Monday, February 14, 2011

Easy Tarot Lessons: Lesson one-- start here

Staring at a spread that won't give you solid answers is frustrating. Spreads that are unclear or seem to wander away from the querents question (querent or petitioner = one who is asking/seeking) do a lot of harm to your ego. They delight in making you feel incompetent. When you are facing down a spread that refuses to cooperate you might be tempted to wonder if you shuffled enough or "did it right." This is a problem most (if not "all") Tarot students experience time after time. It is recurring. It is pernicious. And it is a pain in the butt!

Fortunately this problem can be solved with the following exercise. This exercise requires a fair amount of practice. It may seem simple and obvious, so much so that you would hardly consider it valuable, but the amount of time you do this exercise will determine how much the cards open up to you. This is the foundation of all advanced Tarot knowledge. I do this exercise to this day (but obviously not "every day" any more), even after several decades of reading and teaching the Tarot. So, got your deck handy? (I will wait) . . . 

. . . Okay I am timed of waiting. Let's begin:

Step one: If you are an absolute beginner do this step. If you like to think of yourself as proficient with the Tarot do this step. If you are a Tarot master you can skip this step. Remove all 22 "major" Arcana cards from your deck and set them carefully aside. Don't put them near a candle or anything wet. As obvious as this sounds please trust me on this. You don't want your cards to get bent, folded, or knocked over (wax on them, wet . . .) and you will forget about them within a few minutes of doing this exercise. Also, turn each card so that it is facing "up." We don;t need any reversed cards for this exercise as they will only slow you down.

Step two: With your deck prepared ("major" Arcana carefully set aside and all of the cards facing the same direction) you can shuffle the deck or have them in the order of your choosing. Just make sure they are facing "down" so you can't see their faces. Now . . .

Flip a card. 

That was easy, eight? So, what does the card look like? Is it cluttered with things and activity? It is a "busy" card or is it sedate, lazy, relaxed? How much is going on in this card? If you were the photographer of this picture--you were right there snapping the pic as it happens would you say it was loud or quiet? Are people shouting or making noise? Are they polite or argumentative? Is there music? If there is music is it light and charming or festive (dancing music)? Who is the "star" of this picture? Who is most important and are they happy? Do they fit into their world or does it conspire against them? Is this card a comedie or a tragedie? (roughly: happily ever after ending or sad ending) Is the card authoritative? Is it "a day in the life" card or an event? These questions you ask of the card help you get inside it and see what is really going on in the picture.

The Tarot is a visual divination tool. It's purpose and usage is based in "what you see" and little else. To kame (Na'vi word for "see" or "see into") it you need to be able to understand the relation of its participants. Don't underestimate the importance of this exercise. This one exercise will help you become a reader of legendary ability if you stay with it. But that is for later, after years of "real-world" experience. Right now let's just look at some examples. I will use the Rider-Waite, or "Rider/Waite-Smith" deck as it is the most popular deck in the world and the foundation of almost every modern Tarot deck. No matter what deck you are using please draw the appropriate card from your deck now and look at it and compare it to what "I see."

7 of Swords This seems to be a thief sneaking away from camp with other people's swords. If you look closely you can see silhouettes of people in the background. Presumably these are the warriors whose swords are being stolen. If this is the case (that the "main character" is a thief) then we are looking at something being stolen or someone "taking the wind out of someone else's sails". He is (seems to be) removing their ability to fight. After all how can you go to war without your sword?

But what if it is a practical joke? That could be what we see. Or he could be dancing. One of my students insisted this guy was dancing. So be it. Maybe he is. Maybe he is doing "the forbidden sword dance of Sheba." Perhaps he is gathering the swords because the idiots in the background DID go to war without their swords and he was ordered to go back to get them.

What is the most obvious scenario to you right now? Next Thursday when you see this card again you may have a different opinion of what is happening and that is just fine. Does he look like he is succeeding (getting away with his practical joke or theft, or whatever)? Does he have any opposition? Is anyone directly confronting him? Is it raining on him? (Yeah, yeah, there is almost no weather to be found in the Tarot)

Let's try another card . . . 

Ten of Coins Okay, so here we have an old man sitting in a chair petting a dog. In the mid-background is a woman talking/flirting with a man ho holds a spear and a small child trying to pet the doggie who is ignoring him/her. Beneath the layer of coins we can see that on the arch post are coats of arms and an expensive woven tapestry (rug) that shows a scene of power. It could be a painting but it is doubtful as it is outside, or at least exposed to the open air. Nonetheless we seem to be in town or on the estate grounds. Gauging by the fact that there are ten coins and a man with a spear (facing away from the old guy) this is probably a wealthy home. 

Everyone looks happy here. The old man does not seem to be in prison or uncomfortable. His hair is not bedraggled and he has a long flowing beard. This seems to suggest (for the time it was drawn in) that the man has wealth. He is a man of power and influence, not a beggar who is resting for a moment before being chased off. The dogs seem to know him (they are not barking at him). The lady has a sense of poise and relaxed confidence and is not concerned with her child's wanderings. Thus this card seems to indicate "a happy place." The nearby walls and tower show a defensible location, and given that this is "the end" of the suit of coins it is safe to say that this looks like a "happily ever after" card of generational wealth. That brat yanking at the dog's tail is probably worth more than I will ever be. The vines and grape clusters ("real" or painted/woven) also seem to indicate fertility if land and loin. All in all this card screams wealth and personal security. 

Compare this to the Page of Coins where we have a solitary young man delicately holding up a coin which he seems to stare worshipfully, or even philosophically at. The lands he stand in are well cared for. They are peaceful and fertile, providing grass for sheep, cows, goats, and horses to munch on happily, and also tilled farmland which grows crops for humans. The mountains provide a nice backdrop but they are far away distant things. No one needs to climb them any time soon. The day is sedate and casual, with time to reflect--even at the beginning of this young man's adventure. he is young and just starting out where as the man in the Ten of Coins is old and has done well for himself. But also the young man is "out in the open" versus the old man being walled in (securely). These are minor things that will mean nothing in some readings and mean everything in others. For now we are merely noting them in passing.

Okay, so now it is your turn. Go through the deck and see "what you see." Post a comment here please. Let me know of course if you have any problems or questions. I am here to help.


  1. When I looked at the 7 of swords, I also saw almost a dance. I thought there was a circus in the background and the man was going to juggle the swords. No one was paying attention to him,but he ignored that and was going to juggle them anyway. But after you explained about stealing the swords, it makes more sense.
    There are other cards that I either have no idea what they mean or two that don't seem as though they are too different. For instance II and III of Wands. Both men are travgelers I think. One has the world in his hands and looks as though he could be about the start on a journey from a place of wealth or having everything. The other one is perhaps mid-journey. Otherwise they seem the same.

    Here are others that seem similar to me: IV of wands, II cups, X cups, IX coins, X coins. All of these cards are cards of fulfillment. Things seem to be going well in each card. I think the main difference would be who the people are with. IV of wands are two people celebrating together, with other people lauding them or celebrating with them. II cups seems to be a lot about the relationship between the two, but there is still a coming together and there could be elements of celebration here with the cups. X of cups is similar, though the couple are now further along in their relationship with children and a deeper sense of fulfillment. IX of coins is about fulfillment financially, but not in any kind of social sense. The person is alone with a bird, yet there is financial fulfillment. X would be similar, except there is the presence of generations, family or community.

    VIII wands and II wands seem similar also. In II wands the woman is holding the two swords. There is the presence of the moon, but I don't get how that fits in with the swords. The woman has to use her intuition to figure out whom to oppose? With the VIII She is bound and the swords are around her. Is it because she isn't able to fight? She doesn't know how to stand up for herself?

    Cards I don't really "get:" VIII wands, VIII cups walking away from the cups in the water with the moon? Does that mean he's ignoring his intuition in finding fulfillment? What about IX of cups? Absolutely nothing comes to mind. The cups are behind him above a curtain. Is he ignoring the cups the exact same as VIII Cups or are the cups behind him in the sense that they're supporting him? He's wearing a nice hat, does that mean he has money? Is this another one like the X of cups, only he's alone like the woman alone in the garden? How is this different from that woman?

    I'm still working all of this out!



  2. If you compare the 8 of Cups to the 8 of Wands and the 6 of Swords you can see journey by land, air, and sea. Note how the 8 of Cups guy has stacked everything neatly while the 6 of Swords just flees (possibly from the 5 of Swords).

    The 8 of Cups guy may be hiking, or sneaking away in the dead of night. I think Pam screwed up the art however. She tried to show both full and crescent moon (2 of Swords btw shows the crescent moon--or lack of emotions--possibly). I think far better symbolism would have been the full moon lighting his way with the crescent moon reflected in the water, revealing his emotional emptiness, his need to find satisfaction/fulfillment elsewhere--thus explaining why he is leaving behind all of those cups.

    As to the 9 of Cups, that smug bastard seems pretty pleased with himself. To me (IMHO) the cups behind him seem to be arranged like trophies; something he is proud of, even gloating over.

    Just something to think about.