the tarot began is not known. Many have suggested that
the cards, particularly the twenty-two Major Arcana,
evolved from an ancient symbolic book that contained
the prototype of a perfect spiritual life journey. Others
see the tarot as a game that has an uncanny relevance
to life and life events. Between the two extremes, a
lot has been written that serves the purposes of those
who wish to keep the tarot only as an exclusive mystery
to all but the initiated. The earliest known tarot decks
originated in Italy in the fifteenth century. They were
much as we see them today. At present, nothing stops
us from assuming that perhaps a bright Italian artist
- and there were quite a few around Italy at that time
- simply said to himself, "Why don't I create a
beautiful tarot deck today?" The assumption that
all creative work has to be the result of a gradual
evolution or series of fumbling improvements on an earlier,
more primitive theme is to miss the spontaneous essence
of creativity itself. Since the fifteenth century, hundreds
of different decks have been designed, illustrated,
copied, and distributed. Their use was largely in the
hands of fortune-tellers and gypsies until the nineteenth
century, when they became of great interest to the fashionable
and exclusive esoteric societies of the period. Much
of the mystery and occult "past" of the cards
was invented at this time as a particularly apt metaphor
for the initiate's journey along his spiritual path
have the cards captured the imagination of so many for
so long? However you wish to use them, they work! You
can forget the magical hocus-pocus; it just isn't necessary.
We all have an unconscious ability that we can tap.
All we need are the tools with which to get our incredible
imaginations working and we're in business. The tarot
cards are those tools. Although we are swamped by the
written word from our very earliest years, most of us
can, with a little practice, read and understand more
from a picture than we can from paragraphs of text.
The use of visual symbols is as old as time and certainly
much older than any written language. Observing these
symbols, and translating them in terms of past, present,
and future events, has been a self-preserving instinct
in human life since our prehistoric ancestors. The written
word has restricted our awareness. On many levels we
still make predictions on the things we "see."
We look at dark clouds and predict rain. We look at
faces and predict their potential honesty or dishonesty.
We make judgements on the basis of the clothes people
wear, the way people talk, the cars they drive, and
the houses in which they live. In group situations most
of us sense quite quickly the differences and similarities
between ourselves and others. In advertising alone,
huge amounts of money are spent in designing symbols,
brand images, and logos that impart the message of trust,
reliability, and value.
Symbols in tarot, religion, astrology, philosophy, and
so on, serve one of two purposes: they make a complex
idea or set of ideas easier to understand, or they keep
an idea secret from all but those initiated. We take
in the messages of graphic symbols everywhere every
day, and yet we are amazed and overawed when someone
can read and understand unfamiliar symbols on a deck
of tarot cards. The truth is, anyone, with practice,
can read, understand, and attempt the tarot and develop
and use their unique and innate awareness to make excellent
and accurate readings for themselves as well as their
The tarot deck is traditionally divided into two sections,
the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana
comprises twenty-two allegorical cards numbered 0 through
21. The Minor Arcana comprises fifty-six cards divided
into four suits, which in most decks are swords, wands,
cups, and coins or pentacles. Each suit has ten cards
numbered 1 through 10 and four court cards usually called
king, queen, knight, and page. The suits and the "court"
cards of the Elemental Tarot are different, as you will
see later. Many people have resisted using the tarot
because learning the complicated and usually conflicting
traditional meanings of the seventy-eight cards is a
formidable long-term task.
you acquire half-a-dozen books on the subject and compare
the interpretations of the Minor Arcana, you will find
more disagreement and contradiction than clarity. It
is for this reason that many of those who do venture
to use the tarot use only the cards of the Major Arcana.
Books and books written on these twenty-two images have
simply neglected the other fifty-six, the Minor Arcana.
The term Major, however, is not without significance.
To interpret everyday life situations solely in terms
of the Major Arcana could be compared with trying to
cure the common cold by open-heart surgery.
The Elemental Tarot is a synthesis of the best interpretations
sifted from the plethora of obscure and sometimes almost
incomprehensible decks and books of the past and present.
The four suits in the deck are based directly on the
four elements - fire, earth, air, and water - that have
served as keys to symbolic interpretations in astrology,
tarot, and all early forms of divination, philosophy,
fire suit, in most decks, is called wands, the earth
suit is pentacles or coins, the air suit is swords and
the water suit is cups. Some decks, however, attribute
wands to air and swords to fire. By naming the suits
by the elements, the Elemental Tarot cuts through unnecessary
double symbolism and gets down to easy-to-understand
basics. Fire is represented by a triangle, earth by
a square, air by a circle, and water by a crescent.
Sometimes in this book, a fifth element is mentioned;
it is the element of spirit and is represented by an
To get used to actually looking at the symbols on the
cards is the first priority. Most of us have lost the
childhood ability of looking at things and really seeing
them. We have become so familiar with language and the
printed word that when we see an object, a quick glance
is enough for us to translate that object into a word,
file the word in our mind, and forget to look any further.
Remember when you visited a foreign country for the
first time? You were once again taken back to the excitement
of childhood. Everything you saw seemed new and you
looked at places and things with an acute awareness
that goes unused in familiar, everyday life. To recapture
this spirit of awareness, really look at each card and
read its description you can find in the book. This
will enable you to view the various images and to store
quickly in your memory the meaning of the visual language
of each card.
The interpretations given with the Elemental Tarot are
condensed meanings which you will, of course, expand
with your own intuition. Tarot reading is a totally
individualistic ability and eventually, with familiarity,
the way in which you see each card will become the real
meaning. It is then that the book will no longer be