Tarot readings in the 21st century

Spoiler: your opinion might not change

Opening this article about tarot cards you most likely have a preconception one way or another — with the increase of availability from high street shops you might even have a pair. Historically there’s been an ever-present determined fear of anything occultic, this ages back to the 17th century where unmarried, ‘unattractive’ and non-white women (& 9 men, documented) could be subject to torture and public executions. How demonised witchcraft (not satanism, remember the difference) has become or at least once was telling of how poorly women and non-Christian conformers have been portrayed in western history.

Tarot is the most personal of divination methods, it relies on intuition and individual relation to each card’s meaning. Whilst they are still doable, yes or no questions aren’t as effective as open-ended questions. I think a lot of people have the understanding of tarot cards ‘reading into the future’ — often there is a card representing the future in reading structures, but it’s probably a lot simpler and more accurate than you think.

The ancestors of tarot cards began as a parlour game roughly in the 14th century in Italy and France, it began as a slightly more complex card game with different luxuriated cards.

As previously stated, tarot cards simply work by exposing your subconscious associations with certain images, or numbers. Arguably there are people greater adapted to reading tarot cards, you can say this is through having greater exposure from a young age to divination methods, having greater luck or some supernatural power such as being empathic (having an ability to read someone’s mental state without knowing them personally). Throwing around words like clairvoyant and empath can be alienating to beginners; I think everyone can be taught how to read these cards. After all, it’s about being able to tap into your collective unconscious.

A tarot deck explores universal folklore and archetypes we’re all taught from a young age through visual and numerical cues that we’re most likely not even aware of (e.g. blue as a sad colour, red as an angry colour). During a reading, we then naturally cross-compare what we are taught the card is showing us, and a personal circumstance that is bothering us. Think of tarot cards as the original Rorschach test, by calling them ‘supernatural’ it gives a lot of people the ability to delve deeper than normal into their subconscious issues. Maybe that shows how stigmatised mental health is, maybe that’s a different think piece?

I’ll avoid talking about empathic readings because I’ll ramble, and it’s more polarising. The idea of repressed memories/events and triggers is pretty universally accepted, and in layman’s terms, that is what tarot cards do. You will have an issue you don’t want to talk about, and I will practise divination methods that give me a greater chance of picking up a card that you’ll connect to. A tarot card is always made up of two arcana’s, minor (four different suits: wands, pentacles, cups and swords) and major (22 cards).

Having said that, let’s (briefly) explore the history of tarot. The ancestors of tarot cards began as a parlour game roughly in the 14th century in Italy and France, it began as a slightly more complex card game with different luxuriated cards. The structure is the same, in that, in all 4 suits (wands, pentacles, cups and swords) there are 14 cards. The only difference is that the major arcana and its creation isn’t clear. It’s believed around the late 18th century people began to pull associations to each tarot card, and in turn, depict what their day would be like in accordance to which card they pulled. The major arcana was supposedly made around this time. This suit, the major arcana, has 22 cards and depicts a journey from ignorance to wisdom. In ‘chronological’ order you begin at ‘The Fool’ and ‘The World’.

But to return to the title of this article, let’s explore some of the meanings behind cards that can get pulled during a reading. There are three things to be read into during a card reading: the visual meaning, the numerical meaning (for minor cards, the order it’s in varies its meaning) and its structural meaning (what does the card mean in comparison to the cards it is beside?)

tarot cards are the next exploitative step in modern psychology

All four suits in the Minor arcana follow a principal element. Depending on the artwork of your deck, its visual cues can change but the meaning remains the same.

  1. Pentacles represent Earth and are often depicted visually as coins. If you pull a card from the suit of pentacles, the reading is speaking messages about a career or wealth.
  2. Cups represent water and is commonly depicted as just that, sometimes it’s a stream of a notable body of water. If you pull a card from the suit of cups, the reading is speaking volumes about sentimental connections, and relationships.
  3. Swords represent air and again, is visually displayed as just that more interestingly, it can sometimes be shown by the weather. When you pull a sword card, your interpretation of the visual and numerical cues should give you an action to follow in answer to a question.
  4. Wands represent fire and is universally depicted as columns. If you pull a card from the suit of wands the reading is giving messages about your mental or physical energy (and where it might be struggling or wrongly-placed). All cards in the major suit illustrate a journey from inexperience to spiritual depth.

Beginning at The Fool — the card, when pulled, represents new beginnings and naivety. Ending at The World, a card that represents fulfilment and harmony. If we take the major arcana in chronological order to reach the point of completion (The World), you must surpass all 20 other before. They hold meanings related to topics of insecure gender (the Emperor and The Empress) lack of self-knowledge (Justice and the Hanged Man) and self-discovery (Death and Temperance) all of these cards are to be taken in context to the querent and can describe any of the four natural elements.

In the recent spirits of debating historical accuracy and practising better mental health than previous generations, tarot cards are the next exploitative step in modern psychology. They enable a more in-depth look into each collective conscious and give us the ability to explore hidden reactions frequently pushed to the side in day to day life.

I’d recommend researching into tarot cards whether you consider yourself spiritual or not. Hopefully, through my explanation, I’ve shone some light on how they can work on a conscious and/or subconscious level.

By Megan Williams

Image: by Meg Lessard via Flickr

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