Learn Tarot – Putting The Pieces Together
We now have an understanding of the elements plus the numerological associations. How do we combine these to determine the meaning of a card?
Let’s take the 5 of Wands (pictured right).
Q: What are the basic associations of Wands (the fire element)?
A: Passion, Adventure, Creativity, Exploration.
Q: What are the numerological associations of the number 5?
A: Conflict, Loss.
Combining the above we clearly have a conflict, people pulling in different directions, perhaps creative differences or an argument regarding what path to follow.
Congratulations, you’ve just unlocked a significant part of the tarot!
But, can the basics really be this simple?
Let’s compare the 5 of Wands with another 5 – how about the 5 of Cups? We’d expect to see aspects of conflict or loss, right?
Whereas the 5 of Wands depicts an actual struggle, the 5 of Cups shows …. a more emotional struggle. What do cups represent? Emotion? Love? Empathy? Who’d have thought it!
The figure stands, head lowered and 3 cups are knocked over – spilling their contents. The figure looks troubled. It’s that same conflict but this time internalised; an emotional conflict.
We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to compare other numbers across all four suites.
Now, we said in a previous article that learning the underlying associations was not only the quickest method but the best method. We also said this allowed the reading of any deck – including pip decks.
Let’s imagine you have The Tarot of The Witches. You draw the 8 of Swords.
This is a great time to talk about the suit of Swords. It is true that the numerological associations repeat across all 4 suites. However, those who have studied this pattern in detail may have noted that the suit of Swords turns these meanings on their head. With this in mind, let’s continue!
We no longer have any visual clues. But we know that Swords (air element) are associated with thoughts, intellect and conflict. We know that the number 8 indicates action or creation, turning ideas into reality.
Using our previous understanding we may think this relates to the querent “putting ideas into practice”. But, we’ve just learnt that the suits of Swords turns the meanings on their head – as the Swords love conflict – they’re Swords after all!
That leaves us maybe thinking the querent is at the stage where they *could* be putting ideas into practice but feel unable to do so. Perhaps they have internal conflict which is preventing them from seeing a way forward?
Shall we check how Patricia Coleman-Smith illustrated the 8 of Swords on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck?
What do we have here? A figure, bound and blindfolded, surrounded by a cage of swords. Only, if she could remove the blindfold she would see that it’s not a complete cage; she need only to walk forward to be free. The querent may feel trapped or unable to act when really there is a clear way forward. It’s an inverted or ‘blocked’ 8; the feeling of inability to create action.
We see here that even though the Swords twist the meaning of the numerical association – our understanding still holds. We also read the meaning of the card in The Witches Tarot without artwork to prompt us – even if that artwork may provide a deeper insight or useful visual prompts for the reader.
It really does help to lay the cards out and compare each value (ace to 10) across the suits and in reference to the numerological associations. Note both the similarities between the suits and the differences – especially with the suit of Swords.
Also, note how the numbers ace to 10 can form a story. The 3s are an early achievement, a celebration – something to give people confidence to continue. This leads to the 4s – where people start putting down strong foundations. Those foundations and confidence may cause conflict with others (5s) which will ultimately take new skills to resolve – learning to work and communicate with others (6s) etc. See how you can not only draw meaning from the card in front of you but where it fits in the story.
If you’ve come this far – well done. In just a few articles we’ve not only learnt the meanings of the 56 minor arcana but also how to view these individual cards as part of a much bigger picture.
Next, we’ll consider reversals before moving on to an example reading: Learn Tarot – Reversals
Esotericist with particular interest in tarot and the underlying magical traditions/systems.