A Beginner�s Guide
to Learning Tarot
By James W. Revak


Astrology.  The study of the relative positions of the heavenly bodies to foretell terrestrial and human events, or to gain insight or advice concerning them.

Astrological.  Of or related to astrology (see above).

BOTA.  See Builders of the Adytum (below).

Builders of the Adytum (BOTA).  An organization, founded in the 1920s by renowned occultist Paul Foster Case, that is dedicated to teaching aspects of Western Esotericism or what it calls the �Tradition of the Western Mysteries�.  With headquarters in Los Angeles, it has long offered correspondence courses and published the Builders of the Adytum Tarot (see below).

Builders of the Adytum [BOTA] Tarot.  A Tarot deck designed by Paul Foster Case, drawn by Jessie Burns Parke, and published by the Builders of the Adytum (see above) in 1931.  Its Major Arcana are similar, but not identical, to those of Rider-Waite-Smith decks.

Cabala.  Also spelled: Kabbalah, Qabalah, etc.  Certain esoteric and mystical teachings of Judaism, especially forms assumed from the 12th century onward.  Students of Cabala frequently seek an interpretation of Scripture that is beyond the literal, knowledge of God and creation that is beyond the intellectual, apprehension of the hidden life of God, and understanding of the relationship between God, human beings, and creation.  Such teachings often relate selected spiritual or mystical ideas to the Hebrew alphabet.  Christians and Occultists freely adapted the principles of Cabala, especially from the 15th century onward.  Finally, individuals have related Cabala to Tarot, especially from the 19th century onward.

Card reading.  The practice or act or of interpreting cards for purposes of divination.  See also cartomancy.

Card reader.  Someone who practices card reading (see above).

Cartomancy.  The practice of interpreting cards for purposes of divination. See also card reading.

Celtic Cross, The.  A certain popular spread that usually uses ten cards.  A.E. Waite first popularized it in his The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910).

Channeling.  The act or practice of a psychic medium serving as a conduit for information from what might be described as paranormal sources or sources other than his/her normal self.

Court card.  Synonyms: face card, royalty card.  A suited card that depicts a member of a royal court or similar figure.  In regular playing cards, court cards usually comprise King, Queen, and Jack.  In Tarot decks they usually comprise King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  However, other kinds of Tarot court cards exist, e.g., King, Queen, Prince, and Princess.

Crowley, Aleister.  (1875-1947).  (Pronounced: CROH-lee, rhymes with holy.).  British mystic, magus, and writer, who designed the Thoth Tarot Deck (1944), painted by Lady Frieda Harris.  Crowley belonged briefly to the Golden Dawn, and founded and promoted the philosophy-religion, Thelema.  His other works include The Book of Thoth (1944), a study of Tarot and guide to the Thoth Tarot Deck.

Divination.  1. the act or practice of foretelling events by occult or synchronistic means; 2. the act or practice of gaining advice or insight into a matter by occult or synchronistic means.  Definition 2 is sometimes contrasted with fortune-telling.

Divinatory.  Of or relating to divination (see above).

Divinatory meaning.  A meaning associated with a card for purposes of divination.  Often multiple meanings are associated with a card.  They usually comprise keywords or suggestive phrases.  Sometimes they depend on whether the card appears upright or reversed.  See also divinatory question (below).

Divinatory question.  A question associated with a card for purposes of divination.  Sometimes multiple questions are associated with a card.  See also divinatory meaning (above).

Esoteric.  Of or relating to esotericism (see below).

Esotericism.  Practices, principles, beliefs, or knowledge possessed by select individuals, not intended for the general body of disciples and/or general public.  See also Western Esotericism.

Esotericism, Western.  See Western Esotericism.

Esotericist.  An adherent of or person closely associated with esotericism.

Face card.  See court card.

Flaming.  On the Internet, to denigrate, libel, or heap abuse on someone.  It may include personal attacks, obscene language, and pejoratives.

Fool.  In Tarot decks, a non-suited card that traditionally depicts a man or youth, often carrying a bundle on a stick over his shoulder, pursued by a cat or dog.  Sometimes he wears the garb of a jester and is poised to plunge over a cliff.  Usually the card bears a zero or no number.  Contrary to popular misconception, the Fool has no relationship to the modern Joker of regular playing cards.

Fortune-telling.  The act or practice of foretelling events by occult or synchronistic means.  Sometimes contrasted with divination (definition 2).

Golden Dawn, Hermetic Order of the.  An influential organization of mystics and occultists founded in Britain in 1888, and continuing into the early 20th century in multiple countries.  Its eclectic teachings and practices, depending mostly from Western Esotericism, included mystical union with the Divine, magic, Cabala, astrology, and Tarot.  Groups claiming decent from the original organization exist to this day.

Harris, Lady Frieda.  (1877-1962).  British occultist and artist who painted the Thoth Tarot Deck (1944), designed by Aleister Crowley.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  See Golden Dawn, Hermetic Order of the.

I Ching.  1. Chinese for The Book of Change, an ancient Chinese divinatory or philosophical system that may be consulted by manipulating sticks or coins; 2. the collection of books describing it.

Kabbalah.  See Cabala.

Keyword.  In Tarot, a word that summarizes a meaning of a card, especially a divinatory meaning.

Layout.  See spread.

Layout position.  See spread position.

Magic.  Also spelled: magick.  The application of will or manipulation of natural (but hidden) forces to effect change using means not understood by modern science.  Do not confuse this kind of magic, which is sometimes closely associated with Occultism and even religion, with stage magic (i.e., mere illusionism).  Indeed, some writers spell the word with a terminal k (magick) to differentiate it from stage magic.

Magus.  1. someone who practices magic (see above); 2. a title occasionally used for the Trump usually called the Magician.

Major Arcana.  Latin for Great Secrets, i.e., in a Tarot deck, all non-suited cards (Trumps and Fool).  In contrast to Minor Arcana.  For details concerning the Major Arcana, click here.

Major Arcanum.  Singular of Major Arcana (see above).

Marseilles, Tarot of.  See Tarot of Marseilles.

Minor Arcana.  Latin for Small Secrets, i.e., in a Tarot deck, all suited cards (numeric and court cards).  In contrast to Major Arcana.

Minor Arcanum.  Singular of Minor Arcana (see above).

New Age.  A far-ranging spiritual and social movement with certain loosely related teachings, beliefs, and practices.  It often embraces non-mainstream methods for healing and personal growth, the notion of living nature endued with spirit, the mythological past (e.g., Atlantis), survival after death (including reincarnation), certain new religions (e.g. Wicca), a blending of psychology and religion, modern physics viewed as support for New Age teachings and beliefs, magic, and channeling.  It emerged in the 1970s in reaction to the ideas and values perceived by its adherents to have long dominated the Western world.

Non-suited.  With reference to a card, one that does not belong to a suit.  In Tarot, non-suited cards comprise the Major Arcana.

Numeric card.  A suited card that has a number designation, e.g., Two of Swords or Two of Spades.  Decks of regular playing cards and Tarot cards used for divination or esoteric purposes usually comprise ten numeric cards, designated Ace through Ten, in four suits.

Numerology.  The study of numbers from an occult or esoteric perspective, including their relationship to letters and spiritual, physical, or metaphysical qualities.

Occult.  Of or relating to Occultism (see below).

Occultism.  Practices, techniques, or procedures, which rely upon the use or knowledge of hidden, but natural, forces not understood by modern science, that have practical results as their aim.  Divination, magic, channeling, and astrology are often viewed as examples of occultism.

Occultist.  Someone who practices or is closely associated with Occultism (see above).

Pip.  The graphic representation of a suit sign, especially on a card, e.g., a heart or cup. See also suit sign and pip card (below).

Pip card.  A card that comprises entirely or mostly suit signs or pips (see above) only.

Qabalah.  See Cabala.

Royalty card.  See court card.

Reading.  The act or practice of interpreting one or more selected cards for purposes of divination.

Reversible back.  A back of a card designed that the user cannot determine whether the card is upright or reversed (see reversed card, below) until he/she turns it over.

Reversed card.  A card that appears upside down in a reading, the opposite of an upright card.

Reversed meaning.  A divinatory meaning associated with a reversed card (see above).

Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS).  A popular family of Tarot decks with a certain pattern.  The first deck in this family was published by Rider & Company (1909), designed by A.E. Waite, and drawn by Pamela Colman Smith.  Such decks include the Rider Tarot, Universal Waite Tarot, and Albano-Waite Tarot.  For details and illustrations, click here.

Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), variation on.  Any of numerous Tarot decks that are substantially based on the Rider-Waite-Smith design (see above).  A few examples are the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, Morgan-Greer Tarot, Robin Wood Tarot, and Sacred Rose Tarot.  For details and illustrations, click here.

RWS.  See Rider-Waite-Smith.

Smith, Pamela Colman.  (1878-1951).  British artist and occultist who drew the first deck of the Rider-Waite-Smith family of decks (1909), designed by A.E. Waite.

Spread.  Synonym: layout.  The pattern or arrangement of one or more cards selected for divinatory or esoteric purposes, usually placed on a flat surface.  The location for each card is called a spread position (see below).

Spread position.  Synonym: layout position.  The location of a card in a spread (see above).  The position may have a meaning associated with it.  For example, a spread may have three positions called past, present, and future; cards placed in them would be interpreted accordingly.  However, sometimes positions lack associated meanings.

Suit.  A group of cards that have one of certain symbols (e.g., a cup or heart) in common.  In Tarot decks used for divination or esoteric purposes, suits usually comprise Wands (Batons), Swords, Cups, and Pentacles (Coins).  However, other suits exist.  For example, like regular playing cards, Tarot decks, especially those used for gaming, may comprise Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds.

Suited.  With regard to a card, one that belongs to a suit (see above).  In Tarot, they are the Minor Arcana.

Suit sign.  Synonym: suit symbol.  The sign or graphic representation of a suit, e.g., a heart or cup.

Suit symbol.  See suit sign (above).

Synchronicity.  The principle or belief that meaningful, acausal links or relationships exist between phenomena.  For example, you dream about termites and the next day you discover that your home is infested with them, or you interpret a Tarot card to mean that you will bump into a certain friend later that day, and you do.  Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term.

Synchronistic.  Of or relating to synchronicity (see above).

Tarot.  (Pronounced: TUH-row, rhymes with below.).  A deck of cards used for divinatory, esoteric, or gaming purposes that comprise Major Arcana (i.e., non-suited cards or Trumps and Fool) and Minor Arcana (i.e., suited cards, comprising numeric and court cards).  Although exceptions exist, Tarot decks usually comprise 78 cards: 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.  The Minor Arcana usually comprise four court cards and ten numeric cards (designated Ace through Ten) in each of four suits.  Despite many tall tales and legends no one knows the origin of the word Tarot.

Tarotist.  Someone closely associated with Tarot, e.g., a person who studies or writes about it, does readings, creates decks, or otherwise uses Tarot.

Tarot of Marseilles.  Also, in French: Tarot de Marseille.  A well-known family of Tarot decks, having a certain pattern, that dates back to at least the 17th century.  Traditionally, makers frequently produced them in Marseilles, France (hence the name).  For details and illustrations, click here.

Thelema.  A philosophy-religion, founded and promoted by Aleister Crowley, that includes certain esoteric and mystical principles, teachings, and beliefs.  Thelemic belief includes a trinity of gods comprising Nuit, Hadit, and Ra Hoor Khuit.  Thelema (Greek for Will) encourages adherents to discover their �True Will�.  According to Crowley, its foundation scripture, The Book of the Law, was received by him from a discarnate being named Aiwaz (1904).

Thelemic.  Of or relating to Thelema (see above).

Thoth Tarot Deck, The. A well-known Tarot deck designed by Aleister Crowley, painted by Lady Frieda Harris, and published in 1944.  It is named after Thoth, the Ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and magic.  For details and illustrations, click here.

Trump.  1. in the broad sense, any non-suited card from a Tarot deck, usually 22 in number; 2. in the strict sense, any non-suited card from a Tarot deck excluding the Fool, usually 21 in number.  For details, click here.

Upright card.  A card that appears right side up in a reading.  The opposite of a reversed card.

Upright meaning.  A divinatory meaning associated with a upright card (see above).

Variation on Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS).  See Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), variation on.

Waite, A.E.  (1857-1942).  British-American esotericist, Christian mystic, and writer, who designed the first member of the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) family of Tarot decks (1909), drawn by Pamela Colman Smith.  Waite�s other works include The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910), a study of Tarot and guide to Rider-Waite-Smith decks.

Western Esotericism.  Certain related spiritual and mystical teachings and beliefs that depend from Jewish, Christian, and Ancient Greek and Roman religion and philosophy.  Such teachings are characterized by relationships or correspondences (e.g., that between the planet Mars, the phenomenon war, the emotion anger, and the color red), living nature endued with spirit, imagination and meditation, and transmutation or metamorphosis.  They may also be characterized by the notions of secrecy, initiation, specialized knowledge of the Divine (sometimes called Gnosis), and the female aspect of God (sometimes called Holy Wisdom or Sophia).  Magic, astrology, Cabala, numerology, and the esoteric use of Tarot are often viewed as constituents of Western Esotericism.  See also esotericism.

Wicca.  Contemporary witchcraft as a religion.  It is frequently characterized by worship of deities called the Goddess and God, living nature endued with spirit, reverence for the earth, the Wheel of the Year (i.e., annual cycle of seasons), and magic.  Wicca, as we know it, first became prominent in the mid-20th century.  And, no, adherents do not worship the Devil.


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Copyright � 2002 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  (12/10/02).