The Tarot has had a chequered history. From its beginnings as a parlour game in the mediaeval courts of the rich and famous and being driven underground by the Church, through occult revival to its present day profit-driven commercialism, the Tarot has always fascinated and enticed. It has also provided me with 30 years of passion, which shows no sign of abating.
But what does the Tarot mean? There are thousands of books now available which will tell you their own version of what each card means and if you check, you will find that beyond certain generalities, they each offer something different. So why is this?
If the Tarot is real and the cards really can predict the future and tell us about our lives, how come different people see different meanings in the cards? For me the answer to this conundrum, after pursuing that 30 years of study, writing, readings, awe and wonder, it is because of one simple truth -
TAROT CARDS DO NOT MEAN ANYTHING!
This may seem a strange statement to make from someone who has just confessed to a life-long obsession and addiction to 78 pieces of what are now laminated plastic, but allow me to explain, or try to!
I began giving what I now can laughingly call Tarot 'readings' to my friends, in my teens. This consisted of my laying out the cards in a chosen spread or pattern, then looking up the meaning of the cards in the book that accompanied the cards. However I soon found myself saying that I could not see how the card was supposed to mean that. When I look at the image on the card, I would say, it seems to me to be saying this, that or the other. To my amazement my 'client' would proclaim their agreement and tell me that what I had said made much more sense to them.
This led me to read a great many books on the Tarot and discover the disparity that exists between Tarot authors and authorities. Over the years I
have obtained a good many Tarot decks of the thousands now produced and they are all different. How then can they mean the same thing?
The simple answer is, they don't! Rather like the maxim that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', each person views the Tarot differently and
will therefore interpret its meaning and application according to their individual nature, intellect, knowledge and intuition. The logical conclusion to
this process is that the cards then, of themselves, do not mean anything, it's all about the person who is 'reading' them.
If we look a little deeper into the nature of the Tarot we can discover why. As you may know, the traditional Tarot deck has 78 cards and is split
into two 'halves' known as the Major and Minor Arcana. The 22 Major cards depict the stages of unfoldment of the human being on its path
through life, or lives, to enlightenment or completion. The 56 Minor cards are divided into four suits of fourteen cards each. These are numbered one,
or Ace, to ten, with the addition of four 'court' cards being a family belonging to each suit. It is when we look at where these come from and on what
they are based that we can see the true nature of the Tarot.
The four suits of the Minor Arcana, from which came playing cards, are commonly called Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands. These relate to the
different aspects of the human being and our 'levels', being physical, emotional, mental and spiritual respectively. When we then realise that these suits are
based on the four elements which surround us and which form our component parts we can see that each card is an embodiment of an energetic state or force.
The four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire (in ascending order) relate to each of these human levels, symbolised in the Tarot as the object of each suit.
As forces of the natural world, these four elements are energetic forces affecting us in different ways. Occult teaching tells us that 'all is energy and energy is all there is'. So we can see that the Major cards show us the higher energies affecting us on a complete or what I like to call ’soul’ level. As this energy descends, it comes into our consciousness, or spiritual level (Wands/Fire), from where we seek to understand and analyse it (Swords/Air). This affects our feelings and emotions (Cups/Water), which causes us to act and choose what we do (Pentacles/Earth).
So from this simple analysis we can see that the Tarot cards are really images of energy, frozen in time for our use. The numbered cards of each suit show us the specific stage the energy of that Element is at, from its beginning and essence at the Ace to its fulfilment and release at the ten. By a simple combination of the elemental and numerical energies, we can arrive at a level of understanding and knowledge of each card and its energy.
We now need to look a little closer at that energy to understand what the Tarot is actually doing. Quantum physics has shown us that everything that exists exists first at an energetic level and that these energies interact and are affected by everything else. Our physical selves and all that we do, feel, think and say have their origins and also exist first, as energies. In short, these energies are causal to every level of our being and reality. Tarot cards are simple a depiction of those energetic sources and causes.
What is vital to realise here is that these energies, simply are. Of themselves, they have no desire, intent or objective. They simply exist and in accord with their nature, they flow. Energy abhors a vacuum and so it moves; it flows. Change, as we know, is inevitable, and this is why: because energy flows and causes change. The Tarot is a series of images that embody these energies and when we properly conduct a Tarot 'reading' we can discover what these energies are at that time, how they may be affecting us and how we can best respond to them.
Because these energies have no 'meaning' of their own, no feeling and so on, and since the Tarot cards are simply diagrams of these energies, they too, can mean nothing. The paradox here is that to the individual, in this case our client, they mean everything, since with access to this underlying level of life we can see not only what is going on, but why. The skilled Tarot reader (or as I prefer Tarot Therapist) can divine and explain what the energies are that are active in that client's life at the time of the reading. By learning to access this causal level of life, we can make great and powerful strides forward in the creation of our life as and how we want it. For me, this makes the Tarot the ultimate therapy.
Being based on the natural world of which we, as human beings are an intrinsic part, we can see that the Tarot is rather like a wheel, as like nature it is ever turning and evolving, never static and never constant. This has been depicted in the following saying -
Rota Taro Orat Tora Ator
The Wheel of Tarot Speaks the Law of Nature
A consultation with the Tarot then becomes an encounter with the sacred, a time of interaction with the Universe to discover, understand and more completely fulfil our place in and of it. This is why the Tarot continues to fascinate, absorb and compel me and if this article has made sense to you, perhaps the turning of the Wheel will deal you some good cards too.
Copyright © Steve Hounsome 2012