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What is Tarot? An Introduction 

Over the next three posts I’ll be writing my reviews on a few different books on Tarot. These reviews are my own personal opinions and I haven’t been compensated for them in any way. The books I will be reviewing are as follows: The Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien, Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer, and Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen.

Before I share my reviews there are some introductory notes I need to make that lay the foundation. They fall under the question of “what is tarot?”

It’s worth noting that while I agree that it’s important to read books to learn about tarot, I also believe nothing trumps practicing reading the cards and relying on your intuition. Each of these books are supplementary to the practice of reading tarot. They don’t replace learning by doing, rather they add to the well from which you draw when you read the cards.

A common belief about tarot is that is fortune-telling nonsense. Some look down on it as an occult art and heap it in with soothsaying, satanism, black magic, and any number of phenomenon used to take advantage of and hurt people.

It is an occult art, though it is a tool which in and of itself is benign and which the user determines its use whether for good or ill. It does not fall in with fortune-telling unless the practitioner uses it in such a way.

As serious students know, tarot is a psychological and spiritual mirror. A person of character who desires to help themselves and others is using the tarot for good. A person who uses tarot to take advantage of others and gain power over them is using the tarot for evil.

I was almost deterred from continuing my tarot practice because of the prevailing beliefs that tarot readers are charlatans. I was telling my cousin about it when he pointed out that the fact that there are charlatans in every vocation. He noted that some shrinks are charlatans, as are some medical doctors, some mechanics, some scientists, some sales people, etc, and that the fact that scumbags exist shouldn’t deter me in the least. He made a valid and edifying argument that can be applied across thr board to any pursuit a person may be interested in.

“Occult” simply means “hidden.” Symbolism is the language of the occult. Tarot is a tool that uses symbols to impart esoteric truth that is hidden. The first rule of effective reading is to know thyself. Tarot is an art because of its use. Occult science is the foundation that informs the art.

Both Arthur Edward Waite and Aliester Crowley were occultists (though Crowley gained notoriety for being an incredibly bizarre hedonist using his knowledge for selfish reasons) as were many renowned authors not pertinent to this topic. I mention these two names because they both devised tarot systems based on occult knowledge and a large portion of the many decks available adhere to the systems. In this regard, not all tarot decks are created equal. But that’s a post for another day.

You don’t have to know anything about the occult sciences to be an effective reader, but it helps. Having knowledge of the language of symbols is pertinent to reading the cards well. The collective unconscious is where many of the meanings lie, which means you have access to it without the help of anyone else. This is where developing the practice of meditation helps you hone your ability to read well.

Because you are a living human you have a spirit- you know, life consciousness, that thing that animates you. This is about as spiritual as tarot needs to get. You don’t have to adhere to any particular belief system or set of dogmas. I practiced tarot as an atheist, believing only in my own intuition as a connection to hidden knowledge as at the time, that was my truth, and I read with accuracy because as I noted before, to read well: know thyself. Tarot knows no religion in the common sense of the word. Waite (Rider-Waite) uses Christian themes in his system, but you don’t have to be a Christian to use a Rider-Waite deck.

Thus concludes my introduction on what is tarot. The book reviews to follow will be posted throughout this week and into next. If you’re wondering why this introduction was necessary, the following posts will enlighten you. 

(Featured image by Paulina Cassidy. “The Hierophant” from Paulina Cassidy Tarot). 

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