Categories and Sets: finding internal logic in learning

Tarot “works” because of associations – whether that’s the story attached to a fairy tale in a themed deck, the Catholic imagery of countless decks, or the subtler reference to the character of a specific fandom.

Today I’m going to introduce a few categories of associations. None are essential for beginners, and maybe none are important in general (one of the beauties of non-dogmatic tarot is that it centers around what works for each practitioner), but they’re all examples of things my mind has wrapped around and that helped create another set of “hooks” for my memory and imagination to dig into.

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5 Reasons to Study Tarot (or purchase a reading)

1. Tarot offers an alternative to language (and a bridge to get there)

My whole life I have been a student and teacher of language. Words form the bowls or other containers that collect the “broth” of our experience, collecting, containing, and giving it shape.

There is, however, an end to words. Not necessarily to their power, but to our mastery of them. We have all experienced reaching the end of our words, but not the fullness of what we are trying to shape or express.

When I found the tarot at age 36, I was already adept at managing (and often getting around) these limitations, but when I began to understand the images, and how each deck’s iteration of the same card was something of a visual synonym, I began to think visually for the first time in my life.

I experienced the new (to me) sensation of being able to skip the words for now, and interact with the thoughts and feelings that – like a mote on the edge of sight – chased away from the direct capture of words.

After a traumatic situation, I was able to sit (even for the barest moment) with two images and feel the same relief I’d previously achieved with a half-hour of journaling.

2. Tarot gives you a chance to exercise an underutilized part of the brain

Our everyday world calls on us not only to focus on language, but also on the concrete and time-bound. All those things that have been labeled “left-brained.”

Tarot offers a rest to that part of our processing, and offers a challenge to the less-often exercised “right-brain” strategies of visualization, storytelling, and  abstract connection.

Odd are good this will tire you at first. This is not a flaw in you or a malevolence in the “energy” of the cards. This is basic muscle building, and it will contribute to increasing overall mental strength and aptitude. Read more

Reading Reversed Cards

I love reversals. People who don’t use them insist that all the possible meanings are in a card, upright or not, but that’s a huge load to make a card (or reader) carry.

By including reversals, I only have to see half of that stuff at a time.

From the Monstarot deck

Reversals have been read a number of ways:

  1. Something opposite the core meaning
  2. The worst version of the card topic
  3. a smaller or specific aspect of the card
  4. intensifying the core meaning
  5. in protection aspect (kind warning)
  6. delay or resistance to the topic/essence
  7. fear related to the topic of the card, or placement in the spread.
  8. Not at all (every reader chooses for themselves, and have all of these element still available to them).

There are more, of course, but these are the ones I’ve run into personally.

How do you know which one it is? Read more

Kid-Friendly Tarot Decks

I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty, here, or describe a bunch of decks in detail. This isn’t a geek-out post, though naturally opinions are still my own, and I don’t expect everyone to see things just the way I do.

This post is a picture-full starting spot for parents who are interested in introducing their kids to tarot, or even learning alongside them, without feeling the need to protect them from the images on the cards.

I know parents who are perfectly comfortable with “standard” decks, or “mild nudity” so they’re not the focus of this resource but still could find some more ideas. 🙂

One more thing: These recommendations are based only on imagery. Not all decks are equally useful for learning the system of tarot. But that list is a bit more complex, and is for another time.

I’ll mark* the decks I feel are easiest to learn from – in case you want a hint now. These fit a system, or have other helps (like key words or phrases on the card).

I am throwing bottom-limit age-suggestions at a number of decks here. However, user-compatibility is the most important thing. If the user doesn’t care about the imagery, if it doesn’t draw him or her into spending time with it, it won’t work. It’s no biggie, just a reminder that this practice – both choosing a deck and using the cards – is a terrific example of “child-led.” Read more

Tarot for Kids and Other Young People

Tarot and young people can be a natural combination. The variety of decks available today can help parents be sensitive to their kids’ (and their own) level of comfort while still offering the benefits of this storytelling system of cards.

Benefits of working with tarot include the chance to practice with new perspectives, increase self-awareness, and invest in problem-solving skills.

Why would tarot promote any of that? – What is tarot, really?

Tarot is a system of cards very like the 52-card pack families already use to play Spoons, Cribbage, or War. To get to the 78-card total, tarot decks also include 22 character or storytelling cards (called the Majors) and 4 more face cards (one for each suit).

The four suits are associated with four broad areas of life, and this is where we start to see some potential application for increased awareness/paying attention.

Our four standard suits (different deck designers play with different names for these, but what each of the the four cover remains consistent).

  • Wands (like clubs in a standard deck) are tied to fire, power, energy, and identity.
  • Cups (analogous to hearts) are tied to water, relationships, emotion and intuition.
  • Swords (spades) are tied to air, intellect, problems and problem-solving
  • Pentacles (diamonds) are tied to earth, money, the tangible world, and work.

These four categories can also apply in similar ways to parts of an individual’s life: their will/identity, emotions/relationships, smarts/mindset, and work/physical body.

Breaking down the bits of our life as each suit does (Ace through 10, for example,  cover iterations or elements of that suit’s focus) gives us a chance to be still and observe. It teaches tarot students – adults and young people alike – to pause and look at how different areas of their life interact.

It becomes a practical form of mindfulness or meditation. It gives the user something to look at, to focus on, which makes stillness and attention easier at any age.

And if parents are worried about potentially scary images or ideas (the Devil, for example, or the 10 of swords, if you’ve seen that image in a traditional deck), we cover these cards with the intent of neutralizing the fear, and showing how they can offer insight, fully separate from any religious imperatives.

These are the decks I recommend for child-users (recommendation based on images alone. Not all are equally easy for learning the system of tarot).

Several are available at our local Barnes & Noble, and I will bring decks from my own collection for those who don’t want to buy a deck, or who want to see some options before they choose their own.

I discovered tarot as an adult, and it was the tool that taught me how to think visually. I am excited for the chance to introduce children to the psychological tool that tarot can be, building self-awareness and a vocabulary of connections.

What is Tarot?

The basic answer begins with the physical deck itself.

A tarot deck is made up of 78 cards, 52 of them analogous to the 52-card deck you are familiar with for poker, Gin Rummy, and Go-Fish.

Their familiarity is part of what makes them the every-day level of “sharing.” Minor Archana, they’re called. The little secrets.

Another 4 cards belong to the minors as well. A fourth face card for each suit. Instead of the Jack/Queen/King arrangement of the traditional deck, Tarot decks include Page/Knight/Queen/King.

78-52 -4= 22

The last 22 are the archetypal or storytelling cards, and these are the cards least-familiar to the average card-player: The Major Arcana. The skookum secrets.

These include the kinds of cards that can look scary – Death, or the Devil, for example. And what about all that nudity? Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

Or avoid it. You know what I mean.

Tarot is the overarching term I use to describe both the physical decks I use, the act of laying out cards, and the practice of discussing what the images on those cards represent.

So when I say, “I do tarot,” I am saying that I have a comfort with and an understanding of ways to use these 78-card decks, some of which I’ll share on this blog over time.