Choosing Your Tarot
Designed to help you become proficient in reading the tarot without consulting a reference book, this course is excellent for both beginners and professionals. Learn how to connect the meanings of numerous cards and symbols to the individual you are reading for (querent – the one who seeks).
You must provide your own tarot deck however, all textbooks and materials for any tarot deck are provided in the online course materials. In addition, there is extensive help for selecting a tarot deck and numerous resources for finding one inexpensively.
Please note that occasionally we will find a good deal on a suitable (punny) deck and offer it to students only at cost and with free shipping.
This course is an overall approach to the Tarot that will enable you to create your own interpretations and reading style. As a refresher course, or as an introductory course, the lessons here will assist you in developing a deeper understanding of the tarot. The primary goal of this course is to enable you to be a proficient, accurate, book-free, professional-style tarot reader who uses intuitive and traditional interpretations to create a complete and illuminating reading.
This course is an overview of the standard historical tarot. There are many contemporary decks available that do not completely follow the traditional tarot imagery and deck design. Although it is possible to use this type of deck, it will make learning through this course a slightly greater challenge.
We feel that it is important to learn the basics and historical symbolism of the standard tarot, and then move to the many new interpretations of tarot designs if desired. In this way, the deviations from the “standard” decks have more meaning and it is possible to form a deeper understanding of them. For example, some decks such as the Wonderland Tarot (like Alice in Wonderland) contain many visual puns that could only be understood if you already have knowledge of the classic tarot. However, we also believe that it is equally important to follow what you feel is best. If you are drawn to a particular tarot deck and can only afford to acquire a single deck, get what you feel comfortable with!
We recommend that you try to use a standard 78 card deck which contains scenes on the minor arcana similar to those originally set forth by in the work of Pamela Coleman Smith. The symbolism used in the standard tarot will be referred to in the lessons, and if your cards deviate greatly it will be a bit more difficult to follow along. If you decide to use a tarot type variation because you are drawn to it, please feel free to discuss any confusion you may have when applying the lessons to your tarot deck. Participation in this course’s forum counts towards your grade.
This chart is a very general indicator of decks that are easier to use for these lessons vs. contemporary cards which will be more challenging. If you are going to purchase a deck specifically for this course, it is recommended that you select one from the column on the left. If you already have a deck, see if it is somewhere on the chart so you know what you are in for. Again, let your instincts guide you first. If your current deck is not listed, see the chart below this one.
Tarot of the Old Path (Old Religion oriented, by Howard Rodway)
Tarot of the Witches (Used in James Bond movie, by Fergus Hall)
Witches Tarot (Ellen Cannon Reed)
Tarot of the Spirit
Tarot of a Moon Garden
Starter Tarot (can be restrictive)
Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg
|Motherpeace (somewhat close to tarot)|
Celtic Tree Oracle
Faery Wicca (close to tarot)
Lakota Sweat Lodge
Enchanted Tarot (close to tarot)
Inner Child (somewhat close to tarot)
Shakespearean (close to tarot)
Voice from the Earth
Medicine Woman (close to tarot)
Stairs of Gold (historical tarot, but no scenes on some minor arcana cards)
If your cards are not listed above, don’t fret! Use the list below to compare your cards to the references used in these lessons.
|Card Number||Common Card Name||Primary Symbols to Look For|
|0 or 22/XXII||The Fool||Person near a cliff, animal at heel (usually white)|
|1/I||The Magician||Indication of “as above so below” such as a figure pointing to each. Symbols of the 4 suits such as cup, wand, pentacle, sword.|
|2/II||The High Priestess||Two contrasting colors in background, one on each side of card (such as a black pillar and a white pillar) scroll or book in hand of figure|
|3/III||The Empress||Figure surrounded by symbols of fertility such as grains, rabbits, fields, pregnancy, etc.|
|4/IV||The Emperor||Symbols of authority or organization, an orb or scepter in hand of figure, wreath of laurel, rams heads, etc.|
|5/V||The Hierophant, The Priest, or The Pope||Signs of spiritual authority, morals etc such as keys, crowns, kneeling figures, etc.|
|6/VI||The Lovers||Two figures, sometimes a winged creature above them|
|7/VII||The Chariot||Symbols of movement or navigation such as stars, a chariot-often with one black horse and one white horse or other creature drawing it.|
|Justice or Strength||Some decks number Justice as 11/XI and Strength as 8/VIII, others use Strength as 11/XI and Justice as 8/VIII|
Strength: Symbols such as a lion, muscles, a figure with a confident appearance
Justice: Scales of justice, pillars of strength, sword of enforcement, crown of authority
|9/IX||The Hermit||Lamp of illumination, a lone figure, an empty landscape|
|10/X||Wheel of Fortune||lion, bull, Anubis, eagle, angel, snake, sphinx, books, and obviously a wheel (sometimes with astrological or other symbols) Vanna White, hehe|
|11/XI||Strength or Justice||See number 8/VIII|
|12/XII||The Hanged Man||Symbols of suspension and/or initiation such as a figure hanging upside down, often with left leg bent and hands behind back, symbols of a tree|
|13/XIII||Death||Symbols of cycles or passing, a scythe, prone bodies, flag with white rose, mysterious figure, sunset, bundled grain in fields|
|14/XIV||Temperance||Bright figure sometimes winged, water may be represented|
|15/XV||The Devil||Signs of lust or being trapped in the material world, chained figures below a beast, fire, etc.|
|16/XVI||The Tower||A tower or other structure being blasted or crumbling|
|17/XVII||The Star||Stars, water, duality such as water in each hand of a figure or a figure with one foot in water the other on land|
|18/XVIII||The Moon||The moon, two towers, two dogs, a lobster/crab/spider, a body of water|
|19/XIX||The Sun||The sun, a son or baby on horse, sunflowers, etc.|
|20/XX||Judgment||Apocalyptic scenes with open graves and/or angels and/or reunited families, etc.|
|21/XXI||The World||a circle surrounded by symbols, usually a bull, lion, eagle, and man, a figure within the circle holding two wands|
The Minor Arcana Cards can be compared easily by checking just a few of them. Remove all the cards numbered “five” from your deck and compare them to this list.
|Cups, Hearts, Vessels, Cauldrons|
|A figure looking down, three cups tipped over, two left standing or being offered to the figure who does not see them.|
|Pentacles, Disks, Coins, Diamonds|
|Two figures exposed to the elements, wearing tattered clothing or homeless, often outside a secure structure such as a bank, church or home.|
|Wands, Rods, Staves, Staffs, Sticks, Clubs, etc.||A battle, sticks everywhere, sometimes fighters are smiling|
|Swords, Spades, Athames, Knives, etc.||A proud figure stands in the foreground, holding a sword(s) while two figures in the background conspire.|
The Next Step
Now that you have identified what type of deck you are using, take a look at them! Spread them all out on the floor and look at each one. How do they make you feel? What are the dominant colors? How do they smell?
Explore your cards, even if you’ve had them for a while, look at them again with ‘new eyes’ as if you’ve never seen them before. Sort them into five stacks, one with the major arcana and one each of the four suits of the minor arcana.
What is an Arcana?
Arcana means secret, such as mysterious knowledge or language. Arcana means information accessible only by an initiate. The tarot is divided into two arcanum, the major and the minor.
The Major Arcana
A standard 78 card tarot deck contains 22 major arcana cards. These titles are listed in the second table (Table B) on this page. The major arcana addresses what we will term here as ‘big stuff’ in people’s lives. These influences are portrayed in the cards as broad, and sometimes overly general influences such as hope, despair, love, destruction, etc. The minor arcana will help to add details to these specifics, as will your intuition and other factors.
The Minor Arcana
A standard 78 card tarot deck contains 56 minor arcana cards. They are divided into 4 suits which vary among the many decks available. These suits can be seen in the left column of the third table on this page (Table C). There are fourteen cards in each suit. These are numbered ace through ten, page, knight, queen, and king. The titles of the trump cards do not always correspond to royalty. Some decks use different titles such as apprentice, shaman, child, etc. in place of page, knight, queen, and king. The minor arcana provide details about more specific circumstances in people’s lives.
Continuing to Say Hello to Your Cards . . .
Look at each of the five stacks of cards you made. Spread out all of the cards in a single suit and look for a dominant theme. When you look at the cup cards, do you notice a dominant theme of emotions? Love, family situations, pride? When you look at the swords do you notice a dominant theme of strife or conflicts?
Get a notebook, book of shadows, journal, or use a text app on your device to write a few notes about the dominant themes you see in each of the four suits of the minor arcana. Then begin your lessons!
*Thoth Tarot Trivia
This is just a quick addendum regarding the pronunciation of this tarot deck’s name. I was asked about how to pronounce Thoth in the title of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck last week while doing tarot readings at The Parlour in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In the late 1990s, I had done extensive research on the subject and had found that the pronunciation is rather ambiguous, much like Crowley’s name itself (being pronounced with either a long or short O, like oh/ow). Still, we are always learning so I revisited my research on the subject as it has been over 20 years.
The results? The pronunciation has only grown more ambiguous over the past two decades, and at the same time, individuals have become more adamant about their own pronunciation being the correct one! So now there is an even wider variety of pronunciations as listed below from most common to least:
Toth (rhymes with cloth) – by far the most common and popular
Thohth (like both)
Thahth (rhymes with cough)
Tay-hoh-tay or Teh-hoh-tay (somewhat Egyptian)
Tot (like tater-tot)