What is the Tarot?
The first recorded use of tarot cards dates back to the 14th century. The cards' original purpose was primarily for games and gambling, like modern playing cards, but throughout the centuries they have been adapted to divinatory purposes. Tarot has had a renewed popularity in the last decades, however their use has expanded from simple divination to a tool for meditation, reflection, problem analysis and the opening of our intuitive faculties.
Tarot is a tool for better understanding our lives through universal archetypal symbols, and how they relate to our personal journey.
A standard tarot deck contains 78 cards:
- 22 Major Arcana or Trump cards depicting the fool's journey towards enlightenment. Representative of the path of the mythical hero, this journey is one of adventure and self-discovery.
- 56 Minor Arcana cards:
- 40 Pip cards (Ace through Ten of each suit; typically Cups, Swords, Pentacles and Wands)
- 16 Court cards (Page, Knight, Queen and King of each suit)
Consulting the tarot allows us to gain fresh perspectives on situations and problems in our lives, as well as to connect to our intuition.
What is the Oracle?
Oracle cards are loosely based on the tarot system of divination, but allow for more flexibility in structure and organization. Unlike the tarot, oracle decks can have any number of cards, and can be used for general inspiration or focus on specific topics such as feminine deities or animal spirit guides. In general, oracle cards encompass other non-tarot systems of traditional divination such as runes, the I Ching, and the Lenormand.
Because of the variety inherent to oracle decks, each deck comes with a booklet instructing the user on the meaning and interpretation of each card.
Choosing a deck
Selecting a deck of cards, whether tarot or oracle, is a personal and subjective choice. The approach we recommend is to select a deck that appeals to your imagination and draws you in at first glance, and then to learn to associate the symbols and illustrations on the cards to form an understanding of the tarot or oracle cards that you select. As mentioned, each oracle deck will come with a resource included for reading the cards. As a standardized system the tarot has many resources both online and in print. Our best-selling beginner's guide to the tarot is Tarot: Plain and Simple by Anthony Louis.
It is important to remember that allowing your intuition to speak for the meanings of the cards is essential to personalizing the process and finding alternative solutions to the problem at hand. Definitions serve as a general basis for understanding the cards, but you will learn that each card has different meanings for different people and in different positions in a spread.
Many beginners who want to start out with a very basic tarot deck will opt for the Rider Waite. Many newer decks are based off of the imagery of the Rider Waite, while others take an independent approach to the design of the cards. To purchase a deck, please click here and narrow down your selection to tarot or oracle on the left-hand column.
Learning to read the cards
Each card in a tarot or oracle deck carries a particular meaning. Ultimately reading the meaning of a card requires an understanding of: the meaning of the card, its position in the spread, the surrounding cards, the nature of the question, and the reader's intuition.
It's important not to get overwhelmed at this initial apparent complexity of understanding the cards! Beginners can get to know their cards by looking at them carefully and creating visual associations between symbols and their meanings - for example mountains can represent obstacles, while birds can be aspirations. You can also try pulling one card each morning, contemplating it's meaning both for you personally and in its traditional definition, and at the end of each day reflecting on how the day's events connect to the ones presented in the card.
Below is an example of a card from the Major Arcana and it's associated meaning and symbolism.
The World: XXI (last card in the Major Arcana)
Archetypes according to Carl Jung are the universal situations, feeling states and behaviour patterns of the collective unconscious. The World is the last Trump card in the Tarot, and represents the conclusion of the journey of The Fool (card zero). In the depiction on the left from the Rider Waite deck, the circular wreath surrounding the figure on the World Trump symbolizes the completion of the journey, the achievement of wholeness and actualization of the self, as well as the circular nature of life.
The four symbols in the corners of the card are a human head, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These can be interpreted as the Four Evangelists from Christian traditions, four signs of the Zodiac, or their corresponding representations as the elements. This fourfold structure of the physical world encircles the center of the world where the divine can manifest.
In readings, the card symbolizes the natural end of things, and reaching the final stage in achieving a plan or goal. The end of a journey and the sense of wholeness that accompany it are embodied in this card.
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