Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Tarot Blog Hop: Beltane 2013

Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot


  Walpurgisnacht 2013

The question for this hop is simply this:

 What traditions are important to you in how you read Tarot?

You may arrive at this, the first blog in this year's Beltane Tarot Blog Hop, from Christiana Gaudet's blog; and when you have read my offering, you may continue your journey to John's blog.
Well, writing this on the eve of St.Walpurga's Day, ie. Walpurgisnacht - one is inexorably reminded of how traditions and superstitions can become almost interchangeable, and as irresistible as fetishes and other Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders. This post may seem long, but it does have lots of pictures.

 To the public at large, tarot usually has an aura of mystery, with an attraction varying in degree from curiosity through to fear and loathing - with concomitant reactions to those of us involved in such a ‘dubious’ field, generously sprinkled with charlatans.

So if we, the public, have had our interest in tarot sparked and wish to penetrate its mysteries, what do we discover? 
Arcus Arcanum Tarot
Most beginners’ books that we might pick up from a high street book shop tell us there are traditions about tarot; we pick up several different beginners’ books, and find that the 'traditions' or ‘rules’ tend to differ quite widely from author to author – how do we decide who’s right? We are novices, we have no way to judge.

Druidcraft Tarot
Let’s start by trying to summarize the most common “traditions” that will be encountered: you must not buy your deck for yourself (advice ranges from getting a tarot reader to gift one to you, a friend to buy it for you, or even that you must steal it!). Having been the (not ungrateful) recipient of decks as gifts, I find the most interesting aspect is what it reveals about people’s opinions of my tastes, and theoretically these are people who know me well!

I don’t use many of the decks I have been gifted to work with, but am glad to have received them, since it is the thought that counts. The learning experience of this is to always specify exactly which deck it is that you desire. Quite frankly however, if I had waited for a deck to be gifted me before starting to learn about the tarot I probably still wouldn’t have a deck at all - or have learned anything about tarot.

Secondly, we learn we must wrap our deck in black silk and keep it in a wooden box, to avert
negative vibrations; some authors go as far as to say you must make both items yourself – and so I could have done, had I wished my decks to be kept in bloodstained silk in a crooked box that fell apart every time I opened it. Negative influences can affect a deck, but this is far more likely to be a result of someone else handling it than stray emanations homing in on it; black silk and a wooden box will not prevent that. Being discriminating about who handles your deck, and thorough cleansing will.

tinfoil hats can be made in many shapes
 Which brings us to superstition 3: handling our decks. Many authors don’t even discuss this, but simply tell us how the cards should be presented to the querent, and how the querent should shuffle them. In real life, the approaches to this are as individual as the tarot readers themselves – I know of some who never let anyone else handle their working decks (never call them control freaks); at the other extreme, there are some who let their toddler’s sticky hands and mouths add a certain unique 3D living texture to their decks.

Fourth is how to actually go about learning to use the cards. More traditional authors give short (or long) meanings of the individual cards, and say that these must be memorized – the problem with this approach is that they rarely describe how to combine these individual meanings in conjunction with others, what the effect of the position in the spread might be, and how to  interpret these meanings in a cohesive manner that makes sense to the querent. More recent authors adopt a more proactive method, to encourage development of intuitive abilitie , often including meditative and visualization techniques and practice. The theory behind this method is that the new reader, having got a thorough “feel” for each card, will then find it easier to relate them to each other, and to the querent, in a coherent way.

The fifth tradition seems to largely depend on the age of the book: picking a significator to represent the querent. This is recommended in the older books, but is now considered to be old-fashioned; most suggest using court cards but there are a few who suggest using a card from the Major Arcana. How you choose a court card to represent your querent may involve simply physical characteristics, astrological assignments, temperament or a combination of any or all of these. The more modern view is to decide what card represents your querent but not to separate it, which gives it special significance in the position in which it occurs in a spread.

The penultimate rule decreed by many tarot authors is “Thou shalt not read for thyself”. The logic behind this rule is that you can never be truly objective in interpreting a reading for yourself – particularly if you are in any kind of personal crisis; depending on your personality, you are likely to skim over or disregard the things you don’t want to hear, or take the most negative aspects and focus on them exclusively .

All of these traditions, rules, superstitions, fetishes, recur as the subject of passionate debate amongst the tarot community, but perhaps the one that inspires the most heat is that of the purpose for which tarot should be used – divination vs. spiritual growth. Those in the divinatory school say that this is the reason for which tarot decks were originally designed; those in the spiritual growth camp say that this denigrates tarot, and reduces it to mere prediction.

So, having had the stamina, time and money to plough through say, twenty or thirty beginners’ books on tarot, what conclusion do we the novice eventually come to about the rules?

Most likely, we have absorbed both consciously and subconsciously much of the information
presented about the ‘rules’ - and evolved our own peculiar approach, abstracting the things we like and feel comfortable with piecemeal from here and there; together with endless practice, we develop the unique styles and quirks that makes each tarot reader individual. 

And in turn, sometimes become as didactic as those same authors, who usually say that there is no right or wrong way in tarot; that it is totally subjective – just before they present us with their rules.

Hanson-Roberts Tarot

Robin Wood Tarot

I feel I have been provoking enough - so time for you to check out the other blogs today:

Blog before this one: Tarot Trends

Blog after this one: Metaphysical Meanderings

The Masterlist: Tarot by Arwen

Many apologies for the odd formatting, Blogger is odd ....

This post is an updated and edited version of an article I wrote for the TABI Ezine, June 2002.

 © Vivianne Kacal 2002, 2013


  1. I really loved the pictures throughout the post and the point about being gifted a deck. Luckily I never heard that before I bought my first one.

  2. Many different views, well-stated and summarized. I learned something today! Thank you!

  3. I love the pictures illustrating your points!

  4. So you, Gary and I all tackled a very similar idea in this Tarot Blog Hop. I love that. well put!

  5. All my decks are gifts...mostly from me ;D

  6. Of course, *you* never answered the prompt - what traditions do *you* use when interpreting a spread? :)

    And if you've received all of those decks, some people definitely don't know you very well. Glow in the dark and gummy bears?!!!!! :)

  7. It's sooooooo true! And the post wasn't too long at all - great pictures though *wanders off to get a tinfoil hat*

    Ali x

  8. Thanks for featuring the Gummi Bear! It's a great little deck.

  9. The Dettol bit made me laugh most :) I once bought a second hand deck that claimed to be "like new" and had chocolate smeared all over several cards, and the edges! It went back :D

  10. Love the post and pictures. I know a few people who would use tinfoil hats if they were ten-gallon hats... :)

  11. Very cool, Vivianne! I'd forgotten all about the Tarot "superstitions" aspect of tradition. You covered all the territory I've heard along the way. I did find it very useful over Christmas last year to be quite specific about decks in hints to my children, thereby receiving the wondrous Gilded Tarot Royale. But, yes, I would say your Tarot gift givers likely do not know you very well. :)

    Respect, I guess, would be useful in treating one's deck, without getting specific on precisely how to wrap it or whatever; it's the energy that counts, yes?

    It was actually a very well-paced read with the pictures and all. Hope I never end up with a gooey deck from eBay or something...

  12. Great post! All of my decks are also gifts "to myself." Or, review copies.

    "bloodstained silk in a crooked box" - *smile* I understand.

    I guess one tradition I have is to say a short prayer before each reading.

  13. Love! So many pretty pictures. You know that "3-d effect" thingy on the cards? It'd happened to me only mine was wax because I used the cards for meditation in my prayer rituals.

  14. You always manage to make me smile, if not laugh out loud! All of my decks are gifts to myself, or else won in the TABI conference raffles :-) I wouldn't have any, otherwise...

  15. It's amazing how many "traditions" or rituals there have been over the years since AE Waite. They look a little daft, when you list them as you have. Thanks for the provoking thoughts :)


Thanks ! I love comments :-)