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From the Rider Waite Tarot


Tarot is a pictorial and cosmic storybook of symbols that represent cross-cultural and transhistorial experiences of the human journey from birth to death. It is both a journey of soul evolution and the development of the human personality. As a spiritual book, it is a meditative tool. As counsel, it is a helpful grid map for personal discovery and spiritual transformation. As an oracle, alongside the I-Ching and astrology, the latter of which principles are embedded in tarot, it is the most inclusive and panoramic fortune telling resource ever created.


Ordinary playing cards were a Chinese invention that immigrated to Europe around 1375. Early decks had four suits, each with ten pip cards (Ace thru 10) and three court cards - a King, Knight, and Page, creating a 52-card deck. Trumps were a European invention from the German game Karnöffel that first appeared in the 1420s. Tarot appeared in Northern Italy around 1420-1440. At that time Queens were added to the court cards, creating a 56-card deck.

The 56-card Tarot deck was augmented with a hierarchy of 22 allegorical trump cards, creating a new standard 78-card Tarot deck, originally referred to as carte da trionfi (cards with trumps). Successive trumps triumphed over lower-ranking trumps in a manner that was reflected in art, literature, religious processions, and festival pageants. The new fat packs of seventy-eight cards came to be known as tarocchi in Italy and tarots in France.

Actual methods of Tarot divination were not established until the late 1700s in the writings of a professional Parisian card reader, Jean-Baptiste Alliette, or “Etteilla” as he designated himself. Regardless of Etteilla’s denial, his interpretations appear to have been influenced by the Masonic illuminé Antoine Court de Gébelin, who in 1773 had published that Tarot enshrined the remains of a legendary Egyptian book of wisdom written by the god Thoth. Written by Etteilla, the first book on cartomancy was published in 1770. In the 1780s he and two other French writers developed much of the occult lore and fortunetelling methods that would reinvent Tarot in the late 1800s.

Disregarding Tarot's 350-year history, its original and common use as a game, cartomancers interpreted the 22 images of the trumps as correspondent to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Sequentially, the 22 trumps (known as the Major Arcana) fit perfectly with the meanings of the Hebrew letter-names. Trumps also represent a gender, one of the four Western elements of fire, water, air, and earth, and a number corresponding to Pythagorean numerology. The inner structure of the remaining 56 cards (Minor Arcana), are correspondent to one of the four elements, the zodiac and planets of astrology, and numerology. Consistent with Qabalistic correspondences, the pips also associate with the ten sephiroth of the Qabalist Tree of Life. These augmented correspondences made Tarot a system for Qabalistic magick and mysticism. Divination became permanently attached to Tarot.

During the mid-19th century, Tarot received closer attention from occult philosophers like Éliphas Lévi and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magickal society in 1888-1896 founded by William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers - Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Later members included English poet William Butler Yeats, English mystic Evelyn Underhill, English occultist Aleister Crowley (author of the Thoth Tarot), American occultist Paul Foster Case (founder of Builders of the Adytum), and Arthur Edward Waite, Freemason, member of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and esoteric Christian mystic - best known as co-creator of the popular Rider-Waite Tarot.

Tarot gained widespread popularity as an oracle and was spread throughout Europe by Rom Gypsies who tended to read the cards based on exoteric imagery rather than esoteric symbolism. Since 1880, thousands of distinctive Tarot decks have been published, representing modifications of the traditional symbolism to reflect the beliefs of their creators. Nonetheless, my estimation is that most of the roughly one hundred decks available share about 65% of the standard symbolic interpretations that respect either the historically pre-occult and exoteric tradition or the occult and esoteric Western Mystery Tradition.


As a commonplace event, tarot is mistakenly confused with clairvoyance or mediumship and further muddled by calling tarot readings “psychic readings”. The word psychic is ambiguous and misleading. Etymologically, the word derives from the Greek psychikos, which meant soul. Being psychic, therefore, originally meant to be soulful.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines psychic as “lying outside the sphere of physical science or knowledge: immaterial, moral, or spiritual in origin or force.” This information is biased. Thousands of scientific studies have verified paranormal abilities including telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, and remote viewing. Governments of the United States and Russia have funded programs for the last 35 years researching remote viewing, a special kind of clairvoyance, which governments thought would be most helpful in spying. However, from the evolved perception of mystics across the world since the dawn of man, Newtonian science is not necessarily the benchmark of reality.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary also defines psychic as “sensitive to nonphysical or supernatural forces and influences: marked by extraordinary or mysterious sensitivity, perception, or understanding.” This part of the definition is valid enough, though not terribly specific and as a result, not very useful. Another common traditional meaning associates psychic with telepathy, the ability of a person to “read the mind,” of another. Interestingly, this is the most commonly reported paranormal experience among mystics.

Most people associate psychic with clairvoyance. Psychic also maintains a friendly liaison with astrology, numerology, palmistry, astral travel, near-death experience, lucid dreaming, and energy healing. There is no difficulty with the word psychic embracing any of these meanings underneath its broad umbrella, except that once again, the umbrella has become so massively encompassing as to not know what one means when the word psychic is used.

Psychic is also strongly associated with the paranormal ability to perceive ghosts. I am certainly willing to concede that when people perceive ghosts visually, auditorially, or sensually, they are having a psychic experience. Of course, validity of experience increases when it becomes increasingly public, that is, when more than one person is having the same perceptual experience.

Again, my problem with the word psychic is simply that it is not definitive enough. For the purposes of examining tarot, let’s replace the word psychic with three different words that represent three completely different skills: clairvoyance, mediumship, and divination. It is important to note that these three different skills can be combined or integrated, but usually are not!


Clairvoyance means “clear seeing,” the claimed ability to mentally perceive representations of things or events beyond normal sensory contact. Sister words to clairvoyance are clairaudience, meaning that otherworldly sensations are perceived through sound, or clairsentience, meaning that sensations are perceived through touch. Clairvoyance is anomalous, extrasensory, empathic, and intuitive. To use tarot in a clairvoyant manner is to predominantly use the imagery on the cards as a stimulus for paranormal input. Relying on clairvoyance/audience/sentience does not require any particular knowledge of the cards. One might as well use any set of oracle cards that one responds to in an empathic way. However, that being said, certain tarot decks were designed/created from the beginning to facilitate and elicit clairvoyant perceptions. Two glaring examples of these intuitive decks are the Voyager Tarot and Tarot of the Sweet Twilight.

I once knew a gifted clairvoyant who placed four dissimilar tarot decks on her table for readings and asked seekers to chose any deck they wish. I knew she did not know how to read any of the decks. She simply used the cards to inspire her clairvoyant reading. That being said, being a gifted clairvoyant might or might not help give a good reading. In using cards, the cards are never wrong and interpretation is surely dependent upon the reader. Interpretation is also dependent upon the clairvoyant reader. Gifted clairvoyants, and ones who identify themselves as such, do not typically use tarot or any form of divination - largely because they mistakenly (and arrogantly) view bones, stones, sticks, and cards as unneeded trivial accessories.


Mediumship, sometimes called channeling, is communication with a discarnate entity or spirit. Communication involves thought transference between two entities, one physical and one ethereal. This reported communication takes place within the consciousness of the medium and results are expressed verbally. Communication is sometimes conducted in a trance state and is called trance mediumship. The medium’s function is to relate information in an unbiased manner to others, who if sitting in a seance, are referred to as sitters.

Communication from the spirit world also manifests as apparitions, physical phenomena, levitation of objects, and poltergeists. Mediumship also includes the study, communication, and attempted verification of ghosts.

Historically, mediumship has been promoted by Spiritualism or Spiritism. In the United States, this dates from the activities of the Fox sisters in 1848. As of 2007, The VERITAS Research Program of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health (formerly the Human Energy Systems Laboratory) in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona was created primarily to test the hypothesis that the consciousness (or identity) of a person survives physical death, thus substantiating mediumship as an activity that does what it purports to do, communicate with the deceased. Some recent results can be found in Gary Schwartz’s book, The Truth About Medium: Extraordinary Experiments with the Real Allison DuBois of NBC's Medium and Other Remarkable Psychics.

Most mediums access knowledge of the past rather than foretell the future. Most people are disinterested in previous knowledge because they already know it. Their interest in mediumship is either toward experiencing evidence of the afterlife (or between lives), alleviating fears of death, or wrapping up business with a deceased loved one. Mediumship is a fine method for grief counseling.

Mediumship usually assumes the information is from a deceased relative, friend, or animal. However, mediumistic information can come from other sources like spirit guides, the White Brotherhood, angels, archangels, totems, diabolic entities, et cetera. I always liked Charles Tart’s (the paranormal researcher at Stanford University) statement, “just because you die, it doesn’t mean it raises your IQ.”

Most tarot readers are not mediums, though many claim to receive information from “their guides.” I do not believe sprits manipulate the cards or the hands (querent’s or reader’s), that pick the cards. Spirits may influence the mind of the querent or the reader, but spirits are far too busy doing good deeds or mischievous wanderings to be involved in oracles without being called upon. When tarot readers refer to information they give as coming from “their guides,” I expect this information more likely arises from their higher self, not an external buddy-enitity. True mediums are difficult to find. Usually, they distinguish themselves by calling themselves mediums, do not use tarot, and are disinterested in divination.

That being said, I do believe that sprits manipulate the Ouija Board. I expect that most people who manipulate Ouija Boards are rookies fooling around and playing games with spirits. I think spirits view Ouija Board activity and its players as a kind of Halloween where the spirits can be wicked and it’s okay.


To most people, divination or the practical use of throwing bones, I-Ching sticks, runes, or tarot cards for fortune telling makes no sense. After all, how can a bag of bones, sticks, stones, or a pack of cards, when randomly strewn, dealt, or drawn, yield an accurate prediction of the future or past? If we exclude clairvoyance and mediumship, what is left to explain tarot as an oracle?

Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation through a standardized craft and interpretation of occult signs and symbols. Divination is structured, systematized, perspectival, and ritualistic. And this is its advantage over clairvoyance and mediumship - it provides a certain objectivity based on cosmic principles. The best reader I ever knew was accustomed to saying, "I'm not psychic. I just read the cards." Divination is the craft of discerning the hidden significance of events and foretelling the future. Tarot is foremost a form of divination and therefore, not being a gift, the standardized process of predesignated signs and symbols for interpretation must be learned.

Divination is based on the principle of a cosmic universe, a reflection of order and not random chaos. In a cosmos, all events are related. Bones being scattered upon the ground or cards in a layout upon a table do not fall randomly. They create a pattern that has a meaningful relationship, and one that requires an interpretation. Interpretation works because the archetypes, signs, and symbols employed were brilliantly orchestrated from meditative inner traditions that represented the evolving challenges of the soul as well as the developmental tasks of the earthly personality. We can say therefore, that the cards are cosmically strewn or dealt. While the patterns may look random to the uninitiated, they show consistencies and meaningfully related symbols to the reader.

Psychologist Julian Jaynes categorized divination into the following types:
(1) Omens and omen texts that are the result of recording sequences of events. Palmistry, the I-Ching (Chinese Book of Changes), astrology (Vedic or Jyotish, Western, and Chinese), and Numerology belong in this category.
(2) Sortilege is the casting of lots. This includes casting bones, beans, sticks, shells, rocks, stones, dice, Maj Jong tiles, Celtic Runes, regular playing cards, and tarot.
(3) Augury ranks a set of given possibilities through shapes or proximites. The reading of animal entrails, spider webs, flights of birds, tea leaves, and coffee grinds falls into this category. Also, dowsing derives from this method.
(4) Spontaneous describes divination that is free from any particular object. Asking a question, thumbing through a sacred text, and taking as the answer the passage one first sees, represents this method. Feng Shui, the reading of auras, graphology (handwriting analysis), and content interpretation of dreams fall into this category.


Divination is based on synchronicity and not on causality. Causality represents a cause-and-effect relationship, where one event gives rise to another. When placed in conjunction, heat boils water.

Synchronicity is different. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who in 1952 coined the word synchronicity to describe the "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." Jung viewed synchronicity as a connecting principle of meaningful coincidence, that is a real connection that cannot be explained by causality.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more occurrences, beyond mere happenstance, that occur in a logically meaningful relationship. Jung considered that many often considered coincidental experiences were not merely the result of chance, but of parallel events reflecting this governing dynamic. In tarot, the principle of synchronicity connects the shuffling of the cards, and the meaning which is incorporated in the selection of those cards. The reading and meaningful events of the querent are attuned to the same vibration, the cards reflecting the unfoldment of events.

Synchronicity presumes there are no accidents, that whatever cards are chosen must reflect the querent’s question. Every event reflects every other event. Regardless of the seemingly random selection, each card selected contains a cosmic (or spiritual) meaning, though perhaps hidden from immediate view. The trick is in the reader deciphering and interpreting the hidden language. Skeptics believe that viewing synchronistic events as meaningful is attributed to the querent's and reader’s desire to view the world in that way. And while that may be true, it does not discount the actuality of the event. Just because I love chocolate mousse, does not discount the fact that the cake is awesome good.

Synchronicity somewhat justifies using computer generated shuffles or oracles without human intervention. While I see no problem with the process of automatic card selection, I see a problem with a computer generated interpretation, the program of which is only as evolved as the programmer. Such an interpretation also assumes that the querent is no more or less than the question asked. My other problem with computer generated oracles is that from my perspective, they are distancing and boring. If I do not already know a person, I feel the same way with a phone reading. In summary, tarot works because cosmic principles are applied to synchronous events.


The issue of accuracy is best left to querents rather than readers. People who return usually find their readings accurate, if not helpful in some way. Of course, not everyone returns. Some people are just in for the entertainment and some people may have been dissatisfied with the inaccuracy or lack of helpfulness. Since readers do not keep records, there is no sure way of knowing the hits. How convenient! Oh sure, from time to time someone comes in and says, "Do you remember that reading you did for me...?" And they go on to say how accurate it was, that events evolved as predicted. In appreciation, some querents even make a point to later tell readers about the accuracy of a reading.

I think accuracy depends on the reader and the client, the moods, the day, the night before, and the cycle of the moon. Reminds me of when I asked a fellow golfer with a ten handicap whether he could make a particular difficult shot around a tree. He said that on the right day, when the sun was shinning, and the moon and wind conditions were just right, and depending on what he had for breakfast, that shot was in his bag all right. Thing was, he did not know whether today, just right then, whether all of those conditions were met. He said it was just better to hit the damn ball and see what happened.

Lastly, in the B.O.T.A. tradition, I view tarot as an expression of cosmic consciousness, if not sacred. I think it wise to approach all divination that is worthy of consideration with an attitude of ritual respect and gratefulness - oh yeah, and fun.

all original work on this web site is copyright © 2009 by t.l. orcutt