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Demystifying the Deck: An Introduction to Tarot

by Princess Draupadi

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Tarot cards are among the most misunderstood things on this planet. Often, people don’t know how to perceive or react to the practice of tarot reading.

Common misconceptions about the use of tarot is that it’s Satanic, irreligious, occult, evil, a black magic thing, witchcraft, requires the help of supernatural beings and so forth. I blame the media for this ridiculous sensationalization of a fairly innocent practice, the whole gypsy-crystal-ball-creepy-readings-by-candlelight nonsense.

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What Are Tarot Cards?

They’re just cards. Regular cards.

In modern times, tarot readers generally use these cards for divination purposes. For example, if a tarot reader has a client that requests a reading to know what the year 2018 has in store for her, the tarot reader will lay out a number of cards, usually in the arrangement of one of the many commonly-used tarot spreads, such as the Celtic Cross. Then, the tarot reader will interpret the meanings of the cards as advice and guidance to the client regarding the year in question. At the risk of over-simplification, this is the basic idea on how tarot cartomancy works.

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The pronunciation of ‘tarot’ rhymes with ‘sparrow’ – the last ‘t’ is silent. There are endless variations of tarot decks available today. In general, each deck is divided into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, and is made up of 78 individual cards. Oracle cards are similar to tarot cards, but they’re not quite the same thing as a tarot deck is more structured.

In medieval Europe, tarot decks were initially used as playing cards. Later, people began using these cards for divinatory purposes. Read more on the origins of tarot here.

How Tarot Cards are Used

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Tarot cards can be read in various ways. No two tarot readers will interpret cards the same way, not even if they’re using the exact same deck, but it doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use a tarot deck for readings. The way these cards are interpreted depends solely on how the tarot reader receives signals from the universe and interprets the messages to the recipient.

One way to use tarot decks is to memorize the traditionally-accepted meanings of each card, then decipher them according to the way they show up in a reading (in relation to the question asked, the type of tarot spread used, whether the card is upside down, etc.). The cards can also be used in combination with crystals, astrological guidance and more.

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As a tarot reader, my interpretation of the cards is largely based on intuition and instinct.

Are Tarot Cards Evil?

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As with every practice in this world, what makes something ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boils down very simply to intention. A doctor is ‘good’ if he (or she) treats patients with the genuine intention to help, and is ‘bad’ if he purposely misdiagnoses someone to make more money from consultation fees or treatment.

A pack of cards is essentially just that: a pack of cards. Pieces of cut and laminated cardboard, nothing more. If one’s intention is to use the cards for a negative purpose, then the deck will take on the energy of that practitioner and work accordingly. Ditto for the opposite; when a tarot reader’s intentions are positive, the cards will channel that energy and reveal answers based on those good vibrations.

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Hence why the initial consecration ritual (also known as energizing, clearing, cleansing or blessing rite) of a new tarot deck is important – it removes unwanted energy or vibrations, as well as bonds the tarot reader’s energies directly to the deck.

There are many ways to consecrate a new tarot deck. Usual methods involve smudging with sage, using incense, moonlight baths, sprinkling with sea salt and so on, depending on what the tarot reader’s spiritual values are.

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Once consecrated, a tarot deck becomes highly sensitized to universal energies as well as the energies of the tarot reader. Think of tarot cards as a tool of communication and interpretation of universal energies to us, the human beings.

The cards decipher intangible energies into messages that can be interpreted by human reasoning. When you go for a tarot reading and ask questions (or request general guidance), the cards will reveal answers to you based on the energy of your ‘seeking’ at the time of the reading.

Tarot = New Age Bullshit?

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I can almost imagine the cynical smirks of die-hard science advocates at this point. Yes, I’ve heard it all. Utter nonsense. Unscientific pagan garbage. Baseless New Age fluff. You guys are probably on the wrong website.

I suppose it’s easy to dismiss something one doesn’t fully understand. To these people, I have this to say, respectfully:

Science is a wide-eyed baby in comparison to the timeless, ageless energies of the universe. It clumsily attempts to make sense of concepts too vast for the limited human mind to fully comprehend. I love science and I’m grateful for the knowledge it has brought me, but sometimes the egoism of humanity, the chest-thumping of the labcoat-clad at having ‘discovered’ something which was always there to begin with really gets to me. Just because science cannot explain something, it doesn’t make that thing ‘invalid’. It just means science has failed to understand that particular facet of creation and decrypt that wisdom down to the layman.

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I’m in no way dismissing the importance of science nor its contribution and role in current times. However, I refuse to disregard the ancient wisdom that speaks to my innermost self and millions of other kindred spirits on this planet, simply because science has failed to explain the many mysteries of the universe. And I say this as a person with a fairly strong tertiary educational background rooted in science.

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The universal energies have always been present in trillions of different forms such as insects, animals, thunder, lightning, trees, nature or the physical vessels of human beings. Changing forms, indestructible, completing karmic cycles, from Samsara to Arianrhod’s Silver Wheel. All people of significant ancient cultures, from Celts to Native Americans, had in their possession various versions of this knowledge, which is what I consider the highest form of truth.

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These energies existed long before science barged onto the stage, slapping labels on everything in sight and dismissing anything it couldn’t explain as baseless. Long story made short, you keep your science, and I’ll keep my universal connections. To each his own.

Now, onward.

My Experience with Tarot Cards

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I first learned how to use these cards about 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at various types, including the infamous Thoth deck. My early years of experimentation gave me a feel of the whole practice of tarot, including what decks and spreads worked best with my energy and what didn’t.

I found that I have a strong inclination towards pagan and pre-Celtic styled decks (which are not always based on the standard tarot deck design template), as well as fantasy-themed and earth-energy oracle cards.

Getting Started with Tarot

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Getting a Tarot Reading Done for Yourself

If you’d like to experience a tarot reading, all you have to do is contact a tarot reader and make an appointment. Be sure to ask questions on what the style of reading is like, and anything you may have doubts about before you go for your first session.

Also, remember to go to a reading with an open mind. This will ensure that your ‘questions’ are energetically focused so the cards can reflect the right answers back to you. If the tarot reader mentions something that sounds negative to you during the reading, you may always ask for suggestions on how to improve or rectify the issue. Your tarot reader may do another spread to help you with this.

Becoming a Tarot Reader

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If you’d like to become a tarot reader, there are plenty of resources online for you to do some self-study to get started. It will also help tremendously if you purchase a tarot deck (such as Rider-Waite-Smith) while you’re still in the learning stages. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the cards as you go along, as well as try out the various types of tarot spreads. Once you’re more confident and have developed a good level of comfort using the cards, you can have your deck consecrated (blessed, cleansed or energized).

After that, it’s just a matter of starting. Do readings for yourself, friends or family members. Feel free to use incense, candles, lanterns, fancy tablecloths or natural crystals for your readings if you wish – these aids can help you relax and focus better.

Last but not least, remember not to stress yourself out. Don’t worry about whether you’re making mistakes or doing something wrong. Trust your intuition. Don’t rush. In time, you’ll find that readings become easier and the energies flow effortlessly.

It’s a good idea to maintain a logbook of your readings as personal records. This will enable you to see how accurate your tarot interpretations were, and if you could learn or improve something based on feedback from your clients.

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