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Tarot 101 - What is Tarot?

Q bubble Sometimes I get a Facebook message or Tweet asking basic questions such as:

What is Tarot?

Isn't Tarot "spooky"?

I heard Tarot was "evil"...?

What are the cards like?

Must my first Tarot deck be given to me as a present?

Do I need to do anything special before opening my new deck?

How do I shuffle the Tarot?

Lost For those of us immersed in the world of Tarot, we sometimes forget that absolute Tarot beginners--or the merely curious--have no idea about the cards...what they are, how they can be used, what they look like and so on.

So Gina and I will be making Tarot 101 posts to help demystify the Tarot and bring clarity for those wanting to know more about the cards.  Below is the first in our Tarot 101 series.

What is Tarot?

Tarot eBook smallTarot, pronounced "tah-ROW" or "TARE-oh", is a set of 78 cards long associated with turban-clad fortunetellers or gypsies. However, in addition to divination, modern practitioners use Tarot for brainstorming, counseling, meditation, affirmations, creative writing and inspiration. Some Jungian psychologists even use the cards as a part of therapy.

The Tarot is made up of three distinct parts:

The Major Arcana: These 22 cards, originally called "Triumphs" in medieval Italy where they were used for a card game called Tarocchi, reflect universal archetypes. The Fool, The Magician, The Lovers, Wheel of Fortune and Death are some of the most recognizable cards of the Major Arcana. ("Arcana" is a word meaning "secrets"; thus, Major Arcana can be interpreted to mean "big secrets" or "large mysteries"--cycles and themes common everyone.

PCS 13 The Minor Arcana: These 40 cards mirror the numbered cards of a regular playing card deck. Instead of clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts, the Tarot Minor Arcana ("lesser secrets") suits often adhere to the corresponding suit pattern of wands, pentacles, swords and cups. The Minor Arcana cards reflect the everyday occurrences in our life--both the joyful and the sorrowful. The Wands are usually associated with the element of fire and passionate action, the Self and vocation. The Pentacles suit, associated with earth, covers the material world--money, health, home and possessions. Swords reflect the element of air and the realm of the intellect (including thoughts, judgments, decisions and conflict). Cups is the emotional suit, a world of dreams, notions, feelings, values and relationships.

The Court Cards: Similar to the face cards in a regular playing deck (minus four), these 16 cards are usually known by the page, knight, queen and king demarcation. Pages are youthful, Knights are energetic, Queens are nurturing and Kings are governing. Some Tarot readers interpret the court cards as actual people, while others feel these cards reflect facts of our personality--with several "faces" presenting themselves within a day.

To recap:

PCS Fool The 22 Major Arcana cards deal with the larger, univeral themes common to everyone--regardless of time, place or culture. They are:  The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement and The World.

The 40 Minor Arcana cards mimic the Ace-10 number cards of a regular playing card deck. In Tarot, the suit translation is: Clubs=Wands; Hearts=Cups; Diamonds=Pentacles; Spades=Swords.

Wands deal with vocation, calling, issues of the Self (self-esteem, self-regard, self-assurance, self-propulsion, etc.) and have a fiery, extroverted energy. Taken to an extreme, this enegy can be rambunctious, impetuous and aggressive. This suit may also be called Staves, Batons or Rods.

Cups deal with relationships and matters of the heart, as well as intuition and dreams, and have a soothing, calming energy. Taken to an extreme, this energy can be melancholic, escapist and pining. This suit may be called Chalices or Vessels.

PCS Wands Pentacles deal with the physical world of our bodies, environment, routine, tasks, possessions and money. Pentacles is a solid, stable energy. Taken to an extreme, this energy can be lethargic, sheltered and dull.This suit may be called Coins, Stones or Crystals.

Swords deal with the intellect, thoughts and communication. Swords energy is sharp, clear and straightforward. Taken to an extreme, this energy can be cutting, blunt and solemn. This suit may be called Blades, Arrows or Spears.

The 16 Court Cards are the "people" cards of the Tarot, usually named Page, Knight, Queen and King. However, these may be renamed, too--for example, Pages=Daughters, Knights=Sons, Queens=Mothers and Kings=Fathers. They can represent actual people that display the traits of the card, facets of personality or approaches.

-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot

Card images from the Smith Waite Tarot Centennial Edition deck, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

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