The less something changes, the quicker it dies or at least becomes irrelevant.
Evolution is how ideas, species, and languages, among other things, stay alive and thrive. It's true the process of evolution means corruption, and bastardization on some level. That which endures does so because it tolerates, perhaps even appreciates, the challenges of keeping up with the times.
The concept of Freedom endures, and it does so because it is constantly being challenged by new generations of individuals who redefine what freedom means. Humanity endures, as young as it is, and has come a long way as evidenced by the expression of cave art in comparison to the billboard lights of any modern city. Some languages still exist while others went belly-up. English is almost all but unrecognizable since its earliest spoken and written form but it's still being spoken. In particular, American English thrives and I'd be willing to bet will very likely endure and become the dominant standard. It's success is based on the coming together of multicultural and multilingual individuals who bastardized the Kings English to such a degree that this new hybrid of the spoken word has become a very fluid language. This does not mean it is a superior strain, quite the contrary. But it is the strain that I'm guessing will endure. Classical Latin died. OK, it is the language of the elite, the doctors, and the high priests, which bears out my case for its demise, whereas Vulgar Latin, the language of the common folk evolved into the Romantic languages. I wish I could be alive in ten thousand years to see which languages will be considered dead and irrelevant because they wouldn't yield to the influence of foreign words or pronunciations. And of those that do survive, I'm sure will be undecipherable to my ear. And of course this is assuming that humans don't cease to exist by then due to intolerance for new ideas and change.
Let's look at Tarot. From its first appearance over five hundred years ago, it's still going strong. Probably stronger than ever. Let's look a the Sola Busca, or the Viscont-Sforza tarots. These types of hand painted cards appeared almost overnight it Italy. They were hand painted beauties. Admittedly exclusive to their immediate clans, they somehow managed to thrive because they were undoubtedly inspired from images and symbols from antiquity that the common man knew and could relate to. The ability to produce and print paper allowed the common man to eventually own a deck. The stories endured in pictorial form to serve whatever purpose, from merely decorating a deck of playing cards that commemorated a family heritage, or for hiding secret messages in plain sight.
Through the centuries, it's captured lots of imaginations and much mystery and speculation surround where the images first came from. Despite the research, who knows? A time traveler from Medieval Europe may or may not immediately recognize a modern deck of tarot cards.
The fascinating thing about tarot is that it's intrinsic structure identifying it as tarot has remained the same. The same twenty-two, sixteen, forty card structure has not changed. Decks that sway from this format are simply not tarot decks. (They have their own beauty and appeal, but that is a blog for another day.) Modern tarot titles are sometimes fiddled with, the images have been subject to new interpretation. But tarot is still tarot, whether it's esoteric, quasi esoteric, alchemy based, astrologically symbolic. or simply pictures relaying human experiences. It's versatility is what seduces so many of us today. That, and the fact that so many of us are looking for answers to the same questions since antiquity. The human condition remains a constant, despite generational, cultural, or regional changes to it.
One of my tarot pet peeves is that there are schisms between groups. I think this is because when I learned tarot, there were only two decks available in the States at that time. One was a Marseilles style and the other the RWS. They peacefully coexisted and we read one or the other, or both.
The 1JJ Swiss was published in Germany in 1831 and was the first deck made available in the American market a few years before the RWS. It wasn't until 1971 when the Rider Waite Tarot deck finally hit the US market.
So until the RWS deck appeared in our shores, Americans were more than likely learning in the Marseilles tradition of decorative but not illustrated pips and more than likely read from the 1JJ Swiss deck unless they went abroad or were gifted with a different European deck. (As a side point of interest and as I've mentioned in my first blog entry at this site, the 1JJ Swiss was in fact the first deck of tarot to ever appear on US television. I encourage you to read that article because it was a fun article.)
The RWS deck was not the first deck on our soil, nor was it an American incarnation of tarot, though it undoubtedly captured our collective imaginations. (OK, it can be argued that both Waite and Coleman Smith had American ties, but it was produced in England and not for American consumption.) I mention all of this, because I've read that some esoteric camps blame Americans for the dummying down of tarot once they were first exposed to the RWS.
I'm not going to lie, there is a dummying down of tarot that is undeniable. I don't know who is to blame, but it's not fair to put the blame squarely on Pixie or Americans.
I guess we can blame those jumping on the tarot bandwagon, creating decks without any understanding of it. I have a lot of tarot decks, but considering I've been doing this for thirty-nine years, I don't have hundreds. Heck, I might not even have a hundred. I'm very fussy and discriminate. There are some decks I will never buy. Because these dummy decks don't really instruct, I think there's a lot of making stuff up and calling it intuitive reading. Intuition is required, but so is learning and understanding. But hell, if it gets new generations interested in tarot, why not? If the neophytes are legit, they will naturally seek out the more esoteric or archetypal decks to become serious readers. I'm guessing those not serious about tarot will naturally become bored by the dummy decks, and those decks will become a dusty remnant in a closet that will represent a phase they went through in their youth or rebellious middle age.
But even those decks have value if they attract new people to the art. Even if they don't become serious readers, they have an appreciation for it. And as for those dummy decks, we don't have to buy what we don't like or subscribe to.
The problem for me is deeper than not liking certain tacky or trivial decks.
It's the snobbish idea that only one tarot camp is legitimate or most 'pure.' Whether it be a purely esoteric deck, a Marseilles, Thoth, Hermetic, or even a RWS deck or clone of any of them, none of them are pure. Each camp exists and thrives because each of them have captured the human imagination at a certain point and time in history. They reflect the different needs of different societies at different times. (Heck, even the dummy decks do that to their credit.) The decks of each school of thought are all hybrid bastardizations from some far away source as far as anyone can tell, and all are insanely magical and amazing in their own rights.
I don't see myself as belonging to any camp. I love the Marseilles style, which is a sentimental favorite of mine since it is what I taught myself first, but the RWS style also captured and continues to capture my imagination as do the more esoteric tarots. It is impossible for me to choose, I love them all and read them all. I think of them as I've said over and over, as different dialects or the same language, or at times, a different language.
Because the meanings of a card from one camp may not share the same meaning of the same card in another camp, some readers will dismiss another for having the wrong interpretation. I think it will benefit all serious readers to learn something about the different schools of tarot, even if they ultimately choose one camp for themselves just to understand that the interpretations may vary. Knowledge is always helpful.
It's OK to prefer one camp and stick to it. But to be dismissive or disparage different camps as being inferior only highlights the narrow vision of the one spouting it.
Any elitists determined to cling to the notion that they follow the true, pure, or only correct tarot path, are a detriment to tarot because if it doesn't evolve, it will wither.
There are so many paths because there are so many of us.
At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The opinions stated here are expressly my own.
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The mother in me is going to start out with, 'Now don't be rolling your eyes at me.' And yes, it's because I'm telling a story about back in the day. No, I didn't have to walk ten miles to buy my first deck of tarot, but in some ways, that adage isn't too far off from the mark. This is an organic story about reading tarot reversals.
As some of you may recall, I've stated that the 1JJ Swiss was the first deck of tarot I ever owned. For those unfamiliar with that deck, it is in the Marseilles/Milan tradition (TdM). The photo above shows a sampling of some of the pip cards from that deck. With little exception, it is difficult to readily identify some of the pip cards when they appear in reverse.
I cannot recall the first deep down and serious esoteric tarot book I ever bought, I've read so many books on the topic, but I do recall that the first book I ever bought on tarot was the Eden Gray book which accompanied the then named, Rider Waite deck. Among other revelations, the Eden Gray book discussed the reverse meanings of every card which initially was a challenge for me using a deck that by and large had pips that did not lend themselves to reverse positions.
You might ask, why buy a deck and book that don't match? Well, this was 1970s suburban Philadelphia. We had a bookstore at the brand new mall, and the only deck of tarot available on the shelf that day was the 1JJ Swiss Tarot. The only tarot book on the shelf that day was the Eden Gray. Why the store did not supply the Rider Waite Eden Gray book along with the matching Rider Waite deck I'll never know, but I'm glad they did not.
I was eager to learn and I bought the disparate deck and book. I read that book from cover to cover and handled those cards every chance I had. It was an easy lesson for me to see that that particular book with that particular deck had on the surface, very little in common. I was learning tarot at the ground floor and I was my only teacher trying to make sense of the limited information I had. From this very humble beginning, I understood that there were at least two camps of tarot.
It became obvious that both camps referenced the Major Arcana which more or less shared the same titles. The lesser Arcana shared similarities also, in that they were both Ace to King of four suits.
When I eventually found more books similar to my deck, namely the Oswald Wirth publication, it became apparent that books discussing the TdM style did not generally concern themselves with reading the minor arcana at all, and in fact, did not even discuss reversed meanings.
My deck had seventy eight cards for a reason, and I was determined to read all seventy eight. For me, the logical next step was to learn numerology, which meant reading all I could about numerology. (You can read about my process of assigning meaning to TdM styled pips in my earlier article titled, 'Assigning Meaning the TdM Styled Pips.')
Within a year or two, I was reasonably competent at reading the cards, and had established my own technique for understanding each of the TdM pips. What I wasn't doing at that time was reversals, since my deck as I mentioned, with very limited exception, did not allow for reversals. But I knew reversals were prevalent with the RWS deck and I knew that eventually, I would own that deck too and possibly read reversals.
One day, after weekly visits to our bookstore for about a year, I bought my 2nd tarot deck once it finally appeared on my mall bookstore shelf. It was the Rider Waite deck. I had learned all about it and I had great familiarity with the images since I had devoured the book a year earlier. The meanings I had assigned my TdM pips didn't always jibe with the new deck, but that was easily remedied by simply reading the new deck and not trying to force my established meanings onto images that didn't always mesh. By learning both camps so early in my tarot career, I likened it to simply learning a different dialect of the same language, or even learning a 2nd language altogether which was something that came natural to me as a bi-lingual person.
Once I had the Rider Waite deck, (probably in 1977), the cards would naturally as I knew they would, upon occasion appear in the inverted position. There was a decision that had to be made, ignore the reversals, or apply meaning to them?
You're glad I finally got to the point right? Here is where the mom in me comes out a 2nd time. Anything worth learning well requires an investment of time. AND, it needs to come naturally. Rote learning is only good for the short term. Me telling you how to read reversals will mean nothing to you in the long term. Lifelong understanding requires organic evolution. What the neophyte needs to know, is that her or his way is as good as any. We each need to learn what makes sense to us and live it. In every arena of life.
OK, now back to reversals...
The process which made sense to me was to see the reversals as an indicator that something required particular attention, perhaps there was a weakness. Other times, it appeared to mean that the negative aspect of the card was applicable in that instance. Because the Celtic Cross Spread was pretty much the only spread I ever used back in the 1970's, there were plenty of surrounding cards to help assist me in knowing which attributes would apply.
While reading TdM style cards, I tend not to read pips in reversals. I can tell if a particular card needs attention by the nature of the question and the surrounding cards. So while reading TdM pips, reversals is rarely an issue for me. Some contemporary TdM style decks do give the pips distinguishing upright and reversed imagery, so they are now more obvious to read.
Decks in the RW tradition can very obviously be recognized in reverse and reading them in reverse is probably more common place.
Sometimes, even if a card does not appear in reverse, it is obvious that the negative aspect of the card is the intended meaning, or that a nuanced interpretation is called for. Using reversals does help in identifying areas of weakness or danger, but those issues tend to be readily recognized once a reader begins reading at a high level of proficiency.
I admittedly did not discuss reading reversals from other esoteric camps, namely the Thoth which per Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, encouraged reading the cards in the upright positions. Naturally, there are many readers who read reversals using those decks and at times, I do also.
In a nutshell, reading reversals may help draw your attention to an aspect of a reading, but eventually you pick up on it anyway.
I tend not to pay much attention to upright positions as I mix and handle a deck. I let them align the way they will and read them in the way they present themselves.
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