What is a Tarot Deck and How Does It Work?

What is a Tarot Deck?

A tarot deck consists of 78 cards that was initially created as a game in the 14th century. It has since become a popular method of divination used by people of all religions. Over the centuries, tarot cards have combined multiple cultures, philosophies and religions in their artwork and their meanings.

Tarot is a guide into your subconscious mind, where all of the knowledge that you seek is held. In using the tarot cards, you are able to pull the knowledge from your subconscious mind into your conscious mind, where you are able to put the knowledge into action. It pulls the information from your subconscious mind by using symbols and allowing you to tap into your intuition. Intuition is the part of you that knows what should be done, that gut feeling that you get.

Brief History of Tarot

Tarot has links to the early decks of playing cards, which we can date back to 618-907 A.D in China. In the 1440’s, a deck of 78 card with Judeo-Christian illustrations surfaced, but there are no records of whether this deck was used for divination purposes. The first record we have of tarot being used for divination is in 1780, with the creation of the Marsielle Tarot Deck.

In history, tarot was thought to be used only by the Chinese Emperor’s concubines for fortune telling. Later, tarot as fortune telling spread throughout Europe, likely by “gypsies”, or travelers.

The Church banned tarot, and all other methods of fortune telling with their anti- gambling laws. There were some exceptions to the wealthy who exceptions were made for.

In the 1800’s, or there about, occult parties became interested in using tarot. This is where our more modern tarot decks get a lot of their symbology and references.

Due to personal dislikes for each other, in the early 1900’s two additional tarot systems were developed, the Rider-Waite-Smith in 1909 by A. E. Waite and the Thoth (pronounced t-auth) in 1969 by Aleister Crowley. Both of these decks are influenced by Judeo-Christian symbology, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, Hermeticism, Qabalah, Astrology, Alchemy, and numerology

Is Tarot Evil?

As I have mentioned the word religion, I feel I should address the concept of the tarot cards being evil. The cards themselves have no connection with any entities, other than the person who is reading them. They are images that can only be as good or bad as the person interpreting them. If a person who is giving a tarot reading wishes to harm the person they are reading for, the cards can be used for evil purposes, but are not inherently evil by themselves. It would be like calling a baseball bat evil. It can be used for harm, but it can also be used to bring joy to those people who are interested in Baseball.

As tarot cards, as a gambling game, were banned by the Church, as were all other methods of fortune telling, there have been associations made between tarot, fortune telling, and the Devil.

Layout of a Tarot Deck

A tarot deck is distinguished by its layout. Each tarot deck contains 22 picture cards, called the Major Arcana and 56 number cards, called the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is then separated into 4 suits, like a typical deck of playing cards. The suits are Wands (Clubs), Cups (Hearts), Swords (Spades), and Pentacles (Diamonds). The suits contain 14 cards each, Ace through 10 and 4 face cards known as Court Cards. The Court Cards are the Page, Knight, Queen and King. In some decks, the Court Cards may be labelled slightly differently such as a Page being called Princess.

The Major Arcana represent major life patterns that are universal to all people. The Minor Arcana represent aspects of daily life.

The Three Tarot Systems

Each of the original three tarot systems that were used for divination purposes have some similarities and differences that can influence your decision on whether or not to read with that kind of deck. Since these decks were originally created, there have been many decks created and sold which are based on these three systems. Below is a brief overview of each tarot system and then I have a comparison chart for quick reference.

The Marseille system is the earliest form of tarot. This deck is heavily influenced by Judeo-Christianity and Roman Catholic symbology. In this system, the 22 Trump, or Major Arcana cards, are the only ones with scenic images. The 56 Minor Arcana cards, do not contain a scenic image, but instead contain a certain number of the image represented by the suit. For example, the 7 of Cups would be an image of 7 Cups laid out in a pattern. No other imagery is on the card.

The Rider-Waite-Smith system, abbreviated RWS, was created by Arthur Edward Waite, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith and published by Rider Publishing in 1909. Waite was a member of the occult group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was a secret society in the 19th and early 20th centuries that studied occult, metaphysics, and the paranormal. Waite was also Catholic. Both of these influences can be seen in the original RWS deck. This deck was the first deck to incorporate scenic images on all 78 cards.

The Thoth system was created by Aleister Crowley in the 1940s and published in 1969. Crowley, like Waite, was also member of the Golden Dawn, but these two fellows were not fond of one another. This dislike led Crowley to create his own deck, which is also influenced by the Golden Dawn, but it more stepped in symbolism and geometry, than scenic imagery. This system is a combination of the above two where the trump cards have a semi-scenic image, heavily based on symbology. The Minor Arcana cards contain images, but they are not always as scenic as the RWS. The card names in this deck are also different from the ones in the RWS and Marseille decks.

 MarseilleRWSThoth
Layout   
Tarot Deck (22 Major, 56 Minor cards)XXX
Illustrated Major ArcanaXXX
Illustrated Minor Arcana XX
Scenic Images on all 78 cards XX
Influences   
Religious PhilosophyXXX
Egyptian Mythology  X
Occult (astrology, alchemy, Qabalah, etc) XX (very heavy)
Geometry  X
NumerologyX (very heavy)XX

How Does Tarot Work?

As I hinted at in the previous chapter, the imagery in tarot influences your subconscious mind, or your intuition, which helps to guide you and create a meaningful answer from the cards that are laid out in front of you.

To confirm- yes, the knowledge and insight that you gain from tarot is already in your mind, the tarot just helps to bring it to the surface. When the tarot cards are laid out in front of you, your mind will create a story with the images. This story is what gives you the advice and insight.

My personal belief is that each and every human being has the ability to access all of the information that they need. Our subconscious is influenced by everything that we think, see, do and hear. But our conscious brain discards a lot of this information as unneeded, because at that very moment, we may not need it and there may be more important things that our conscious mind is trying figure out.

For example, as you are in your car, on your way to work, your conscious mind is thinking about the chores that you have to do at home, the tasks that you need to complete at work, where you are going to go for lunch, what the kids have going on after school, WAIT! That car just pulled in front of me.., honk the horn, get mad, yell at them as your speed around them, ok, back to what I was previously thinking about..

You get the point. In that same drive, your subconscious mind has noticed the changes in the road that you feel as you drive over it, the street signs that you see, but don’t really read (but your subconscious did!), it notices the cars that have driven by, how much {insert body part} hurts at the moment, your feelings and emotions that occur based on each and every one of the conscious thoughts that you have, so on and so forth. It is working overtime, all the time, to notice everything and anything that is going on that your conscious mind may not have registered, or found unimportant at that moment. But this information is locked in our mind, in your subconscious. Tarot is a tool that can help to bring this information forward so that our conscious mind can use it.

There are times that this is happening without Tarot, like when you have a gut feeling about something. That is called your intuition, which is based off of the information that your subconscious mind collects. Intuition may not seem rational, but the processes of the subconscious mind are still being researched to this day.

Each tarot reader has a personal opinion on how tarot works. Above is my opinion on how this ancient system works. Below are some other opinions that I have heard over the years. They are not my own, so I am not able to do more than summarize these concepts.

Tarot is a way for higher beings to communicate their knowledge to you. By higher beings, I am referring to ancestors, spirit guides, angels, etc.

The energy of each tarot card is in sync with your own energy, and this similarity in energy is what influenced you to pull a specific card.

I urge you, over time, to come up with your own idea of how tarot works and why based on your personal beliefs.

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