History of the Tarot
Although Tarot decks first made their appearance in the 14th century, the ideas and symbols they embody stretch much further back into history, embracing the knowledge and philosophies of ancient Egypt, Greece, China, the early Roman Church, and the teachings of Talmudic scholars. The striking visual imagery of the Tarot served as a means of communication despite barriers of language and culture, so that seekers after hidden truths could share their discoveries through an understanding that transcended cultural barriers.
Tarot cards have gone through many permutations through the centuries. Used as vehicles for telling fortunes by Gypsies throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages, the attractive and compelling cards soon became popular items in noble households. The French transformed the Tarot into playing cards, discarding the Major Arcana and changing the suits from Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles to the more familiar spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs of the modern 52-card deck found in casinos everywhere.
Although a few students of esoteric lore still used the Tarot as a mnemonic device for preserving ancient truths, it was not until the mid-19th century that the resurgence of interest in theosophical studies led to a rediscovery of the cards and an attempt to restore them to their original purpose. Eliphas Levi, Israel, Regardie, Helena P. Blavatsky, William Butler Yeats, and Aleister Crowley all made vital contributions to the modern Tarot. But they were only the first wave.
The Rider-Waite Tarot deck, designed by Arthur Edward Waite and William Rider and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith, is by far the most popular and inspirational of the standard Tarot decks in modern use. In recent years, interest in the Tarot has spawned a wealth of variant decks, reinterpreting the ancient symbols to fit feminist, holistic, and multi-cultural paradigms. For the most part, the images have survived in translation, a testimony to the underlying resiliency of the truths the cards encompass.
Finding Your Own Tarot:
There are all kinds of readings that you can do with a Tarot deck and you can purchase them at Barnes & Noble. What I prefer to do, or that I advise to individuals wishing to familiarize themselves with the craft, is to follow a few simple rules.
1) Find a deck that speaks to your spirit...one that you really really like. This is a good match for you. Once you have this deck in your possession, you should familiarize yourself intimately with each picture and decide what you think each picture means. My personal deck has the Death card included with the picture in this post. I loved the swirling dark purple background of the cards and the illustrations were awesome.
2) Never ever let anyone handle your Tarot deck on any circumstances. The only time someone is to touch your deck is when you give it to them during a reading after you have shuffled (and this is simply to cut the cards or to give them one shuffle themselves). This momentary contact is all that is needed by the cards to tune themselves to that person's particular fortune.
3) While they shuffle and/or cut the cards, they need to be thinking of a question that they want answered. They must concentrate on this question and the cards will respond to it and give them a glimpse of their options or even an idea of what may happen within the future. Try to discourage negative questions. I can always tell when someone is depressed and asks the cards a negative question because I get powerful Major Arcana cards like the Tower, the Devil, and Death and I usually chastise the individual and may stop the reading. One time I had a friend ask the cards an extremely dark question and I knew within three cards that this wasn't a reading I liked and I stopped it, talked with him, and then sent him home. That's the kind of crap that teenagers like to fool around with.
When I do a reading, again, I pay close attention to the cards. Example: The Death Card. You can see several images here. On the left there is a comely man in a tuxedo. On the right there is a maiden dressed in red. The tapestry is green which is the color of life and the rose on it is red which matches her dress and the sea beyond the tapestry. Well the red here is the blood of the woman's life and the sea outside the window is roiling and stormy and also the same color as the woman's dress. To me, this card simply represents strong change. But it also represents a powerful choice. In order to truly live, the woman must not only embrace herself and what life offers her, but she must also play the game (the chess board before her) of which she is a piece. Perhaps she is a pawn, perhaps a rook...you will know by talking with the person what the cards are trying to say. In either case, it is only through choice that she will truly live, and the view behind the curtain shall be revealed. Also, the choice may be stormy, there may be trouble ahead, but nothing beautiful is ever offered without its thorns.