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Read the Trumps

Even though the trump (Major Arcana) images have remained fairly stable over Tarot’s 550-year history, there have been two major shifts in how these cards are interpreted.

The first shift occurred in the 19th century when French occultists added meanings associated with the Hebrew alphabet then tweaked the cards’ imagery to conform to this overlay of meaning. They used the Tarot de Marseilles which still works well with esoteric systems.

The Rider Waite Smith deck was published in 1909 and soon became the standard deck in the United States. A large body of teachings has grown up around this deck from Eden Gray to Mary Greer to Ruth and Wald Amberstone’s Tarot School. The majority of how-to-read-tarot books in English refer to this deck, and its card meanings are often the default stored in our mental file cabinets.

Your readings will have more clarity if you are aware of the origin of your card meanings and are careful not to apply meanings to the cards that aren’t supported by the imagery.

The Resources section lists books to get you started studying the Trumps. The Iconography section discusses the medieval meanings for each trump card and how the meaning has evolved over the centuries.

On the next page you’ll learn a technique for consolidating everything you know about a card.

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