You guys loved the Mass Effect Tarot as much as I did. This was pleasantly surprising, but left my editor wondering “What is tarot and how does it work?” Fortunately for you, this is something that I’ve actually studied.
What is Tarot?Image credit: US Games Systems Inc.
Tarot cards have been around since the 15th century, originating in Italy and spreading to France and other parts of Europe. However, the cards were mainly used for games rather than fortune telling. Some also believe that the Tarot is rooted in Egyptian culture and the Book of Thoth. All of this, and then some, is correct.
The Tarot became more standardized in the 20th century with the publication of the Raider-Waite deck. The art was drawn by Pamela Coleman-Smith under the direction of mystic Arthur E. Waite. What this deck did was to use the art to explain the symbolism behind each card. It’s a great choice for someone looking to explore and learn the cards.
How does it work?
Reading the Tarot is basically two steps: Laying out the cards and interpreting the cards. The layout can be anything you want. You can put two cards down side by side, or you can do a complex spread of twelve cards or more. The key is that the layout gives the card in each position a particular purpose. For example, you could use a three card spread where the first position means “the past,” the second position means “the present,” and the third position means, “The future.” You would place three cards and interpret based on which card is in what position.
Each card in the deck has its own meaning. So what you draw and where you place it in your layout will tell you how to interpret it. Let’s say you draw the Three of Wands in a position meaning “How you see yourself.” The combination of this card in this position could be read as “You see yourself as laying in wait, ready to pounce.”
What are the cards?
Most Tarot decks have standard 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana cards:
The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards divided by four suits: Swords, Wands, Pentacles, and Cups. Some decks vary slightly. Swords are associated with ambition, conflict, and the element of wind. Wands are associated with creativity, passion, and the element of fire. Pentacles are associated with business, prosperity, and the element of earth. Cups are associated with emotion, imagination, and the element of water. Instead of using a Jack, Queen, and King like in a regular playing deck, each suit has a Page, Knight, Queen, and King. These are known as the Court cards and often represent people or archetypes in a reading.
The Major Arcana consists of 22 trump cards, each with its own allegorical meaning. They tend to represent large concepts rather than specific people or situations. Depending on the deck, the Major Arcana can tell a story about the innocent Fool growing and learning about spirituality through the Tarot before ending at the World as a complete person.
Why is it cool?
Image credit: Atlus/ The-Stein
Although the standard Tarot isn’t that old, a lot of people really like the deep symbolism of each card. It’s a system that can be relatively simple or immensely complicated. This allows readers to be infinitely flexible in their style. It’s also great for people who appreciate art because there are hundreds of options when it comes to choosing a deck. Some decks are traditional, and others follow spiritual styles such as the Kabbalah, Egyptian mythos, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and more.
The Tarot has a certain sense of mystery to it, but it also has its own lore and common symbolism. That’s why you will often see it used as a motif in pop culture. The anime The Vision of Escaflowne has its own deck, but uses Tarot mysticism heavily. The Persona video games use the Tarot to sort the types of personas the protagonists can use. There is a Marvel superhero named Tarot who creates animated constructs and foresees the future with the use of her Tarot deck. Every volume of Death Note was named for cards. Tarot symbolism was all over DC’s Trinity. White Wolf’s Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening uses the Tarot to explore paths and plot points. And that, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Some people even claim that Star Wars has covert Tarot references.
Now go brush up on your Tarot studies, and I’ll return shortly with a gallery of more geeky tarot decks for your collection!
Featured image credit: jlambertstl