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What They Are and How To Use Them

A Little Warning
This article was originially published on my AOL Metaphysical website in 1996. Since then many others have stolen this article and published it on their site and claimed it as their own work. PagansPath does not authorize any other site to republish the articles posted here on this site. Unless I have expressly given permission to do so, in which case the article here will make it clear that authorization has been given. Anyone who has stolen this or any article from PagansPath is violating federal copywrite laws and is subject to prosecution. PagansPath has exercised this process on various occassions and will continue to do so as unethical people continue to steal our material.

The History of the Tarot - From Their Beginnings:
They are called the messengers of the Divine, the window to Universal Law and the sacred symbols of the higher consciousness. Whatever their auspicious synonym, the Tarot has been mentioned in ancient texts for 35,000 years. One such text, from the Hermetic Kaballah, tells of 108 stone tablets that lay beneath the ancient pyramids at Giza. 78 of these tablets are called the Exoteric Tarot, the remaining 30 are the ' Esoteric Tarot. This legend goes on to say, that one day these tablets will be uncovered and will explain the Universal Law and the soul's path through the cycle of rebirth.
Even though there is evidence that the Tarot has existed for thousands of years, the first known decks come from 12th century India. In India spiritual symbols were placed on small tablets and tied together with string. These spiritual belts were worn by priests and were often referred to for advice or in service to a parishioner.
The Tarot came to Europe during the Crusades. The Church strongly discouraged the use of these tools, and labeled anyone using them as a heretic. But soldiers of the crusades returned to Europe with these spiritual decks as trophies of war. It wasn't long until the modern European began creating their own versions of these religious decks, which were the forerunners to our modern playing cards. But unlike the spiritual symbols from India, the European decks depicted the current structure of their civilization, Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, and clergy were all part of these earlier decks.
It wasn't until the 16th Century that the Tarot really began it's invasion through the traveling Gypsy caravans. Most of these Gypsy's came from Indo-European homelands, bringing the essence of the Tarot back to central Europe. From there, the tarot grew and their popularity spread through out the world.
The Modern Tarot
Once the Tarot returned to it's spiritual essence, modern artists began replicating the cards with their own spin or interpretation. These early decks have been associated with the artists that created them, or at least inspired them. One of the most renowned was called the Baldini- Mantegna, named after the artist Mantegna who inspired their creation. This deck separated itself from other "religious" interpretations and encompassed a universal theme. It grouped the cards into 10 classes, the first 5 being:
  • The Celestial (the planets)
  • The Virtues (hope, justice, etc.)
  • The Sciences (Theology, astrology, etc.)
  • The Muses (Apollo, Clio, etc.)
  • The Conditions of Life (The Pope, the King, the Beggar, etc.)
As travel became easier and more extensive, different experiences began to influence the Tarot into the many different decks we see today. The most popular in this Century has been the traditional Rider Waite deck, named after the famous occult scholar Dr. Arthur Edward Waite who produced the deck in 1910.
The Tarot Decks of Today:
In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite encouraged Pamela Colman Smith to produce a tarot deck with appeal to the world of art that would have significance behind the symbols, and thus make the deck more important than tarot packs previously used for centuries. The result was the unique Rider-Waite Tarot deck, initially published in 1910. It has endured as the world's most popular 78-card tarot deck. The innovative cards, including the 56 Minor Arcana, depict full scenes with figures and symbols. Pamela Smith's ability to capture the subtleties of emotion and experience, has made the Rider-Waite Tarot the basis for the designs of many 20th Century packs.
Modern Tarot decks typically contain 78 cards which are divided into two sections.
The Major Arcana:
Depicts the path or journey to enlightenment. These cards begin with the Fool, numbered 0 and end with the Universe numbered 21 (22 cards).
The Minor Arcana:
Depicts the fabric of life, the actions and values of existence. The Minor Arcana is separated into four groups, each group depicts an overall essence of life, physical or spiritual. The following are the most common groups in a tarot deck and how they relate to the modern playing deck. Many new artists are designing their own decks and some of these groups maybe substituted for other symbology. There are 14 cards to each suit.
WANDS = Clubs Represent the essence of Enterprise & Inaction, Inspiration & Pessimism, Distinction & Disregard.
CUPS = Hearts Represent the essence of Emotions & Apathy, Happiness & Despair, Abundance & Lack.
SWORDS = Spades Swords represent Strength & Weakness, Struggle & Endurance, Animosity & Respect.
PENTACLES = Diamonds Represent the essence of Finances & Debt, Possessions & Trappings, Business & Self  Interests.
Why Use the Tarot for Divination?
Divination means from the Divine, the bases of any Tarot lies in it's spirituality. The images of the Tarot only serve as a reminder, a visual connector from your conscious mind to knowledge you already have in your higher spiritual essence or soul mind. The sequence of cards is like an unfolding process to the psyche in its quest for unity with the universe. The cards aid the psyche to focus, concentrate and guide the energy needed to make this connection. The series of images depicted by the cards link our psyche with the process of initiation. "As initiates we start anew each time we question our direction or seek a higher level of awareness and understanding". The Tarot not only helps us find that understanding, but they also help us to question.
Choosing A Good Tarot Deck:
When you go shopping for your first deck of cards, you want to look for a few specific things. The major characteristic should be that each card in the minor arcana is unique or has symbology that sets it apart from the other cards in the suite. One of the best examples of this is the Rider-Waite deck. When you perform your divination, you want to see as much detailed symbology in the 'pictures' of the card as possible. If the suites in your deck are identical and the only difference between two cards are one has 3 swords the other 4, than you will not get an accurate or detailed reading from the spread. This is very important, I can not emphasize enough the value that symbology plays on the divination of the cards. Even if the only difference between one card to another is a back-ground color, that small difference can add valuable information to a reading.
The second thing you want to look for is a deck that easy to handle. Many new Tarot decks are being created as large cards that are difficult to shuffle and hold. If you don't feel comfortable with your deck, then you're going to have a hard time making a connection to it.
Lastly, if you plan on using your cards a lot and you really like the deck you've chosen, I suggest you buy two decks. Set the second one aside somewhere for future use. When your first deck begins to wear out through use, you'll always have a new deck waiting in the wings. Many people get attached to one specific deck and when the time comes to replace it with a new one, they are terribly disappointed to find that it's no longer in print or available. So plan ahead.
Meditation with the Tarot
Other than the obvious benefits of meditating with the Tarot, you can learn more about the cards by experiencing their individual energies, as well as, pull the positive qualities of each card into your own life. Each card contains a landscape, an event and objects to be interacted with. By focusing on one card and pulling that image into your meditation, you can learn and experience the sights, sounds and smells of that card.
In your meditation, examine the positive message the card represents. Does your life incorporate the qualities of that card? If not, try to feel the positive energy of that quality. Visualize your life with this quality in it. How would this quality change your life? Pull those images back with you from that meditation and consciously try to live them.
Introduction to Your Tarot
When ever possible, handle your Tarot deck. This doesn't mean you need to continually layout spreads, or conduct readings. Simply hold your deck, shuffle the cards, spread them on a table etc. This manipulation solidifies your energies to your deck. It helps your higher consciousness link with your deck and makes it easier for you to connect with the cards. Keep in mind a channel would never conduct a reading with an "un-seasoned" deck. Once you've connected with your deck, never let anyone else handle them. The only exception to this rule might be in allowing a client to cut the deck before laying out a spread.
Think of it this way. The deck is your connection to the divine. You are the person who is reading the messages within the cards, so your connection to them is what's important. The connection to the client is created through you. You are basically an extension cord. The source of energy comes from the socket in the wall (the Divine), it travels through the cord (you) and is delivered to the light fixture (the client). If you let someone else interfere with that flow of energy, then the connection can be tainted or not as clear for you.
There are several methods in storing your deck. Some practitioners, like Eileen Connolly, recommend that you keep your deck wrapped in a silk pouch and then inside a wooden box when not in use. Others suggest keeping your deck wrapped in any natural fiber, such as cotton or silk and keeping them with you. Personally I think it's up to the individual. They're your cards, and you need to feel comfortable with how they're handled and even how they're stored.
Preparing for Divination
As with storage, many experienced practitioners require a series of items to prepare for divination. Eileen Connoly suggests the following:
  • A wooden table to perform the divination
  • A silk scarf to cover the table
  • A second silk scarf to wrap the remaining cards not used in the spread
  • A wooden box to place the cards into after the deck is wrapped.

Some people may consider this to be overkill, but ceremonial rituals can help the channel relax and open up to the divine energies. Incorporate your own rituals, light a candle to symbolize the internal light of knowledge, clear the "reading" space with Sage and Cedar. Perhaps your more comfortable with cultures from the far east and prefer ringing chimes or a gong. The point is how you prepare and what you use is entirely up to the individual.

One thing you should always have is a small tape player to record your reading. Even if the reading is for yourself, the tape can help you review the messages you received. This way you won't be distracted by someone taking notes, or you won't have to stop in the middle of your own reading to write down what you think you see.
I had a student once who felt uncomfortable with talking out loud to herself when conducting a self reading. She decided to take her favorite stuffed animal and sit it at the table across from her. Now she was telling her "best friend" what she saw in the cards. She used the bear as her "proxy". Later she would play the tape back to herself. Because our own voices sound so much differently to us, for her, it was like listening to someone else giving her a reading. Through this method, she was able to "hear" the messages she needed.
What's important here is, that you must feel comfortable and secure, otherwise it may be difficult to get a clear message. If you need some more detailed help, you can try this Simple Process from start to finish.
Divination (The Spread)
There are just as many Spreads as there are Tarot channels. There are some basics that you should find in every Tarot book. The following are a couple of examples. But it's important to remember the style of the spread is entirely up to you. Try different layouts to keep yourself interested. If you get bored, you're likely to concentrate less and again, it maybe difficult to get a clear message.
Before you layout a spread it's important for you to give each card an intent. In other words, each card represents an aspect or time, thus the intent of the card in the spread has a specific meaning. In a traditional 3 card spread, the first card is usually for Past actions, the 2nd for Present events and the 3rd for Future consequences. So when you "make-up" your own spread, know the intent of each card before it's chosen and placed on the table.
How to Read a Spread:
Shuffle the deck several times. The client (if the reading is for yourself, you are the client) should focus on one question, situation or event. I like to ask the client what kind of spread they would like (ie: Past, Present, Future or a general overall view). Another technique is to ask the client to pick a number between 1 and 15, the number they choose will determine what type of spread you want to layout for them. But before any cards are drawn from the deck, you should have an idea of what you're going to layout and the intent being given to each card. Again, by intent I mean, the purpose of each card in the spread.
Let me give an example;
My client has chosen a past, present and future spread. As I select the cards from the deck and lay them on the table, I am projecting the purpose of the card on the card. I lay down the first card and say (out loud or to myself) "This is the Past" and so on until all 3 cards are on the table.
Your Interpretations vs. an Authors Interpretations
Many readers will layout a spread and then begin to decipher the exact meaning of the cards specified in a book or an accompanying pamphlet that came with the deck. By doing this, you the reader are limiting the information you could gain from all the symbology in the card. My suggestion and the best results I've seen in any reading by any practioner (novice or experienced) is to learn the general meanings of each suite and then throw away the books and encyclopedias.
Your psychic connection to your deck should determine the meaning of the card in any given spread. Your view and interpretation of the all the symbolic images on the card will give more valuable, accurate and detailed information for a client then any generic interpretation of a card listed in a book. Trust in your own abilities, not in an author who wrote some translation over 100 years ago. Remember, you are the psychic, you are the channel. So use your divine gift and allow that energy to flow through you.
How do you interpret the symbology?
Place the cards, face down, on the table in the same order they were selected and in the layout style you have chosen. Close your eyes, then as soon as your centered on the first card, turn it over and open your eyes. Focus on the first thing you see and make note of what it looks like or reminds you of. Don't look at the entire card, try not to notice it's the 2 of cups for instance, just focus on one specific symbolic image.

A card may have a cup pouring water out into a stream, but what you see is, water from a waterfall, pouring into a cup. In this example you may interpret the image as 'life is filling up your cup, replenishing you and giving you the gifts of life.' If the card was reversed, you might see water from the cup pouring out into the river. In this you might feel the message being given is 'life is pouring out, the energies are becoming depleted.

The point is, what you see and what you feel will determine the meaning of the symbolic images.

Next, concentrate on the images around that spot, moving outward until you can focus on the entire card. Continue this process until you've moved out to see the whole card. Then try to summarize all the symbols you picked up on.

For instance, building on the previous example of the you move your view outward you see a pyramid may interpret this as a symbol for a desert, you may get the feeling that the client has just come out of a desolate or dry period in their life, one with out feelings or emotions. So now, the waterfall filling up the cup takes on a new meaning. The waterfall of life, the universal stream is pouring into the clients life, adding meaning and emotions to their existence. Opening them up to a new growth period, after all you need water to grow veggies in your garden.

Use this method for each card in the spread. Once all the cards have been shown, try to put the overall meaning of the entire spread together. When you have examined each card and tried to interpret the meaning for yourself, check your divination against your accompanying book or pamphlet. Take notice at how much more information you gained by relying on your own instincts, how more accurate your reading is to the clients current situation. With each divination you will gain confidence, your abilities and interpretations will increase and become more and more accurate.

Common Spreads:
The following are the most common spreads, but you can visit Tarot Spreads for more patterns and ideas.
Daily Spread
The Daily spread can be used to layout your actions for the start of a day, you can gain insights or warnings before the day begins. Perhaps you should wear a business suite today for an unexpected visit from the boss. Or you can use this spread at the end of a day to review/explain any events that might have occurred. Perhaps you require clarification or additional information about an event that took place.

Crossing Challenge
This spread indicates the situation through the first card and any blockage that may exist through the second card. If the two cards are of the same suite, then the blockage maybe easily overcome.

The Past, Present and Future
This spread requires 3 cards, laid out from left to right. Typically a specific question is being addressed by this spread. The Past explains the situation and how it came to be. The Present explains the current status of the situation and any blockages that may exist. The Future explains any consequences and/or any additional influences that may play a part in the situation.
Celtic Cross
This is one of the most famous spreads and can be one of the most difficult to read. Each card in this spread has a specific intent which builds on the card before it. Connolly give a pictorial example of this spread and how it should be laid out (because this document is designed for generic email transmissions, this type of graphical examples is not possible).
1. The Significator: the present position of the situation.
2. The Crossing: existing influences or obstacles.
3. The Foundation: subconscious influences and the relationship of the questioner to the issue.
4. The Goal: the desired outcome of the issue.
5. The Past: influences in the recent or distant past which are still in operation.
6. The Future: influences that will come into manifestation.
7. The Attitude: present position and attitude of the questioner.
8. The Environment: influences from nearby energies or other people.
9. The Feelings: inner hopes, feelings or anxieties not expressed by the questioner.
10. Manifestation: the final result and culmination of the issue.
Closing Thoughts
Trust in your own abilities to tap into the wisdom and higher knowledge the universe has to offer. Everyone in the world is psychic, everyone! Some people are naturally attuned to their 6th sense, while others need to practice and work on making a connection to their higher knowledge. But once you become familiar with your abilities and can trust your own instincts, gaining information and knowledge from within you gets easier with each divination experience.
Additional Reading
Tarot - What They Are and How To Use Them
A Simple Process For Reading The Tarot
Tarot Spreads

Sources: 1, o58, o59, o60, o61
Created: 11.12.1996      Updated: 08.07.2010