Jun. 28th, 2007

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This workshop was presented by a gentleman who said he'd been reading cards for twenty-odd years, and yes, that meant he'd been reading cards since he was about eight. His grandmother taught him using a Bicycle deck in about an hour, and that's the method he taught us.

Sounds a little wacky, right? Not really. The first thing to understand, and this is something I've always known, is that a Tarot deck is just a tool. You use it to tap into your own intuition for understanding the situation. Which means if I drop a card out of my deck and when it lands, I see that it's the ace of wands, reversed, and I kind of facepalm and go, "I am giving away my power," then that's what it means. Regardless of what the little book says. (Yes, I've had this reading before).

And using playing cards instead of Tarot cards isn't so wacky, either. The presenter went through a brief history of Tarot, which grows out of the same root as playing cards. When paper hit the Muslim countries in about 1151 CE, cards resulted. The first suits were scimitars, polo sticks, coins, and cups. The suits might differ by what country and culture you're in. They first got banned in Italy in 1367 CE. This is also where triumphi, or "triumph" decks are first noted. A triumph comes from the Roman "triumph," in which people rode through town to celebrate a victory, and of course, they rode by rank. This is also the root of the word "trump."

Divination by cards comes about starting in the 1500s, and it's initially a Christian thing. Then the Age of Reason comes along, and you start getting Christian mythology mixed with various occult flavors, because it seems like if it's a divinitory tool, there ought to be mysteries behind it. I'm summarizing a lot of detail because that's all it was, detail--it boiled down to the same thing.

Oh, point of trivia: Waite and Smith did a deck in 1909. Waite was the designer and Smith was the artist, but Ryder was the publisher. This gets called the Waite-Ryder deck a lot, and it's the basis for a whole lot of modern Tarot decks in the US.

Back to cards. There are four suits, regardless of if you're looking at Tarot or playing cards. Coins/disks/pentacles/diamonds, wands/rods/staves/clubs, cups/hearts, and swords/spades. These align pretty neatly with elements, but the presenter actually had a slightly different system of elemental correspondence than is widely taught. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter--as long as you decide it means one thing or the other and stick to it consistently, it still helps you tap that intuition.

Coins/Diamons - Earth
Rods/Clubs - generally fire, but the presenter read these as air
Cups/Hearts - water
Swords/Spades - generally air, but the presenter read these as fire

So what does that mean for practical purposes? Well, Earth is are generally money/earth kinds of things. Things that are material and holdable, things of hard work and the physical body. Air is intellect, thought, intelligence--anything that air means. Sometimes communication (speech involves air). Water is emotions (go figure the playing suit is hearts). Love, hate, passions. Fire is about change and transformation.

So that takes care of suits. The other piece of learning to read Tarot in an hour is numbers. I'm going to use the common array of elements for the examples, just to make this as generally accessible as possible. If you look at these, you'll notice it's a kind of progression.

1 - the source/strongest/unified element (e.g. 1 of clubs = source of change)

2 - duality/choice/pairs

3 - beginning of balance (think tripod), triune god, triple goddess, coming together (e.g. 3 of swords = the wound that must be healed for stability)

4 - very stable, four gospels, four walls

5 - things happening (a deck I've seen calls the five of swords not Strife, which is common, but Strive, which is definitely about things happening)

6 - harmony (that which comes after strife, I suppose)

7 - divinity, divine gifts, a Christian sign of power

8 - transition, cleaning up loose ends

9 - just before the end, almost there, kind of coasting

10 - the end of the cycle, but the cycle just begins again, so it also hints at beginnigns

And then we hit the court cards. A lot of books present these as people, but the presenter points out that sometimes, they're aspects of people. Me, I find that when I read, they're very seldom people--and when they are, it kind of screams at me. But that's just me, and not necessarily applicable to anybody else.

jack - questioning

queen - in control of emotions, regal, strong

king - in control, regal, commanding

page/princess - messenger - found in Tarot decks but not playing cards

So what about the Major Arcana? In general, these are really well-imaged in any given deck, and you can read a lot based on what the pictures mean to you. Again, these are a triumph, which means they're ranked. The interesting thing about that is, depending on the deck, the Fool may be 0 or 22 (or sometimes 21, I'm told). The following are not in order (the presenter gave up on being able to find the card he wanted at the moment he wanted it):

Fool/Joker - He can't be harmed. He's the exception, the excuse. He's got this devil-may-care attitude that sometimes gets him in over his head.

Magus/Mounteback - His function is to entertain, too fool you. But he knows you, or he couldn't fool you.

High Priestess/Popess - The woman who ministers. The gateway to knowledge and receptive information.

Empress - Temporal power with a feminine slant. Abundance.

Emperor - Temporal power with a masculine slant.

Heirophant/Pope - In charge of spirituality.

Lovers - a couple, union, symbiosis. Also fights and hardships.

Chariot - I think if I looked in my book this would say something about a journey, but if you look at the picture in a Waite-Ryder variant, what you see is a guy in a vehicle being pulled by two equal-but-opposit creatures. The presenter suggested that this might read as wrestling to be in control or being pulled in two directions.

Strength - Not beat-'em-up strength. More on the order of fortitude and perseverence.

Hermit - Inward.

Wheel of Fortune - Randomness, the promise that luck can change. (Though that goes more than one way--for me, this will always be the fuck-you card, or occasionally my life in the spin cycle).

Justice - Originally, Justice wasn't blind--it had to watch closely. There are generally scales in this picture, which is about balance. Making things right.

Hanged Man - Originally evoking a traitor, it also takes in things like Odin's hanging on a tree for nine days in search of knowledge. So at some point, it becomes a bit about sacrifice.

Death/Transition - profound change

Temperance - balance, adjustment, evened out, good judgement

Moon - divinity coming in, feminine. In most interpretations I've seen, there's also something untrustworthy in the reading of this card, which is interesting when you consider that playing off both the waxing and waning of the moon and the Christian habit of blaming Eve and the feminine for expulsion from the Garden.

Sun - achievement, growth

Judgment - a recknoning

the Devil - The stuff you give your power away to. Not in the sense of putting your power behind something. In the sense of the thing you allow to make you week.

the Star - inspiration from far away, dreams, fleeting . . .

the World - accomplishment, achievement, God (think about it--he's got to be the highest rank, so originally, he would have been at the end of the triumph), end/beginning in the sense of creation

the Tower - This is the thunderbolt, the strike of god. It's a destructive moment, a destructive change, but also destruction to make room for new growth.

The presenter mentioned that reversed/inverted cards (if you choose to read them as different at all, which some folks don't) can be read as just that--a reversal of the card's meaning. He also suggested that, since pictures become important when you're not constantly putting your nose in a book, the best thing to do is to find a deck that inspires you. That'll make reading the cards so much easier.

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