The very first time I handled a tarot deck, I somehow knew that while the cards were pieces of paper with pictures on them, I also knew that they were much more. I knew that through the cards secrets could be revealed and entire worlds could be discovered.
Despite being comprised of a finite number of cards, seventy-eight to be exact, tarot opens us to an infinite universe, both within and without. A newcomer can be overwhelmed by the vastness of the tarot landscape. In addition to the general "bigness" of it all, there is that delightful, freeing aspect of tarot that can also be the bane of a beginner's experience: there are very few hard and fast rules with tarot.
A Few Simple Questions
This truth shapes the first phase of learning tarot. The tarot is a mirror, and a tarot reading is a reflection of one's worldview, a glimpse of a belief system. Before you progress very far in your tarot studies, it helps to know what you believe in. Let me explain.
What you believe in will help you answer or decide many of those things for which there are no hard and fast rules. For example:
- Should you let other people touch your cards? The answer depends on what you believe about energy, its transference in the physical realm, and how it affects how tarot answers questions.
- Can the tarot predict the future? The first question here is: do you believe that the future can be predicted? If so, to what extent? If so, through what means and to what end?
- How do we get answers from tarot? Where do you think the answers come from? Why? How? These you must answer for yourself. Tarot is a tool, but it is also a metaphor. What you believe about it reflects your spiritual worldview and shapes how you will ultimately use the cards.
Questions like these are sprinkled throughout Tarot for Beginners, and are one thing that sets this new edition apart from the old one. I think being clear on your spiritual belief system is really the most important step a new tarot student can take. It creates a solid foundation on which to build your practice. This is not to say that there won't be growth and change as you work with tarot, but you need to be grounded in something, to start from somewhere.
The Card Meanings
The bulk of learning tarot, and in some ways the most structured part, is becoming familiar with the card meanings. There are many ways to do that. Because my goal in Tarot for Beginners is to get my readers doing readings with skill and confidence as quickly as possible, I focus on the card images. Also, I think the images are key to reading. Dreams and symbols are how our subconscious talks to our conscious mind. Similarly, the images and symbols on the cards build a bridge between our heart and our mind. There is a reason we are so drawn to the art in the tarot cards. The images move our souls and trigger our imaginations, letting us see answer and possibilities that eluded us previously.
Tarot for Beginners explores traditional card meanings through the art of three different decks: the Universal Rider Waite Tarot, The Legacy of the Divine Tarot, and the Shadowscapes Tarot. This approach helps the reader learn not only traditional meanings but also how to actually see the images and read the symbols.
Each card is given a "core meaning," which may be a single word or a short sentence. Then there is a short paragraph expanding on the core meaning, followed by an examination of the three different images. Here's an example:
The Nine of Wands
Core meaning: Preparing for the next challenge
While this card doesn’t depict the most pleasant of experiences, it does depict something powerful, beautiful, and honorable. In this card, we find the element of wands, fire, at its best, representing the strength of the human spirit. This is a card of having been tried by fire and made better for it. Reliance, strength, patience, vigilance, courage, and wisdom are hard-won virtues. But there is also a certain sadness to the card, an expectation of a renewed attack. The Nine of Wands indicates that the person in question [the querent] has been through a hard time, has survived, and has become stronger. It also says that the person is expecting and ready for another challenge. Whether or not that challenge will actually materialize is not indicated by this card [and should be determined from other cards in the reading].
.In the Universal Waite card, the wounded figure has regrouped. He watches the horizon and waits for what is to come without illusions and with the resolve to face it as best he can. The focus of this card is quiet, patient readiness and total self-reliance.
The Legacy card shows a powerful figure kneeling in the light of the moon and the light of the wands beside him. The tip of the wand he holds glows red, representing the passion and strength of his will. And yet, for all his physical strength and intensity of will, the act of humbleness shows yet an even greater strength. His preparation for what is to come has less to do with watching than keeping himself in readiness through his devotions.
In the Shadowscapes card, a warrior and his troops wait and watch. Filled with resolve, their wounds healed but not forgotten, they form a perfect picture of courage and vigilance.
It is my hope that by showing how the pictures convey and evoke the card meanings, my readers can read the cards more easily as they build their confidence and skills. I believe that experience reading is the best way to truly understand how the cards work. Many students put off reading for far too long, worried that they haven't memorized lengthy meanings and esoteric correspondences. All of that comes in time. But in the meantime, I want people to experience the cards in action.
Putting it All Together
Understanding the individual cards is a large part of the learning curve, but then the cards must be woven together into a reading, a coherent message. The next part of Tarot for Beginners shares activities that help hone those skills, by showing, for example, how to use the numbers on the cards and associations of the suits to give an overall flavor or theme to the reading or to add detail in terms of timing or energetic influence.
The reader is also given experiments that allow her to interact with the cards, such as:
What's the Difference?
Go through your deck and select cards that seem similar. For example, the four aces; the four kings; the Tower, the Wheel, and Death; or the Two of Cups, Ten of Cups, and Ten of Pentacles. Consider all the ways in which the cards are the same. How are their meanings similar? More importantly, how are they different? Use a single question and interpret each of the cards you selected in turn as the answer.
The book ends with a few spreads. I do love spreads, but the realities of production concerns (that is, lack of space) prohibited including more. So, I am working on another book: Tarot Spreads for Beginners: Understanding, Using, and Creating Spreads.