There’s an awful lot written about Tarot. In books and online. Everyone who reads this material is searching for answers, searching for a way to find more meaning in the cards they are using for self-guidance, or in their study of tarot. It’s what we all do; we seek to understand the tool we are using, so that we gain best, and most accurate, use from it.
I started this blog to share my knowledge with others, but, although I’ve been a professional tarot reader for nigh on thirty years; and an astrologer for some twenty five years, the whole concept of blogging is new to me. So I thought I’d browse around and see what others in my field are writing about. I was having fun, reading, seeing what others are writing…getting excited about all this wonderful information that people are prepared to share so that others can learn…until I came across a popular website that stated, firmly, that tarot cards have fixed interpretations. I was both shocked and outraged. In my opinion, and experience, tarot cards do not have fixed interpretations; that simply isn’t possible. This online author stated that anyone who said, ‘this card could mean this or that’ was floundering, guessing and didn’t know what they were talking about, and should not be trusted as a competent reader. According to them each card has one, and only one, meaning. As I mentioned earlier, they were very firm in their statements, and totally inflexible.
I don’t want to mention this other site by name and start some online war of opinions; but I will outline, and share, why I believe that tarot cards do not have fixed interpretations.
Every card has its essence, it’s pure meaning; but we hardly ever get to read them in this context because human being are complex, have an ever-running set of desires, and are not all self-realised. Hence whichever cards are drawn are influenced by the enquirer’s personality and desires. The cards are also influenced by any direct question being asked. The cards also work on many levels simultaneously, such as deep rooted psychological patterning, physical world, other people and events. Hence the same set of cards can mean three or four different, yet related, scenarios in the questioner’s life. One card is hardly ever drawn in isolation, therefore by the very process of laying out a spread, each card is influenced and thus modified by the cards next to it. More on cards being modified by surrounding cards a bit later.
Let’s start with a simple example of how one card can have two different meanings simultaneously. We’ll use The Tower card as our ‘flexible’ card, because a lot of people are familiar with this card. A simple standard interpretation for The Tower says things like ‘Breakdown, shock, crisis, ego breaking down, turmoil and upset.’ We can probably all agree on that.
The following example is taken from a real reading, for a woman, aged about thirty five.
The first two cards in the spread were the Seven of Coins upright crossed by The Tower. In the spread I devised and use these cards sit in the centre of a cross and represent the client’s main issue at the moment. The Seven of Coins represents work that someone is good at and tends to enjoy. Because it was crossed by The Tower I started off by saying ‘You appear to enjoy your work but something is getting to you at the moment, making you feel overwhelmed by the tasks you have to perform.’ My client agreed with this and said that work was very challenging at the moment. She then asked me if the cards might represent the type of work she did. My reply was, ‘Yes, but only if you work renovating old buildings that are falling down or knock down buildings for a living.’ My client laughed and said, ‘I work in construction. I order big guys around and tell them which buildings to knock down so we can build new ones; and sometimes we renovate, but mostly we knock down and start from scratch. My whole working life is about creating rubble. I’m feeling challenged right now because I’m female and work with men all the time, and sometimes, like now, it’s really hard not to feel small in a man’s world.’
As you can see The Tower, in this context, ended up meaning three different things; which were all relevant to the client. The first meaning was the standard emotional interpretation, the ego being ground down by life’s challenges. The second and third were interpreting the card as a physical type of work, and as it’s a building being blasted to pieces, we have to consider a property which is falling down, in bad shape, or is being knocked down. Crikey, I used the word ‘or,’ because I saw options for how the woman might have interacted with the falling building. As it was both ended up being correct.
With a belief that each card can only mean one thing, when she asked if the cards might represent her type of work, I would have had to say, ‘No, it means this and only this.’ What a missed opportunity to explore other possibilities and expand my interpretations and field of knowledge. I was blessed. My client showed me a new interpretation; she gave me a gift.
Now let’s look at the issue of the interpretation of one card being modified by surrounding cards. For the sake of simplicity all of the cards referred to will be upright.
We’ll look at combinations of two cards, one next to the other. I always interpret the cards in the order they are drawn in. In this example we’ll take the six of cups as our ‘flexible’ card. A simple standard interpretation for the six of cups says things like, ‘past-present-future, reflecting on the past, memories.’
Let’s look at the four of swords followed by the six of cups. The four of swords is isolation and retreat; so here the six of cups shows that someone is hiding away and dwelling on the past. The impression here is that the individual is sad and lonely, and that they are living in the past.
Now let’s put the six of cups followed by the eight of cups. The eight of cups refers to moving on to new ventures and leaving the past behind. Here, quite literally the card of the past is drawn first and represents the past that the questioner is leaving. However, it’s more complex than that. The six of cups is what we do when we move house. We look at all of our stuff and decide what to keep from the past to take into the future. Followed by the eight of cups we have the theme of packing our possessions away and moving home.
From these two simple examples we can see that the six of cups can mean nostalgia or sorting stuff out ready to move. Oh dear, I used that naughty or word again.
Many people use the Waite deck or a Waite look-alike deck, in other words, a pictorial tarot. So I’m going to quote from ‘The Pictorial Key to Tarot’ written by A. E. Waite, the very man who, along with illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, devised the cards most people are using.
For the two of batons (wands) under the heading Divinatory Meanings, he writes ‘Between the alternative readings there is no marriage possible; on the one hand, riches, fortune, magnificence; on the other, physical suffering, disease, chagrin, sadness, mortification.’
Each tarot card has its essence, its core meaning, but we must base our interpretations on the entire spread and how the cards interrelate. Never be afraid to use your intuition and say what you see, be flexible to new ideas and let the cards surprise you by constantly showing new and wonderful meanings.