Since I started working with tarot cards a few years ago, I noticed that many people find them spooky and scary. They are afraid the cards will tell negative things about their future, or that someone will suddenly know all about their darkest secrets… And maybe this fear is not so strange, considering the striking names of the cards, like the fool, the magician, the devil, death and the wheel of fortune. But tarot doesn’t work like that. Like many old techniques, tarot is at your disposal for your personal development. So please come along as we enter yet another realm of spiritual development and dive into the complicated world of archetypical pictures of this strange set of cards called the tarot.
The tarot in a nutshell
Tarot cards are source of ageless wisdom. The oldest tarot decks are thought to be made somewhere in the 14th Century, but nobody knows for sure. On the cards are universal symbols that represent archetypical qualities that we all experience in our lives. The pictures and symbols on the cards stimulate your subconscience to read messages from the cards. They will give you ideas on how to handle a certain situation and show you if something is working out or not.
In her book Ask your Guides, American spiritual teacher and healer Sonia Choquette explains the tarot as follows: “The beauty of tarot is that by using images instead of words, it speaks directly to our subconscious mind and links it directly to our higher consciousness. Tarot cards open a dialogue with the Universe and give you access to greater creativity.” Paul Foster Case says in his book the Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages that “These pictures call up in every human mind, irrespective of race, certain basic associations of ideas.” Together, the cards represent the journey that we all take through life.
The main tarot decks consist of seventy-eight cards that represent a symbolic wheel of human life. The cards can roughly be divided into two parts: the so-called minor arcane and the major arcane. The fifty-six cards of the minor arcane talk about what is happening in our daily lives, the obstacles and challenges that we are facing, and the energies that are there to support and heal us.These cards are divided, like ordinary playing cards, into four suits: wands, cups, swords and pentacles, that represent the same four elements we also find in astrology: fire (imagination, ideas), air (the intellectual, the logical), earth (the material world) and water (emotions, feelings). The other twenty-two cards of the major arcane talk about the more major influences in life. They have special titles that give little hints of the meaning: the Fool shows a new beginning, the Wheel of Fortune talks about abundance and luck, the Tower points at tearing down existing structures and believes, and the card Judgment is about rebirth and resurrection. All these images give you information on a deeper level about questions or situations that you want to clarify.
How to start
It goes without saying that the first step is getting your own deck of cards. That sounds easy, but is it really? If you start looking around, you will immediately notice there are hundreds of tarot decks out there and the drawings differ substantially. To make it even more complex, there is also a large choice of spiritual, angel or animal cards available. These can be very helpful when you are dealing with emotional issues, but have nothing to do as such with tarot and we will not elaborate on this topic here.
Sonia Choquette explains the large amount of available decks as follows: “Because the Universal Forces of Light want us to tap in to our spiritual guidance as quickly as possible, many intuitives and artists have been instructed to create modern and accessible versions of the ancient tarot system. Therefore, there are now many oracle decks available that are quite straightforward.” You can use your intuition and see what attracts you, but it is good to know that some decks are very detailed and add all kinds of symbols, whilst others have changed the sequence of the cards or the numbers. One deck is not better than the other one. It is just a matter of what speaks to you, of personal preference.
If you are completely lost, and don’t know what deck to choose, you could start with one of the most well-known decks: the Rider-Waite tarot. This is a standard deck and the symbols and meanings are easy to learn. But regardless of the deck you choose, you will need to put some effort in it to get a general feeling of the pictures and their meaning. “The tarot contains a wealth of guidance and information, but it takes hard work to learn to use it”, says Sonia Choquette. After thirty years of studying the tarot, she says she’s been only beginning to grasp the deepest meaning of the cards. There are many books available that talk about the meaning of the cards and there is lots of information available on the internet as well.
But the difficulty in learning the prescribed meanings doesn’t have to stop us from starting to use the cards right away. There is no need to know all the meanings by heart, before you can start working with the cards. A very common way to work with the cards is to use your intuition and see what the cards mean to you. Just think of a question and pick a card. Look at the card and see what your inner voice tells you about the specific meaning of this card in relation to your question. It can give you lots of information. German music teacher and tarot master Angela Oeckl says it works both ways: “you can study the traditional meaning of the cards, but also feel or know through meditation what each and every card means to you. Through experience, the connection and meaning grows and develops.”
The easiest way to use the cards is to shuffle them and pick one card at random. You can keep a certain question in mind and then take a card. Angela Oeckl says she often picks one card for the day and keeps it on her desk. In the evening, she analyses what the day has been about. Another simple way is to pick three cards at random (pictures pointing down, choose by feeling). Then spread the cards on the table: left – middle –right/past – present –future. Focus on the cards and on what the images tell you. You will get lots of information on your question as the cards show you how you have dealt with a situation in the past (left image), how it is going now (middle image) and what is important to know for the future (right image). If you have gained a better understanding of the cards, there are many prescribed patterns you can follow and they all have their own value. Just experiment and see what works for you.
Taking the cards to the next level
If you have gained a deeper understanding of the tarot, it is time to take it one step further. Sonia Choquette says the images on tarot cards are a tool for communication with your higher self, your inner voice. So we could actually say tarot readings are not at all about the images. Two people receiving the same combination of cards would not necessarily have the same reading. So how does that work? Every person has an energetic field around him. That is where most of the information is actually coming from. The cards are merely a tool to tap in to those subtle energies, since the images touch your unconscious mind and your higher self. The cards are helpful if you are running out of words, but the secret is you don’t really need them. Angela Oeckl says “The cards are a very spiritual tool, because there comes a point where you leave the cards and divine inspiration takes over.” To get to this point where you can easily tap in to the universal power, takes practice. The cards are a useful tool to help you get there.
What does a tarot reading have to offer?
There are many different reasons for people to do a tarot reading. They want a better understanding of their past, bring light to a present situation or see what the options are in a given situation. The cards can be used as a tool for spiritual growth, mental and physical healing, understanding relationships or guidance in life. A good tarot reading will give guidance and comfort, as it shows different possibilities. In my view, tarot cards will not foretell the future. This is not possible because it would mean that people can only sit and wait passively for something to happen that they do not want to happen. I do not believe it works that way.
What the cards will do, however, is show the most likely outcome if you keep doing what you are currently doing. A good tarot reader will show you this but will present other options s well. People always have more than one option. A good reading shows you what will work and what won’t. It will show you how you can change the outcome of events by changing your behaviour. In other words, the cards can stimulate someone to take action, to take back control. And that is a really powerful gift. Angela Oeckl explains this beautifully as she says “if the future looks darker, I can see possibilities or directions available to which a person in fear is blind.” As a result, she sees that people no longer have so much fear when they leave. They feel more confident that they can continue on their path, with new options to try. This comfort has a great healing effect.
Although it is absolutely possible to do a reading for yourself it can be a bit difficult if you are working on emotional issues. The ego will often try to trick you and you have to be honest to yourself. Sonia Choquette asks a good question: “are you looking for answers, or do you just want to hear what you want to hear? If you’re seeking real guidance, the cards will work. If you’re just looking for quick fixes of sympathy, they won’t”. Sometimes you don’t see your own blind spots. That will make it somewhat harder to do an objective reading for yourself, but if you are alert to this, you can absolutely use the cards for yourself.
To sum up…
A good tarot reading will give you more insight in the patterns that are going on in your life. It will show you possible outcome of your actions, but also present other possibilities. Tarot cards do not foretell the future. Your future will change every time you make new choices. So don’t ever let someone tell you that something will go wrong for you and that there is no chance of improvement. That has nothing to do with tarot cards, but with the integrity of the reader. The cards themselves are neutral and as with everything in the spiritual realm, in the end it is up to people. Reading cards can be a beautiful way of helping people, if it is done in a respectful and loving way.