Where 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 to enlightenment.

Why 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 friends.
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.

If 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, and religion.

The 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 egg shape.
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 necessary.