Frequently Asked Questions About Tarot

1. What is Tarot?
2. Where did tarot originate?
3. What is the structure of a tarot deck?
4. How does tarot work?
5. What are spreads, and how do they work?
6. What are reversals?
7. Which books can I read to learn more?
8. Which is the best tarot deck?
9. What is cold reading?
10. What is casing the mark?
11. Can I use tarot cards in meditation or ceremonial rituals?

1. What is tarot?

Originally a trick-capture card game popular among the upper classes in Italy, the tarot is a deck of 78 cards that was adopted by occultists during the 1800s as a type of personal spiritual journal. Tarot became more widely known as a form of cartomancy, or card divination, during the 1900s. In the current century, these cards have exploded in popularity and branched into various genres due to their availability online. Tarot is still extremely popular as a card game in France and other places in Europe.

In occult circles, the tarot’s purpose as a tool for divination is considered its lesser function. In its higher function, the tarot deck serves as an adept’s soul journal, something of a personal picture bible. A deck is to be created at some point after communication with the holy guardian angel has occurred. The initiate’s tarot reflects the wisdom they have come to know in their journey. The tarot artist/adept mimics the divine act of the creation of the universe, creating a sort of cosmic bridge between heaven and earth.

Since the tarot’s adoption by the occult world, popular movements coupled with the popularity of the Rider-Waite ushered in a new era of popularity for the tarot as an oracle, particularly since the late 1960s. Today, the tarot has been adapted to fit various ideologies, from Jungian archetypes to commercial brand names.

In the 1990s, Miss Cleo burst onto the scene as a tarot-vangelist, introducing the masses to the tarot as a joke and a scam. In 1993, online divination websites like Facade introduced automated readings for free, while gifted psychic readers and con artists alike scrambled to pick up the pieces of the market after Miss Cleo’s disappearance.

Since the 1990s, the tarot has been more popular than ever. Thousands of tarot decks can now be found online, though vast numbers of them could be thought of as novelty items designed to fit particular niches into the popular format of the deck. Online, psychic tarot readings are a big thing. There are huge differences between the cards: novelty item vs psychic tarot vs occult tarot. Free automated readings are also popular, which encourage one to awaken their own psychic abilities as they learn by doing. Owning a deck of cards is not even necessary any more.

2. Where did tarot originate?

The beginnings of the tarot are obscure, but it is generally believed that the tarot was originated as a trick-capturing card game in Italy in the 1400s. The tarot was originally known as trionfi, and then tarocchi in Italy. Some believe the standard playing card deck might have been imported to Europe by way of Egypt, and it is believed by some that the tarocchi deck was an offshoot of regular playing cards. Others believe the opposite is true. Either way, these decks apparently seem to be related, even if only as distant cousins.

3. What is the structure of a tarot deck?

The Tarot is a deck that consists of Major and Minor Arcana:

Minor Arcana

Traditionally, the Minor Arcana are like regular playing cards, with the addition of an extra face card between the tens and jacks. The four suits of the minors: wands, cups, swords, and coins correspond to the regular playing cards’ clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds. The face or court cards have taken many names over the many incarnations of the tarot deck, but there are always four court cards for each suit. The court cards fill the basic roles of king, queen, knight, and knave (or father, mother, son, and daughter).

The number cards one through ten of the Minor Arcana are traditionally called pip cards. Pips are like playing cards, basically just pictures of repeating suit icons. In the Rider-Waite deck, A.E. Waite decided to do away with the old pips in favour of scenarios of events. This made learning to read much easier for beginners, and this idea was widely adopted due to the overwhelming popularity of the Rider-Waite deck. Occultists like Crowley chose to honour the pip tradition.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana are also known as trump cards. Traditionally, there were 21(+1) majors. Dr. Timothy Leary added 2 extra trumps, revealing the path to another dimension. bifrost artist Jeremy Lampkin believes the eventual adoption of Leary’s extra trumps will become standard among esoteric tarot decks.

Leary’s idea was that the Major Arcana represent the growth of humanity as a race in stages, from zygote to singularity. The Major Arcana is the part of the deck that particularly serves the occult tarot’s higher function, as the majors tell the story of the life’s journey through different eras and phenomena.

Good times and bad times, the whole story is told through the course of the tarot deck.

4. How do tarot readings work?

The tarot is a sacred oracle, a mystical game that allows the player to tap into the universal consciousness using a deck of cards layered with symbolism that reflects what man has come to understand about his relationship to the universe. Oracles like tarot operate on the premise that every soul is plugged in to the universal consciousness, and that if the cards are asked nicely, they will deliver revelations.

The reader asks for spiritual insight, perhaps about something that has been troublesome. The cards are laid either individually or according to a spread – a template of cards that get interpreted according to their positions. Spreads are chosen according to the type of question asked.

It’s not hard for beginners to get started reading their cards. Tarot reading essentially relies on the same rules of imagery interpretation as people commonly do when they interpret dreams.

5. What are tarot spreads, and how do they work?

When you do a reading, the cards are laid out in a particular pattern or sequence known as a spread. There are various spreads for the types of queries that may arise, and a person can even make up their own spreads. On Tarotsmith, there are over a dozen spreads to select from.

In tarot spreads, cards are read according to their position in the spread as well as the relationships that arise between other cards, taking all factors into account as the web of relationships within the spread tells a story, thus answering your question (hopefully). Tarot spreads can seem complicated, but most of them are actually really simple once the basics are grasped.

6. What are reversals?

Reversals were made popular by the Rider-Waite deck, but were introduced by Etteilla in cartomancy readings way back in 1770. A reversed card is one that appears in a spread upside-down. Previously, occult readings generally relied on elemental dignities, which depend on adjacent cards to determine whether a particular card is to be considered well-dignified or ill-dignified. Waite’s introduction of reversals eliminated the need for readers to determine dignities, making RWS readings much easier for beginners.

7. What books can I read to learn more about Tarot?

For more advanced learners, Tarotsmith recommends studying the Book of Thoth:

  • The Book of Thoth (Crowley) 1944/1969/1974
  • Tarot Mirror of the Soul (Ziegler) 1984/1986
  • The Tarot Handbook (Arrien) 1987
  • Magick and the Tarot (Willis) 1988
  • Keywords for the Crowley Tarot (Banzhaf & Theler) 1998/2001
  • Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (DuQuette) 2003
  • Crowley Tarot Führer I & II (Akron) 2007
  • The Thoth Companion (Snuffin) 2007

Of course, many other books are available. The starting place for most beginners is:

  • The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (Waite) 1911

8. Which is the best tarot deck?

As each deck has its own character and strengths, the best tarot deck is the one that speaks to you most clearly. Sometimes a certain deck might be preferable for a particular question. One person might not like the bluntness of a Rider-Waite reading, while many swear by that deck. In other words, it’s all a matter of personal taste.

9. What is cold reading?

Cold reading is basically when an unscrupulous for-profit reader puts two and two together in order to make some easy money off a client. A deck of cards is not necessary for a con artist to apply common sense. Good cold readers make an art out of reading unconscious behaviour patterns while feeding the information back to the client in an ego-stroking manner.

10. What is casing the mark?

Ethical or not, a practising witch can exercise influence over a querent. Someone who practices magic unscrupulously could program the subconscious mind of an unsuspecting or naive client. In tarot readings, there is psychological intercourse that brings the querent’s mind to a passive, almost hypnotic state. Naturally, this type of mind meld is a prime opportunity for “casing the mark.”

The word psychic has been somewhat of a misnomer. Since everyone has the ability to tap into the universal consciousness, everyone is basically psychic. Even dogs have psychic abilities, as it is the nature of consciousness. There is nothing inherently superior about having psychic abilities.

11. Can I use tarot cards in meditation or ceremonial rituals?

Yes, of course. Tarot cards are particularly powerful tools to be used in this respect. Spells, prayers, incantations, or whatever methods one prefers can make ideal focal points for the visualization process of using the cards. There are so many ways to do it. Creativity is the key.





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