This series of instruction and guidance has kindly been written by RowanBerry in the Whitewiccca forums and is saved here for easy reference.
The Tarot provides a great deal of potential not only for divination, but also self-exploration, magick, and an opportunity to touch a vast well of untapped potential. Tarot is, and always will be, exactly what you make of it. It is as much a reflection of yourself as it is the world and forces around you.
We will start straight away with a couple of “spreads” before talking about the meanings of any cards at all. I will then help you to explore the meanings of each Minor Arcana card before we move on to the Major Arcana. I find this approach helpful as it will ensure that you really identify with each card. That is, if you have a bit of practice with some of the basic spreads we then can discuss the cards in terms of these spreads. This allows you to connect with the cards on a much deeper level making the learning quicker and easier.
In future bulletins I will begin by giving you a simple three-card spread to play with, then we will move into the readings. By providing reading scenarios such as “Sam asks you if he’s ever going to get the job. The card in the final outcome position of your spread is Death,” we can tackle not only the standard “What do the cards mean?” challenges to Tarot reading, but also the more subtle (and equally important) challenges such as “How do I keep this person from having a fit when he sees the Death card?”
Tarot cards are flexible and can fit within any framework, philosophy, or spiritual path and just about every metaphysical organization from the Golden Dawn to the Theosophical Society has produced their own brand of Tarot reading.
Probably the most familiar face of the Tarot is credited to Arthur Edward Waite. Around the turn of the century, he commissioned Pamela Coleman Smith to create a version of Tarot based on his own sense of mysticism and symbolism. Probably the most significant contribution of this deck is the addition of detailed symbols to the Minor Arcana cards, as opposed to merely presenting the number and suit, as evidenced in prior decks. This made for much more detailed and, some argue, accurate readings, enhancing not only the utility of the Tarot but its popularity as well.
The Rider Card Company printed the Rider-Waite deck (sometimes known as the Rider-Waite-Smith or RWS deck, to give credit to the artist) in 1910. Thereafter, most Tarot decks bore a striking resemblance to Smith’s renditions of Waite’s vision.
Currently, the Tarot has experienced exponential growth in utility, expression, and popularity. Artists are commissioned in throngs to paint their own versions of the Tarot. Deck conceptions are created for any topic imaginable. There are Tarot decks for Cat Enthusiasts, Herbalists, and Lewis Carroll fans. Readers from all walks of life are regularly exploring themselves and the forces around them using cards that fit their personalities and personas; be it movie memorabilia, Greek mythology, or erotica.
Choosing a Deck
Choosing a Deck is easy simply pick a deck you like. So long as you use a deck you’re drawn to, you’re using the right deck. If you use a deck you’re uncomfortable with, chances are you will have a hard time reading with them, regardless of who or what recommends them.
That being said let me give my criterion for choosing a first deck. Bear in mind that just because I like certain decks, doesn’t mean you must use it. These are merely guidelines and suggestions!
1) Most decks are based at least partially on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) symbolism (these are often referred to as “clones”). For that reason, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with this symbolic system, as it enhances your own flexibility across decks as a reader. Also for that reason, I am presenting this course primarily using the RWS symbolism and it may be a bit easier for the beginning student to follow this course if he or she uses an RWS-based deck.
2) More importantly, do all of the cards have detailed drawings? This includes the Minor Arcana. Many decks have beautifully presented Majors, but the Minor Arcana cards are left merely with a number and a representation of a suit (e.g., simply six cups for the “six of cups” and no ‘picture’ to go with it). With detailed graphics on each card, you can draw from the symbolism presented. This enhances learning, creative reading, and it makes explaining the meanings of each card to the client much easier!
3) Are the cards too big or too small to shuffle comfortably? Most people are accustomed to shuffling a standard-sized deck. Remember, this deck is already thicker than the standard 52-card deck. Overly small or large cards may make it even more difficult for you to handle them without fumbling frequently. Also, many readers ask their clients to shuffle the cards. If you choose this method, it is even more advisable to choose a deck that is similar in size to a standard deck.
Many bookstores will have “sample decks” on display for you to examine the deck before you buy it. Try it out, look through the deck, shuffle them around, listen to the cards as they ruffle. If you’re comfortable with the deck, it is right.
Care and Feeding
Now that you’ve got your deck, you might be wondering what to do with it. Where do you keep it? Do you let other people touch it while doing a reading? Do you store it somewhere special?
I’ve known readers who buy special, boxes made of specific kind of wood for their cards, which they later consecrate. These containers (as well as the cards) are wiped with mugwort weekly and are exposed to the full moon each month and no one is allowed to touch them—ever.
Other readers carry their cards around in their backpack, in the cardboard box they originally came with, held together with tape and a rubber band.
Neither reader is hurting their readings. It would only hinder their abilities to read if they were caring for their cards in a manner that was inconsistent with their own needs and personalities. If our more casual reader was pressured into taking care of his cards in the same manner as our first reader, he would probably feel so restrained and compressed that he wouldn’t feel relaxed and “free” enough to creatively read. Likewise, if our neater, more ‘structured’ reader were pressured into relaxing her standards a bit she would have felt so ‘surrounded by chaos’ that she would have been unable to concentrate.
However your cards will last longer if you take care of them well.
After each bulletin I will post some questions. You can use these to “test” your understanding or simply to expand your thinking. I hope you will find this useful.
1) If you don’t already have a deck, go to your favorite bookstore or other place where you can buy Tarot cards. Examine a few of the sample decks. Play, have fun, then pick a deck.
2) Write a description of your experience. What deck did you pick and why? What do you like most about it? What would you change if you could? If you could design your own deck, what would it be like?
3) Write a description of how you plan to care for your deck. Are you going to consecrate it? Maybe you’ll choose to charge it as a talisman? Will you let other people touch it?