What is the tarot? If I had a penny for all the times this questions has been asked and all of the ways in which it has been answered over the years — well, my house would have beautiful copper walls!
There are many ways to approach the tarot. I could give you the scholarly version: seventy-eight cards, divided into the categories of Major and Minor Arcana, first appearing in Italy in the early fifteenth century, used in games of chance and not for divination purposes! Or I could provide the therapeutic view point first made popular by Carl Jung: each card is an aspect of the psyche and can be understood as resonating with the archetypes dwelling in the Collective Unconscious. Perhaps you would rather have tarot as a form of entertainment wherein a beautiful woman with glossy nails and smooth hands dramatically shuffles a colorful set of cards out onto midnight velvet as the lights lower and you prepare yourself to hear about…your FUTURE.
All wonderful aspects of tarot to be sure, but none of these are my tarot and what can I write about with any knowing except the tarot as I came to know it? This is the tarot that was shared with me by my mother, who had it from her father, who had it from someone I do not know — perhaps a wizened auntie, or black haired cousin, or Irish speaking grandmother once upon a time. My earliest memory of tarot is sitting at my mother’s knee when I was three years old. We were in the living room of our old house and sun was pouring in off the patio, the buttery yellow light illuminated the first card, card 0, The Fool. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen — this man in such wonderful clothes and with a little dog! I admired how bravely he lifted up his heart to sky and seemed to place all bets on the power of faith. I wondered what his story was and would be — for surely, surely, it would hold great adventure.
Story is the vital part of the tarot and I mean that quite literally. The images on the cards make up a skeleton (and this is one reason why sagacious readers have favorite decks for specific situations) but the stories of the cards are the muscle, tendon, and vital organs that knit the bones together and create a whole body. Tarot tells us many stories; some are natural and some are supernatural, some are about mother, father, brother, sister, work, lovers, home, children, health, fear, hope, passion, loss, gain, death and life — always life. Some stories are about Gods or Angels and Devils while many of the stories are about you and me and what it really takes to know ourselves and live well. But all of the stories have one thing in common — they are all mirrors. And in their silvery pools we see ourselves and can rediscover and recollect bone-deep knowing and soul-truths that we carry with us always even if we forget about them from time to time. It is this mirroring quality that the tarot possesses that has compelled people to consult it for over 600 years on matters great and small alike and it is this ability to remind us of what is most true and precious in life that allows the tarot to speak to us in the most practical and down-to-earth ways while remaining unwaveringly attuned to what is most sacred. That is the tarot I know of, and I would love to share it with you.