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Frequently Asked Questions about Tarot and alt.tarot

Newsgroups: alt.tarot,alt.divination,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,and,alt.pagan
From: "J. Karlin" 
Subject: alt.tarot FAQ
Date: Sun, 04 May 1997 08:52:10 +0000

Frequently Asked Questions about Tarot and alt.tarot

Written by Jess Karlin, based on the original tarot-faq
by Mark Danburg-Wyld.
First release: 22 October 1993
Last revision: 4 December 1996
Posted monthly to alt.tarot, alt.divination, alt.magick.tyagi,
alt.magick, and alt.pagan
Send comments, suggestions, additions, etc. to:

Posted responses will be ignored by the author.

This entire document, or properly attributed portions thereof,
may be freely distributed by any medium whatsoever.

1. What is tarot?
2. Where can I get a tarot deck?
3. How do current decks differ?
4. What do the cards mean, if anything?
5. Which deck is the best?
6. Why does the Tarot 'work'?
7. How do I use a Tarot deck to 'tell the future'?
   (includes Keltic Cross explanation)
8. What are 'reversals' and how do I get them into my readings?
9. What's the difference between 'reversals' and 'dignities'?
10. How do I use a Tarot deck for meditation?
11. How do I use a Tarot deck to play a game?
12. What is the history of the Tarot?
13. What are the symbolic 'roots' of tarot?
14. How is Tarot related to other forms of divination?
15. What about computer tarot programs?
16. What is alt.tarot?
17. What are the 'rules' of alt.tarot?
18. What books should I read to get started or to learn more
    about tarot?


1. What is Tarot?

The easiest answer to that question is to describe the basic
structure of a tarot deck. There are 78 total cards in a
standard tarot deck. These cards are divided in the following
way: 4 sets (called 'suits') of 14 cards each=56 cards (the 'minor
arcana' or 'minors'). The names of these suits have varied from
pack to pack over time but generally suits adhere to
some form of the following designations---

Wands (or Rods),
Pentacles (or Disks).

Each suit has ten numbered cards, Ace through Ten, plus four
'court cards'.

The court cards go by various naming conventions but---


---is a fairly standard description.

Another common scheme, one popularized by the Aleister
Crowley 'Book of Thoth' deck is---


The difference between these approaches points to one of
the myriad ideological disputes about names and 'meanings'
that characterize so much of modern tarot.

In addition to these 56 'small' cards there are---

22 cards of the 'major arcana', often referred to simply as
'majors', or 'trumps'. These cards depict various ideas and
persons, the names of the cards are mostly rooted in Medieval
or Renaissance religion and culture. The cards are numbered
from 0-Fool, to 21-World (or Universe) as follows---

0. Fool
1. Magus (or Magician)
2. High Priestess
3. Empress
4. Emperor
5. Hierophant
6. Lovers
7. Chariot
8. *)(&)*&&^%$^$#%$%

And right there our peaceful little perusal of the trumps
rolls right off the tracks---

We should get used to this, it's going to happen a lot.

The problem with '8' is that no one can decide, with ultimate
authority, what it's supposed to be. Some people say '8' should
be Strength while others say Justice (and thus these two
cards are locked in a struggle over the number placements
'8' and '11'). At the same time, and to muddy things more,
there is the whole problem introduced by Aleister Crowley,
in his influential 'Thoth' deck, who exchanged the
attributions (the correspondences between tarot trumps
and paths on the kabbalistic Tree of Life) of 4-Emperor
(yes, we skipped that one) and 17-Star. Most people,
who are not strict adherents to Crowley's Thelemic system,
have not followed nor concerned themselves much with the
latter change, but many still fight over the 8-11
controversy. Based purely on astrological considerations the
better choice seems to be Strength in '8' and Justice in
'11'. But there's more to it than that---there almost always
is in tarot. However, that's something you can ask about
on alt.tarot.

so, let's continue---

8. Strength (or Justice)---note: also, in Thoth-influenced
   decks these cards will be titled 'Lust' or 'Adjustment'
9. Hermit
10. Wheel of Fortune---no, there is no Vanna White turning
11. Justice (or Strength)---again, in Thoth 'Justice' is
    called 'Adjustment'
12. Hanged Man
13. Death---the one tarot card almost everyone has seen
14. Temperance---in Thoth this is called 'Art', as in
    'alchemical' arts
15. Devil
16. Tower
17. Star
18. Moon
19. Sun
20. Judgment---as in the 'Last Judgment', in Thoth it
    is called 'Aeon'
21. World/or Universe

After establishing these few structural facts, we begin to
encounter some more problems, which will explode in all
kinds of confusing ways, in our attempt to confidently
and conclusively answer the question 'what is tarot?'. We
will discover that the answer does not entirely reduce to
'anything you want it to be' but it often gets very close
to that.

BTW, the name, 'tarot', is supposedly the French derivation
of the original Italian, 'tarocchi', referring to the deck
and the 'trick-taking' games played in Italy and elsewhere
using these cards.

2. Where can I get one?

Lots of places these days. However, most 'mainstream'
bookstores will only offer a limited selection of decks,
although they may be able to order just about anything for
you (sometimes at a discount over ordering direct from
suppliers). Occult or 'newage' bookstores should have a
wider selection of decks and also books that (allegedly)
'explain it all' to you. You can also mail-order decks
through several supply houses.

3. How do current decks differ?

First, there are many kinds of cartomantic decks in existence
now, and many of them are only loosely based on any sort of
structure (i.e., 78 cards organized according to question
#1 answer) that matches tarot. There are also a lot of decks
that DO match the structure, superficially, but which have
questionable links to anything one might describe as a tradition
of tarot symbolism. Therefore, I'm going to use a rather
arbitrary method to answer this, but it is one that will
at least make manageable the task of dealing with this
question. As you learn more about tarot you will learn how
to make up your own arbitrary answers.

There are approximately five historical periods of tarot
evolution---obviously there can be more or less depending
on how you want to slice it, but I'm basing this arbitrary
division on the nature of the symbolism on the cards, and
the ideologies, if any, they represented:

1. Early or Classical (c.1440-1550)---Tarot was 'born' in
northern Italy c. 1440 AD and was probably created to play
card games, NOT to read fortunes, and it was NOT brought
to Europe by gypsies. The early development of tarot was
characterized by many different decks and symbologies,
many alterations to those decks considered the 'first'---
the designs of the Visconti-Sforza tarocchi decks---
but a pretty consistent 22-card foundation is maintained
in the major arcana with a 56-card minor addition (no one
knows with certainty whether the minors originated with
the trumps or were added later). However, it does seem as
though, contrary to what many people believe, playing cards
developed BEFORE tarot cards and not the other way around.
Also, the question of whether tarot was derived and developed
from an already existing deck or was developed independently
has not been satisfactorily answered.

2. Middle or 'transitional' (1550-1781)---one sees a fairly
stable but still evolutionary development of tarot symbolism
culminating in the many examples of what has come to be
known as the 'Marseilles' design (check Kaplan's tarot
encyclopedias for examples of these and other decks
mentioned in this FAQ). There is little evidence that tarot
symbolism, during this period, meant much of anything to
anyone beyond their surface function as playing-card
illustrations. However, the lack of evidence is a bit odd,
given that it seems likely SOMEONE would have thought to
use the cards in some sort of divinatory application in
the two centuries before the 1781 publication of 'Le
Monde primitif', by Court de Gebelin, and the subsequent
explosion of public speculation about the 'occult' meaning
of tarot symbolism.

3. Traditional or Occult period (1781-1909)---I call this
'traditional' tarot simply because, while we see the creation
here of an entirely new kind of tarot, it nevertheless rests
upon a core of the old traditions and symbolism, and its
symbology is that which, in direct or indirect fashion, is
the tarot everyone knows today. In traditional tarot we
see, (though very gradually), the evolution of the occult
decks that, while still based in Marseilles-type designs,
add Egyptian and Hermetic symbolism to the traditional
iconographies. The evolution is not really as bold and
dramatic as some people have made it out to be---and we
don't see any really radical changes (in real decks
at any rate---Eliphas Levi might have made an interesting
deck but he never got around to it---making drawings of
only a couple of cards that were nevertheless, very
influential) until the circulation of 'Book T' in the
Golden Dawn and the incorporation and further development
of those symbols into:

4. Modern Period (1910-1983)---with the publication of the
Waite deck in 1910 we enter the modern period, where tarot
symbolism has become, in any 'traditional' sense, almost
entirely the province of Golden Dawn symbolism, and that
symbolism's most copied derivation has been the Waite
deck, the most popular tarot deck in the world today
(especially when one counts the myriad thefts of its designs
into other decks). I'm not sure whether one can call Waite
the most influential design in history (certainly one might
be able to make that claim for the Marseilles design as
well) but its symbolism, and the other Golden Dawn
derivatives (most notably the BOTA and the Thoth decks)
have become what most people know (at least superficially)
as tarot.

However, the story does not happily end there for then we
move into our last period---post-modern---

5. Post-modern (1983-god knows when but not soon enough)---
This date assignment is purely arbitrary, since many
of the motivations that have led to pomotarot (itself,
an amalgamation of diverse but often overlapping movements
and ideologies) started back in the 1960s, when multicultural,
gender-conscious, and anti-traditional (the assumption was
that IF it was traditional it HAD to be bad) attitudes
were infiltrating all modes of pop and academic culture.
I pick 1983 because this is when that bane of traditional
tarot was published---Motherpeace!! Printed on round cards,
treating men like they were a humanoid avatar of the ebola
virus, and generally promoting a post-intellectual symbology
that has nothing to do with traditional tarot, Motherpeace
has become the guiding light for the cartofeminist
revisionists. The point was made---one could promote any
nonsense he or she wanted on the back of poor defenseless
tarot because few people knew what the older symbolism
was about and there has been no public forum (until the
advent of Internet) where these pomo decks, or any of
the decks, could be easily and widely discussed and critiqued.

Basically there are three kinds of pomo decks---

1. Cartofeminist---my own neologism, describing feminist
decks in general but particularly those promoting the concept
of the 'Goddess', and which find identity basically in the
rejection of what are described as traditional icons of
the evil patriarchy (including obviously any traditional tarot
symbology and interpretation).

2. True Postmodern---decks that seek to maintain some link
to traditional symbols but which nevertheless ignore
traditional interpretations of the symbolism often for the
remarkable and seemingly absurd reasoning that occult symbolism
is 'anti-egalitarian' by nature and so the meanings of the
symbols should be thrown open to what are often called
'intuitive' methods of interpretation---in other words:
make up anything that suits your fancy and, if you are
a tarot book writer, make it 'bite-sized' if it all possible.
Obviously, it's a lot easier to design a deck based on
this kind of 'thinking' and many of the decks we get here
present mere shades of their traditional
roots---as if, knowing that what those old (dead?) symbols
meant is irrelevant and beyond a pomo's multi-absurd
consciousness, we can therefore add mere hints of what
we don't care to know anyway and then speculate
(masturbate) about them to our mind's end. On alt.tarot
you will see the merits of this kind of tarot, and this
kind of tarot 'ideology' debated, in various forms,
over and over again. There are many decks which fall into
this category---Morgan-Greer and Aquarian being 'good'
examples of the lot along with (obviously) the PoMo Tarot
deck itself.

3. Igno-aesthetic---as the word suggests---that which promotes
the aesthetic qualities of the tradition in complete ignorance
of its meaning---this is something like #2 except here there
is no attempt whatsoever to claim the artist or designer
knew anything about the meaning of the symbols they depict.
One rather imagines, if Rachel Pollack had not invested her
'talents' to his project, Herman Haindl's deck could have
gotten away with residing here---amongst some admittedly
interesting-looking decks---instead of in the dumpheap of
cartofeminism. Generally, igno-aesthetic decks are done by
real artists and, if nothing else, do look good (not in any
way a trivial attribute---especially when you've suffered
through some of the 'art' that continues to claim tarot as
its 'templat-ive' victim). Lots of Italian and German decks
of the last 10 years fall into this category.

4. What do the cards mean, if anything?

Different decks will deal with 'meaning' in different ways.
The original author of this FAQ suggested, since he had no
time or interest in trying to tell everyone in a FAQ the
ONE TRUE MEANING of the cards, that people should compare
the opinions of different authors on the question of tarot
meanings. I think that's fine, but it does not really address
the 'why' part of this question---because it's not just
WHAT something means that should interest us, but also WHY.
'What the cards mean' depends to some degree on what YOU
decide they mean---but then you get into the argument,
something like the chicken and the egg problem, about where
the meaning 'comes from'.

If, for example, the artist knew nothing about tarot but
simply executed designs 'in the style of' tarot cards (a
common trend in postmodern decks) does that mean his cards
are devoid of any meaning? That allegation has been made
against things like the Dali deck, for example---all
aesthetics and no substance. The problem is that is one
looks deeper, Dali appears to have known quite a bit about
tarot, intuitively or otherwise. Or, if you've learned
meanings according to some non-traditional tarot like
Motherpeace, will those 'special' meanings, given that
they obviously contradict with traditional meanings, still
apply if you are using Thoth or Waite? This is a problem that
comes up, for example, if you buy some of the newage books
on Thoth, like that of Angeles Arrien, which has almost nothing
to do with Thoth and everything to do with the author's
ideology about what a modern audience 'ought' to get from
tarot. So, if the meanings are not in some way derived from
the symbols on the card, where do they properly come from?
And, if those meanings are to be derived from the symbols
on the card, and if those symbols are poorly understood or
not understood at all by the artist and are merely used
as a template for a design meant for its aesthetic (as opposed
to symbolic) appeal, then what kind of utility would those
cards have for someone? It is not merely by 'design' that so
many pomo decks can be quite charitably described as
'hallmark' cards. It seems the easiest 'rules' on all this
would be to select decks that have been constructed with
some symbolic paradigm (or paradigms) in mind (and heart
and soul)---where the designers had planned out not only
the feeling their images might generate but very much also
the thoughts. Most decks have so little thought (about
thought) placed into their execution that they merit
little serious consideration as a 'real' tarot deck,
regardless of the lip service they pay to the structure
and the superficial elements of tarot symbolism.

Even decks like 'Rorhig', for example, where much thought
has been applied to the design of many of the cards, suffer
from the rather obvious fact that the artist was not guided
by a mastery of tarot, so that the deck is symbolically
insipid and incomplete in many respects. The more you know
about tarot the more this kind of obvious shortcoming will
serve to annoy you---especially in a an otherwise attractive
or 'pretty' deck. The thing to remember is that tarot,
whatever the intentions for its use by the original designers,
has always been graphically about the iconization of ideas;
some of them very complex ideas, and the more a deck pays homage
to this fact (which involves not just the juxtaposition of a
bunch of images but also the systematic forethought to know
why certain images should go one place as opposed to
another), whatever its ideological bent may be, the better
chance the deck will have to reconstruct tarot traditions
in a modern frame. Of course, the first thing someone who is
learning tarot should try to do is study as much as possible
about what the 'old frame' was about.

5. Which deck is the best?

The original FAQ diplomatically answered this question---
"There is no consensus on this issue, and discussions of this
question have the potential to start a flame war. Some of
the more popular decks include: The Aquarian Tarot, The
Robin Wood Tarot, and Crowley's Thoth Tarot. I see the
potential for a whole other FAQ explaining some of the
alleged benefits/problems with the most widely available
decks. But I'm not about to write it. (Anyone?)"

Actually, we've already addressed some of the inherent
problems of answering the 'best' question in the answer
to question 4. The only thing I might add here is that
'best' mostly has to do with you and what you want to
use tarot for. On the other hand, most people who are
just beginning really have devoted little thought
(as opposed to feeling) about any specific objectives
they may have with it---tarot just seems fascinating and
fun---which it is. Therefore, one looks about in books
or from some more experienced person who may take the
role of teacher to provide a bit of guidance on what 'best'
could mean. You will also, on alt.tarot, see much argument
about this question, with there being a particular
dividing line between:

*those who think 'best' should have NO limiting definition
at all---thus, one should do whatever he wants to and
should never be told that something is a 'bad' idea or


*those who think some uses of tarot are simply stupid and
don't merit any time or consideration as a serious topic.
However you may feel about this question, be prepared, should
you start posting about 'best' ways to do and think about
tarot, to defend your ideas vigorously.

It is likely some other people will disagree with you, no
matter how well-intentioned you may be in enlightening us
all about 'best'.

6. Why does the Tarot 'work'?

The original FAQ answered---

"There are a number of different theories on this, which is
the eloquent way of saying no-one really knows."

Actually, 'no one knows' is pretty eloquent too, since
it is succinct and right. The FAQ then went into a discussion
of various 'theories' that have been proposed. None of them
have any scientific evidence to support them. If you want
to know more about them you will have plenty of opportunities
on alt.tarot, but advocating things like 'channeling' and
'synchronicity' is liable to get you into a flame war.
Actually, advocating that people should 'have a nice day'
is likely to get you into a flame war. However, you should
consider this---not everyone understands the meaning of the
word 'work' in exactly the same way.

You will discover the same problem if and when a discussion
should occur about 'belief' in tarot. Some people seem to
think there is something, a power or ability, in which
one needs to profess or deny belief. Others think such
questions are irrelevant and silly, belief, in their opinion,
not being required to make whatever use of tarot they desire.
Ultimately, one may file the answer to this question under---

'credo quia absurdum est'

'I believe because it is absurd.'

7. How do I use a Tarot deck to 'tell the future'?
The original FAQ had the following to say on this one---
"Study the cards and learn their meanings. Practice a lot,
on yourself, friends, or total strangers as
suits your personal leanings. Eventually, you should get
pretty good."

Well, that's one way to look at it. And certainly one
SHOULD take every opportunity to practice. However, I'm
not so sure that everyone 'should get pretty good.'
There are many anecdotes we've read over time on alt.tarot
about people's experience learning to use tarot as an oracle.

Again, the original FAQ reminded---

"And again, practice, practice, practice."


To which I would amend this---

Tarot Novice's Rules and guidelines---

1. DO use formal structured readings, where card positions
mean something specific like 'past influences' or 'hopes
and fears'. You are a beginner remember? Treat this as
you would any learning experience---take it one step at
a time. You can get creative after you've mastered the
basics. Where do you get the structured layouts? Almost all
decks come with an LB (little booklet), that will explain
a basic layout, usually some form of Keltic Cross (see
Keltic Cross layout explanation at the end of this section).
And you can find many layout suggestions in tarot books
and also in the Layout FAQ, posted frequently to alt.tarot
and otherwise available on the net.

2. DO ritualize (at least a little bit) what you are doing---
it will help you remember what is supposed to be going on.
By this I mean---light candles, evoke your favorite spirit
guide, or simply be very methodical and careful about
what you are doing---some of the worst readers I've seen
are sometimes the ones whose basic talents are superior to
others. They get so convinced they've 'got it' after a year
or so of reading (sometimes after a week or so) they get
sloppy and careless, thinking it is all so 'obvious'.
Their innate talents never are allowed to evolve beyond
'sloppy and careless' and they soon tire of reading altogether.

3. DO trust that the cards will work for you---this does
not have to be active 'faith', just trust, like you would
trust that the rollercoaster is NOT going to fly off the
tracks. Trust aids your selfconfidence, the importance of
which we will discuss below.

4. DON'T act like some kid with a watch or a fly, prying
things loose to see how and why they work. People frequently
can not get their tarot skills back together again after
smashing them to see how or if they 'work'. The fact is
that reading is a skill based on talent, knowledge,
experience and the I-word, intuition. You either got it
or you don't. And I might add one additional component---
courage or self-confidence. To the degree that reading
is a performance-based medium of spiritual exchange one
does need to have that trust element mentioned above and
the self-confidence that they can 'do it' perfectly as
well, if not better, than the next person. Bottom line, if
you want to learn how to read cards, then study the
symbolism, learn the meanings, and---

---practice, practice, practice.

I'm including here a basic guide to the Keltic Cross layout,
which is the one most people first learn. This layout
uses the same principles or assumptions that you will encounter
in almost all layouts---the card position acts similarly to
an astrological 'house', providing the context (past
influences, foundations, future influences, etc.) in which
the card energy will be read. The card that one reads in
that position will then act as the 'planet', shading the
position according to the
card's symbolic meaning (sometimes, depending on the reading,
one will also consider the effects of surrounding cards on
each position).

Here are the basic positions of the Keltic Cross (based mostly
on the version given in 'The Pictorial Key to the Tarot',
by A. E. Waite)---

1. Significator---(the card representing the querent or
person asking the question---traditionally, one chooses an
appropriate card from the pack before shuffling and dealing
the other cards; however, a new tradition has begun of
'allowing' the deck to reveal the proper card by dealing
this position 'blind' along with the other cards of the

2. Covering card---(the card representing 'general' influences
or the 'atmosphere' affecting this question---note: lots of
tarot-speak is vague)

3. Crossing card or the Cross---(the card representing
obstacles or problems affecting this question---if the card is
'positive', then the problem may not be that great or
perhaps the 'problem' will work to the querent's benefit
OR, maybe the 'good' stuff won't be so good in this

4. 'That which is above' or the Crown---(the card indicating
either the highest hopes of the querent for this question
or the best that can expected for him in the outcome---
similar to the MC in astrology)

5. 'That which is below'---(the card indicating the 'foundation'
or 'nadir'---similar to the IC in astrology, note that the
relationship between the 'Above' and the 'Below' cards is
this---the 'Below' is the birth point of the question and so
represents aspects or events that have come into definite
being and which, Waite says, the querent has made 'his own'.
In practice, the card often represents the TRUE point of the
question, and the querent may not be consciously 'owned up'
to it yet. Compare this then to the 'Above' card, which
represents a point of fulfillment in the circle, and so,
according to Waite, is not something that has been made
'actual'. However, the querent may be very aware of what
this card represents, since he supposedly will be trying to
'actualize' it).

Deal all cards face down (no, you don't have to do this but
it's more fun to turn them up one at a time). Card 2 is placed
on top of card 1. Card 3 is placed horizontally over card 2 (so
it makes a cross over it). Card 4 is placed directly above the
'cross'. Card 5 is placed directly below the 'cross'.

OK, at this point we need to decide where we will put
the 'past' and'future' influences cards. According to Waite,
if you are using a Court or 'picture' card (King, Queen,
Knight, Page) to represent the querent in the Significator
position, then deal the 'past' card to the side AWAY
FROM that which the 'Sig' is facing (i.e., if the 'Sig'
appears to be looking to the left, deal the 'past' to the
right). Then deal the 'future' influences card toward the
direction the 'Sig' is facing. In Knight cards this
directionality stuff is pretty easy. If you don't want to
mess with it then simply deal the past-future cards in the
same places every time. Just remember which is which. I
generally use Left=Past, Right=Future.

So, to continue---

6. That which is behind---(the card showing events affecting
the question that the querent will know, i.e., the past).
7. That which is ahead---(the card showing events affecting
the question that the querent will
NOT know yet, i.e., the future---but NOT the final outcome).
Now you have the basic Keltic Cross---a circle about a
cross.The last four cards of the layout are
dealt in a vertical line from---8 (on bottom) to 11 (on top)
to the right of the Keltic Cross.
8. Personal Position---(the card representing the
querent/different than the significator, this card
shows the querent in action, for good or ill, in the question)
9. Environment---(the 'other' of the question, similar
to the Personal card, but this represents the
environment in which everything unfolds, so it is family,
friends, work, etc.)
10. Psychological---(hopes and fears and dreams of the querent)
11. Future---(if what is shown in the other cards remains
'true', this is how the question will resolve)

If you have questions about this or other layouts, or
specifics about how to read cards, enquire on alt.tarot.

8. What are 'reversals' and how do I get them into my

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (called France) this
guy named Etteilla decided to do card readings with something
called a 'piquet' deck (32 cards, plus, for purposes of
reading, a blank card, called the 'Etteilla'). Etteilla
provided TWO different meanings for these cards, one for
the normal (or 'upright') card, and one for when the card
would be turned upside-down (that is, with the 'top' inverted
to the 'bottom'). This 'tradition' has been maintained ever
since, and almost ALL tarot books and decks will include
meanings both for the 'normal' card and also for the
'reversed' card. And, it is the method A.E. Waite stuck in
his highly influential book on tarot (which was mainly a copy
of Etteilla's work that comes down to the present day) and
THAT book has pretty much been copied by everyone ever since.

Surprisingly, to me, there have been a number of people
posting to alt.tarot who have expressed confusion over how
to 'get' reversals to show up in their readings---YES, you
do that thing which seems so unnatural for so many people---
you turn the cards upside-down MANUALLY (what did
you think? that elves did it for you??).

Now, there are a number of ways in which to get 'there'
as well. Here are a few suggestions---(note---all these
directions assume you are holding the cards face down, but
that's up to you of course---you WILL have to make sure
you are holding the deck in an upright position before you
begin your manipulations.)

1. After shuffling (it seems to get a little confusing for
people if they try it BEFORE shuffling), just invert
(turn upside-down) a few cards. FEW means like 5-7 or
whatever 'few' means to you. Then deal your layout and
interpret any upside-down cards according to the 'reversed'
meanings. You say you don't HAVE any 'reversed' meanings.
Well, go get some. You can't do your 'reversals' if you
don't have any reversed meanings. And those meanings are
generally supplied either in your LB (the 'little booklet'
that comes with most decks) or in whatever book which
explains your deck. You can also, if those options are not
available to you, simply 'reverse' the upright or
'normal' meaning (again, assuming you've got one) before
any reversed card you encounter in your reading.

2. PRIOR to shuffling (uh-oh), you split the deck (no,
not with an ax) into two equal stacks (NO, they don't
have to be PERFECTLY equal), and then you simply turn
one of the stacks so that its cards are now facing
in the exact opposite direction from the other stack.
Now shuffle the cards. Depending on your dexterity with
this task, and the number of times you shuffle (is 3
enough, is 6 too many??), you will get a nicely 'inverted'
deck, just crammed with all sorts of 'reversed' cards
that you will still be utterly hopeless in 'dealing' with
unless you have some of the aforementioned reversed meanings.

3. Put your deck on the table (or whatever), and pretend
you are three years old again (for some of you no great
pretense shall be required). Now, simply 'mess' the
deck up---you know, just make all the cards go every
which way until they are a big mess on the table in front
of you. NOW, put the mess back together into a nice
regular-looking deck. And there you have it. Unless you
are amazingly unlucky or incompetent, you will now have a
deck full of 'reversed' cards.

9. What's the difference between 'reversals' and 'dignities'?

When you 'reverse' a card, you are attempting to supply your
deck with the some possible 'alternative' meanings, that is,
something different from the norm. With reversals, what you
are going to get is pretty much of an 'either-or' situation,
although there are usually several different meanings for
both the upright and reversed position. However, there is
another way of generating these alternative meanings that
does not use reversals at all, and that is a system called
'elemental dignities', which seeks to analyze a series
of cards based on their elemental relationships to each
other, and therefore, ALL readings using this method should
provide opportunities, without recourse to manual inversions
of the cards, to get sometimes very subtle ranges of meaning
with all the cards. To find out more about how elemental
dignities work, refer to:

10. How do I use a Tarot deck for meditation?

Since I don't meditate much, in the conventional sense (if
there is such a thing), I will take the opportunity here
to discuss a few ideas about meditation that seem to me
reasonable and simple and which, I believe, can be
productively applied to one's contemplation of tarot cards.
Osho (the 'artist' formerly known as Baghwan Shree Rajneesh)

"Mind moves in a line, a simple straight line. It never moves
to the opposite---it denies the opposite. It believes in one,
and life believes in two."

Yeah, so?

Well, meditation is often described as a search for some sort
of perfect 'silence'.

To which Osho again properly notes---

"A dead man is absolutely silent. Nobody can disturb him,
his concentration is perfect. You cannot do anything to
distract his mind; his mind is absolutely fixed. Even if
the whole world goes mad all around, he will remain in
his concentration."

So, if we are not in search of a 'dead' silence, what
should we be looking for from meditation?

"Silence must happen while you are absolutely alive, vital,
bubbling with life and energy. Then silence is meaningful.
But then silence will have an altogether different
quality to it. It will not be dull. It will be alive."

So, what 'live silence' is to be gained from looking at
tarot cards?

First, we should recognize that merely staring obliviously
at the cards, hoping something spills into our brain from
the shapes and colors OR, on the contrary, hoping to use
the card as a harlequin monad, that will help us shut
out the noise of life, is only likely to move us into the
'dead' form of silence, since we are not really trying to
come to grips with the meaning of the card in any absolute
or even personal way, but are trying to manipulate it for
some external and, to my way of thinking, 'dead' application.

We should rather be interested in, as Osho says, making
the cards 'bubble' with life and energy.

Whose life and energy? Well, you think about it.

So, what I'm getting at here is that meditation first involves
a preparation and this is largely a mental exercise with
tarot. Fill your mind with as many facts (and thoughts and
feelings about the facts as you can)---in other words, learn
what the cards mean. In the beginning you will not know
much, but that's OK, the more you learn about tarot. the more
productive the meditation

When the preparation is done, then you will be ready to exercise
this knowledge in myriad forms of 'meditation', which, as
you can see, don't necessarily take any particular form or
function---life is a meditation in this view. However, if you
wish to formalize your experience, you can find many guides
to teaching you proper breathing and postures by looking to
books, newsgroups  and websites devoted to yoga.

Oh, and what is it you are supposed to be getting from this

A living experience of the cards.

If that seems vague, ask about it on alt.tarot.

Plenty of people will offer ideas on what that means.

11. How do I use a Tarot deck to play a game?

Many games have been invented to play with tarot or tarocchi.
Tarot cards were almost certainly created to play games,
not to read fortunes or to represent occult philosophies,
so it is with the games of tarot that one is really using
the deck in its oldest and (some would say) 'purest'

Numerous variations exist, mostly bridge-like games involving
trick-taking. See Michael Dummett's book, "The Game of
Tarot", for more explanations of this material than you
could probably ever care to hear.

Also, there are some tarot web sites that include different
versions of tarocchi rules.

12. What is the history of the Tarot?

The original FAQ answered this question---

"No-one knows the 'true' origin of the Tarot."

And could have added---"so everyone has just made it up as
suited their agendas."

And that would have pretty much answered the question.

As with most terse truths of tarot, saying 'No-one knows
the 'true' origin of the Tarot' is not entirely accurate.
It would be better to say that very few people are
acquainted with the history, such as we know it, of tarot.
It is true that no one can say with certainty where the
motivation came to create the first tarot deck although
one can arrive at a partial estimate by examining the
best evidence for that origin, the symbols on the cards.
From such an examination, historians of tarot (of
which there are only a few) have determined that tarot
arose in North Italy some time between 1425-1450. Its
symbolism is filled with ideas and persons that reflect
that North Italian birthplace. There is NO evidence that
tarot originated for any other purpose than as a gaming
device. On the other hand, it is fair to say that no one
can reasonably speculate about what the people who used
tarot in the beginning (or prior to 1781) either thought
about it, nor how they may have used it, in addition to
gaming. As some people have pointed out, gaming is itself
an 'imperfect' form of divination, and it is not difficult
to imagine fortune-telling growing as a practice with the
cards fairly easily and early. However, there is no
written record to support that belief.

The original FAQ continues---

"The most common myth is that it was brought to Europe by
the Gypsies---but this myth comes from the fact that very
early occultists who used the Tarot fancied that it came
from Egypt. They were as wrong about that as they were
about the homeland of the Gypsies."

And, all kinds of legends, like the Gypsy myth, have developed
to explain all kinds of things about tarot that have no
easy or obvious explanation---like the fact that it has
22 trumps. Why 22?

Is the number arbitrary? Or does it mean that there is
some mystical connection between tarot and other systems
containing 22 elements, like kabbala?

If you refer to the timeline (see answer to question 3)
you will see that MANY of the tarot legends or traditions
developed only recently, and in response to the growth of
a general popular interest in tarot as an oracular, instead
of a gaming, device. One of the first questions a novice
will ask is 'where did tarot come from' and most writers
don't feel comfortable addressing a first question in
a book with 'beats me'. So, many mythologies, appropriate
to certain schools of occultism or politics, have been
created to deal with the annoying lack of knowledge possessed
by most tarot-book writers.

In short, in the absence of any real answers about tarot,
they tend to make them up. This has been a time-honored
tradition in tarot since 1781, when Court de Gebelin first
looked down at tarot cards and, in a revelation similar
(in arrogance and audacity) to that of Joseph Campbell
almost 200 years later, immediately intuited (manufactured?)
that the cards were the lost leaves of the Egyptian
'Book of Thoth', containing the secret and 'universal'
wisdom of the ages and weren't we ever lucky HE saw it.

Almost everyone since 1781 has based at least some part of
their tarot shtik on de Gebelin's 'work'. And, in all
fairness to him, one needs to explore his ideas in context
to the time and place in which they developed. Revolutionary
France was a tolerant place for kooks of all sorts
(political and occult---one might almost call the attitude
at that time, 'postmodern').

13. What are the symbolic 'roots' of tarot?

In the original FAQ this question asked---

'Is the Tarot related to Kabbala?'

To which we answer---

Yes. But a better question is to ask 'was it always so?'

And, again, no one knows the answer to that with certainty.

However, the question about the proper place of kabbala in
tarot drops us nicely into the middle of the larger question
about what the symbolic roots of tarot REALLY are. It may be
instructive, before looking at possible answers to the larger
question to answer the smaller one---

Is the Tarot related to Kabbala?

The first thing we notice, as have so many before us,
including, obviously, the people who first publicly claimed a
tarot-kabbala link, is the 'happy accident' of the deck
having 22 trumps, which people have tried bravely over the
years to hammer and squeeze into some 'true' relationship
to the 22 Hebrew letters (which are the basis of kabbalistic
doctrine). However, what is important to us is that the
occult tarot, of which the Waite deck is the most influential,
DOES relate kabbala in a critically important correspondence
to tarot symbolism.

While early occult commentators hinted at the link
between tarot and kabbala, Eliphas Levi (French 19th-century
occultist) is the person principally responsible for making
this link stick as the primary symbolic model by which
modern tarot would be interpreted and developed. His
ideas, whether historically justified or not (he assumed
the kabbalistic link was there from the 'beginning'),
have formed the basis of some of the most complex, and,
in many places, most interesting, speculations about
the meaning of tarot symbolism. Levi believed, as have
most of the occultists, before and after him, that tarot
could not have been designed merely as a game, but
that its true purpose must have been wisely hidden in
that form by those who wished to do a sort of millennial
knowledge transfer through, in essence, sewing the pearls
of wisdom they possessed into the seams of a vulgar
jacket called 'tarot'.

That such a marvelous ruse, if found to be true, would
represent one of the colossal historical discoveries ever,
goes without saying. That there is NO (documentary) evidence
whatsoever to support the assertion that any such ruse
occurred, may require saying, but say it we must. Levi,
while creating a wonderful and interesting system by which
to interpret tarot, did almost certainly CREATE it, and
not DISCOVER it.

So, in tarot, a symbolic 'root' is not always what it
appears. It may have gone through many graftings before
ending up in the form we may see in any particular deck,
and yet, typically, the promoter of this or that 'root'
ideology will declare to us that the root is SO ancient
it might be dangerous to behold (mental crypt bacteria?)
if it were not for their 'expert' guidance in revealing
the thing to readers 'just so'.

In the midst of all the dissembling about roots one also
will encounter a sentiment endorsed by certain tarot
political parties that we MUST NOT, CAN NOT, AND WILL
NOT accept any theory, no matter how well documented,
that seeks to fix the origin of tarot symbolism into
any particular interpretation. Many people have built
careers by maximizing the 'mystery' of tarot and they
will not, by the gods, have anyone demystifying a vein
that has not run out.

All this is to say that when you start messing with the
politics of tarot, you can rapidly be declared a heretic
by all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. At least
they can't burn you at the stake (so far).

If you really want a good start on learning about the
symbolic roots of tarot, get 'The Tarot Cards Painted by
Bonifacio Bembo', by Gertrude Moakley. I'm not claiming
Moakley's theory is entirely correct, but she has shown
the 'way' to those who wonder if tarot symbolism can be
deciphered without recourse to newage nonsense.

Answer, yes it can.

14. How is the Tarot related to other forms of divination?

If one buys into the theory that tarot is supposed to be
some sort of magical/mystical encyclopedia, then it would
certainly have the potential of being related to just about
any other form of divination one could think of.

There is an interesting theory, one discussed by Gertrude
Moakley,that tarot may have been originally derived as a
gaming replacement for dice. If that's true, then it is
reasonable that, as in dice, tarot may have been used as
a means of divination quite early, but again, there is no
written documentation to support that theory.

There are some specific similarities between tarot and
astrology, particularly in the way some systems of tarot
divination are performed. Also, given a certain creativity
in the formulation of layouts, tarot can be made to simulate
the superficial structures of all kinds of other systems.
For example, one of the most popular reading layouts is
the Astrological or Zodiac spread, where each position
represents either a sign of the zodiac or a house of a

15. Is there a Tarot reading program for IBM/Mac/Unix/Whatever?


As pointed out in the last revision of the original FAQ,
this subject is so large that a separate FAQ could and should
be written about it.

One question that frequently comes up concerning computer
tarot is---does it 'really' work?

The answer is no more approachable than is the similar
question for tarot in general. People who tend to distrust
computers and technology in general seem to think that only
a human-spirit link can power the tarot (reading) mechanism.
On the other hand, some computer programmers, especially
ones who pain themselves about the creation of some 'perfect'
randomizing agent (algorithm), also refuse to believe
that a computer generated reading could be as 'natural'
as that conducted by a human. This latter concern raises
an interesting philosophical point---one that has been
discussed occasionally on alt.tarot---is the randomization
of the cards what we are actually trying to achieve by

16. What is alt.tarot?

It's a USENet newsgroup devoted to the discussion (or fight)
of tarot. More sites carry this group all the time. If you
don't get alt.tarot, then ask your news administrator to
carry it for you.

17. What are the 'rules' of alt.tarot?

There are no rules.

There are some obvious concerns and considerations that will
keep you' out of trouble' (if that's a concern to you).

Feel free to post whatever relevant thing you have to say
about the tarot. However, not all posts about all topics
will be received warmly by any or most other posters.

If you are looking for a place to 'share' newage ideas
and experiences, there are many 'nicer' places to go to
do this than alt.tarot, where the nonsense tolerance can
be VERY low. On the other hand, if you want to learn
about tarot, there is no better place to go than alt.tarot.
But remember, no one owes you the education. Some of
the most knowledgeable tarot people in the world write
on alt.tarot. Most of them are more than happy to field
your questions. Some of them are, however, a little
bit 'difficult' to deal with, and some of them are
self-admitted curmudgeons.

In the same way, however, no matter how silly other
people may think your ideas or questions are, you are
almost certain to find other people on alt.tarot who will
think that they are interesting and will want to talk to
you about them.

So, as with most things in life, you get nowhere on alt.tarot
if you don't take a chance.

18. What books might I read if I wanted to learn more about

Someone once asked me what they should read to learn tarot.

I said---'everything'.

In a way that includes the many things that are not right
too. To learn by negative example is still to learn.
However, since I like Thoth, and think it is still the most
interesting tarot deck there is, I have to recommend first
and foremost---

1. The Book of Thoth, by Aleister Crowley

Contrary to what some people have suggested you do not
need any background in AC's writings to take on this book.
In many ways his personal views on the cards are not even
the point here (the book is a very good general introduction
to occult tarot) and he supplies you with all the additional
references re: his writings and 'Thelemic' interpretations
to go do further study---this is not however true of much
of the mythological material he cites and that's part of
the reason many people are intimidated by what they read
in Thoth. If you arm yourself with a good mythological
encyclopedia or guidebook you can make out just fine. If
you have the Thoth deck there is no substitute for this book.

2. The Encyclopedia of Tarot, in 3 volumes,
by Stuart Kaplan

Stuart is an OK historian and not in any obvious way an
occultist (read Dummett and Moakley for historical
insights---Crowley, Waite and Case for the occult stuff),
but he is a great collector and presenter and provides
more decks per volume to look at and compare than anyone.
If you are taking this subject seriously at all you MUST
have these books.

3. The Game of Tarot, by Michael Dummett

This book is like the anti-Kaplan encyclopedia of tarot.
He presents a very hard-factual case for tarot having been 
nothing more than a game in the beginning and for some time 
after its creation. His only real shortcoming is his rather 
rigid take on the value of occult contributions to tarot 
symbolism and interpretation. However, it's always useful 
to evaluate the arguments of the 'other side'. 

Note: many of the arguments against 'occult tarot' 
presented in  'The Game of Tarot' have been repeated 
and expanded upon in Dummett's new book 'A Wicked Pack
of Cards', which is in no way as useful or interesting
a work as is 'The Game of Tarot'. However, 'The Game
of Tarot' is no longer in print, and very few old copies
of it are readily available SO you may wish to look
up 'A Wicked Pack of Cards' to get a very one-sided and
hostile view of the history of occult tarot.

4. The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo,
by Gertrude Moakley

This is like the Bible for the historical perspective on tarot.
It promotes a broad-based, though not always clean theory,
about the true origins of tarot imagery that simply erases
any possibility tarot came from anywhere other than the
complex culture of Renaissance North Italy. The book, unlike
so many tarot books, is full of references and notes andtons
of things to get you thinking (not just feeling) about what
is going on in tarot symbology. Gertrude is not as antagonistic
toward occult tarot as is her 'student', Dummett, and she even
wrote a forward for one edition of Waite's 'Pictorial Key'.

5. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by A E Waite

For a long time I truly hated this book, even though it was
the first tarot book I ever read. It is so heavily veiled
that it is nearly useless to a novice---in fact, it is a far
more useless book to a novice than is Book of Thoth.
Nevertheless, a novice SHOULD read the book to get a taste
of the historical flavor of occult tarot, and also of the
general nastiness that has always surrounded the debate
over what is 'true' about tarot. And, for a student that
has learned something about Christian and Masonic and
Golden Dawn symbolism through friendlier sources, suddenly
the Waite deck and the book will start to unveil itself in
many interesting and surprising ways. Waite also includes a
good bibliography describing HIS sources, most of which will
be unavailable to most of you, but some (particularly the
works of Eliphas Levi), you should eventually find and read.

6. The Qabbalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang

I include this mainly because it is a good introduction to
the many original sources one should pursue when studying
the Hermetic and Kabbalistic influences on tarot. However,
the little card descriptions and analyses are not really
useful at all unless you are completely ignorant of the
subject (which some of you are). The general warning provided
at the end of this list is particularly applicable to
this book.

7. The Tarot:History, Mystery and Lore, by Cynthia Giles

I have many reservations about this book, but it does provide
a concise introduction to the subject, although the
back part of the book where she sinks into Jungian and
pseudo-scientific justifications and explanations for
tarot is entirely silly and can be beneficially avoided
(although, if you want a good concise introduction to the
kind of inane mumbo-jumbo that occurs in most modern
tarot books you could read this stuff and avoid everything
else). She also has a detailed review of many other tarot

8. The Tarot, A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages,
by Paul Foster Case

This book should probably be read along with Waite's
'Pictorial Key', for comparison and contrast. Case based
his own deck, and many of his tarot ideas, on those of Waite,
but he often criticizes 'Ed' for being too quick on the
'blind' (that is, too ready to conceal the 'pearls' from the
'swine'), and then, presumably, P.F. will kindly turn about
and reveal that pearl to us hungry pigs---except, it does
not always quite work out like that. Case will tell you much
more than Waite, he will do it more clearly (like who wouldn't)
than Waite, but you should recall that Case IS AN OCCULTIST,
and he does suffer from the occultist disease---meaning he
loves to occult things. However, I often find myself agreeing
with the tarot insights of Paul Foster Case, even though he
is a bit too 'newagey' for my blood. He wrote another book,
'Book of Tokens' , which is a series of kabbalistic tarot
'revelations', offered in verse form, complete with commentaries.
From a mnemonic standpoint, I suppose these poetic devices
are a good way to learn some of the kabbalistic correspondences,
and the commentary sometimes offers some good ideas.

9. The Tarot of the Bohemians, by Papus

You want to read a book that makes A.E. Waite look clear
and concise, read this.

Actually, this book is required reading from an historical
perspective---Papus was the last 'great link' in the chain
of French occult tarot evolution that had begun with Court
de Gebelin. Papus was a student of Levi, a great influence
on Waite, and this book includes a lot of bits and pieces
of tarot lore and ideas you will probably be unable to find
anywhere else. It also has a lot of tedious drivel. However,
his justification for including a fortune-telling section
is alone worth the price of the book.

Here's a sample of his 'progressive' reasoning---

"Still, since it is customary for the Tarot to be used for
'fortune-telling', we have touched upon this subject,
and rendered it as attractive as possible. We have tried to
simplify the systems used, so that a woman of even little
intelligence can easily and with little exercise of memory
amuse herself with this art."

A final note on all this bookreading stuff---


There, you've been warned.

End of FAQ

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