What is Tarot?

The Tarot deck in its early form was used around Europe just for playing cards, a trick-taking, trumping game, apparently played for money. By the middle of the 18th century, it was adopted soothsayers and fortune-tellers, and took on its occult role. Now it became known as a tool of divination, for unveiling and revealing insights, and by some for making spells.

A Tarot deck consists of 78 cards. There are 22 Major Arcana cards, said to have symbolic meanings focused on the material world, the intuitive mind, and the world of change; they describe the passage of life’s journey. These include cards like The Empress, The Fool, The Hermit and The Lovers.

The other 56 cards make up the Minor Arcana divided into four groups or suits: Swords, Pentacles (or Coins), Wands (Staves) and Cups. The court cards also include a Page, as well a s a Knight, Queen and King, so differing from the familiar 52-card pack.

Each of the suits relates to a different aspect on an individual’s life, what stage they are at currently and what lessons they need to learn.  A connection is also made between the four suits of the Minor Arcana, the four elements and groupings of astrological signs. This chart indicates those connections:

Wands Fire Aries, Leo, Sagittarius Action, initiation, movement Ambition, Activity Jobs, enthusiasm, charisma, competitiveness, restlessness that indicates travel
Cups Water Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces Emotion, Intuition,
Interactions and relationships
Emotional extremes
Swords Air Gemini, Libra, Aquarius Communication,
mental activities, words and numbers
Conflict or moral issues, cleverness, love of  facts, problem-solving
Pentacles Earth Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn Possessions, the physical our bodies and belongings material aspects, such as security and finance, health, luck and money

Each card in the Tarot has an inherent, intrinsic meaning of its own, but it takes on additional significance according to its position in a “Spread” or reading, or the question asked by the “Querent” (the ‘asker’ or person for whom the Tarot reading has been done). It is the skill and experience of the Reader of the Tarot cards which can help to interpret their meaning. Tarot readers do not claim to be able to tell fortunes, but many are perceived to have psychic powers of special insight.

A variety of arrangements of the cards are used, such as The Three Card Spread (three adjacent cards depicting Past, Present and Future. There is the Celtic Cross which gives a personal profile, and the more in-depth layouts like The Five-Point Cross, 9-card spread, and Rainbow spread.

Psychologists, initially Carl Jung, have found therapeutic uses in Tarot cards, to identify personality types and ‘archetypes’, seeing the cards as means of understanding human behaviour and connecting to a universal wisdom, the human collective unconscious.

Though some people approach Tarot as a light-hearted kind of party game ‘for foretelling the future’, many others seriously consult the cards before any major endeavours. However, even professional Tarot card readers will say that the cards offer a guideline,  an interpretation of the probable outcome based upon the forces presently at work.

The Tarot can be considered in a number of ways: as means of connecting with the universal unconscious, as a way of accessing your sixth sense of intuition, or as an unfolding story of life revealed in symbols and images on a pack of cards.


What to expect

A Tarot card reader offers the service of interpreting the images and juxtaposition of an arrangement of Tarot cards laid out in response to a particular question, query or problem that has been posed. The reader may do this in person, on the phone or even over the internet. She or he will not claim to foretell the future, but to give guidance in the interpretation of the cards.

A reader of Tarot who has psychic qualities and an intuitive understanding of human nature can make a reading more relevant and pertinent to the querent (client asking the questions).

In a personal session, the reader may ask the client to touch and shuffle the cards to identify with them. The cards will them be cut (again, probably by the client), and laid out in a particular pattern or ‘spread’. For instance, a four-card diamond spread,  classic Celtic cross spread (9 cards),Tree of Life Spread (10 cards), Gypsy Tarot Card Spread (uses 42 cards), Pyramid (10 card stack), double Triad Spread (six-point star).

Depending on where each card in the deal appears, which other cards are nearby , which way up it is – all have a meaning that can be interpreted in response to what the client asks, or wants to know.


Effects and Benefits

Assuming that you visit a Tarot reader because you have some questions to ask, or are uncertain about which choice to make, the reader will try to address those queries offering a broad view of possible options. It is better not to ask direct, closed questions like ‘Will I marry James X?’, because the answer in the cards may be misleading. Better to ask open questions, like ‘What kind of person will I partner?’

The reader tells what is shown and what it could mean, sometimes only the client understands its significance. The purpose of a reading is to help you, as the client, to see the possibilities and pathways available, so that you have the opportunity to consider the options and make the best decisions in their life.

Many people find that a Tarot reading can confirm their instincts, encourage their ambitions, and give direction to some unformed thoughts they have.  Some even get enthusiastic enough to buy their own Tarot deck.


Fascinating Facts about Tarot

  • A Tarot reader interprets cards for a Querent, a person who asks a question of the Tarot.  Querent comes from the Latin word quaero, meaning ‘to inquire or seek, or to embark on a quest.’
  • Carl Jung was the first psychoanalyst to attach importance to tarot symbolism. He may have regarded the tarot cards as representing archetypes: fundamental types of persons or situations embedded in the collective unconscious of all human beings.
  • Divination is the art of accessing any information not directly available to the five senses. Gypsies  and Egyptions used the Tarot primarily for divination, and some modern day Gypsies also possess their own unique decks for the same purpose. Divination using cards is called cartomancy.
  • Actress Cyndi Lauper played a Tarot reader in TV series Bones and reads Tarot for a hobby in real life; she says that she doesn’t use her own intuition for her readings, but refers to the ‘instruction manual’).
  • The Death card in the Major Acana (often shown as a skeleton on a pale horse).  Contrary to popular belief, this card does not indicate literal physical death – it is usually linked with rebirth and renewal, transformation and new opportunities. When reversed, the Death card represents an inability to change, someone who refuses to adapt to accept new things.
  • Since the classic Rider-Waite deck, published in 1910, hundreds of Tarot decks have been created, some are now very valuable, museum pieces. Modern decks of cards have been designed on themes like  The Cat People,  characters from Jane Austen, or the Lord of the Rings.
  • Surrealist painter Salvador Dali is reputed to have had a fascination for Tarot. He designed his own uniquely surreal deck of 78 cards, which was published by Distribucions d’Art Surrealista and Comos Naipes of Spain in 1984, the year of Dali’s eightieth birthday.
  • TV Psychic Michelle Knight, has been a professional tarot reader since she was 16, was awarded the Soul & spirit 2010 Award for the Best Female Psychic last year. She says ‘I believe all people have a unique gift and a life path and I feel blessed to have been able to help people discover theirs.’


Professional Organisations

Tarot Association of the British Isles

TABI is a not-for-profit association run by volunteers who have a passion for Tarot and the esoteric. Formed in 2001 to provide support, information and resources for Tarot enthusiasts from beginners to experienced readers. Tarotists from Britain or anywhere in the world are invited to abide by the TABI Readers’ agreed ethical code, which includes the following points:

  • Readings aim to help the client to take charge of their own life.
  • If appropriate, readers will suggest that clients consult a qualified professional  (e.g. health or legal professional.)
  • When a fee is due, the amount will be agreed prior to the reading.
  • Readings will not knowingly be given to clients aged under 18 years without permission from their parent or guardian.
  • Readings cannot be given about anyone other than the client, and questions relating to others (e.g. third parties, such as partners or family members) will be re-phrased or declined.


L Associazione Culturale Le Tarot

The Cultural Association “Le Tarot” was founded in 1986 by Prof. Andrea Vitali, its president, who wanted to gather round him eminent researchers of various disciplines to investigate the archetypical, symbolic and allegorical world of the Tarot.  There are groups of enthusiasts, researchers and academics studying the history of the Tarot whose findings and collections are on websites such as http://autobis.net/tarot  and http://trionfi.com


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