Thursday, January 10, 2008

Welcome to Tarot 101!

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I'm not a tarot expert. I am not a gifted psychic. I am self-taught at tarot and thought it would be fun to share with you how I learned tarot. There are much better teachers and tarot readers out there, but I think this is a good place for a beginner to get his or her feet wet. I've tried to create a very safe space for new readers who, like me, don't deal well with overly critical, know-it-all teachers who have no patience for those of us who need to learn at our own pace.

Speaking of patience, I have no patience for the history of tarot. There are hundreds of resources, probably thousands, that can give you that kind of information. If you want to know the history of tarot and how it came to be, you've come to the wrong place. If you want a practical, no-nonsense (well, maybe a little nonsense) introduction to using the tarot in your life, then you have found that place.

A lot of my suggestions, ideas, and theories fly in the face of what some tarot experts believe is right. And I may be dead wrong about a lot of things. But what is most important to me when learning tarot is demystification and the idea that there is no absolute truth about how the tarot should be used. Just because someone with certs out the wazoo says a thing is true, that is no reason to believe them. Test what you are told, don't swallow someone else's truth until you've seen it work for you as well and, even then, accept that truth as your truth, not THE truth. It's when we workers of these alternative tools for living and self-development start to believe that we know THE truth that we become downright dangerous.

I have few guidelines in my work and even fewer rules.

Consistent shuffling style
Knowing in advance what my spread is going to be
Do what works and set aside what doesn't--no matter how much someone else insists that what doesn't work for me must work for me.
Be open to new or different ideas about the tarot
Try those things that didn't work for me before every now and again. After all, as we learn and grow, things we didn't or couldn't understand before may eventually come to work quite well for us.
If what you're doing isn't working, then change it.
Remember that the tarot does not speak truth, per se. It may offer insight, guidance, perspective, and sometimes very clear revelation, but its answers are never to be perceived as TRUTH. Even when those answers prove to be true later on down the road. Its answer are to be factored into our plans and decisions, but not to be that on which we base our decisions. Like any good oracle, the tarot, in my experience, has a tendency to reveal to me or those I'm reading for what I/they need to know right now, not necessarily what is true.

Do no harm.
Carefully research every tarot deck I want before purchasing it.
There is no such thing as too many tarot decks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A note on how to use these lessons

These lessons are "backposted" meaning that the newer the post, the farther you'll have to scroll through this blog to find it. I wanted the lessons to be in sequential order, like lessons in a book, and that's why I backposted all of them. Use the syllabus in the column to the left, if you like, to help you navigate the lessons, exercises, and various subjects discussed in Tarot 101.

Please feel free to pester me all you like with questions about the lessons or issues that arise as you are learning to read the cards. I love talking tarot.

I'm also over at Free Tarot Reading if it's a tarot reading you are interested in receiving, not doing. I don't charge for anything here, I just enjoy talking tarot, teaching tarot, and reading tarot.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tarot Lessons 1 & 2 -- Demystification and Where To Begin

There are some excellent websites that teach tarot for free, see below, but if you find you could use some one on one guidance, drop me a line. I really enjoy teaching tarot and it keeps my feet wet with the cards. I live in a remote community and don't get to use my cards much here. Getting to teach tarot online is a real treat for me and I won't hit you up for money or donations or any of that mess. I'm not adept enough with the cards to be taking people's money for tarot lessons!

Farther down are tarot lessons that you may use if you like. If you'd prefer to have someone take you by the hand and teach you, just let me know. If you'd like to work with the lessons I have here and with me personally via email and/or comment, that's okay too. I'm all for helping you learn tarot in a way that most suits you.

Free Tarot Courses Online: Learn Tarot at and

Lesson 1: What tarot isn't... it's not magical. It's not a tool of Satan. It's not occult. A tarot deck is a set of 78 cards, usually, with illustrations on them. It's really very similar to a playing card deck. And, by the way, a playing card deck can be used just like a tarot deck, but it's not nearly as pretty or as fun. The illustrations on a tarot card are archetypal (like the image of a woman with a blue cloth draped over her head and holding a baby is the archetypal image of the Virgin Mother, no one wonders who she is, we all know) and have no hidden power from dark sources.

When it comes down to it, tarot artwork are simply images, their significance is really up to you. I like to use this analogy: A tarot deck is like a set of mirrors, each mirror reflecting back just a small aspect of the human experience. Cards in a tarot deck can also be compared to lenses, each one allowing a different view.

Drawing random cards and looking at your life or specific issues of your life through these "lenses" can allow you a perspective you might not have been able to achieve otherwise. For this reason ANYONE can read tarot cards. You don't have to be psychic to use the cards. You can invoke whatever deity or power you like when shuffling and drawing tarot cards, if any. If you are looking for divine inspiration or answers, you can invoke the god or higher power of your own understanding to speak to you through the cards... or through weather patterns, or through chicken guts, or through numbers, or through other signs that are significant to you.

So, you see, tarot cards do not hold their own power or magic. They are just paper with colorful pictures on them. The only power a tarot deck has is the power you permit it to have.

Lesson 2: Where to begin. If it's not too late and you are really really really new to tarot, don't crack open your tarot books yet! And don't look at your LWB. LWB = Little White Book. The LWB is the companion book that comes with nearly every tarot deck. This book may be very small--a literal LWB, or it might be a larger book.

There are two halves to a tarot deck. They are not equal. There is the major arcana, which are usually numbered from 0 to 21 and tend to have more to do with the karmic aspects of life. This is a guideline, not a rule.

The minor arcana is just like any poker deck except the cards have pictures. There are four suits and they are numbered from 1/Ace to 14/King. After 10, it's usually Page, Knight, Queen, King but this does vary in some decks. Sometimes it's Princess, Prince, Queen, King, and sometimes it's even more different from that. Either way, there are still 56 of them.

Minor Arcana tend to have more to do with every day life, but this too is only a guideline. If you apply the rest of this lesson to your tarotcation, you will really surprise yourself. Get a notebook. Open it up and write down the first card you want to work on. Let's say it's 0/The Fool. If you like, you can tape a photocopy of The Fool into your notebook. Some people buy an extra tarot deck for this purpose. Underneath the image (if you've taped one in) write down what you think of the card. Write your initial impressions. Then start looking at the different symbols in the card. What do they mean to you, if anything? What does your intuition whisper to you about this card? What does it remind you of? Do the people on the card seem happy, sad, wistful, mournful? Are the colors positive, tranquil, angry, dark, negative? How many living things are on the card? What do these living things seem to be doing? How does it compare to the card that came before it (if it was in the same suit/arcana/sequential order)? How do you feel about the number of the card? In other words, do you like 0's? Or Sevens or whatever number the card may be?

Now, turn it upside down and look at it as if you haven't seen it before. Ask yourself all the same questions. You might notice things about this card reversed that you didn't notice about it when it was upright (a.k.a. "dignified"). Write all this stuff down. Then leave plenty of room for future notes. Go on to the next card. Do the entire deck this way, relying only on your intuition and feelings about the cards you are looking at. If the card doesn't speak to you and all you can write about it is, "There are three coins floating in the air above a stupid looking guy," that's okay. But don't cheat! Leave the books alone! Only when you have gone through all the cards this way do you crack open a tarot book.

This is when it gets interesting! You'll be so proud of yourself for how close your descriptions come to what's in the books. And every book differs, by the way. But we'll get to that in a bit. On other things you may feel silly because you didn't recognize some symbol for what it was meant to be, yet you may notice things that the books never mention. And if you had known what it was "supposed" to be, you might have missed out on something!

Now and forever more whenever you see that card you'll remember what You thought of it first, not what someone else said about it. And your impressions are always going to be the most important. Once you've corrupted your vision of the cards with what someone else has said, you can never go back. Doing this exercise before you get too "tainted" by the opinions of others is a golden lesson in learning tarot. It's a lovely gift you can give yourself.

I'm working on a New Tarot Journal l right now, perhaps you'll find it useful. It's been awhile since I created one. I feel that it's important to keep updating my tarot journal because the longer I continue reading, the more I learn. And what I thought I understood about tarot two years ago may be very different today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lesson 3 -- Tarot Books

Lesson 3: So, maybe you've set up your journal and made a bunch of notes based on your own feelings and intuition, maybe you haven't. If you haven't and don't intend to, that's okay. Learn your way, by all means. With or without your personal tarot book, it's time to crack the books!

I recommend two tarot books in particular, although these aren't by any means the best/only books to use.

Tarot for Beginners by P. Scott Hollander because I really like the way she works numerology into tarot reading. I found it helpful without being complicated at all. Especially since I don't know numerology. I also have her book on handwriting analysis and am slowly working my way through it. The author puts a lot of thought, energy, time, and experience into her writing.

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack is the undisputed bible of tarot.

If you are looking for some good tarot resources, check out tarot books at Amazon and and read the reviews carefully. I've been lead to many good books through the reviews at both sites. But you don't have to go buy any books. You can just use whatever books you can find that you can afford or borrow from the library. Also, your LWB will be helpful now. Every book on tarot is going to have a different view of tarot, take what works for you and keep your mind open to what may not work for you now but might work very well in the future.

You will find a wealth of information and opinion on tarot meanings online, you don't even have to own a tarot book to learn tarot with the world wide web at your fingertips.

It's important to keep in mind that every deck is different and so is every reader. There is no hard and fast rule to tarot design or to tarot card interpretation. What I recommend is that you, one card at a time, start looking through your books, your LWB(s), and surfing the net to find out some different views on the individual cards. Read through these resources and decide for yourself if they make sense to you. Take whatever descriptions, explanations, symbolism, and interpretations that make the most sense to you and add those to the tarot book you are creating for yourself, you can always add to or take from your book later. You can also apply your knowledge or books on astrology, symbolism, color, and numerology your tarot interpretations. You don't have to use these, but if those things have meaning for you and work for you, then go for it!Using a three ring binder as your tarot journal is helpful here, allowing you to take from or add to your interpretations easily. I created three different tarot books this way as well as an online blog. Here's what I discovered about studying tarot books and symbolism. It gives you a base for understanding that is vital, unless you are one of those who are naturally gifted with the tarot and find that you don't need help to understand what the Universe is trying to tell you through the cards. Me, I needed help. I committed keywords for individual cards and their numbers to memory. I studied the cards upright and reversed. I learned, memorized, read, and studied. And then one day it started to all come together. I had a basic understanding of the cards, of what they meant to me, and now I don't need all that stuff I learned anymore. But I needed it in the beginning. After awhile the cards will speak to you. Until that time, it is really good to have a frame of reference (a book, your book, the LWB). The other good thing about learning all of this stuff, and yes, it takes time, is that even when the day comes that the cards are speaking to you quite clearly--you'll find yourself stumped. And you'll be glad that somewhere in the back of your mind are the basics you learned about tarot. You'll have to call on that one day. It's the foundation of your tarot work and while in years to come you won't give it much thought, it will always be at the base of your work.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Breaking down a card -- Ace of Swords

To the left is the Ace of Swords from the The Goddess Tarot. This could be the Excalibur card, couldn't it? A sword has been driven into the ground and awaits the right person to come along and pull it back out again. That's one way to view it, anyway. But keep reading to see another take on this card. Note that there are pyramids in the background, the land seems dry and cracked, and this sword sticks out from the parched land slightly askew. There's an ankh on the sword. In the Goddess Tarot, the suit of swords is given an ancient Egyptian theme.

Let's break this card down. To me, this card says that someone has come home, or perhaps has just woken up, to see what has become of their land. This person has thrust her sword into the ground and has sworn, "As God as my witness, I shall never eat carrots again!" Okay, bear with me. What I mean is that she's had it with the desolation and is bent on changing things. By thrusting her sword into the ground she is making her stand. The sword is askew, suggesting movement--forward hopefully. The ankh is an ancient symbol for life. Consider that a sword bearing the symbol of life has been "planted" in desolate land. The owner of this sword is planting new things, new life.

If you go back to the Excalibur analogy, one might see this card as a hint from the tarot to take new action. But this will all fall into place during an actual reading. You may draw this card for three different people and see it three different ways. (To the right is the Ace of Swords from the Hanson Roberts Tarot, notice how different it is compared to the other?)

Traditionally, swords represent thought, action, and logic. Aces represent newness and/or youth. So the Ace of Swords could be seen as representing new action.

When I reverse the card, it appears to me as if this sword is piercing the land. You may see it differently, it's just what I see. It doesn't matter what I see, all that matters is what you interpret. To me, when the card is reversed, the swords is like a thorn. It's as if there is a problem with things moving because of this thorn. A kink in the works, so to speak, and a rather problematic one. To me, this card reversed could represent interference or someone purposefully trying to cause pain or problems. To me, this card looks like pain when it is upside down. The words "beam in thine own eye" flutter through my head.

A word on reversals, it's important to learn them, but you don't have to read reversed cards. I don't. But getting to know reversals is important because sometimes you will draw a card in a reading and you'll just know that its negative aspects are what are going to apply in the reading. But we'll get to that later on.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lesson 4 -- Doing a reading

Please start small. Newbie readers confuse themselves starting out with spreads like the Celtic Cross (see right) which contain ten or twelve cards and that will just mess with your head. The Celtic Cross is very pretty, but it isn't always practical--not for a beginner anyway. In my experience, the fewer cards you draw per question the better. Now, not all tarot readers agree with this and many of them can use very complicated spreads to great effect. Yea for them and for you if you turn out to be one of those readers! I am not one of these readers.

My favorite spread is the Post-It Spread which uses the fewest cards per question or per aspect of a question. I will explain this further in a bit.

To start reading, you will need a tarot question. Let me use a question I hear too often. "When will I meet my soul mate?"

I am not one of those tarot readers who can predict time with the tarot. It's not my gift. It can be done, you can experiment with it for yourself to see if the tarot will help you in that department. When I was working with timing in a tarot reading, I preferred to ascribe Cups to days, Wands to weeks, Coins/Pentacles to months, Swords to a year and Majors to unknown/undecided block of time. For time, it's best to ask "when" and draw one card for the answer trusting that the ONE card will tell you "when." But since experimenting with predicting time frames has not gone well for me, I don't attempt to do them anymore and perhaps you should consult another resource on the matter.
Instead of allowing my Questioner to ask "when" she'll meet her soul mate, I ask the tarot what she can do to make herself more attractive to the kind of partner she is seeking.

Let's say I've drawn the Three of Cups in answer to the question. This card would lead me to tell the Questioner to stop worrying so much and to, instead, start celebrating the love that is already in her life. The card suggests to me that the very fact that her happiness has become dependent on finding a partner is what is making her unhappy and this unhappiness, in turn, makes her less attractive to a potential mate. After all, what's more attractive? A happy person or a desperate one?

At this point I will also ask the tarot what is blocking her from finding a soul mate. This can be a very revealing question.
So my Questioner is not going to be very happy with me at this point, she just wants to know her future. She doesn't want to WORK at it. But I much prefer to do a reading that empowers the questioner by taking their future out of the hands of fate and helping them to see that they are the ones who manifest their destiny.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lesson 4a -- The Post-It Spread

Questioners a.k.a. Querents rarely have very clear questions for the tarot. An example of this is the woman who came to me recently worried about her son because he had suddenly become very religious and fearful of God and what would happen to his and her soul. She couldn't figure out where it was coming from and wanted to know what the tarot had to say. How do I ask the tarot THAT? That's where the Post-Its come in. Using one Post-It note for each question, I wrote the following on several sheets.

What does he fear?
Who might be influencing his thinking on this subject right now?
What does Mom need to consider about this situation right now?

I spread the Post-Its out on the table and considered them as I shuffled, trusting the Universe to spit out the right cards for the right Post-Its. I drew four cards, one for each Post-It. For me, "Oracle" is sort of a wild card, giving Source the option of sending me a message it knows I'll get.

Once I drew all the cards and considered them, I had the option of drawing more cards for each original card that I drew. These extra cards are often called Clarification Cards. If I don't understand what Source is trying to tell me on a particular question or aspect, then I draw a clarification card on top of that card. If that doesn't help, I know that I'm probably asking the wrong question.

Ultimately I ended up drawing about eleven cards on this issue because the cards that came up opened doors to more questions that helped us narrow down the issue and gave Mom some ideas on how to help her son. Having the Post-Its helped me keep track of what we were asking and what the cards represented.

Post-Its let you create a spread on the fly without having to remember what position represents what. You can lay them out very artistically, if you like. They help you narrow down the question like you'd narrow down a Google search.

Spreads are very personal and there is no right way to do a spread. Some look very fancy, others are quite plain. The Celtic Cross is very popular because it's so aesthetically pleasing and has a long history. I only use it when I'm working with someone who seems to need a big, pretty, fancy spread. Otherwise I prefer the more practical (for me) Post-It spread. Sometimes I rely on a simple three card spread, often ascribing the different meanings to the different positions:

Examples of what meanings I might use are:

1. Past, 2. Present, 3. Future. or
1. The heart of the matter, 2. what is desired, 3. what is suggested (by Source). or
1. What I want, 2. What I need, 3. What Source suggests I consider.

Sometimes no matter what spread you use, Source will have its own ideas about things. Pay attention, if the cards aren't making any sense it could be because the question that was asked is not the question Source cares to answer or it could be that you are asking the wrong question. When seemingly inappropriate cards come up, pay attention to them and see what message or story they may be trying to impart. Do they make you want to ask the Querent questions unrelated to the issue they are asking about? Then do! It's often the case that the Querent doesn't know or doesn't want you to know what they're really searching for. Be mindful of this and listen to your intuition as you view the cards you draw. If all else fails, ask the tarot what the Questioner is really concerned about or, ask the tarot what the Questioner should be asking.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Breaking down the cards -- Aces

These Aces are from the incredible Rohrig Tarot. Click on the image to see it much larger and more clearly. So few tarot decks have truly great artwork, this one does. My favorite touch being the notebook paper sketches and scribbles on every card. It adds something really special to the entire deck.

Aces=One. Aces denote beginnings, youth, newness, new approaches, new attitudes. Wands are about fire, passion, work enthusiasm, and I often associate Wands with friendliness. Cups are about emotions, love, feelings, the subconscious, water, and the sea. Disks=Pentacles=Coins. Coins are about the earth, material things, physical things, wealth, real estate, animals, and tactile things.

Starting with the Ace of Cups… in this deck I am always surprised that this isn’t a wands card because of the color and fire. Traditionally you will see red or “fire” colors associated with Wands. The artist who created this deck took a different tack with this card. There is a cup sitting on the sea, the woman seems to stand beyond the sea and to rise right out of the horizon. At the base of the sun that seems to burst from her you can see stars. The sea blends into paper on which is written words relating to the card. Not all of these words are in English but all of them relate to love and emotions. I suppose one could say that love and light is bursting forth from her heart. It’s a beautiful card even if I always have to do a double take to realize it’s not a Wands card. Looking at this card I see, simply, new love, new emotions, new attitudes about feeling/loving. If I reverse the card she seems to be almost swimming or diving into this ocean of red and gold. Her cup looks as if it could fall from what now looks like the light of the setting sun and into this ocean of emotion that she is diving into. I don’t know that in this deck I would interpret this as necessarily negative—that would depend, but it’s certainly a more powerful looking card when it’s reversed. She’s either falling into emotion (love) and/or she’s about to bite off way more than she can chew on an emotional level. This powerful ocean of feeling looks as if it could overpower her so easily.

Now we have the Ace of Wands. The wand on the card reminds me of a candle, although there is no wick. A feathery blossom of fire and fuscia spouts up from behind the wand. The paper has various messages of fire and empowerment written on it in various languages. A vast expanse stretches out behind the wand. There is so much possibility in this card. If I drew this card for someone I’d wonder what new enterprise they may have recently involved themselves in. Or, perhaps, I’d wonder what wonderful new empowering thing had just entered their life. When I reverse this card I am more aware of the abyss that sits at the bottom of this card—although it’s at the top now. The flame and fuchsia seems to be shooting at me rather than up in a celebratory way. The wand doesn’t look like it has anything to stand on anymore, now it looks more like a projectile than a candle. Even the paper appears to just be starting to burn in the center behind the candle. I see this card in this deck very negatively. You may see it differently. It doesn’t matter what I see. All that matters is what you see and what it means to you. But to me, reversed, Rohrig’s Ace of Wands looks like directionless, reckless energy. It also looks a bit like a face. The wand becomes a long nose, the hills become eyes, the fire and fuschia are like some kind of flaming facial hair. This has no particular meaning to me now, but it's important to note this kind of thing because, one day, someone may ask you to draw a card asking what, say, the burgler who robbed their house looked like and you'll draw a card like this and you'll remember, "Oh, yeah, this does look like a face... and this card doesn't make sense here except for this face... hmmmmm."

The Ace of Disks looks like a calm, cool salve after the reversed Ace of Wands. The cold rock mountain and the expanse of ice stretching beyond it are symbolic of the earth element that Coins nearly always represent. A man stands on the top of the rock mountain looking up at a bright and shiny star. Messages of success in various languages are written on the paper. The man has his eyes on his goal, in his mind he has reached a pinnacle of success, and he’s going to live into that vision. This card is an extremely good omen for material success. Reversed I am much more conscious of the Disk set into the stone. It holds my eye. I’m more conscious of how hard and barren the rock is. The man looks so small now. But the star is still there shining it’s beautiful light upon him. The possibilities are still there, but they may be more difficult to realize now. Reversed cards often indicate delays or that things will be more difficult than we had hoped or planned. All is not lost with the reversed Ace of Disks, but maybe more difficult.