A very brief introduction to Tarot

Arguably the most popular method of divination today, or at least the most famous cartomantic system, Tarot is a deck of 78 cards divided into the 22 images of the Major Arcana and the 56 of the Minor Arcana. With new decks and books being published almost on a weekly basis, it is truly passing through its golden age, a pinnacle of its half a millennia long history.

Even though many authors have attempted to assign Tarot a mystical Ancient Egyptian origin, the system actually comes from 15th century Italy and was based on playing cards first brought into the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs a century or so prior. The images of the Major Arcana in particular have always captured the imagination of many but their symbols, heavily impregnated with meaning, are actually depictions of allegorical figures that were a staple of trionfi – triumphal processions and parades popular in Italy at the time. Still, the characters and situations represented do carry with them a heavy load of symbolism and have, over time, become powerful archetypal figures in their own right.

The Minor Arcana on the other hand is more akin to regular playing cards. It is divided into four suits – those of Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins. Each corresponds to a different elemental force – Fire, Water, Air and Earth respectively – and contains ten numbered (pip) cards, which may or may not be illustrated, and four court cards – namely Pages (or Princesses), Knights (or Princes), Queens and Kings – each standing in for a different sex and age. They are often interpreted as “people cards” while the pips stand for common life situations. Images of the Major Arcana however point towards more momentous events of higher, spiritual nature.

While Lenormand and Kipper (already discussed in earlier blog posts) rely heavily on large layouts (which, peculiarly enough, lack any designated positions) and card combinations, giving the cards a semantic quality – Tarot on the other hand is a pictorial system, using almost purely visual stimulation to ignite the spark of intuition.

It is suitable for divination, meditation and pathworking, for those whose intuition is triggered by ocular stimuli. Once accepted as such, it can prove to be comparatively easy for purely pictorial interpretation. Tarot can also be an excellent tool for spell work. When read as an oracle, its messages are general but often run deep, offering an excellent tool for exploring spiritual matters and aiding self-development. Tarot’s elaborate correspondences connect it to various other occult disciplines such as astrology, hermeticism, kabbalah, numerology, ceremonial magic etc. and thus provide the reader with a strong springboard into other realms of the occult.