The Many Layers of Tarot Card Interpretation

One of the things that confuses many tarot students is the seeming contradictions you’ll encounter as you read through books, learn from teachers, and from each other. The main notion to keep in mind is that there are many layers of interpretation to each card.

The Little White Book – The little white book that comes with practically every commercially published tarot deck is either the first place a person will for interpretations or the last. Many people ignore it, hold it as their little tarot bible, or some go so far as to throw it away. LWBs vary in quality. Some are restatements of standard interpretations, that may or may not have anything to do with the cards in the box, and some are written by the deck’s creator and are more in line with the creator’s intention.

Traditional vs. Deck-Specific Systems – Many tarot decks are derivations of established mystical systems and share a common symbolic language. The most familiar of these is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and the numerous decks that use it as a model. The Crowley Thoth deck stems from the same esoteric tradition (Hemetic: Order of the Golden Dawn), but takes a different approach. As more and more modern decks are being created, you’ll come across an increasing number of deck specific systems that call upon a broader universe of symbolism and are used in very specific ways.

Personal Intuitive Interpretations – The interpretations you come up with based on your intuitive sense, meditation, and personal experience will most likely be the strongest you have. These will form the backbone of your glossary of meanings. Intuitive interpretations are arrived through impressions you receive from the pictures on the card and may or may not agree with “traditional” interpretations you may find elsewhere.

Other People’s Ideas – Interpretations that you pick up from other people will tend to be a mixture of all of the above. You won’t really know where they got them from unless you ask, and even then they may not know or remember. You can pick up these additional interpretations from teachers, other readers, students in your tarot class, forum posts, books, etc. The number one caveat with other people’s ideas is the use of personal discrimination. Does a particular meaning ring true to you? If it doesn’t, just because someone said it or write it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Another great source of other people’s interpretation is the querent. Even if the person whom you’re reading for knows nothing about tarot, they’ll still have an instictual reaction to the picture on the card.

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