Demystified: Everything You Want to Know About Tarot Cards
Tarot is trending.
What was once a taboo, occult subject kept under wraps by tias and abuelitas as they let their trusted readers in through the back door is now an open practice aimed at helping people get a new perspective on their lives.
The truth is, tarot card reading has been practiced for centuries and is one of the most popular divination practices, with illustrated decks by different artists emerging worldwide —and even celebrities like Anya Taylor-Joy carry them around in their purses. The cards can be used as a tool to achieve inner wisdom, guidance and insight into past, present, and future events based on your path at the time of the reading.
So, what exactly is the tarot? How can you get started? Where should you buy a deck? And do you need any special powers? We've debunked these frequently asked questions below so you can delve into this practice this fall.
A brief history of tarot cards
The earliest tarot decks can be traced to the 1400s, when they were used for games rather than divination. It wasn't until 1785, when French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette linked illustrated cards with astrology and ancient Egyptian lore, that cartomancy became a practice. Over the next couple of centuries, several occultists, mystics and philosophers expanded the use of the tarot. They continued the traditions and magical mysticism behind it throughout the creation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a London-based occultists group.
In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith used the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to design the Rider-Waite deck that is still used today by professional and amateur card readers and is the most popular.
Understanding the deck: the Major and Minor Arcana
Every tarot deck has a structure and there's a meaning to each card. Like other magical practices, tarot is based on the Hermetic axiom "as above, so below," reflecting the intricate macrocosm of the cosmos and the microcosm of individual experiences through different tools; in this case, the cards. Each card in the deck represents a person, event or place separated between Major and Minor Arcanas.
The Major Arcana represents significant influences and life-changing events. They represent the beginnings and ends of cycles and include cards such as Death, the World, the High Priestess and the Moon. Each card is numbered in chronological order to reveal time.
The Minor Arcana represents everyday occurrences, divided into pentacles, swords, wands, and cups. These cards show up during gentle transitions, temporary or minor influences —triggered by human behaviors— and are descriptive of people and places. Each of these cards also represents the four major elements fire (wands), earth (pentacles), swords (air) and cups (water).
You can buy a deck online, at a book store or from specialty shops
As they become more popular, tarot decks have become available online with illustrations by several artists. Even famous designers like Dior have showcased the practice in their work. The designer house named one of their couture collections Le Château du Tarot, and the models they used to showcase the pieces acted as characters from a tarot deck on the runway.
Depending on which type of deck you get, the cards bring their own set of instructions; if using Rider-Waite they feature the characters mentioned. The Rider-Waite, in its variations, is an excellent first deck to start with; follow your intuition, and you'll be on the right track.