The Tarocchi Players

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This very early fresco by Agostino da Vaprio (born around 1457, possibly in Pavia) shows five obviously well-born (and slightly overdressed) members of the nobility playing Tarocchi, an early card game. The shape and size of these cards show them to be tarot cards (though whether they included what we called the Majors or not is an open question). The first written rules of Tarocchi appear in a manuscript written by Martiano da Tortona well before 1425 (we know cards had appeared by 1377, as a sermon was preached against them in Bern that year).
The original painting is quite large, as shown below:

According to Tarot Passages, this fresco is at the Palazzo Borromeo in Milan. It was shown in the catalogue accompanying an exhibit of early Tarot art in 1999 at the Pinacoteca di Brera museum in Milan. There is also a reproduction in the Encyclopaedia of Tarot II (Stuart Kaplan), with a few changes – for instance, there are cards on the table in the version shown in the Encyclopaedia.
I have recently produced an egg-tempera version using animal hide as a base. I’ve used the more familiar aspect of the painting, focusing on the players and omitting the background. This is not complete, I hasten to add – I’ll repost once it’s finished.

Tarot and Astrology

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For the last six months I’ve been producing illuminated manuscripts of the different astrological signs and have been fascinated by the links between tarot and astrology. The connections between the two systems are more tenuous than I originally thought, although there are some direct correlations between the symbols of the tarot and the ruling planets of the different signs – the most obvious being Saturn and The Hermit, and the Magician and Mercury (I’ll go into this in more detail in the future).

Astrological study stretches back thousands of years – to ancient Egypt and Babylonia at least, while early mankind would almost certainly have created their own star-lore. At that stage in our evolution, we probably used the right brain to a far greater extent than we do today, and those early people would have automatically assigned images to the patterns of stars. [In fact, the mythology of some indigenous populations shows an extraordinary, intuitive knowledge of the heavens – for example, the Dogon, who knew about the invisible companion to Sirius (for details, see]

The ancient astrologers identified the planets, attempted to explain heavenly events such as eclipses and comets, and assigned images and psychological characteristics to constellations which they identified by name based on local myths, and to the different planets.

This use of figurative imagery – together with an underlying animistic concept of the universe – continued for thousands of years, through the collapse of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations. In medieval times symbology was employed for religious and philosophical ends – the alchemists, for example, used figurative symbolism to describe the alchemic process. The tarot, appearing around 1415, used the same language. Like astrology and alchemy, the tarot referred to images that all understood – which Carl Jung called archetypes: the fool or jester, Emperors, Popes, Justice, Death, The Star, The Sun. (The Minchiate deck incorporated all the astrological signs, plus the elements and virtues – and was one of the first medieval packs to change the pages to ‘maid’ cards.)

Many recent decks place astrological symbols on each card, assuming a correlation which may or may not be useful. Crowley’s Thoth deck was one of the first to attempt a synthesis of all the magical systems – kabbalah, astrology, tarot and a few more besides. You can, of course, read tarot quite adequately without knowing any other system, but in future posts I will detail some of the parallels which can enrich your readings.

Tarot Card Meanings Online – What’s it for?

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Tarot Card Meanings Online is a blog designed to help you to find your way round the Tarot. I add articles regularly – I try to write at least one a week (although it is not always easy to stick to the timetable!). If you would like to hear about a particular aspect of Tarot, please let me know – I would be delighted to hear from you.

Tarot readings online?

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There are various sites offering free tarot readings online. Some are excellent, some just passable. One of the best (at least in my view!) was produced by a friend of mine and offers different spreads from a selection of tarot and oracle decks. Have a go – –  feedback from readings is excellent. The link will take you direct to the The Intuitive Tarot page (if you want to try a different pack, see below).

The first thing you need to decide is which spread you want: they range from the Celtic spread to a three-card spread, or even a single card. If you choose the three card spread, identify what you want each card to stand for (Past, Present, Future; or Advantages, Disadvantages, Outcome, would be useful categories.

Most of the remaining options are fairly obvious: you can choose to enter your name or remain anonymous. You can choose to read with Major Arcana only, which is probably not a good idea for a large spread. You can choose to shuffle the cards, and finally, you can have the date displayed. Having ticked the relevant boxes, you can now move onto the next page. If you’ve chosen to shuffle the deck, place the cursor over the deck (don’t click) and the cards will shuffle about. Then choose each one, identifying the positions if necessary. Once you’ve chosen the right number of cards, click ‘Show me my reading’.

At the moment there are no facilities for printing or storage, so if you wish to make a note of the cards, you can highlight the whole reading and copy and paste it into a Word document. In a few weeks’ time we hope to give you the facility for both storage and print, so watch this space.

If you would like to try a different pack, go to the Students-of-Tarot homepage. Here you’ll see a whole raft of decks including an option for ‘Modern Packs’. If you hover your mouse over any of the deck titles, they should display mini-thumbnails). In addition, the list in the centre offers a few more decks, (see a choice of classic decks and spreads).

To get a reading from an oracle deck – for instance my other deck, the Devas of Creation – follow the same procedure as I outlined for The Intuitive Tarot. Bear in mind the Devas are higher level energies and although they often give very grounded and specific advice, asking them about financial matters or whether your relationship will work, is probably not the best use of their power.

I should stress also that tarot and oracles are not ‘fortune telling’. Most readers today see the tarot as a tool to look at general trends and underlying issues in our lives, the options facing us, and suggested actions. Although the tarot certainly does give glimpses into the future, we are the arbiters of our own destiny.

The Tarot and Quantum Physics

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Mankind and Oracles

Mankind has probably been using oracles of one sort or another for as long as we have been recognisably human. We’ve used bones, entrails, yarrow stalks, coins, water, stones, the stars, dreams, cards, tea-leaves, handwriting. The Delphic Oracle functioned for hundreds of years, with eminent kings consulting it regularly and even fighting wars based on its predictions. The Bible is full of references to prophets and prophetic dreams. Contemporary Chinese still make a point of ensuring that any action they are planning takes place on an auspicious day, and even here in the sceptical West, every newspaper carries astrological predictions. Unfortunately these, and other predictive tools, are currently considered either highly suspect, or solely for the simple-minded. The reason for this is primarily our reliance on reductive logic and scientific empiricism (and our tendency to think that we have all the answers).

It’s ironic, then, that the explanation for how oracles work will almost certainly come through the latest scientific research – specifically through quantum physics. However, don’t worry – there’ll be no equations here, just the bare bones of the latest concepts.

The Quantum World

Physicists consider that as we move ever smaller from our usual world of matter, past the level of the most powerful electron microscopes, down into the world of subatomic particles, we reach a world with laws that seem fundamentally different to our own: filled with probabilities and organized chaos, where matter may and not exist simultaneously, where our perception of phenomena can bring them into existence, or alter them. Underlying all this apparent chaos, however, there is an underlying unity: an energy or ‘field’ that exists throughout the universe, a constant ‘particle exchange’ that is never completely static. They call this zero-point energy (the nearest that subatomic matter ever gets to zero motion) and for a long while ignored it, subtracting its effects from their calculations. But then one physicist, Hal Puthoff, realised that this zero-point field (ZPF) could be a vast unharnessed energy source – and started what may well prove to be the breakthrough of the third millennium. The more Puthoff studied the ZPF, the more possibilities he saw in this vast underlying sea of energy. All matter in the universe could now be seen as interconnected by waves of energy. Matter itself is part of the same energy field – in other words there is no division between the material and the immaterial. Nor is there any longer a disconnect between the quantum and the macro worlds. Even gravity – the sticking-point of scientific theories for centuries – can be explained by taking the ZPF into account.

The implications of this, and other new discoveries based on this energy, are mind-blowing; the wonder is that it is taking so long to filter through to general consciousness. Lynne Taggart’s book ‘The Field’ discusses the different aspects of the research and its tantalising possibilities: for example the ability to ‘turn off’ gravity (the long-term applications of which are world-shattering); produce new WARP drives for space exploration; or even travel through wormholes to distant parts of the universe. We could extract energy from The Field as a solution for the looming energy crisis; produce new digital medicine-applications; even kill dangerous bugs with electromagnetic signals.

More relevant to this article is the discovery that the ZPF implies information exchange, as well as energy exchange, and could therefore provide instantaneous communication. The phenomena we call the occult or paranormal, such as telepathy, telekinesis, the Tarot and other oracular devices, foresight, intuition, and dreams, would just be part of this exchange, as we are part of The Field. As mystics have said for millennia, there is no separation. Equally important, this also corroborates the metaphysical tenet – that we create our own reality.

The Tarot – Five Common Myths

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Many myths and assumptions have built up around the Tarot over the centuries – many of them wrong. Some of the most common are:

1) The Tarot is evil.

Wrong. The Tarot is powerful, yes. It speaks directly to your unconscious, and the imagery is archetypal and certainly sometimes disturbing – but essentially the Tarot is a mirror: it reflects what is inside you. Thus anyone who considers it evil is merely projecting evil from themselves onto the cards.

Like any powerful tool, you can abuse the Tarot – by becoming addicted to it or obsessively repeating the same question (in which case you may well find that it can get really tetchy). If, however, you treat it with respect, study and use the cards for self-awareness, you will soon discover that the Tarot represents a profound and transformational spiritual journey.

2) You have to be psychic to read the Tarot.

Wrong. All you have to be is intelligent and able to understand pictures (an integral gift for all humanity: we dream in pictures, so – while our schools work hard to make us forget how to do it – you probably will find it easier than you think).

3) You should always be given a Tarot deck: you should never buy one for yourself.

Unless you’ve told the person exactly what tarot to buy, a tarot gift pack is usually one that sits unused in a drawer. The best way to find a deck you can actually use is to go to a good esoteric shop which has samples, and look at every card. The pack that speaks to you, that you love, is the one you need to buy.

4) The Tarot tells you the future

The cards are capable and do foretell the future. However, changes occur every second, and we can also change our lives by how we think. So it is best to consider the cards as suggesting possibilities, of indications of what you need to be aware of, and sometimes, old patterns of thought we need to alter.

5) The Tarot came from Ancient Egypt

No-one knows where the Tarot originated. It is unlikely to have been Ancient Egypt (though it’s a nice story); it’s more likely to have been Italy as the titles on the early decks were in Italian. The Major Arcana might have been designed as part of the Mystery Plays, and no-one knows where the Minors – which are like ordinary playing cards – came from. The latter are first mentioned in 1377, the Majors in 1415. The two sets were first amalgamated in the 1500s. The first decks we know of were beautifully illuminated – the Visconti Tarot is a good example.


Learning Tarot 3 Comments »

If you are trying to learn the Tarot, it’s easy to get flummoxed at the beginning by the sheer volume of cards. Seventy-eight of them – and then there are the reversals and combinations as well. I remember when I was thinking about growing vegetables: I bought a book on how to do so, and found their information on the number of bugs and diseases so off-putting I never planted any!

But the Tarot is has a major advantage over vegetables. The images speak to us without any need for book-learning: we can often understand them clearly just by quieting the left brain down, and allowing ourselves to go into a little reverie. We then are opening up our intuition, and it will respond. Often the messages are quite off-the-wall: the more unexpected, the better!

As I’ve said before, the Tarot images are archetypal – they are the language of human unconscious, and as such we ‘get’ them without trying. Indeed, if we do try, we often lose the sense of them – it’s our left brain that’s trying, and the right brain gets overwhelmed by the left’s voice. The right brain sees in patterns, in wholeness, in feelings and shapes. It’s subjective and wordless (or mostly wordless – it can apparently swear). It’s probably the part of the brain that dreams, creates, and heals. The left brain is the cortex – some say it’s more evolved than the right brain, but that’s highly debatable. Firstly because both hemispheres must have evolved in tandem, but more importantly, our society’s emphasis on reason and logic has left us spiritually poverty-stricken. What we have gained in lucidity and logic, we have lost in connection and wisdom. Anyway, the left brain thinks mathematically, logically, sequentially. It categorises, rationalises, reduces.

So to learn the Tarot, begin by turning down the volume of the left brain. It can learn the traditional meanings and the Spreads if it wants to, and categorise the suits. That’s fine. The right brain, however, is the one you’ll really need to work the tarot.

Some info for the left brain:there are twenty-two Major Arcana, usually numbered in Roman numerals, though the Fool is either unnumbered or 0. So the Magician is number I, and the World, the highest card of the deck, is XXI. There are also four suits, which are similar to traditional playing cards: Cups, which are linked to feelings and water (Hearts); Staves / Wands / Rods (Clubs), linked to creativity and intuition, and are either associated with air (or fire in the Rider Waite); Pentacles / Discs / Coins (Diamonds), linked to money, physical energy, and earth; and finally Swords (Spades), linked to the intellect and fire (air in the Rider Waite).

Then there are four face or court cards in each suit – Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. Pages are usually young people and are often depicted as feminine; Knights are male and youthful or immature; Queens are feminine though they can often be the feminine side of a person; and Kings are masculine – though again, they may be referring to the masculine side of a person. The character of each face card relates to its suit – thus the Queen of Cups will be emotional, generous, usually flexible and open-minded. The Page of Swords will be clever, passionate although she keeps that passion under tight control, usually focusing it on her passion for truth and justice.

The Intuitive Tarot

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Having painted The Intuitive Tarot between 1973 and 1981 it is, naturally enough, my favourite. I always use it for readings except at medieval fayres, where I use Kat Black’s Golden Tarot. The IT is a deck for the discerning – it doesn’t appeal to everyone, nor would I want it to. I use it in this blog because, for a start, I own the copyright, but also because the illustrations enable me to describe the card meanings more clearly. As I started using them, the interpretations often changed with the individual client, and over the years layers of meaning were added. Because I journeyed into the archetypal realms as I painted each card – and again when I wrote the book to accompany the deck – the cards became my inner reality, and my spiritual journey. I have experienced each of the Major Arcana, though I’m still working on The World, and unfortunately will probably never have the courage to surrender completely to The Moon!

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Numerology Meaning: Five

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According to Schiller, Five is the human soul. Certainly it reflects our bodies: head, arms and legs within the circle of soul, as pictured in Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic image of Vitruvian Man…


Five has long been associated with human life and with the five senses. In that way it is, perhaps, apt that the Hierophant, the inner Old Wise Man is number V of the tarot trumps. He not only represents our wisdom, but our humanity. Jung also saw five as the number of natural man. Five is the first number made up of even and odd – the combination of the masculine 3 and the feminine 2, and as such often represents the union of male and female. So, in the Intuitive Tarot (illustrated), the Hierophant’s wisdom is symbolically shown in his mitre as encompassing the five main religions – the fish (Christianity), the cow (Hinduism), the five-pointed star (Judaism), and the sickle moon (Islam), all contained within an oval egg (Buddhism). The Hierophant himself, however, stands in front of an enormous moon to signify his feminine understanding.

Nature uses the five in significant ways: plants often have five petals and we, of course, have five fingers and toes, but aside from that, the five is mostly significant to humanity. The Pentateuch (the five books of Moses); the pentagram (sign of Ishtar, Venus, and goddesses related to the planet Venus) and the pentagon give an immediate lead into the importance of five in the ancient world. Paracelsus also utilised the five-pointed star in his medical literature. It is also mythologically important: the old solar year was based on the number 5 x 72 days (360 – based on the same breakdown of time as the hours of the day) but, to ensure the year was the correct length an extra 5 days (the epagommeneia) had to be added – Hermes, apparently, gambled with the moon god to gain these five days.

And of course we have the five elements in Semitic, western and Chinese tradition. In Hindu and Sikh tradition five was omnipresent and Chinese tradition was based almost entirely on the five – 5 sacred mountains, five degrees of nobility, five relationships between people, virtues, moral qualities, classical books, five main weapons, five punishments and fivefold luck.

In the tarot minors, five is a slightly difficult number, though one very relevant to many issues of humanity. The Five of Cups references grief and mourning, and our tendency to withdraw to process such emotions. The Five of Discs depicts the loss of home, and/or the need to leave our security every now and again, to revision our lives. The Five of Rods indicates conflict – a kind of ritualised balletic battle of the kind we find in families, relationships, and work. Finally, the Five of Swords illustrates the need to feel superior at others’ expense – patronisation, denigration, intolerance; putting others down to feel good ourselves; the tyranny of the patriarchy; and the feelings of humiliation felt by the underdog.

Kat Black’s Golden Tarot – More like a Blog!

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I have acquired a new tarot deck. Up to now I have only used The Intuitive Tarot, basically because I know it so well and it reads so easily for me, but having recently become fascinated by all things medieval (re-enactment, demonstrating medieval painting techniques, etc), I had a look at some medieval tarot – for example:

The Giotto Tarot - a stylised deck based on Giotto’s work.
The Medieval Scapini deck
The Golden Tarot of the Renaissance. A very attractive deck with gold leaf background.
The Mantegna tarot. Ostensibly based on the Sola Busca tarot, which contains the earliest illustrated minors (and utilised by Pamela Coleman Smith in the Rider-Waite tarot), this is an interesting pack but not strictly a tarot deck as it only has 50 cards.
The Old English Tarot
The Renaissance Tarot
The Golden Tarot, by Kat Black

and so on…. It was Kat Black’s Golden Tarot that finally captured me. This deck was obviously a labour of love, digitally collaged from medieval paintings and using the Rider Waite system. It’s been beautifully produced by US Games Inc. with gilt edges and a well-crafted booklet. Some people don’t like the fact that they recognise bits of paintings, separated from their original artwork. However, for me this is one of the attractions as I can use the booklet to source the different paintings. Most importantly, though, I can read with it. As soon as I started reading from it, the cards began to tell a coherent story.

Today, for example, I drew three cards for the presenting issue of the week, and got Queen of Swords and the High Priestess, both reversed. It was a clear warning not to start messing with someone else’s life (a temptation over the weekend!), as it would be a) unwise and b) a deviation of my own integrity as the High Priestess. So I’ll take the cards’ advice and stay upright …