How Does Tarot Work?

waves quote I do not believe in fate or destiny in the sense that the future is predetermined. However, we are creatures of habit, influenced by our personal & cultural histories and our biology; with varying levels of self-awareness. So can we really exercise ‘free will‘?

Keeping with the nautical theme of the quote pictured here; waves tend to rush to the shore but break-walls and winds (i.e. forces seen and unseen) may change the direction or speed of those waves. We, and existence in this reality, are complex.

I have owned and used Tarot (and other ‘divination decks’) for almost 40 years. I’ve also studied astrology and keep a small number of crystals around my work space. At their best, so-called ‘divination tools’ (whether cards, crystals, astrology, numerology, runes or any other method) help us see what lies beneath the surface and may help us understand patterns in our thoughts and behaviours.

Various ‘occult traditions’ have spoken of vibrations, and energy; quantum physics is just starting to grasp the truths behind those concepts. Perhaps the cards help us tap into Carl Jung’s collective unconscious* collection of archetypes and information. Some describe it as “intuition” while others say “muse“. Or maybe Dolly Parton had it right in her song ‘These Old Bones‘ that the magic is inside each of us.

“there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents”
Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

synchronicity; noun. syn·chro·nic·i·ty
“the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (such as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung”
From Merriam-Webster.

insight; noun. in-sight
“the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively”
From Merriam-Webster

intuition; noun. in-tu-i-tion
“the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference”
From Merriam-Webster

A Very Brief History of Tarot

tarot2015resources400 Various writers, teachers and explorers of esoteric arts (magic, wicca, magick, Golden Dawn, etc) have claimed that Tarot cards are repositories of ancient wisdom- with origins from ancient Egypt through various parts of Asia. While I believe that much of ‘Western’ religious tradition most likely descends from Ancient Egyptian traditions, I suspect that solid evidence of it is lost to time and/or the bowels of the Catholic Corporation archives. What we do know is that decks of cards were being used across Europe by the Romani and others for fortune telling, as well as Tarocchi, a card game. The oldest cards still in existence are from the 15th Century- generally produced for members of the Visconti families in what is now Italy.

Perhaps one of the best discussions of the history of Tarot decks is the 300+ page, heavily-illustrated, The Encyclopedia Of Tarot, Vol. 1, shown in the attached image. This is the first of four volumes* (so far) written by Stuart R. Kaplan who founded US Games Systems Inc to publish and distribute Tarot and other decks of cards. The book lists European references to playing cards as far back as the 1300s. He then presents early tarocchi decks, modern tarock decks, and of course the Occult Revival interest in Tarot as a divination tool.

In many earlier decks (as well as some recent designs) the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana showed just the number of items (eight cups, three swords, etc.) reminiscent of what’s found on modern playing cards. Designs created by members of various occult groups such as Theosophical Society and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and published in the 19th Century included detailed illustrations on all the cards. The Rider-Waite deck designed by A.E. Waite (artwork by Pamela Colman Smith) and published by Rider & Company had perhaps the greatest influence on the meanings, designs and order of cards in most designs produced since.

Encyclopedia of Tarot

Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume I
In the first major reference work of its kind, this comprehensive volume traces the history and origins of the earliest extant tarot, tarocchi, and tarock decks. Written with authority, and sharing a wealth of information, Kaplan’s chronological presentation takes readers from the earliest hand-painted cards, through the historical developments of printed cards, and surveys twentieth century tarot interests.
(at || (at U.S. Games Inc)

Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume II
Provides information on every important theory and intepretation and every recognized deck, illustrating and commenting on the symbolism of the early Tarocchi decks and the major later decks. Out of Print

Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume III
Volume III details the world of tarot in the twentieth century with copious illustrations of published, unpublished, and out of print cards. This work highlights the life of talented artist Pamela Colman Smith and outlines startling similarities between the Rider-Waite® deck and a 15th century pack.
(at || (at U.S. Games Inc)

Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume IV
Provides information on every important theory and intepretation and every recognized deck, illustrating and commenting on the symbolism of the early Tarocchi decks and the major later decks. Out of Print

* Important Notes:
@ Links to items at Amazon are Affiliate Links. They provide The Digital Gryphon LLC with a small commission should you make a purchase;
@ Links to US Games Inc are not Affiliate Links. I don’t earn a fee if you purchase from the publisher; provided for those who prefer to avoid shopping at the other site.