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A Tarot deck consists of 78 pictorial cards. The pictures on the cards resemble illustrations from a fairy tale or an adventure story that symbolize an individual's journey through life with its many events and experiences. Each card represents a moral lesson that a human soul must learn in order to be fruitful and creative in experiential endeavors.
Throughout life, each of us has to often leave behind some illusions and dependencies that are counterproductive to human growth and spiritual development. These situations are also symbolically represented in Tarot cards. Nearly every one of the cards has an image of a living being, a human figure situated in different contexts. This figure represents not just a physical body but the mind, soul, and spirit as well. And while a body goes through life and accomplishes different tasks, the human psyche too goes through transformations, as life itself calls for the constant renewal and enlargement of our consciousness. The journey through the cards' imagery is therapeutic, as each new life experience contributes to self-understanding and, ultimately, spiritual rebirth. In the Tarot deck, rebirth is signified by the Sun card, with its image of a small child warming in the sunshine, the psychic energy of a child enriched by the solar energy of the whole universe.
There is no proven origin of Tarot cards. Various sources mention different geographical and historical roots. The only factual information about Tarot's genesis is a set of 17 elaborately painted cards now located in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and documented as dating back to 1392. The collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York contains 35 cards from a full deck whose origins go back to around the middle of the 15th century.
Tarot has been traditionally used as a divinatory tool, although Tarot has also been related to a family of card games that are integral to certain cultures. Each card in the deck carries a strong humanistic aspect in terms of the dominant personality drive being an instinct to grow, develop, differentiate, and nurture our spiritual feelings. Tarot readings, despite being considered by some to be irrational, nonetheless are thought by others to help achieve a wider scope of awareness than rational thinking alone can provide.
Tarot brings to awareness many initially unperceived meanings, thereby contributing to human learning based on one's own experience, both actual and potential. The cards may be considered to project subconscious human desires, wishes, beliefs, and hopes, and the power of Tarot symbolism is such that the images may transcend existing blocks and defenses. The Tarot images cannot be reduced to merely arbitrary symbols; according to the Hermetic tradition they constitute, in a coded format, an ordered system of esoteric knowledge, and the memoria. The Tarot symbols can be considered to represent the universal language that is structured in accord with a certain syntax and semantics. A Tarot reader translates the nonverbal, pictorial language of symbols and signs into spoken words. Many typical life experiences are represented in the patterns that appear when the cards are being spread in a certain layout. As themes emerge in the course of a reading, therapeutic material is being gathered. This material contributes to the healing of one's psyche as it provides some guidance toward solving a variety of problems or clarifying an ambiguous situation. People learn from their many experiences when Tarot pictures are narrated. This narrative knowledge represents a path toward spiritual development. No card is taken as an impending fate; instead, Tarot pictures provide a means for developing one's ability to reason critically and to enable self-reflection, so crucial for youth.
The four suits in the Tarot are connected to four ancient elements: pentacles to earth,wands to fire, swords to air, and cups to water. One of the most popular spreads is called the Celtic Cross: it comprises ten positions that are said to be combined together to provide information illuminating a particular question. Some positions in a spread signify the dimension of time, which is why there can be a peculiar feeling of gazing into the future and revisiting the past during readings. Philosophically, a spread reflects a four-dimensional view of time in which past, present, and future events coexist. David Bohm, a physicist, has posited all events as enfolded in the timeless implicate order. In the physical world, they unfold into explicate order, thereby creating time in our customary three-dimensional reality. Perhaps Tarot readings enable us to access the implicate order in its past and future aspects. Moving along the levels of order, human consciousness undergoes evolution: It grows and expands as it reaches the spiritual realm. The spiritual quest becomes quite literally associated with personal growth as an individual acquires greater knowledge and awareness along his/her developmental path.