Modern Day Tarot is much like Modern Day Language. It's based on antiquity, the input of our ancestors to codify communication. Through the centuries it is tweaked, made less charming perhaps, for a need for speed. No one would confuse modern day American English with the King's English. It is a language which has evolved, grabbing words and phrases from foreign parlance along the generations. It thrives and will continue to thrive for this reason.
Still, as a person who appreciates the understanding of how stuff works, it makes me cringe when I read, I should of done this or that, instead of, I should have. Our abbreviated speech patterns have abbreviated our writing skills and command of the language. It's and its are rarely used properly, and forget plural possessives. It seems that when in doubt, people will throw an apostrophe in random places just in case. And don't get me started on there, they're, and their.
Why does it bug me? After all I can still understand what is being communicated most of the time, but not all of the time. In order to communicate effectively, or even to be taken seriously in many situations, a fundamental understanding of how language works is vital to communicating effectively and having command of one's language. When learning a foreign language we learn the structure first.
I've said it numerous times in the content of my tarot blogs, that tarot is a lot like language. And like modern day language, there seems to be a lot of sloppy shortcuts taken with tarot.
Tarot's roots are largely shrouded in mystery which is part of its allure, and granted we will never know all its secrets; but for one who seriously studies tarot there is still a wealth of fascinating well-researched history available to allow a practitioner to have greater command of this wonderful practice. Now more than ever, tarot has been embraced by the world across many cultures. Lots of new people are learning the language of tarot.
And like learning to read, write, and speak a language with greater proficiency than merely being able to ask where the library is or if your friend likes the meatballs, I maintain that if one wants to make a living as a tarot professional, then one needs to make the commitment to unveil the many layers of tarot in order to learn it and practice it with proficiency beyond the basic knowledge of a language 101 class. I'm not talking about people who only want to learn the basics for self-actualization or out of curiosity. I'm talking about people who claim to be professionals making money from the practice.
Similar to a practicing 'witch' for want of a better word, at least for me, tarot is a way of life, It's a path. You either are or aren't genuine. You can't buy it in five easy lessons. It is a life-long commitment to a practice. Sure, we can exchange ideas with others, and even congregate and meet like-minded individuals for discussion and knowledge, and yes there is value to being mentored. Heck, I've mentored many students myself. But there is no magic wand or genuine entity that can say, 'You have arrived.' It takes more than what can be learned from a book or a course. It takes understanding that all things are connected. It takes intuition and being able to tap into the pool of human unconsciousness. It is a meditative and reflective practice that can't be learned in eight weeks.
And that brings me to my next point, Tarot has also become big business. Websites and webinars are everywhere, and not just tarot reader sites for getting a reading such as my own, but big business tarot sites. Sites that promise to teach the mystery of the tarot. Shortcuts to the learning process. Videos and online courses. It used to be that a reader earned her or his living through the practice of reading tarot, not selling it on the mass market. Today it seems that more professionals are making their money with the promise of selling tarot skills rather than by doing it. It's tapping into the mentality of, Why walk the walk when you can buy it for a price?
One of the reasons I am writing this particular blog, is out of frustration from a dialogue on a professional tarot forum. A forum of supposed professional readers, i.e. people earning money in the tarot field, were oohing and awing over a photo of a Medieval or early Renaissance painting of a pope and it's similarity to The Hierophant as though it were a grand revelation.
The most basic superficial research will reveal that connection. I was stunned by what seemed to be the most basic and obvious connection being a true revelation for so many 'professionals'. I was unable to bite my tongue and said so. Of course I was admonished for it with responses like, 'This It is a supportive group,' etc, I backed off and left the argument. I sometimes forget that we live in a society where everyone gets a trophy.
It pains me to take a snarky attitude because I strive to be a kind and compassionate person; but I think sometimes one must speak out on certain occasions. It bugs me that the bar isn't very high especially among those claiming to be in the higher tier of a study or practice. I'm kind of disgusted because understanding seems to be largely superficial even among professionals earning money by the practice.
Parallels made between The Hierophant and a medieval pope should not be an 'aha' moment for people proclaiming to be professionals in the field of tarot. That's all I'm saying.
Maybe this is because some modern tarot decks represent The Hierophant as an animal or some other image not related to its roots. This in and of itself is fine and evidence that tarot is evolving. But wouldn't a serious practitioner of tarot, certainly one earning a living at it, make it her/his business to know the basic concepts behind the Hierophant, The Fool, or any of the other cards?
Of course it can also suggest that some readers don't take the time to read beyond a particular deck's accompanying literature. Reading with one deck proficiently does not make one a master reader. Every deck is different, even cloned decks have significant differences from the mother deck. A master reader can read from almost any deck. But it takes years of practice and study.
I have devoted decades of my life to learning tarot. I've read nearly every book that has been brought to my attention on the subject. (Even the fluffy lightweight ones.) I'm confident in saying that I've probably forgotten more than most people have ever learned. But even after forty years of tarot practice and study, I would not proclaim myself to be a Grand Master. Yes, I do consider that I have an advanced and masterful understanding of tarot. But I have not mastered it. How can anyone claim that? Especially people barely thirty years old? I kind of want to slap sense into those who claim that title. I dropped out of the tarot certification mentality when tarot big business trends began about two decades ago. But that's a discussion for another day.
The featured deck in the photo may be purchased here: http://www.loscarabeo.com
I cannot speak for all tarot readers, but for me, the beauty of tarot cards has resulted in a fabulous tarot card collection of an uncertain but abundant number of decks. Calling it an addiction is not accurate, for these are tools of my trade just as much as the brushes I use to paint. I've bought thousands of painting and art supplies in my lifetime and no one has ever bat an eyelash over it. I consider my tarot decks with the same perspective.
My collection is modest considering the number of years I have been reading tarot, but it is deliberate and somewhat picky and genuinely reflects my tastes in tarot imagery.
That's not to say that I haven't purchased a few decks that I'm not overly fond of (particularly back in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s when one pretty much had to buy a deck before knowing its contents. In those days we really did judge a deck by its cover). But by and large my decks reflect my personal tarot tastes, which admittedly tend to be old school.
I've read online dscussions where some say that having a large collection is unnecessary or even counter to learning how to read tarot. The belief being that in order to bond with tarot one should read from one deck as a beginner until becoming proficient with tarot. But to my mind, using that logic, one only becomes proficient with that one deck.
Now it is true that when I began reading only two decks were available in the States and since I had both of them I wasn't trying to learn from too many decks at once. But they were from distinct styles of tarot and did not share a common platform. My first deck was the 1JJSwiss tarot deck (pictured above) from which I read exclusively for about a year. The other deck was the RWS deck. (Actually my first copy of the 'RWS' was the Albano Waite deck.) Pretty much out of the gate I began learning tarot from two very distinct styles of tarot, one being similar to the Marseilles format and the other obviously from the RWS camp.
It is important to remember that I am kind of old, and in those days there was no internet; so the authority on tarot was the few books I could find in the few stores that carried 'that kind of stuff.' I actually ended up learning meanings for my 1JJSwiss pip cards through studying numerology. I did learn some astrological and alchemy symbols along the way, but my primary interest in learning the pips was through numerology and applying number meanings to the suits. Numbers don't lie and that is how I learned my tarot truth especially while reconciling the meanings of two distinct tarot branches..
I flip-flopped using my two decks in those early days depending on how I felt. Obviously the meanings I assigned to individual cards sometimes varied depending on which of the decks I used. But I learned very early on that they were not so totally dissimilar and that aspects of one deck added a layer of new understanding to the other. All my tarot learning was independent and there were no groups to join to expedite my learning process. (At least none that I knew in suburban Philadelphia) In fact, I was the only 'expert' I knew. I think it was probably about three or four years of self-study and using each of these decks in readings before I was highly proficient so my formative tarot years came about through using these two distinct tarot decks.
Back then my wish-list included only one deck, the Visconti-Sforza, once it registered on my radar after a trip to NYC where I spotted it in a museum. I had seen it referenced in books, but seeing it in person blew me away. (It was a decade or two before a facsimile of that deck became available on the mass market.)
Then the 80s happened and decks were popping up all over the place in popular American culture. The Fergus Hall Witches Deck (aka 007 James Bond Deck) was probably one of the next decks I purchased, and from there it just snowballed. Every store I visit I sought out whatever new tarot deck that was available. Although some decks did not please me aesthetically I did not care. I just wanted to add a new deck to my collection and learn it. Now I am more particular, but in those days I was very hungry for all the decks I could lay my hands on.
Now of course, one could go quite mad trying to lay hands on every deck available especially due to social networking which exposes us all to what seems to me an infinite number of tarot decks. Every year I try to limit my purchases to just a few.
I do have a modest wish list and one of the decks on that list might surprise you. I know it surprises me! That deck is the Orbifold Tarot . Granted, it isn't exactly 'Old School' as I have mentioned as a personal preference. It has always appealed to me in concept, and it is a deck I have kept my eye on since its inception. The more I come across it, the more its visual and ordered consistency appeals to me. One of the reasons for that, I think, is because it is genuine and knows exactly what it is. It is pure. It's a cut to the chase tarot based on color and my beloved numerology! Well, at least that is how I am perceiving it.
But I digress.
One of the arguments for reading from multiple decks other than developing a rich tarot vocabulary, is that none of my decks are particularly worn out. Even my 40 year old 1JJSwiss and Albano decks are in remarkably excellent condition. True, I treat my decks as the sacred tools they are, I NEVER eat or drink near them, always freshly wash my hands before handling them, and keep them meticulously stored in protective housing. They never sit around casually on the coffee table or are they ever thrown on a dusty shelf. They are housed in furniture exclusively dedicated to them. But having said all that, I think one of the reasons they remain in such good condition is because I rotate their use. I use whatever deck 'feels' right for the moment or or if a client requests a particular deck. All my decks get used.
Using multiple decks, and learning simultaneously from multiple decks, helps avoid the 'one meaning fits all' mentality which I feel is very limiting to learning tarot.
So bah to the nay sayers who claim having a go-to-deck is the best way to go. Feed your tarot addiction and may you enjoy at least 40 years of tarot love!
Today's post might be helpful to those curious about whether or not a question or intent is required in order to give a meaningful tarot reading.
Interpretation of tarot cards is helpful if one has a question or concern going into the reading, but a querent doesn't necessarily need to tell the tarot reader what that question is. Granted, it makes the interpretation a bit easier for the reader and also for the querent's understanding if they can pinpoint the discussion to one topic, but it is not a requirement for a quality reading.
If one is a novice reader, then yes, I would encourage getting a base understanding of the client's primary question before attempting to read because that is one of the ways a new reader might begin to reconcile a card's meaning with a variety of circumstances. But for a seasoned reader, it is less imperative to know specifics beforehand because they already have an arsenal of understanding at their disposal and will offer a variety of applicable life circumstances that a client will be able to recognize how what is said applies to her or his life.
The thing about tarot is that no matter what cards are pulled, they will be relevant to one's life. This is a truth. Even a one card reading offers a wealth of insight into a situation. Naturally the more cards in a spread and the more talented the reader, the greater the breadth of meaningful information. One of the ideas about tarot is that each of the major arcana cards offers an archetype relate-able to human experience that is usually of greater significance than the every day details of life. The cards of the minor arcana fine tune and add nuance or support to any of the majors that are present; and if no majors are present the suggestion is that the circumstances the minor cards are addressing relate more to daily details of life.This may not be the guidelines of every reader, but it is an idea that is largely embraced. This is good information for the querent to know going into a reading because it will enable the querent to ask meaningful follow-up questions or to know if the cards are relating to a major situation in one's life or more the day to day aspects of life.
Oftentimes, when a client does not articulate a question and wants a general reading, the meaning of the reading becomes clear to her/him once the reader begins the interpretation. In fact, sometimes not posing a question is more beneficial to the reading because what needs to be addressed will jump right out during a reading and become crystal clear. For this reason, sometimes not revealing a question to the reader or not posing any question to the cards is very liberating. What needs to be said will pop out.
I've been reading a long time and only in rare cases (like maybe twice in forty years) will a querent tell me that the cards did not connect or make sense at all. My guess for this is either because the situation that the cards are describing hasn't occurred yet and is more something that the client should be made aware of rather than being a predictive trend; or, that the client is not aware of something that is currently happening around her or him and may in fact never find out about it except through the information in the cards. Sometimes the suggestions revealed by the cards for the best possible outcome is not the action that the client actually takes. If a querent ignores the advice offered the result will not be the outcome suggested by the reading. Free will is the greatest feature in how life evolves. Time is also a relevant thing in determining a reading's accuracy. In example, a reading about how a situation it will resolve itself is relevant to the lifespan of the situation, I always tell a querent that the time frame of the reading is the lifetime of the situation. If a young person is asking a question about the future of their current love interest, the time-frame for that question can span thirty years or more. I have married couples who dated in high school, broke up, and then reconnected thirty years later. See what I mean? Even someone who asks a question about how a relationship with a former spouse will pan out is looking at a similar time reference. If the former couple share children, their connection and experience in one another's lives can span decades. A bitter divorce may evolve into friendship decades later. For this reason, if the querent does pose a question about a situation, then a specific time-frame to the question should be part of the question rather than asking generally if the situation will be worked out. The answer might be yes, but it might take forty years to get there! (And can make a reading appear inaccurate in the short term because who will recall a tarot reading on that specific topic from decades earlier?)
For this reason I encourage my in-person clients to always take note of what is said during a reading so its relevance can be revisited. Take a photo of the spread. This is one of the aspects that make distance readings advantageous over in-person readings; most often with distance readings the reader will provide both a photo of the spread and a pdf script of the reading that the querent can referred to over and over.
When a client asks the reader to do a spread with a fully articulated intent, then the reader will interpret the content of the reading in relation to the question. Sometimes other issues will pop up if they are at the core of the issue or an underlying factor that must be addressed in order to accurately bring relevance to the question.
When a client has a question, but does not disclose it to the reader, than the client needs to apply what is said to the question in their minds and ask the reader for clarification for whether or not a card could mean this or that. Clarification after all, is the point of tarot.
The featured deck in the photo may be purchased here: http://www.loscarabeo.com/