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An Overview of the Tarot

By TheophileEscargot in Culture
Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 11:30:58 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Tarot cards: what they are, where they come from, what they mean and what they're used for.

Pick up a Tarot deck. In general, you'll have a large, thick deck of 78 cards, bigger than playing cards, somewhat clumsy to shuffle. Twenty-two of these will be the Trumps, or major arcana; each with a picture, a name and a number. The remainder are the minor arcana, and are more like playing cards. These are divided into four suits, often named Swords, Cups, Wands and Pentacles. Each suit has number cards one to ten, and court cards named Page, Knight, Queen and King.

Or you may find something different entirely. The cards may be small, they may be circular, they may be home-made, they may have completely different suits, they may have pictures of film stars or sporting heroes. You may also find someone shouting furiously at you: it's considered a very bad thing to handle someone else's cards without their permission.

History. The first physical evidence of the Tarot dates from the fifteenth century. An elaborate, hand-made deck called the Visconti deck survives from Italy in 1440. More simply-drawn decks survive from Marseilles, France, in the same period. An Italian sermon describes the major arcana cards in detail, criticizes them as blasphemous, warns against gambling with them.

It is believed by many that the Tarot is far older than this. Based on similarities of the imagery and numbering, some associate the Tarot with ancient Egypt, or the Hebrew mystic tradition of the Kabbalah, or a wide variety of other origins. However, if you rely on physical evidence alone, it must be said that the Tarot began in Europe in the Renaissance.

In the Anglo-Saxon world today, the Tarot is usually seen as a means of fortune-telling. However, early references such as the sermon refer only to the use of the cards for game-playing and gambling; and in some European countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany; this is still seen as the primary purpose of the Tarot today. The relationship between Tarot cards and playing cards is unclear, since for centuries there was no standard for playing cards, just a variety of different decks. Some maintain that playing cards are the descendent of Tarot cards, with all the major arcana cards but the Fool/Joker stripped out. There is also an opposing view that the major arcana cards (trumps) were added to playing cards as a novelty.

Whatever their origins, Tarot cards eventually came to be associated with mysticism and magic. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mystics, occultists and secret societies used the Tarot.

The breakthrough into mass popularity began in 1910, with the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, which took the step of including symbolic images in the minor as well the major arcana. In the twentieth century, a huge number of different decks were created, some traditional, some wildly different.

Varieties and Artwork
Tarot artwork is a fascinating subject in itself, in several different ways. From an art-history point of view, it's intriguing to watch the images evolve over five centuries, and to judge how artists have attempted to convey the same concepts to generations apart. From a folk-art point of view, you can compare and contrast hundreds or thousands of amateur decks. In recent years, hand-making your own deck has been popular. Notably, Salvador Dali used collages to create his own Dali Universal Tarot. Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot has an interesting art-deco feel.

The most popular deck today is probably what is confusingly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, or simply the Rider deck. The images were drawn by artist Pamela Colman Smith, to the instructions of academic and mystic Arthur Waite, and published by the Rider company. While the images are deceptively simple, almost child-like, the details and backgrounds hold a wealth of symbolism. The subjects remain close to the earliest decks, but usually have added detail. The chief aesthetic objection to this deck is the crude printing of colours in the original: several decks, such as the Universal Waite, simply copy the Smith line drawings, but with more sophisticated colouring.

Other decks vary in their conventionality. Cat-lovers have the Tarot of the Cat People, a fairly standard deck complete with cat in every picture. The Tarot of the witches and Aquarian Tarot retain the conventional cards with varying designs. The witches deck became famous/notorious in the 1970's for its use in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die.

Other decks change the cards partly or completely. The Motherpeace Tarot is notable for its circular cards and feminist angle: the mainly male characters have been replaced by females. The Tarot of Baseball has suits bats, mitts, balls and bases; "coaches" and "MVPs" instead of Queens and Kings; and major arcana cards like "The Catcher", "The Rule Book" and "Batting a Thousand".

Geeks might find the Silicon Valley Tarot most intelligible, which offers online readings. Major arcana cards include The Hacker, Flame War, The Layoff and The Garage; the suits are Networks, Cubicles, Disks and Hosts; the court cards CIO, Salesman, Marketeer and New Hire.

The significance of the cards is their most mysterious aspect. Even the early decks have complex imagery. Look at The World (Le Monde) or Strength (La Force) in this Marseilles deck. Strength shows a woman holding the jaws of a lion. This might just be interpreted as an image of physical strength: some modern decks just show a muscular man with a barbell. But look at The World: a dancer or posed figure, in a flowery wreath, with four creatures at the corners. All kinds of symbolic explanations can be, and have been, presented for this. But was this just a standard symbolic representation of the concept "the World" in Marseilles in 1450, or were there deep levels of meaning even then? If these cards were just for card-games, why were these peculiar symbols chosen for them? Was there a spiritual or magical significance to the cards, or was it just that the random whims of a dead artist found themselves incorporated into a standard? The answers are frustratingly lost, not just in the mists of time, but the fogs of contradictory analysis.

Regardless of what the cards meant originally, meanings are attached to them now. Interpretations have co-evolved with the cards over the centuries: later decks have "clarified" the pictures in accordance with their perceived meanings, the meanings in turn modified by the new pictures.

For example, take a look at the Rider-Waite-Smith Strength card. We can know more about the symbolic intentions of the designer here, since he conveniently wrote many books on the subject. As with its Marseilles-deck ancestor, the card shows a woman holding the jaws of a lion, but this picture is far more elaborate. The strangely-shaped hat of the Marseilles card has traditionally been interpreted as a symbolic lemniscate: the sideways-figure-eight representation of infinity. In the newer card, this symbol appears explicitly. Other symbols are included: a chain of roses symbolizing desire or passion, against a white robe symbolizing purity. The mountains in the background demonstrate another kind of strength. Even here there is room for interpretation: the card is sometimes considered as showing intellect triumphing over desire, sometimes as the equal union of intellect and passion, sometimes just as a symbol of mental strength or endurance.

The twenty-two cards most often in the major arcana are: Fool, Magician, High Priestess [or La Papessa/Popess], Empress, Emperor, Hierophant [or Pope], Lovers, Chariot, Strength, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, Devil, Tower, Star, Moon, Sun, Judgement, World. Each card has its own large, complicated and disputed set of meanings. Altogether the major arcana is said to represent the Fool's journey: a symbolic journey through life in which the Fool overcomes obstacles and gains wisdom.

There is a vast body of writing on the significance of the Tarot. The four suits are associated with the four elements: Swords with air, Wands with fire, Cups with water and Pentacles with earth. The numerology is usually thought to be significant. The Tarot is often considered to correspond to various systems such as astrology, the Kaballah, the I Ching and others.

Uses of the Tarot
Jung was the first psychologist to attach importance to the Tarot. He regarded the Tarot cards as representing archetypes: fundamental types of person or situation embedded in the subconscious of all human beings. The Emperor, for instance, represents the ultimate patriarch or father figure.

The theory of archetypes gives rise to several psychological uses. Some psychologists use Tarot cards to identify how a patient views himself or herself, by asking the patient to select a card that he or she identifies with. Some try to get the patient to clarify his ideas by imagining his situation or relationship in terms of Tarot images: Is someone rushing in heedlessly like the Knight of Swords perhaps, or blindly keeping the world at bay. The Tarot can be seen as a kind of algebra of the subconscious, allowing it to be analysed at the conscious level.

Storytelling and Art
The Tarot has been known to inspire writers as well as visual artists. Novelist Italo Calvino described the Tarot as a "machine for telling stories", writing The Castle of Crossed Destinies with plots and characters constructed through the Tarot. T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land uses only superficial descriptions of Tarot cards, a few of which are genuine. Random selections of Tarot cards have also been used to construct stories for writing exercises and writing games.

Divination and Magic
Divination, or fortune-telling, is by far the most popular and well-known use of the Tarot. This is sometimes seen as an extension of the psychological use mentioned above. It can be argued that we sometimes perceive the signs of future events subconsciously only. For instance you might be subconsciously aware that a relationship or job is in trouble, before you admit it to yourself. In that sense, it might be said that the Tarot can give you insights into the future without having any supernatural or occult aspect at all. Meaning may emerge even from purely random patterns, as chance selections force you to consider concepts that you'd normally ignore, and the density of meaning is great enough that meanings can emerge from almost any selection of cards.

That point of view is rare. Tarot diviners generally believe that Tarot cards simply allow them to exercise an innate psychic ability to see the future. It's popularly believed that the cards take on the "aura" or "vibrations" of someone who touches them. The cards are therefore "insulated" by wrapping them in silk or enclosing them in a box, and only touched by the diviner and person for whom the reading is done: the "querent".

There are many variations, but in a typical reading the querent shuffles the cards, then the diviner lays out the cards in a pattern called the spread. The most popular spread is the Celtic Cross. The cards are then analysed according to their positions, their relationships and whether the cards are upside-down. An inverted card has its own set of modified meanings; sometimes opposite, sometimes weakened, sometimes twisted.

Divination may be seen as magical in itself, but the word "magic" usually refers to the use of Tarot cards in a magical ritual designed to achieve some end. This is much less common than simple divination, however.

Spiritual growth
The symbolism of the Tarot in general, and the Fool's Journey in particular, is seen as describing spiritual progress and growth. Contemplation of the Tarot is believed by some to aid this. It is also common to meditate using a particular card as a focus.

Believers in this approach, who include Christian mystics as well as assorted New Agers, sometimes regard divination as a somewhat immature use of the Tarot.

Christianity and the Tarot
The relationship between Christianity and the Tarot has been ambiguous from the beginning. Neither gambling nor fortune-telling are encouraged by Christian churches: a device that does both was never going to be popular. In addition, the religious imagery of the early decks was regarded as blasphemous. Not only was the Pope himself present, on the card often known now as the Hierophant; but the card now often called the High Priestess was originally known as La Papessa: the female Pope. Together with cards like the Devil and Judgement; the Tarot has often been seen as positively Satanic by many Christians.

There is of course no evidence that the earliest Tarot decks were created by or for Satanists: there's precious little evidence of any kind. However, there's little evidence even for later associations between Satanism and the Tarot. A single book page on The Church of Satan website claims to have found a single, out-of-print deck called "Satan's Tarot", but there is little supporting information. The Salem witches Tarot FAQ strongly denies a link with Satanism.

In fact, the Tarot is more closely associated with Christian mysticism. The nineteenth-century Golden Dawn group, since splintered into a variety of sub-groups, incorporated the Tarot into a specifically Christian mystical framework, as did other contemporary groups.

In the present day, the rejection works both ways. The Tarot has been adopted by the Pagan and Wiccan movements, who dispute a Christian origin to the Tarot. To them, Christian symbols in the Tarot are considered either coincidental; universal symbols that cross the different traditions; or just Christian corruptions of originally Pagan symbols.

The best book I've read on the Tarot is Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. It's comprehensive, covering and the minor as well as the major arcana; and taking several angles on the Tarot. It's also well-written and intelligible: the author is also well known as a fantasy and SF writer.

A classic text is Eden Grey's Complete Guide to the Tarot, which concentrates on classical divination, but has some information on the more spiritual aspects.

Arthur Waite's The Key to the Tarot, while highly influential, is confusing and incomplete; and is also hampered by a lack of illustrations. Even though he invented the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, it's best avoided by newcomers. Interestingly, Waite's habit of describing the picture of each cards in words seems to have been widely carried over even into illustrated books; many of which are padded-out versions of this one.

Every library or bookshop will have a selection of Tarot books, mostly aimed at divination for beginners.

There is an interesting online guide to divination using the tarot, which discusses each card, and has several examples of actual readings.


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Favourite Tarot deck?
o Cat People 6%
o Marseilles 4%
o Rider-Waite-Smith 20%
o Silicon Valley 16%
o Thoth 36%
o Universal Dali 10%
o Visconti 2%
o Witches 6%

Votes: 50
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o History
o Visconti deck
o simply-dra wn decks
o opposing view
o Rider-Wait e-Smith
o Dali Universal Tarot
o Thoth Tarot
o Rider deck
o Universal Waite
o Tarot of the Cat People
o Tarot of the witches
o Aquarian Tarot
o Live and Let Die
o Motherpeac e Tarot
o Tarot of Baseball
o Silicon Valley Tarot
o online readings
o The Hacker
o Flame War
o The Layoff
o The Garage
o this Marseilles deck
o Strength
o many books
o Fool's journey
o attach importance
o Emperor
o Knight of Swords
o blindly keeping the world at bay
o The Castle of Crossed Destinies
o The Waste Land
o spread
o Celtic
o Cross
o Devil
o Judgement
o book page
o The Church of Satan website
o Salem witches Tarot FAQ
o Seventy-Ei ght Degrees of Wisdom
o Complete Guide to the Tarot
o The Key to the Tarot
o online guide
o several
o examples
o Also by TheophileEscargot

Display: Sort:
An Overview of the Tarot | 59 comments (51 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
interesting (none / 0) (#2)
by slothman on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 04:01:29 AM EST

Even though I don't belive in Tarot reading it is still an interesting article. +1

Too true. (none / 0) (#17)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:27:30 PM EST

I see this as no more than an elaborate game of Poker. Still, it does show what other people believe about Tarot.

If I would have got in time here.. +1 SB

[ Parent ]

Poker... (none / 0) (#58)
by PenguinWrangler on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 08:18:03 AM EST

I see this as no more than an elaborate game of Poker...

I played poker with tarot cards once.
I got a full house, and four people died.

"Information wants to be paid"
[ Parent ]
Write-in poll option (none / 0) (#9)
by communista on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:09:01 AM EST

The Robin Wood Tarot deck. I've had mine for about 8 years now!
/me fucks shit up!!!!
Interesting (none / 0) (#10)
by TheophileEscargot on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:51:03 AM EST

Some pics.

That deck's not my cup of tea at all, but very popular among Pagans and nature-lovers IIRC.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Re: (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by communista on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 11:40:33 AM EST

What I'd like to do someday, is buy a blank deck (I found a local place that sells these) and draw/design my own. No time ro do that lately though.
/me fucks shit up!!!!
[ Parent ]
hey babe... (none / 0) (#29)
by ragabr on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:15:36 PM EST

i've got a book with great instructions for developing you're own tarot. talk to me if you want. ;-)

And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
[ Parent ]
cool (none / 0) (#31)
by pb on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:37:57 PM EST

My mother did that a long time ago, and I bet it took her a while...

Re: your sig--I have a t-shirt that says that!
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
[ Parent ]

Magic Cards, Magic Money (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by thelizman on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 10:27:52 AM EST

The power of the tarot lie in the numbers and images. To a largely illiterate people, numbers can seem like magic when used to explain their world. Those who could do math were powerful because they could also do engineering and could handle money. Even today, ignorance in math means you're likely to be poor and of low class. The imagery (as mentioned in the article) contains a high degree of illusory reference to mystical elements.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
'Mischief'- Mark Bastable (none / 0) (#12)
by lauD on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 10:32:59 AM EST

Above: A rather good read involving the Tarot's major arcana within its plot. More here if you're interested.

Well researched article. The text manages to live up to the intro. :)

Why was I born with such contemporaries? Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

The Tarot and Christian culture (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by IHCOYC on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 10:52:19 AM EST

The relationship between Christianity and the Tarot has been ambiguous from the beginning. Neither gambling nor fortune-telling are encouraged by Christian churches: a device that does both was never going to be popular. In addition, the religious imagery of the early decks was regarded as blasphemous. Not only was the Pope himself present, on the card often known now as the Hierophant; but the card now often called the High Priestess was originally known as La Papessa: the female Pope.
None of these images were particularly blasphemous. The notion that there was once a female Pope was a widespread late Mediæval legend. It didn't become seriously politically incorrect for Roman Catholics to fancy that there might have been a woman who managed to get elected Pope dressed as a man until after the Protestants started using this legend to discredit the Roman church.

It seems pretty obvious that the Tarot cards were indeed the product of a late mediæval or early Renaissance Christian culture. Cards like the Last Judgment and the Pope, the appearance of the figures of the four Evangelists on The World, and standard late mediæval images like The Wheel of Fortune mark the cards as the products of a European society saturated in Christianity. Other versions of Tarot cards, like the Visconti tarots, included a number of different, but still obviously Christian symbols. The Christian and European origin of the deck would be pretty obvious but for the fact that you still run into people who believe the stories that the Tarot is Egyptian, or has some other gee-whiz pedigree.

Another useful, if expensive, book that traces the history of the cards, and the claims made about them, is Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia of the Tarot. Bill Butler's Tarot Dictionary is also useful, describing both the images of many of the older standard published decks, and the interpretations of the cards in divination offered by a number of writers.

Heus, nunc, mihi cantate hanc æruginem.

And late mediŠval Xian imagery came from where? (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by pla on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 02:56:00 PM EST

Cards like the Last Judgment and the Pope, the appearance of the figures of the four Evangelists on The World, and standard late mediŠval images like The Wheel of Fortune mark the cards as the products of a European society saturated in Christianity.

Not to take a side in this issue (I will not claim to know the true origins of the tarot), but all of the "obviously" Christian imagery you pointed (and most of Christianity in general, for that matter) came from earlier sources that pre-dated Christ.

The idea of the end-of-the-world has existed in quite a few pre-Christian cultures... Brahma closing his eyes, the Mayan calendar "ending", Ragnarok, and in lesser form, the Egyptian weighing-of-the-heart by Anubis.

The Pope, or High priest (or priestess), or Heirophant, or "mediator to the divine" has similar ubiquity in cultures believing in a separation between man and the divine. At its weakest, *ALL* known human cultures have some concept of "wise-man" or "elder" or "village healer" (which maps better to the idea of "priest" than "doctor" in cultures lacking modern medicine).

The four animal-forms of the apostles... Ever heard of Sekhmet, the lion-headed Egyptian goddess? Budge's Sefer or the Chaldean Nisroch? Menthu, Apis, or less obscure, the Minotaur? Ever seen a totem-pole? Animal forms of divine agents (or the gods themselves) have also existed for millenia, even before Daniel ate the wrong berries and saw the-god-to-come (yet another prevalent myth)...

The Wheel of Fortune... How about the prayer wheels of Vajrayana Buddhism? The Mayan calendar in physical form? A form of gambling known even to primative African tribes (*before* we contaminated and destroyed their culture, even)?

Osirus, the killed-and-resurrected god.

The four noble truths, the eight-fold path, and the ten commandments.

"Do not to others what ye do not wish Done to yourself" (from 13th century BCE vedic tradition).

"All that has been, will come again."

you still run into people who believe the stories that the Tarot is Egyptian, or has some other gee-whiz pedigree

Such ideas persist for the same reason you came to the conclusion that the tarot must have come from late mediŠval Christian culture. I do not mean this as a slam at you, incidentally (forgive my sarcasm, I sometimes use it too heavily), nor at Christianity for making use of the symbolism that existed before it (actually quite a good strategy, IMO). But, post hoc, ergo propter hoc makes one of the classic flaws in reasoning.

[ Parent ]
There is some truth in that. (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by IHCOYC on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 08:54:25 PM EST

I will cheerfully concede that not all Christian images were entirely original, or derive solely from the Bible or other specifically Christian or Jewish imaginations.

The idea of the end of the world has indeed existed in many cultures. The specific Tarot image of the Last Judgment, with the angel blowing the trumpet to summon the dead, just like in the Dies Iræ, is an obviously Christian version of this idea. This is in fact the image that appears on the traditional decks. Other cultures indeed have had wise men and women, shamans, priestesses, and priests; what you get in the traditional Tarot decks is the Pope and the Papess. The Wheel of Fortune appears in the old decks as it appears in traditional mediæval illustrations, with men ascending, triumphing, and falling as a symbol of life's changing fortunes. It is unclear what this traditional image shares with Buddhist prayer wheels besides its shape.

I'm not arguing that these figures may not have all sorts of antecedents and relations in other cultures. What I am claiming is that the shapes they take in the inherited Tarot decks are Christian, and we don't know if the cards ever existed in any other form. Like any other folk tradition, you can appropriate it, change it, and alter it as you like. What I am claiming is that all the evidence we have suggests that the collection of images we call the Tarot originated in mediæval Europe.

Heus, nunc, mihi cantate hanc æruginem.
[ Parent ]

Oopsie. (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by pla on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:15:56 PM EST

I owe you an apology, then. I did indeed misread your post.

I for some reason took you as saying that the concepts themselves originated in Christian Western Europe in pre-rennaisance times, when you quite literally referred (and stated as much) to just the iconography itself.


[ Parent ]
Little, Big (none / 0) (#16)
by protobob on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:19:18 PM EST

John Crowley's book "Little, Big" (review) is a very good novel that deals with Tarot a good bit. It's a fantasy novel, but not swords and sorcery fantasy, rather a somewhat dark, modern day 'faerie' tale.

Damn You All (none / 0) (#18)
by n8f8 on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:32:36 PM EST

Can't you leave a little mystery in anything? Next you'll tell me Mary wasn't a virgin.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
mary as a virgin (none / 0) (#37)
by krkrbt on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 07:17:00 PM EST

in ancient times, it was common to refer to all unmaried women as 'virgins', regardless of whether or not that was really the case.  Not to say or imply what the case actually was, but just to suggest the possibility that that word might've meant something completely different to the people who used it 2000 years ago as compared to the people of today.

[ Parent ]
What I learned (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by upsilon on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 12:33:38 PM EST

When I was a freshman in college, I wrote a term paper on the history and origins of the tarot. My sources indicated that it was indeed just a card game for many years. The earliest known writing dealing with tarot's occult significance was published in 1784 by Antoine Court de Gebelin's 9-volume work "Le Monde Primitif" (English translation: "The Primitive World"). Specifically, there is a roughly 30-page section in volume 8 that deals with tarot and its significance and connections with Egyptian and Chinese symbologies.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an original copy of "Le Monde Primitif" and understand enough French to read it myself. I found it particularly notable that Court de Gebelin wrote as though these occult symbologies were known (at least in some circles), yet he provided absolutely no references; nor have any earlier works tying tarot to the occult been found.

This, at least, is what I learned through my own research. This is a very well-written article, and I have to admit a certain amount of surprise that Court de Gebelin was not mentioned in this article, especially given his historical significance to tarot.

Once, I was the King of Spain.
Tarot divination and esotericism (none / 0) (#48)
by Astral Masquerade on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:55:26 AM EST

Indeed, although for the benefit of the readers I would have mentioned that there is a fairly strong distinction between divination (cartomancy) and occult symbology (esotericism).

As noted in the TarotL history information sheet:

It is known that ordinary playing cards were connected with divination as early as 1487, so it is reasonable to conjecture that tarot was also. ...

The first occult writers to discuss the tarot were Court de GÚbelin and the Comte de Mellet in 1781. For the first 350 years of its history, the tarot was not mentioned in any of the many books on occult or magical philosophy. Following 1781, occult interest in tarot blossomed and the tarot then became an integral part of occult philosophy.

Cartomancers generally are disinterested in the esoteric aspects of Tarot, while followers of the esoteric tend to "regard divination as a somewhat immature use of the Tarot." (from the original article)

"The UK government still seems to think that there is a shortage of IT professionals. They may even be right but there's no shortage of people who think they are IT professionals." -- Arron Rouse, The Inquirer
[ Parent ]
Tarot decks (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by iGrrrl on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 01:00:38 PM EST

My favorite deck is of course Alice in Wonderland. The suits include Peppermills, Oysters, Hats, and Flamingos, iirc. The trumps are all scenes from the Alice books that illustrate the conventional versions of the key cards.

Tarot decks work through symbolism. The old ones held their symbols reasonably close to a chest that had to be well versed in esoterica. By contrast, tarots like the Alice deck are easy for a person very familiar with the books. Similarly the various home made Star Trek decks are simple for serious Trekkers to interpret.

The Thoth deck is for me the most interesting, because it was the first to incorporate very modern symbolism. The Devil card incorporates a schematic of cells in second metaphase meiosis, while the Universe card includes a version of the old form of the Periodic Table of the Elements. I confess a weakness for science in my mysticism.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.

I believe in the Tarot (5.00 / 3) (#21)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 01:32:24 PM EST

It is an absolutely fabulous tool for meeting women at parties!

What? You mean it has other powers, too?

Remember we're talking about government forms here. They don't have to make sense, they just have to be tidy.

Mage: The Ascension (none / 0) (#22)
by bugmaster on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 01:55:58 PM EST

This is probably a bit off-topic, but:

Does anyone know if it is possible to acquire (or at least look at) the tarot "deck" used for White wolf's Mage series of books ?

The cards they use are really striking; the art is beautiful and clear, and there is usually plenty of symbolism on each card (for those who have read the books, of course). I would love to browse all those cards - The Mage, Gaia, King of Pattern, etc. - in a single compilation,

Mage Tarot (5.00 / 1) (#23)
by WorLord on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 02:30:51 PM EST

Yes, it is available (or was, a short while ago) and I actually have a copy somewhere.

I went to a comic book store to get it, though, and I only saw it elsewhere at a gaming-centric store (book and dice gaming... in other words, the same place you would go to get some hard-to-find White Wolf Rulebook or ancient D&D text).  I'd look here for that mage tarot.

"Kill two birds with one stone: Feed the Homeless to the Hungry." --WorLord
[ Parent ]

I'd rather have a Zelazny deck. (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 02:35:09 PM EST

Not so much the Amber series, but the stuff from "Jack of Shadows" would make a phenomenal tarot deck.

Remember we're talking about government forms here. They don't have to make sense, they just have to be tidy.

[ Parent ]

White Wolf sells it (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by Karmakaze on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 02:57:19 PM EST

Try the White Wolf Online Store.
[ Parent ]
mage (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by LilDebbie on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 06:54:12 PM EST

I bought mine of ebay for $50 or so and found out that White Wolf rereleased it about two weeks after my purchase. At least I got the cool, flattening box with a larger instruction booklet.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
I have it. Also, "Giger's Tarot" (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 10:34:54 PM EST

The nicer version, too. Fortunately I only had to pay 20-something Canadian for it. I bought it in a comic shop. A little info:

Whitwolf didn't intend, originally, to sell the Tarot decks, they just made up some cards for their art. When interest grew, they actually started producing the decks. Unfortunately, interest wasn't strong enough, so they stopped... then it jumped up again and now you have the cheaper version.

Of course, my memory isn't 100% clear on the matter, so don't take my word as authority.

What I prefer to the Mage deck, though, is Giger's Tarot. It was reasonably cheap, amazingly beautiful (in a Giger sort of way) and utterly profound in its instruction. They only provide you with the Major Arcana, but the book that accompanies it is beyond profound. It safely reconciles Tarot with psychology in a way that successfully creeps me out.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]

Dave McKean's Vertigo tarot (none / 0) (#25)
by Echo5ive on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 02:36:23 PM EST

Absolutely stunning!

Dave McKean has done, among other things, the beautiful covers for the Sandman comics, and lots of CD covers.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

cool art (none / 0) (#33)
by LilDebbie on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 06:50:09 PM EST

but I think he omitted a great deal of the more subtle symbols and bizarre Qabbalistic images. Not very useful for nardcore tarot readers, but great for those who are only kind of into it. You should check out White Wolf's Mage tarot deck as the artwork is based directly off of the rider-waite deck with a Mage: the Ascension twist.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
McKean's symbolism (none / 0) (#49)
by Echo5ive on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 02:35:28 PM EST

...is actually from the Sandman comics -- I forgot to mention this. The Devil, for example, shows an empty chair on a beach and some feathers. In the Sandman comic, the Devil closed up Hell, quit his job, cut off his wings and took a vacation, sitting on a beach sipping drinks. :-)

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

[ Parent ]
McKean rocks (none / 0) (#41)
by blisspix on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 09:39:57 PM EST

McKean's tarot is beautiful. too bad the card used by Vertigo is so crappy and thin. :(

I have a couple of decks, but I dare not use the McKean for fear of fingerprinting it!

[ Parent ]

How the magic works. . . (none / 0) (#28)
by Fantastic Lad on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:04:46 PM EST

A couple of other theories as to why/how Tarot readings work. . .

1) With an extra twist the,'subconscious knowing things the conscious does not' riff as explained in the main article is actually very close to how I view things. --The twist being that in my view of the Universe, the subconscious is aware of a great deal more than modern psychology might allow. --Essentially, having access to memories from all previously lived lives, and indeed all future lives; access to the core reasons for a soul's having chosen a given life path and the people sharing that path.

2) The Universe, according to some, is accessible in its entirety within every soul; all answers to all questions may be found within and seen mirrored in every person and object and pattern. --This is based upon the whole, "God is infinite, every soul is a piece of God, and infinity subdivided is still infinite," approach.

3) The Universe is conscious and aware, and indeed, manipulates itself to effect all events in concordance with each soul's given pre-destination and choices. --According to my understanding, Don Juan called this manipulating force, "Power", or "The Spirit," and as he put it, (and this is just my attempt to recall his exact wording, which I don't have access to right now, (interesting!)), "Power is always speaking. The grace of the sorcerer comes from his ability to hear and understand."

4) I have another, older theory from my student days when I was trying desperately to reconcile our scientific reality with the observation that Tarot and Astrology, when done correctly, were very accurate. I, of course, spent a few years first working with the skeptic's arguments based on statistical odds, the longing of the true-believer to be convinced, and other basic cold-reading methods. I have read entire magician's manuals on cold reading, and can even perform it with a degree of competence.

The problem is that, while certainly able to create the illusion of many psychic phenomenon, these mundane explanations, I found, were only able to convincingly explain a portion of the events I had seen/experienced/studied. With any genuine study of these areas, where one's ego and fears are put on hold, (and this is a minor miracle in itself, when it happens!), it becomes steadily apparent that there really IS something going on. . .

So the first theory beyond the skeptic's arsenal which I came up with was based on the way fractal mathematics can replicate entire patterns at multiple scales within the same formula.

Essentially, if one assumes that the entire universe can be based upon a single 'fractal-like' mathematical function, then it would become reasonable to assume that similar to fractal graphics, certain patterns within reality might also replicate themselves at different scales. I was particularly interested in how planets moving in certain ways could be related to certain social dynamics among people in their daily affairs. While the interrelation of those scales may seem not to be there, (ie, no obvious mechanical relationship between people and planets), the simple fact that everything occupies the same universe means that we are part of the same 'formula'. When dealing with card readings, it becomes even more obvious, in that cards and people occupy the same 'fractal territory' (to be very blunt and clumsy in the metaphor).

In any case, this made things easier for a long while. And it got even less difficult as I learned that there are indeed mechanisms through which organisms can be influenced by minute amounts of gravity-data.

Anyway, this is some of my thinking. Perhaps you may find it useful.

-Fantastic Lad

Well said (none / 0) (#43)
by HikaruGenji on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 11:34:00 PM EST

Having done Runes for 13 years I can say the same: too many statistical anomalies; too many experiences that destroyed my skepticism. Your comments are refreshing, they reflect a good synthesis of Theosophical and turn-of-the-century occultist ideas with modern scientific sensibility. Your comments about the fractal math mirror comments made in a book about divination I am writing with a friend. The universe has been postulated to exist as a holographic entity; that is to say each part contains the image of the whole (quod es superioris est sicut id quod es inferioris). Finally, for those who don't believe in ESP or the "sixth sense" I can only refer you to these experiments which might put you, at the very least, firmly on the fence about it.

[ Parent ]
Thats very true... have you considered... (none / 0) (#52)
by wameku on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 07:45:46 PM EST

A New Kind Of Science By Stephan Wolfram? I bought it when it came out, and have yet to do more than just peruse the images and ponder the meaning of the opening paragraphs. However, The gist of this book is based on 10 years of experiments on cellular automata. Basically simple programs to determine the color of a cell in a row, regarding its neighboring cells, its current state, and the like. Very much like your fractal theory of interconnectivity, Wolfram supposes that the entire universe is a "program" just a few lines long.

The interesting effects can be seen when these cells are allowed to multiply and "play out" their existence, the fractal patterns that emerge are quite confounding in their complexity. Wasnt it all supposed to be simple? why so complex?

In this sense, I wholehartedly agree with your supposition that the universe is running off a single 'fractal-like' function.

this is soo cool. I dont think I'll ever really understand it, but somehow I think Douglas Adams had it right when he said: "42".


[ Parent ]

I believe in the Tarot (5.00 / 2) (#30)
by Karmakaze on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:16:13 PM EST

I don't believe it tells the future in any mystical sense, but that doesn't render the whole thing useless.

I used to be able to do "uncanny" readings by watching my questioner's face and adjusting my interpretation to their reactions.  Some of them I told the secret, some of them I let believe I was really psychic.

The trick is that the tarot is full of very universal symbols.  The same way you can make any of Nostradamus's predictions seem as though they fit current events, you can make any universal symbol seem relevant to the issue at hand.  So, if you've learned the symbols and are even moderately good at reading body language, you can lead someone through a series of interpretations that resonate strongly with the questioner.

So, is it a hoax?  Yes and no.  Because the symbols are pretty universal, they'll resonate with most people's issues.  And, by making someone clarify the question they have in mind, and then go over different aspects of the issue slowly (card by card) you can help someone get a new perspective on what's on their mind.  Even if you have a reading and think the results are completely off base, you've at least been able to identify what you don't want to do.

I've seen this done elsewhere (none / 0) (#34)
by Torgos Pizza on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 06:50:43 PM EST

Only on resumes and yearly reviews. ;-)

I intend to live forever, or die trying.
[ Parent ]
storytelling (4.50 / 2) (#32)
by janra on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:46:50 PM EST

I've used tarot a couple of times to help me out with a story. It actually worked a lot better than I had expected.

While I know the meanings are so universal they can be interpreted to fit almost any situation, the cards that turned up fit the situation very well. I did a simple "current situation/choice/outcome" reading a few times, and it gave me quite a few ideas for the story, and brought up a few things I hadn't thought of - both options and details about the character that I hadn't been consciously aware of.

I've also used the tarot a few times myself - not as fortunetelling, but just as a way to help me think through my situation and options. It really helps, whether or not I believe in the validity of the "future" part of the spread.
Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.

Write-in vote (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by localroger on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 07:02:36 PM EST

I prefer to use the Barbara Walker Tarot. It is another Tarot influenced by feminism, but not nearly as radical as Motherpeace. Walker herself does not believe there is anything "psychic" about the Tarot and feels the usefulness of the cards is psychological. She has written several exhaustive books on mythology with a feminist bent, which are interesting in their own right.

The illustrations are painterly, not cartoony, but stark and devoid of excess detail. While not as beautiful as some decks I have found that they grow on me, balancing aesthetics and practicality in a way I favor. It is easy to pick out the symbols in each image which are meant to be meaningful, yet all 78 illustrations come across nicely as images without being picked apart for their content.

Walker's illustrations are traditional in content with a couple of exceptions. For practical work, it has the advantage that the cards are normal size, making them easier to shuffle and deal. My favorite feature is that she illustrates each of the minor arcana with an appropriate individual or tableau from mythology, and gives them snappy and easily recognized names, making them very easy for beginners to interpret.

There are a couple of cards in the deck which are glaringly different from the Rider standard, presumably because her fine feminist standards got freaked out by the original imagery. Nevertheless, despite owning several other decks it's Walker I reach for when I want to do a little serious divination.

I can haz blog!

And for the ultimate Tarot experience... (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by fluffy grue on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 08:55:20 PM EST

Taboo: The Sixth Sense
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

I can save us all some time.... (2.66 / 3) (#44)
by DeadBaby on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 03:10:01 AM EST

If you've got to this point and you haven't read the story you're in luck. I can tell you the truth in one line:

They mean nothing. They're worthless non-sense.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan

Wrong-o. (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:23:35 AM EST

Tarot cards are absolutely essential for playing Zarcana and Gnostica.

Remember we're talking about government forms here. They don't have to make sense, they just have to be tidy.

[ Parent ]

Truth (none / 0) (#51)
by datarat on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 04:24:05 PM EST

I love the way you arrogantly assume that your opinion is truth. You'll have to teach me some time. For my part, I'm keeping an open mind. Think of Tarot cards as a Schroedinger's Cat experiment. You can't know the result until the card is flipped, and therefore the result is indeterminite, merely a probability wave.
-datarat "An optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is afraid it's true"
[ Parent ]
Piers Anthony (none / 0) (#45)
by Quila on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 07:28:29 AM EST

Tarot fans should read the Cluster series by Piers Anthony.

Not that I believe, but they're some interesting books.

Dragon Tarot (none / 0) (#46)
by shaggymonkeybuns on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 10:18:18 AM EST

My personal favorite deck is the Dragon Tarot by Peter Pracownik. The illustrations are absolutely exquisite!

*shaggymonkeybuns* 8:P
A bit of HR Giger (none / 0) (#53)
by cropped_7 on Thu Aug 22, 2002 at 01:43:41 AM EST

Have a look at the Giger Baphomet deck.

[ Parent ]
I'd like to see a Pokemon Tarot (n/t) (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by Bernie Fsckinner on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 03:07:24 PM EST

No one mentioned the Morgan-Greer? (none / 0) (#54)
by surlybird on Sat Aug 24, 2002 at 02:19:32 AM EST

Most of the sci-fi/fantasy decks mentioned here have slick images but aren't very useful for readings. The Morgan-Greer is the deepest and most useful Rider-Waite-Smith variant, in my opinion--the cards in RWS that just make me wince, like the 2 of Pentacles, are some of my favourites in the MG, without much change in the symbol itself. As for the "validity" of tarot, it does work. I don't believe it works by magic--psychology is adequate to explain how readings can illuminate options and perspectives even if you don't buy into synchronicity or the universal unconscious. But I've done readings for people and I've seen that people have very visceral reactions to the cards; even if you just ask them what they think each card means and what it signifies, they can get a new angle on their problem. (Read Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility by Arthur Rosengarten, Ph.D. for more on that.)

Agree with that (none / 0) (#55)
by RegularFry on Sun Aug 25, 2002 at 10:12:57 PM EST

I do. A friend of mine has absolutely no truck with any other "magic"-style paraphernalia or techniques like astrology or numerology, but she is a firm supporter of the Tarot for precisely this reason. She's a counsellor, and she subscribes to the view that Tarot is just a form of self-examination, and that self-examination is unequivocably a good thing.

There may be troubles ahead, But while there's moonlight and music...
[ Parent ]
Tarot and connections (none / 0) (#56)
by Odins Quest on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:41:10 AM EST

I am in the middle of writing an essay on the cross-cultural connections of mysticism. For instance, the number 13- the Thirteenth Tarot card is 'Death,' the thirteenth Rune in the Elder Futhark of the Norse is also 'Death' (sort of) and Christ and his twelve closest friends at the last supper... and the list goes on. I was wondering if anybody out there with more experience with Tarot cards knows of any other connections besides the obvious. Thanks for the help, no credit will be given.
"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." - Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)
paul foster case and the builders of the adytum (none / 0) (#57)
by acrostic on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 05:31:34 AM EST

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the work of paul foster case or the work of the three initiates.

The tarot holds the greatest secrets on how to live. The example above is strength. In this image is the secret of the command over the physical world. Note that the woman holds the lion's mouth open, not closed, and is really helping the lion open it's mouth...not forcing it.

The key is saying that the secret to control over the physical world, or the body, lies in the subconsious, and that she holds dominion with love. The lion is the physical body, or the real world -- both. This in mystical traditions is called the "Secret of all Spiritual Activities".

People interested in learning about the truths hidden in the tarot can get "the tarot" by paul foster case or "the thursday night tarot" by jason lotterhand. The latter is more conversational, and is really collected notes from his classes.

The Tarot is the alphabet for the language of god.
It is, simply, Truth.

PFC's spiritual descendants offer a correspondence course at http://www.bota.com. This still gets me ... what they offer is real wisdom..the real shit that's been hidden and cloaked and closeted in secret organizations .... in a correspondence course. It's just funny. The first instinct is to go 'nah, no way'. Lol. Of course if you really wanted to expose the secret wisdom, would you use a trumpet or speak quietly in a corner? Funniest thing i've seen in a while. I'm still laughing.


Promethea (none / 0) (#59)
by PenguinWrangler on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 08:23:06 AM EST

Has anyone read the issue of Alan Moore's Promethea where he explores the Tarot deck? Each page looks at two cards, while an anagram of 'Promethea' is spelt out in scrabble tiles, and Alester Crowley tells a joke along the bottom of the pages.

It's brilliant. Especially the bit with Harpo Marx!

It's wonderful how Moore is using what at first looks like a superheroine comic to explore his own knowledge of Magic. (or Magick, if you prefer that spelling.)
"Information wants to be paid"
An Overview of the Tarot | 59 comments (51 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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