Tarot Teach-Yourself Lesson -

Tarot FAQ: Basics for Beginners
by Michael Star

a Tarot teaching article in
STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine (c)1998.

Image of The High Priestess tarot card II. Using intuition to reveal hidden knowledge. Michael's "Action-Figure" Method for Tarot Card Interpretation. Seeing the meanings in the images. A picture is worth a thousand words!

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Michael Star's Tarot FAQ

Michael uses the popular Rider deck, designed by Arthur Edward Waite, in his classes and highly recommends it to beginners as their FIRST deck, because it has many images on ALL 78 cards which help you see and remember the meanings. It is inexpensive and available at most metaphysical book stores. Almost identical images can be found on the "Albano Waite" deck and the "Universal Waite" deck.

Purple Isis art glass box and classic 1905 Rider Tarot deck
Purple Isis art glass box & Tarot deck. Combo pack #2 includes an Isis etched royal purple art glass Tarot box with a classic "Rider Tarot" deck. The box is about 2" deep, by 6" long by 4" wide. A $49.95 regular value.
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The "Action-Figure" Method
for Tarot Card Interpretation
(c)1996 by Michael Star

Until a proper Tarot FAQ file gets written, here's some interesting stuff from my Tarot lecture notes...



(c)1996 Michael Star 81 Lakeshore E. #51, Mississauga ON L5G4S7
Email: michael(at)astrologyzine.com  Website: http://www.astrologyzine.com


     If you read a hundred books designed to teach the meanings
of the Tarot cards, you might collect a hundred or more words
given as the main meaning for the same card.  If you counted all
the words used in various phrases which express the shades of
meaning of each card, you could easily exceed a thousand words
which relate to the meaning of each card.  Quite literally, in
understanding the meaning of the Tarot cards:  "a picture is
worth a thousand words"!


     While no textbook on the Tarot tries to teach you a thousand
words for each card, most of the books and instruction sheets
designed to teach you the traditional Tarot card interpretations
do declare five or more words as the "meanings" of each card. 
Even if you used only the 22 picture cards of the Major Arcana,
that would mean learning and remembering 110 words (22x5=110) in
order to do a Tarot reading without having to look things up in a
"cookbook" or cross-reference of card meanings.  It's not that
difficult to memorize five words for each of 22 cards;  but it
would be a lot easier if the five words had some semblance of
logical links to each other!  Some Tarot textbooks give very good
lists of meanings;  but if you were to start to learn about the
Tarot from the instruction booklet supplied with the popular
"Rider Tarot Deck", you could find yourself confused and 
frustrated by the arbitrary assignment of meanings like:

"7. THE CHARIOT. --Succour, providence; also war, triumph,
presumption, vengeance, trouble.  Reversed: Despotism, abuse of
power, weakness, discord."  (c)1971 U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

     Looking at the picture of a man in armour standing in a
chariot but holding no reins, one might see some relation of the
idea of "trouble" or "war" to that image;  but how in heaven are
you supposed to see "succour, providence" or "presumption,
vengeance" in that picture?  If you turned to the instruction
book for another well-established deck with similar images, "The
Tarot of Marseille", you would read:

"VII. THE CHARIOT. Divinatory Meaning.
Right way up: Complete dominion over oneself.  Guidance, 
sovereignty, open affection, charitable protector.  
Unexpected news, great activity, electoral triumph, strength,
hyperactivity, movement of funds, increase in share prices."
(c)1983 Maritxu de Guler


     More than one professional card reader has confessed to 
giving up the idea of learning Tarot after their first encounter
with such confusing and unconnected (and often archaic) meanings
for the cards in their first Tarot deck.  One wonders if they try
to confuse you on purpose, as part of an initiation rite;  or if
it's some secret plot to seduce you into buying more decks until
you find one with an instruction sheet which relates the pictures
to the words in a way you can see makes some sense?


     Of the decks of the A.E. Waite design, "The Rider Deck" of
1910 was the first published and is still the best-known.  The
images on every Tarot card of this design were carefully chosen
to express the key themes of the card in a symbolic form -- as a
picture with persons, animals or objects which portrays a scene
in which a "figure" is taking some "action".  This is what makes
this deck ideal for learning the main meanings of the cards by
looking at the images -- rather than by reading the instruction


     As there are "action figures" of "G.I. Joe" or "Batman"
shown in T.V. ads, there is a medieval-style "figure" shown on
each of the cards in the A.E. Waite designs (on all 78 cards). 
Sometimes the "figure" is a man or woman or youth, sometimes an
animal or mythical beast, or sometimes an inanimate object. 
Sometimes there is only one "action figure" and sometimes there
are more than one.  Sometimes the "action" is obvious; sometimes
the action is not so obvious.  But once you are given the clues
to discover the relevant figure(s) and action(s) -- you will find
it easy to find them again whenever you see the picture again!


     Once you have determined what the key "figure" is, and what
key "action" it is taking in the picture -- you have the pair of
keys to READING and REMEMBERING the card.  Using card VII THE
CHARIOT of the Rider Deck as an example, one of the key "figures"
is the armoured man or warrior standing in the chariot.  One key
"action" he is taking is to FOCUS his mind on what is right in
front of him.  You could say he is PAYING ATTENTION or directing
his full ATTENTION to what matters most.  Or you could say he is
trying to CONCENTRATE on controlling the animals which pull the
chariot.  Since he appears to have no reins, he must do this with


     The Waite design shows a black sphinx and its opposite, a white
sphinx, pulling the chariot; so the charioteer must exert CONTROL
OF OPPOSING FORCES.  Some other designs show two horses running
in two directions, so you might say the driver is "being pulled
in two directions" and concentrating on "keeping it all together"
while "being torn by opposing interests or forces".


     Once you can come up with words like FOCUS or CONCENTRATE to
describe a key "action" that you can see (or imagine) the key figure
is DOING in the picture -- you have come up with one or more of
the key themes or meanings of the card!  Those two may not be the
easiest actions to spot -- depending how your mind works -- but
they are easy to remember once you know the clues!  Other readers
might spot a more subtle "action" -- the charioteer is FACING
him (to the past); nor looking at other paths (other goals or
desires, or other people's paths); nor being distracted by what
might be going on around him (side issues, noise, encouragement
or discouragement, other people's meddling or interference).


     With a few clues, a discerning eye, and a little deductive
detective work, a beginner can virtually "read" the pictures and
remember two or more of the key themes of each card.  This tech-
nique is a pretty obvious one;  but among the hundreds of books
designed to teach Tarot card reading, few seem to show or tell
the obvious connections between the symbols and the meanings, so
the beginner might see just HOW the meanings were determined!


     A "mnemonic" is a device or "hook" for REMEMBERING some-
thing -- such as the "I before E except after C" rhyme you may
have learned in school to help you remember how to spell words
like "receive".  Many of the "improve your memory" books and
courses offered today make use of a mnemonic device which links
an image to a person's name or the name of an object.  The better
one can associate the known image to the new name, the better the
name will be remembered.


     If you meet a lady named Gail who has a nose which reminds
you of a triangular ship's sail, you will think of "sail"
whenever you see or visualize her face...and that helps remind
you of the sound-alike name "Gail".  In learning to remember the
meanings of a Tarot card, the "action" or the "figure" in the
picture is the mnemonic device.  Sometimes objects or minor
figures also serve as additional mnemonic devices for the main
themes, or at times for secondary meanings or themes.


     When you see the "figure" and the "action" you will remember
the words which describe the figure or the action.  Since the
scenes on the cards will always be right before your eyes when
you do a Tarot reading, using the pictures as mnemonic devices is
such an obvious method that it is surprising how few authors have
clearly explained how the meanings are related to the images, and
surprising how none seem to have presented a logical, systemized
METHOD for linking obvious clues in the pictures to key words.


     One of the reasons the A.E. Waite design has made the Rider
Deck the most popular and widely-used of all Tarot cards is that
it was the first to include pictures of people in action scenes
on the 40 "pip cards" of the Minor Arcana.  The medieval scenes
on these cards make it much easier to remember the meanings of
these cards than to remember the pip cards of other decks, which
show only groupings of a number of swords, sceptres, cups or
coins, with no human figures or scenes or actions.


     Why did Waite choose to illustrate scenes showing people in
medieval society engaged in the crafts and activities of the
period?  There could be several reasons, but one that seems im-
portant is to reduce the possibility of preconceptions and preju-
dices which could influence the reader's interpretation of the
cards.  By presenting pictures of an UNfamiliar medieval society
to a 20th-century card reader, the artist forces the viewer to
start from scratch and look for basic clues in the images.  If a
modern scene or familiar figure were used, the modern reader
might be distracted by associations or connotations which have
become attached to certain figures or activities.


     For example, if THE EMPEROR card had a modern-day King or a
President or a Dictator as its key figure, the reader might miss
the themes which are COMMON to all heads of state, because he was
attaching certain prejudices to one or the other of the types of
government.  Or he might think of actions typical of Presidents
which are NOT typical of Kings or Dictators.  In medieval times,
the Emperor was a RULER whose authority and actions included
aspects of all three;  so key concepts like "rulership", "leader-
ship", "dominance", "authority", "planning", "management", "main-
taining order", "rule by force", "law and order", or "defending
boundaries" are easier to discern when one is forced to ask "What
does an Emperor represent to me?" -- rather than to react with
"This is what a damnable Dictator means to me!"


     Most Emperors WERE dictators, but we don't usually attach
the same negative concepts to a drawing of an unnamed medieval
Emperor in a suit of armour, as we would to an image of a modern
Dictator like Saddam Hussein in his military uniform.  Since you
don't see any Emperors of empires in the news these days, you are
not likely to attach meanings to the concept of "Emperor" which
derive from the personality or behaviour of a living example.  If
a Hitler or Stalin were used to illustrate the concept, a modern
reader would be unduly influenced by the hateful and destructive
actions of these modern-day dictators, and find it hard to focus
on concepts the Tarot card was originally designed to symbolize.


     Another example of UNfamiliar figures being easier to asso-
ciate with key concepts is THE EMPRESS card image.  If a modern
Queen like the Queen of England were used as the symbol for an
"Empress", a modern reader would associate her with the Head of
State or with concepts deriving from her personality.  In medie-
val times, the Empress was the consort of the Emperor, whose pri-
mary duty was to bear an heir to the throne, and whose secondary
purpose was to be the sexual partner of the Emperor to provide
sensual pleasure.  Both of these ideas suggest the themes of
"fertility", "fecundity", "pregnancy", "child-bearing", and
"reproduction";  as well as "sexuality" and "sensual pleasure".


     Modern society supports a system where the male and female
sexes have equal rights and equal opportunities.  Women hold pos-
itions and pursue occupations which in past times were for men 
only.  This equality of the sexes is wonderful and workable in
our modern society;  but it does have the effect of obscuring the
symbolic differences between male and female.  If the designer of
a Tarot deck wanted to use male figures to symbolize "masculine"
or "assertive" or "logical" and female figures to symbolize "fem-
inine" or "receptive" or "intuitive" he might be accused of sex-
ism in a modern society.  And if he wanted to use a soldier to
symbolize the traits of aggressiveness or raw strength, he would
find some readers confused by the fact that a modern soldier may
be a women or a man...and miss the symbolic concepts tradition-
ally associated with masculinity vs. femininity.  By using images
from medieval times, when there was a clear separation of male
vs. female roles and qualities, the concepts conveyed by the male
or female figures are clearer and easier to discern.  Setting the
scene in a past period allows the use of gender as clear clues to
the meanings, and avoids the distracting issue of equality of the
sexes in modern society.  In times past, separate roles for men
and women was just the way it WAS then -- so the "equality" issue
is NOT an issue in interpreting medieval-style scenes.


     Symbolically, Masculinity is associated with the planet Mars
and the mythological god Mars or Ares.  Femininity is associated
with the planet Venus and the goddess Venus or Aphrodite.  When
the figure in a scene on a Tarot card is a Knight or any man in
armour, it symbolizes "Martian" (Mars-like) qualities such as
action, aggression, assertiveness, force, physical strength, and
strategy.  When the figure is a sensous or alluring woman, it
symbolizes "Venusian" (Venus-like) qualities such as reaction,
attraction, receptivity, sensuality, fertility, and beauty.  On
Waite's EMPRESS card, the astrological symbol for Venus is shown
on the shield by the throne, and this is a clue that THE EMPRESS
symbolizes some of the Venusian qualities mentioned above.


     Symbolically, the Moon stands for traditional "feminine"
qualities.  Emotions, feelings, intuition, mystery, and change-
ability are often associated with the Moon as well as with women. 
The Moon receives and reflects the light of the Sun, so it symbo-
lizes receptivity and passivity, as well as reflection and emo-
tional reaction.  The Moon has a dark side which remains hidden,
so it can symbolize intuition, imagination, mystery and hidden
things.  These qualities are all clues to the meanings of a card
whenever you see a Moon, a half-circle, or a crescent-shape.  THE
HIGH PRIESTESS and THE MOON cards have key meanings linked to
"Moon" qualities.  THE PRIESTESS has several crescents, and THE
CHARIOT card shows crescents on the driver's shoulders.


     Water, and the colour Blue, symbolize "FEELINGS".  Keep in
mind that "feelings" can be either emotions or the kind of feel-
ing which means "knowing" without having a rational reason why --
what we call "INTUITION".  Just as we cannot see too far into a
body of water to the hidden depths, we cannot see into our sub-
conscious minds to the hidden emotions and memories and intuitive
knowledge that lie deep within.  We can only see what rises to
the surface occasionally, in the form of an intuitive feeling or
an emotional reaction.  If you notice the bottom of THE HIGH
PRIESTESS' blue robe in the Waite design, you will see it resem-
bles a blue pool of water and offers another clue to two key 
meanings: INTUITION and HIDDEN KNOWLEDGE.  Water, which is a
fluid, is also associated with FLUIDITY and CHANGEABLITY.


     When water is disturbed, waves are stirred up.  When we are
disturbed, our emotions are stirred up.  Thus waves symbolize
unsettled emotions, or emotional disturbances such as agitation
or anger.  On some of the Court Cards and Pip Cards, you will see
waves symbolizing emotional stress or upsets.


     Waterfalls symbolize the union of the Masculine Principle
with the Feminine Principle, of Will or Idea with Substance,
which creates a product or "MANIFESTATION".  In THE EMPRESS card
III it represents "fructification" in the form of the sex act or
of fertilization which manifests the human child, or the plants
and food crops.  From this masculine/feminine union the themes of
"Fertility" and "Sexuality" are derived.


     Snakes symbolize wisdom.  Jesus told his disciples: "Be ye
wise as serpents..."  A snake sheds its skin periodically
by simply crawling out of it, leaving an intact shell of the snake.
This appears like a new snake has been born from its dead body;
and thus the snake came to symbolize "REGENERATION" and "IMMORTA-
LITY".  A snake bent around in a circle to bite his own tail
symbolizes "ETERNITY"; if the snake is bent in a figure-eight it
symbolizes "INFINITY" or the awareness of other planes of exist-
ence.  This "sideways 8" is called a "lemniscate".  The 8 is also
a perfect symbol for the ancient truth: "As above, so below."  A
lemniscate appears on THE MAGICIAN and STRENGTH cards as a clue
that the figures are acting in tune with spiritual laws or, you
might say, on a "soul" level rather than on a physical level.  On
THE WORLD card, red ribbons on the wreath form two lemniscates,
to show that the world is bound by spiritual laws in action.


     The colour of the background in the A.E. Waite images always
indicates the main force or principle BEHIND the theme of the
card -- the instigating force which is instrumental in creating
the desired state of consciousness or the result which the card

(c)1996 by Michael Star  (All rights reserved.)

(to be continued)


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Author and Address

First published JUL 27 1996. Updated February 06 2006 01:00 EST.

(c)1997-2006 Michael Star, (All rights reserved.) 81 Lakeshore East #51, Mississauga ON, Canada L5G 4S7

Email Michael at: michael@astrologyzine.com

Internet Web Site: STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine - http://www.AstrologyZine.com

Permission is freely granted to retrieve and store this copyrighted material in electronic form for your personal use only. No part may be transmitted, published, or sold in any electronic or printed media without the express permission of the author, Michael Star. (c)1996 All Rights Reserved.

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