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Picture this!

December 4, 2012

“I don’t get that from this picture.”

If you teach Tarot, you’ve probably heard a student say something like the above quote in response to your explanation of a card meaning. And it’s not just beginners who think that the card images are the definitive source of meaning for the cards. But that’s not true. In fact, prior to the creation of the Rider Waite Smith deck about a century ago, the numbered cards in the Minor Arcana didn’t have pictures on them at all.

The picture on a card can be a mnemonic device to help you remember meanings, and it can trigger your intuition to bring you new, unexpected insights during a reading. However, a card’s image is not a straightjacket intended to limit its meaning. Each card also gains meaning from its number (numerological meaning), from its suit (elemental and suit meaning), and from the esoteric meanings of the symbols exhibited in the card (symbolic meaning). Add to all that the traditional meanings that have been handed down from centuries of use of the cards, and you see that the meanings of the cards are a rich tapestry woven from various sources, not just the pictures on them.

  1. dattwood permalink

    I agree with you James. The card meaning changes with each reading as one incorporates the numerology, the elemental and the symbols on the cards; also the intuitive approach to the card’s gestalt. Trying to memorize a card’s “traditional meaning” is a futility that traps one in frustration in not being able to remember what some author or authority has said.

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