I Probably Should Have Mentioned This Earlier: Tarot 101



Every now and then, a reading goes a little like this:


Me: *laying out cards and explaining the meaning behind each one and how it fits into the spread*

Me: *flips over the Death card*

Client: ....

Me: "...hang on, have you ever had your cards read before?


I have a bad habit of rolling blithely along until something happens to jar me out of my groove. A client's unease in reaction to seeing one of the "scary" cards in the deck is my cue to backtrack and provide a little primer. Today is no different: I've been waxing academic about creating your own spreads and trusting your intuition without laying a foundation. This is by no means a complete background, and as I think of topics to come back to, you will likely see many more posts about the rich history behind tarot as well as the hands-on stuff.


So without further ado, your abridged and incomplete tarot primer, amended editions to follow!


Your typical tarot deck consists of 78 cards, split into two main groups: The Major Arcana, numbered 0-21, and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana deal with The Big Stuff: those archetypal forces and figures everyone finds in their path at one point or another. If tarot were a keyboard, the Major Arcana is the universe's way of hitting capslock.


The Minor Arcana are a little different, but no less important. The Minor Arcana are divided into four suits, defined by elements that represent different foci of our daily lives.


  • Wands = Fire = our ideas, our passions; our creative energy and the directions it can take

  • Cups = Water = our emotions, our intuition, our relationships with others.

  • Swords = Air = our reasoning, our logic, our rationality; our conflicts both within ourselves and with others

  • Pentacles, Pentagrams, Coins = Earth = our material world: our jobs, finances, resources, even our time & energy


When you put the Major and Minor Arcana together for a reading, then a more complete picture starts to form. A client's Celtic Grid leans heavily toward a particular suite? Something may be happening in that area of their life worth exploring further. A suit is missing entirely? That area may have been neglected, or blocked by other concerns. The spread is dominated by Major Arcana? Something Big(TM) is happening--a significant change or transformation, such as a move or job change or shift in a relationship. Or, you know, the universe has learned that the only way to get you to pay attention is by putting the message in all caps.


My job as a reader is not to make a value judgement on what I see. When you read for others--especially at an event like Thorne & Moon or the markets hosted by Austin Witches' Circle, you start to notice patterns. Those patterns are a comfort and a privilege to see, as a reader: they serve as a reminder that no matter how strange or heavy an issue is, someone else is going through the same thing. It is humbling to see the threads that can connect total strangers, weaving in and out of a pattern that ultimately connects everyone. Your victories, your ordeals, your heartbreak--it's all shared by the people who come to my table.


Nobody wants to to hear they aren't unique, or special. But we could all use the reminder that we aren't alone, every now and then.

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