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Introduction to the Tarot

By: Tracy Porter

Copyright 1999

It is not known exactly where and when the Tarot came into existence, but some believe that it originated in ancient Egypt and was brought to Europe by the Rom, or 'Gypsies', as they travelled to Europe from India. The oracle's first appearance in Europe seems to have been in the late 14th century, probably in Italy, either as a complete 78 card deck or two smaller decks that were later combined to form the version we use today. Because the Tarot was devised using principles of the Cabala, astrology and numerology, it is possible philosophical scholars of the day chose to encrypt esoteric secrets into the cards to preserve them during the impending atmosphere of religious intolerance. Regardless of how and why the Tarot came into being it has evolved into a powerful meditative and predictive tool that can help us find the answers we seek within ourselves.

The use of the Tarot is based on the principle of synchronicity, a term coined by Carl Gustave Jung, which refers to a meaningful coincidence that occurs without any apparent cause. Any experience that can be attributed to 'luck', 'chance', or 'being at the right place at the right time' is an example of synchronicity. Jung, a doctor who asked many religious, esoteric and spiritual questions while conducting his psychological research, felt nothing happened just by 'chance’ and believed that there is an underlying principle of the universe relating to this logical reality.

When we use the Tarot we are taking a 'chance' that the resulting spread will reveal some meaningful information that can help us in some way. On a physical level, the act of shuffling and drawing the cards is a random act that has no relevant meaning to the situation. On a spiritual or esoteric level, however, our higher consciousness will intuitively know the positions of the cards within the spread and thus guide the shuffling process so relevant cards are drawn and laid out in the proper sequence, thus giving meaning to the reading.

The Tarot is a valuable tool that enhances our creativity and problem solving capabilities. Too often we are not able to see viable alternatives or solutions to problems because we are so enmeshed in the situation we are enquiring about. The simple act of laying a spread forces us to separate ourselves from distractions and concentrate solely on the object of our enquiry. The Tarot allows us to explore alternatives we may not have originally thought of and shows the circumstance in a way that can reveal aspects of the problem we may have previously overlooked. The Tarot can show hidden agendas and solutions we may not have considered because we have become so deeply involved that we are not able to see the forest for the trees.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana is composed of 22 cards numbered from 0 to 21. It has direct relevance to the Hebrew Cabala because not only does the number of cards correspond to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but many of the cards suggest symbolism from the Tree of Life that forms the basis of much of the Cabalistic wisdom. The number of cards in the Major Arcana, 22, is also a master number in the science of numerology.

The Major Arcana depicts the different stages of life we must go through until our soul journey is complete. The journey begins with 0 - The Fool, and ends with 21 - The Universe. We all, at one time or another must go through each stage of the Major Arcana, but not necessarily in sequential order, as portrayed by the cards. Through the nature of our existence we will encounter several beginnings and endings throughout our lifetime, which are represented by the archetypes portrayed on the cards.

When performing a reading, the Major Arcana depicts matters relating to the soul, spirit or destiny of our lives that often indicate karmic themes we must experience. Whenever a card of the Major Arcana appears in a spread, special note of that card should be taken because it represents events that will tend to have a profound and lasting impact.

The Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana is thought to be a separate deck of 56 cards, which depict the more ordinary details that form a meaningful pattern around our lives. While the Major Arcana tends to portray profound, life changing events affecting our psyche, most of the cards in the Minor Arcana tend to be less dramatic and portray day-to-day, events.

The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards divided into four suits of 14 cards each. Each suit contains 10 numbered cards and four court cards. These suits correlate to the four basic elements of life, which are fire, earth, air and water.

The suit of wands represents the element of fire and the astrological signs of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. Fire brings life, love, romance and creativity into our lives. Cards in the suit of Wands tend to represent enterprise and distinction. There is generally a lot of activity and excitement in this suit by the very nature of its element. Traditionally, Wands represent energy, growth, animation, enterprise and glory. Because of the creative attributes of this suit, many also give Wands psychic and spiritual connotations as well.

The suit of pentacles represents the element of earth and the astrological signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. Earth brings practicality, materialism and a sense of service to our lives. Cards in the suit of Pentacles represent work, accomplishment, and the acquirement of wealth, materials and possessions. It also governs sensuous pleasures in life, such as good food, drink and sensual indulgences. Traditionally, Pentacles represents money, material gain and industry. This suit is totally necessary for a fulfilling spiritual life. Many assert that we must sacrifice our possessions in order to obtain spirituality. It should be noted, however, that if our physical necessities were not taken care of we would direct our attentions to satisfying them before we can even begin to ponder the more meaningful spiritual questions in this life.

The suit of swords represents the element of air and the astrological signs of Gemini, Libra and Aquarius. Air brings mental activity and intellect into our lives. Cards in the suit of Swords tend to depict thinking, communications, messages and making short trips. Because air is a communicative element it can often lead to arguments, gossip and strife. Because of its propensity for conflict, the suit of Swords is generally regarded as being unsettled, and there subsequently seem to be latent struggles and animosity present in many of the cards in this suit. Traditionally, Swords represent aggression, force, ambition, courage, strife and misfortune, but the negative aspects of the cards in the suit can be lessened by maintaining a positive attitude.

The suit of cups represents the element of water and the astrological signs of Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. Water brings pure love, sensitivity and intuition into our lives. Cards in the suit of cups tend to depict love, happiness, family, celebration, partnerships and commitment. This suit also represents intuition, emotion, fantasy and surrealism. Traditionally, cups represent love, happiness, emotion, fertility and beauty.