I begin my first beginners course this week.
This Summer, I crammed a handful of friends into my home and tried out my five-week-course on them. I conducted some of the workshops outside in the garden and when it got a little chilly, the girls would practice reading in pairs inside. As well as enjoying it, they all developed an understanding of the tarot deck and it’s construction. By week-five, they were able to read three-card spreads without assistance. I was over-the-moon with their progress, as were they.
I would have benefited greatly from a course when I began to learn the tarot in 1998. I began with a Thoth-style deck and a Rider-Waite–style book. I didn’t know the difference between the traditions and those early days were difficult. I am surprised that I never gave up, as so many do. For the first couple of years, I didn’t have the internet. I scraped what I could together from the conflicting manual and the pamphlet which came with the pack. It wasn’t easy, but the magic within Carl W. Rohrig’s paintings and my desire to know more pulled me through. When I eventually found out what the Rider Waite was, I bought it.
I have spoken with many people about tarot over the years, on and offline. Only recently, when talking about my forthcoming course, a co-worker exclaimed ‘I didn’t know that there were actual meanings associated with each card!’. She is not alone in her understanding. Many believe that the rules of card reading lay at the heart and discretion of the reader. A tarot teacher, who I met some months ago, has one golden rule – that you never learn the meanings of the cards. For her, card-reading is a 100% intuitive practice and having never picked up a book about the subject, she reads for paying-clients often.
People often ask whether it is best to study the tarot or rely on our intuition. It’s a heavily-argued question in the tarot community. I believe each to their own. But I also strongly believe that a good reader does both.
I watched a television interview with a popular actor a couple of days ago. After appearing in a number of television shows, he is now taking acting lessons. When questioned about this, he told the interviewer that he’d only broken into acting because a friend had asked him to be in one of his movies. Due to the film’s success, he moved into television. With each new project, he realised that although he was doing well, something set him apart from the other actors. He didn’t have the same foundation within acting as those who had studied their trade.
I believe that intuition is extremely important within tarot reading. As is personal style. However, before any of that is allowed to roam, I think that a foundation in tarot history and tradition is important. It provides stronger wings for flight. I always thought that Pablo Picasso was a better impressionist for learning the mechanics of drawing and painting in the first place. It must have taken a lot of time, effort and practice, but it made all of the difference in the long run.
Now, don’t think [for one second] that I am telling you that there is ‘just one’ way to read the tarot, because I am not. However, part of my work as a teacher is about helping tarot students learn from a tried and tested path. Studying the tarot basics allows us to ground what we receive intuitively and make sense of the messages. When you know what each card represents, you are more able to notice the patterns which show up in a spread. It’s a lot like learning the alphabet, where we put each letter together to make words. In time, words make sentences. Therefore, learning what a card is intended to mean is not restrictive (as some might argue), but actually expansive.
My course is separated into five weekly workshops. For the first part of each, I will discuss specific cards, their symbolism and examples of how they can be read in readings – pretty much like I do here on this blog. After discussion, students get into pairs and practice. They look at the small trios of cards and consider how the traditional meanings can meld with the intuitive feelings they are receiving as they turn each over, linking them together.
In my personal opinion, the best readers I have had contact with are those who know how to wield both their learned knowledge and intuitive abilities at the same time. Because I teach traditional meanings, some may think I dismiss the psychic or intuitive realms of reading. I do not. For me, you might liken my reading style to filling your car up with fuel. Think of the fuel as intuition and gut reactions. Think of the car as traditional interpretation, which we need to keep clean, serviced and road-worthy. Without the fuel, the car is little use and is going nowhere. Without the car, the fuel has nothing to drive. Therefore, to get moving and work in harmony, they need each other. This is how I feel about learned meanings and intuition in tarot reading.
© Steven Bright Tiferet Tarot 2014
All illustrations by Steven Bright