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Tarot tutorial – 1 : The basics

So you have gotten the inkling to pick up a deck of cards and learn to read them. Whether you received a gift of a new deck or have actively sought out a deck of cards is largely irrelevant – the important part is that they are on your radar now, and since you’re here, we might as well talk about this thing you’re starting.

Can we start by addressing the elephant in the room? How is it possible that cards ‘randomly’ pulled from a deck of 78 can provide information about a current situation or help you to draw conclusions about how this situation might unfold and eventually end up? Firstly, I might point out the maximum number of possible permutations of a deck of 78 cards. This value is 8.20082 × 10^115, or essentially – a number greater than the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe. So, while there isn’t an infinite number of possible card draws, the number is so large that to a person with an average life-span it might as well be infinite. Why is this important? Well, firstly, if your aim in a given system is to accurately represent any specific occurrence in the observable universe, you need a pretty big data source to draw from. Secondly, one of the keys to understanding Tarot is not simply the cards themselves and the imagery contained thereon – it is moreso the pattern and collections of cards drawn, all together that makes up a reading. The fact that numerically there is an incredibly large amount of diversity means that every draw is always a novel experience, requiring a new interpretation every single time. This is where pattern recognition, wisdom and intuition enter the picture.

images in the sand

Lets imagine for a second we are looking at patterns of sand blown by the wind and using this as a stimulus for our intuition and wisdom to ruminate on some certain topic or another.

image of blown sand generated by stable diffusion
Sand patterns in desert, generated by Stable Diffusion 1.5

Look at this image with me for a moment, and consider something that is challenging you or something you’d like guidance on. You can even take a question from a friend about their current circumstance. Don’t focus too intently on the image, relax, let your gaze slightly blur and just let anything at all arise.

You might find a pattern in the sand emerge, a shape, face – something familiar. You might alternatively find a thought arising as your conscious mind relaxes into the image, and be slightly perplexed about it’s origin. The important thing is to be able to sense whatever has arisen and see if you can make a connection between the pattern or thought and the consideration you were making originally. For me specifically, in this image I was considering how I might more clearly explain myself as I relaxed into the picture. From the picture I saw patterns that looked like a flame, a speech bubble. I also considered sand itself as a material for glass and an abrasive, dry substance. Thus I might say that in reference to my intention, I can see that I need to communicate as clearly as possible to make myself as clear as possible (sand -> glass), be passionate about the material (flame corresponds with passion) and keep re-iterating the point as much as I the writer and you the reader can theoretically bear.

Perhaps you can see what I’m getting at here. You and your mind are products of an infinite, limitless system. Anything that provides an appropriate stimulus can feed your imagination and intuition. As long as you are aware enough to sense the images or thoughts as they arise, you have all you need to meditate, ask questions, and get answers – now, without Tarot.

But why learn tarot, then?

In the previous example, we looked at patterns of sand as a stimulus to engage your intuition and imagination, as well as to quiet your conscious mind and relax into whatever arises for you in the moment. With Tarot, exactly the same thing is happening – but the effects are amplified using several very clever techniques. Some of these techniques are :

  • The use of Archetypes
  • The use of Elemental correspondences
  • The use of grading and location systems
  • Numerology and all numerical correspondences
  • Language and the nesting of concepts within concepts

I hope to go over some of these items in greater detail throughout this series of posts, but suffice it to say that if looking at patterns in the sand was a one dimensional approach, the Tarot with all of it’s correspondences and collective experience would be a multi-dimensional approach. For each intuition there is a thought, and each thought strikes a new intuition and it keeps going, all the way down.

So what’s next? Well you probably have a Tarot deck already. Many readers recommend the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to beginners because of the very thorough artwork on all 78 cards (many decks only provide artwork on 22 of the cards, leaving the other 56 without). Having action pictures on each card allows each new reader to tap into the ‘one dimensional’ intuitive reading methods (as outlined by the patterns in the sand example) immediately. There are a lot of Tarot readers who haven’t spent a single hour studying any of the traditional material and yet using their intuition alone can provide astonishing readings. So if you are just starting out, I also would recommend using the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Here is an affiliate link which will also support the site if you go ahead and purchase this deck : Radiant Rider Waite

an exercise for you

Without learning a single other thing about Tarot, try this out: Think of a consideration, question (or take a question from a friend) and shuffle your cards, pulling as many as you feel appropriate. Lay them out in front of you and simply relax into the images. Watch for patterns emerging in the characters, actions and landscapes of each card and listen to your thoughts arise. If you can make a connection between what is arising for you and the question or concern you originally had – congratulations, you are a natural! Now you just need some practice. If you found this part difficult, don’t be discouraged – some people approach this subject matter best through the intellect first and the intuition comes later. Stay tuned for my next post where we’ll talk about some of the cards and spreads.

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