Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
Part 5 of inTAROTduction, your Introduction to Tarot: Top Ten Tarot Benefits
Welcome back to inTAROTduction, your Introduction to Tarot and induction into the world of all things tarot. Today I’d like to share with you some of the various applications of tarot. Many people think of tarot as being used primarily for fortunetelling, or readings that predict the future. But it has so many more advantages! From the mundane to the spiritual, here are the top ten tarot benefits! As a bonus, I include proper phrasing of questions as well as the most appropriate type of deck to get the most of these ten tarot benefits.
The most well-known and probably the most widely used of the tarot benefits is looking into the future. Tarot reveals a shocking accuracy for clearly elucidating the most likely outcome of the questioner’s current path. How does it work? I have no idea! But I do know from my twenty-seven years of using the cards that the tarot can see into the future. It will alert me to things I would have no logical way of knowing.
Some readers are hesitant to use the tarot for telling the future because of fears that they will compromise their free will. However, the reward of foreknowledge outweighs the inconvenience of stumbling into an otherwise unknowable outcome. If I see an unfortunate outcome to an upcoming event, I will use the cards to get insight. By asking follow up questions I can gain clarity into what aspect of the event the unfavorable card applies to. If that doesn’t seem to produce understanding, I’ll ask the cards to recommend a course of action that will avoid or work around the situation.
Questions for predictive readings can be phrased, “What will the outcome be if I ________?” or “What will be the result of such-and-such a course of action?”
For readers who don’t like to use the tarot predictively, I recommend phrasing questions in terms of asking for advice. Tarot offers insight and helpful recommendations regarding any course of action. By phrasing the question appropriately, you can focus the tarot’s response toward guidance rather than toward knowing the specific outcome.
Questions to elicit guidance can be phrased as, “What do I need to know about such-and-such?” “What are the pros of this course of action?” “What are the cons?” “How should I proceed to create the best possible outcome?” “What actions can I take to produce the outcome I desire?”
Be careful with your phrasing and consider mindfully what your goal is. I read for a woman once who asked what the easiest way to resolve a conflict would be. The cards said to back off and drop it! Unfortunately, she desired a specific outcome. We rephrased the question and this time asked what course of action she should take to resolve the conflict in her favor. The cards rewarded us with some great suggestions!
3. Connecting with Guides or Inner Wisdom
Sometimes what we want is not necessarily what we need. In these circumstances we desire to connect with a higher power to receive the spiritual perspective on our questions. This can range from contacting loved ones who have passed over, to connecting with spirit or animal guides, to invoking our angels, or to expanding into our higher self.
Often when shifting to a spiritual frame of reference, we see the folly of our mundane actions. Alternately, it can produce a feeling of calm and a sense of purpose. However, the cosmic point of view can be abstract, far-reaching, or out of touch with our immediate needs. Spiritual guidance can put us back on our path when we’ve strayed. Balancing inquiries for wisdom with questions about practical actions help bring our everyday world into alignment with our spiritual needs. Some people prefer to work only with the Major Arcana (see this post for a definition) for spiritual questions, but either Majors or Minors can work with the right mindset.
Questions that could bring spiritual insight include, “What is the wisdom of the tarot regarding such-and-such?” “What do my guides and angels recommend about this course of action?” “What actions can I take to stay on or return to my spiritual path?” Remember you’ll need to shift your interpretations of the cards accordingly. Study and meditation, our next two topics, help you connect with the deeper layers of the cards’ meanings.
Tarot cards can be as simple as a picture book or as complex as a sacred text. If learning is your goal, tarot provides an array of fields for study. I recommend starting your tarot study by familiarizing yourself with any illustrated deck that appeals to you through working with the images. After this, it is interesting to study the symbols that appear on the cards themselves. But there is so much more to learn!
You can study the history of cards or the transition from playing cards to tarot in the fifteenth century. In addition, the history of the allegorical images that appear on the cards can take you on an exploration of art, meaning, and philosophy. Tarot reflects mythological tales and religious doctrines a serious student can learn in tandem with the cards. Esoteric innovators from the past three hundred years have layered millennia-old Hermetic wisdom onto the cards, opening avenues of exploration in qabalah, astrology, numerology, and more.
Different decks will aid you in different studies. To study standard symbolism, start with a Tarot de Marseille, a Waite-Smith, and a Crowley-Harris Thoth. Studying mythology is a beneficial adjunct to tarot. Try an Arthurian tarot for those legends, the Mythic Tarot for the Greek tales, or The Goddess Tarot which pulls from world mythology. Reproduction decks, such as the Marziano, the Mantegna, and the Visconti will get you started studying tarot history. And esoteric decks like the Tabula Mundi, the Hermetic Tarot, and any Golden Dawn deck such as the Golden Dawn Temple Tarot will open up the higher planes.
The common image of meditation is one of sitting silently trying to achieve a state of no-thought. However, there are other types of meditation that are easier, offer great practice towards stilling the mind, and can produce a state of higher awareness and connection. Concentrating the focus on a single thought or image is an easy and rewarding practice. Tarot cards make a great meditative focus!
A simple meditation using tarot cards is a gazing meditation. Choose a card you would like to understand better, and place it where you can see it easily. Look closely, letting your eyes wander across every detail. Alternately, you can pick one detail of the card and let a slightly unfocused gaze remain steadily at that point. (For more tarot meditation ideas, see my post on Tarot Meditations.)
Although simple gazing can open up insight, if you prefer a more thoughtful approach, try asking a question. For starters, try “What do you have to teach me?” or “What is a deeper understanding of this image?” Let you thoughts eddy around the question and see what answers bubble to the surface.
6. Initiatory Work
Some schools of thought frown entirely on the use of tarot for practical purposes and recommend solely study, meditation, and initiatory spiritual work. Western Mystery Tradition groups such as the Golden Dawn offer this experience. A second option is self-study and initiation through a structured course of study and meditation, such as qabalistic pathworking.
Working in an initiatory tradition aligns you with others on a similar path and lets you work within a specific philosophy. In group work like this, the members perform an opening ceremony, which helps the initiate achieve a state of energetic receptivity. Then a highly qualified initiatory priest or teacher will introduce a series of symbols, including Major Arcana tarot cards, and explain their meaning. The initiate receives the wisdom through the energetic planes as well as the usual intellectual level.
Committing to the practice of pathworking — a structured, meditative process based on the qabalistic Tree of Life — is the ultimate course of self-initiation. The seeker follows a specific meditative formula, visualizing and interacting with a series of symbols including shapes, colors, Hebrew letters, astrological glyphs, and Major Arcana tarot cards, to name a few. The structure is standardized, but the experience is personal and unique to each practitioner. Nevertheless, the work reveals universal truths.
There are lighter ways to connect with the mysteries of the cards. The Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.) offers workshops appropriate for beginners. Participants color in an outline of a tarot card using defined color symbolism while listening to a lecture on the meanings of the card symbols and colors.
It is common to use ritual tarot decks for this work, such as the B.O.T.A. deck or any of the Golden Dawn decks.
7. Magic and Spellwork
Whereas initiatory work is the pinnacle of tarot scholarship and spiritual growth, it is a demanding course of study, training, and application. There are easier ways to experiment with the spiritual benefits of the cards. Initiation falls under the category of high magic, a system for spiritual growth and connecting with the Divine. In contrast, practical magic uses spiritual, psychological, or artistic techniques to help you achieve a specific result.
Practical magic involves applying all aspects of your being — will, emotions, thoughts, and physical actions — toward achieving a tangible or intangible goal. Magic further invites non-corporeal elemental and spiritual beings and energies to assist in the work. (Although magic uses a particular vocabulary to describe its processes, shifting the words toward psychological or religious terminology maintains its efficacy.)
Spellwork and magic include a wide variety of practices in a far-flung field of traditions and styles. While any deck is appropriate for use in spellcrafting, some decks embrace that purpose and the accompanying guidebook can offer suggestions for practice. The guidebooks for the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot and the Silver Witchcraft Tarot offer instruction on spellcrafting and magic with tarot. The Enchanted Tarot guidebook includes an “enchantment” — often a spell, short ritual, visualization, or affirmation — for every card in the deck. In addition, there are a variety of superb books on the subject. If you’d like to get started right away, try my tarot manifestation or follow my instructions to create your own tarot money chant.
Tarot is after all a deck of cards! Historically, card players added what we now call the Major Arcana to the standard playing card deck as a trump suit for trick-taking games. Why the fifteenth century artists chose to illustrate the trumps in the way they did is the delicious exploration of many books on the history and philosophy of the cards.
Tarot is still played as a game in Europe, using Tarot de Marseille cards or a specially designed double-headed deck. Tarot expert and researcher Mary K. Greer explains a simplified version of the game play on her blog. Historian Michael Dummett gives instruction for play of modern European tarot games in his book Twelve Tarot Games. The Lord of the Rings Tarot includes instructions for playing a game for two of more players unique to that deck.
Tarot overflows with brainstorming suggestions! A student in my beginning tarot class asked what tarot could be used for. “Could I ask the cards what I should wear to work?” Yes! In fact, this is an example of the quirky questions technique that I teach. Tarot can serve not only as your valet, but your restaurant critic, vacation planner, new car buying guide, and a host of other uses. I use it for business planning, getting ideas for blog posts, and developing new classes.
But tarot works above and beyond mundane questions. In addition to generating ideas for practical purposes, tarot can be used as an artistic muse. A colleague uses tarot to devise lyrics for music he writes. Many fiction writers will pull a card to stimulate ideas when they’re blocked. More specifically, I have taught techniques to use tarot to help plot outlines for creative writing.
When using tarot for inspiration, eschew standard meanings of the cards. Instead, let the details of the illustration suggest unusual approaches and new ideas. Any deck will work, but using a deck you are unfamiliar with will open fresh eyes and tease out novel nuances.
10. Understanding Yourself
The best of all the tarot benefits is that using the cards encourages self-understanding. The procession of allegorical images in the major arcana is sometimes referred to as the Fool’s Journey. As such, it can be seen as a progression of the individual through the vicissitudes of existence. Alternately, the sequence represents the advancement of the soul through life, death, and rebirth. Understanding the pattern and recognizing ourselves within its matrix is key to an expanded self-awareness.
Self-understanding develops in parallel to perceiving human nature in general and raising insight into specific individuals. Objective use of the cards introduces all aspects of life, even experiences you have little familiarity with. By working with the card images, you broaden your perspective and fine tune your perception of human nature. As you grow, you’ll discover that working with the deeper spiritual aspects of tarot initiates you into the mysteries, introducing spiritual understanding and wisdom. The result of this work is a greater capacity for compassion and empathy.
One of the best tarot benefits is its impartiality and the self-reflection it encourages. Every time you use the cards, you offer yourself the opportunity to slow down, become centered, and examine your life from the neutral place of a disinterested but ultimately supportive third party. Every time you use the cards, you gain greater mindfulness, objectivity, and perspective. You release stress, worry, and fear while inviting self-empowerment and confidence. Can tarot make you a better person? Try it and see!
What Would You Add to the Top Ten Tarot Benefits?
These top ten tarot benefits are my favorites, but there are as many benefits to tarot as there are readers. What is your interest in tarot? Why do you use it? How does it help you? I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and additions to this list in the comments!
Free Tarot Event at The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project!
Please join me on Monday, April 9 for a talk, “Obscure Sojourns: Tarot” for Atlas Obscura Denver. I’ll walk us through highlights of tarot’s provocative history and explain different reading techniques. Then taking inspiration from a showcase of contemporary tarot artwork and using a no-nonsense, storybook reading style, we’ll have a modern chat with divination’s grande dame. Monday, April 9, 2018, 7-9 p.m. at The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, 925 West 8th Avenue in Denver. For more info and to register, please check out the Atlas Obscura event page.