You want to know how tarot works? This is a question I get ALL THE TIME. Whether you are skeptic or a believer, it makes sense that you’d want to take a peek behind the scenes. So here’s what I tell people when they sit down across the table from me for a reading.
I think of tarot as a language - the language of spirit - and the role of reading the cards akin to that of a translator . Each of the 78 cards makes up a vocabulary that describes human experience. When you shuffle the cards and lay them out on the table, you’ll find a message that needs to be decoded, card by card. This is where the art form comes in. Tarot is complex. Reversals and placement of the cards in relationship to each other can change the meaning of the message. Intuition comes in at this point, and for me, it’s where the magic happens. There’s always a moment where the “words” become “sentences” and then the “sentences” have meaning. It’s glorious when it all comes together.
A solid structure
If you are thinking about learning tarot - which you should! - it pays off to understand the structure of the deck. A solid foundation of technical skill makes a huge difference in your ability to do a good reading. There are 5 suits; 4 minor arcana (the minor mysteries) and the major arcana (the major mysteries). The five suits work together, but each has a unique role, addressing an aspect of human experience. It’s wild to think that these cards, which go back hundreds of years, can still speak powerfully to the experiences we have today.
Schools of thought
There is more than one truth in how tarot works, and more than one school of how to read it. I’ve met and worked with atheists who interpret tarot through the lens of image association and art therapy. And old school readers out there still use the approach of oracular prediction (“soon you will meet a tall brown haired man”). But that’s not me. In my experience, tarot is not just any language. It’s the language of each person’s spiritual guardianship. It’s your ancestors, your divinities, your animal guardians, your plant medicine. Those spirits absolutely want you to live your best life. They have perspective that we don’t have, see things we can’t. Through tarot, they can share their wisdom and offer you guidance. It’s up to you whether or not to take action on that wisdom.
Here's me teaching Foundations of Tarot in 2016
Bottom line - it WORKS!
And I’ll tell you - I’m not without my points of critical reflection on the tarot, and of course, it has its limits. But I’ve been reading cards now for myself and others for a good 10 years or so, and they work. Tarot can give tough love, but it’s never the kind of ominous threatening prediction that TV makes it out to be. It’s more like a grandmother who doesn’t have the insecurity to spare your feelings if what you need is a swift kick in the pants. I’ve laughed with strangers as they hear this wisdom... that kind of crying chuckle of knowing you’ve gotta change, but it’s not gonna be easy. And just as often, tarot provides a gentle message of healing and hope. You get what you need, and you’ll almost certainly get what you came for.
So! To recap for you TLDR; folks:
Five awesome suits, corresponding to different aspects of life
Reading the cards is a combination of technical skill and intuition
Tara says spirit is the force behind tarot, but there’s more than one school of thought on this
Tarot works because it gives people good useful support and guidance. You can’t beat that!