Tarot Alchemy: A Complete Analysis of the Major Arcana
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In ordinary playing card decks, these suits are Spades, Diamonds, Hearts and Clubs. The four Ace cards from the Rider Waite Smith Tarot, each prominently displaying the item after which their suit is named. Readings are normally performed by Tarot readers for clients in order to answer a question, to give advice or guidance, etc. It is the job of a Tarot reader to interpret the symbolic imagery of the cards in the context of a spread.
However, the Tarot is not just a tool for divination but can be used for meditation, reflection, and creative brainstorming. Before the 20th century it was even widely used for playing card games, Hansen. The Tarot can also be studied and analyzed much like any other work of art, though such an analysis is more complicated, because the Tarot consists of not one, but 78 different pieces of art that are all interrelated.
There are also many decks that are adaptations of, or draw inspiration from, decks that came before them.
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Many of them also reference or incorporate elements or symbolism from various other subjects, such as religion, mythology, historical figures and events, astrology, alchemy or numerology, just to name a few. Knowledgeably interpreting the symbolism in the Tarot depends partly on having some understanding of such subjects. The Tarot is rich and complex, full of layers of symbolism, with interpretation depending on an enormous amount of variables and information from a number of different sources — the cards, their creators, their history, the personal knowledge and intuition, as well as a diverse assortment of interrelated topics.
Studying the Tarot is a never-ending task; there is always something new to be learned or discovered.
I personally have never found any subject of study to be quite as uniquely challenging, interesting and enjoyable as the Tarot. I planned to catalogue all the different elements within the Rider Waite Smith deck, studying their origins and possible meanings, and exploring the different subjects that have had an influence on the deck and the imagery of its cards.
I had not planned to interpret the cards but to provide as much objective data about them as I was able, so that others could better understand the deck as a whole. However, that is not the plan I finally determined to pursue. Instead, I am focusing on the process of studying the Tarot to form a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the cards.
This change in my goals occurred because of something I noticed after I began doing research for this project. Some resources provided exercises on how to meditate on or analyze the cards, but none attempted to comprehensively teach a method which a Tarot beginner could use to learn to read the cards and form their personal interpretations of them. In fact, many of the resources I consulted did exactly the opposite. They often used language implying that all one has to do to learn everything there is to know about the Tarot is adopt the interpretations expressed by the creator of the resource and memorize them completely.
Authors frequently present their personal interpretations about the Tarot using definite language, implying or stating that their conclusions are incontrovertibly true or correct. Her red gown also established the power base from which we grow and develop our truth seeking and discriminating skills. Her olive green cloak suggests that growth is an important element for the energy of Justice. In her left hand, Justice holds the scales of equality and fairness used to weigh truth and justice. In her right hand, she holds a blue sword that points to higher truths.
The sword represents protection and defense… …The purple drape behind Justice supports the idea that higher qualities back up Justice. She wears the crown of authority with its imbedded square jewel of intelligence. The white slipper from her foot that sticks out below the bottom of her robe, telling us that purity of judgment is the basis of understanding true justice.
The square brooch on the green cape is a symbol of wholeness and of the Self. Angel, p. What is she basing this interpretation on? What sources did she use: personal intuition and experience? How did she come to reach the conclusions she did?
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If Angel did base most of her assertions solely on her own opinions about the card, she should have acknowledged this. If she had, for instance, created a disclaimer that informed the reader that the following passage consisted entirely of her own personal beliefs about the card, then I would have had no contest with her assertions or their lack of support. Subjective interpretation is an important part of Tarot reading, but by using definitive language Angel falsely presents as fact her own interpretation.
This can prejudice the beliefs of beginners to the Tarot, which can be detrimental. To explain why this can be harmful, I will make a comparison between interpreting the Tarot and writing an essay. In any essay or paper, the conclusion reached must be supported and explained using data, evidence and logical reasoning.
If the writer does not give sufficient proof or logic to back up their claims, the conclusion can be called into question very easily. She made statements about the card without explaining why she made them, clarifying what sources she based them on, or giving any solid evidence to support them. She provided nothing outside of her own opinions to prove the validity of her statements. It is my belief that encouraging Tarot students to copy what others believe can inhibit their learning process. Resources which oversimplify the Tarot obscure its complexity, especially when they do this by promoting the unquestioning adoption of their own conclusions to their readers, denying readers the opportunity to investigate and unravel the intricacies of the Tarot for themselves.
By presenting a method through which a reader can learn, grow and eventually form their own interpretations, I hope to help practitioners to form their own conclusions about the cards, learn to thoroughly support and explain those conclusions and achieve a deep understanding of the Tarot cards through their own power. It is my hope that this method can help to pave the way for the development of better methods in the future.
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The following text is not meant to provide any interpretations, but to instruct the practitioner in how they can build an interpretation for themselves. Step 1: A Thorough Visual Analysis of the Cards What follows is a description of the process I have developed that will allow a beginner to develop and master a comprehensive understanding of the Tarot. The very first step is to pick a single deck to study, for the sake of focus and simplicity. If one eventually finds that the deck one has chosen seems insufficient, then simply find a deck that seems more suitable, and begin the process again.
After settling on a deck, it is best to begin the journey of studying the Tarot with the simplest and most intrinsic step: objectively examining each individual card. Look them over, one by one, and get to know them well. Just as an art historian might undertake a close examination of a certain painter's work in order to develop an understanding of it, so too is it important for the student of the Tarot to examine the art and illustrations that are inherent in the cards.
One can go about this examination of the cards any number of ways. One could, perhaps, study a single card every day over the course of a day period, thereby covering the whole deck in a relatively short span of time. This study would involve observing the card and writing a thorough description of it that includes every single detail in its imagery, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
For example, one ought to take note of the colors used in the card, what comprises its background, any animals, plants, buildings, objects, any figures and the actions they might be taking, their gestures, facial expressions and clothes, how these items are all arranged, etc. Leave nothing that can be observed out of the description. At this point, the student should not attempt to subjectively interpret the card or look for any meaning inside its contents, but should keep the examination of each card as objective as possible.
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Even if one's mind begins to interpret what it sees, as may well happen, it would be wisest to tuck away such speculation and focus on the matter at hand. This is because it can be easy to get distracted by speculating on possible interpretations of a card, and in doing so one can become sidetracked from the process of objective analysis.
Any conclusions one reaches at this early stage are very likely to be changed drastically as one continues to learn more about the cards. There will be plenty of opportunity for interpretation further on. Indeed it will be a natural development over the course of this process. Other exercises in the individual study of the cards can include writing all of the visible elements and details down in descriptions, lists, tables, spreadsheets, etc. For the visually inclined, drawing the contents of the cards could also prove to be useful.
These replications do not have to be perfect copies of the cards or works of great artistic prowess, but will be sufficient no matter how they look so long as they include all of the details one observes in the original card. For instance, if a simple brown snail is depicted on a card, it does not matter if the snail in a copy of the image looks perfectly like the original, so long as it is a snail and it is brown, and it is in approximately the right place.
One only needs to demonstrate that one has perceived the snail and its fundamental characteristics. To some, this step may sound like a fairly simple and obvious one to take. However, I have not yet found any resources on the subject of the Tarot that bring it up, much less encourage it. Some aspects of an artistic piece, for instance, are very obviously meant to be symbolic, but there are usually many more elements which are indefinite, and which can be difficult to conclusively and firmly determine to be important and meaningful symbols or unimportant embellishment.
The idea of the Possibly Symbolic Element PSE acknowledges this uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding some of the symbolism in creative works, and therefore can be of use when that uncertainty emerges. For example, if one asked a student of the Tarot to list all of the elements in any one card that are definitely and unquestionably symbolic, they may be able to identify the most obvious ones with ease, but then end up puzzling for some time over the more ambiguous details.
However, if one asks them to make a list of all of the elements which may potentially be symbolic, then they need not expend too much time of effort determining if one particular element definitely has or does not have meaning, since they are only looking for the possibility of meaning. It leaves the determination of which elements are definitely symbolic, and what they mean or represent, for a later time, and lets them make an initial guess without having to stress out over being one hundred percent sure.
They can look for and catalogue PSEs as they begin their studies, and then later confirm which of the PSEs they believe to be not just possibly, but definitely symbolically important. Practices involving PSEs have a number of different uses. For instance, making list of the PSEs observed in various cards can help one get to know the cards better. Doing this also can serve as a fitting second step to cataloging all of the details in each card, since the first step provides the one who went through it with a list of all the details within a card, even the most insignificant. However, after cataloging a card's PSEs, one is left with a list of only the potentially significant or symbolic details found in that card.
All the details that definitely seem too small, random, etc. Cataloguing the PSEs in the Tarot can also help one to determine the levels of symbolic complexity in different cards — for instance, a card that contains many PSEs may have much more depth and complexity to its interpretations, whereas a card with only a few PSEs will usually have fewer possible interpretations, making it simpler to read. However, sometimes the opposite is true, and a card with more PSEs is easier to read, because its symbolism narrows down and clarifies its meaning, and a card with less PSEs is more difficult to read because its symbolism is so open-ended it is hard to decide on any one interpretation for it.
Measuring PSEs across decks can, similarly, be a helpful factor in determining what kinds of decks one wants to work with. For instance, one could compare different decks' versions of the same card and catalog the number of PSEs in each. The decks with higher amounts of PSEs in their cards will most likely make for more in-depth and complex readings, which more advanced Tarot readers should appreciate, whereas decks with lower average levels of PSEs will give simpler to understand readings, and will probably be better for beginners to work with.
Some decks may have such low levels of PSEs that reading or analyzing them at all is difficult, since there is so little material upon which to base interpretations. How to determine what qualifies as a Possibly Symbolic Element: Intuition: Which parts of the card feel as if they may hold meaning. This may be a subjective measure, but when one is dealing with the Tarot, whether studying or reading it, the use of at least some measure subjective judgment is unavoidable, and even necessary.
However, subjective opinion and intuition should be used alongside objective analysis, solid data and information, in a balanced manner. For instance, an illustration of a cross has obvious symbolic meaning in a Christian culture.
Observation: Sometimes, it is clear, just from looking at a card, which parts of it are probably meant to symbolize something. There are various factors that one can use to easily determine which elements might have meaning in this way.