TAROT THOUGHT: Can Decks Have Significators?

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There’s this practice that’s common among Tarot readers involving the use of what’s called a “Significator card.” The idea is that a person can be consistently represented within a reading or in a meditation by a given card. These Significator cards are often chosen from the subset of the Court Cards, and people will regularly zoom in on a Significator based on the age and gender of the querent (so someone with mature, Yang energy might best be represented by the King of Wands or the King of Swords, since Kings are mature and Yang, and the Suits of Wands and Swords are also considered to be Yang in nature). Other Tarot people don’t feel bound to choose Significators from only the Court Cards – much of this is down to personal preference.

Here’s a question, though: can a deck itself have a Significator card selected from within the ranks of its own 78 component members? Can a single card consistently represent a given deck? And can different decks have different Significators than the cards that serve as Significators for other decks?

That is, it would be one thing to say that, for instance, The High Priestess represents all decks, and any deck’s own High Priestess card could serve as that deck’s Significator. That would be one possibly valid approach here. It would be another thing, though, to hold that for Deck A, the Significator card that would always represent it would be, for example, the Emperor card, while Deck B’s Significator might instead be its own Ace of Wands card. That approach might also work, depending on your own responses to all of this…

But regardless of whether you want to use cards as official “Significators” for decks, it’s tough to argue that we don’t end up forming very strong associations linking a couple of specific cards with the deck from which they’re drawn.  Like, if I had to use a single card to capture the famed Rider-Waite-Smith deck for myself or somebody else, I’d probably settle first on The Magician.  To me, that’s the first card image that leaps to mind when I think of the RWS deck – that card means that deck in my mind, and that deck also means that card.  Other high-ranking possibilities for me would include The High Priestess, The Hermit (being on a Led Zeppelin album cover surely helps…), the Death card, and maybe a couple of the Court Cards and Aces.

Over in Thoth-Land, even before I became a full-time Tarot zealot myself, I understood that some early glimpse of the Adjustment card was very formative for me, and I imprinted on that image hard as a signifier of the Thoth deck.  I don’t even know that I fully grasped what the image was depicting at first, but I knew that it was unique to the Thoth deck, and that seeing the Adjustment card called the Thoth deck to mind for me, and that stumbling across any reference to the Thoth deck would likewise bring a mental picture of the Adjustment card swimming up to plant itself on my mental front-burner.  Runners-up for Thoth Significators for me are the Universe and the Lust cards: these also feel very extremely and uniquely evocative of this deck.

So how about you? Do you feel that individual decks have their own Significator cards that can be produced from within the bodies of themselves…?

Hey: learn Tarot with me! You can browse my now-underway free section on TAROT CARD MEANINGS, you can sign on with me to receive PRIVATE LESSONS in Tarot, or you can purchase the TAROT TOOLKIT ONLINE COURSE that I co-taught earlier this year, which features 10 recorded webinar-style class sessions in MP4 format and a 120-page PDF Workbook, plus a few freebie files that introduce the basics of some related metaphysical disciplines, such as Astrology and Qabalah. Questions? Drop me a line via my CONTACT page!

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Tarot Deck Popularity

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Here we see the two most popular Tarot decks in the world: the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and the Thoth Tarot. I always liked the Thoth, despite lamenting its creators’ decision to steer clear of scenic Minors, but it took me a long time to warm up to the RWS. For one thing, I don’t love the artwork, which is a personal response…but for another, it’s so omnipresent in Tarot that I was sort of quietly rebelling against this idea that if you want to be a Tarot person, you must embrace the RWS (and that idea does get expressed out there in Tarot circles…).

I should explain. I have this personal, knee-jerk response such that when the world seems to unify and embrace something as one…it rubs me the wrong way. When something feels “too popular” to me, I feel repelled by it. And it’s not even the thing itself that repels me, but the response to the thing, which isn’t even the thing’s fault. And yet there it is, that response. Like, as I told someone yesterday, I’m sure Adele is super-talented and a real nice lady and all, but I won’t be able to listen to her until probably around 2020, 2021 – after the uproar has had the chance to die down a bit.

So I’m wondering if other people are drawn to, or repelled from, different Tarot decks due at least in part to their popularity levels. Do you flee in horror from Instagram images featuring the Wild Unknown simply because that deck has become so inescapable? Are you drawn to indie-created fringe decks precisely because they’re so below the radar? Or does none of this ever enter into the analysis for you, and you just buy whatever decks appeal to you based solely on their own merits, and it doesn’t matter to you whether they’re Wild Unknown-popular or wildly unknown…?

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Make or Break Cards

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Aside from scooping up the out of print Tarot of the Origins, which I’d been coveting for a long time, I haven’t treated myself to a new deck in over a year now. Last week, I ended that streak, though, by picking up Lo Scarabeo’s Epic Tarot. I’ve been sidetracked by various bits of biz since then, and haven’t had a lot of time in which to get to know this new deck. I did do a reading with it last night, though, and one of the cards I drew was The Star, a huge favorite of mine in general.

This made me think about how lots of Tarot people have these “make or break” cards – the ones that they absolutely must like in a given pack of cards, or else they won’t consider buying that deck. These are often – but not always – the person’s most well-liked cards.

I never really thought of myself as having make or break cards in this way. If I liked enough cards in a deck, I’d get it, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. But in recent times, I’m finding that I seem to be drifting in that make or break direction. I now won’t entertain thoughts of getting a given deck if I don’t like its Star card. Or its Hanged Man. Or High Priestess. Or its Moon, Magician, Hermit, Death, Devil…mostly it’s the Majors that most resonate with me on the conceptual level that I need to like now if I’m going to add a deck to my collection. My buying urges aren’t as crazed and lustful as they once were, so it takes more for a deck to lure me out of complacency.

This Star card, I like. At first glance, it doesn’t seem especially Star-like and celestial, and in line with the most traditional Tarot card meanings usually given for Trump XVII…but it occurs to me that it shows this great inclusion of, and connection among, the three worlds of the shamanic viewpoint: the ray of Starlight shines down from the Upper World, it calls to a human(oid) Woman who exists in the Middle World, and it illuminates a flower/Plant Spirit that pushes up from out of the Lower World. This deck’s version of the card is intended to be about the presence of the Divine, and the Divine does exist on all “levels” of life…

So do you have make or break cards? And if so, are they the same as your most well-liked cards, or are the two sets different beasts entirely…?

Are you interested in learning to read Tarot, and in ways that will go beyond just asking you to memorize reams of traditional Tarot card meanings? If you’d like to be engaged in your learning by a fresh and more innovative approach, consider the Tarot Toolkit Online Course:

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Tarot Tip: Learning by Design

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Learn Tarot by Doing

You want to understand the Tarot deck better? Design one yourself.

Even if you’re not an artist, pretend that you’ll have the perfect visual craftsperson at your disposal to create any images you want. Then the big questions are things like:

  • Do you follow one of the RWS, Thoth, or TdM templates? Or do you cook up a blend of them? Or do you attempt something that’s entirely new, but that’s still somehow Tarot?
  • Do you change any individual cards’ meanings from the old standards?
  • Which terms do you use for the Suits and cards? Are they Pentacles or Disks or Coins? Princesses or Pages? Temperance or Art? And above all, WHY?
  • What’s your deck’s theme? Vampires? Film noir? Superheroes? Aztec Mythology? And does it say new things with Tarot? Or do you just like it?

I haven’t made my own deck…yet. But I work away at themes and designs in my head and on paper a lot. And I do eventually want to see a deck through to completion with some artistic collaborator. But even without going that far, I can say that working through the mental exercise has deepened my understanding of Tarot immensely. Highly recommended!

Do you want to learn Tarot, but you have no idea where to start? The Tarot Toolkit Online Course may be the answer:

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Tarot Deck Shenanigans

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Tarot readers are obliged, at some point, to pick a deck. If you don’t, it will obviously be kind of difficult to actually get very Tarot-y. You do your research, you assess a bunch of factors, and ultimately you choose a deck.

Except sometimes a deck chooses you.

I’ve posted repeatedly here about how when I was learning Tarot, I was aware of the Thoth deck, but it was the RWS system that I learned first, and it’s the RWS that’s been etched into the floor of my brainpan ever since as “The Essential Tarot Template.” But I like the Thoth. And I think the Thoth likes me. Or at least, it likes to mess with me.

After I first bought my Thoth deck, I did a run of ten single-card draws, all aimed at answering different questions, spaced out across a few days. Seven of those ten draws yielded the Devil card. I kept looking around for the laughing ghost of Aleister Crowley…

Today, I was inserting some cards back into the deck, when I found that my two favorite cards were nestled side by side in the mix, almost waving at me.

A little bit later, I went looking for The Hermit. I sorted through the cards, one by one…not finding him…still not finding him…starting to wonder if I’d somehow missed him in my search…and then finding him at the very end of the line…number 78 in a run of 78 cards. Again: I could almost hear Crowley snickering.

I take all this to mean that I need to stop clinging so hard to the RWS. It may be that I need to enter a Thoth phase. Because not all of my decks do things like this. In fact, most of them don’t. So I suggest watching how your decks interact with you – because they do interact with you, and they can have very distinct personalities – and maybe work with the ones that seem to really want to work with you.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, Thoth-ing.

And stay alert for an announcement here about the Tarot Toolkit Online Course that i co-taught this year with Vickie Wilson of Eternal Athena Tarot.

Tarot: Who Handles Your Cards?

IMG_4603When I first started exploring Tarot, one of the less than helpful myths I was exposed to was this idea that no one but you should ever touch your cards. Supposedly, according to some, if another person were to handle your deck, it would be stamped with that person’s energy-signature, which you might then never be able to remove. The concept was presented to me in pretty dogmatic terms: “Only you can touch your cards! No one else! Ever!!” Hmm.

I’m not a big fan of dogma. I realized after a while that if I’m reading for someone else, I actually like it if they pick up the deck first and shuffle it a bit or cut it a few times. I feel like this makes that person more connected to the reading, and I don’t really sweat the idea that them touching the cards will somehow taint those cards forever (assuming the person in question doesn’t have actual physical muck or grime all over their mitts). But that’s just me.

I actually bumped into quite a few equally unhelpful Tarot myths when I first started. I eventually learned that a lot of this stuff comes down to personal taste, and there really isn’t one “Right Way” when it comes to Tarot.

But I’m curious: are any of you who are more sensitive to energy than I am very reluctant to let other people handle your cards? And on the flip-side, do some of you prefer to let a querent pick up the deck first like I do? Or is this one of those things that it never even occurred to you to care about at all…?

Music in Tarot…

IMG_4588Where’s the music in Tarot? For all that the RWS deck looks like somebody’s scrapbook from that time they went to Middle Ages Role-Playing Camp, there’s a total lack of minstrel-types in it. In fact, the Archangel’s horn in the Judgement card is about the only musical instrument of any kind that you’ll find in the entire deck…and it’s doubtful that what he’s producing with it in that particular card is cool jazz or rump-shaking funk.

So where does that essential component of the human experience (i.e., music!) show up for you in the deck? Do you infer that it must be in some of the celebratory cards, like the 3 and 10 of Cups, or the 4 of Wands, even though there are no visible musicians or instruments shown in them? Or do you not think about this concept at all…?