Wednesday, January 18, 2012


(NOTE:  All Tarot Decks of which I have featured cards from in this post (except the Visconti cards, obviously) are included on my links page for purchase.  If you are interested in taking a closer look/buying any of the decks, please go to my links page, and look at top box.)

You enter the doorway of a small dark room, its walls curtained with a collection of drapery.  Various rugs and cushions cover the floor.  The dimly lit interior is illuminated by a collection of candles, balls of light dotting the room. The musky scent of sandalwood drifts through the air.  A woman wrapped in a shawl, a many colored scarf tied around her thick black hair, sits idly at a round table at the rooms' center.  Her creased visage studies you, her eyes filled with dark mystery.  On the table before her is a stack of ornately designed cards.  With gnarled fingers she proceeds to shuffle the deck.  The gypsy fortune teller waits patiently for your question.  Gesturing with a feeble hand, she beckons you to the empty chair...

Divination.  Fortune Telling.  The art of 'Cartomancy'.  Mention the Tarot to someone, and I am sure most people would envision a gypsy fortune teller pouring over a card spread. In many ways the Tarot are associated with mysticism and the occult, but they actually have different uses and interpretations that span many forms of spiritualism.  In fact, the Tarot started as playing cards for nobility.   The first decks are traceable back to 15th century Italy when the Visconti family commissioned the creation of the first 3 decks known as the "Visconti Trumps".   These decks are regarded as the forefathers of the Tarot decks of today.

(Hand painted 'The Lovers' card from the Visconti)
In the latter half of the 15th century, card makers in Marseilles, France, started to standardize "Trumps" (what those original decks were called...the name reflected their use as playing cards).  Before that, people who played Trumps could dictate which cards to include/exclude, or substitute in their deck.  These early decks were hand painted, and the oldest deck in existence today is said to be the Cary Yale Visconti, one of the Visconti family decks.  Only 67 cards remain.
(Left:  Visconti 'Devil'; Center:  Visconti 'Tower'; Right:  Visconti 'Death")
There are three of the original Trump (Major Arcana) cards that were deemed offensive by nobles.  The 'Tower', 'Devil', and 'Death' cards.  The distaste for these three caused an attempt by religious leaders of the time to ban the use of Trump cards.  Between 1450 and 1470, the first references of the cards in sermon form are from Italy when a Franciscan Friar condemned the use of the cards.  He stated that the Trumps were created and named by the Devil himself, and that the Devil had triumphed over the cards users as the players lost their souls to him.  The use of Trumps would die off a bit.

(Left:  Antoine Court de Gebelin; Right:  Thoth)
Then a Tarot rebirth happened.  In the year 1781, Antoine Court de Gebelin is attributed to introducing the cards for use as a divination tool.  De Gebelin believed that he was Egyptian by origin, and that there was a symbolism in the Trumps that contained mystical knowledge that was purposefully put there. His theory was that the cards held the key to lost magical wisdom as written by the Egyptian God, Thoth.  It was at this point that the Trumps started to evolve. Various card changes of the time have been attributed to various secret societies who produced decks of their own.

(Left:  Jean-Baptiste Alliette; Right:  Ettiella Deck)
The first account of cards being used for divination is attributed to cartomancer (card reader), Jean-Baptiste Alliette, in the year 1770.  Alliette is also known by the name Ettiella.  He was the first to publish meanings for the cards, 33 cards (32 + 1 for the querent) being included in his edition.

The creation of Ettiella's deck and the accompanying published work on the use of the cards, coincided with the theory of de Gebelin.  Then in the year 1799, when the Rosetta Stone was discovered, de Gebelin's belief was proved false.  De Gebelin's theory that the Trumps were Egyptian in origin was unsubstantiated. The belief would live on though.  De Gebelin's theory would be strengthened by the introduction of a notion.  The notion that Romany people/Gypsies, believed to be of Egyptian descent, traveled throughout Europe with decks in tow.
(Left:  Eliphas Levi; Right: Tree Of Life)
The trail of the Tarot now jumps ahead to the 19th century, to famous occultist, Eliphas Levi.  He developed a correlation between the Kaballah and the Tarot, which did establish that the symbolism of the Tarot crossed boundaries. Originating in Israel, Levi sparked a new belief in the Tarot, and the cards were thought to hold wisdom of the 'Tree of Life'.  With no facts to support it, this new theory listed 78 cards as keys to the mysteries.  Esoteric/magical groups acknowledged that the knowledge contained in the Tarot held significance in every mystical path.  A number of groups (the 'Theosophical Society', 'Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn', and the 'Rosicrucians' to name a few) would help cement Tarot's position in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

(Left:  Arthur Edward Waite; Right:  Pamela Colman Smith)
As far as the Tarot's place in the United States, it would gain popularity in the 1960's as part of the period of spiritual exploration that occurred.  In the 20th century, we come to a man whose name is rather synonymous with the more modern Tarot.  Credited with the 20th century renaissance of the Tarot, Arthur Edward Waite would commission artist, Pamela Colman Smith, to create the "rectified" Tarot.  Widely accepted as the standard, Waite's version was and is by far the most popular Tarot deck.  This is mainly due to the cards' symbolism and comprehensive design.

(Some cards from the Waite Deck as drawn by Smith)
Pamela Colman Smith did make a significant change to the design of the "pip" cards (Minor Arcana).  Her designs are more illustrative of the cards meanings.  Her drawings are easily understood by the layman when a reader is explaining a cards' significance.  Smith's design would set the standard, decks designed by others echoing hers.

Today there are many different decks to serve just about any purpose.  I own several, the Aquarian deck being my favorite.  The cards adorned with beautiful artwork by artist David Pallidini, and the accompanying book "Psychic Tarot", are also rather comprehensive.  I have had a few friends over the years who prefer the Aquarian deck, as well.  There is a Waite deck among my collection, it being the small version...what I refer to as "travel size".  In many respects I am still learning how to interpret what the cards have to tell, but I have learned quite a lot up to this point.  Yes, most cards have images that tell you what the card is about through the artwork, but as mentioned earlier, reading the cards is also up to the individual interpretation of the reader/cartomancer.  I have always found the Tarot both interesting, and intriguing.
(To show the diversity of Tarot designs, here are some different 'Ace of Cups' cards.
Far left:  Wizards Tarot, by Corrine Kenner & John Blumen; Center Left:  Mystic Faerie Tarot, by Barbara Moore;
Center Right:  Gothic Tarot, by Joseph Vargo; Far Right:  Revelations Tarot, by Zach Wong)
Your average Tarot deck is made up of five "sections", if you will.  The Major Arcana consisting of 22 cards, and four suits of "pip" cards, a.k.a. the Minor Arcana, each made up of 14 cards.  The 'Majors' address the human condition.  They cover the span of the lifetime, and deal with our experienced joys and sorrows.  The 'Minors' each represent a specific element, and the various nuances of experiences attached.  As I mentioned, there are a lot of different decks that focus on different subjects, or areas.  With each deck there is a core that a reader/cartomancer starts from, the 'black and white' of the reading leading into the individual interpretations and impressions felt by the reader.  I am going to leave the major Arcana for another post, and touch on the basic background information contained in the four suits of the Minor Arcana.  In this post, I will be touching on the suits as Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands.
("3 of Cups" - Shadowscape Tarot, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law)
Element:  Water
("3 of Cups" - Faerie Tarot,
by Nathalie Hertz)
The suit of Cups deals with the emotional.  It travels the emotional landscape, and delves into the territory of love, and the relationships within the family.  The Cups are connected with the soul, and its journey. Reflecting the emotional, they can show us wounds we have endured, past traumas that have had effect on our lives and the way we perceive things, or they can show us what emotional gifts we can bestow on others.  Are we moving unimpeded through life, or are there roadblocks?  Are we receiving enough energy to grow emotionally, or are we floundering due to short supply?  Water represents the unconscious.  Intuition and dreams.  The Cups can be a mirror, showing us what we haven't been able to see.

("4 of Wands" - Deviant Moon Tarot, by Patrick Valenza) 
Element:  Fire
("Ace of Wands" -
Vertigo Tarot, by
Dave McKean)
Wands are about action and direction.  They are associated with passion, and the issues of sexuality and fertility.  If Wands come up in a 'Love' spread, they can offer insight into an existing relationship.  They can also represent relationships not yet realized.  On one hand, Wands can represent loves intention, inform as to querents need to initiate or act in specific ways within a relationship, or querents/partners 'sex drive'.  On the other hand, they can represent a querents/partners disinterest, and cheating behavior.  The appearance of Wands in a 'Love' spread can be very powerful.    

Wands also represents creativity and the imagination. They shine light on our resourceful aspects.  They can give insight into ones' career.  Maybe you need to re-evaluate a vocation, and make some needed changes?  Maybe you just need to look at the big picture, and weigh your options?  The Wands represent enthusiasm.  They place great value on balance.
("6 of Pentacles" - Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot, by Alex Ukolov & Karen Mahony)  
("7 of Pentacles" -
Thoth Tarot, by
Aleister Crowley)
Element:  Earth
The suit of Pentacles represents the physical, the material.  Security, and stability.  What you have gained financially, and what you will gain.  The fruits of ones' labor.  Pentacles also symbolize Gaia...Mother Earth.  Fertility, and growth.  Can represent money changing hands through business or inheritance. They can represent property owned and to be potentially gained; banking matters; a promotion, or new job on the horizon.  Issues dealt with can be those of commitment and trust.    Maybe there is a need for querent to show some generosity, and do act of charity or kindness?  They also can represent the physical body, and issues of a health nature.

("2 of Swords" - Joie de Vivre Tarot, by Paulina Cassidy)
Element:  Air
("Queen of Swords" -
Bohemian Gothic Tarot,
by Karen Mahony & Alex Ukolov)
The sharp edged Swords cut straight to the heart of an issue, no matter the feelings associated with it.  They deal from the realm of the mind, and don't always deal directly with the facts of a situation.  They address life obstacles and challenges.  Unsympathetic at times, they can cut through repression or denial to give clarity to issues that must be dealt with.  Can reveal matters in ways that demand new spiritual awareness, no matter what pain may be associated with conscious change.  Their realm is the intellectual.  They call for new clarity.  The Swords symbolize truth, and like their blade, that truth can be double edged.  They can cast new light on a subject, as well as break it asunder.   The swords represent the call for strong action, or renewed clarity.

They also can serve as a warning, to alert querent about miscommunication or acts of aggression.  The Swords can also indicate emotional turmoil, or illness.
Again, the Tarot are in many respects an interpretation based divination form. There are the basic meanings traveling hand-in-hand with the impressions the cartomancer receives.  Most of my readings over the last number of years were performed by a friend who is really good at the art of cartomancy.  Very insightful, and amazingly accurate on issues of a past, present, and future nature.  I also had a few readings done at a shop I frequented when I lived in Los Angeles, CA, called 'The Psychic Eye' (there's a link on my 'Links' page).   It's a wonderful metaphysical shop carrying a wide variety of goods.  I wasn't satisfied with all of my readings there, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

If you have never had a reading but want to, try to get a recommendation from someone you know.  If you don't know anyone to refer you then try one out.  I recommend my approach of volunteering as little info as possible, and a pad and pen for note taking.

Give it a can be a real learning experience on many levels.

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