What the Tarot Is and What It Can Do for You

Want to hear something spooky? Jog on! I once was asked by a magazine editor of one of the UK’s largest spiritual magazines if I could contribute any ‘spooky’ magazine articles. We had already worked together on a project and she knew I was an established Tarot professional, so the term ‘spooky’ should never have entered into the equation for future work. I let them know exactly what I thought about using the term ‘spooky’ about anything Tarot-related. Needless to say, I never worked with them again.

Because these types of misconceptions about the Tarot prevail (apparently even among those who should know better), I choose instead to focus my efforts on continuing to educate people about the true value of these 78 pieces of cardboard that are so much more.

What the Tarot is and a brief history of the cards

The Tarot is a deck of cards, loosely based on the regular playing card deck structure, with an additional four court cards and 22 trumps or Major Arcana cards. The number cards and court cards are known as the Minor Arcana (56 cards in total, compared to 52 in a deck of playing cards).

The origins of the Tarot aren’t 100% clear but we know that decks surfaced in the Mediterranean region in the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance, thanks to commissioned decks like the Visconti-Sforza being preserved almost entirely. These cards were used to play a game called Tarock, which is still played in places like France and Italy today.

The 22 Trumps (Trionfi in Italian) represent archetypal characters from Medieval morality and mystery plays. The four suits corresponded with the four classes: Wands for peasants, Cups for clergy, Swords for nobility and Coins/Pentacles for the merchant class.

It is likely that people used the cards for divination from the very beginning, just like they did with the playing cards but we don’t know much about this until the 1700’s when French occultists started making claims about ‘Egyptian’ origins of the Tarot, complete with Astrological and Kabbalistic overlays on the Major Arcana in particular.

In the late 1800’s the English occultists of the Order of the Golden Dawn put their own spin on the Tarot, resulting in the most popular Tarot deck to date, the classic Waite Smith Tarot, created by A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith in 1910 for the Rider Publishing company. A.E. Waite was a devout Christian Hermeticist and his Marian devotion can be clearly seen the beautiful Ace of Cups Tarot card.

Later, with the decline of Christianity and the rise of Neo-Paganism, many famous Tarotists have sought to enforce the fantastical claims of Egyptian origins of the Tarot. However, there is precisely zero evidence of this in the earliest decks and you don’t need to be Sherlock to look at the French Marseille Tarot, which was the first mass-produced Tarot deck, to realise that it was created with a Christian ethos. In fact, there is documented evidence that this ethos was used to justify playing the game of Tarock when the church wanted to label the use of playing cards as immoral.

How is the Tarot relevant to our lives today and what can we use it for?

The archetypes in the Tarot are as alive in our subconscious minds today as they were to the people of Medieval times. Proof of this lies in the fact that the cards show up in film, art and media. These images still speak to us all on a very deep level and help us tap our own intuitive knowledge.

Accessing our intuition is precisely how the Tarot is most commonly used but there are, of course many other ways you can use the cards. However, for the purpose of getting the most out of this deck of 78 pieces of cardboard, let us focus on the intuitive side of things.

The one thing I agree with my Pagan friends is that the Church has done untold damage when it comes to suppressing our own, intuitive knowledge. The Church as an institution chose to marry the State for increased power, wealth and control of its flock, rather than to encourage and inspire direct access to the Divine, which is what Christ came here to teach us about and which is what Mystics on all Paths have always been aware of.

That is why, as a ChristoPagan, I’m super excited about living in an era when the Church is losing its grip of terror on the people, the true teachings of Christ can begin to surface and the tools we use to enhance and tap our divine, intuitive inner knowing no longer need to be hidden away.

The Major Arcana can be used to look at all of life’s major spiritual lessons. The word ‘arcanum’ means secret or mystery. These mysteries are life lessons each of us must navigate but depending on what our soul contract looks like for this particular incarnation, certain lessons will be more emphasised than others. Some of our lessons will be karmic and hark back to past lives. Other lessons are those we ‘signed up for’ to promote the most opportunity for growth in this incarnation.

The Fool represents each and every one of us. He was ‘Everyman’ in Medieval morality plays. Along the way, he encounters all the Archetypes and the lessons they bring, though almost never in a linear fashion. Some of the spiritual lessons expressed in the Major Arcana are:

  • individuation (The Sun)
  • personal power (The Chariot)
  • creativity (The Empress)
  • organisation (The Emperor)
  • surrender (The Hanged Man)
  • mother/father issues (The Empress/Emperor)
  • shadow issues (The Devil, The Moon)
  • oneness/transcending limitations (The World)
  • wisdom (The Hermit)

The Minor Arcana relates numerologically to the Majors, so that all the 1’s, for instance, correspond with The Magician. Those who have chosen to embrace the Astrological overlays imposed by the occultists of the 17-1800’s, will also find planetary and zodiacal resonance between the Majors and the Minors.

Each of the four suits in the Minor Arcana correspond to one of the four Classical Elements talked about by Medieval Alchemists:

  • Wands – Fire – South – Archangel Michael
  • Cups – Water – West – Archangel Gabriel
  • Swords – Air – East – Archangel Raphael
  • Pentacles/Coins – Earth – North – Archangel Uriel

Working with the Elements for healing, wellbeing and self-awareness can be extremely rewarding. The Minor Arcana can also provide insights about day-to-day dealings and more mundane issues in readings:

  • Wands – Ventures/career/sexual energy
  • Cups – Emotions/intuition/empathy
  • Swords – Problems/communication/ideas
  • Pentacles – Employment/physical health/money

The Court Cards can be seen as families for the purpose of getting to know them.  The Kings are the fathers, the Queens are the mothers, the Knights are the teenage or young adults sons and the Pages are younger children or maidens. Although, as you will learn as you progress in your studies, the courtiers are more gender fluid than that.

The Wands family members are all outgoing, visionary, creative and don’t mind taking centre stage but can be aggressive. The Cups family members are intuitive, empathic and psychic but can also be emotionally manipulative or passive/aggressive if they don’t get their way. The Swords family members are great at problem resolution, asking the right questions and all have the gift of gab but can be quarrelsome and emotionally aloof. The members of the Pentacles family are hard-working, good with money and are grounded but can be stubborn and greedy.

Sound interesting so far? The next thing you will want to consider is getting a Tarot deck for yourself so that you can begin your journey with the cards. CLICK HERE to find out which decks are ideal for beginners. (Oh, and by the way, forget all about the old wive’s tale that have to be given your deck by someone else!)

Rather than jumping into reading the cards for others, many choose to work with the wisdom of the Tarot for self-development – at least initially. Self-awareness is the key to being a great reader in the first instance, so this is something I strongly recommend. Mary K. Greer has written a classic book called Tarot for Your Self which I highly recommend.

How the Tarot works and its limitations

The Tarot works on the principle synchronicity which is the way our mind links seemingly unlinked (acausal) events or symbols to provide them with meaning. The images of the Tarot speak symbol-ese, the language of symbols. Symbol-ese is the language of both the subconscious mind and universal consciousness.

Hence the Tarot is capable of bridging our everyday awareness to the realm of our unconscious mind where we hide anything that is too cringeworthy or traumatic to deal with in the light of reason. It can also help us access the lofty realms of universal consciousness beyond the time-space limitations normally imposed by 3D reality. When this happens, we experience what some readers refers to as a ‘psychic hit.’ I don’t know anybody who has this ability on tap. However, regular usage of the Tarot (or any divinatory tool) will certainly strengthen your intuition.

The Tarot can be used for predicting the future much in the same way that a weather forecast can be used to predict the weather days or even weeks from now. The principles are similar enough for the following comparison: when a weather system has been set in motion, it is relatively easy to predict what will happen because of this; when events have been set in motion, the outcome is placed somewhere along a trajectory and relatively easy to predict… IF the time frame is reasonable.

There are some few exceptions to the rule ‘spell long, divine short,’ related to fate and karma but that is for a later date…

For this reason, many Tarot readers stay away from predicting timing for events but choose to set a reasonable time frame to see if certain events are likely to occur within that time frame. Those who excel at timing events with the Tarot usually do so in combination with the Tarot, combining their knowledge of astrological Tarot correspondences with looking at natal chart transits etc.

Ways to work with the Tarot to harness its wisdom

Doing a daily draw and meditating with the card 

Chakra work

Tarot journaling

Beginning to read for self and others

I hope we can all agree that there is nothing ‘spooky’ about the Tarot but rather that the Tarot is a good visual summary of life’s most important symbols and archetypes that we can all benefit from using to tap into our own inner knowing!

Love and Blessings,

Lisa Frideborg