Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Tarot Deck

I think this is an appropriate day to look into something unrelated to the holidays, -- Tarot cards. What got me curious about the Arcana Tarot Deck of Cards was a book I just read, “The Cloisters” by Katy Hays. It is a mystery at the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum seven miles north of the main building, where they are putting together an exhibition about Tarot cards. There are secrets galore including who believes in the abilities of the Tarot cards to predict the future and who does not. As the game that is being played within the Cloisters spirals out of control, the central figure must decide whether she is truly able to defy the cards and shape her own destiny.

The Tarot game deck is thought to date back to the 1430s in Italy. Other sources say it was already in the early 1390s. Then the deck was used for a game called tarocchi, which was similar to Bridge and it became popular throughout Europe. The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York has a deck made for the Visconti-Sforza family and believed to be by Bonifacio Bembo (1447-1480). Here from the deck is the Wheel of Fortune ...


The modern-day card game has 52 cards in 4 suits including numbers and face cards. The Tarot deck has 78 cards in it. The “major arcana” consists of 22 cards also known as trumps. And the minor arcana of 56 cards. The major arcana have images of various forces, characters, virtue and vices. Some believe Tarot is just a game and others believe in its mystic powers. The British Museum has an 18th century deck Published in Germany by Johanes Neumur but with French titles and Italian suits.


As time went on the Arcana deck of Tarot cards became more than a game. The derivation of the word Arcana is from the Latin arcanus meaning “secret”. It was often used to speak of the mysteries of the physical and spiritual world. Alchemists pursued the arcana of nature in their search for elixirs that would turn base metals into gold.

Coincidently, we were given a set of Tarot cards at a recent talk at Evoke Gallery given by an artist we greatly admire, and whom I have written about in the past, Patrick McGrath Muñiz. https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2013/12/patrick-mcgrath-muniz.html


He has introduced imagery from the Tarot in his paintings for close to 20 years and in 2021 he published his own deck the “Tarot Neocolonial de las Americas”. The most powerful card in the Tarot deck is that of The Fool, here he is from Muñiz’s deck and inspired by his best friend.


Muniz’s deck has specific meanings as he addresses current and historical social issues in the Americas in his art. Muniz talks about his development of Tarot figures as archetypes for patterns of behavior. This fits with the definition I found of archetype as “a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated. Archetypes are often used in myths and storytelling across different cultures.”

How do you “read” Tarot cards? If you want to be cynical, the answer is any way you want to, as they can have both positive and negative meanings. It seems that 3 and 5 card spreads are most popular. You shuffle the cards and place them in 3 or 5 piles. You then read each card individually based on its placement in the spread and finally see how they blend to form an overall story imbued with layered meaning.

Maybe this will be clearer:

1. Choose a deck of tarot cards that speaks to you.

2. Familiarize yourself with the meanings of the tarot cards. ...

3. Set your intention for the reading. ...

4. Shuffle the cards and focus on your question or intention as you do so. ...

5. Lay out the cards in a spread. ...

6. Interpret the cards in the spread.

Confused yet? Good. As you can tell I am one of the doubters, though it seems like great fun to pursue this endeavor. To my surprise I found there are even classes on how to study and learn about the cards.