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The Tarot is a collection of cards, whose highly symbolic pictures tell a story.  In fact, the first 22 cards of the Tarot, referred to as the “Trumps” or Major Arcana, constitute The Fool’s Journey -- a profound, philosophical tale, a journey available to everyone.   

The existence of the Tarot can be traced back for at least five hundred years, and its evolution over the intervening time since then is a study itself in the changing fortunes of the world.  While the origins of the Tarot are shrouded in mystery, the History of Tarot is more than interesting; it’s enlightening about the nature of our changing society.  

The Tarot is traditionally thought of as a means of predicting the future -- an occult art.  In reality, it is far more of a technique whereby a person communicates with their subconscious, such that the conscious and subconscious minds can begin collaborating in writing the book of their future.  The Tarot does not assume predestination, but rather represents a technique for making free will choices by considering the ramifications in which each choice might result.  It’s getting into touch with subconscious or unconscious urges and paradigms, which are affecting a person’s life without their being aware.  Tarot thus comes more under the category of psychological processing than fortune telling.  

The philosophy and symbolism of the many, varied pictures of the Tarot deck can act as a very personal means of communication.  And with the availability of a wide variety of different decks -- each with its own unique designs (but all containing much of the same symbolism for each of the respective cards) -- choosing a deck (or being gifted with a deck, the traditional, preferred means of obtaining one) becomes a very personal action.  Once obtained, the deck and person continue to manifest a strong, personal relationship.  

Modern Tarot decks typically consist of seventy eight cards, divided into two sections:  The Major Arcana and the Minor (or “lesser”) Arcana. 

The Minor Arcana is from whence derives today’s playing card deck (the one for use in bridge, gin, canasta, poker, etceteras).  But the differences in the Tarot and ordinary playing cards are very substantial and very significant.   

Ordinary playing cards, for example, consist of four suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs), each of which in turn includes an Ace, cards two though ten, a Jack, Queen, and King.  Each of these cards looks the same, whether played right side up or reversed.  The Tarot deck, on the other hand, has a very specific picture and symbolism for each and every card, and playing a card upside down is construed to have a very different interpretation from playing the card right side up.  The Tarot deck then, contains a great deal more information than is available from an ordinary playing card deck.  

Another highly significant difference between the Tarot and ordinary playing cards is the fact that a Tarot deck consist of 56 cards, and the ordinary playing deck only 52.  What is missing are four cards (one of each suit) representing the “Princess” of the royal family.  There are, for example, a King, Queen, and Jack in each playing card deck, but no “Jill”.  This deletion is likely the result of a patriarchal -- probably church initiated -- influence, wherein the female supposedly has no value other than being a mother.  [The latter concession, undoubtedly, was made only because the males could not come up with a means of perpetuating themselves without a female!  (Curiously, science has now demonstrated that a female egg can be fertilized with another female egg, producing a female child, and thus eliminating altogether the need for males!  Oops.)]  

Originally, once the Minor Arcana of the Tarot deck had itself evolved to include 56 cards, the “court cards” had a King, Queen, Prince, and Princess.  Under the patriarchy, this evolved into a King, Queen, Knight, and Squire (with the “Squire” being subservient to the “Knight”!).  In the eventual progression to the playing card deck, the Princess was simply deleted.  The Tarot is not the only tradition to be bastardized by the patriarchy, but it is one of the more obvious and blatant examples.  [See, e.g. Return of the Goddess.]

The Roehrig-Tarot [1] provides for an even more enlightened [and/or radical] position by naming the four court cards as the Princess, Prince, Queen and Knight.  The latter might be thought of as the Queen's consort and/or protector.  In either case, the resurgence of the female as the true head of the family is increasingly evident.  In fact, an early 2003 bestseller is The Da Vinci Code [2], which provides in a novel format (pardon the pun) an exhaustive but accurate description of the secret society, the Priory de Sion [intimately connected at different points in time with the Knights Templar and Freemasonry] and it's centuries long protection of the sacred feminine and The Holy Grail, the Sang Real or Royal Blood of the Merovingians stemming ultimately from Mary Magdalen.

Other connections between the four suits of the playing card deck and the Tarot include: The suit of spades being originally entitled “Swords”, hearts coming from “Cups”, clubs from “Wands”, and diamonds from “Pentacles”.  The Tarot suits represent the elements of Air (Swords), Water (Cups), Earth (Pentacles), and Fire (Wands) -- which in turn were derived from the “magical elements of the alchemists”.  In interpreting the Tarot, Swords signify mental qualities and conflicts, Cups relate to emotional issues (including love and romance), Pentacles deal with material world concerns (Money and resources), and Wands denote inspiration and acting on ideas.  Meanwhile, ordinary playing cards are stripped of almost all meaning (except that a full house still beats two-pair).  

In some modern Tarot decks, the four suits have been renamed.  Clubs, Staves, Batons, Rods, or Scepters are sometimes used instead of Wands, while Coins or Disks replace Pentacles in some decks.  Native Americans might use Blades (Swords), Vessels (Cups), Shields (Pentacles), and Pipes (Wands).  The symbolism of these alternative versions use pictures which portray situations and events pertinent to the style of the deck, but even then the symbols still suggest similar interpretations for any given card as the other decks.  

The peculiar nature of the Ace, the court cards, and two through ten of each suit also came from the Tarot.  In the Tarot, however, each of these separate cards had specific meanings.  For example, each of the Aces is about beginnings, Genesis, creation, or initiative (and thus unaccountably important, even though the “one” card of each deck).  [And thus, an Ace “beats” a King in the ordinary playing card deck.]  The deuces through Nines also have common meanings, all very similar to the characteristics of Numerology.  The court cards often represent specific archetypes of people, including in some cases the individual receiving a Tarot “reading” (sort of “Queen for a day”).  

The Major Arcana is something which goes far beyond the ordinary playing card deck.  It is much more than the mundane, day-to-day musings of the Minor Arcana cards, and in fact represents a philosophy of the journey through life.  It consists of twenty-one cards (3 sets of 7 each), plus the “Fool” card, which is alternatively numbered both zero and 22.  The Fool is the only Major Arcana card -- the only bit of philosophy (as opposed to mundane matters) -- to appear in the modern playing card deck, and it appears there as the “Joker”.  The Joker (the Fool) is also by far the most important card in the Tarot.  

The cards of the Major Arcana are often called the “trumps” (from whence the term survives in bridge and a few other games).  The word, “trumps”, probably derived from “Triumphs”, a description of paintings of many of the lavish Etruscan and Roman processions and pageants in the History of Tarot.  Just as trumps in games such as bridge can often overcome other cards, irrespective of their face value, the trumps of the Major Arcana can be construed as more important than the cards of the “lesser” Arcana.  

The relative ranking of trumps and non-trumps is likely based upon the assumption that the philosophy of life represented by the trumps is more important or profound than the worldly cares of thinking processes, love and romance, money and resources, and idea-inspired actions represented by the Minor Arcana.  At the same time, the appearance in a Tarot Reading of both Major and Minor Arcana cards can suggest how spiritual issues can influence everyday common problems and concerns.  

The Fool’s Journey represents one of the most important aspects of the Major Arcana.  In essence, the Fool’s Journey is taken as an individual’s journey through life.  Be it The Hero’s Journey -- something of a subset of The Fool’s Journey -- or other processes, it is the coming of age, and far more.  It is, in essence, the Quest for the Holy Grail, and ultimately, the successful completion of the quest.  

For more information on the Tarot, consult any of numerous, excellent books on the subject [3][4][5] and/or <http://www.charleneryan.com/journal4.html>, the latter particularly with respect to The Fool’s Journey.

Have a nice trip (i.e., trek, journey, path, voyage, experience, and/or... life). 


Numerology         Astrology          Death and Rebirth

Forward to:

History of Tarot         I Ching         Tao de Ching         Alchemy



[1] Francesca Marzano-Fritz, The Roehrig-Tarot, Bluestar Communications, Woodside, California.

[2]  Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, New York, 2003.

[3]  Signe E. Echols, Robert Mueller, and Sandra A. Thomson, Spiritual Tarot; Seventy-Eight Paths of Personal Development, Avon Books, New York, 1996.

[4]  Marcia Masino, Easy Tarot Guide, Eastern Printing, Thailand, 1987-1992.

[5]  Janina Renee, Tarot for a New Generation, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, 2001.



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