The Mystical World of Tarot Reading
Updated: Mar 27
Tarot has perhaps become commonly associated with the cliché of a mystical woman in a dimly lit room delivering news of doom.
But what actually is it? Where did it come from? How did it start? These are all questions we're going to explore.
Tarot cards can be traced back to fourteenth century Europe as playing cards. The suits used in these cards are similar to those of modern tarot cards in the forms of staves or wands, discs or coins, cups, and swords. These style of suits are still sometimes used today in Europe. In the mid 1400's, Italian artists began to add additional illustrated cards into the sets, which were 'trump' cards. The numbers made of these original cards was small as they were each hand painted, and were typically owned by the wealthy. However, once the printing press was invented, mass production of cards became possible and accessible to others. At this time, the tarot cards were only used to play various card games. Soon, different countries began to create variations of the decks to include or eliminate different cards. For example, there were different types of Italian-suited decks such as Tarocco Pietmontese and Tarocco Bolognese.
Tarot cards for the purpose of divination only began to rise in popularity in the late sixteen and early seventeenth century. However, at this time the card reading was a lot more simplified than it is today. The tarot cards greatly took off in the later 1700's due to the works of Antoine Court De Gebelin and Jean-Baptiste Alliette. De Gebelin published an analysis of the tarot and claimed the tarot symbolism was from the mystical knowledge of Egyptian priests, which was revealed to the Catholic Church, who wanted to keep it secret. Alliette released the first tarot deck specifically for divination a the end of the century.
By the end of the Victorian era, tarot readings became a popular pastime for the upper class. Common terms such as the 'Minor Arcana' and 'Major Arcana' were first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Pitois.
Perhaps the most iconic deck to date is the Rider-Waite deck. This came about after British occultist, Arthur Waite teamed up with artist Pamela Coleman Smith to create the deck. Instead of just showing a group of swords or coins, Smith incorporated characters and people into the tarot artwork to produce the widely recognisable deck. The tarot cards were published in 1909 to become one of the most widely used decks in the English-speaking world.
So with the history of tarot in mind, how does it actually work?
Firstly, there are two types of readings: an open reading and a question reading. Self explanatory, a question reading aims to address and provide a guide for a specific question. Open readings address larger issues that are not specific. These are usually done when a change is happening in someone's life, such as a career change, marriage or a move.
There are various spreads that can be used during a reading, whose card positions have different meanings.
The cards are shuffled and then selected by the individual having the reading. The readings are based largely on perception, intuition and the interpretation of the cards and how this can apply. The purpose of the reading is to offer guidance and perspective, but not necessarily to be used as a decision maker.
So there are the basics of what tarot is and how it works. So where is better to gain insight about the world of tarot than by a professional tarot reader. I spoke to tarot veteran, Theresa Reed, fittingly known as 'The Tarot Lady'. Theresa has written a book about tarot and even created a tarot colouring book!
Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about how you got into tarot?
Theresa: "My journey to tarot was quite by accident (but are there really any accidents?). When I was a teen, my best friend’s mother read my astrology chart. This piqued my interest so I began to study astrology. On one of the rare occasions to the mall, I headed to the bookstore to find some astrology books. Lo and behold, there was a lone tarot deck on the shelf. Intrigued, I picked it up on a whim. I had seen tarot cards in movies so I thought I might want to see what it was all about. As I started diving into the cards, I became obsessed with them - and I’ve had a tarot deck in my hands ever since. That was forty years ago."
What do you hope to achieve with your tarot sessions?
Theresa: "My goal is clarity. Because when you’re aware of what’s happening and what the potential outcome may be, you have the power to make better decisions. I believe that life is determined by our choices - and tarot helps to find the best ones."
Is there a common issue or problem clients approach you with?
Theresa: "The most common issue is relationships. People want to know how to find love, keep love, and make better choices in their relationships. Next to that would be money. Interestingly, I get many questions about business. I love those ones because my brain is hard-wired for business."
Are there any common misconceptions you find people asking or believing?
Theresa: "Some people assume that their future is fixed in stone. That somehow life is “happening to them.” That’s not true. It’s frustrating when you have someone sitting in front of you, wanting the future all neatly drawn out, with no work on their part and a guarantee. Life doesn’t work like that and tarot cannot give you that. You always have a choice - and you need to do your part to make your future. Tarot is not passive and you shouldn’t be either."
What inspired you to write your book ‘Tarot for Troubled Times’?
Theresa: "After the last election, folks seemed to be more scared than usual. My coauthor Shaheen Miro and I noticed that many of our clients were fearful about their future. We wanted to show them how to heal and become a force for good in the world. We created a class and that became the book."
What made you create the colouring book? It’s a very original idea!
Theresa: "Actually, the idea wasn’t mine. My publisher asked me if I could create it! And so I did! The Tarot Coloring Book has been delighting people for years and helping them discover the cards in a playful, experiential way. I’m so proud of that book!"
What do you think are the key things for a successful tarot session?
Theresa: "An open mind. That’s all that is required. If both the tarot reader and querent approach the cards with a curious, non-judgmental, and objective mindset, the cards will do their magic."
Is there anything further you’d like to add?
Theresa: "Tarot is becoming more popular than ever, thanks to the internet. Back in the day, it was harder to find the cards and the information. Plus, there was a lot of stigma around it. I experienced a lot of discrimination and hate back then - I received threats from grown men who were freaked out by my work! Thankfully, that has changed. I hope that new readers understand how different the climate is today. If you’re starting to read or go pro, don’t forget those of us who paved the way and endured a whole lotta bullshit to lay the groundwork for tarot to thrive today."
'In addition to doing private Tarot readings, teaching Tarot classes, and speaking at Tarot conferences, Theresa also runs a popular website—TheTarotLady.com—where she dishes out advice, inspiration and tips for Tarot lovers of all experience levels.
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