Monday, March 28, 2016

Mystics and Geeks: Two Ways to Start Learning Card Meanings

I did not approach tarot as a way to divine my future or get in touch with my spiritual intuition.  I started researching tarot because I wanted something organized yet creative that gave me a chance to embrace my geeky side: 78 definitions, organized into both Major and Minor Arcana, dictated by suits, and progressing by number.  How delightfully structured!  How symmetrical!  And with pretty pictures, too!

I say this because you will hear different suggestions about how to approach tarot as a beginner, namely: Do you start with memorizing cards, or do you start by trying to get a "feel" for the cards?  I think that this depends entirely on what you are hoping to get out of tarot.  What I have for you are two Step Ones for getting to know your deck, depending on two possible approaches: Geek or Mystic.  Though you probably fall somewhere in between, try seeing which answers resonate with you most.

1) When you picked a deck, you were attracted to:

Mystic:  The feel of the artwork, the way certain specific cards captivated me, a deep stirring in my soul; the process of picking a deck is part of the experience itself
Geek: The general aesthetic, consistency in style, easily discernible suits and numbers; let's just pick a deck already!

2) You wanted to try tarot because:

Mystic: I wanted to try some new ways of getting in touch with my spiritual side, or I am interested in the occult and supernatural in a literal way, and I want to impress my friends
Geek: I'm interested in the occult in a historical and sociological way, I like systems, it's cooler than Pokeman, and I want to impress my friends

3) When you give or receive a really effective tarot reading, you feel:

Mystic: inspired by my connection to the universe through a literal supernatural force, or that the experience can't be explained with empirical fact
Geek: inspired by my connection to the universe through a shared need for storytelling and a common human mythos, or that coincidences can be just as important as fact if they lead to growth

When I got my Universal Rider-Waite, I was aaaaaall Geek, my friend.  As my confidence has grown and I collect more unique or abstract decks, I include a little Mystic in my approach, too.  I don't see either approach as better or more legitimate; they're just two different paths.  Over the next week or so, I'll present you these two different directions.  Be sure to check back!


  1. I really like the way you worded this. One of the most daunting things about getting into tarot for me has been the fact that most guides/websites are really centered on the Mystic approach, which I do lean toward, but I sometimes feel that their level of seriousness/reverence is much higher than mine. I almost feel like I'm disrespecting something with how casual I am about it. I never considered that there was more than one way to tarot, because it seems like a lot of people focus on the one way.

  2. Chelsea, that's exactly how I felt at the beginning! So many people really do come to tarot with a lot of spiritual expectations. I understand why, but for me, the power of narrative combined with symbology and whimsy was the biggest draw. I think it's possible to have this "down home" approach and still respect folks who are using tarot in a more literal way, just as I can disagree but appreciate somebody else's religious views.

    The other part of it is, within the tarot community, there's a ton of playfulness as well. It's something I've only started to see as I get more involved. So do keep that in mind!

  3. These two approaches are both great ways to think about, and I feel like when I get my deck I'll probably do some blend of the two. I want to get into tarot because I think I used to be a lot more connected with my spiritual side and my more emotional/intuitive side, and due to getting older/more jaded and also the influence of some people in my life, I shut off that side of myself a little bit because I saw it as less important than reason/rationality/etc. I'm excited to use this method to get more in touch with my intuition again. I also think it's going to be a great opportunity to do something creative that is totally different than my usual creative pursuits. Very excited =]