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My Latest Tarot-related Activity

Alright, here it is.

Lately I've been doing quite a bit of research. One can simply teach themselves to read Tarot by intuition or memorizing the basic meanings given in the booklet that comes with each deck, or a combination of both methods, but I prefer to delve deeper. I also enjoy astrology and ritual magic, both of which can be connected to the Tarot.

Astrology enhances Tarot, and Tarot and magic can support each other. For those interested in such connections, check out Donald Tyson's book Portable Magic, which talks about using Tarot cards to cast magic spell among other things. Although he doesn't discuss using tarot for divination purposes, the information he offers can be used to supplement your knowledge of the cards and therefore their divinitory uses.

For most people, learning about the 21 cards of the Major Arcana, also called Trumps, is the easiest part. They are the most unique and often attributed the most significance in a reading. Unless you count the Fool's Journey, they have no set pattern the way that the Number cards (Pips) or Court cards do. As is each card in Tarot, the Trumps are assigned astrological significance in the form of a planet, zodiacal sign, or a "higher" element. Some give the World both Saturn and the element earth, but I choose to consider that the element of earth is encompassed by all the number cards and therefore not needed in the Major Arcana.

I may go into more details about the Major Arcana another time.

For now, I've been studying the Number Cards of the Minor Arcana, also know as the Pip cards. Like a deck of poker cards, there are 4 suits, each numbered from 1-10, or A-10. However, the suits are different and more symbolic than that of poker cards, taking into account the elements, medieval social classes, numerological and astrological significance, and even associations with the Kabbalah.

The spades have been replaced by Swords which represent the element of Air, the social class of Knighthood and battle as well as scribes and knowledge. The diamonds have been replaced with Pentacles or Disks which represent the element Earth, the social class of merchants their money but also the working class with their connection to the fruits of the earth. The clubs have become Wands which represent Fire, standing for the ruling class and their dominance, authority, and concern with waging war or instilling order. Finally, the Hearts are the suit of Cups, the element of Water, which represent both the spirituality of the priesthood and to a lesser degree the emotions of artists. These suits make the foundation upon which the number cards are based.

As a general rule, Wands and Cups (fire and water) are opposites and conflict with each other, where Swords and Pentacles (air and earth) are in opposition. Fire and Air are masculine elements and Water and Earth are feminine. Usually, a basic knowledge of the elements is enough to make simple but accurate readings, so studying these should be of first priority to new Tarot students.

Dhesyca Dhesyca 18-21, F 1 Response Aug 6, 2009

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I consider the Numbers of the Cards to be of next importance when learning the Pips. If you compare the different suits you may find that cards of the same number show some similarities: it's easiest to see in the Aces, Threes, Fives, and Sixes. On the other hand, the Twos, Fours, Sevens, Eights, Nines and Tens can seem very different from suit to suit and may appear to have no pattern at all!



I struggled with this and found that I better understood the patterns when I learned how the planets used in astrology and the "homes" of the Kabbalah relate to the numbers, but these can be a difficult concept to understand if you've studied neither. Instead of going into detail on those, I'll give a brief rundown of the numbers' patterns.



Aces encompass the core, most positive, and simplest aspects of each suit. Think of these as a giant circle that contains all the numbers 2-10 inside of itself: it has all the associations, but is in perfect balance and so represents the ideal. However, it is also vague and can be difficult to determine in readings.



Twos are the first cards that express their individuality from the Aces. They are generally positive and give hints as to what the suit is about. They usually encompass an action rather than a state of being.



Threes give a good idea of what the suit is about; they usually represent the element in its strongest form and can give a feel of the suit's overall theme. Wands are associated with authority, Cups with pleasant home life, Swords with sadness, and Pentacles with money and the workplace. Unlike the Twos they are states of being or environments rather than outward expressions. When compared to the Twos, they give a clearer idea of what to expect from the following number cards.



Fours can be seen as a result of the Threes, a natural reaction to the initial setting given by their predecessors. They tend to be positive. For example, 3 of Swords represents Sorrow, but 4 of Swords is about resting from strife and making truces rather than war.



For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. With the Fours it was a positive reaction to the Threes, but with the Fives it's the opposite. The nature of Fives is to balance out the Fours: They are usually seen as negative, even though they aren't evil in themselves but more like challenges to overcome.



Sixes, like the Threes, give a good representation of what the suit encompasses. More than that, they are a solidified and specific reflection of the Aces in that they show the ideal perfection of that element were it to become tangible. Sixes are always positive, granting gifts as well as opportunities for person growth. They are the reward for learning from the Fives and finding equilibrium between their hardships and the Fours.



It's with Sevens and Eights that things get a little more tricky. These are usually seen as being less than perfect (on the Kabbalah's tree of life, the Aces are at the top and the numbers go down from there, so 7 and 8 are below 6). They are more earthly and therefore the energy of the Sixes are not always used wisely. Sevens are expansive, lavish, overused. Think of a spoiled rich child with no understanding of the value of money. The Eights, on the other hand, are more conservative...sometimes too much so! In an effort to give balance to the Sevens, they overshoot the mark and make things less passionate and more studied, like someone who spends all their time theorizing life rather than experience it.



Nines are just near the end, the cards preparing for the elements in their last states. They are the ideal balance between the Sevens and Eights, although not perfect like the Sixes. Like the Threes they hold show key themes of the suits, but may be seen as a tainted or mortalized version of the Sixes.



Finally there are the Tens, the final result of the elemental energies moving from vague concepts through the formative process toward final density. They represent the most earthly aspect of the Elements like the end of a story. Whether the story has a happy or sad ending depends on the suit; usually the Nine gives a clue as to what the Ten will be.



The Sevens, Eights, Nines and Tens are neither intrinsically positive or negative, happy or painful...It depends quite often on the suit and is something one must simply memorize. I guarantee, though, that if you can remember whether a number card is positive or negative (regardless of the number), then you can combine that with the suit and get a good idea of how to read it.