TAROT CARDS IN THE MODERN WORLD
In a world full of ghastly contradictions any sense of purpose and higher revelation is a boon. This foretelling of one’s future or the obscured present is often what people look for in tarot cards and have done so for centuries.
What is a Tarot Card Deck?
A single standardised tarot card deck does not exist. There are as many interpretations of the tarot deck as there are artists. The deck will often be based on common themes such as nature, animals, fantasy or mythical characters and even subcultures such as steam punk or gothic.
However there are basic similarities. All tarot decks are divided into the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The former often pertain to pivotal moments or key aspects of life whereas the latter deals with the more mundane or less significant parts of life. Twenty two cards numbered from 0 to 21 make up the Major Arcana. The card without a number is the Fool who often signifies innocence and beginnings. Following this allegory then the other 21 cards of the Major Arcana are the Fool’s Journey. It is a spiritual journey marked by the hardships, lessons and triumphs of life.
On the other hand, the Minor Arcana is similar to a regular deck since it is divided into four suits; wands, cups, swords and pentacles (coins). Each suit contains 14 cards starting from the first or the ace and numbered up to ten followed by the four court cards – King, Queen, Page and Knight.
In a nutshell, the Major Arcana signify the bigger, more momentous experiences and decisions in life. The minor arcana point to inconsequential issues or help to qualify the context of a major arcana card. However, this was not the original arrangement or purpose of the tarot deck.
A Brief History
The Tarot card decks date back to the 15th century, the beginning of the Renaissance period. This period was characterised by a reawakening of interest in the natural world, humanistic learning and an appreciation of the subtle individuality of human nature. Consequently, much of the illustrations on the cards were influenced by alchemy, neoplatonic and hermetic beliefs. Originally, the Tarot cards were created as a game similar to the modern bridge. They were initially hand-painted and covered in gold leaf as miniature works of art for the rich. They later became popular as printed versions sprang up. Though there were playing cards in Chinese culture as early as the 9th century A.D and later in European cultures, featuring four suits (swords, coins, staffs and cups), it was not until the 15th century that the suit of trumps, named from the Italian word for triumph, was added. The suit of trumps was to later become the Major Arcana, named so by the followers of the occult.
The earliest versions of Tarot cards seem to have been created in renaissance Italy. Even so, as most cultural norms do, the decks also sprang up simultaneously in other places such as Marseilles, France.
Later in the 1700’s the use of Tarot cards in divination began to take hold thanks to their association with the mysticism by well known occultists such as Antoine Court de Gebelin and Jean-Baptiste Alliette. They claimed that the cards originated in ancient Egypt and were linked to the Egyptian god Thoth and the mythical figure from antiquity Hermes Trismegistus. The adoption of their unfounded claims cemented the place of Tarot Cards in divination.
Modern Tarot Decks
One of the most notable and referenced decks is the Rider White Deck commissioned by Arthur Edward White and designed by Pamela Colman Smith in 1909. It draws heavily from Smith’s artistic style, her previous art as well as from decks of the renaissance period such as the Sola Busca Tarot and the Marseilles deck of the 18th century. As such it is often called the Waite-Smith deck in honour Smith’s input.
There are more modern decks such as the Aquarian deck designed by David Palladini in 1970. It is based on the Waite-Smith deck with Art Deco influences. Later decks though loosely based on the original tarot cards, differ greatly in the symbolism adopted. Some notable examples are the Paulina Deck, the Deviant Moon deck and the Divine Legacy tarot. See how the various card decks differ stylistically below:
Tarot Cards in the Modern World
Tarot cards have had a steady following across the centuries. However, with the beginning of the New Age movement in the 1970’s, the pervasiveness of their usage grew exponentially even amongst followers of traditional religions that frown upon fortune telling.
The New Age movement, with as many interpretations as there are people who loosely follow the movement, values the spiritual development of the individual as a way of reaching “god” – the core belief being the universality of God in all things and everything in God. This core belief has reenergised the belief in an individual’s power to see past the veil into the spirit world as well as the ability to tap into one’s psychic ability to read auras and tell fortunes. Tarot cards as a tool of divination falls neatly into this subculture.
Of course it goes without saying that the catastrophes of the modern world are a heavy burden on the collective human psyche. More than ever, people both young and old constantly seek answers in alternative expressions of spirituality. The traditional forms seem to have failed in delivering the answers required in the melting pot that is the 21st century.
Tarot Cards as an Art Form
There is also a less fundamental and weighty connection that tarot cards have to the modern world. This connection is art. For artists who document pop culture and other subcultures or who create within those frameworks, tarot cards and the symbols within them offer a wealth of inspiration and subject matter.
There are those who opt to create more decks with art work that delves deeper into allegories as well as natural magic. Others use Tarot and esoteric symbols surrounding it as material to create crafts, art pieces, clothing and even jewellery. A quick search through Etsy is enough to show that this is a booming business; an opportunity to inject spirituality into one’s life.
There are numerous blogs, micro blogs and Channels dedicated to documenting the beautiful, the most bizarre and the most interesting tarot cards out there. For those with a plebeian interest, it is entertainment. However, for those who take it seriously, it is study.
Tarot Cards in the Digital Media space
In this digital age, where information is at our finger tips and we can learn anything with the click of a button one wonders whether there is any mystery left. With all the available resources on blogs and websites, it is possible to learn the meanings of the various cards in a tarot deck and the interpretations to be made.
Another aspect that is a throwback to the psychic hotlines and TV shows of the bygone days are the tarot card readings conducted via chat or webcam. Gurus will say that the internet does not in any way diminish the authenticity or the accuracy of the message that will come from the cards. It all hinges upon choosing the right person to read your cards.
Tarot Cards as Inspiration
Stepping away from things spiritual or related to divination, tarot cards are also being used to increase innovativeness and to help creators find their muse. From business majors in university to authors, the process of placing and interpreting the cards can help unclog a tired mind or break down writer’s block.
The systematic nature of a tarot card reading helps to work through all the mental clatter to a clearer path. In the case of a writer, doing a tarot card reading can assist in working out plot angles, character traits of one’s cast as well as the development of the story. It is often said that stories write themselves you just have to pull the story out of the cosmos.
Tarot Card spreads and Numerology
How exactly does a Tarot card reading go?
First of all it is important to remember that Tarot cards more than a blind foretelling of the future, they are a tool that helps you sort out the energies surrounding you and points you in the right direction. Tarot card readers often have to be extremely intuitive and observant in order to pick up on all that the cards show.
The Tarot card reader begins by centering and grounding himself or herself so as to be open to the energies and the message from the cards. He or she will then shuffle the cards and begin to pull them out of the deck laying them face down. The order or arrangement in which the cards are laid out is called a Tarot Card spread. Each spread assigns different meaning to different position. The reader chooses the spread he or she will use simply by preference and ideally the reading stays the same regardless of the arrangement chosen.
The several different spreads, each having its own variations; the spreads include the Celtic Cross and the Tetraktys. You can also choose to have a very specific reading done in regards to one part of your life such as your relationships, dream exploration or even annual goals. In each case the spread would change.
A brief nod must be given to numerology or the science of numbers. Often while doing a tarot card reading, the reader will take into consideration the special numbers in the subject’s life. This can help in guiding the interpretation process. It is also important to note that the principles of numerology are honoured in the various tarot card spreads and their meanings.
Do tarot cards have a place in the modern world? Most certainly whether it is amongst the curiosity seekers or the New Age Spiritists or even as a tool for aiding professional pursuits. Whichever way you look at it there is a choice for everyone in a tarot card deck.
TAROT CARDS IN THE MODERN WORLD