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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Read Tarot: A Basic Guide

In the past several weeks, I have been approached several times from people interested in learning to read the Tarot. Many people are intimated by the tarot due to the mystery surrounding the cards. Some people may be interested in the Tarot but the only thing they know about it is what they have seen in movies. They may be confused by the lack of clear history of the Tarot, the multitude of meanings assigned to the various cards, or they may not understand how the Tarot works. 

This entry is my effort to answer some of the questions a student of the Tarot may have based on my experiences with these individuals. Obviously I cannot answer all these questions in one blog entry, however I hope that it will serve as a start for those interested in reading Tarot Cards.

How I Learned to Read the Tarot

I was fascinated and intrigued by the mystique of the Tarot from an early age. I have vivid memories of Candice Bergen reading the cards as Morgan Le Fay in the 1985 movie Arthur the King. However, I think my biggest inspiration for wanting to learn to read the Tarot was Jane Seymour's portrayal of Solitaire in the 1973 film Live and Let Die. Within the movie, Seymour plays a tarot reader in the employ of a gangster who retains her prophetic powers so long as she remains a virgin. 

Throughout the late 80's to mid 90's TBS annually had a James Bond Movie Marathon and I always made a point to watch Live and Let Die. However, it wasn't until the summer of  1991 that I was given by first deck of Tarot Cards, the Rider-Waite deck. The deck came with the Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite and The Mystical Tarot by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

I spent the entire summer of that year memorizing all the meanings of each card (upright and reversed). I would study one card per day, memorizing its meaning and making notes in a notebook about the various colors found on the card, symbols, body positions of the figures on the cards, etc... Several times a day I would take my tarot deck and turn over the cards one by one reciting the meanings for each card for its upright and reversed positions that I had already learned, skipping those I had not yet learned. I did this every day for months as I continued to study the cards, until the various meanings were ingrained in my mind. 

The main problem with this strategy is that I tended to lock myself into using only those meanings which I had memorized and sometimes I found it difficult to interpret a card in relation to the spread or question asked with only those meanings that I had memorized. Once I learned to relax and let go of interpreting the cards within the rigid confines of the meanings I had memorized the information began to flow more easily.

I began reading the cards for myself using spreads such as the Three Card Spread (past, present, future) the Clock of Horoscope and the Celtic Cross. To gain more practice I would do absent-readings for public figures and make notes of my 'predictions' for that person. There was a Presidential election in November of 1991 and I vividly recall predicting that Bill Clinton (the King of Cups) would win the three-way race. Once I got comfortable reading for myself, I began reading for family and close friends before moving on to strangers.

How I Suggest You Learn Tarot Cards 

First, I suggest that you find a Tarot Deck with which you feel you have a close connection.  For me, that deck was the Rider Waite---however not everyone will feel called to work with this deck. The right deck should speak to your spirit on some level. The artwork will be pleasing to your eye and should not make you feel uneasy or uncomfortable. The deck will feel right in your hand and emanate a positive energy. 

While there are "traditional meanings" associated with each of the Tarot cards that are generally accepted by the Tarot community, they are not necessarily the correct ones. These meanings are simply associations that previous writers have assigned to them and later writers simply repeated them. Therefore, I do not suggest that you go out of your way to memorize these traditional meanings however it would probably be a good idea to familiarize yourself with them. I have provided two links on the bottom of this page that will assist you.

Since the tarot is a largely visual medium that speaks in the language of symbols, their various meanings are often subjective to the individual. Therefore, rather than learning what someone else thinks a cards means, I would suggest the new student of the tarot begin their education by taking the Fool's Journey

The Fool's Journey 

The Fool's Journey is a metaphor for the journey of the individual through life. However it is also an allegorical story found in the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. It begins with 0 The Fool and each successive card represents a stop along that journey ending with 21 The World. In the study of the Kabalah, this is known as the Path of the Serpent and each card represents one of the 22 paths on the Tree of Life. The serpent (the seeker) sheds his skin (transformation) as it travels these 22 paths towards enlightenment.

The Fool's Journey also refers to an individual's study of the tarot. To take this journey you will need 1) a deck of tarot cards and 2) a notebook. Beginning with 0 The Fool and progressing through the Major Arcana and then the Minor Arcana, contemplate one card per day. In your notebook, you will want to take notes about the following things 

  • Picture of the Card
  • Description of the Card 
  • Symbols on the Card(animals, trees, mountains, etc...)
  • Dominant Colors 
  • Body Language
  • Facial Expressions
  • Activities being done

You can also make note of anything else that you notice or want to remember. Save room to add more information later. Whenever you're having trouble trying to decide what a card means for you, you may want to imagine yourself as one of the people in the cards. Put yourself in their place and imagine what you might be feeling and thinking if you were in their position. In other instances I've told students to imagine the specific card as a work of art hanging in a museum and think about what they believe the artist was trying to convey with the imagery of the card. 

I do not suggest that you contemplate more than one card per day. If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed with the study, it is perfectly all-right to skip a day here and there. However, once you start the journey I believe that it is important that you finish.

Once you have contemplated the entire deck, you can begin to do small readings for yourself. Keep your notebook near you for reference and write down anything new that you learn about a card during the course of your readings. Once you get comfortable reading for yourself, you can begin to try more advanced Tarot Spreads as you  move on to read for family and close friends. 

Carolina Dean 

PS: If you are a member of Facebook and would like to learn more about the Tarot, please consider joining the Carolina Dean Fan Page. Beginning this Friday, October the 15th we will be taking the Fool's Journey as a group.  I, along with other students and readers, will be commenting on the cards and offering our insights into their various meanings.

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