What Is Tarot?
At it's simplest the tarot is a set of 78 cards, each featuring a different symbolic picture. A conventional deck is divided into two sections: 22 cards called the major arcana or trumps, and 56 cards called the minor arcana. The minor arcana is itself divided into four suits, consisting of 10 cards numbered one (Ace) to 10 and four cards called the court cards.
Tarot cards are used for a number of things. They are most commonly viewed as a tool for divination, where someone (the seeker) is looking for answers to personal questions usually relating to a challenge or a difficult situation. The reader interprets the meaning of the cards. Normally the seeker shuffles and cuts the cards, and the reader will lay out the chosen cards into a pattern called a spread.
Each position on the spread has a specific focus, such as 'possible outcome', 'recent past' and so on. The reader will combine the meaning of the card and the focus of the card position in order to shed light on your question. This can be done in a face-to-face reading, remotely, through the Internet, email, snailmail or telephone.
But the tarot is more that that. Many people use it as a tool of understanding, self-development, healing, meditation or visualisation. Tarot journaling is now very popular, this when you pick a card (sometimes two or three) and relate it to your day-to-day experience by writing about in a journal (or blog).
Many people collect tarot decks purely for their artistic merits. Some are interested in the history of the tarot. Others simply want to play card games using the tarot (still very popular in France and Italy today).How Does It Work?
I've previously described the basic method of tarot reading. But many people ask how can a few cards, pulled seemingly at random, tell you anything at all. The power of the tarot lies in its pictures and rich symbolism. We look at the pictures and they speak to us, whether it is through learning meanings, cultural influence (link to article on the history of the tarot), or feelings coming from the unconscious.
This has value and meaning to us - the cards and the reading together tell a story. A successful tarot reading depends on the skill of the reader and the honesty of the seeker. Seeing into the future is only a very small part of any reading, the main part is to enable you to see what needs to be done in order to fulfil your potential or solve your problems. If you've never had a reading, try it, you'll be surprised.How does the Ask The Answer tarot deck differ from other decks?
Like many other decks the Ask The Answer tarot deck is based on the Rider-Waite deck. Because the deck needed to be Internet friendly, we've simplified the images to make them easier to see and understand. The minor cards numbered from one to 10 have been simplified by only showing the emblem of the suit and the number of the card. The court cards are all individual portraits. We liked the resulting deck so much that we decided to create a 'real' physical deck.
What Questions Can I Ask?
Most people consult the tarot when they are facing a challenge or a difficult situation to help understand the situation and what to do about it. This is why framing your question is so important.
First review your situation thoroughly: who is involved, what are your options for the future etc. When formulating your question make sure that you accept responsibility for your situation. Avoid questions with a yes or no answer, or ones that start with 'should', or even very specific time related questions. Look at beginning your question with:
How might I...?
What is the meaning of...?
What do I need to understand about...?
Can you give me a better insight into...?
Think about how much detail you want to focus on and remember that the reading is centred on you and your actions so try to be positive and stay as neutral as possible. Ultimately, it is your reading and your choice of question. You may even to choose not to ask a question and just let the cards speak to you. That is the beauty of tarot, you will hear what you need to hear, although the more you invest the better the reward.
The Death Card
This card does not show someone's death, so don't freak out if you get this card in a reading. It does represent a change, possibly a death of the old self and of old habits so that you can move on with your life. If you are honest with yourself, you know it is necessary. For the Ask The Answer card we have replaced the traditional image of the skeleton with the image of the Death's Head Hawk Moth: in order to become this incredible and beautiful moth, it first has to undergo an amazing transformation from a caterpillar.
What Is Two Card Tarot?
Two card tarot is a simple reading involving one major card and one minor card which, when combined, give you a reading.
The major card you choose sets the agenda for your reading by defining the issue that you want your reading to address.
The minor card tells you how this issue is affecting you at the present time. Is it something that where, with guidance, you can turn your thoughts into actions or is it all about your emotions? The minor card can also point the way to your potential achievements and show how an emotional investment on your part can influence the outcome. The specific card will show us where you currently are in this process.
Once you have selected your two cards, you will need to interpret them. You will see where you are and what your next steps you could take along the path to your answer. For example, it may be that something you want to do is not the right choice for you at this time, it may be that now is the time to work hard and push yourself to achieve your goal or it might be time to leave your emotions behind and focus on being detached to achieve your goal.
Two-card tarot is a quick, simple reading and you should think of it as a snapshot of your situation, rather than a video. In a two card reading you will not get the same sort of detail that a reading using more cards will give you. However, the advantage a two-card reading is that it is quick, which means you can begin to deal with the issues that are concerning you rather than going for a reading using more of the tarot deck. It is also an excellent way to get used to the cards and their meanings.Tarot History
Do we know where the tarot originates? The answer is no. However, there are a few myths that we can dispel:
The tarot did not originate from ancient Egypt. Although this myth may still appear in some books on the tarot it was all based on a fabricated document of the late 18th century.
Neither did the tarot originate from the Romany better known as the Gypsies. This is a 19th century fiction perpetuated through novels and films.
What we do know: The first recognisable tarot deck dates from Italy in 1441, it belonged to the Court of Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan and although it's just a fragment it is very significant. A nearly complete deck from 1450 (74 cards survive from a 78 card deck) it was commissioned as a wedding present for a marriage between the Visconti family and the Sforza family. Reproductions of this beautiful deck, called the Visconti-Sforza deck, are available for purchase to this day.
From then on, the cards became very popular and developed through the centuries, mainly as a game. It is worth bearing in mind that although a lot of people believe that the game of cards developed from the tarot it appears that the tarot and playing cards evolved side-by-side. Also the joker that appears in the modern pack of cards is actually a 19th century invention. The game of tarot is still played today in countries like France and Italy. The deck used for games tends to be the Tarot de Marseille, or similar clones, from a design that can be dated back to the 16th century. This deck can also be used in divination, in fact most later occult decks rely heavily on the pictures and the symbols found in this deck.
In the late 18th century Jean-Baptiste Aliette also known as Etteila can create certain the "Grand Etteila Tarots Egyptians". Designed for divination each card contained a specific meaning. This deck became very popular and it sparked many imitations.
The Golden Dawn: founded in 1888 this order was responsible for the fusion of various strands of western magic and occult philosophy. Into this melting pot went ideas from the Renaissance, Egypt and of course the Kabbalah. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is a secret society that has had a profound influence on the development of western paganism and the development of the tarot. An important side factor: it was one of the first such societies to allow women in its ranks and that was very important for the next step in the evolution of the tarot. Although you can purchase the Golden Dawn tarot today it was not originally available in a published format. The Order expected its members to copy the original and colour it by hand. The Golden Dawn tarot moved the Minor Arcana nearer to full representation by showing a symbolic image on each card. The cards are also closely tied to the Kabbalah, by using an interpretation system based on the "Tree of Life" and the Elements for each suit. The Minor cards bear a subtitle title with one or two words giving a basic theme. There is no doubt that the Golden Dawn tarot influenced subsequent decks.
The Rider-Waite deck: this deck should really be called the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. A company called Rider was the publisher, Arthur Edward Waite was the designer and Pamela Coleman Smith was the artist. This deck was revolutionary because for the first time the ?pips? (card numbers 1 to 10 of the Minor Arcana) incorporated a scene that had a specific meaning. This meaning was found in the booklet written by Waite along with an interpretation of each card (Pictorial key to the Tarot). So important was this deck that it is still the most common deck sold and it appears in most books teaching in the tarot. Much imitated, there are several versions of this deck that you can buy today and pretty much all decks published today are in some way derived from the Rider-Waite including the Ask The Answer deck.
The Thoth deck: Aleister Crowley was the designer and Lady Frieda Harris was the artist. They produced a deck with remarkable images of great artistic merit and complex ideas. But the deck was only published after the death of its creators in 1969. Some people resist buying this deck because of its association with Aleister Crowley and because it is deemed difficult. It is without doubt a powerful deck and may not be suitable for beginners. The Thoth deck has inspired many clones and continues to be an influence today.
The BOTA deck: Paul Foster Case was the designer and Jesse Burns Parke was the artist. The Builders of the Adytum was one the first occult Orders to go public. This deck is an offshoot of the Smith design, students obtained their cards uncoloured and had to hand colour them to an exact standard.
From then on thousands of new decks were created, largely derivatives of the Rider Waite or the Thoth deck. There are new tarot decks being created all the time and covering an amazing range of themes.