We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tarot Bones
I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Tarot cards do not mean anything and everything you think they might mean. There is a foundational framework of symbolism that has been collectively accepted and agreed upon by human culture over space, time, and history.

There seems to be a certain hesitancy in social tarot groups to tell someone they goofed, they got it wrong, they missed something when they state their take on a particular card.  While there is a whole wide area of wiggle room within the confines of that framework, there is a framework.  They are the bones of tarot over which everything else rests, is connected to, grows and moves.  If you remove the bones you are left with a blob of inert, gloopy stuff that doesn't hold together very well.

So don't tell me the Ace of Swords is about passion without logic, or that the 2 of Cups is about taking a gym class with a friend.  No.  Just no.  While the Ace does contain energetic passion and the 2 is about duality and togetherness, the suit characteristics were mixed up.  Wrong.

The problem arises when someone has the cajones to say, "Hey, I don't think that's quite accurate," and are met with predictable nonsense about how tarot card meanings are not "set in stone" and can mean anything to anybody and we all see things differently but equally valid. Nope. If your interpretation isn't tied by even the finest thread to the bones of tarot, your interpretation is invalid.

The bones of the Minor Arcana are the suit and the number or member of court. That isn't too hard or restrictive.  Hard, cold steel of the Swords does not equate to illogical, firey passion of a burning brand (Wand) but to precise facts.  Flowing liquid in Cups cannot be held in one's hand like a Pentacle.  These are the basics and the basis of tarot interpretation and just make sense. 

HOWEVER --- (disclaimer time) --- There are people who read cards in just this formless, boneless way and they read beautifully.  I am not negating this style of divination.  The cool thing about this style is one doesn't even need a tarot deck.  Any image or collection of images will work.  Oracle decks are wonderfully suited for this sort of reading. There are no rules, there is no framework, one simply allows intuition to guide and bubble up meaningful connections and phrases and ideas and so forth.  It's a tremendously useful way to strengthen one's intuition and learn to trust it and hone it.

But if you're setting about reading tarot then read tarot and don't try and serve up some oracular mishmash and claim it's because the meanings are not "set in stone" and "that's the beauty of tarot."  Yes, there are some meanings set in stone and no, pulling something contradictory to those foundational meanings is not beautiful, it's tripe.  See, if a singular tarot card can mean anything to anyone then there is no way you can teach what you know about tarot.  Because you don't know anything until you are faced with a question and a card that has changed its meaning based on the situation.  You can certainly coach others to use this same talent, to draw meaning from images relevant to the client's situation, but you aren't teaching tarot.  You are helping them develop their intuitive skill.  Different.

If one does not assign meaning to any particular card, suit, number, court, etc. then fine, but that's not tarot reading.  That's divining with a tarot deck, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm drawing this line for reasons of clarity because I'm tired, so tired, of the argument among tarot readers that the cards can mean anything to anyone at any time.  I think maybe we confuse our intuitive flashes with reading tarot because they happen often while reading tarot.  Those flashes are cool and often strikingly accurate but they don't change the foundational meaning of the card for the next reading.  The bones are the starting point and the body that each reader fleshes out from the bones to the outer layer of skin will fluctuate and change depending on the conditions, but the bones don't change.  Your understanding of them will deepen as you learn, but they will always be what they are and placed where they belong or the tarot reading will not run, walk, or move.

Sometimes we'll get stumped on a card because what we know about a situation (the flesh) or what we are getting intuitively (also flesh) does not appear to fit well over the bones. Good tarot readers don't discard the bones because the flesh doesn't seem to fit.  A good tarot reader digs deeper to see how the flesh connects, finds the sinews, ligaments and muscle fibers that latch to the bone.

Get digging.  Find the connective tissue. That's tarot reading.



  1. This is my favorite post of all time! Thank you for being amazing!

  2. Clarity...that's what I want! You can't always pin every meaning down completely, but clarity and the use of discernment, based on the foundation of those bones you speak of in your post here, those are my objectives and goals in reading.
    I couldn't agree with you more! It does a great disservice to the Tarot Cards, to the readers and to those questioners, if the meanings are left open to whatever interpretation that strikes your fancy or to anything. It is also unprofessional and unethical. When I hear of people going to Tarot readers who predict death or some sort of looming future, it really concerns me. I try to inform them this is not what Tarot is about. And to those who do this, STOP IT!

    Thank you for your important post Ginny.


  3. What a great post clarifying the distinction between reading the tarot cards and using your intuition. Often these two things coalesce but not necessarily! This has really given me some good perspective on that.

  4. Aww, I think I understand your feelings about this endless debate. I visited both camps and only now, after years of struggle for meaning, I see the difference between channeling and actual reading. It took time to understand an obvious thing - learning to read Tarot is similar to learning to read.

    Without knowledge of letters you have to rely on your insights, given by pictures in a book. But what if there are no pictures? Boring, next.

    Okay, you know the letters. Reading ABC was fun and you move on. But what are these funny words: gestalt, archetype, transference? And so little pictures? Boring, next.

    Okay, okay, I have learned these words and got used to have a vocabulary by my side. But it seems, that though I know all of these words, I can not really understand the phrase. And there are no pictures at all. Well, maybe one on the front cover. Ok, there is a bird. That must be a book about birds. Boring, next. What, you say that words may not mean what they mean? How is that freakin possible? Screw this Tarot, I go play Skyrim.

    I had my share of debates and now I choose to remain silent. After all, silence is gold. And In my continuos learning I rely on PARDES rule of Kabbalah, which say, that there are four levels of meaning. And I let everyone else to do as they wish. Probably I am still not ready to make and open statement of my point of view, like you did in this excellent post.

  5. Love, love, love this post. You said so well what I have been thinking for ages. Thanks, Ginny.

  6. I would like tarot readers to really think critically about what they do, where their information comes from, and question themselves. It bothers me when clients come to me and say, "Another reader told me (random psychic revelation) for the Fool. But you say it means this other thing." Then I have to explain that the other reader received psychic information and that's cool, but that's not the traditional meaning of the card all other times. I always tell my clients the general overall meaning and if I'm receiving intuitive guidance on that card or a flash of psychic interpretation I will then say, "And I'm really getting the sense with this card that...." So I distinguish between the meaning and the intuition. I realize that's not everyone's style. It's less important for clients to make the distinction, though. More important that readers examine this for themselves.

  7. Thank you. Very well said, and oh, so true.

  8. I agree with you, there is a certain framework one should work in when reading tarot. There definitely is an intuitive aspect, but bending the associations too much basically means that particular reader sees whatever he or she wants to see, rather than what is actually shown.

  9. So much yes to this! It's very frustrating when readers (and sometimes even books!) sub in random attributions for the cards. They have a history, and sure, perhaps it was kind of random to begin with (see Normand, Levi, etc.), but continuing in this tradition serves no one -- least of all one's clients!

  10. So glad this has resonated with so many. While I am not a Tarot fundamentalist by any means and I do embrace all the wild, wonderful ways of utilizing tarot decks, I feel strongly that there is and should be a distinction made when one is performing a tarot reading with intuition or psychic ability versus an intuitive/psychic reading with tarot cards.

  11. Well written post on a very controversial topic. I'm in full agreement though, without the basic structure, everything else turns to dust.

  12. Ginny, this is the first of your posts I've ever read and I have to say, I love you! Thank you for saying exactly what needs to be said. The grief this distinction causes within the Lenormand community as well is soul-destroying. I'll be following your blog quite closely from now one. :)

  13. I am not a Lenormand practitioner, at least not yet. I've been curiously dabbling ever since I latched on to a German fortune telling deck (not Lenormand) but haven't really developed skills with that method. But from what I understand, much like Tarot, there are different "schools" of meanings as there are between Thoth/Marseilles/Ettillia/RWS. However, given the more literal language of Lenormand I would think the deviation into more intuitive/less foundational interpretations would land someone even more far afield than with tarot. Tarot is very forgiving of this. But, as with any collection of pictures, I'm sure Lenormand can be used as an oracle. As I said, nothing wrong with that. But it wouldn't be a Lenormand reading then, would it?

  14. Anonymous4:38 PM

    For several years, after I led my very first Beginner's Level Tarot Course, I facilitated a group, co-created with some of those students called the "Tarot Lovers Club."

    At every meeting, one of us would choose a Spread, and lay out Tarot Cards and give our own interpretations. Not once, did anyone say, "That interpretation is wrong!" Frankly, although the club was not my own club, I simply would not have tolerated that.

    Now, I confess, there were times when I would ask someone "Any other interpretations," as a way of guiding him or her toward a particular meaning that I felt was important to the situation and/or the person (most of the regulars, and a few of the semi-regulars, often had Readings with me, and although I remember so little of what I say an hour after the completion of a private Reading, some details stick around).

    Thank you for a wonderful post; I look forward to rereading it often, as well as checking out your other posts.

  15. I, too, think there are more diplomatic ways to correct someone if they've made a mistake. Learning to read involves learning to just say what pops into your head, so I wouldn't want to discourage that. It's different when you're coaching others versus seeing/hearing someone attach an incorrect definition to a card suit or number who claims to be a tarot expert.

  16. I could not have said it better myself. Even the best psychics and tarot readers online today had to start somewhere and without that very basic foundation, all else would fail. This is a very helpful article for beginners and a handy reminder for experts!


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