Tarot: Twelve Axioms

Take them for what they’re worth.

  1. It was originally a card game. It is still played as a game by some people. See “The Game of Tarot” by Michael Dummett.
  2. We will never know what the “true” original card order was, but it was probably close, if not the same, as in the “Tarot de Marseille“. Other areas in Italy quickly adopted the game and cards, but frequently changed the number, order, and other defining characteristics.
  3. The original meaning of the tarot was more felt and unconscious, than explicit and thought out. Any power it now has is from the power of the depicted archetypes. (We are more our parents children than we would like to admit).
  4. Though the Tarot originated at the beginning of the Renaissance, its iconography draws for the Middle Ages. The meaning of the cards did not have to be explained to people of the time. See “The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo” by  Gertrude Moakley.
  5. Because the tarot cards meaning pulled from the collective culture that we’ve inherited so effectively, the original meaning of the trump cards, if not unchanged, is largely intact. The meaning of a few cards, though, specifically the Hanged Man, has dramatically changed. The Hanged Man, originally meaning a traitor to the city-government, is now taken more to mean someone unjustly accused.
  6. The Tarot was not used for divination prior to the late 18th century, and was not used in a fashion recognizable to a modern tarot reader until the mid to late 19th century.
  7. The iconography of the Rider-Waite deck, and the interpretation found in “The Pictorial Key To The Tarot” by Arthur Waite, formed the main stream of tarot we have inherited as readers today. His biggest gift in the field was to organize meanings for the minor cards with descriptive pictures.
  8. Arthur Waite was wrong to try to find a way to reconcile tarot and astrology, or any other metaphysical tradition. The resulting change in order of the trumps from that of the Tarot de Marseille should be rescinded.
  9. Aleister Crowley was a bad, bad man, and listening to anything he has to say imperils your very soul. The Thoth deck though does have some power and adherents, if you’re willing to walk a little on the dark side.
  10. Using the tarot for divination is no different than what is done in many other cultures or traditions. The I Ching for example works for the same reason that the tarot does. It’s just in Chinese, and requires a book.
  11. A tarot reading cannot predict the future, or more correctly predicts the future the same way the weather man predicts the weather. And you know how often he’s correct. What it can do is tell you what’s up now, for you. If a reader tells you something that’s really out in left field for you, you either need a new reader, or you have just found a large blind spot.
  12. The tarot, despite what I learned in church, is not anti-Christian. It is, though, a way of looking at the world that is similar to, but distinct from that which is generally taught. Just look at the progression of the Swords (standing for intellect) for an example. The tarot is generally for those that want to let their religious freak flag fly.
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Yin and Yang

One of the traditions about the tarot that I was taught was of the male-female duality inherent in the cards.  Cups and Pentacles are female, Wands and Swords are male.  This tradition can be taken back only so far, perhaps only to the nineteenth century.  But it is useful, and seems to have some validity and deeper insight.

At the below link Andrew Nugent-Head of the Association for Traditional Studies, a practitioner of Bagua and Chinese medicine, is giving a lecture on “Daoyin” that touches on the male (yang) – female (yin) dichotomy.  If you want the short version, start around the 27:30 mark.

Daoyin Seminar: Hour 1

And if you want a very short demo of his martial skill reflective of the lecture along with a short story, go to the 12:00 minute mark.  As I was showing this lecture to my wife she was impressed that she could see a column of energy around him. I was impressed that she could see a column of energy around him.  It took seeing him move for me to recognize his skill.

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As I was adding the finishing touches to the Cary-Yale pages I realized what I wanted to accomplish with this website.

When I take out my Rider-Universal-Albano-Waite-Smith deck I want to know the meaning of the cards. I want to know not because someone told me, not because I read it somewhere, I want to know because I know.

Which is more complicated than it sounds, even without getting into epistemology, because there isn’t one true meaning to tarot.

Just as there isn’t one true meaning to life. We create meaning. We are born with meaning. We have collective agreements on meaning. We accept others meaning. We have meaning thrust upon us. We carry multiple lifetimes of meaning. And perhaps even God gives us meaning.

It would take a lifetime, and probably an enlightenment experience of three to sort it all out. And when we were done, there still would not be a simple one true meaning to life.

And the tarot reflects this.

What is the High Priestess?

A deceptive/holy woman who became Pope? The clergy working under the Popes direction? The leader of God’s church tortured and killed for her beliefs? The sacred feminine that initiated and gave birth to the universe? The plain and simple people that God said would inherit the earth?

Good question. I don’t know.

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The other night, as I frequently do, I was helping my wife do a reading. I decided to lay out all the cards in order to help her make sense of the meanings. And I started thinking, “I wish Arisa (my Tarot teacher) had written a book”. Well she had. Just not the one I wanted.

So this is my attempt to put down in writing what I think is important in understanding the Tarot. I make no claims to great ability giving readings. There are many Tarot readers out there with more experience and giving better readings than I can.

On the other hand, there is a lot of foolishness being spread that doesn’t need to be out there.1

For example, I went to the book store looking for a specific Tarot book, and found one on different spreads. I picked it up thinking it would be interesting to look at. I quickly found three different variations of the Tree of Life Spread, only two of which were labeled as such, and at least three variations of the Celtic Cross, none of which explained why there were differences, the history and development of the Celtic Cross, or the common variations within it.

People! It is not in the spreads. Neither is it in the cards.

Yes, yes. I know. Your deck has extra special illustrations by a renowned/obscure/mystical/historic illustrator that has occult/feminist/esoteric/shamanistic meanings of the Wiccan/Native American/Egyptian/Kabbalah/Medieval available in the accompanying book.

But they are just cards, and it’s just a book.

You are you. And you are a being of immense history and knowledge, with dimensions and connections you are barely aware of, having understanding beyond anyone’s capability to put into a book along with accompanying illustrations.

But most of us, from time to time, are full of crap. So it’s nice to have a bull shit detector.

Hence the Tarot.


1   See Michael J. Hurst’s “Gresham’s Law of Tarot History

Naturally enough, most Tarot websites and online Tarot forums tend to cater to the interests of the majority of Tarot enthusiasts, people who yearn for ancient secrets, initiated mysteries, and other esoteric lore. That’s their audience, and in most cases that audience is devoid of both historical knowledge and critical thinking skills. Tarot is a cult object. It was openly called “holy”, “sacred”, and “the absolute key to occult science” by an earlier generation, and is deemed to be “inspired” and representing “universal truths” (psychological and/or spiritual) by many of today’s cultists. Two central reasons seem responsible for the general acceptance of such rampant idiocy: preconception and an abhorrence of critical thinking — after all, essentially religious positions cannot be empirically or rationally refuted.

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