Learning the Tarot
by Bonnie Cehovet
The Tarot is a very exciting tool of empowerment, but, as with anything else, you have to get to know it before you can use it with confidence. How do you develop that confidence? By getting to know the cards. Whatever use you plan to make of the Tarot (readings, meditation and personal growth, ritual or ceremonial work etc.), you need to have a base to work from.
The first thing that you need to do is purchase a deck. For the beginning student, I highly recommend purchasing either the Rider-Waite Tarot, or a clone of the Rider-Waite, such as the Morgan-Greer Tarot. The reason for this is that most classes are based on the Rider-Waite deck and its symbology. Look through different Tarot decks and read reviews from more than one person on the same deck, so that you can see differing viewpoints.
The next thing that I recommend to a prospective Tarot student is to purchase a good, basic book. I highly recommend both Tarot For Yourself , by Mary K. Greer, and Learning The Tarot , by Joan Bunning. Both of these books cover the basics of Tarot in a systematic, thorough manner that encourages student participation, rather than memorization.
There you are - sitting with your deck in one hand, your book in the other, trying to make sense of life. Put the book down. The book, while it will set you on the right track for learning the basics of Tarot, needs to be used in conjunction with the your intuition. The best way to start this process going is to define what you think of each card, then go to the book and see what else is there. This will keep you an active participant in the process of learning the cards, and it will take away the fear of "Did I memorize these keywords correctly? Do I have this card down pat?". Your readings will flow because you will have developed a personal connection with the cards.
Now you are sitting there with your cards in both hands. This is a good start. Time to shuffle. Keep shuffling - allow your mind to empty, and keep shuffling. Handling your cards - shuffling them, ordering them (placing them in order from Fool through the World, followed by each of the suits, from Ace through Ten, then Page, Knight, Queen and King) - places your energy within the energy of the cards, and helps make you "one" with your deck.
Time to stop shuffling. Time to start playing. Begin now. Choose any of the suggestions below, and begin playing!
Drawing a card-a-day can be a nice way to get a quick peek at the energy of your day ahead, but it can also be a wonderful way to get to know your cards. You can draw your card in the morning, or the night before. If you draw the card the night before, and you are trying to see what kind of day it represents, you are looking at the next day (unless you specifically hold the thought in your mind that you want the card to represent the day that you have just experienced).
If you are drawing a card to get the tone for your day, you will do so in a random manner. If you are doing card-a-day as a way of studying the cards, you can do a random draw, or a conscious draw. In the conscious draw, you can choose to work with a card that draws you to it in a happy way, or you can choose to work with a card that is a bit edgy, and perhaps represents a shadow for you.
However you chose your card, you now have it in front of you. Give yourself some time to simply gaze at the card. Note the colors used, and how you react to them. Note the general atmosphere of the card. What emotions does it bring out in you? What are the figures in the card doing? Are they seated? Are they standing? Who do they remind you of? How do you feel about them? What symbols are in the card? What do they remind you of? What words come to your mind when you look at this card? Writing your thoughts down - journaling them - is a wonderful way to keep track of your progress as you study the cards, and at how often the same cards come up to represent days in your life.
If you are working with the card-a day method for studying the cards, then I would write down my first impressions, my intuitive thoughts, in one color of ink, and use a second color of ink to write in further information from other sources (books, e-groups, friends). I would wait a few days, then review the material that I had written, adding comments in a third color of ink.
Tarot constellations are defined as all cards that carry the same prime number (prime numbers being the numbers one through nine). For the number four, the Tarot constellations would be the number Four card from each of the suits, the Emperor (which carries the number four), and Death (which carries the number thirteen, and reduces to the number four (1+3=4) ).
Take all of the same numbered cards out of the deck and line them up in front of you. How do you feel about each of them? What attracts you? What annoys you, or makes you anxious? What colors are predominant? What colors predominate from card to card? How are the environments the same? How are they different? What symbols seem to move from card to card?
Do you see how each of these cards carries the same predominate energy, even though it is expressed in a different manner? Try this for each of the nine prime numbers. Make notes on your impressions. Once you have a good understanding of the energy of each of these cards, you will know how to treat multiples of the same number when they come up in a reading. In other words - your readings will flow much more smoothly, as you won't be thinking about what each individual card means, but about the energy they bring in as a group. This is a huge hint about what the reading is all about - and it may not actually "be" about what the Seeker asked!
Note: An excellent book to work with here is Tarot Constellations, by Mary K. Greer.
Journaling is a wonderful way to keep track of your progress with the cards. You can keep separate journals for card-a-day picks, readings, and the study of specific decks. And you may choose from several different journaling methods: electronic (which may also be printed out and placed in a binder, or kept on disk), audio tape, or hand-written. You may choose to work with an open binder, where pages may be added at random, or you may wish to work with anything from an expensive leather bound journal (this, Cappie that I am, is my favorite!), to a spiral bound notebook. (Small notebooks work well if you are planning on taking your journal with you so that you can enter into it at random times.)
The format can be anything from very, very formal to stream of consciousness. I would suggest that, at the very least, you place the date, day of the week, and time at the top of each entry. I would suggest using a system here very similar to what I talked about under the card-a-day format. Write down you initial impressions first, then add information from elsewhere (books, e-groups, Internet sites, friends) in a second color of ink. Use a third color for going back, after a few days, and reviewing your entry.
If you like to play around with artwork, add sketches to your pages. Or print out a scan of the card (or cards) that you are discussing. Add sayings, or whatever else you feel adds worth to the page. This is, after all, your journal!
A leather-bound journal provides its own "being". However, any other type of notebook is fair play for decorating! Think collage, or glue on fabric. Add beading, or lace, or whatever else suits your fancy. This is your project, your journal, and it should reflect you. Each journal, in the end, will have its own "persona".
Note: An excellent book to work with here is Tarot Journaling, by Corrine Kenner.
Let's Pretend: Card Resolution
Go through your deck, and find cards that you see as being difficult. Study those cards, and note why you find them difficult. Then go back through the deck, and find one or more cards that bring resolution to the difficult cards. This is a fun game to play, and only takes a few minutes at a time to work through the cards.
What you have developed is an excellent tool for use in readings - when a difficult card comes up, and you want to help the Seeker bring resolution to that issue, you have the option of having them go through the deck and pick a card that they think would help them, or you can suggest a card that will counteract the energies of the more difficult cards (hint: all of the cards have difficult and not so difficult sides!).
Meditating with the Tarot allows us to enter the energy of the cards on a very subliminal level. We set aside the chatter of our conscious minds, and enter into the world of universal knowledge and experience. Meditation is also a wonderful tool for entering our own personal "inner space", leaving behind the should's and shouldn'ts of the outer world.
The first thing that you want to do when practicing meditation is to find a quite space where you will not be disturbed - whether it be indoors or outdoors. I prefer the room to be as dark as possible, so that I can use the flame of a candle as a focus point. At times I also include soft background music, but not always.
Place the card that you wish to use for meditation in front of you, using the light from the candle (or some other soft light source, if you do not wish to work with candles). To begin the meditation, take three deep breaths. Breathe in slowly and fully, seeing yourself filled with white light. As you slowly breathe out, feel all of your cares leaving you. (If you are using a candle, try focusing on the flame of the candle as you do this.)
Now it is time to focus your attention on the card in front of you. Allow your vision to soften, and gaze at the card without thought. Allow yourself to become part of the card, and allow any impressions that will come to you. When you are ready, bring yourself slowly back into your meditation space. Stretch your arms and legs, move your head and shoulders, and fully re-enter the physical world.
Meditation can be done to get to know a card, or can be used with a specific card to obtain answers into specific life issues. All of the cards in the deck can be used: the Major Arcana providing spiritual advice, the Minor Arcana showing actions that can be taken in everyday life. Court Cards can be used if the situation revolves around a specific individual, or if you wish to get to know a certain part of yourself better (or if you wish to integrate parts of yourself).
Every reading that we do provides the opportunity for meditation. You can do this either at the beginning of the reading, after all of the cards have been turned up, or at the end of the reading. Simply gaze at the cards and hold the thought in your mind "What do I need to know?".
Internet sites that have interactive Tarot meditations include the Osho Zen Tarot, and the Enchanted Tarot.These are both excellent resources, and show the many different ways that we can incorporate meditation into our lives.
Hint: You may wish to jot down information brought to you in meditation, as it can tend to leave your conscious mind, much in the same way that dreams do if they are not written down.
Tarot stories are a great deal of fun! You can develop your story alone, with a partner, or with a group of people. Start out by choosing a deck that interests you. Then choose a theme for your story - or decide to let it flow as it will, which can make for some very fast moving action! Then choose a method for your story-telling: will it be written, will it be taped, or will it be for the joy of the moment, and not recorded at all? Now decide on a method for choosing the cards: they can be placed in a bowl or bag, mixed up, and drawn blindly, they can be taken from the top of the deck; or the deck can be passed around and each person can choose a card by their own method.
If you are developing the story on your own, keep the pace moving fast. Say the first thing that comes to your mind, then move on to the next card. No stopping to think - just see where the cards take you. If you are working with a partner, take turns drawing the cards and adding to the story. If you are working with a group of people, form a circle, and move quickly from person to person. The story ends when the cards end - which could be at the end of all 78 cards, or at the end of a predetermined number of cards.
This is a great way to end a class (or a meeting), as it brings people together, allows the cards to dance to their own tunes, and creates a huge amount of joy and laughter!
Visualization combines two elements - meditation and the art of stepping into another reality. This can also be considered journeying. You prepare for working with visualization in the same manner that you prepare to meditate - by creating a space where it will be quiet, and where you will not be disturbed. You place the card that you wish to work with in front of you, with enough light so that you can see it clearly. Use the same breathing technique that you used in meditation - breathe in slowly and fully, seeing yourself filled with white light. As you slowly breathe out, feel all of your cares leaving you. (If you are working with a candle, try focusing on the flame of the candle as you do this.)
Focus on the card in front of you, softening your gaze so that the card is slightly out of focus. Holding your intent in mind (are you trying to get to know the card better, are you going to ask the figure(s) in the card for advice?), focus on the card. When you are ready, close your eyes and enter the card.
There are several methods for entering a card. One method is to simply allow the edges of the card to disappear, which leave you free to walk into it in your mind. Note the environment (are there trees, streams, birds chirping). Note any buildings that appear, and what their function seems to be. Note any animals in the card. See if the animals may have a message for you.
Now focus on the main figure in the card. Introduce yourself, and ask if he/she is willing to talk to you. If the answer is no, thank them, and leave the card. There will be another day to visit here. If the answer is yes, start out by asking the figure if there is anything that they would like to ask you. If there is, answer them to the best of your ability. Now is the time to ask any questions that you have of them. At the end of your conversation, thank them for their time, and for their advice. If you entered the card by a path, turn around and follow that path out. If you did not enter by a path, simply allow yourself to come back into familiar surroundings, slowly becoming aware of the atmosphere around you, and the room or space that you are in.
Make notes of any information that you brought back with you from this journey. This is wisdom from the ancient ones, and has an important place in your life.
There is another manner of entering the cards that I have been working with lately, but I don't remember where I got it from. (This is important, because this is not my system, but I don't know who to attribute it to. If any of you who are reading this know where it came from, please e-mail me and let me know, so proper attribution can be made.) The system is the same all the way through to focusing on the card. At the point that you wish to enter the card, you simply ask the main figure in the card to present themselves to you. They may do so in the environment of the card, or they may present the environment, and themselves, in a different manner. This can be quite an exciting journey, and opens many different avenues of thought!
There are many ways that you can get to know your cards. There is no one "right" way - the right way is the way that works for you. A combination of intuition and a solid understanding of the basics of the cards will make your readings flow, and give you easy access to the archetypal knowledge that they hold.
May your journey be filled with Light and Laughter!
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.
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