7 Ways to Develop Your Tarot Language, by Nancy Antenucci
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
A wise high school teacher told us the secret to learning French was to think in French. That advice was a game-changer for me. Within time, I was speaking and even dreaming in French with an ease and flow.
Every language shapes reality. Tarot is no exception. As a language, it reflects being human in a full spectrum from the mundane to the divine. To stay curious and open to a world of elements, great natural forces and our vast potential is to own the language of a true Magician.
Following are 7 tips in creating Tarot as a second language.
- Think in Tarot.
Tarot is a language of images. Learn the rhythms and power of non-verbal communication. Engage with the ways images speak daily. Watch commercials or movies without sound to strengthen skills in reading body language, colors, and symbols. Pay attention to where your focus is being directed when reading a magazine or looking through social media. Gain some basic art principles such as repetition, color, and design to expand your ability to perceive patterns.In addition to surfacing meaning from imagery, become more aware of the four elements—Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. These energies literally are the backbone of tarot and are expressed fully in the Minor Arcana. We are the elements. Air is Mind (Swords), Fire is Expression (Wands), Water is Feeling and Vision (Cups), and Earth is Sensation and Matter (Pentacles). A simple exercise is to sense what each person's major elemental nature is while standing in a checkout line. See yourself and others as these energies.
Look for tarot everywhere—in church windows, music, poetry, or even clouds. You will find what you seek. Once while babysitting a creative young girl, she pointed to the sky and told me that the Empress was smiling. I looked up, and indeed the clouds seemed to form her shape. I realized back then that tarot on the cards is only one form of the wisdom they hold.
- Choose a Primary Deck.
When one learns a language, it helps to stay within one system. Choose the one tarot deck that you will go to again and again as you practice and build your knowledge. A minimal amount of research into the three branches of tarot (the Rider-Waite, the Marseilles and the Thoth) would be helpful in understanding the origins of your primary tarot deck. All additional decks you might use in the future will be variations of the mastery of this primary deck, much like a musician playing other instruments after starting with the piano.
- Trust What You Sense.
Initially treat tarot as if it were a new friend that speaks another language. When with them, it would be disruptive to pull out the translation book on the spot to know exactly what they are saying. Receive the messages as best as you can. Don't underestimate what you can gather by the cards' energy, gesture, and tone. Allow this kind of reciprocity to grow as you study the traditional meanings.In your initial phases with tarot, read immediately and intuitively. Act as if you know the message each card holds for you. Don't wait until you have some thorough understanding of all 78 cards. Your comfort in using your sense of the cards will actually create a base to contain the centuries old classical definitions.
- Find the Noun and Verb.
As a novice, understanding another language requires the ability to get the jist of the message. The heart of any sentence is the noun and the verb. If you can understand who is active and what is happening, the rest will follow. There will be a lot to unpack in one card (much less a number of them together) that could be overwhelming. Stick with the basics of the main character and the action that is happening card by card. Pretend you are reading a grade school primer. Let go of trying to make sense of all the details.
- Allow Variation.
Languages contain a myriad of ways to express and communicate a thought. As you learn to see the cards through your own creative authority, each card will accumulate different layers—your sense or experience of the card, its traditional meaning, the meaning from your deck's little white book, etc.Choose an overall pattern to serve as a basic layer, such as numerology, the elemental influence of each of the Minor Arcana, or correlations for all the Court Cards. Once you are have progressed into using spreads, stay true to the position of the spread and how it frames the card's meaning.
During a reading, trust the layer that comes to surface. For instance, when reading the Empress card, I could speak of the traditional meaning (Mother, life force, and unconditional love), but the layer that surfaces is my earlier reflection of Empress as a force in our daily life if we just remember to look up. Trust that you are being guided. Traditional definitions are a strong and powerful dimension of the card yet just one layer during a reading. Remain open and curious, and don't attach to outcome. Let tarot and your curiosity lead you.
- Have a Practice Partner.
Ideally you would speak to another person fluent in tarot language. The greatest benefit of attending tarot conferences and meet-ups is to be immersed with other tarot speakers. Outside of gatherings, however, find another tarot curious friend to go on this journey with you. Design certain time and goals with lots of readings for yourself and each other from the very beginning. Don't worry about making mistakes and share all discoveries.Listening to other readers is helpful. Many YouTube tarot readers have developed a specific tarot vernacular. For example, a card is often defined by its clarifying card. The card at the bottom is an overview. There are developed definitions given for astrological collectives such as:
Lovers: Twin Flames
High Priestess: Holding secrets from someone
Page of Swords: Cyber stalker
Page of Cups: An apology
Kings and Queens of the same suit: Divine partners
6 of Cups: Soulmate
Knight of Pentacles: Very slow
3 of Wands: Long distance
Stay open to all interpretations and reading styles as you study and experiment with your own reading style. Keep in mind, though, that there is no one right way.
Creativity happens when one feels safe and relaxed. Follow your curiosity as you explore and find ways to know each card. Use your cards in various states of being, such as when you are content, tired, bored or sexy to uncover different perceptions. What you bring to the card is as important as what you receive from it. Pretend that you have been taught how to divine in other incarnations, all you need to do in this one is remember. Allow tarot to shape your reality.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2022. All rights reserved.