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The Tarot is a deck of seventy-eight cards used for divination (and meditation) purposes, comprising the Major Arcana, consisting of twenty-two trump cards (or twenty-one plus 'The Fool'), and the Minor Arcana, consisting of fifty-six 'suit cards'.  'Arcana' is the plural form of the Latin word 'arcanum', its meaning being 'closed' or 'secret'.

Like a standard deck of playing cards, there are four suits in the Minor Arcana, each consisting of ten cards numbered from Ace to ten, traditionally batons (wands), cups, swords and coins (pentacles) -- forty cards in total.  The difference between the Tarot and a normal deck of cards, apart from the Major Arcana, is that a Tarot deck has four court cards (or honours) in each suit.  Instead of Jack, Queen and King we find Page, Knight, Queen and King, thus sixteen court cards as opposed to twelve.

The earliest known extant specimens of Tarot cards are three decks of North Italian origin dating back to the early to mid-fifteenth century, all made for the then rulers of Milan, the Visconti family.  These were called 'carte da trionfi' or 'cards of the triumphs'.  It is thought that the oldest of these existing Tarot decks was probably painted by Bonifacio Bembo to celebrate a wedding which joined the Visconti and Sforza families of Milan.  Soon afterwards, the cards became more popular and were used for the games called 'Tarocchi', still played in Italy today.

It was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the cards became popular in occult circles and studies, initiated by occultists such as Etteilla (Jean-Babtiste Alliette), Antoine Court de Gebelin and, perhaps more recently and famously, Aleister Crowley with his renowned 'Thoth' deck, which is still available today.  Since then they have been associated with mysticism and magick.

This idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Lévi in the mid-nineteenth century and passed to the English-speaking nations via the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical fraternity founded in London in 1888 by Dr William Wynn Westcott, Dr William Robert Woodman and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.  Lévi's 'Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie' (Transcendental Magic), published in 1854, gave a completely new interpretation to the cards, which for the first time related them to Kabbalah.

In the modern Western world, the Tarot is usually seen as a means of divination, which is the practice of obtaining/gleaning information from supernatural or other 'hidden' sources.  Alternatively, in an even more modern aspect, it is seen as a psychological tool for accessing the unconscious to reach the Divine.  However, early references refer only to the use of the cards for game-playing and gambling, and in some European countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, Tarot is still a popular and widely played game.

Nowadays, dozens of different decks of Tarot cards are widely available, the majority depicting their own interpretation of the original images, but each still retaining the original basic design. Two of the most famous and sought after are:

The Thoth Tarot deck, a divinatory tarot deck painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley, who referred to this deck as The Book of Thoth, and also wrote a 1944 book of that title intended for use with the deck.

The Rider Waite deck, originally published in 1909, is the most popular tarot deck for tarot card reading.  Other names for this deck include the Waite-Smith, Rider-Waite-Smith, or Rider tarot deck.  The cards were drawn by illustrator from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite and were originally published by the Rider Company.  The deck has been published in numerous editions and inspired a wide array of variants.

The Major Arcana

The twenty-two trump cards of a Tarot deck are known collectively as the Major Arcana, and are shown below.  You must bear in mind that all Tarot decks differ in their depiction of the meanings of the cards, so it is certain that other decks will not appear to be the same as the one shown here, but this does not affect the meaning of each card.  This particular deck, designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris, is called the Thoth deck.  Despite its being crammed with extremely symbolic Kabbalistic, Thelemic, and Masonic symbolism, it remains one of the most popular Tarot decks of all time.

00 - The Fool
01 - The Magician
02 - High Priestess
03 - The Empress
04 - The Emperor
05 - The Pope
06 - The Lovers
07 - The Chariot
08 - Justice
09 - The Hermit
10 - The Wheel
11 - Strength
12 - Hanged Man
13 - Death
14 - Temperance
15 - The Devil
16 - The Tower
17 - The Star
18 - The Moon
19 - The Sun
20 - Judgment
21 - The World

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Sample Spreads

In this section I am showing details of and interpretations for two of the more simple spreads used in Tarot reading, a typical Three-Card Spread, and the Horseshoe Spread, although many more such as the Six-Month Special, the Horoscope, the Celtic Cross, the Calendar, the Tree of Life and others are used.

Three-card Spread

This spread is one of the simplest, probably the simplest of all the spreads available, to master.  It only involves laying out three cards in a row, each representing the past, the present and the future respectively, as shown below.

The Past
The Present
The Future

Card 1 The Nine of Swords indicates there has been a lot of anxiety in the past, probably due to a bad mixture of people in your life.
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Card 2 For the present, Temperance reveals that the situation is becoming more harmonious, and many of the problems are disappearing.
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Card 3 The future, represented here by The Sun, shows there is a lot of happiness in store.  This may be a love affair, or a holiday on some far away shores in a warm country.

The Horseshoe Spread

This is a very simple spread, useful for answering questions.  It is particularly suitable for beginners since it does not involve too many cards.  Each card can be looked up in turn to quickly relate its meaning to the position.  And since each position represents a distinct sphere of influence, meanings which seem inappropriate can be discarded immediately.

Asking your question

Questions must be unambiguous.  It is well worth remembering that the clarity of the answer you get depends entirely upon the clarity of the question you asked.  When two choices are involved, ask one question for each of them!

There are three versions of the Horseshoe spread (the layout remains the same).  Click on the link below to go directly to the version you require, or simply scroll down the screen.

Card 4

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  Card 5paddingpad

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  Card 6  paddingpadding

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The Classic Horseshoe

Card 1 This card relates to the past.  Always check to see how many important former events or actions there have been.  Is the Major or Minor positive or negative?
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Card 2 This card relates to the present.  Such things as feelings, thoughts or actual events are revealed here.
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Card 3 This card relates to hidden influences, those which could surprise you or alter the outcome in some way.
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Card 4 This card relates to obstacles still to be overcome.  These can be mental attitudes or practical difficulties.
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Card 5 This card relates to the environment and the attitudes of people.
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Card 6 This is the card which tells you what should be done!  You may well find a practical solution here.
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Card 7 The most likely result is denoted by this card, assuming you follow the advice offered by the card in position 6.

The Love Horseshoe

Card 1 This card relates to the past.  It shows the foundation of the relationship.
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Card 2 This card relates to the present.  It shows how the inquirer sees his or her relationship now.  Remember that this card is usually very subjective since it refers to someone's point of view of his or her partner, and may not represent reality.
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Card 3 This card relates to hopes, fears and expectations.  It shows what kind of aspirations, dreams and beliefs the inquirer is bringing to the relationship, and may reveal unconscious patterns of behaviour.
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Card 4 This card relates to areas of conflict in the relationship.  These can be emotional, or suggest financial or other practical problems such as careers clashing, religious difficulties etc.
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Card 5 This card relates to outside influences, e.g. what worldly factors are affecting the relationship.  These can range from a former marriage to the effect children, inlaws or even friends or work colleagues may be having.
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Card 6 This card tells you the best current course of action.
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Card 7 The probable outcome is denoted by this card, assuming you follow the course of action offered by the card in position 6.

The Career Horseshoe

Card 1 This card relates to the past influences on the problem.
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Card 2 This card relates to the present situation.
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Card 3 This card shows the most positive aspects of this situation.  These may include talents and abilities, a sense of security, or even represent some kind of challenge needed by the inquirer in order to progress.
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Card 4 This card suggests what is most difficult about the situation.  It represents inner problems such as low self-esteem, boredom, inability to settle, being in the wrong job etc.  If a very positive card appears here, there is little opposition and very few blocks to long-term progress, in which case the problems may then be due to factors outside the inquirer's control.  In this situation refer to card 5.
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Card 5 This card reveals outside influences.  These can literally be anything and range from the current economic situation to jealousy at work.
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Card 6 This card tells you the best current course of action.
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Card 7 The probable outcome is denoted by this card, assuming you follow the course of action offered by the card in position 6.

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