Many people from all walks of life find themselves interested in the Tarot at one point or another, and Wiccans and other Witches are no exception. In fact, while the Tarot is its own mystic tradition in and of itself, it’s very common to find a deck of these enchanting cards among a Witch’s magical tools.
The Tarot is a useful tool for divination in the classic sense—asking the divine for information about the future—but is also increasingly used as a sort of multifaceted cosmic “mirror.” The messages of the cards allow us to reflect on a particular situation from many different vantage points, seeing angles we wouldn’t otherwise see, and helping us choose the best course of action. The art of reading the cards in this fashion is developed through plenty of practice over time, and is highly rewarding for any who choose to learn it—whether you want to read for others, or just for yourself.
Origins and evolution of the Tarot
The popularity of this classic divination system is arguably at its peak today in the 21st century, but the Tarot has actually evolved over several centuries. The first cards known to historians that resemble elements of the modern deck appeared in the early 1400s in Italy, but it was a century or so later in France that the cards became the source of occult interest that they remain today.
Eventually, the Tarot came to interest British occultists of the 19th and early 20th centuries—in particular, members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that heavily influenced modern occultism, including Wicca, in various ways. It was through this group that poet Arthur Edward Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith came to create the most popular, and arguably the most influential, Tarot deck of the 20th century.
This was the first full Tarot deck designed exclusively for divination, and it is widely credited with popularizing the Tarot, which had once been more or less exclusively studied in secret by occult societies. It has been known as the Rider-Waite deck, crediting the original publishers, William Rider & Son, but has more recently and more accurately been called the Waite-Smith deck, in order to give due credit to the artist responsible for the images on the cards.
Interest in the Tarot grew quietly over the next few decades, until it reached unprecedented popularity in the U.S. in the 1960s. Since that time, a variety of new decks, philosophies, and approaches to reading the Tarot have developed.
The standard Tarot deck
The Tarot deck as we now know it contains a total of 78 cards, divided into the Major and Minor Arcana. Each section has its purpose in reflecting inner truths and revealing hidden knowledge. Using the deck as a whole, the interaction of the Major and Minor cards can provide a complex picture of various unseen forces at play in a given situation.
The heart of the Tarot is the Major Arcana. These cards, which are often referred to as the “trump cards,” are the most powerful in the deck. They deal with major issues in life, rather than the more mundane ups and downs of everyday existence. Each card depicts a character, or archetype, which represents a stage on our spiritual journey from complete innocence to hard-earned wisdom.
In any Tarot reading, it is especially important to pay attention to any Major Arcana cards. If you have several of these cards in a reading, then it’s likely that you are, or will be, experiencing some events which will heavily influence your life in the long term. The Major Arcana cards can be seen as pointing the way to spiritual self-awareness; as such they hold deep and meaningful lessons.
The Minor Arcana makes up the bulk of the deck. There are fifty-six Minor Arcana cards in a standard deck, divided into four different suits of fourteen cards each: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. Each suit is centered on a particular realm of experience: ideas, feelings, action, or manifestation. The cards in the Minor Arcana are believed to represent the more concrete or mundane elements of everyday life, as opposed to larger aspects of spiritual development or major, life-altering events.
There’s some interesting overlap between the symbolism of the Tarot and magical correspondences within Wicca and other forms of the Craft. You may have already noticed that the names for each suit overlap with several ritual altar tools—wands, cups, pentacles—and indeed, some Witchcraft-oriented decks use athames in place of swords to complete the symmetry. In addition, each suit is associated with one of the four Elements, so that cups represent Water and pentacles represent Earth. (Depending on the tradition you follow, wands may be associated with Fire and swords with Air, or vice versa.)
Other occult systems that link into Tarot are astrology and numerology. Each card can be linked to a sign of the Zodiac, a celestial body, or both, though the specific associations may differ from deck to deck. Numerological associations are a bit more straightforward for beginners, as both the Major and Minor Arcana have numbered cards. Incorporating the symbolic meanings of numbers is a great way to enhance a Tarot reading!
Aside from divination and reflection, some Witches actually like to incorporate specific Tarot cards into their spellwork. For example, the Moon card may be displayed on the altar whenever a Full Moon spell is underway. A prosperity spell may involve the King or Queen of Pentacles, or the always-fortunate Sun card. Some people even like to consult the Tarot before designing a spell, to get clearer on their intentions and how best to set them through the spell itself.
The art of reading the cards
It’s probably ideal if your first experience with the Tarot is a reading someone else does for you, so you can get a sense of how the “unseen” can communicate clearly through this tool, without any interference of self-doubt about your ability to interpret the cards. However, if this isn’t possible, don’t let it stop you—it’s not an absolute requirement. Plenty of Tarot readers have only ever read their own cards, and find it useful and rewarding.
No matter who is reading, know that the art of Tarot is, first and foremost, intuitive. There are no strict rules, and while there is a lot of general consensus on card meanings, there are also differences among decks, reading styles, and so on. Often, it’s not really the stated meaning behind a card that’s going to inform you about your situation, but how the card and its imagery make you feel.
It can take years to fully master the art of Tarot reading, due to the incredible variety of reading styles and possible interpretations, plus the fact that it's a highly intuitive process. But don’t let that deter you—just as if you were learning a musical instrument, you grow more confident with practice!