I've been dabbling in Tarot for several years now. My love for tarot started around the same time that I started seriously diving into astrology. I remember being absolutely crazy for anything that would teach me about astrology or tarot. Along with that, I remember being overwhelmed with how much information it could all be to digest, and I didn't really feel like I found a good "one stop shop" that covered all the basics. I was getting bits and pieces of info from here and there. There are loads of youtube channels and blogs dedicated to seasoned astrologers and tarot readers who are already well-versed in the language, but for newbies, this can be somewhat intimidating.
So, I was thinking last night that I would like to do a series on both the AstroBlog and TarotBlog Sections where we can start at the beginning, and wrap our heads around all this information and how it all links together, symbolically. A good understanding of the archetypes and associations is paramount to being able to read charts and tarot spreads. Even if you're not a newbie, honestly, it's a good refresher or something to simply meditate on if you're already familiar with the language.
So let's dive right in!
How the cards work: (Disclaimer: This is my humble opinion. Different people believe different things, but this explanation has always helped me and sits well with my intuition - and isn't that what counts?)
So, here's the deal with tarot. The cards are not magical. You are. It's not in the hokey "pulling a rabbit out of your hat" sense. Stay with me here. The "magic" I'm talking about is biological. Have you ever had a gut feeling about something - like something in your internal will center is warning you that something is off? You don't have to be a psychic to resonate with that "I've got a bad feeling about this" feeling. That's what you're tapping into with Tarot - or any divination tool really.
One of the most important concepts associated with tarot and astrology is that of the collective unconscious. You'll hear a lot of astrologers and tarot enthusiasts talk about Carl Jung. He was a famous psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Switzerland. Some astrologers even consider themselves "Jungian Astrologers." That's because Jung was an important dude who came up with some key theories with regards to archetypes and the collective unconscious which are central to being able to interpret birth charts and tarot.
Anyone who has taken basic high school literature classes is likely familiar with the concept of an archetype. An archetype is an image or a set of circumstances that recurs consistently over and over throughout literature to the point that it becomes universally understood. Closely tied to this idea, Jung formulated theories around the collective unconscious. Specifically, that archetypes of human experience from our ancestors as far back as the beginning of the human race have been genetically coded into us and are universally understood in our subconscious mind. He believed that this collective unconscious is universally understood by all of us. In the same way that evolution codes future generations of species with the necessary genetic information for survival from the learnings of past generations of the species, Jung suggested that we pick up archetypical information to help us function in the world from our evolutionary ancestors. Essentially, by this model, you can think of your natural sense of intuition as a genetic gift from your ancestors to help you decode common imagery and situations that have cyclically occurred throughout human history.
Now, when you're choosing tarot cards (whether you're pulling for yourself or having someone else do a reading for you), you're generally told to shuffle and cut the deck when "it feels right" to you, all the while focusing on the issue you are looking to gain some clarity on. What you're doing here is consciously tapping into that wealthy collective unconscious that already knows the answer. It knows what card it's looking for. Your subconscious mind knows the answer, you conscious brain just isn't directly aware of it. We have a lot of distractions in day to day life, and our culture supports a very yang and forward-pushing energy. We don't tend to culturally give a lot of value to reflection and being in touch with our intuition. So, in the same way that meditation or any sort of focused activity that we imbue with intention brings us clarity, clearing our minds and focusing on the issue at hand helps us tap into the subconscious and get the information we're looking for.
The cards themselves are mass-manufactured in a factory somewhere...they don't inherently hold any special magic. You do.
Having said that - let's get into a little basic information on the card themselves.
The Cards: Tarot cards are divided up into two types of cards - the Major and Minor Arcana. Additionally, within the Minor arcana, there are four suits, much like a traditional deck of playing cards.
The Major Arcana (sometimes referred to as "trump cards") are 22 cards, numbered 0-21, that represent our journey - our journey through life, our journey towards maturity, our journey towards enlightenment - whatever floats your boat. These cards reflect the cyclical nature of existence. Everything in the universe obeys cycles - the moon, the seasons, and yes - even humans.
Keeping this in mind, card 0 in the Major Arcana is "The Fool" naively starting out on the journey, and the final card of the Major Arcana is card 21, "The World," which carries the symbolism of the completion of a journey, achievement, and the period of rest and reflection that comes after we finish something just before we start a new cycle. Everything in between represents the struggles, the triumphs, the lessons, and the work these cycles require of us.
The artwork on the Major Arcana are complex and symbolic. Much of this artwork draws upon universal archetypes (a Jungian concept, no doubt). However, it's really important to spend some time studying each card in an effort to develop your own intuitive understanding of what the card represents - again, it's about learning to tap into that collective unconscious. What does the card say to you? What feelings do you get when you look at the card? I know when I was learning, I would study a card and write a few notes about what the card symbolized to me based solely on the artwork and my intuition. Then, I would look up the card to discover the traditional meaning. Nine times out of ten, I was able to closely align with the meaning of the card by simply looking at the artwork. Give it a try!
When a Major Arcana card shows up in a spread, it represents the big stuff. These are the life-changers, and they carry important lessons. Some tarot spreads only use the Major Arcana - especially where matters of spirituality are concerned. I, personally, don't do this, but I know people who do. So, when one of the Major Arcana pops up in a spread - take note. The collective unconscious is speaking to you about something important.
The Minor Arcana: The Minor Arcana consist of 4 suits - pentacles, cups, wands, and swords. Each suit has fourteen cards. There are cards numbered 1-10 (sometimes referred to as "pip cards"), and then 4 court cards in each suit (King, Queen, Knight, and Page).
The Minor Arcana are more about day to day life, and thank goodness for that! Could you imagine living a life full of Major Arcana activities only? It would be insanely exhausting.
Each suit has associations with astrology, numerology, and the ever-important archetypical connections in our unconscious. We'll go over the basics below, and then as we move forward each week, we'll look at each card more in depth.
Pentacles represent all the things physical and material in the world. These are generally things that are tangible - think money, work, your belongings, etc. In astrology, these matters are generally associated with the element of earth. I make an associative link with all the earth signs in the Zodiac (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn) because I'm an astrology person, and the archetype translates between tarot and astrology. If you think of the Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn nature, it's very "pentacles."
Cups represent the aspects of our life of an emotional, relational and creative nature. Cups represent our feelings, what and how we create, how we nurture things, love, relationships, etc. In astrology, these matters are generally associated with the element water. Again, the case exists for the common thread between cup cards and the water signs in the zodiac (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces).
Wands represent where we are energetic, strong, inspired, curious, and expansive. Think of wands as how we stay busy. It's all about forward motion and starting new things. These qualities, from an astrological perspective, represent the element of fire. Think about the archetypes that exist for fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) there is a definite connection between these zodiac signs and the suit of wands.
Swords represent our consciousness, intellect, and thinking processes. Swords are all about how we reason through something, how we problem solve, how we create change, etc. The elemental association for swords is air. Think of the archetypes associated with air in the zodiac (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius). These archetypes deal with processing information, creating balance, and discovering new ways to do things.
Court Cards: Now that you know what each suit stands for, we can start to talk about the structure of the Minor Arcana.
Court Cards are mature representations of what each of the 4 suits of the minor arcana have to offer. They blend the elements.
Kings (Fire): The kings of each suit are considered to be the most mature and enlightened expression of what each suit exemplifies. (Why it gotta be a king though?! #patriarchy) But seriously though, from an archetype standpoint, the King is considered to be the wisest and most fully in control in an external sense. They have authority over their surroundings and those around them. Some readers believe that the court cards represent actual humans we interact with. I don’t personally ascribe to this, but if it’s a part of your practice, then if you pull a king in a reading, depending on what your intuition tells you, this could represent an older adult male who possesses the qualities of the suit.
Queens (Water): The queens in each suit are, like the kings, considered to be a mature and enlightened expression of what the suit exemplifies, but their power is more internal. They express their suits from the inside. If you're someone who ascribes to the idea that court cards are the manifestation of actual humans in your reading, then pulling a queen represents an older adult female who possesses the qualities of the suit.
Knights (Air): The knights in each suit don't have the full experience of a king or queen, but they are more experienced in the journey than a page. Think about the knight cards - all knights on horses. They are about action and movement, and they express their suits in that way. If you're someone who ascribes to the idea that court cards are the manifestation of actual humans in your reading, then they can also represent young adults (male or female) in a spread.
Pages (Earth): The pages are the adolescents of the court cards. In some ways, I think of the pages are our inner children. They're at the beginning of the journey, and they represent the purest nature and excitement of each suit. Pages tend to bring messages in a spread. If you're someone who ascribes to the idea that court cards are the manifestation of actual humans in your reading, then they can also represent an actual human adolescent or child.
Numbered (Pip) Cards: The numbered cards in each suit are numbered 1-10. A lot of sources will give you the individual meaning of each card, but that can be a lot to take in, and there's a method to the madness. I took a lot of math and physics classes in college, and I can tell you that it's a heck of a lot easier for me to derive something based on the rules I know to be true than to memorize a bunch of equations. So, in keeping with that method of learning, understanding how the deck is created and being able to derive card meanings is far easier than memorizing the meaning of 40 different pip cards.
The numbered cards follow traditional numerology. Meaning that each numbered card combines the numerological associations with the suit associations to tell you what's going on. You already know what the suits stand for, so let's talk a little about numerology.
1 (Ace) = independence, initiating energy, beginnings
2 = balance, harmony, partnership
3 = creativity, expression, growth
4 = stability, practicality, focus
5 = conflict, change, expansion
6 = cooperation, harmony, compassion
7 = spirituality, wisdom, exploration
8 = action, change, transformation
9 = fulfillment, inspiration, idealism
10 = completion, resolution, finality
So, the numbered cards combine these basic numerological archetypes with the symbolism attached to each suit.
For example, let's say I pull the 5 of cups. Take a look at the card. It's depicts a person looking forlorn with three of their five cups knocked over. We know that 5's are all about conflict, change, and expansion. We also know that cups represent feelings, emotions, creativity, and relationships. So, based on that, I would say that the card is about loss and grief. The fact that there are still two upright cups signifies, to me, that the card is telling the person that they've lost something, and they may be feeling grief, but that they still have a chance to salvage what remains (the other two upright cups).
Alright - so I threw a lot at you. Take some time, study the cards, and soak in everything we've talked about. Next week we'll go a little deeper. In the meantime, be watching for the first AstroBlog post to be coming in the next couple of days.