Comments on Tarot History and Function

by Mystic Marguerite, ©2010

Where did the classic tarot deck come from and how can the cards be so effective in unlocking answers to our past, present or future? The tarot originated in northern Italy between about 1420-1440; there is no evidence for it originating in any other time and place such as Egypt, Indian or Morocco. Playing cards came to Europe from Islam, probably via Muslim Spain, about 50 years before the development of tarot. The name itself was coined around 1530, when the word tarocchi began to be used to distinguish them from a new game of trumps being played with ordinary playing cards. The symbolism of the tarot trumps comes from the culture of Medieval and Rennaissance Europe and correlate with symbolism distinctive to European art and religion. It is also true, however, that many of these symbols can also be found on Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Old European artifacts and architecture.

The gypsies did not bring the tarot to Europe, nor did they spread its use; back in the day they used palmistry and ordinary playing cards to tell fortunes. Tarot cards have never been banned by the Catholic or Protestant churches, even during the Inquisition. There are Hermetic, astrological, neoplatonic and pythagorean elements in classic Tarot card designs. Eliphas Levi was the first to ascribe Hebrew letters to the tarot, around 1850; in the years following, kabbalistic elements were assigned by leading European occultists of the day. The tarot has been a work in progress for over 600 years; the meanings embodied in the cards continue to be modified and added to, unto the present day. The cards are a creation unique to western man; I believe they are our own unique tool for seeking the Tao, and for helping achieve synthesis of nature-mind-body-soul-spirit, balance of right and left brain activities.

Learning the tarot takes some time, as the possible meanings associated with each card must be assimilated. However the correspondences must also be a matter of individual choice, also of insight gained through continued work with the cards along with adherence to a school of thought, rather than right or wrong. The cards do trigger right-brain activity through the archetypal information coded into the symbols and images presented in each card. The cards also serve as a distraction, engaging the conscious mind so the subconscious can be freed to make contact with realms and entities beyond the immediate physical world. Time and space as we experience it on earth can be rendered malleable, as if one were walking from room to room in a house. The past lives parallel with the present; the future is viewed as many potentials moving towards a state vector collapse. A skilled reader can witness the probability most likely to be manifest, given any interaction within self, or with self and for another person. Even more intriguing, once the question is asked and both reader and querient are in observation of each other and the question, the likely probability of what will happen is subject to change. Per relativity and quantum theory the universe exists because it is observed.

Consistent work with a set of tarot cards, along with doing dream journaling, symbolic art or collage, can go a long way to healing difficult mental, emotional or creative blocks, also for re-programming dysfunctional behavioral habits and self-defeating patterns. Insight and breakthrough must be brought down to the "gut" level as a distinct, powerful inner "knowledge through feeling" for efforts to have a lasting effect. As long as insight stays on the purely verbal, intellectual level there is no deep understanding or incorporation of new, healthier patterns of perception and action. Please note that sucking up TV or movie images is very, very different from generating one's own material and committing it to a medium of expression. These genres can hypnotize, programming in stuff not healthy for the individual at a very deep level; it also deadens the individual's own capacity for authentic creativity like a drug. Note that there are artists, musicians and writers who have enjoyed mainstream success by offering works synthesized from prior archetypal collections of media, sound and image; musician Rob Zombie is a good example.

The feeling level of synthesis is again, intimately linked with right brain activity and data presented as intuitions or instinct, commonly encoded as images or sensed as feelings. Feelings become emotions when linear-logical thought is attached to them, commonly as some form of judgment, which may or may not be accurate. Feelings and images are freely moving phenomena, whereas emotions tend to get stored in the body, where they are triggered into replay mode by certain external stimuli.

Once incorporated, the conscious mind tends to take these "recordings" and their playback of negative or positive thought and feelings, at face value and without question. In addition, as children we commonly absorb many of our parents' recordings without question, often making them our own and as an extension, feel obliged to live out or heal whatever needs weren't being met in our parents' world. Other common parental-trigger programs can include systematic self-sabotage done so one never moves past the level of parental achievement; another is to conduct intimate relationships by cyclicly inducing drama and emotional crisis. These programs and others were created from interaction with the outside world during a time in our lives when we had no power and little self-definition. They are responsible for how we end up as adults, interacting with both the exterior and interior world largely on autopilot; stimuli are commonly distorted through lenses of fear, self-defense, infantile emotionalism, competitive aggression, victimization or anger. Actually, recordings and memories are passed down from ancestor to ancestor, encoded in the very DNA of the body.

Attempting to heal or make a psychological breakthrough can be physically uncomfortable; if repressed material is suddenly awakened, waves of deep passion and emotion unleashed from the cellular level can be overwhelming to experience and even cause sickness. Great fear can also be triggered, as we are tampering with the very ancestral/tribal stuff by which the people that came before created a family or tribal identity; which even if negative and non- life and love affirming, is also taboo to break away from. One will then be excluded from the tribe and left to die out in the wilderness, of sorts. Once the individual has become deeply aware of this programming and courageously chosen to build more inner freedom and authentic self-expression into their lives, old ancestral material can be released out of the cells and is commonly experienced as a toxic reaction in the body. Key relational elements of the previous life such as family support, friends, job and religion may fall apart also.

The first breakthrough is made the moment an aspirant can stay conscious and witness their own programs controlling their perceptions of the world and themselves. And this witnessing must be done without immediately incorporating a judgment, as we have been conditioned to make most of our judgments critical, perfectionist, punishing or biased, especially if they refer to ourselves or to other beings we have been taught to fear. Our conditioning has also taught us that if something does not have a "practical" value or is not of "use", e.g. immediately connected to money, status, power or the acquisition of material goods, then it has no value. Under this type of thinking nature left alone and undisturbed has no value; emotions and feelings have no value, animals have very limited value, etc. Somehow, working with selected images from the tarot can trigger deeply felt breakthroughs in insight or present information that the ego has otherwise blocked from conscious consideration.

Because all creativity stems from right brain activity of imaging and feeling first, healing, reprogramming and breakthrough can be triggered by simply observing related images from the tarot on a daily basis. Take three or so cards selected specifically for their relation to an issue at hand and place them where they can be easily seen often, such as on a nightstand by the bed. One need not light a candle, slaughter a chicken or chant an elaborate prayer. Simply look at the cards with the mind stilled for a minute; attempt a state of non-thought, visualizing clear, luminous space. Then permit a simple visualization of the outcome desired, nothing more, for another minute. Repeat this exercise for a couple weeks, once in the morning and once at night before bed.

Expect the actual outcome to be different from that which was visualized. We can participate in the alchemical process, however we are not in control of and do not dictate the outcome. That must be left up to Higher Intelligence and Divine Love. Invoking active change through working with images, music, scent and objects of correspondence is an active prayer sent to Source that will be answered. A "prayer package" of vision, word, object and focus of will does trigger our own unresolved karma and so in the outcome we can typically be confronted with exactly the sort of challenge we were hoping to avoid. This is the universe's way of testing the individual, in order to determine if they are serious about learning lessons and evolving, or not.

The archetypal symbols woven into the cards contain themes and meanings common to the human collective at large. Working actively with the images can enable us to better understand and separate out childhood conditioning and collective myths and desires, from what belongs on our own true ground. We may find an apparent void within after locating and turning off these life-negating voices, therefore be faced with the formidable task of building true self brick by brick from nothingness. However freeing ourselves from unconscious negativity, compulsive habits or limiting beliefs is well worth doing, as otherwise we are quite prone to living out someone else's version of heaven or hell.

Meditating on images in the tarot can serve as the means for learning how to surrender to the sublime. The mind can be calmed, what we want or the lesson the be learned can be condensed into images encoded with value, feeling, purpose and design. Consider the exercise of first noticing and then melting the artifical boundaries of word and emotion, category and definition that exist between self and image; carry the same exercise out into daily relations with Nature. How much do you get outside every day? Do you have allergies and phobias of various kinds or are you just too busy to make much real contact? Liberation can come from getting out of our own way and turn off egocentric preoccupations in order to meld with natural life, become a witness of Divine Love in action. Consider a humble communion with your own body, the animals, plants, beautiful sky and fertile earth as these are the greatest gifts and embodiments of Divine Love upon the material plane.

*Credit for historical information on the tarot must be given to The Tarot Tarot History Information Sheet, by members of the TarotL discussion group,, 2000-01.

*Card images from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck are used with permission of U.S.Games Systems, Inc.


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