Tarot divination: How does it work?

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Image: Public Domain; The Tarot de Marseilles

Have you ever had a Tarot reading with someone else, or pulled cards for yourself, and been surprised, mystified or even spooked because the cards were so relevant it was downright uncanny?  How does that happen? After all, there are 78 cards in a Tarot deck. For those few cards you chose entirely at random, the others all had to stay in the deck.

The Basics

Tarot is only one of many systems of divination. Others are far older in origin, including astrology, palmistry, the I-Ching, runes and reading bones/entrails etc as in Rome, where Spurinna, the haruspex predicted the assassination of Julius Caesar. The popularity of card games took off after Mamluk game cards were brought to Western Europe from Turkey, and the earliest known set of tarot cards was created in the 14th century. The Tarot, also known as the Tarocchi or Tarock, began as a game of chance in the courts of northern Italy but did not become seriously associated with fortune telling or other psychic divination until much later, by the mid 18th century.

Physically speaking, a Tarot deck is little more than 78 pieces of illustrated, numbered card-stock.

The meanings in the cards need a reader to make them come alive. Study is required. No faith is required, however. No religion, no need to commune with any ‘spirits’ than the spirit of Mankind. I have read for Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese and Jewish clients, as well as for atheists, agnostics and downright skeptics. No problem at all. The imagery in the Tarot crosses cultural boundaries.

But in communing with some ancient, but ‘higher’ part of ourselves, superego, not id, perhaps we are communing with the Divine, depending on however one wishes to define it. Or else tapping into our ancient animal knowing. That we muted or traded in exchange for the great advancement to language.

I see it as a transcendence or suspension of the everyday self. When I am doing a reading for another person, I need to free myself, try and take myself out of the equation, me and my worry about getting it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; me and my ego.

I sometimes joke as I shuffle the cards, ‘OK, now my ancient inner animal is going to have a little talk with your ancient inner animal.’

We are going to converse on at (at least) two levels, consciously, and via telepathy, enabled by the imagery of the cards.

psychic pig
Marcus the psychic pig, accurately predicted the result of the EU Referendum, and The US Elections

Suspension of self and ego notwithstanding, delivery of a professional level of service means I, or any other reader need to do as well or better than the pig.

The reader draws cards blindly and at random, and lays them out in a pattern or spread, using the placement of the cards, the imagery and associated meanings of that card. Why choose this card and not that one? Well, there is the mystery. The central nervous system has a mind of its own, and dictates my movement, in determining the instant at which I stop shuffling. I can think of no better explanation. The choice to stop shuffling is not remotely deliberate.

The reader then interprets the cards, sharing what they sense about a given person, situation or question, past, present and possible future.

This stuff is not omniscience. I don’t KNOW anything. I just say what I see and feel. The thing that amazes, and can even startle the person being read for, and the readers too at times, is the total, immediate and undeniable relevance of cards drawn blindly and at random, and then organised into a pattern or spread for interpretation.

The cards were drawn at random,  but the results do not seem random at all.

They fit.

OK, but shaddap! How exactly does this stuff WORK?

Well, OK, OK. But there is no one single, neat and tidy answer.

The reader  has ‘uploaded’ a ‘programme’ by learning the meanings and associations of the cards. With much repetition and practice, just as with learning to play an instrument or indeed any kind of rote learning, this programming becomes almost second nature, and the cards may act now, not only as technical support but as a springboard for insights prompted by lateral or associative thinking, backed up by instinct.

This provides them with their starting point, and then their own ideas, empathy or intuition supplies further comment. The cards provide a spring board for the reader’s intuition, but the associations of the cards supply the details enabling greater precision of interpretation. Associative thinking, or lateral thinking helps me a lot in arriving at ‘psychic’ insights or ‘hits.’

I look at the card and there is a kind of a ‘ping’

For instance: I drew the Six of Wands, and this card generally means progress, promotion, a trip but on this occasion, something about the artwork made me say something I had never said on previous occasions, drawing the self same card, and I asked the client, ‘are you thinking of going to Siena?’

And she was, or rather, a place just outside Siena, but how did I arrive at that guess? Firstly, I had already established that we were looking at a travel destination. Secondly, something about it suddenly made me think of the Palio.

6 wands legacy divine tarot
palio
The Six Wands from The Legacy of The Divine Tarot, Ciro Marchetti

At other times the six of Wands has told me about motorbikes. Once it ‘showed’ me an upcoming sporting event, a big one and I asked the client, was this correct, and learned he was going to the Paralympics as a reserve member of the wheelchair rugby team. Most recently I drew this card, and said to the lady that it looked as though she may be meeting a man who was into speeding vehicles, but his job involved teamwork. She recognized this description and said he was a firefighter. In this instance then, the six of Wands denoted a fire engine.

Same card, three entirely concrete, different yet related interpretations, talking about the real, modern world.

Synchronicity

The psychologist Carl Jung never learned to read the Tarot himself but was fascinated by its ability to reflect what was going on. Jung theorized that Tarot works by means of a phenomenon he called “synchronicity”, or meaningful coincidence.

Jung was also fascinated by what Tarot could tell us about real people we know as pictured through classic story archetypes, e.g.; The King, The High Priestess, the Wise Man (Magician) the Hermit, and for its insights into the conscious mind working in tandem with the unconscious mind.

quote-synchronicity-a-meaningful-coincidence-of-two-or-more-events-where-something-other-than-carl-jung-52-5-0551

The ‘coincidences’ of the Tarot’s commentary, relating the enquirer/clients own story back to them are so frequent and particular that the enquirer/client strongly feels that they have been heard by some mysterious invisible presence. The reader feels it too.

The reader  has ‘uploaded’ a ‘programme’ by learning the meanings and associations of the cards. With much repetition and practice, just as with learning a language or to to play an instrument or indeed any kind of rote learning, this programming becomes second nature, and the cards may act now, not only as technical support, but as a springboard for insights prompted by lateral or associative thinking, and we may go up into the realms of the psychic stratosphere.

The clues in the cards

Each card has many keywords attached. These are the basic building bricks of the reading.

The Chariot card, for instance, has these meanings attached; a vehicle, a driving test, a garage, a road trip, travel, ambition, project, a partnership, teamwork, discipline, and also the zodiac sign of Cancer and the dates associated with this sign (June 21-July 22)

So, let’s imagine I draw this card. Which meaning is the right one here and now?

John William Waterhouse - Sketch of Circe, 1911-1914
Circe by Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse – Sketch of Circe, 1911-1914 (public domain)

How does the reader

1:  choose cards which so appropriately describe things you have not yet told the reader?

2:  choose which of the many possible card interpretations to go with?

Well, the context of the card is a clue. What are the surrounding cards? The reader studies these with care. Beyond this, the short answer is, the reader doesn’t know. They make a judgement call and go with their first impressions, trusting the unconscious process, then making it conscious again, putting it back into words.

This is presumably working on empathy.

Intuition is one’s inner tuition – one’s instinctive understanding. It’s necessary for survival, and we all possess it to some degree.

Using a learned system such as Tarot helps us give it words.

Sometimes these words are so specific, many call it ‘psychic’ and psychic ability and intuition are often seen as “supernatural.”

But anyone can learn to read Tarot cards, while the degree of proficiency attained depends on a certain natural talent, but also depends to a very great extent on study and practise. Lots of people start learning, but give it up again without ever finding out all they might be able to do with it.

In Summary

Tarot is an art not a science. It is a form of language. You clearly see there’s a process at work. The mechanisms are both apparent and inscrutable. One sees the physical actions of shuffling, drawing and arranging the cards, and then upon card knowledge, feeling and sensing and finally, the right, apposite and meaningful word choice.

Becoming proficient at reading the Tarot, such that one can read to a service level feels like a big responsibility. Well, it is, and it demands a heck of a lot of practice, and the more you work with the Tarot or whatever system of divination you might want to work with, the more confidently you will be able to tap into your intuition, but you do not need to think of yourself as psychic in order to learn to read the Tarot, or to become fluent and proficient.

There is a native understanding beyond your conscious awareness and control. Whether you think that proceeds from your subconscious, the collective unconscious, God, your guides, or your higher self doesn’t matter.

The results are the proof. Sometimes these can be put to the test, observed and validated immediately, as when a reader says something that they could not possibly have known, but the client knows to be correct. But when a reader comments in respect of events many months ahead, it might be turn out to be pie in the sky, or it might prove accurate, but only time will tell.

Is the information potentially usable, actionable or workable here and now?

That is a pragmatic reading. It is my experience that most people welcome an element of pragmatism when they are at a crossroads. The Tarot is no less ‘spiritual’ when it psychically detects a problem with the drains.

Fortune Teller, Albert Anker, 1880

We can, and do know more than we know. All of us, and without necessarily knowing HOW we know it. Perhaps there are biological algorithms at work here, and why should this be surprising?

We don’t even know how old we are as a species. Not really. Until 2015 we were told, based on the available evidence, that humanity had been practicing organised agriculture for 12000 years, but subsequent discoveries by the sea of Galilee suggest humanity has been experimenting with crop eugenics for at least 23000 years.

We don’t know everything there is to know about Time.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Six million years of Mankind. 200 000 years of ‘modern’ us. We’ve got nothing on the scorpions, with their 350 million years. Still, we are more ancient and mysterious, it seems, with every new archaeological discovery.

Till next time 🙂

Author: Katie-Ellen

Intuitive Tarot reader, consultant and writer.

2 thoughts on “Tarot divination: How does it work?”

  1. ‘OK, now my ancient inner animal is going to have a little talk with your ancient inner animal.’

    This!

    Thank you for a very insightful post.

    Like

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