Below is my version of an introduction to the Tarot.
Tarot, originally a card game from Europe’s mid-15th century, has become one of the most popular and powerful divination tools used by occultists around the world. With a definition of divination as any activity that involves seeking knowledge of the future often using tools that represent more subjective expressions of reality.
For the purpose of this introduction I won’t dive into how to use the Tarot to see into the future, but focus on how a budding occultist can use the tarot to gain insight into themselves and the world around them as it exists currently.
Reality as we understand it through modern science and the (Principles of Hermeticism) is a co-creation between the universe and a consciousness acting on that universe. While quantum and chaos theory/mathematics tells us that everything that is not being experienced only exists as probabilities, when consciousness interacts with those probabilities they collapse into a single existence.
When a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to experience it, it will only exist as a probability; perhaps it fell, perhaps it stands, perhaps it doesn’t exist at all. When someone is there to experience it, it exists singularly as that person experiences it. It fell.
Shuffling the tarot is, in a sense, a replication of this phenomenon. While the card reader’s hands are technically in control of the entire deck and determine which cards end up where in the stack, the reader themselves has no idea which cards exist where and cannot tell you for certain what the cards will say until they are drawn and laid out in a spread.
The reader then uses the predefined meaning of the card, in relation to its location in the spread, and how that card contrasts with all the possibilities that could have occurred (the rest of the deck), and the other cards in the spread to paint a picture of what they are currently experiencing.
Its important to remember not only the meanings of the cards, but where they fit into the deck, and how they are laid out in the spread in order to maximize your ability to use the tarot as an alternate perspective on reality.
Nothing exists alone. Everything exists in contrast to the world around it.
The Tarot is a 78 card deck broken into two major categories. The Major Arcana has 22 cards, while the Minor Arcana has 56. The act of reading the Tarot while using the entire deck is an exercise in distributing all the possibilities of reality into 78 categories or possibilities. As you can see this, mathematically, is very limiting, but considering all the other divinatory tools out there this actually makes the Tarot one of the most accurate.
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana essentially tells the story of the 4 most fundamental elements of nature which until modern science were the elements that everything in the universe was made of; Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I won’t go into detail regarding what each element represents, but its important to understand that the Minor Arcana represents these elements and their path towards maturity in the universe.
Respectably the Minor Arcana is broken up into 4 suits; Cups (Water), Swords (Air), Pentacles (Earth), and Wands (Fire). All elements are born in and grow out of the 5th element, Ether, or Aether. This is the All, the void, that which existed before the big bang, the matter of spirit, or however else you choose to interpret it. When an element is still half in, half out of the Ether it is represented by the Ace card within that suit. For example; the Ace of Wands would represent the element of Fire coming into existence with the raw energy of the element, having not yet taken shape or direction in the material reality we experience every day. As the element matures it is represented by the other cards of that suit; the 2 of Wands, 3 of Wands, 4 of Wands, ect. Once it reaches the 10 of Wands it has fully matured and gone through the process which shapes and organizes the most complex forms of matter in the universe.
Another great way to look at the numbers of each suit is to consider the Pythagorean meanings of each number as Pythagoras has defined them through his lifelong meditation on the subject. I’ve personally used these meanings a lot and highly recommend memorizing the Pythagorean meanings of the first 10 numbers as an aware magician will experience them in more than just the tarot.
At the end of each suit are 4 court cards; The Page, The Knight, The Queen, and The King. I personally prefer to interpret these cards as people in my life or aspects of myself in how I’m interacting with the particular element. According to the Hermetic Principle of Gender, we can understand that every element has a male and female aspect to it and they will be represented by these cards. The King and The Queen would be mature perspectives, understandings, or uses of a particular element, while The Page and The Knight would be the immature perspective.
For example; The King of Pentacles would have a strong understanding and maturity when it comes to the Earth element, being wise in the ways of money and material resources from the earth, while The Knight might spend his resources without a strong understanding of the consequences of his actions.
Again, the Minor Arcana represents the 4 elements and how they grow and develop in the universe. The court cards represent people our aspects of ourselves directly and how we perceive and interact with these elements.
The Major Arcana
If the Minor Arcana deals with the 4 elements of nature, then the Major Arcana deals with the 5th, or as I prefer, consciousness as it enters into and grows and develops in the universe.
The Major Arcana has often been described as a story or a myth and the process a consciousness, or spirit, or soul undergoes as it grows and develops in the universe. This is represented by all 22 cards of the Major Arcana from 0-The Fool to 21-The World.
The story itself has its parallels in both modern and ancient myth and can also be represented by the (7 Stages of Alchemy) The Tree of Life from the Kabbalah, or the stories of Jesus Christ and all of the parallel mythologies surrounding those.
Each card of the Major Arcana represents a fundamental understanding of the world as well as a challenge to overcome in order to get to the next stage, or card.
While its not important for beginners to memorize the meanings of every card in the Major Arcana or the entire deck, that will be gained through practice, it is important to keep in mind the context of the cards in relation to each other and the fact that these cycles happen on an infinite scale in either direction.
To put it simply, the entire cycle of the Major Arcana or Ace through 10 of any particular suit can occur in a single moment as well as over the course of a day, week, month, year, or lifetime.
Never forget that when we draw cards at random we could be witnessing a representation of a point within this cycle at any scale.
Beginners to the tarot might want to intend to use a particular scale before they try to read the cards to give them a frame work for initial readings.
For the sake of this introduction and to help beginners to the Tarot and the occult in general we won’t demonstrate how to use the Tarot to divine the future here. I will focus on how a magician could use the Tarot and a basic 3 card spread to perform very simple introspection and perhaps some psychoanalysis of one’s self since that’s the most important thing for new magicians to be able to do. I also don’t bother with reverse meanings at all and all cards should be drawn right-side up and any reverse (upside down) cards should be righted.
I propose a 3 card spread.
After the magician has shuffled the deck to their satisfaction they can cut the deck if they’d like and draw 3 cards off the top.
1. The first card will represent the male aspect of the reader, their mind, analytical intelligence or perspective on the world, the actions they take, and their reactions to chaos.
2. The second card will represent the female aspect of the reader, their heart, emotional intelligence or perspective on the world, the actions they take, and their reactions to chaos.
3. The third card will represent their soul, spirit, or higher self which can either be a slave to the reality of the heart and mind, or rule over them in a more developed magician’s case.
This spread will allow a magician the ability to look at themselves or consider how they may be acting or reacting to a particular situation in their lives. It will provide them with an alternative perspective to consider which can aid a magician in solving a problem, understanding themselves, or gaining insight where they were once blind.
By using this spread consistently and considering what the cards may represent when presented in one of the 3 roles a magician will improve their ability to observe and understand themselves.
An invaluable tool indeed.