What Are Tarot Cards


It is possible that, at some point, you have heard of Tarot in one way or another. Almost everyone has an idea, right or wrong, about what Tarot is. Quite often Tarot is covered in mysticism. Some regard it as a superstition or as an old wives tale while others think of it as a psychological tool for discovery and another section of the population thinks about it as a tool to predict the future.
Amongst all these different currents of thought, it is hard to pinpoint what Tarot is from the outside, so keep on reading to discover what is Tarot and what are Tarot cards.

What Is A Tarot deck?

A Tarot deck is a pack of 78 cards divided into two sections: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. What we call Major Arcana, are a section of 22 cards, while Minor Arcana are 56 cards divided into 4 smaller parts of 14 cards each called suits. The suits are Pentacles, Chalices, Wands and Swords. A suit consists on 10 cards numbered from 1 to 10 and 4 Court Cards.

Occasionally, on a whim of the artist, you can find a deck with 79 cards. This is because the artist has decided to include an extra Arcana. A more or less frequent happening is to see an Arcana called “The Happy Squirrel” which is either unnumbered or numbered the 23rd Arcana. Originally, this appeared in episode 17 of season 6 of The Simpsons as a joke, but it stuck into the Tarot Community and is sometimes added.

How To Distinguish A Tarot Deck From An Oracle Deck?

This is an easy one! While Tarot follows the above-mentioned structure with slight changes depending on the artist, for instance, the names of the suits may vary, Oracle decks have a more fluid structure and no set number of cards or even a defined reading system. If you are in possession of a Tarot deck, it will have 78 cards and will be sectioned as explained. Everything else falls into the Oracle category.

What Is Tarot Used For?

Different voices have different opinions. My personal take is that the uses of a Tarot deck depend pretty much on the reader and their particular style. Some defend that it can tell the future while others defend the opposite. For this reason, here are some of the things that a Tarot deck can do – and you can choose whether or not it is in your plans to do it!

Tarot is mainly a tool meant to analyze. Whether you analyze the past, the present or the future is up to you. It can be used to explore options, get to know ourselves better, dig into our psyche, meditate, face our fears, as a tool for mediation in conflict and of course, for prediction. Some readers even use it for dream analysis!

Myth Or Reality? Tarot Myths Debunked.

One shouldn’t buy their own Tarot deck. – Mistake! Although the popular belief is that a Tarot deck should be gifted or stolen, the truth is that no harm will come by purchasing your own, and there are no extra requirements for it.

One cannot read Tarot unless they are “gifted” with psychic abilities. – Wrong again! Tarot can be learnt and used, with more or less ability by anyone.

A Tarot deck must be covered in a silk wrapped and stored in a wooden box. – One more time, no! You can store your deck wherever you see fit, and again no harm will come from it.

Dissection Of A Tarot deck.

We have already spoken about how a deck is divided, now, let’s go into some basic concepts that will help you better grasp what Tarot is all about.

Major Arcana are often numbered from 0 to 21 or from 1 to 22, depending on the author, although the first enumeration is far more common. This section of cards is regarded as “The Fool’s Journey” and it represents major life events, changes or milestones.

Minor Arcana deal with the more mundane aspects of life. Each one of the suits has an elemental correspondence and deals with a particular side of things.

Pentacles is the suit of Earth and it deals with the material. The things we can touch and experience through physical interaction. The tangible and the stable. It represents foundations, money, career, work and other Earth-related matters.

Chalices is the suit of Water and it deals with the emotional. Our feelings are ruled by this suit. It can deal with trauma, emotions, intuition. Everything that happens inside us on an emotional level is ruled by the suit of Chalices.

Wands is the suit of Fire and it deals with action. Our most basic instincts, responses and passions are ruled by this suit. It deals with energy, facts, plans that are put into action. Anger, survival instinct, sexuality and will are dealt with by this suit.

Swords is the suit of Air and it deals with communication. Ideas, creativity, thoughts, words, conversations, intellect or logic are some of the things that are treated by this particular suit. It is also related to coldness and rationality.

These distinctions, even if very basic, are useful to understand the different parts of a Tarot deck and how it works. From here, you can start digging as deep as you want into your own Tarot journey!

Some Tarot History

It is difficult to tell for certain where Tarot was originated in or to pinpoint an exact timeline. Some attribute Tarot to the ancient Egyptians or some other equally ancient and exotic civilization. As well, there is an attributed Kabbalistic origin, although there is no conclusive proof of it.

Currently, the most accepted origin from Tarot is definitely European, although some studies point towards Italy while others point towards France and the timeline given oscillates around the 15th century.

It is believed that its initial purpose was to be a game of cards just like every other, but around the 18th century, it began to be used as a divinatory tool.

The most ancient Tarot deck that has survived to our day is the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, which was commissioned by Duke Visconti in Florence during the mid 15th century.

Other classic decks that have survived to our day are the famous Tarot Minchiate, also originated in Italy and the famous Sola Busca, which has been redesigned a number of times.

Some Famous Tarot Readers

Pamela Colman Smith. – Pamela Colman Smith, also known as “Pixie” was an illustrator and occultist who lived in London during the 20th century. She is most known for having illustrated one of the most famous Tarot decks of all times, the Rider-Waite Tarot.

Aleister Crowley. – Aleister Crowley, a famous occultist known as a very eccentric man, member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was also father to the widely known Thoth Tarot. He was born in the late 19th century in Warwickshire, England.

Benebell Wen. – Benebell Wen is one of the most recognized authors of our day, with the particularity that she sees Tarot as a holistic tool for self-discovery, meditation and psychology while she does not believe in its divinatory purposes. Her book “Holistic Tarot” is a must-have.

Barbara Moore. – Barbara Moore is the author of many Tarot books and Tarot decks. Her career is prolific and her work invaluable to both beginner Tarot readers and more seasoned ones. One of her most recent publications is “Your Tarot, Your Way” a very useful guide for new Tarot readers.

In Conclusion

Tarot is a fascinating world at your fingertips. There is nothing to fear and much to learn from it. By continuing reading this series of articles you will get to grasp an idea of what Tarot can do for you and how to use it for your benefit.

If you can’t wait for the next article, you may want to do a quick search on Tarot History and get to know more of the mystical origins of Tarot! You can also get familiar with Major Arcana and start to identify the main characteristics of the 22 figures that compose it! Or perhaps, you can start to investigate about the Elements and their association to Minor Arcana. The possibilities are endless, pretty much as the possible combinations that a Tarot deck has to offer (Curiosity: There are 456,456 possible combinations for a 3-card spread. Impressive, huh?)

Enjoy a Free Reading and get a feel for the meanings of the various cards!

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