you ask whether to keep or quit your job, you might get cards telling you to work on your self-esteem or possibly your relationship with your mother. Sometimes it seems like the tarot has a mind of its own!
An alternative to asking specific questions is to go to the other extreme and just say, "Please show me what's up for me right now." It's nice to do this kind of reading on major holidays; that way you can see how they change from year to year. Even better is every two weeks; on the new moon and full moon, for example, or weekly if you prefer. The fact is that there's no limit on the number of readings you can do. It's good to keep track of them, maybe even sketch the cards in a journal. Seeing yourself pick the same cards repeatedly and others not at all can help you see patterns or themes in your life.
In this book we have chosen not to include reversed (i.e., upside down) meanings. Instead, we present a continuum, including the gifts and the lessons as well as the challenges and shadows of each card.
As we see it, there are basically two approaches to tarot interpretation: the rational and the intuitive. Blending both methods can give you the most well-rounded readings and the most information overall.
In the rational approach, you look to some authority, like this book, to tell you what each card means. For beginners this approach can be very useful and can help to build confidence.
As part of the rational approach you can also understand the cards that appear by considering the ones that don't. For example, if I ask about a lover and I get no people cards, perhaps the message is that the issue really lies with me. If I ask about a decision and I get no swords cards, I see that analysis is not the way to go about it.
In the intuitive approach to interpretation you don't worry about what the book says. Instead, you go with your gut feelings when you look at an image. For instance, you might draw a card, or a group of them, that has the color yellow in it. You notice this, and it means something significant to you. Or maybe you notice that a card has a dog in it that looks just like your own. What you get out of the cards is up to you.
Tarot is essentially a game of inner conviction. No one else can tell you what is or isn't important in a reading. The tarot, if it is any real help at all, is a method of self-empowerment.