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History of the Tarot: Part Three – Modern Day

Posted on October 24, 2010 by Flames

Halloween is right around the corner, and many people read tarot cards to celebrate the holiday. In this three-part series of articles, turned to tarot card expert Paula Dempsey to talk about the history of the tarot. In the last article of this series, Paula discusses tarot and how we use and think about it in our modern day.

The History of Tarot: Modern Day

    Finally, this whistlestop tour of the tarot brings us to the twenty first century. My question for modern times is: Is the tarot still truly occult? There are hundreds, possibly thousands of modern tarot packs, many of which are easily obtained from bookstores or online retailers. Books on how to read the cards may be borrowed from public libraries and tarot courses are offered in most cities. For those uncomfortable with the occult connotations, there is even a Jesus Deck.

    The broken-hearted or inquisitive amongst us can phone or text a tarot hotline at any time of the day or night and instantly get an answer to “Does she love me?” or “Will I get that great new job?”

    When anyone can take up the tarot for just the cost of a deck and its accompanying manual, perhaps how we use our deck distinguishes the serious seeker from the dabbler. Many people embark on the study of the tarot so they can tell fortunes for friends.

    When I started 22 years ago that was definitely the path I was on. Living in student halls meant there was no shortage of willing volunteers for me to practice on, even if I had to occasionally look at the book! For many readers, though, the lasting charm of the tarot is the multi-layered symbolism that reveals itself more fully the more one studies the cards. For many the major arcana, particularly, provides a focus for meditation.

    Another recent change is the use of tarot cards for self-revelation and personal reflection. Mary Greer’s wonderful book Tarot for Yourself invites the reader to use her or his tarot deck as a tool for self-development. Jung has revealed to us the power of archetypes and tarot has these in abundance. Many readers take a more psychological approach; rather than attributing a supernatural power to the cards, some now view them as “mind mirrors” where we, or the person reading for us, use an apparently random selection of cards as food for thought – who is the dreamy Queen of Cups? Is it me (a Pisces, of course)? Is the stern King of Swords my father, or my boss, or my partner (could be, he’s an air sign!).

    The first tarot book I read was The Complete Book of Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke, back in 1989. Sharman-Burke teaches the meanings of the 22 trumps as a journey from the folly of The Fool to completion with The World. 21 years on, and I’m not sure how far down that journey I am. Sometimes I’m still The Fool, who finds it hard to recall the meanings of the court cards. After a good reading I’m probably The Devil, a little too proud of the power the querant invests in her reader. During this article the Rider Waite version of The Chariot came to mind several times. Maybe he’s reminding me that I can be in control and steer my own destiny, which I do forget sometimes. Wherever you are in your tarot journey, good luck and blessed be!

    Further Reading

      Paul Huson’s The Mystical Origins of the Tarot provided much of the information for Part One of this article entitled, The History of the Tarot: Part One – Origins.”

      Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom is an excellent introduction to tarot and takes a psychological approach.

      Mary Greer’s Tarot for Yourself is just about using the tarot for self-development. Her book Women of the Golden Dawn has a section on Pamela Colman Smith and introduces many other significant 20th century female occultists.

      Thanks for following this article series about The History of the Tarot. If you missed the other two articles, be sure to read The History of the Tarot: Part One – Origins and The History of the Tarot: Part Two – Occult Revival.

      About the Author

        Paula Dempsey bought her first tarot pack in 1988 but she’s been interested in symbols for much longer, since discovering Jungian archetypes in a tiny bookshop in Liverpool one rainy lunch-hour. She trained at the College of Psychic Studies, London and can now read everything from ribbons to chakras but likes psychometry best. Dowsing in a barrow at Avebury, however, caused moderate panic and fast running away.

        Paula is an occasional contributor to Pelgrane Press’s webzine See Page XX where she writes horoscopes for gamers as Mystic Moo. Her first book, an Occult Guide to 1930s London for the Trail of Cthulhu RPG, will be published by Pelgrane Press in 2011.

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          One Response to “History of the Tarot: Part Three – Modern Day”

          1. horace says:

            tarot cards can be used for so many wonderful things. and one of their most attractive functions is to be a kind of spiritual map. the cards are stations in human development. at least according to some opinions.

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