Tarot Trends and the Anatomy of a Reading


Let’s examine changing tarot trends, from
the late 19th century, entering the Baby Boomer era, through Gen X, and the evolution of tarot
trends into the Millennial era. This video will also address the anatomy of
a tarot reading and more specifically, use of tarot spreads. In the late 19th century, 1890s give or take,
the ongoing trend in tarot deck imagery was Egyptian-inspired. Jean-Baptiste Pitois, also known as Paul Christian,
popularized the notion of tarot as an Egyptian artifact. These 19th century Egyptian-inspired tarot
decks were heavily influenced by the works of Antoine Court de Gebelin, a French Protestant
pastor from the 1700s who asserted that the tarot contained the secrets or esoteric knowledge
of the ancient Egyptians, and that Egyptian magicians embedded the Book of Thoth into
the tarot deck imagery. The Egyptian origins mythology persisted through
the 20th century and you can even see Egyptian symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot. In the Roaring 20s, Swiss occultist Joseph
Paul Oswald Wirth put forth his esoteric-leaning version of the Tarot de Marseille, now known
as the Oswald Wirth Tarot. Wirth sought to integrate the Kabbalah, freemasonry,
astrology, and other occult systems with the Tarot de Marseille. Between the Baby Boomers and Generation X,
the prevailing tarot trend here in the United States was to use the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot
system. And I guess because Waite’s book, The Pictorial
Key to the Tarot, that came with his tarot deck, featured this tarot spread called “An
Ancient Celtic Method of Divination,” that tarot spread, known as the Celtic Cross,
pretty much became the dominant go-to tarot spread of tarot readers. Since the mid-century and up until the 80s,
even the 90s, just before the Digital Age, you learned tarot on the Celtic Cross. There are a couple of different versions of
the Celtic Cross, which Holistic Tarot covers. Paul Foster Case had a correspondence course,
circa 1920 to 1939, give or take, which remained popular, so his tarot spread instructions,
such as the First Operation, was also more prevalent. Outside of the United States, in South America
and parts of Europe, the Tarot de Marseille was more popular. Here you’d see tarot spread formations in
rows and columns, more often than not, or the horseshoe, which you’ll find plenty
of older guard tarot readers using. and one spread that rose in popularity was
the 15-card spread, or the same operational format with a 21-card spread, representative
of the seeker’s life timeline and levels of consciousness. In the 1980s, Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot
came back into vogue, mainly due to a mass re-publication of it in the late 1970s. Before then, it was a bit more obscure and
not as easy to get your hands on a copy of the Thoth. Contemporary tarot author and scholar Mary
K. Greer has marked 1969 as the time of a tarot renaissance. In the 1960s, several landmark tarot books
came onto the scene. There was a greater interest in exploring
tarot history and pop culture took notice as well, with tarot imagery found in the mainstream
and in literature, such as Sylvia Plath’s 1965 poetry collection,
Ariel, the structure of which was informed in large part by the Major Arcana of the tarot. From the 1970s onward, tarot deck artists
became more eclectic and experimental with deck art. Beyond the three core systems, Tarot de Marseille,
being the earliest version of the tarot deck structure, the Rider-Waite-Smith, which might
be the most recognizable of the three systems, and the Thoth Tarot by Crowley, now you’ve
got different popular genres of tarot. Esoteric or occult tarot decks tend to focus
more on the integration of the Kabbalah and astrology, with a heavier dosage of Rosicrucian,
Hermetic, or masonic symbolism. Themed decks are creative derivatives of one
of the core tarot systems, illustrated based on specific themes, like the Poet Tarot, a
tarot deck with the classic tarot architecture, outfitted with well-known poets. Or the Hello Kitty Tarot, this one based on
the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot architecture, but featuring cute, fluffy Sanrio cartoon
characters. Here is a Goth-inspired tarot deck, with darker
themes, outfitted into the Tarot de Marseille system. Then there are artists who decide to try their
hands at superimposing their portfolio of artwork into the tarot deck structure. And there are tarot readers who decide to
try their hands at art and memorialize their knowledge, insights, and experience with the
tarot into tarot deck art. Trends in tarot go through phases, depending
on the decade and zeitgeist we’re in. I can’t help but wonder what the occultists
of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would think of the direction tarot and oracle
trends are going in today. Earlier we discussed how the tarot experienced
a renaissance in the late 1960s. What about today? Are we currently in the eye of a second wave
tarot renaissance? Tell me about your observations, what you
think, and share your point of view in the comments section below. Many tarot readers also collect tarot decks,
so we amass quite the load of different decks, and working with different architectures,
reading the guidebooks that go with the decks to get a sense of each deck creator’s intentions
and how they envision the 78 cards tends to deepen our knowledge base. However, I would advise against working with
too many tarot decks when you’re a beginner. If you’re still trying to get a sense of
tarot card imagery, symbolism, and how to apply critical tarot theory in a practical
way to read the cards, then stick with one single tarot deck, at most two, maybe three
but definitely no more than three. It really helps to focus on just one tarot
deck at a time. Work within the universe of tarot deck art
that a creator and artist has produced. You want to dedicate study with a particular
deck to the level where seeing just a tiny corner of the card’s imagery prompts you
to know exactly which card it is. That is how familiar you need to be with your
deck. If you’re constantly working with new decks
and you’re still a novice, then reaching that level of familiarity with a single deck
is really difficult. So to the beginner, I say start working with
just one or two decks and don’t add to that collection until you’ve reached a level
of intimate familiarity with the decks you currently have on hand. Now let’s talk about tarot reading. How do you read a tarot card? Well, not unlike the way you interpret art
or literature. To understand how to read and interpret a
tarot card, we borrow from critical theory. To demonstrate, we’ll work with perhaps
the most well-known card in the tarot deck, the card that people who know nothing about
tarot will still seem to know about. And that’s the Death card. Key 13. Let’s start with some background information
about the deck creator. This is the Death card from the Rider-Waite-Smith
tarot deck, conceived by A.E. Waite and the artist Pamela Colman Smith. Waite is also the author of The Real History
of the Rosicrucians, a book he published around 1887. Waite was fascinated with Rosicrucianism and
you can see that in his tarot deck. Here on Key 13, the Death card, we see the
Rosicrucian rose and also classic Rosicrucian symbolism, the sun rising from between the
two pillars, a symbolic reference to the horns of Eblis. You can read about that in Hargrave Jennings’
1870 work, The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries. The horseman is Death, or as named in Biblical
references, Pestilence. In the Rider Waite Smith deck, you see that
concept of Pestilence illustrated right there in the card imagery. The horseman of Death brings the plague, infectious
disease, and lays down destruction, but for a purpose. What comes after is transformative, as indicated
in the card imagery. A bishop and the golden sunrise represent
that there is an afterlife, something to come after the cessation, after Death. And thus, there is not mere cessation, or
Death, but transformation. Let’s read what Waite himself had to say
about his depiction of Key 13, Death: (quote) “The veil or mask of life is perpetuated
in change, transformation and passage from lower
to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the
rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping
skeleton.” (end quote)
Here, Waite is referring to the Tarot de Marseille version of Death. He’s calling his deck the “rectified Tarot”
and he’s calling the Tarot de Marseille “crude.” Okay, let’s continue with Waite’s writing
about Key 13. (quote) “Behind it lies the whole world
of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly,
bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon
there shines the sun of immortality.” (end quote)
Waite goes on to say that the concept of Death here in the Death card should be understood
mystically and is more about life than the literal death. Key 13 is about a change in consciousness. A tarot reader can also take a more formalistic
approach to interpreting a card. Let’s look objectively at the structure,
the motifs, and study the imagery alone. In a formalistic approach to interpreting
a tarot card, we don’t look beyond the four corners of the card. What is the story being told here? A skeleton in black armor rides atop a white
horse, carrying a black banner, tramples over kings, children, and women alike, leveling
the playing field, so to speak, causing death and destruction, and at the other side of
the card, where the horse and rider are headed, is a golden bishop and sunrise. Contemplating such imagery, what is evoked? What’s fascinating here is if you apply
a Marxist theoretical reading of the card’s imagery, we’re seeing in no uncertain terms
an evening out of the different socioeconomic classes. There is no inequality here. Now what if we take a poststructuralist approach
to reading this card? When we say “death,” what do we mean? “The little death” or “le petite mort”
has certain meanings that a reader could work into an interpretation of this card. Let’s consider symbolic correspondences
for the card. Key 13 in tarot corresponds astrologically
with the zodiac sign Scorpio. Scorpio is a Water sign, and so elementally,
this card is said to be comprised of alchemical Water. In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, Key 13 is
the pathway between the sephiroth Tiferet, the sixth sephiroth, and Netzach, the seventh
sephiroth. 6 + 7 is 13, Key 13: Death…
…anyway we see heart-centered consciousness in Tiferet. This is the quest for harmony, balance, and
equilibrium. It’s elevated consciousness and the residence
of ascended masters. Netzach is faith, an awareness of Oneness. It’s creativity, innocence, and the realm
of fairies and sprites. This is Victory. In Biblical references, by the way, the horseman
of Death is named Victory. These Kabbalistic inferences echo what we
know about the metaphysical correspondences for the element Water. The theme of a transformative state is echoed
in the archetype represented by Scorpio. We compare and contrast these symbolic pieces
of the puzzle to better understand and interpret the Death card. What is in our collective consciousness, in
the zeitgeist you are living in right now, that relates to these symbolic pieces? Scorpio can relate to sex and sexuality. Recall what we noted earlier about “Le petite
mort,” the little death, which refers to the sexual orgasm. It’s fun how everything connects, right? Scorpio is also death and transformation. Now notice the boat and river in the background
of the card. Can we read into that as the River Styx in
Hades, the Underworld? Is that boat the ferry steered by Charon,
the ferryman who transports souls into Hades? Now, out of theory and into practical application. When the Death card appears in a tarot reading,
what does it mean? Well, as with any interpretation, you first
need to look to context clues. But beyond context clues, let’s talk about
the practical energies of Key 13: Death. Here, we see that an important chapter of
life is coming to an end, but a new one is beginning. There is going to be a transformation of consciousness. Change is in the air. A change from lower to higher, so as painful
as death, or cessation, may feel, as apocalyptic as it may seem in the present moment, you’re
on a path of ascension. It’s upward from here. Now, sometimes, when the Death card shows
up in a reading, depending in its context, it can draw in a stronger Scorpio or Water
meaning. Typically though, it doesn’t bode well for
a love or relationship reading. If you’re asking about career, there could
be a transition, a transformative change in your professional path. If you’re asking about health, healing and
recovery is coming, as noted by the golden bishop and sunrise, but it’s slow, a slow
process, as noted by Waite’s own words: (quote) “The mysterious horseman moves slowly”
(end quote). Remember: the creator of the deck has given
us his intentions for the card’s meaning, how he interprets Key 13: Death. Waite tells us the concept of Death he’s
depicting here should be understood mystically. So, for instance, in a tarot reading about
a health question, we’re not talking about an actual, literal death; we’re talking
about a mystical death, a transference of consciousness. Timed with the past, we’re now trying to
make emotional sense of what has just passed on, trying to acknowledge the new consciousness
left after the wake of pain and destruction. Timed with the present, we need to release
our resistance to change and sail with the current. The more we struggle, the more pain we will
feel. Timed with the future, change is afoot, and
it won’t be easy, or comfortable, but it will be cathartic. Okay, so you kind of get how you interpret
the meaning of single tarot cards, and of course the Cyclopedia section of Holistic
Tarot is meant to help you with that. But it’s not like every single tarot reading
is a single card reading. In fact, you tend to see tarot readings as
lots of cards, all spread out on a table. How the heck do you read that? The lots of cards spread out on a table is
called a tarot spread. Now let’s explore the theoretics of a spread. A tarot spread is in effect a mind map. A mind map is a visual diagram that organizes
information for more efficient processing of that information. A mind map is created around a single concept
or topic, just like how a tarot spread in use is going to express the answer to a single
question or will address a single issue. Oftentimes, but not necessarily, the arrangement
of card positions in the spread is symbolic. For instance, the arrangement of card positions
form a cross, because the symbol of the cross is considered sacred in many mystery traditions. Maybe they form a horseshoe. Or a triquetra. Or a five-pointed star. The card spread itself is symbolism, and represents
an idea. Often, it’s an idea aligned with a specific
esoteric, mystery, or magical tradition. It’s a symbol of the practitioner’s faith. Or it’s the numerology that’s significant. The precise number of card positions in a
tarot spread can bring in numerological values. The idea behind a tarot spread is synchronicity. The spread of cards is a psychic representation
of physical reality. So coincidences, like repeating cards, patterns
in elements that arise, repeating numbers, or repeating colors are significant. You would read an entire tarot spread like
a single, cohesive work. Yes, each separate tarot card as specific
meanings, but you don’t read each card in isolation of the others. Instead, you read all of them together, collaboratively. You look at directionality. Does the imagery in the cards seem to direct
your attention in a certain direction? The tarot spread, in effect, is a constellation
of archetypes, or an archetypal constellation, to use Jungian terminology. Each tarot card is an individual archetype
and all of the cards together in a tarot spread work together to provide an overall meaning
or message. That overall meaning or message will facilitate
a defined conclusion, an answer to your question. So, under that theory, the selection of a
tarot spread is just as important as the cards that are pulled into that spread that you
read. The tarot spread is the platform upon which
you can generate meaningful coincidences. Okay, if we can accept that the selection
of a tarot spread is an integral part of the card reading process, then how do we ensure
the correct selection of a spread? Is there such a thing as a “correct” tarot
spread? The selection of the spread is simultaneously
willful and intuitive. Sure, as the tarot reader you’ll be choosing
a tarot spread to use. But which spread you choose out of the many
options availed to you, or even if you don’t use a specific spread with fixed card position
meanings, and you simply draw out the cards into a free-flow narrative, the entire process
itself is part of the synchronicity. What each card position in a spread indicates
is an exercise of setting intentions. The magic, as it were, and accuracy of your
reading is made all the more powerful when you set those intentions with precision, and
with as much psychic force as you can put behind the work. So while you shuffle, set your intentions. Know and anticipate what each card position
will tell you and when you pull a card out from the deck and draw it into that card position,
know, with a psychic knowing, that the card you’ve pulled will tell you what you need
to know, as defined by that card position in the tarot spread. In one sense, tarot spreads operate under
the theory of the law of attraction. You state affirmatively what you want to know,
then reach out and pull from the compendium that is the collective unconscious the precise
answer to your question. And what you want to know can be deconstructed
into parts of a whole: the past, the present, the future, speculative, affirmative, negative,
judgments, possibilities, alternatives, incidental, consequential, and the many angles of the
problem at hand. Tarot spreads are like styles of clothing that serve a practical purpose but also reflect
your aesthetic value and something about your personality. Certain dresses look great on the hanger,
but once you put it on, you realize it’s not “you” at all. Same with tarot spreads. And just like clothing, some folks have these
endless closets and every day they have to try on something new, and different. And some folks have a signature look, staples,
and don’t change from the staple. You’ve got to figure out which style suits
you best. Do you like to try on something different
and new every single time so you’re going to have a bunch of different tarot spreads
that you work with? Or are you going to find a few tried-and-true
tarot spreads and they’ll become your signature? Many of the Old Guard tarot readers from one
generation past were quite partial to the Celtic Cross, and it was the signature spread
for many an Old Guard tarot reader. Or maybe it’s the Opening of the Key that’s
your go-to. I really like working with the First Operation
of the Opening of the Key, and the Second and Third Operations because I just love blending
tarot and astrology. Mastery of the OOTK does call for familiarity
with Kabbalistic principles and basic whole signs astrology, which are beyond the scope
of Holistic Tarot, but if you’re interested in learning more about the OOTK, I have an
online course that will get you to a level of mastery over the Five Operations of the
OOTK and, along the way, teach fundamental astrology, numerology, and the Kabbalah. Beyond the mechanics of the OOTK, that course
is about Hermetic philosophy, esoteric tarot, and the profound implications of the divinatory
process. Information on how to sign up for the class
are under my “Online Courses” link on my website. Here, it’s really hard for me to dictate
to you which tarot spreads to work with, because I don’t know you. So what Holistic Tarot does is present over
33 different tarot spreads for you to work with. You’re not going to use all 33 tarot spreads. Sometimes after one reading of the tarot spread
instruction you can tell right away that it isn’t right for you. Other times, it sounds promising but you’re
not sure. In those cases, try it out. The book also teaches you how to design your
own tarot spreads. Keep a record of which tarot spreads, whether
it’s in Holistic Tarot or you find it elsewhere, that you work with. Log it in your tarot journal and by process
of elimination, finalize a personal portfolio or repertoire of your go-to tarot spreads. To the novice, I recommend trying on as many
different tarot spreads as you can get your hands on and discarding those that definitely
do not feel right for you. Also, don’t be afraid to modify existing
tarot spreads. A lot of tarot pros will modify the Celtic
Cross so that it becomes a personalized signature spread. (pause)
I want to circle back to the matter of cards. Cartomancy is a form of divination using cards. Under the umbrella term cartomancy, you’ve
got fortune-telling or divination with playing cards. You’ve also got tarot, which is a 78-card
European playing card deck, And oracle cards such as the Lenormand, either
the 36-card Petit Lenormand, or the 54-card Grand Jeu Lenormand, the more popular one
today being the Petit Lenormand, which, by the way, French fashion designer Coco Chanel
was said to use to help her in business and in her personal life. Kipper fortune-telling cards are coming back
to favor as of late. Kipper is another fortune-telling style oracle
deck under the cartomancy umbrella. And all other forms of oracle cards, from
the occult, pictured here is the Quareia Magician’s Deck, part of the Quareia magical school by
Josephine McCarthy and Frater Archer, Then there are more New Age style oracle decks,
like the one pictured here, the Labyrinth Wisdom Cards,
to oracle decks based on other divinatory systems, such as the I Ching,
and everything in between. The tarot is a rather specific system of cartomancy,
with a set 78 cards. Sometimes in modern versions a few extras
are thrown in there for good measure, like the Happy Squirrel card,
which has kind of become an inside joke in the tarot world, a Simpson’s reference. Other times a deck is unequivocally inspired
by the tarot but evolve the tarot architecture into a new divinatory system. The Voyager Tarot and The Psychic Tarot are
examples of such evolutions. We haven’t yet covered how to perform a
tarot reading, because for now, we’re still getting acclimated with the tarot deck and
gaining some contextual clues. However, before we begin the immersion in
tarot operations and card interpretation, let the beginner try a hand at a historic
spread from the 1920s, one designed by Joseph Paul Oswald Wirth. Although I didn’t include this spread in
Holistic Tarot, you will find information about it on my website, in the “Amendments
to Text” section. The tarot spread is featured in Wirth’s
text, Tarot of the Magicians. Pause the video lecture here, go get your
tarot deck, and follow along. Let’s do a tarot reading together, with
the Oswald Wirth spread. Start by grounding and centering yourself,
so you’re fully focused on the task at hand. Visualizing roots extending from the bottoms
of your feet down deep into the earth can help. Feel aligned through your spinal cord, and
at the top of your head, a white light from above descending down to, it feels like, flipping
on a switch inside of you, right there at the top of your head. As a result, you’re becoming more open and
receptive. Then begin to shuffle your deck, and as you
shuffle, feel yourself, all of you, mind, body, and spirit collectively, becoming more
and more open and receptive. And powerful. Feel grounded and powerful and the energy
generated from that shuffling action is like a spark. Now, humor my silliness for a moment. Follow as I instruct. Hear my words in your mind. I reach out beyond myself to connect to the
Universe, to a universal Spirit. Hear me. Send me a message, an omen, the signs I most
need to see right now. Send me guidance from beyond my ego, beyond
what it is I already know. Now set your cards down in the following order:
To the left side of you on a flat surface, set down a single card, face down for now. This is card 1. To the right side of you, set down another
single card, again face down. This is card 2. Above, and now you’re slowly beginning to
form the shape of a cross, place down a third card, face down. Below, leaving the center point empty, place
down a fourth card, face down. Now, at the center, place down a fifth and
final card. Flip the cards over to reveal your reading. You don’t have to follow the way I flip
the cards. Chapter 13 in Holistic Tarot distinguishes
between the Direct Flip and Turn Over methods, so be sure to read Chapter 13 for reference
here, pages 281 and 282. Card 1 is the Assertion card. In your reading, think of this as a positive
omen, a sign of something good to come. Card 2 is the Negation card. Think of this as a negative omen, a warning,
a note of caution, a sign of something potentially ominous. This is a red flag for you to be aware of. Card 3 is the Discussion card. This is a conversation that Spirit, or the
Universe, Divinity, is having with you. This is something being discussed. This is a talking point. It’s also the Universe giving you its opinion
on the matter. Card 4 is the Solution card. This is what a consciousness from beyond is
whispering to you at the moment. This is an action card. This is where to go from here. What to do next. Card 5 is the Synthesis card. This is putting it all together and the final
divinatory message for you from the beyond. This card marks where you are at the moment
in your life path, in your current journeys. This is the culmination of the past, at the
present moment, prognosticating what’s on the verge to come in your future. I’m going to assume that you are a beginner
watching this video, so at this point, turn to your copy of Holistic Tarot and look up
each card, one by one, to acclimate yourself with the card meanings. Oh, and also, the old school way of doing
this would have been to use Majors only. So if you want to try the Wirth cross again
at a later time, you can try with the Major Arcana cards only. Intermediate cartomancers, if you want, you
can use an oracle deck instead of tarot. If you decide to give this spread a try, take
a picture and share it on social media. At this time I am not going to offer any further
instruction on how or what to do. Just document the reading in your tarot journal
and play by ear. Do whatever you feel like doing. Interpret the card meanings in any way you
feel like interpreting them. Do your own thing. Exercise those muscles of intuition that at
this point feel a bit foreign to you. (Kind of like how I felt doing bicep arm curls
for the first time after three years of not hitting the gym.) Sit on the reading for a few days, perhaps
even for a full week. Again, make sure you remember to document
the reading in your tarot journal. As this companion course unfolds further,
I’ll share with you how I’d read the cards and spread.

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