Tarot: What is it?

The Tarot deck, its history and how to use it.

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Tarot was orgininally a deck of playing cards, with origins from the mid-15th century. It was first known in Italy and France as well as in other places in Europe and it wasn’t until the 18th century that Tarot started to be associated with divination.

Like regular playing cards, the Tarot has four suites (Wands, Cups, Swords and Discs – names may vary with different decks) but with 56 cards. The suit cards are called pip cards. They are numbered from 1 (the Ace) to 10. There are four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King – they may have different names in different Tarot decks) in each suit. In addition to the four suites is a 21-card trump suit, with 20 regular cards and number zero – The Fool.

One of the earliest blueprints for Tarot is the Visconti-Sforza Tarot. The term refers to an incomplete set of cards, not a whole deck, spread out in the world in various museum, libraries and private collections. They date from the middle of the 15th century and are the oldest surviving Tarot cards, they even date back to a time when the deck were just regular playing cards where known as Trionfi (“triumphs” – trump) cards. The Viconti-Sforza cards had a deep impact on the compostion, numbering and interpretation of the modern decks.

Decks from the early era of printing also survives, especially from France. The most popular pattern is known as Tarot de Marseille. Tarot de Marseille is the standard from which many of the decks from the 19th century and beyond are created by.

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Tarot de Marseille

The most common Tarot deck is the Rider-Waite Tarot. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck was orginially published by the Rider company in 1910 and is arguably the most popular tarot deck in use today. The cards were illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith after instructions by mystic A. E. White, thus other suggested names for the deck is Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith or simply the Rider deck. The images are simplistic but filled with background symbolism. It differs from earlier decks by having illustrated pip cards as well as changed places for the cards Strength and Justice.

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The Rider-Waite Tarot

An example of a modern, contemporary deck that is highly influential and also very popular is Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, painted by Lady Frieda Harris par to Crowley’s instructions. The Thoth deck is filled with astrological, elemental and Qabalistic symbols, an evolution of what Crolwey learned in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.Crowley wrote the book The Book of Thoth to accompany it. The deck is filled with Crowley’s names of the different cards.

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The Thoth Tarot Deck

Most decks out there can be categorized into five major categories: a Marseilles-style deck, a Waite-style deck, a Thoth-style deck, an art deck, or a novelty deck.

How to divine or “tell the future”

In reality, what you do when you use the Tarot is NOT telling the future. It’s more the standpoint that “The most powerful sources of information come from within; the Tarot aids in coming in contact with one’s Higher Self”, to quote the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

There are typically two types of readings in Tarot. Quest readings or open readings.

Quest readings refers to specific questions asked. But keep in mind when asking questions. Keep you options open, do not be too simplistic and direct with them. Do not ask “Will I get a raise” – rather ask how you can balance increased workload and familylife. Also make sure the question is focused on YOU, not on your spouse or family member or who ever you might have questions about.

With open readings you just sit back and let the cards paint you a storyboard, more or less. Make sure you take an almost Lenormand-ish approach and read the cards next to eachother together. See what they reveal in pairs and in sequence. As a rule, you want to step away from the details in your life and instead look at the bigger picture.

Well met,
Raven’s Eye

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