An Introduction to the Tarot
What is the Tarot?
Tarot is the name given to certain decks of cards, usually used to answer personal questions or to look into the future. The cards
first appeared in medieval Europe, but frequently-encountered legends suggest that they were brought from India by the Gypsies or
are a remnant of the ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth. The development of the cards is covered in more
detail in A History of the Tarot.
Whatever their actual origin, true Tarot decks contain 78 cards spilt into two sections. One of these is similar to our modern
playing cards but with different suits (cups instead of hearts, for example) and with an extra court card, a Knight, in each suit.
The remaining 22 cards are the Major cards that most people associate with the Tarot, cards like the Lovers, the Star and Death.
An in-depth exploration of the various components of a Tarot deck, along with depictions of every card in the medieval
Marseilles deck, is given in The Structure of the Tarot.
The illustration above right shows a selection of cards from the Marseilles Tarot, and to the left
is an example of one of its Major cards, the World.
How is the Tarot used?
For divination, cards are selected from a deck at random and arranged according to a layout or spread. Each card has a basic meaning,
and this meaning is modified by its position in the spread. A good reader not only brings their experience and knowledge of the cards
and the spread to the reading, but can relate the interpretation to any given question or issue. To the right is an illustration of
the popular Celtic Cross spread. The process of performing a Tarot reading, from preparation to the subtleties of interpretation, is
covered in Performing a Tarot Reading, and numerous spreads are explained in
For psychological or mystical applications, the images and meanings of the cards can be used as the basis for meditation or mental
exploration, and their links to other symbolic systems like the Kabbalah and
astrology can be employed for expansion of knowledge and synthesis of ideas. The sequence of the
Major cards in a Tarot deck can be viewed in many ways, one of which is as an allegory of the evolution of the soul.
Does the Tarot work?
The answer to this question depends on what you expect the Tarot to be or do. Certainly, a good Tarot reading, thoughtfully considered,
can be helpful in working through problems and weighing up decisions, regardless of whether there is anything going on beyond the random
selection of symbols. The psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung recognized the value of the cards,
and they can help with self-exploration and assist in the task of becoming an integrated, balanced whole. Some of the ideas of Jung as
they relate to the Tarot are introduced in Jung and the Tarot.
Many people, though, use the Tarot to try to glimpse the future. The idea that, through some unknown mechanism, the fall of the cards
foreshadows events to come is held by many. Those who have worked with the Tarot over a period of time often vouch for the fact that
the cards do seem, subjectively at least, to be uncannily accurate about future events. Equally there are those who argue that such
ideas are mistaken, that correct predictions happen only by chance and those that do not come to pass are conveniently forgotten.
For all the claims of self-proclaimed "psychics," there is no objective evidence that the cards can reveal anything meaningful
about the future, but whatever the truth of the matter, there is no doubt that the Tarot can be an invaluable tool for self-discovery
in intelligent hands. A more detailed discussion of some of the issues surrounding the predictive powers of the Tarot is given in
Divination and the Tarot.
Where can I get a deck or a reading?
The best way to learn about the Tarot is to buy your own deck and explore the cards for yourself. Our list of recommended
Tarot Decks and Books should help you get started. And you can have a Tarot reading performed for you right away
on the Byzant website: we have a wide variety of free on-line readings available to help you get a feel
for the cards.
Is there more to the Tarot?
Certainly! The Tarot is much more than a method of divination. As well as being interesting from historical, sociological and artistic
perspectives, the Tarot is a powerful tool for spiritual and psychological investigation. The Tarot is closely linked to the
Kabbalah through the Tree of Life (shown right),
for example, and an understanding of the Kabbalah will deepen your appreciation of the Tarot, and vice versa. The Tarot-Kabbalah link
is covered and illustrated in The Tarot and the Kabbalah.
You can learn a lot about the Tarot by exploring the rest of Byzant Tarot, and there is much in the rest of
our website that has links - some obvious, some subtle - to these remarkable cards.