Table of Contents
The Tarot: An Overview
What Is The Tarot?
The History Of The Tarot
Fear And The Tarot
The Tarot Deck
The Pip Cards
The Court Cards
The Trump Cards
Choosing A Tarot Deck
Sidebar: Which Deck Is Right For You?
The Tarot Card Reading
What Is A Tarot Card Reading?
Steps For A Tarot Card Reading
- Finding the Significator
- Notes on Shuffling
- Establishing the Subject-Combination of the Reading
- The Meanings of the Subject-Combinations
- Laying the Cards Into Spreads Fourteen Tarot Spreads
- Grand Cross
- One Card Spread
- Four Card Spread
- Past, Present, Future Spread
- Master Spread
- New Relationship Spread
- Soul Mate Search
- As Above, So Below
- Money Spread
- Three Card Spread
- Problem/Solution Spread
- Astrological Spread
- Elemental Spread
- Lifetimes Spread
Techniques for the Tarot Card Reader
Preparing For A Card Reading
The Hazards Of Speculation
How Often Should The Cards Be Read?
How Long Does A Reading Take To Come True?
The Timing Of Events
What If A Reading Does Not Make Sense?
Hints For Interpretation
The Questioning Process
Throwing Consecutive Spreads
Looking For Indicator Cards
Achieving Greater Accuracy With A Reading
Why Is It Hard To Read Your Own Cards?
The 78 Tarot Cards and Their Romantic, Financial, And Spiritual Interpretations
Three Sample Tarot Card Readings
Tarot Card Combinations
Tarot Cards With Similar Meanings
Tarot Cards In Particular Positions Of The Grand Cross Spread
Glossary of Terms
About the Author
the tarot: an overview
What Is The Tarot?
The Tarot forms a bible of ageless wisdom by using cards bearing ancient and mysterious symbols and archetypes to create a vast knowledge system that classifies and describes everything in the universe.
The Tarot is a philosophical code of spiritual law that explains how our personal karma controls cycles of activity and change as we fulfill our preordained destinies.
The cards are personifications of lessons taught by natural metaphysical and psychological principles whose meaning is understood as you gain awareness of how the drama of your conscious reality connects to your ever-evolving subconscious intelligence, which depicts the greater picture of the purpose of your soul.
The Tarot cards are considered the sum total of enlightenment available to us, as the Tarot system defines all levels of physical, emotional, intellectual, and creative states as represented by the definitions of the 78 cards in the deck. They identify every type of feeling, incident, characteristic of humanity, and cosmic truth eternally found within the repetitive cycles of creation and destruction in the universe.
The Tarot reflects all your romantic, creative, professional, and spiritual urges, both harmonious and chaotic, as you work to attune your life to inescapable heavenly law. It can help you purify your unconscious and destructive tendencies and show you a higher path away from unhappiness and confusion as you improve every aspect of your existence.
The Tarot cards are a textbook for raising your consciousness by discovering the will of divine guidance, urging you to evolve and make positive choices in your journey toward individual freedom. The Tarot can reveal your true spirit and relay truthful information concerning the past, present, or future to determine obstacles and opportunities and gain greater independence and joy in the present.
Today, the Tarot is used as a tool for intuitive development and self-transformation. A reading becomes a form of therapy similar to a psychoanalytic talking cure that promotes healing through increased self-awareness of your own emotional process and instinctual behavioral patterns.
The Tarot is probably most utilized to make personal predictions about love, money, and romance. Tarot card readings can also help you gain clarity about your career direction, expand the boundaries of your earning potential, and discover inborn talents and creative abilities.
In the best sense, a reading should be a private method of deliberation where you form your own opinion privately and make important decisions for yourself. The reading is a tool for thinking things over and working out your problems in a self-reliant manner. The very act of reading the cards forces you to sit down and center your attention to finding viable, successful solutions to your own problems.
The reading is never the final word on what will happen; it merely illustrates the options you have concerning a particular matter and what sort of behavior you can expect from everyone involved. A Tarot reading only reflects the current schedule of destiny that can be altered in the future and shows what is likely to happen later on. Therefore, you can know what will probably occur, which enables you to influence the outcome of your fate by fortifying your attitude and initiative toward a preferred result.
The Tarot can assist you in re-creating events from long ago through the cards that land in the past placements of the spread, enabling you to learn from previous experience as it relates to your present drama.
The Tarot is a science of observation that requires a memory of what the 78 cards mean and the utilization of your intuition to piece together the story inherent in the reading through the interpretation of the Tarot spread.
Through the analysis of the reading, your conscious and subconscious minds glean information mirrored in the Tarot spread. In this way, the cards help you view a particular action in relation to the moral and philosophical framework of the universe and not as isolated, incomprehensible events that are only one piece of the puzzle depicting your current sojourn on Earth.
The Tarot is a force of evolution for the good of the world as a source of comfort when inner guidance is needed to analyze your psychological and spiritual development. The Tarot can ease pain and anxiety when you are lost and feel stuck in a life that is not working. The cards can help push you forward and make positive decisions for your future growth. In a time when our sense of connection to each other is at an all-time low, the Tarot can be the best friend you have in the world. The intimacy of allowing the Tarot into your life is an incredible force. As you sit with your deck, day after day, throwing the cards and quietly sifting through a book searching for the truth, you can glimpse the future and find hope when you have none.
Unlike clairvoyant psychic readings, where information is invented in a void or channeled through an imaginary being, the Tarot cards are tangible, concrete objects. You can see and touch a Tarot card and look its meaning up in a book because you do not need telepathy to read the cards.
The Tarot enlightens you intellectually, ethically, ideologically, psychologically, and spiritually through profound and powerful readings that serve as points of clarification to propel you into action and steer your heart, mind, soul, and body toward achieving your goals for this current incarnation.
The History Of The Tarot
The Tarot is an imaginary world depicted through the artwork of a deck of cards based on centuries-old symbolism. As the oldest interpretable collection of ancient wisdom that the world has ever known, it is historically connected to the mythology and iconography of many diverse cultures. The earliest-known source of our modern Tarot deck is a series of cards from late-fourteenth century France. Although the Tarot probably predates this time, its true origin is unknown. Nobody can really say where or when the Tarot was created, thus adding to its mystique.
It is equally unclear whether the Tarot originated as a card game or a method of divination. Sometimes outlawed and often in vogue, from its first remnant in France, hundreds of different Tarot decks and derivative games-playing cards, chess, and mahjong-have become internationally popular. The Tarot has been used for gaming but is also a universal custom for seeking divine guidance during a Tarot reading, where questions are posed to the deck and the meaning behind the layout of the cards is interpreted in response to the inquiry.
The 78-card Tarot deck accentuates principles common to the symbolic dogma of numerous belief systems throughout the record of humanity and highlights archetypical circumstances that are shared by all civilizations at all times. The Tarot cards are allegorical pictorial representations rooted in ancient Greek and Egyptian legends and Gnostic, Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim belief systems. Alchemy, astrology, numerology, the Grail legends, the Kabbalah, the Bible, Hermetism, Freemasonry, and the royal and Gypsy cultures of southern Europe have also been cited as theoretical points of origin for the Tarot. The cards comprise an eccentric and often obscure metaphysical system that classifies the behavior of the cosmos as it influences people, events, and circumstances here on Earth. The imagery of the traditional Tarot deck glorifies moral and spiritual wisdom through the depiction of occupational figures from different hierarchical stratum of society dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages and the heraldic emblems and enigmatic characters that grace the trump cards.
There are Tarot cards that portray marriage, creation, death, and resurrection. Cards are named after planetary entities (Sun, Moon, Star, and Universe or World cards); courtly medieval personalities (Juggler, Fool, Hermit, Emperor, Empress, King, Queen, Knight, and Page); ancient virtues (Strength, Justice, Temperance); Greek and Egyptian mythological references (Juno or High Priestess, Jupiter or Priest or Hierophant, Magus or Magician, Osiris [Emperor], Isis [Empress], Sun, Chariot, Hanged Man); and biblical concepts (Devil, Last Judgement [Judgement], Pope [Jupiter or Hierophant], Female Pope [Juno or High Priestess], Marriage [Lovers], and Tower of Babel [Tower]).
During the half of the millennium the Tarot cards have been in evidence, many different spiritual traditions have been cited as possible sources of its arcane symbolic system, and much has been written in an effort to understand its strange historical value and its mystical significance. Even the origin of the word “Tarot” and its correct English pronunciation are unknown. The deck is called the tare-oh’ or tare’-oh or tare’-ut or tah-row’, depending on the individual voice of choice.
The word “Tarot,” as we understand it today, is a French term describing the 78-card deck used for intuitive-based divinatory readings. After the 1500s in Italy, the deck was called Tarocco, Tarocchi, or Tarocchini, though previously it was known as cartes da trionfi (cards with trumps) in that country. In other areas of Europe, the Tarot has been referred to as Taro, Taroc, Tarok, and Tarock at different places and times.
A multitude of languages and cultures contain words that could be the basis of the word Tarot. Some scholars feel it is derived from the French term, tarotee, that refers to the plain or diagonal lines found on the reverse side of the cards. Another word, tares, is the name for the small dotted border around the cards. The River Taro in northern Italy is considered an area where the traditional deck was introduced to Europe. Tarot could also be derived from: the Hindu figure Tara, mother of Buddha, and Tara, the Tibetan goddess; terra, the Roman word for “earth”; taru, the Hindu term for “cards”; rota, the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “wheel of life”; ta-rosh, an Egyptian name for “the royal way”; Ator, a name for the goddess Hathor, one of the most ancient Egyptian deities; tariqa, Arabic for “the Way”; tao, Chinese for “the Way”; Torah, the Hebrew word for the first five books of the Old Testament; and the Hills of Tara, the ancient seat of Irish kings. The cards are generally believed to be a relic of the ancient Egyptian worship of Thoth and the early Italian veneration of Mercury as well as the Greek tradition of honoring Hermes. All these gods were considered messengers who ruled communication and had a sacred and divinatory purpose. In this time period, the Tarot was used as a means for discovering the intentions of the gods through the guidance of a reading. Another theory suggests that the Tarot was created in the eleventh century after the burning of the libraries in Alexandria to symbolically contain all the arcane knowledge of the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian texts lost forever in the fires.
The British Museum in London is the largest repository of historical Tarot decks and books in the world. The earliest Tarot cards in their collection are from the late 1300s and were painted for Charles VI of France by the artist Jacquemin Gringonneur. The first most complete remaining Tarot deck is from the 1400s and was created to commemorate a marriage between two ruling aristocratic families in Italy: the Visconti and Sforza families.
The museum also houses many of the earliest texts on the subject and has copies of books published in Venice in 1550, Antwerpen in 1666, Rome in 1747, Cremona in 1774, London (dedicated to the Duke of Wellington) in 1814, Amsterdam in 1828, Macerata in 1832, Paris in 1847, and Bologna in 1872, just to name a few. Many of the authors of these books remained anonymous due to the eternal public controversy surrounding the often illegal Tarot.
For five hundred years, the traditional Tarot deck remained virtually unchanged until the beginning of the twentieth century. The British Museum has a collection of decks that cover this entire era from every corner of Europe. The only real variations of the classic imagery associated with the cards are found on an early nineteenth-century deck from Milan that calls the Tower trump, Thunder or the Hospital, and has a dancing couple on the Sun card. An eighteenth-century deck from Brussels has astronomers on both the Sun and Moon cards; the Tower shows lightning striking a tree; the Sun has a victorious soldier riding on a horse; the Chariot is a woman in a carriage pulled by a horse; the Hierophant card is called Bacchus; and to read the title of the Hanged Man you have to turn the card upside down.
Two interesting decks from Bologna are important: one from 1810 shows the Pope (the Hierophant or Jupiter) no longer surrounded by a group of wealthy merchants, but simply extending one empty hand for begging; and one from 1750 has the couple on the Lovers card looking directly at the inquirer, the Page of wands has dropped his wand, and the Page of cups has his cap off.
A Tarot deck produced in Milan in 1820 has a wreath of fruits and flowers as the only imagery for the Universe card and Justice has wings yet is still seated. An unusual Swiss deck from the eighteenth century shows Jupiter (the Hierophant) grabbing a handful of lightning out of the sky. With many of the early Tarot decks, the Fool card is slightly longer than the other 77 cards.
France is a major player in the history of the Tarot. The first popularity came to the Tarot by the end of the fifteenth century, when the Tarot de Marseilles became widely available there and is still used to play a game similar to bridge. Court de Gebelin (1723-1787) was the first person to connect the Tarot with the Egyptian mysteries. Two characters named Etteilla, a hairdresser who published books from 1770-1791, and Madame Lenormand (1772-1843), a self-promoting soothsayer, created their own Tarot decks that are still in print today. Their decks and books were extremely popular during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars when people turned to fortunetelling for answers during chaotic and uncertain political times. Eliphas Levi (1810-1875), the first Tarot person to associate the Tarot with the Kabbalah and Papus (1865-1916), continued to expound upon de Gebelin’s theory of the Egyptian origin of the Tarot.
After the turn of the century, there was a renaissance of interest in the Tarot, and our modern Tarot market was created by a new group who associated the cards with many esoteric metaphysical systems such as numerology, the Kabbalah, astrology, magic, alchemy, and the entire history of occult thought up to that time.
In England, MacGregor Mathers and his secret metaphysical group, the Order of the Golden Dawn, included members such as W.B Yeats, Arthur Edward Waite (who cocreated the Rider-Waite deck), and Aleister Crowley (who cocreated the Thoth deck). Waite and Crowley were major pioneers in the field of Tarot, and today, the Rider-Waite deck remains as the most popular Tarot deck in the world and the Thoth deck is widely admired for its revolutionary artwork. In America, C. C. Zain created the Egyptian Tarot and established a spiritual study group called the Brotherhood of Light, while Paul Foster Case and his esoteric association, the Builders of the Adytum, developed the first correspondence course taught on the Tarot. By the 1960s and 1970s, the Rider-Waite and 1JJ Swiss Tarot decks could be found for sale all over America, and books on the Tarot began to appear in the marketplace. Since that time, hundreds of books and decks of every imaginable type have been produced in an astonishing array as the Tarot reaches its pinnacle of popularity with the new millennium.
Fear And The Tarot
Some people are terrified to have their cards read, though the Tarot might intrigue them. This fear is usually based on a lack of experience with the cards or having had a previously negative or disappointing reading from a card reader. Many people are concerned about getting bad cards-like the Devil, Tower, or Death trumps-or being told of a horrible future or that the person they love does not know they exist. None of the cards are bad, and a reading should never scare anyone away from the Tarot. Once acquainted with the positive purpose of the cards, most people are eager to learn more about the Tarot. The Tarot is fun; it was never meant to be dark or scary. This is the most common misconception about the cards. Owning a deck is not a sign of worshipping the occult or being into witchcraft or satanic worship.
The Tarot is designed to be a powerful force of evolution toward all that is good and sacred. It is one of the most useful mediums for the development of human consciousness and healing the individual psyche through the revelation of universal truths encoded in the cards. Those who assume the Tarot cards are not of god are wrong-the insight and information of the readings come directly from the heart and mind of the godhead. It is also impossible to overlook the fact that many of the trump cards are biblical in origin. You have to be pretty ignorant to be afraid of a little deck of cards from ancient, ancient times. If you know the Tarot well, it is hard to comprehend why for hundreds of years the cards have been guilty of so many imaginary crimes against humanity. Amazingly enough, during many eras of civilization, you could be forced into exile, jailed, or even killed for possessing a deck.
If you are sincere as you read the cards, the experience will be uplifting and mind-expanding. The secret to clarity in a reading is belief. No matter how incompetent you feel as you begin to work with the Tarot, if you trust your deck, the cards will speak to you as they have to people throughout the centuries.
Readings may often draw blanks or not make complete sense, but each reading represents one step toward the process of learning about the Tarot. Also, the full impact of a reading may take time to become completely obvious. There is no limit to the knowledge you can acquire about the Tarot; there is always something new to discover about the cards. They are a wonderful tool that can be used for guidance your entire life.
© 2000 by Nancy Shavick
The author of Nancy Shavick’s Tarot Universe is also the best-selling author of four books on reading the Tarot cards: The Tarot, The Tarot Reader, Traveling the Royal Road: Mastering the Tarot, and The Tarot Guide to Love and Relationships. Nancy’s first astrology book, Reach for the Stars: Write Your Own Horoscope, was published by Avon Books in 1994. A native of New Jersey, she makes her home in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Billed as the ‘Linda Goodman of the Tarot,’ Shavick is skilled at presenting the traditional insights of the tarot in an engaging manner that avoids the pitfalls of trivialization on the one hand and esoteric obscuration on the other. Primarily a ‘how-to’ book, it discusses the various ‘spreads’ and appropriate attitudinal approach for effective ‘reading,’ but the bulk of the text is devoted to interpretive analyses of the cards in the respective subject areas of romance, work and business, and spiritual growth. She explains an interesting technique for using a ‘significator card’ to identify the topic or combination of subjects (work, love, trouble, money) which are presenting themselves for consideration. Tarot enthusiasts and novices alike will find this a useful handbook in their exploration.”
“Nancy Shavick has a relaxed, low key, highly spiritual, and tremendously insightful interpretation of the Tarot to share with us. I find her insights to be impeccable. Her analysis and interpretation of personality types is brilliant and incredibly accurate. Her influence on me as a reader has been significant . . . . Her ability to clarify the complexities of human emotions and situations through the cards is quite profound. She writes as if she were sitting in your living room speaking to you. She shows no condescension or reproach, and she shares her wisdom.”
—Cheryl Lynne Bradley, President of Tarot Canada
“The book is thorough in its presentation of the history and symbolism of the cards and clear in its directions for their use. Illustrations of the various layouts, sample readings and a glossary of terms help clarify the instructions. Nancy Shavick’s Tarot Universe is a thoughtful and enlightening presentation of a subject too long shrouded in mystery.”
“Both novice and expert will benefit from Nancy Shavick’s intuitive reading of the cards. ”
“Shavick makes the whole topic of the Tarot seem simple and unthreatening.”
—Cynthia Giles, The Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore
“Nancy Shavick’s Tarot Universe is a superb contribution to the growing library of Tarot card reference literature and especially recommended for the novice tarot reader.”