What Is Tarot And How Does It Work?

What Is Tarot & How Does It Work?

Cards from Hanson-Roberts Tarot © U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

The origin and original meaning of the word “tarot” is uncertain, but in today’s world it refers to a certain type of cards that are used for receiving spiritual guidance.

What Makes A Tarot Deck Different From Other Types Of Cards?

Each tarot deck contains 78 cards total. There are 22 major arcana cards which represent major life themes such as beginnings, endings, love, hope, fear, learning, etc., and 56 minor arcana cards which are divided into four different suits. The minor cards represent life themes too, but usually in a more specific way that is related to their suit. Each suit contains the numbered cards ace through 10 and four court cards.

The names of the suits vary from deck to deck, but in general the suits are:

Swords or Scrolls – representing the element of air, thinking, and communication.

Wands, Staffs, or Rods – representing the element of fire, passion, creativity and action.

Cups or Chalices – representing the element of water, emotions, and intuition.

Pentacles, Coins, or Disks – representing the element of earth, material things such as money and possessions, work, and prosperity.

Any deck that does not follow this format is not a tarot deck.

Where Did Tarot Cards Come From?

Tarot decks started out being commissioned by European nobility to be used for

special card games. The earliest known reference is thought to be a request for “carte da trionfi” (cards of triumph) in 1440.

They appear to have been used only for playing games until sometime in the 1600s or 1700s.

Some Cards from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Cards from the Rider-Waite Tarot © U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

In fact, the first deck to have actual pictures on the ace through 10 cards, instead of just an arrangement of that number of the symbol for that suit like you would find on regular playing cards, is said to be the Rider-Waite tarot deck which was first published in 1909.

(It is also sometimes referred to as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to honor the artist who illustrated the cards, Pamela Colman Smith.)

This deck is still being published today (over 100 years later!) and is the one most modern tarot decks are based on.

How Do You Use Tarot Cards To Do Readings?

There are two main ways to read the cards. They can be used separately or combined together.

The first way, the way most people start out reading the cards, is to learn the traditional meanings of each card and then determine which meaning is most likely based on the question, the other cards, and the meaning of that position in the spread (the layout of the cards). Things like astrology, numerology, and color meanings may also be used when interpreting a card.

The second way is to interpret the cards intuitively.

Some readers actually never study the traditional meanings and simply use their intuition to interpret the pictures. This works particularly well for those who have developed their intuition to the point where they can actually bring through messages from Spirit. In that case the cards tend to act as a sort of “trigger” to activate their intuitive abilities.

Most professional readers do both.

I think the majority of people who read tarot start out by learning the traditional meanings and then begin using their intuition more and more over time.

To get a better idea of how tarot works, the best thing to do is check out some example readings or get a reading for yourself.

If you’re interested in learning how to read the cards for yourself I recommend checking out learntarot.com

And if you want to learn even more, you’ll find plenty of info on Tarot Teachings and the Aeclectic Tarot Forum.

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