Getting To Know Your Deck

Every time I use a new deck, I take the time to get acquainted with the energies that characterize it. There is an innumerable array of Tarot decks now available and yet many, if not most, of them follow the classic format of the Waite Smith or the Golden Dawn. I am not here including the Marseilles tradition, of course, which deserves a web site of its own and which I will be discussing at a later date. The Marseilles tradition, for me, has been always more mystical; many of the correspondences and attributions are very similar in both traditions, but some key attributions are quite different and could confuse the neophyte. Still, at the core, I have found that it does not matter whether we use Marseilles or Golden Dawn or RWS "clones" because Spirit "speaks" all languages; and Hermetism, Alchemy, Magic, Shamanism, etc., are found anytime, anywhere we attempt to connect with the numinous.

The first thing I do is to separate the deck between Majors and Minors and then take the time to go from one card to the next, slowly and mindful of the intuitive patterns that unfold through the images, their assigned numbers and titles. Dr.Paul Foster Case, in his seminal book The Tarot notes that, "The Tarot is a book, disguised as a pack of cards." Dr. Case also calls it "a pictorial text-book of Ageless Wisdom." So, let's unpack this book slowly, starting with the twenty-two Majors and see what we find as we seek its wisdom.

Take the first card, Key 0, the Fool, and put it aside for now. Then divide the twenty-one remaining Majors into three rows of seven cards each, making sure that the three rows are all lined up nicely with each other. This Tableau places The Fool at the top of the three rows, and you are free to move it as you wish.

Your Tarot Tableau should look like this:

0
1    2    3    4    5    6    7
8    9   10  11  12  13  14
15  16  17  18  19  20   21

This alignment allows you to read both horizontally and vertically the many correspondences that you will be finding first on your own, without having read the instructions book usually included with the deck. Make your own associations. What are the emerging patterns and colors? Each card represents a state of consciousness, a mythical or archetypal energy. Look at them carefully and identify the ones that attract you the most, as well as the ones that, somehow, seem odd to you. Which card seems the least appealing to you? Don't try now to figure out why; this is just a way to get acquainted, to feel a more intimate connection with the energies emanating from the deck. Then, as you work with the cards for several days or weeks, start asking yourself why you picked/bought/were given the deck at this particular moment in your life; or, why the same cards keep coming up every day, every time you consult the deck; or, what are the subconscious energies being activated with this particular pack.

Look at the Tableau and try to find four or five basic, primordial energies or archetypes that you have needed or used or rejected recently. Keep a journal; be honest; be kind to yourself. This is not an exercise to punish or criticize yourself in any way; on the contrary, it is meant to unveil or reveal the many ways that the subconscious gains access to your everyday life and, often, unbeknownst to you, creates an opposite reality to the one that you were hoping or expecting.

Because Numerology and Gematria are important in this tradition, look at some of the harmonies and correspondences that this Tableau might bring to mind. Look at positions, vertically and horizontally; add the numbers, divide by two, then by three, and so on. Look at the "cross" layouts; then look at the way that each row or column seems to bring a pattern or cadence to your consciousness; compare the three horizontal rows to a three-part play and look at how each level seems to be connected to the other. Lose yourself in the search, in order to find yourself.

Back to Tarot Exercises