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How Tarot Cards Work


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I used this article a few years ago in my tarot group (which has since been disbanded).  It's really interesting and I'm going to copy and paste some of the article to have it here on the site do I'll start by posting all the legal stuff.  The article was written by:

Lee Ann Obringer, Contributing Writer

Lee Ann Obringer holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and advertising with an outside concentration in marketing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In­ addition to writing for HowStuffWorks, she works as a freelance marketing communications consultant and designer.

The website is:

https://www.howstuffworks.com/

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HOW TAROT CARDS WORK

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/tarot-card.htm

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Tarot Tea and Me does not own any of this material, it is simply sharing it for the benefit of this forum community.

 

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In most people's minds, "Tarot card reading" means a woman in flowing robes, leaning over a small table in a candlelit room, foretelling impending doom.

 

But that's not really what Tarot cards are about. In fact, they're not even really meant to tell your fortune or future. According to The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, "The most powerful sources of information come from within; the Tarot aids in coming in contact with one's Higher Self."

 

But what does that mean? In this article, we'll look at the various ideas about where Tarot cards come from, what they mean and how a deck of cards can possibly tell you anything about yourself. You'll learn why it matters where the cards fall and why you don't have to be a psychic to do a Tarot reading.

Types of Readings

 

There are actually two different types of Tarot readings: question readings and open readings.

 

Question Readings

In question readings, you are addressing a specific question. Tarot is not intended to answer specific yes or no questions. Most say it also shouldn't be used to make decisions, but instead should be used as a guide to help you make the decision yourself. For this reason, the way a question is stated is very important. According to Joan Bunning, a Tarot reader and teacher, questions should:

  • Keep your options open: If you have the answer before the reading, then you're not allowing the cards to guide your overall decision. Bunning gives this example: Asking how you could encourage your mother-in-law to move out, as opposed to asking how you can get along better with her, is narrowing the scope of the true question by answering it before you even get started.
  • Find the best level of detail: Your question should be focused, but not overly detailed. Rather than looking at one particular aspect of a problem, find a way to look more broadly at it. For example, rather than asking how you can make your home life less chaotic, ask how you can better balance kid schedules and adult schedules. That is a focused question. But do not go so far as to ask how you can coordinate baseball, soccer and Cub Scout schedules and still have family time -- that's too detailed. Only include the minimum level of detail needed in order to express what you want to learn from the cards.
  • Focus on yourself: If the reading is for yourself, make sure your question focuses on you rather than on someone else who you think may be the root of your problem. For example, asking why your son is experimenting with drugs is focusing on him, not you. Asking what role you play in your son's decision to experiment with drugs brings the focus of the question back to you.
  • Stay neutral: In order to stay open to other points of view, your question has to be neutral and not convey a preconceived notion that your view is necessarily the right one. The cards can give you guidance if you ask for it. For example, asking why you're doing more work around the house than your spouse isn't neutral; asking how you can get more cooperation from your spouse when it comes to housework is neutral.
  • Be positive: Make sure your question is stated in a positive rather than negative way. Instead of asking why a specific event hasn't happened, ask what you can do to help make that event happen.

 

Open Readings

Open readings address the larger aspects of your life rather than a specific problem area or question. They're usually done when you're entering a new phase of life, such as getting married, graduating from college or starting a family. You can somewhat direct the reading if you have a general area you want to cover, such as your career or health, but that's as specific as the direction gets.

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There are many varieties of Tarot decks, and there is no standard number of cards across all decks. While the types of cards, the suits and their meanings are the same, the illustrations vary greatly. Decks are based on various themes such as nature, animals, fantasy, dragons, etc. The most common deck in the United States is the Rider-Waite deck, which was created in 1909 by A.E. Waite, a prominent member of the occult group the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and published by Rider & Company. The artist was Pamela Colman Smith. This 78-card deck was the only readily available deck in the United States for many years, which is why it is considered the "definitive" tarot deck in the United States. According to The Hermitage: A Tarot History Site, however, there is no "definitive" tarot deck.

 

The Tarot deck is made up of the Minor Arcana and the Major Arcana. Like regular playing cards, the Minor Arcana of the Tarot deck includes four suits. Rather than spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs, however, the suits are:

 

    wands

    swords

    cups

    circles or pentacles

 

Each suit has meaning regarding a specific approach to life. The cards within these suits are numbered one through 10 and also include the court cards -- the king, queen, knight and page. The Minor Arcana cards represent the more minor, practical daily ups and downs in life.

 

The Major Arcana are not associated with the suits. They include the picture cards that represent principles, concepts and ideals. They are numbered one through 21, with the 22nd card (the "Fool") marked as zero. The Major Arcana cards represent strong, long-term energy or big events in some area of life.

 

Seeing a Major Arcana card about a particular subject in one reading and then getting a Minor Arcana card about the same subject in the next reading would mean that this subject is becoming less important in your life. To check out various explanations of specific card meanings, see:

 

    Golden Dawn Research Center: The Tarot

    Paranormality.com: Tarot Card Meanings

    The Mystic Eye: Basic Tarot Card Meanings

    Learn the Tarot: Individual Tarot Cards

 

 

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Before a reading is performed, the cards are shuffled by the person receiving the reading. Some say this transfers that person's energy to the deck. The person receiving the reading should also be concentrating on the question or area for which they want guidance while he or she shuffles the deck. In some more traditional circles, a more elaborate sorting and separation of the cards is performed (see The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Web site for this version).

 

Once the cards are shuffled and the deck has been cut, the reader lays out the cards in a pattern called the spread. Each position in the spread has a meaning, and there are many different types of spreads, ranging from those that incorporate a single card to spreads that include all 78 cards of the deck. Which spread is used is up to the reader and the specific type of question or reading. Some spreads focus more on a specific type of information. For example, one spread might focus more on emotional matters, while another might bring in more information about the influences of others. One of the most common spreads is the Celtic Cross:

tarot-card-3.gif

 

There are many more spreads for Tarot card reading, and readers can even make up their own. For more Tarot card spreads, see Angel Paths.

 

Below, using the Celtic Cross spread as an example, you can see that there is an order in which the cards are laid down for the spread and that each card position within the spread has a meaning. There are many different meanings that each position can have -- it all depends on who you ask. This set of meanings comes from the Angel Paths Tarot and Healing Web site. The card meanings (see Individual Tarot Cards and the next section) are combined with the position meanings. In addition, combinations of cards or card pairings also affect meanings.

tarot-card-14.jpg

 

In the next section, we'll step through a reading to show how the card meanings can be combined with positions and pairings to reach an interpretation.

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I am leaving this here, to continue with the information of this thread, you can pick up the next page here:

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/tarot-card4.htm

Or start from the beginning

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/tarot-card.htm

 

Once the cards are laid out, their meanings are interpreted based on their positions and their neighboring cards. Let's look at the Celtic Cross spread:

 

Here is an approach for reading the Celtic Cross spread according to Tarot reader and teacher Joan Bunning [source: Learn Tarot]. At the right, you can see how this tarot reader and teacher interprets some of the Major Arcana cards.

tarot-card-15.gif

 

  [*]Begin by looking at the Circle/Cross section. The cards in this position represent what is happening in your life at the time of the reading.

  [*]Next, look at the first six cards in pairs. These cards paint a picture of your immediate situation. The cards in position 1 (the central issue) and position 2 (the secondary issue that can either be opposing or reinforcing) will identify the central theme of the reading. The cards in position 3 (the root cause that can be an unconscious influence or deeper meaning) and position 5 (your attitudes and beliefs, a conscious influence, your goal or an alternate future) represent things that are going on within you at different levels. And, the cards in position 4 (your past, a receding influence or something that has been resolved) and position 6 (the future or an approaching influence or unresolved factor) represent how people and events are flowing through your life.

  [*] Next, look at the Staff section of the spread, again considering cards in pairs. Looking at the cards in position 7 (as you are, as you could be, as you present yourself and as you see yourself) and position 8 (your outside environment, someone else's point of view and you as others see you) tells you about your relationship with your environment.

    [*]Finally, look at the card in position 10 (the outcome-overall, your inner state, your actions or effects) to see the projected outcome.

Joan Bunning suggests to then ask yourself how you feel about the projected outcome. What does it say to you?

 

    Go back and review the cards that led up to that outcome, and see if there is a card that stands out as they key to that outcome. Then, look back at card 5 to see if the projected outcome is also shown as an alternate outcome there. Look at the card representing the near future in position 6 to see if it supports or contributes to the projected outcome. Finally, look at the card in position 9 (guidance, key factors, hopes and fears or overlooked factors) to see there is any relevance there.

 

Reversed Cards

Because Tarot cards each have one picture that faces in one direction, it is possible that cards will be facing the opposite direction when dealt. According to most sources, this doesn't change the meaning of the card, but simply weakens the impact of the meaning.

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I never believed in it until I tried it myself. I read on the site urlovelinesscom how to guess the relationship, the groom and the like .. and then I experienced and much really came together!

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Tarot cards don't work, the reader does. It's something like this that I said on AT once:

 

"I'm just a little old lady. My cards are just a deck of cards. But put the two of us together and we both become something different." That's what makes it work, right there. And the magic, if you want to call it that, happens when the two are combined.  I'm always thankful when I know I've read the cards right for what they're really saying.

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Thank you for sharing.  I am new and have been dabbling with cards for a year or so.  I use the Rider-Waite deck as well as Whispers of Love and Doreen Virtue's Angel Therapy.  If one asks a basic question like, "What do I need to know today?" would that be considered an "Open Reading"?  Thanks!

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Blasianpersuasion

Wow I like the idea of it being from “your higher self”. I’m just now learning about the higher self and it makes so much sense to me. I personally (and this is obvious just speaking of my opinion) think that it’s not really knowing what “is” the tarot or the world it connects to. Like 2+2 is undoubtedly 4 but this is not a straight forward answer like that. It’s like a written portion of the test asking you a subjective question. So many answers but which answer is “right”. I think everyone has an idea but it’s so beyond any of us here in the tangible human world that we don’t fully understand enough to grasp. It’s like saying one has all the answers to the universe as just a human. But there are humans on this earth that I wouldn’t doubt have the power to know these things, I just don’t ever rule out any possibility. Although im fascinated by the ideologies behind the third eye and tapping into an understanding beyond the physical through that. I don’t quite get what it entails but even if one is a highly intuitive person there’s so much unknown beyond us.

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Yeah I hear you Blasian.  I also think that things that are beyond explanation, are just literally beyond explanation.  I've had more than enough sudden flashes of understanding or moments of "enlightenment" to know that there are some things that while a human can understand them, they can not EXPLAIN them.  So I'm guessing that if one does actually understand how this works, it's a deep knowing, and there probably wouldn't be some way of just explaining it, as much as one could just try to paint pictures or use metaphors.  

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jioconde1234

Thanks for sharing this article! I didn't know that Tarot is not good for answering yes/no questions.  I found this to be very interesting!

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SparklePuffy
On 3/3/2020 at 6:06 AM, Barleywine said:

I've written quite a few essays on "how tarot works." Here is my latest one. I know some of you say "Yeah, that's only one theory..."

Hi @Barleywine I enjoyed your writing style but I read it twice and am wondering what's the theory? Pardon as I'm only a 10th grade graduate.

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Barleywine
1 hour ago, SparklePuffy said:

Hi @Barleywine I enjoyed your writing style but I read it twice and am wondering what's the theory? Pardon as I'm only a 10th grade graduate.

This part addresses the theory: "there is an unspoken communion between the seeker and the interfacing medium of expression (usually cards), resulting in the “subconscious induction” of a coherent account of future events and/or circumstances in the final arrangement of pictures on the reader’s table." In other words, the sitter's manipulation of the cards during the shuffle-and-cut imparts, through tactile intervention at the subconscious level, an ordering of the cards in just the right way to convey the message.

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15 minutes ago, Barleywine said:

This part addresses the theory: "there is an unspoken communion between the seeker and the interfacing medium of expression (usually cards), resulting in the “subconscious induction” of a coherent account of future events and/or circumstances in the final arrangement of pictures on the reader’s table." In other words, the sitter's manipulation of the cards during the shuffle-and-cut imparts, through tactile intervention at the subconscious level, an ordering of the cards in just the right way to convey the message.

Wait, whoa.
You're saying the subconscious not only knows the future, what other people are doing, etc., but it's capable of stacking the deck with the correct cards to convey all that  in the few seconds it takes to shuffle and cut?

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade here, but if I move my alarm clock, my subconscious is incapable of swatting the snooze button. I have to sit up and consciously look for the darned clock.

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Barleywine
17 minutes ago, katrinka said:

Wait, whoa.
You're saying the subconscious not only knows the future, what other people are doing, etc., but it's capable of stacking the deck with the correct cards to convey all that  in the few seconds it takes to shuffle and cut?

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade here, but if I move my alarm clock, my subconscious is incapable of swatting the snooze button. I have to sit up and consciously look for the darned clock.

Yep, that's the theory as expounded by Joseph Maxwell and others (I believe he called the principle "vaticination"). I recall that you once said "that's only one theory" when we discussed it before. I don't believe in spiritual intervention through some kind of mystical infusion (aka "intuition"), so the sitter's subconscious channeling of a higher order of wisdom through tactile manipulation of the cards is about as far as I'm willing to go down that particular path. It's as good a theory as any other.

Edited by Barleywine
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2 minutes ago, Barleywine said:

It's as good a theory as any other.

Well yes. We don't have any plausible theories.
That's alright. It works. When asked how, I think "Hell if I know" is a perfectly good answer. 😄
 

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Barleywine
6 minutes ago, katrinka said:

Well yes. We don't have any plausible theories.
That's alright. It works. When asked how, I think "Hell if I know" is a perfectly good answer. 😄
 

The "mystic" side of me agrees; the "mad scientist" side demands some kind of supra-rational "SWAG" (scientific wild-ass guess) to fly by.

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1 minute ago, Barleywine said:

The "mystic" side of me agrees; the "mad scientist" side demands some kind of supra-rational "SWAG" (scientific wild-ass guess) to fly by.

EVERYBODY STAND BACK! WE'RE DOING SCIENCE UP IN HERE! 🤣🤣🤣
Time/space. Crack time/space and maybe then you've cracked how it works.

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SparklePuffy
1 hour ago, Barleywine said:

In other words, the sitter's manipulation of the cards during the shuffle-and-cut imparts, through tactile intervention at the subconscious level, an ordering of the cards in just the right way to convey the message.

Thank you. So it's all in the sitter's choice of certain appropriate cards, and the reader is just explaining the card meanings?

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