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T H E
B a s i c s
You're probably anxious to get to know your new deck. In this section you'll find a brief introduction to the structure of the deck. This will help you understand the meanings of the cards in general terms.
The later sections will help you provide more in-depth interpretation. Think of this as the outline for the card meanings. The details and nuances will come in time.
Remember that the tarot is very personal and that the cards are packed with many meanings. Use this text as a guidebook, but let your own intuition be the final word. If something here does not make sense, discard it. Divination is not a hard science. Use the exercises provided to help flesh out the meanings that you'll use for your own readings. A journal or notebook will be especially handy in keeping all your notes and observations in order. Throughout this book, there will be exercises to help you solidify your understanding of the cards.
Seventy-eight cards may seem like a lot to learn.
Dividing the deck into sections makes it easier. The first main division is in two parts: the Major Arcana
(twenty-two cards) and the Minor Arcana (fifty-six cards). Arcana means "secrets"-so the Major Arcana are the "big secrets." In practical terms, these are the cards that represent important milestones, major changes, events beyond our control, and spiritual growth. The Minor Arcana, "lesser secrets," generally depict events, situations, or people related to everyday life. An important characteristic of the Minor Arcana is personal control-that is, they represent aspects of your life over which you have the control.
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana are usually very simple to understand because most people are familiar with the structure already. Think of a pack of playing cards: four suits (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds), with each suit having ten pip cards numbered ace through ten and three court cards (King, Queen, Jack). The Minor
Arcana is just like that, with the addition of one court card for each suit. The court cards of the tarot reflect their medieval roots: King, Queen, Knight, and Page.
The suits have different names and symbols but still relate directly to the suits of playing cards [alternative names are in brackets]:
WANDS [Rods, Batons, or Staves] = Clubs
CUPS [Chalices] = Hearts
SWORDS = Spades
PENTACLES [Coins, Disks, or Stones] = Diamonds
In addition to relating to playing-card deck suits,
the tarot suits are associated with the four elements.
This helps define the suit's relation to our daily lives.
The illustration below shows the four suits, and the list below it reveals each suit's elemental association and the aspects of life it represents.
WANDS (left). Fire or Air. Career, projects, inspiration.
CUPS (top). Water. Emotions, relationships, creativity.
SWORDS (right). Air or Fire. Challenges, intellect,
ways of thinking.
PENTACLES (bottom). Earth. Physical world,
Each Minor Arcana suit is associated with an area of life. All the cards are numbered as well; each of these numbers has meanings.
ACES: New beginnings, opportunity.
TWOS: Balance, duality, a crossroads or choice.
THREES: The full expression of the suit,
FOURS: Structure, stability, stagnation.
FIVES: Instability, conflict, loss, opportunity for change.
SIXES: Communication, problem-solving,
SEVENS: Reflection, assessment, motives.
EIGHTS: Movement, action, change, power.
NINES: Fruition, attainment.
TENS: Completion, end of a cycle.
Using this information, you can already get a sense for a card's meaning. For example, the Seven of Pentacles could represent an assessment of resources or property. This card shows a woman looking at the fruit on a tree. She might be contemplating the work invested and comparing it to the harvest gained by that investment. The Three of Cups could indicate the achievement of relationships. This image shows three woman celebrating the joy of their friendship.
While the numbered cards show different situations of everyday life, the court cards bring personality to these situations. They can represent other people or the querent (the person asking the question). Because real people are complex, the court cards usually represent just a facet of a person-the part of the person engaged in the particular situation being inquired about.
PAGES: Novices, eager and enthusiastic but sometimes shallow; can indicate a message that the querent will receive.
KNIGHTS: Extremists, very focused (like a knight on a quest); can be unbalanced or fanatical; may represent a fast-moving situation.
QUEENS: Mature and reflective; one who nurtures others; can be prone to obsession.
KINGS: Mature and expressive; one who organizes and controls external matters, sometimes at the expense of internal or personal matters.
Put your Minor Arcana cards in numerical order. Look at each one and connect the image on the card to the associations of the suit and the number as described above. Write your observations in a notebook.
Note whether the connections were obvious or subtle. Also note whatever details grab your attention.
Write down why a particular image intrigued you and how it affects the meaning of the card for you.
Lay out your court cards. Think about the personality represented on each card. Match that card with someone in your life, noting the particular behaviors, characteristics, or habits that caused the connection in your mind.
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana are made up of twenty-two cards,
numbered zero through twenty-one. Just as the minor suits have an elemental association, so does the Major
Arcana; it is connected with the element of Spirit. In addition to being numbered, the Majors are also named as follows:
0 The Fool
I The Magician
II The High Priestess
III The Empress
IV The Emperor
V The Hierophant
VI The Lovers
VII The Chariot
IX The Hermit
X Wheel of Fortune
XII The Hanging Man
XV The Devil
XVI The Tower
XVII The Star
XVIII The Moon
XIX The Sun
XXI The World
The names give some indication of the meaning. For example, the Hermit means taking time to retreat from the world and look inward. The Star brings hope and guidance, a light to follow through otherwise dark times.
List the meanings or associations that come to mind simply based on the name of each Major
The Fool's Journey
Just as dividing the Minor Arcana into suits and learning about the suit and numerological associations provide a brief overview and introduction to these cards'
meanings, learning the Fool's journey helps introduce us to the Major Arcana. The twenty-two Major Arcana cards depict a journey through life, a journey of self-development and spiritual growth. We all start as the Fool, the first card of the Major Arcana, though all our journeys are different.
To visualize the Fool's journey, lay out the cards,
placing the Fool alone at the top. Then lay out the rest of the cards, in numerical order, underneath the Fool in three rows of seven (1-7, 8-14, and 15-21).
1. The first row shows the steps we go through in our basic development from birth to young adult and in learning how to live in society.
2. The second row illustrates the universal laws or rules of society that we must confront, question,
and come to terms with; it also is about discovering who we are.
3. The final row is our spiritual development.
THE FOOL: The Fool marks the beginning of the journey as an archetypal child, unformed and unlearned,
innocent and eager.
THE MAGICIAN: The Magician represents the male principal or animus. This is our active or outgoing energy, our skills and abilities in terms of the outer world. In basic terms, it is how we do things and how we learn.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS: The High Priestess embodies the female principal or anima. This is our passive or introspective energy, our skills as they relate to our inner world and self-reflection. In short, this is how we think or feel about things and what we know intuitively.
THE EMPRESS: The Empress represents the Mother archetype and our experience with mothering, nurturing,
emotions, and our creative impulse.
THE EMPEROR: The Emperor represents the Father archetype and our experience with authority, reason,
THE HIEROPHANT: The Hierophant is our formal education within our society, including school, religious training, and cultural traditions.
THE LOVERS: In a word, adolescence-our experience of hormones, sex, and our sense of self.
THE CHARIOT: The Chariot illustrates the ability to see both sides of an issue; it marks the ending of the
"but that's not fair!" stage.
Once we have synthesized these archetypes into our sense of self, we are usually pretty well prepared to participate in society. Sometimes we incorporate some of these elements better than others. For example, if someone "has issues with her mother," she may not have dealt very effectively with the Empress.
STRENGTH: Strength is where we learn to control our instincts and impulses, where we master ourselves and develop self-control. We may want to party all night, eat the entire buffet, or shop until our credit card reaches its limit, but we realize that it is probably best if we do not indulge all these desires.
THE HERMIT: This is us feeling the need to "find ourselves." We turn inward, questioning all we've learned, and try to find a sense of inner peace.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE: Just when we feel centered and balanced, our resolve is tested by a spin of fate.
Something happens beyond our control or our ability to foresee.
JUSTICE: In the aftermath of the spin of fate, we find out how we fared, and realize that we reap what we sow. If we were well prepared, we come out perhaps shaken but okay. If not, we may need to revisit the
Hermit phase of the journey-or move on to . . .
THE HANGING MAN: The Hanging Man shows us the strength and power of letting go and enjoying the view from a different perspective. This card also shows us the importance of sacrifice. Some things are worth sacrificing for and maybe we really can't have it all-at least not the way we planned.
DEATH: Just when we get comfortable hanging on by a thread, we are faced with a major change in our lives. This can be any major change, positive or negative:
an unexpected promotion, the ending of a relationship,
moving to a new place.
TEMPERANCE: After coming through a transformational experience, we learn graceful balance and tolerance.
We learn to adapt to changes in circumstance while maintaining our center, our sense of self.
We have come through a very difficult phase of our development.
We have faced Death in some guise. We've learned to maintain ourselves, to adapt to circumstances,
to not rail against the seeming unfairness of the universe. What more could we possibly have to do?
THE DEVIL: Balanced, strong, and confident, now we are asked to confront our shadow selves, the dark aspects of ourselves that we fear and that may control us in subtle ways. These may be aspects that we learned to control or repress in the Strength card.
This worked well for a while, before we had the knowledge and experience not just to ignore and repress these aspects. Now we need to revisit them,
learn to appreciate the positive qualities they can bring to our lives, and synthesize them appropriately.
THE TOWER: Although we feel we've got ourselves under reasonable control by now, the universe reminds us that we are not in control of everything.
The Tower gives us a bolt from the blue that shakes our very foundation. This may differ from the
Wheel or Death in that rather than disrupting the external circumstances of our lives, the Tower shakes the foundations of our belief systems.
THE STAR: The Star provides us guidance, hope, and optimism after cataclysmic events, giving us the strength we need to rebuild our crumbled foundations.
THE MOON: While the Star guides us on our way,
the Moon teaches us to question everything and to realize that things are not always what they seem.
By the light of the Moon, we can lose our way or be distracted by enticing shadows. We can also have inspiring dreams. We must learn to tell the difference.
THE SUN: After wandering in the Moon, we emerge into the Sun with increased strength and self-awareness,
with the certainty that we know ourselves,
what we believe in, and what is real.
JUDGEMENT: The Judgement card calls us to a deeper spiritual realization. Often it is a call to action,
to share your knowledge or experience with others.
THE WORLD: This is the end of the cycle; we have learned all of our lessons and have achieved integration,
balance, and spiritual awareness.
Look at each Major Arcana card. Write down a situation or experience from your own life that reminds you of each step of the Fool's journey.