The Briefest history of cartomancy
Like many things arcane, sacred, and deeply spiritual, cartomancy, or divination using cards, has its roots in a game. That's right, Dear Querent, our auspicious practice of tarot began with a bunch of bored Italian merchants in the 15th Century playing a card game known as tarocchi. The French picked up tarocchi and renamed it tarot but kept the many of the same game play elements, including the ornate card illustrations based on Carnival costumes. It wasn't until the 18th Century and the rise of Spiritualism across Europe that divination using tarot cards was popularized – thus birthing the magical roots of cartomancy, including tarot, oracle, and Lenormand decks.
Far from debasing the history of cartomancy, I think these secular, frivolous roots say something important about magic more broadly – that it is accessible to everyone, unpredictable, and hopefully at least a little fun. Magic grows from a place of exploration, a willingness to tangle with the unknown, a sense of wanting that drifts into being. Game play is creative, constructive, social, drawing on tradition but not closed off to innovation – what better foundation could a spiritual practice be built on?
reading Tarot Cards
There are as many types of tarot decks are there are grains of salt in the sea. Each deck can have varying numbers of cards, styles of art, historic meanings, and systems of use. Tarot decks based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, made popular in the United States in the 19th Century, typically have 78 cards – 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. Arcana has its roots in Latin and refers to systems of mysteries.
The major arcana are the trump cards of the deck (remember tarocchi?) and are the heavy hitters dealing with universal and overcoming themes like Death, Love, and Judgement. The minor arcana are separated into 4 suites and are more concerned with daily life and practical matters like whether you should text back that Tinder hook-up or what to do when your graduate degree is suddenly meaningless.
Reading tarot cards typically involves arranging them into a spread, where cards are placed in particular positions that symbolize questions, themes, or advice. To the right is an example of a spread, one of my all-time-favorites, from Interrobang Tarot, the WTF?! Spread.
This spread illustrates a few things: first, that while tarot is a sacred tool, it doesn't mean that it has to be boring; and second, that tarot is highly personalizable and innovative - trust me when I say that Alesiter Crowley was not slinging cards in the WTF spread 90 years ago.
This is where the rubber meets the road for most tarot readings – what exactly does it mean when the 5 of Pentacles shows up in the “what is real about this” position? Well, that depends on the other cards in the spread, the particular question, and the particular Questioner, or Querent, as those seeking readings are typically called. It is because of the specific context of each reading that only 78 cards can be used to describe the wildly unique situations of so many unique Querents. Here, too, is where Dead Reckoning Tarot shines, by developing unique spreads for each Querent based upon needs and context.
Why seek a tarot reading?
Now that I’ve thoroughly disillusioned you to the omniscient and ancient nature of tarot, why should you seek a tarot reading? When faced with the truly big questions in life, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves at a total loss as to the best course of action. Much like a fish living its whole life in the ocean, it’s difficult for us to contemplate the water around us without some assistance.
Tarot provides a powerful brew of internal and external energies that can help illuminate a path forward. Many practitioners, myself included, use tarot to communicate with spirits and ancestors to access deep wisdom. We meditate on the archetypes and symbols in a tarot deck to access the collective imagination. The cards provide focus in a world of never-ending, attention splitting distractions, helping us hone our intuition. Put simply, tarot is less about listening to the cards, and more about the cards listening to you.
Phrased another way, you’ll take away from a tarot reading what you put into it. Like most forms of magic, cartomancy is an energy exchange – you provide energy in the form of a question and your trust in me, the Reader, who provides energy in the form of my expertise and intuition. If you want a little clarity around working with a frustrating colleague, or if you are looking to make a huge career move in midlife, a reading can be calibrated to your specific question.
Which makes the real question, dear Querent, what questions are you ready to receive answers for?