Opening the book of the Tarot
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on February 18, 2014.  Posted with permission.

Begin by selecting your deck, emphasis “your.”

There is no definitive Tarot deck. This collection of 78 cards has uncertain origins. It has morphed and evolved for centuries as have the image interpretations.

Browse the featured decks on African Tarot. Angel Tarot. Art Nouveau. Salvador Dali. Vampires. Medieval Cats. Zombies. Click with what resonates.

Your first reading: Unwrap your cards, and take a Get Acquainted Tour. Begin with the Major Arcana. In the Rider-Waite deck, these 22 cards are the story of life beginning with The Fool, the spark of creativity, and ending with The World, the fulfillment of desires. Hold the cards in your hands, and if your eyes linger over any, set them aside.

The final 56 cards are the Minor Arcana. They are broken up into four suits traditionally: wands, pentacles, cups and swords. Take one suit at a time. Remove the cards that whisper.

The pictures on Tarot cards usually incorporate eclectic imagery gathered from mythology and several spiritual traditions. Exhaustively interpreting each card’s bottomless well of possibilities would require decades of study. Meri Byers, a reader with Way of Positive Change, has been reading cards for 30 years, and every reading is fresh. Byers recommends that you keep a journal of readings so you can track patterns or themes in your life.

“A picture says a thousand words,” Byers said.

“I can talk about a single card for a long time because of the colors, the numerology, the mythology, the archetypes, the picture, the symbolism. During a reading, different things will pop out of me,” she said.

On this first out-of-the-box tour, resist the urge to run to a Tarot guidebook to look up your chosen cards’ meanings. With journal in hand, examine each image of the cards you set aside, and jot down your associations. Why does that card speak to you? Every few weeks, take this tour again, and see which new cards step forward.

Certain cards will always sing to you. The Fool is my go-to card. The Rider-Waite deck depicts a young man, whimsical and dreamy, gazing up at the sky. A small traveler’s pouch hangs over his shoulder, and he holds a white flower in his free hand. He is standing on the precipice of a cliff, seemingly unaware. A tiny white dog happily plays at his feet.

I’ve always loved the quixotic. I’ve never embraced the results-at-all-costs scenario, nor am I interested in endgame. True, the ultimate goal in life is to spread love and light (for me), and often that quest fails, tips over the cliff, goes down in flames, falls with style. No matter. Create and live art and beauty because it is the right thing to do, The Fool label be damned.   At night, I will often look at The Fool and ask myself, “How can I serve?”

Do you have to memorize what each card means before you begin to read the Tarot? If that were necessary, I wouldn’t have started in the first place. Zen mind. Beginner’s mind.

“Be flexible,” Byers said. It’s all about intuition.

Choose a life question. What can I do to experience romantic love? How can I resolve my financial difficulties? What do I need to know to have my health continue to improve? What do I need to think about before changing my job?

Byers advised to ask a question so that the responsibility for the outcome lies with you. Tarot doesn’t offer clear yes or no answers.

Select a spread. A spread is the physical arrangement of the cards in front of you, and it provides narrative structure.

Shuffle the cards until you are satisfied.

You can always invent your own spread, but the Celtic Cross is the most common.  This ten-card spread is useful for probing life dilemmas. Specific cards get to the heart of the matter, your attitudes and issues of past, present and future.

An experienced reader will not only be well-versed in interpretation but will also be able to discuss how the cards interact within the spread.

Is an experienced reader necessary? No. Remember that anyone can play the piano, but there is Chopsticks, and then there is Chopin.

Simple spreads can be effective. You can ask a question while shuffling and then read a single random card.

If a life mystery is plaguing you, shuffle, and then separate the cards into three stacks representing the past, present and future. Turn the top card of each stack and interpret. If you need clarification, ask for it, and then flip another card.

Feeling unbalanced or out of sorts? Shuffle the cards, and turn seven over in a vertical line to represent the chakras. From the bottom: survival, creativity and sexuality, drive and will, heart, voice, intuition, and spirit.

So, does the Tarot have magical powers? (Giggle.)

The cards are reference beams. When we are feeling for the light switch in the dark, the cards cast surprising and strange lasers. They prompt internal dialogue drawing upon universal knowledge in the collective unconscious.

“Move into the reading with intent to learn about the self. All answers lie within. When you hear something that’s true, you’ll intuitively know it’s true. The cards can help you not lose touch with yourself,” Byers said.