Translating Tarot

For anyone who may not already be aware, I’ve developed a relatively recent interest in tarot cards. I’m not sure what exactly inspired it — one of my favorite cult-inspired films, The Craft, is being remade and/or rebooted soon, and also I had fallen in love with hearing local Victoria Crosby give tarot readings to listeners whenever she was a guest on the Smiley Morning Show — but whatever the case may be, I wound up purchasing a fairly affordable tarot card set on Amazon a couple of years ago that came along with a book of directions teaching you the basics of how to use them. I was determined that I was going to learn what all of the cards meant. Maybe one day I could also do professional tarot readings!

Unfortunately, my interest in making a profession out of tarot waned shortly after an experiment I did this past Halloween on Facebook in which I invited any interested friends to let me give them a reading via Messenger. There were far more people interested than I expected and the readings took me damn near the entire first week of November to complete. To be fair, the length of time necessary took so long because I had to send photos of each person’s spread along with my lengthy, hand-typed interpretation that I had to research extensively with the included book whenever I needed a translation myself. Someone who actually knows the cards and are comfortable giving readings and maybe did it via Facebook Live or some other video technology would probably breeze right through this kind of project.

In the end though, I did complete the readings and had a lot of fun with my friends. I also wound up learning a great deal from the art of tarot. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the mysticism and “magic” surrounding the cards that really are drawn at random, I do think that translating the luck of the draw and applying it to an individual’s particular life and circumstances can help guide or comfort them. The cards are just paper card stock with beautiful illustrations and descriptions behind them — I think the real magic of tarot, like life itself, is what you make of it.

But a lot of my friends insisted that I “teach them” how to do tarot themselves or to better understand the process. So without getting in too deep with definitions and interpretations behind each individual card (you’ll have to look those up online or purchase your own set for all that!), I’ve put together a general understanding of tarot below!

The Deck

A tarot deck will usually look something like this!

Traditionally, most tarot decks are comprised of 78 different cards. They can come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and even vastly varying styles of artwork and illustrations on them. The one thing that is generally universal among all tarot decks though are the meanings behind all 78 cards. These meanings, along with their illustrations, are meant to allow the reader and the questioner (that’s normally you!) to access a part of their brain that we would otherwise ordinarily ignore, allowing us to be more contemplative and reflective in regards to the subject of which you’re questioning. The generally held belief, is that, by tapping into this contemplative state, we’re also able to gain a little better understanding about past and current events as well as some foresight into what the future may hold.

Since the cards were originally conceived to use during games of Italian tarocchini and French tarot in mid-15th century Europe (and are sometimes still used to play them today!), it should come as no surprise that the deck is comprised of four suits that vary by region (in North America, we typically play with the French suits). Each suit has 14 cards with ten cards numbering from one (or “Ace”) to ten along with four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack and/or Knave). Additionally, tarot decks also include a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. In countries that use tarot for more spiritual or soul-searching purposes like we do here in America, the trump cards and the Fool are most often referred to as the “major arcana” while the other suits are called the “minor arcana.”

Reading

Skeptics have a lot of reasons to criticize tarot. Generally they just aren’t believers in a more mystical world and that’s perfectly fine, but one of the other biggest complaints against tarot is that there isn’t really any straightforward or common rules among those who practice it. The method of which the cards are shuffled, drawn, laid out into a spread, and even how they are read or interpreted will sometimes vary wildly among each practitioner. It really isn’t even that uncommon for those familiar with reading tarot to seek out a reading from another reader. My own “witchy” friend out in Los Angeles has asked me to “pull some cards” for her a time or two! Basically what I’m writing is that there is no “right” way to do a tarot reading. To be honest, the person doing your reading could completely bullshit their way through it and it wouldn’t exactly be “wrong” either. It’s all about what you take away from it. The practitioner is there to be your guide and more or less put their spin on it for you.

My personal favorite way of doing a reading is with the seven-card “horseshoe” spread. I prefer this spread because it provides kind of a quick and easy method of getting down to the nitty gritty details of what’s going on with a person and how the cards can best answer their question. The cards are shuffled while the questions are being asked. Afterwards, seven cards are drawn and laid out in a horseshoe-like pattern with each of the cards representing something specific in the questioner’s life such as the past, the present, obstacles to overcome, suggestions of what the questioner should do, and their eventual outcome.

There are definitely other, more popular methods and spreads that more experienced tarot people do, such as the Romany spread and the Celtic Cross layout. By all means, these spreads have their merits as well and are just as valid as the seven-card spread — they’re just a tad too involved for a total novice like myself!

The Major Arcana

I told you tarot cards come in a variety of different styles. This might be my favorite!

These 21 cards (22 counting “The Fool”) are what I like to say are considered the “big guns” of tarot. They begin with “The Fool,” which is unnumbered and therefore often doesn’t get included with the other Major Arcana, and end with “The World,” which if you put two and two together, represent something of a full circle of life allegory. It is the Fool’s journey to enlightenment. These cards are often larger-than-life and broadly represent the stages and lessons in life such as love, change, spirituality, morality, etc.

While these cards have specific representations or definitions that can sometimes vary by deck or style, everyone must first understand that tarot is meant to make you think and is in no way set in stone. It’s completely up to interpretation. You, as a questioner, may interpret your cards completely differently than how the reader sees them. More often than not, questioners feel that the definition of each card is pretty spot-on for their particular circumstances, but it’s always best to go with your gut feeling if you feel like something isn’t correct. Tarot is something to be interpreted and is absolutely not a perfect science.

The Major Arcana cards are as follows on the table below:

Major Arcana

NumberCardDescription
0The FoolUsually interpreted as the protagonist of a story with the other Major Arcana cards representing his journey to enlightenment.
1The Magician (aka The Magus or The Juggler)The Magician often refers to the questioner's talents, capabilities, resources, and other abilities at the ready.
2The High Priestess (aka The Popess)Sometimes referred to as the highest and holiest of the Major Arcana, the High Priestess represents a mystical quietness that should remain hidden or in balance.
3The EmpressRepresentative of the productivity of the subconscious, the Empress is the embodiment of growth, fertility, creation, the birth of an idea, and what one knows or believes from the heart.
4The EmperorThe Emperor represents wisdom, domination, regulation, and unyielding power. This can suggest the accumulation of material wealth or a need for independence.
5The Hierophant (aka The Pope)The Hierophant is the bridge between the spiritual world and humanity. He is usually seated between two pillars representing law and liberty and he represents obedience, religion, mercy, compassion, and other orthodox ideas.
6The LoversNaturally, the Lovers represent relationships and choices made in them. It represents a relationship gained, a temptation of the heart, a choice of potential partners. It suggests earthly love, friendship, or partnership.
7The ChariotA chariot is pulled by two sphinxes, one black and one white. It represents a balance of negative and positive forces and maintaining one's focus.
8Strength (aka Fortitude)Representing self-restraint and willpower, Strength (or Fortitude as it's sometimes called) is usually depicted by a powerful lion being gently caressed by a lovely woman. Strength also accompanies two other virtue cards in the deck:
Justice and Temperance.
(Strength is also traditionally seen as the 11th card with Justice as the 8th.)
9The HermitThe Hermit typically represents a need to withdraw from society or a return from isolation in order to share newfound knowledge with others.
10Wheel of FortuneThe Wheel of Fortune card can introduce the possibility of a change in situation, position, material wealth, or fortune.
11JusticeRepresenting the virtue of justice and decisions being made fairly.
Justice also accompanies two other virtue cards in the deck: Temperance and Strength. (Justice is also traditionally seen as the 8th card with Strength/Fortitude as the 11th.)
12The Hanged Man (aka The Traitor)Calm and not at all alarmed to the nature of his predicament, The Hanged Man or Traitor card can often represent a period of rest, a retreat, period of re-evaluation, calm before a storm, or patience in advance of something coming.
13DeathUnlikely to signify actual, physical death, this card instead represents an ending of a relationship, interest, or other major life change. The end of one chapter and the beginning of something new.
14TemperanceDepicting a person or angel pouring liquid from one receptacle into another, this card represents the virtue of temperance and is the third virtue card alongside Justice and Strength/Fortitude. A mixing of elements is at hand and the questioner may need to reach into the past for something to carry with them to the future.
15The DevilA typical illustration of the Devil or other satanic demon, the card represents being seduced by the material world or physical pleasures, a lust for money and power, or living in fear and domination. It is a warning that discretion should be used going forward.
16The Tower (aka Fire)Immediately following the Devil for a reason, this card represents a sudden, disruptive, and potentially destructive change in the questioner's life. It is commonly associated with danger, crisis, higher learning, and eventual liberation.
17The StarThis card featuring a woman beneath a brightly lit star denotes hope, inspiration, creativity, new ideas, and a brightly-lit future.
18The MoonAs the moon rises, beware of unusual, deceptive, or even supernatural occurrences to take place in the questioner's life.
19The SunBeneath the sun's fulfilling solar rays, this card represents optimism, radiance, positivity, enlightenment, innocence, assurance, happiness, and splendor.
20Judgement (aka The Angel)Indicative of a final judgment, this card represents a fresh start, time to forgive and forget, and moving on.
21The WorldRepresenting the end of a life cycle before starting anew with the Fool all over again, it represents a perfect union with the universe, full happiness, giving back to the world, sharing what we have learned and gained, and ultimately transcending through spiritual rebirth.
Brief overview of the Major Arcana cards. (Descriptions referenced from The Essential Book of Tarot by Rosalind Simmons and general information from Wikipedia.)

 The Minor Arcana

Totaling 56 cards in all, the Minor Arcana cards consist of everything that isn’t included in the Major Arcana and are divided into four suits of 14 cards each. Whereas the Major Arcana cards represent the Fool’s journey and the “big guns” of tarot, the Minor Arcana are all about the smaller, more finite everyday details of a questioner’s life. Topics like material concerns, vanity, specific relationships, etc. are covered in this section of the deck with the face cards (Kings, Queens, Knights, and Jacks/Knaves/Pages) representing actual people we know.

The four different suits sometimes vary among different decks but they’re commonly referred to as wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. (Variations you may encounter are rods, clubs, or staves instead of wands and coins, disks, or rings instead of pentacles.) You may be more familiar with their corresponding French suits of clubs (♣), hearts (), spades (♠), and diamonds (). They’re also sometimes related to the four elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.

The Suit of Pentacles 

The Suit of Pentacles is connected with the classical element of Earth, the physical body and possessions or wealth. Since coins (or pentacles, diamonds, rings, etc.) could be seen as a representation of the feudal class or traders, the suit deals directly with world-class matters specifically.

The Suit of Cups 

The Suit of Cups is connected with the classical element of Water and pertains to situations and events of a more emotional nature. Like the previously mentioned suit, the corresponding French suit of hearts is appropriate as many cards in this suit deal directly with matters of love, romance, friendship, familial bonds, and other emotional issues. Cups were also the symbol of the clergy during feudal times and so the suit can also sometimes indicate matters of spirituality and religion.

The Suit of Wands ♣

Depicting the classical element of Fire, the Suit of Wands reveals information involving action, energy, flowering and growth. This can be attributed to it having represented the farmer class during feudal times, thus directly relating to matters of simplicity and nature as well as poverty and submission.

The Suit of Swords ♠

Corresponding to the classical element of Air, the Suit of Swords signifies freedom and quick change. The swords correlate to the intellectual side of life, cutting through physical and emotional weakness. Appropriately, this means the suit is often depicted by illustrations of military forces, strength, power, and authority and can bring clarity or freedom to otherwise foggy and restrictive ideas.

Beginners

For anyone interested in getting started with reading tarot, my advice would be to just purchase a deck of cards and start learning. Pull cards for yourself or for your close friends and family as practice. Purchase a set that includes a guide book to help you learn the meanings behind each of the cards and how to best interpret them. There are several affordable sets that can be purchased online for less than $20! If you feel so inclined, there are also resources online that offer courses that will teach you how to read tarot. Once you become more experienced, you can upgrade to fancier, more expensive decks and maybe even make a business out of it!

As for me, I’ll probably stick to doing the occasional reading for a friend or anyone who asks me to “pull some cards” for them. I know that I definitely won’t be doing the widespread readings again this Halloween! As fascinating as the art of tarot is, it’s absolutely not something for the faint of heart to practice because it can manage to take its toll. Maybe in more ways than one, for the more spiritually-minded among us!

 

What are your thoughts on tarot?? Let us know by commenting below or by starting a thread in the discussion forums!

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