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Frequently Asked Questions about Tarot and alt.tarot

             1996-1998 by Jess Karlin, all rights reserved
         Frequently Asked Questions about Tarot and alt.tarot
                              version 2.3
   Written by Jess Karlin, based on the original tarot-faq by Mark
   First release: 22 October 1993
   Last revision: 1 January 1998
   Posted monthly to alt.tarot, alt.divination, alt.magick, and
   Send comments, suggestions, additions, etc. to:
   Posted responses will be ignored by the author.
   This document is copyrighted, the author reserves all rights .
   However, copying of this document for private use is permitted.
   Non-commercial distribution of this entire document, with full
   author attribution and copyright notice, is allowed. Any
   commercial use of this document, or any portion of this document,
   by anyone other than the author, is strictly forbidden.
   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. Can I read my own cards?
   10. What's the difference between 'reversals' and 'dignities'?
   11. How do I use a Tarot deck for meditation?
   12. How do I use a Tarot deck to play a game?
   13. What is the history of the Tarot?
   14. What are the symbolic 'roots' of tarot?
   15. How is Tarot related to other forms of divination?
   16. What about computer tarot programs?
   17. What about those extra 'Magi' in the Thoth Deck?
   18. What is alt.tarot?
   19. What are the 'rules' of alt.tarot?
   20. 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' [note: the term 'court card' possibly comes from a
   corruption of 'coat card', 'coat' having once been used to refer
   to something, such as one's apparel, which would distinguish
   one's class or profession].
   The court cards go by various naming conventions but---
   ---is a fairly standard description. One notices that this
   sequence is identical to that encountered in the 52-card pack of
   normal playing cards (the 'Page' being the 'Jack'), with the
   addition of the 'Knight' in tarot.
   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 (particularly that of North
   Italy). The cards are numbered from 0-Fool, to 21-World (or
   Universe) as follows---
   0. Fool [the Fool will sometimes be found stuck between 20 & 21]
   I. Magus (or Magician)
   II. High Priestess
   III. Empress
   IV. Emperor
   V. Hierophant
   VI. Lovers
   VII. Chariot
   VIII. *)(&)*&&^%$^$#%$%
   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 'VIII' is that no one can decide, with ultimate
   authority, what it's supposed to be. Some people say 'VIII'
   should be 'Strength' while others say 'Justice' (and thus these
   two cards are locked in a struggle over the number placements
   'VIII' and 'XI'). 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 IV-Emperor (yes, we skipped that problem) and
   XVII-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 VIII-XI
   controversy. Based on purely astrological considerations the
   better choice seems to be Strength in 'VIII' and Justice in 'XI'.
   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---
   VIII. Strength (or Justice)---[note: also, in Thoth-influenced
   decks these cards will be titled 'Lust' or 'Adjustment'
   IX. Hermit
   X. Wheel of Fortune---[no, there is no Vanna White turning
   XI. Justice (or Strength)---[again, in Thoth 'Justice' is called
   XII. Hanged Man
   XIII. Death---[the one tarot card almost everyone has seen.]
   XIV. Temperance---in Thoth this is called 'Art', as in
   'alchemical' arts
   XV. Devil
   XVI. Tower
   XVII. Star
   XVIII. Moon
   XIX. Sun
   XX. Judgment---as in the 'Last Judgment', in Thoth it is called
   XXI. 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. [One theory suggests that since there is a river in N.
   Italy called the 'Taro', and since a famous battle was fought
   there in the late-15th century between French and Italian troops,
   it's possible that this engagement, and its aftermath, exposed
   the French to tarocchi-playing Italians, and the French, being
   confused about the terms 'tarocchi' and 'taro', adopted the name
   of the river for the 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
   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). A
   couple of years ago, when this text was first written, I noted
   that "There is little evidence that tarot symbolism, during this
   period, meant much of anything to anyone beyond their surface
   function as playing-card illustrations." The evidence has
   increased a bit, with the discovery of some new documents which
   suggest speculation about the meaning of tarot symbolism began
   quite early (though whether it continued in any consistent,
   publicly-discussed arena, we still don't know). Also, it appear
   that decades BEFORE Court de Gebelin wrote his ground-breaking
   occult essay on tarot ('Du Jeu des Tarots' in 1781), people WERE
   using tarot cards for divination (in Italy), so, contrary to what
   had been the 'scholarly' view (which was that the French
   occultists began the tradition of tarot divination), it now
   appears that fortune-telling with tarot and with playing-cards in
   general may have been more wide-spread and going on for much
   longer than was previously believed (again, 'believed' by
   scholars, MANY 'enthusiasts' will tell you that tarot was created
   by Atlanteans, and so has a quite 'ancient' history).
   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---publishing 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 (more properly, the
   Waite-Smith deck, it was designed by A. E. Waite and painted by
   Pamela Colman Smith), 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 AND tarot is NOW
   spreading around the world, so sales of the decks are undoubtedly
   at a peak previously unknown since the creation of tarot, 550
   years ago.
   However, the story does not happily end there for then we move
   into our last period---
   5. Post-modern (1983-Apocalypse)---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 multi-cultural, 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
   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
   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 ten 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
   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.
   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 application,
   *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
   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
   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
   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
   self-confidence, 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.
   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 layout.)
   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 situation)
   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
   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 readings?
   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, although, by now, there
   are many variations on that theme, which is, along with its
   variations, arbitrary and not very 'fulfilling' as a method of
   adding depth to a reading. But IT IS the method A.E. Waite stuck
   in his 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
   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 for 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. Can I read my own cards?
   Simple answer: YES!
   Ignore people who tell you that you'll be too prejudiced to read
   clearly, or that the 'energies' won't be right or whatever the
   excuse is supposed to be. You CAN read cards for yourself.
   Of course, you're advised to READ the cards, and not merely force
   them to say what you want (but that advice applies regardless of
   whether you are reading for yourself or someone else).
   10. What's the difference between 'reversals' and 'dignities'?
   When you 'reverse' a card, you are attempting to supply your deck
   with 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:
   11. 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
   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 becomes.
   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.
   12. 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' application.
   Numerous variations exist, mostly bridge-like games involving
   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.
   13. 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
   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
   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').
   14. 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
   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
   Answer, yes it can.
   15. 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 horoscope.
   16. 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 shuffling?
   17. What about those extra 'Magi' in the Thoth Deck?
   What about those extra 'Magi' cards in the Thoth deck? We are
   including this seemingly narrow (single-deck) question and answer
   simply because SO many people ask about it and because another
   one of those post-modern, post-intellectual 'traditions' has
   developed about 'what they mean', which we will take the
   opportunity here to address.
   First, you need to understand that tarot cards are printed in
   sheets of 80 cards---SO, you always will have two extra cards in
   a typical 78-card printing. People put all kinds of things on
   those extra cards, ads, reading instructions, magical emblems,
   you name it. One of the things you can do with the extra cards is
   to print---extra tarot cards.
   Now, it's also necessary to understand that Aleister Crowley had
   Frieda Harris paint several versions of the Magus, before he
   settled on the final one (which is the one illustrated in 'Book
   of Thoth', the guidebook for the deck). You might note that in
   'Book of Thoth' Crowley does not talk about THREE Magus cards,
   but only one.
   However, when it came time for A. G. Mueller, the Swiss company
   that prints one of the versions of the Thoth deck (U. S. Games is
   the other), to print the two 'extra' cards, they decided to
   include these 'draft' magi in the printing. So, all 'Swiss decks'
   have two extra Magi.
   Over time, because people were basically ignorant of these facts,
   and given the natural newage tendency to 'make it up' first, and
   ask questions---well---never, people have created extraordinary
   'theories' about the presence and significance of these extra
   cards and MANY people have ignorantly assumed that they were
   intended to be used in the deck and that Aleister Crowley
   designed it that way. He didn't.
   So, just pull out you extra Magi, admire their artwork, note how
   they represent a clear evolution in the development of the
   imagery, but realize that they are provided as a kind of 'gift',
   or 'extra', and are not intended to be used in the deck.
   Of course, if your interest in tarot is to assist you in breaking
   all the rules, then you'll certainly WANT to use these extra
   Magi, and be sure to make up some baseless theory about why
   Crowley intended the deck to have three Magi. Of course, if you
   post your creation on alt.tarot, in anything other than an
   attempt at jest, you are warned to expect some severe
   'correction' (some of you may be looking for that too---but in
   that case you might try alt.spanking or something).
   [NOTE---subsequent to the writing of this, ANOTHER newage
   tradition, caused by this same kind of problem (ignorance about
   the nature of 'extra' cards), was brought to our attention
   concerning the US Games version of Thoth, wherein one receives
   the Unicursal Hexagram card (spooky!!), and a blank card as the
   'extras'. Some people apparently have decided that THESE cards
   also were intended for use with the deck. In this case they may
   have been aided in their confusion by US Games, which even
   includes in its sales catalog a note about the '80-card Thoth
   deck'. This phenomenon is just one more example of how complete
   ignorance is translated into a postmodern 'wisdom tradition'
   about which people crave 'answers'. Certainly, the pop tarot book
   writers are happy to keep supplying those answers as long as
   people keep asking these really dumb questions.]
   18. 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.
   19. 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. 'Relevant' means about the topic---'tarot'. 'Relevant'
   does NOT mean a daily or hourly (or even weekly) dose of
   advertising about some tarot product or service.
   NOTICE: 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
   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.
   20. 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
   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 out of print and pretty hard to find. It is,
   however, the most substantial and detailed study of the history
   of tarot ever written. Since Dummett was, and IS, convinced that
   'TRUE' tarot is only the gaming version which preceded the
   'occult revolution' of 1781, and is therefore zealous in
   attacking the historical claims and merits of occult tarot, he
   should be read with a number of grains of salt handy (unless you
   really do ONLY wish to play card games with your tarot deck).
   While you will learn everything you could possibly EVER wish to
   know about how to play card GAMES with tarot, and no small amount
   about the historical arguments which have fascinated tarot nerds
   (these are the people who study tarot purely out of a scholarly
   interest in its origins and development), you'll also learn that
   virtually all of the people who invented the modern version of
   tarot were frauds and kooks. While that is unquestionably true in
   some cases, the question religiously begged by Dummett is whether
   this fact kept occult tarot from ending up a phenomenon worthy of
   serious and balanced study---he simply dismisses that possibility
   and with it, any possibility that most of the people presently
   interested in tarot, would give a damn about reading his book.
   And that's too bad, because there is much historical information
   in it that is worth reading. [NOTE: In an effort to popularize
   his doctrine of the 'evils' of occult tarot, Dr. Dummett teamed
   up with a couple of other fellows (Ronald Decker and Thierry
   DePaulis) and produced in 1996, A Wicked Pack of Cards, which was
   a focused study on the origins of occult tarot. Dummett's narrow
   vision of the value of occult tarot, which harms the otherwise
   excellent, The Game of Tarot, is promoted as a kind of sideshow
   act in the 'pop' presentation of A Wicked Pack of Cards. The
   latter book will be a dull read, at best, to most people, and
   will be a disappointment to anyone looking for a balanced history
   of occult tarot.]
   4. The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo, by Gertrude
   Back in the 1950s Moakley was a librarian at the New York Public
   Library. She decided to use the subject of tarot as a test to see
   how useful and efficient the library might be to a prospective
   researcher. In the course of the test she came to the realization
   that very little serious work then existed exploring the
   historical origins of tarot cards. The product of her continued
   work into these origins became this important (but seldom-read)
   book. Moakley put forward a theory concerning the development of
   the symbolism of early tarot that matched tarot symbols to
   'players' in the dramatic carnivals which preceded the observance
   of Lent every year. Her theory, while based mostly in her
   imagination of how such an event would have yielded the
   characters on tarot cards, nevertheless pointed to the generally
   ignored (in 'pop' tarot books) influence upon early tarot of
   Renaissance Italian cultural themes. While some of her theory
   tends to beg questions of logic and coherence, the book is well
   worth reading for the questions it raised in respect to what the
   symbolism of early tarot REALLY meant to the people who created
   the first cards.
   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 books.
   8. The Tarot, A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, by Paul Foster
   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
   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
   10. Tarot Symbolism, by Robert V. O' Neill
   O'Neill's book is a quite useful overview of the myriad ideas and
   cultural influences which affected the creation and selection of
   the symbols used in the first tarocchi decks. His interest is in
   providing an alternative view to Dummett's anti-ideological 'it's
   only a card-game' analysis while at the same time he has little
   interest in (at least in this book) reviewing the validity or
   value of the later occultist speculations about tarot. This book
   is NOT likely going to interest the casual reader, nor especially
   those whose interests are embedded in pomo-isms of the newage,
   but for serious students of tarot (or those who would like to
   become one of those) Tarot Symbolism is an important read,
   providing a nice balance against Dummett's rather narrow take on
   the significance of early tarot history.
   Tarot Symbolism is not easy to find (it's been out of print for
   years now)---however, it's author is available (via e-mail
   anyway), and if you wish to purchase a copy of his book, write to
   Dr. O'Neill at
   A final note on all this bookreading stuff---
   There, you've been warned.
   End of FAQ
                               1 9 9 9 9
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