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Celeste Hylton-James

Period 6
January 9, 2011

Traveling Through the Symbolism of Tarot

I decided to research and analyze the symbolic nature of the Tarot cards. A presentation on the
complexities of this method of divination is a simpler than my last project since the main function of the Tarot cards
is supplied by the pictures that are on each individual card. In my presentation, I will explain to the class the basic
history and origins, the process, and the main cards. Tarot cards are quite interesting to me. I love art, and admire
symbolic illustrations, so Tarot cards fall perfectly in that alleyway. I have found that pictures can speak more than
words written in a book and images that we see can be another kind of universal language. Mediocre symbols of the
everyday life can have much influence over the human psyche and the symbols can transcend language barriers.
Explaining to my classmates the symbolic attributes of the deck would not only explain Tarot cards themselves, but
also cover the many symbols that lay inconspicuously in our environment. Another reason why I chose Tarot cards
as my main topic is because tarot cards are the standard game cards that everyone plays.

For a very long time I assumed that tarot cards were completely different from the cards I used to play with
friends everyday at lunch, until I realized the shocking similarity they both had. In fact, tarot cards are playing cards
and have always been. I received readings from people who have used tarot cards and they explained to me how it
was done in the occult sense. They described tarot readings as a game of examination depicting information by
using pictures, placements, and numbers so the reader can interpret the message. I know publishers and artists have
altered the original appearance of the tarot cards used in the 15th century and have made the Arcana look eccentric
even creating specific themes for the deck. These decks are loosely based on the original images. However the
most identifiable deck is the Rider-Waite deck, which is why I chose it for my visual example. These cards were
created in the early twentieth century. Most books describe the cards in this deck and it holds more symbolic
representation. The Rider-Waite deck technically looks the closest to the standard gaming cards. That is another
reason why I chose to use the Rider-Waite deck as an example in my presentation. I already knew that the Minor
Arcana resembled the standard gaming cards more than the Major Arcana drastically, however I will not dive deep
into that because just explaining the suits would be enough to understand the basic symbol information that is
needed to give you an idea about the symbolism in the cards and the system it was organized to follow.

I started my research by borrowing a book from a friend of mine. This was titled Seventy-Eight Degrees of
Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. Immediately with in the first chapter, I was able to get a taste of the massive
information that was suggested. It gave vast amounts of information on the Rider-Waite deck. It is so good, that I
used the books layout to determine the order of the subjects that were to be covered in the presentation. I read the
book and typed out some questions that I had concocted that I wanted to answer myself like, how did Tarot cards
turn into some tool of the occult and what was the origin? I continued to read on in the book, and the book right
away answered the question. According to Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, the first set tarot cards were
originally made by an artist by the name of Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti family of Milan (Pollack 3). These
pictures comprise the classic deck for an Italian game called ‘Tarocchi.” This game was intended to be comprised
of fourteen cards each, plus twenty-two cards showing different scenes. These twenty-two images are described to
be a record of medieval social types. Also the Tarot cards, was to be seen as a kind of path, a way of personal
growth through understanding ourselves and life.

Weeks afterword I used the school’s computer to research more information about the symbolic nature of
the Tarot. I used Google search engine, and came across an excerpt from the author Gerald Schueler that explored
Celeste Hylton-James
Period 6
January 9, 2011
the many psychological symbolism of the Tarot deck. According to the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, saw the
images as “descended from the archetypes of transformation” (Schueler, 1 of 13). Tarot contains symbols
representing other important archetypes of transformative processes such as the hero, the sacrifice, rebirth, the
mother and the self. The article also describes Tarot predictions are as if casting straws or throwing a coin.

Another article that I came across with at school’s library through the Google search engine is excerpts
from the Introduction to Symbols and Magick of Tarot by Paul Beyerl. Paul Beyerl characterized the tarot cards
fortune-telling ability similarly to Rachel Pollack’s analyzation. Predicting information through Tarot is likely to
“indicate the likelihood of specific events to happen” (Beyerl 1 of 6). He mentions how Egyptian symbolism was
incorporated in the Rider-Waite deck. Supposedly a deck published by a tarot reader named Etteilla, titled the
‘Book of Thoth” is heavily based on Egyptian mythology. It has been nicknamed as the Egyptian Gypsies Tarot. In
fact, inside the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, Egyptian symbols and themes are very noticeable, like in the cards the
Wheel of Fortune and the Emperor. Numerical symbolism is so a pattern in the Tarot cards and can be used to
correspond with each other to create a message. In spite of the fact that the Minor Arcana is separated by four
different suits their numbers are what connects them. Referring back to Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, the
numbers represent different situations. There is no number one in the card system so the Ace acts as a basic root of
the complete suit. Number two represents union and six means communication. I will explain all of them in detail
in the power point so I will not describe from three to nine. The King, Queen, Knight, and Page function the same
way. The King is the symbol of social responsible and power. The Queen is the ‘deep appreciation’ in the suit. The
Knight represents action and the Page is the student. These similarities remain, even when the reader gets the card
reserved (a reserved card or a card drawn upside means the energy is flipped).

Researching for this project was not hard, but incorporating all of the information into something focused
was a different story. Some analyst focused on more areas than others, and I often fell in a sea of gaudy words that
sounded like nothing even after reading it more than more time. In my power point, I wanted to present a clean
presentation to break modern stereotypes and explain the complex tool used for divination. I was only surprised by
the article explaining Carl Jung’s examination.
Celeste Hylton-James
Period 6
January 9, 2011

Works Cited

A.E. Waite. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Murine Press.

Bereyl, Paul. Symbols and Magick of Tarot. Unknown: The Hermit's Grove, 2005.
N. pag. PDF file.

Conolly, Eileen. Tarot: A New Handbook for the Apprentice. CA: Newcastle
Publishing, 1979. Print.

Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. San Francisco, CA: Weiser

Books, 2007. Print.

Schueler, Gerald. Chaos and the Psychological Symbolism of the Tarot. Unknown. 2007. PDF

Tognetti, Arlene. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tarot. New York, NY: Alpha
Books, 2003. Print.

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