Cartomancy Part II

7:07:00 PM

Exordium 
The three of swords 
The story of cards for game and divination is said to be old, from as far as China and given to the west during trade in the 14th century.  Tarot as we know it came later, and we don't really know the true origin of the name "tarot".  Some say Hebrew, some say Egyptian, others claim Italian or even Chinese.  It is said that the first tarot as we would know it was the major arcana incomplete, which were commissioned in France at a kings behest, and a few years later to commemorate a wedding in Milan, that of Visconti and Sforza. Many decks came swiftly in the 1400's as the woodblock print press allowed playing cards of all kinds to be printed for the common people, whereas cards had originally been used by the elite and painted by hand, reflecting the symbolism and crest and ancestry of more noble houses.  

The minor arcana evolved separately from the major arcana which was used to depict allegories of life and death, the cosmos and the natural sciences of that era.  In contrast to these cards which are obvious in their symbolism, the minor arcana were typical playing cards which were 4 in suit; coin, sword, staff and cup and ruled by nobility cards.  When these became melded with the major arcana to create the 78 Venetian card tarot as we know it, this heralded in a new epoch in cartomancy.  The earliest known example of a fully illustrated 78 card tarot deck is the Sola Bucsa tarot. 

Cards were immediately shunned by the church and demonized, partially because of their gambling quality, partly due to fears of witchery, partly due to the fact that they had a mystical quality that the common people could access, and that level of liberty was something the early church could never allow.  The cards had probably always had mystical meaning to people; from as early as the 14th century, cards with allegories and messages lovingly detailed upon them have been remarked upon with wonder and over the centuries the tarot has taken on a deep spiritual meaning cross culturally.  

Corpus

The traditional Venetian (as opposed to Florentine and Bolognese) tarot consists of  78 cards: 22 major arcana, and 56 minor arcana split into 4 suits, 14 card sets ranging from Ace (1) to King.  Each suit is designated as Sword, Cup, Staves or Pentacles and is, in occultism, then associated with one of each four elements; air, water, fire and earth; and each of these elements represents an attribute which characterizes their suit.  Tarot began its life as a game and probable divination tool, one played throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries, originating from earlier, hand-painted decks for court card games and metal engravings.

Typically, there are general themes assigned to each card, and in modern tarotology, themes assigned to each card in reversed as well.  That means there are 78 cards with specific meanings and 78 reverse meanings.  Reverse does not necessarily mean opposite, so many cards in reverse only further illustrate the main theme, or present an entirely new interpretation of the card.  Sometimes, a card that is negative Upright will have more positive connotations Reversed (The Tower).  Additionally, every single deck is authored by an individual who interprets from a specific school of tarot philosophy, and so you will likely discover that the card meanings in one deck doesn't match the identical card in a separate deck.  What the 9 of Pentacles represents in the Waite is different from what it represents in the Dark Exact.  For this reason, often times readers will have only two or three decks that they actually read from, due to the difficulty in committing multiple decks to memory.

This is also why being a booklet-free tarot reader requires a level of mastery, of deep mental commitment.  It can be tedious and confusing, going to a tarot reader who doesn't have their deck committed to memory- how can they assure you of their insight if they're playing the guessing game? Though to be fair, not every tarotist is only an interpreter of cards; some are simply therapists who use the cards to help guide others, and some are receivers (or oracles, seers, soothsayers, shamans) and the cards are our medium to better contextualize this our gnosis; these readers will have many decks; some read according to their specific natures and some read universally.  This depends on you entirely.

Masters

The famous names of occult tarotology are Jean Baptiste Aliette a.k.a Etteila, Antoine Court Gebélin, Eliphas Levi and Marie Anne Lenormand.  Gebélin is credited with having been among the first in publication history who assigned esoteric interpretation to the preexisting tarrochi game, though even he claimed the cards had been imbued with esoteric wisdom already, hence his fascination with them.  Following him was Aliette, a fortune teller and esotericist who wrote on astrocartomancy and the zodiac within tarot.  Aliette is responsible for the first written work we have on the divinatory themes of each card.  He, along with his contemporary Marie Anne Lenormand for whom Hechtel's Game of Hope was latter renamed in honor, were some of the first published occult tarotology we have.

Levi, one of the foremost occultists in history, however, is credited with expanding on Hebrew numerological value in the tarot while also exploring it's connections to the Sphiroth of the Hebrew Tree of Life.  This was later perfected in full form by cartomancers in the Order of the Golden Dawn, who classified the numerological, planetary, Kabbalic and Gnostic assignments of the cards- which are now standard for tarot decks. Over time, authors and authorities on cartomancy assigned other themes to the cards, which became more complete as the centuries passed.

Originally fragmented, tarot did not establish its current standard form or card number until the Visconti Sforza deck, leading many to speculate that the original tarot comes to us from Milan, though it likely comes to us in segments of major arcana and minor arcana from early 14th century Oriental trade and from North Africa during the 14th and 15th centuries.  These early decks were incomplete though they did typically feature mythological figures and tell creation or humanistic stories through their imagery.

The popularity of cartomancy, specifically the tarot, was centered mostly in France and German parlors during the 17th and 18th centuries, but took on a wide folk-use for fortune telling at the start if the 20th century with the popularity of the Rider Waite deck, illustrated by Golden Dawn member Pamela Smith.  The Waite was a huge break from the earlier decks, its illustrations more candidly representing the occult significance placed upon the cards over the last few hundred years.  Waite and Smith drew their inspiration for illustrated Pips from the Sola Bucsa tarot engravings.

It's important to note that the tarot as well as the Lenormand and classic oracles feature symbolism popular at the time of their creation, as well as themes on race, class and religion which reflect the time in which they are made.  Because of this, depictions vary greatly over time, as do names, themes and motifs used to accentuate the theme.  Many of the earliest decks clearly depict family members of royal courts as well as concepts and principles popular among the religious elite at the time. Over time, decks have evolved to match the era in which they are created.

Schools

Depending on who you ask, there are a few different schools of tarotism which derive from the works of the first great cartomancy philosophers or contemporary authors who revolutionized the way in which we interpret.  The main schools of tarot are the Marseille, Lenormand, Etteila, Levi, Waite-Smith (a.k.a Golden Dawn) and Gebélin.  The Visconti, and other decks based on this classical Milan/French style belongs to the Marseille school of tarot.

Mid 20th century clone decks like the Morgan Greer and Hoi Polloi are part of the Waite-Smith school, which is influenced by the Hermetic occultism of the Golden Dawn as well as some of the teachings of Levi, whose school of tarot has a stronger focus on the connection between tarot symbolism and Kabbalic mysticism.  The Rider-Smith school of Golden Dawn inspired artwork can even be found in playing cards and Lenormand decks. I would encourage most readers to start in the Waite-Smith school of tarot; it is the most comprehensive and well expanded methodology of tarotism and is an art form to study.

While the 36-card Lenormand "tarot" bears the name of seer/fortune teller Marie Anne Lenormand, the eponymous deck is based from the near-complete work of Hechtel, whose Game of Hope cartomancy deck would lead to the petit Lenormand deck; Marie Anne Lenormand, however, was reputed to have used playing cards as well as an Etteila tarot deck, and authored several works on cartomancy from whom many readers draw aspects of procedure and style.  Unlike the tarot, Lenormand card layouts are called strings rather than spreads and the cards are read in pairs and interpreted literally rather than intuitively.

Preceding them all is the intellectual godfather of modern occultism, Gebélin.  This school of tarot is the basis for the Kemetic school of tarot philosophy wherein the cards are tied to Egyptian mysticism, as Gebélin strongly believed Egyptian magical history had been secretly transmitted into the tarot.  From Gebélin sprang forth some of the first writing on cartomantic mysticism, and from there much of tarotology derives, including tarot spiritualists who act as mediums while reading cards rather than interpreters.

The principles of reading tarot as an intuitive guide and reading tarot as a form of mediumship used to be a contentious subject, a clash between Levism and spiritualism, but these days readers don't much see a fuss as to how one chooses to read.  Levi wrote extensively on tarotology in his works, and like Aliette and Gebélin, strongly held syncretic mystic theories on the tarot and its origins and possible ties to Kabalah and Egyptian occultism.

I personally consider Mantegna its own school of tarot, as the deck is neither a Lenormand or "true" tarot and is not used to divine the future but rather for personal oracular insight into one's place in the cosmos.  Mantegna, which is read in a chessboard-like game of elimination, originally began as an education tool to teach affluent children the class system of that time.  These days, it is used to gain insight into one's current place in the cosmos and the forces at work around you that direct your station.

In some schools of tarot mysticism, each cards numerological value is important, as are the color choices, animals, landscapes, even the flowers.  In the Waite-Smith school of tarot from which most modern decks are modeled, one can see the distinct symbolism in relation to the card themes; lilies and roses symbolism the passion and innocence of The Lovers; the High Priestess in blue which is symbolic of spiritual wisdom; the Empress with her one foot on the earth (fertility) and the other on the crescent moon (rebirth). Astrology even plays a part in the classic schools of tarot and the method for reading tarot in conjunction with ones natal chart is a popular aspect of cartomancy.  These days, one can combine tarot with lithomany, herbalism and of course, necromancy.

There is no real wrong or right way to use tarot it would seem.  Due to the nebulous nature of its very concept, it can be interpreted in a variety of fashions for any reason.  Does it matter if someone else touches your cards? To some yes, to others no,  there is no real right answer.  Does it matter which hand the deck is cut with, and if the spread is read from the first or second person perspective?  This is for the individual to decide, though there are traditional roles and functions.  Shuffling is a must; it's part of the trance process.  Cutting the deck is a must; it narrows down the threads of fate and allows us to sort probabilities. The rest, well, I don't know.  My way works for me.

Praxis

The Golden Botticelli.  Typically, the tarot is read in a 1,2,3 spread: past, present and future.  Usually this has an additional 4th card which is placed aside as a warning or result.
The Golden Thread by Tina Gong. Five Card spread.
The five-card spread requires the reader to pick a significator card.  This card represents the person being read for; example: I often use the 3 of Swords or the Queen of Swords as a significator because I am intelligent and sharp but ruthless and vindictive in a power struggle, so this card best befits my personality when approaching conflicts.  Others choose to use cards which don't have a traditional gender assignment and descriptor, but rather represent the core of their issues.

In the five card spread, the significator is placed center while the next cards; 1,2,3,4 are placed counterclockwise starting from left and ending at the top,  These are Heart, Mind, Body, Soul and are meant to tell the future of how a certain conflict will impact these aspects of life.  The last card, a 6th is crossed over the significator and read at the very last; it represents what the reader can do to avoid or seal this fate.

The Morgan Greer. World Bridge spread.
My most popular spread is the World Bridge style, which starts off as the five card and builds into a tree, read counterclockwise, representing the entire story of a conflict and it's main players and when and where they will play their part.  This one usually takes much longer and is used for deep struggles, not quick readings.  When I read professionally in Downtown Seattle at Pike Place Market, the World Bridge was my most popular method because most people aren't looking for quick answers from me, a lot of the time they're looking to see if I understand their story; they want to see if I can unravel secrets they've yet to share with me.

Most people want to see me direct a story that only they know the real answers to- it gives them confidence in me and my insight, watching me tell them things I shouldn't know in a way that helps them come up with a new game plan.  Every reader has a preferred method and would typically be accustomed to at least a handful of methods before reading professionally.

In magic, the cards can take the place of sympathetic objects or even be used as vessels for spirits or entities.  I don't do this kind of work with my cards, I'd hate to mingle and mix up my intentions from one charm with the fate-threads of some innocent seeker.  I have one deck alone set aside to be used specifically to carry spells and I never show it off or use it with people I read for, only with the dead.  In this way, the tarot is utilized for the art of mediumship, not necromancy.  Channeling the spirits through the cards is one thing, it's entirely another to use the cards as a method of controlling or directing the spirits.  I'd rather not tie any entities to my cards, for any reason, I'd rather they act as a vessel, with me to receive whatever pours out.

The tarot can be read as a psychological tool, as a self help tool, or as a mystical tool.  It can take on occult meanings or simply be a game to play among friends.  To me, it is my way of playing in the Parcae's garden, gleaning wisdom from their passing conversation and hoping I fly under their radar while I do.  To me, the cards are just the fastest way to interpret that which is beyond me, it allows me to communicate with others in a way I otherwise cannot do.  There is a reason the symbol of the fortune teller, seer, oracle and soothsayer is the All Seeing Eye.  We look beyond, beneath the cards, within them to something deeper.

To you Fortuna the fickle, who is blind as we rise and smiling as we fall.

Sum Sine Regno
Regno
Regnabo
Regnavi


Sources and Resources:
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot by Rachel Pollack
How To Read Your Tarot Cards by Liz Dean

The Esoteric Tarot: Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabalah by Ronald Decker
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by  A.E Waite

Cultural History of Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism by Helen Farley
The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by Robert Michael Place
Book of Thoth Tarot by A. Crowley


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