The other day I was phone chatting with a tarot friend and I came away a little amazed that, in a relatively short conversation, she and I had touched on such a wide array of tarot topics. Because tarot is really that vast. Who knew? I certainly didn't know that when I began looking into reading tarot. While the interconnectness of any field of study is usually readily apparent, and one might presume tarot to be at least connected to various other metaphysical pursuits, it goes far afield of that and ranges all over the intellectual map. Which is cool because there's always a new bunny trail to follow if one has grown a little bored.
Throughout my Tarot Court Series, as well as miscellaneous other posts, I've shared some history of tarot and of the time period in which the cards were developed. I've barely skimmed the surface there, so if you're at all interested in medieval history, or the history of games and playing cards, or art history, or church history, the history of fortune telling...well, you get it. Pick a history trail, any trail, and you're liable to come up with a wealth of fun stuff to dig into. The Hermitage is a great place to start, and Tom Tadfor Little put together a kind of compilation from the foremost historians in the field of tarot history who frequent the Tarot-L mailing list. Unbeknownst to many of us, tarot has woven itself inextricably into our collective history. It's only when you pick up a deck and try to figure out the meanings of the cards and start asking questions about the various figures and symbols do you find yourself falling down various rabbit holes into a wonderland of curiosity where one question leads to so many more.
These images are art. Some are very good art and some very bad art, but art nevertheless. Art being expression and communication, evoking response through symbols, defies definition and there is much ongoing argument about that. Britannica Online defines art as "a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination." However, today art is defined by the artist as New York Times art critic Roberta Smith's guiding dictum says, "If an artist says it's art, it's art." We might quibble when we approach a piece that looks neither imaginative nor skillful in its creation, not to mention aesthetically lacking, but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art. The creation of tarot decks has exploded in recent years and there is now a vast collection of styles one can choose from. There are limited edition collectible decks, some very rare and/or out of print. The Tarot Garden Boutique is one of the best sources for such decks. Check out their 5-Star section if you should have a few hundred extra dollars lying around. To have a look at various decks, Trionfi's gallery displays thousands.
No study of tarot can really do without a grasp on the symbolism in the cards. Historically, certain colors, numbers, figures, animals, and plants have symbolic meaning. These vary from culture to culture and from system to system, but a basic understanding is necessary. This is a great article by P. D. Ouspensky on The Symbolism of the Tarot. For those interested in the psychological component in tarot, this article, "Chaos and the Psychological Symbolism of the Tarot" sheds light on the connection between Jung and Tarot Symbols. For research into the connection to Christianity and its symbolism and history, check out "The Tarot - Images of Christian Being and Cosmic Consciousness".
Of course, if you want to expand your understanding of the esoteric meanings and associations with tarot cards, there are astrological and Kabbalistic depths you can plunge. Crowley's Thoth deck was designed with the Hermetic Quabalah, rather than the Jewish associations in mind. Etteilla's deck was designed with astrological associations. Many of the newer decks use either these or other systems as well, so if you are using a deck with these associations it helps to understand the basics in these areas of study.
Of course, if you're into it for the psychic or metaphysical interest there's the whole history of the use of tarot cards for divination to discover. Yes, discover. It's not just about laying the cards down and looking up the meanings in a book, or memorizing the meanings, but there IS a rich history of these traditional meanings based on the practices of esoteric groups who put a lot of study and research into those meanings we so blithely toss away with the Little White Book that comes with the deck. Check out Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot and see what he really meant to portray in that five of pentacles scene. (Wait...did he say it's a card of love or lovers?)
Tarot is used as a tool for self development and empowerment as well, apart from its historical, spiritual, and divinatory uses. It can tap into your subconscious and bring up all sorts of things you didn't know you had tucked away in there. How you perceive the illustrations on the cards relies in large part on all the stuff you've experienced and "forgot" (actually stored away), similar to a Rorschach ink blot test. Since we generally operate at about five percent consciously, there's a whole ninety-five percent of our motivation, thoughts, drives, and understanding that goes on under the surface. Tarot's images, based on archetypes of common human experiences, are great investigative tools to subconscious dowsing, as it were. You ask a question and see what comes up. One can learn so much about oneself this way, even things you may not have wanted to know.
Which is all fine and good when you're reading for yourself, but I still cannot explain how it works that MY subconscious knows what you are or have experienced when I am reading your cards without ever having met you. That's where the paranormal mystery of it all comes in and frankly, I'm not going to really pick at that particular can of worms. I have no explanation for it. Oh, sure, there's Jung's collective unconscious theory and there's a similar woo woo belief in what is called the Akashic Records, a cosmic repository of everything everyone's ever done. But whatever it is that makes tarot do its stuff...like just last night a friend asked me to do that timing spread for her. I told her the person would call at either 10:05 pm or five minutes to ten. The person in question sent a text message to my friend at exactly 10:05 pm. How does my subconscious know that? It can't. It doesn't. So this is the part, I'm afraid, where I simply defer to the magic of it all and say, "I dunno how, but it works." Still, I know it's also dependent upon practice, this "whatever-it-is" that brings about the "wow" factor of tarot readings. Intuition and psychic ability is something like a muscle that grows stronger with use. When you lean on it, heavily, it builds itself. Keep adding more weight, move it about in different ways and you'll find it growing in strength and clarity as well as reliability.
I've merely touched on but a few of the topics my friend and I discussed in our phone conversation, but I think I've made my point. If you have an interest in anything, I bet I can link tarot to it somehow.