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Tarot decks

The Tarot

If you're interested in witchcraft, you'll eventually become curious about Tarot (pronounced TAR-O) cards.

There are literally hundreds of different Tarot decks.   My own personal favorite deck is the Universal Waite (the Royal Fez Moroccan deck is a close second).   It uses the same artwork as the Rider-Waite deck, but with slightly softer colors.   The Rider-Waite deck was first printed in 1909, and it is only the second Tarot deck in which the Minor Arcana bore allegorical drawings (the first was the Sola Busca deck).

One of the most interesting "alternative" tarot decks is called the Tarot of the New Vision.   It utilizes the artwork of the Rider-Waite deck, but from a 180-degree different viewpoint (you get to see what's behind The Magician, for instance ... it's a little costumed monkey).

The full (traditional) Tarot deck has 78 cards.   Twenty-two of them constitute the "Major Arcana" (arcana is a plural word which means "mysteries" or "secrets"), which includes The World, The Chariot, The Hierophant, The Magician, The Fool, The Sun, The Moon, The Lovers et al.   The "Minor Arcana" (the other 56 cards) are similar to a regular deck of playing cards in that there are four suits: wands, pentacles, cups, and swords.   The cards run as follows: Ace, 2 through 10, the Page, the Knight, the King, and the Queen.   Four suits with 14 cards; 14x4=56.   56+22=78 cards in all.

We are told that the four suits of the Tarot deck correspond to four classes of Medieval society: Cups are the priesthood; Pentacles (coins) are the merchants; Wands (rods) are the farmers or peasants; and the Swords represent nobility.

And there are other correspondences for the Tarot suits.

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are more dramatic and evocative than the 56 cards of the Minor Arcana.   Some people use only the Major Arcana in divination ("readings").   I myself use all 78 cards.

Tarot Trivia

Of the 78 cards,

34 of them have a lone male figure (The Emperor, the King of Swords, the Seven of Pentacles, etc.).

11 of them have a lone female figure (The High Priestess, the Queen of Cups, the Nine of Pentacles, etc.).

10 of them have a lone figure of doubtful gender (The Sun, the Two of Swords, etc.).

15 of them contain multiple human figures (The Lovers, The Devil, the Four of Wands, etc.).

8 of them have no human figures at all (the Ace of Cups, the Eight of Wands, etc.).

Some modern decks ("modern" meaning that they were created after 1910) have more than 78 cards because they add female versions of the Knight and/or the Page to each suit (such as a "Princess" card).

There are (at least!) three ways to do Tarot readings:

1. Read all the books you can about the cards and their meanings.   Go strictly by the "official" meaning of each card.   If your book says that the Five of Wands means "unsatisfied desires, struggle, strife, labor, and obstacles," then that's what it means, without exception.   Use a traditional "spread" (such as the Celtic Cross) when you lay down the cards.

Actually, there may not be such a thing as an "official" traditional meaning for each Tarot card.   The American Tarot Association says that "no definitive 'key' to the meaning of any Tarot card exists, because meanings assigned to Tarot cards vary from book to book and user to user."   However, serious Tarot students agree that the oldest traditional meanings will be found in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite, first published in 1910.   It is available through Barnes & Noble, or you can read the entire text online if you wish.

The problem that most of us have with The Pictorial Key to the Tarot is that for some of the cards it gives alternate meanings that seem to be contradictory, and is written in an archaic and obscure style.   One website says that that A.E. Waite "writes in a ponderous, turgid style that hints at much and reveals little.   It is an exercise in perseverance to finish the book, and one ends not particularly better off for the process[.]"   And David Allen Hulse (in The Key of It All, Book Two: the Western Mysteries) says that "Waite was extremely long-winded, obtuse, and contradictory in expressing his opinions concerning the Tarot[.]"

Believe it or not, one of the best modern books on the subject is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tarot and Fortune-Telling (Alpha Books).   You'll have to overlook the fact that the authors occasionally use "archetypes" from The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

Be aware that there are many, many books available on the subject of Tarot reading.   Some of them set you up so that it is impossible to give a "negative" reading.   In my humble opinion, this is essentially dishonest.   Not everyone's future is bright!

2. Do "intuitive" readings.   Open your mind, look at the cards as they turn up, and see what they seem to be saying to you.   Let your feelings guide you.

Forgive me for saying this, but I believe there are "readers" who opt for this method simply because they're too lazy to memorize a meaning for each card.

3. Give a nod to the "traditional" meanings of the cards (for instance, the Death card usually isn't negative; the Tower usually is), but use your intuition also.

I myself am a "number three" type of reader (back when I used to do readings).

Remember that the cards are YOURS.   An example: the Thoth deck drives some readers crazy because it has one-word "hints" on the bottom border of each minor arcana card.   Some readers simply take a pair of scissors and cut off the bottom of each card.

If you're thinking about buying one of the "replica of an ancient tarot" decks, remember that the minor arcana usually don't have illustrations (the Six of Wands is just six wands).   They won't tell you this in the ad; the ad will depict only the King of Swords and the Queen of Pentacles.


Key to the Tarot
(the meaning of each card)
Reading the Cards
Thirty-Six Deaths
(36 different versions of the Death card)
The Barbie Tarot Deck

The "Big Dog" Tarot Websites:
Aeclectic Tarot
Pictures and reviews of hundreds of tarot decks. This is the most comprehensive Tarot site on the web.
Alida
A source for hard-to-find decks.   Located in the Republic of San Marino.   I bought my Royal Fez Moroccan deck from them.

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