This post is inspired by the folks over in the Tea Break Tarot Facebook group.
Discussion yesterday explored the idea of tarot card meanings. This was one of my biggest blocks with tarot when I began working with the cards…how on earth would I learn what they all meant, how would I recall that information during a reading? Seventy-eight different cards, and the variety of different combinations found through working with several cards at once had me in a spin.
When I started out I did choose to explore the Rider-Waite system and worked through a teach-yourself-tarot book to get me underway. However what I realised afterwards grew out of my experiences as a life-long bookworm and English literature student.
I came to understand that to give a fixed meaning to tarot was similar to saying that Van Gogh’s Sunflowers had one set, authorised meaning, or that a particular poem could only be understood in one way. I came to see that tarot was like the books and plays I had studied, that while the writer might have had certain thoughts when they recorded their text, once it was “out there” the reader had at least as much of a creative role in developing their own meaning as they read, from their own perspectives and lived experiences.
I believe the same is true of tarot. While there do seem to be common, archetypal themes within the tarot, situations that are shared as part of human experience, each individual tarot reader brings their own “reading” to the cards. Each of us looks at the cards with our own unique “lenses”. These are made from each of our individual life stories, and are constantly evolving as we do.
While it is helpful to reference the tarot collective for information and wisdom, it is as important to allow the “meanings” of the cards to come to us through our own intuitive gifts. There is no awarding body able to rubber stamp or authorise our interpretations, and while some people believe that there is only one right way to do tarot I personally think that’s a bunch of gatekeeping nonsense (I substituted this for my original more Anglo-Saxon word choice). Give yourself time but in the end this is a personal journey, as much as any creative and intuitive practice; others can support you in gaining skills but how you go from there is your gift and also your contribution to the collective wisdom and understanding.
I am also struck by the notion that the “traditional” Rider-Waite system is a mere hundred or so years old (and given that tarot is at least 600 years old therefore not that traditional) and created by white, well-off Victorian folks who were mostly male. Whatever we take from these cards it will be helpful necessary to filter it through the perspectacles of inclusivity watching out for racism, able-ism, sexism, homophobia and other bias along the way.
It can feel scary and strange to wake up to the realisation that there is no “ultimate truth” to learn or uncover in tarot. Ultimately there is no single answer to the question “what do the cards mean?” Divination is a journey, a means to guidance, not the destination. For me, that is the wonder and gift of oracles, exploring the key, unlocking the magic, having the discussions, uncovering the path one step at a time.