Introduction to the Building Blocks of Tarot – Major Arcana course

The Tarot is a representation of the Universe, the Divine and all Creation.  

It is concrete – as well as mysterious and ineffable.

Anybody can work with the Tarot. It is a tool to develop the intuition as well as an interaction with the workings of All-That-Is. The Building Block method provides an easy to follow system by which to understand the workings of the Tarot, and to synthesise the constituent parts into a meaningful whole.

Alchemists and Occultists probably developed the system as a means to record Universal Truths symbolically, thus preventing the abuse of power by the uninitiated.  

Tarot card games became an enormously popular form of entertainment Europe as of the 1450s. By the early nineteenth century conflicting theories surrounded the origin and correct use of the cards, which had come to be associated with fortune-telling, gypsies and charlatans. The inexhaustible wisdom expressed in the Tarot was explored and re-systematised by members of esoteric orders such as the Golden Dawn, and practitioners of Magick such as Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edgar Waite. Various forms and interpretations of the Tarot have proliferated since the Tarot’s popularisation as a divination system in the 1960’s.

The Tarot is perfect in its form and design, since it is a microcosm of the Universe. It integrates the qualities of the Archetypal realm, the Five Elements, Numerology and Astrology into a coherent system. Its correspondences and associations are endless – a reflection of the workings of all Creation.

The Three Arcanas: The Parts Of The Tarot

The Tarot consists of three distinctive parts:

The Major Arcana (“Greater Mystery”) contains 22 Trump cards, which are distinguishable by their rich and evocative images. The Arcana represents life as a journey of Archetypal Initiations into different levels of experience. Archetypes are symbols or personifications of spiritual or psychological truth, like the gods and goddesses of the various pantheons. The Major Arcana is a formula to better understand life, love, growth, and spirituality. It can also provide insight into the alchemical process, hermetic magic, the creative process or any other subject to which intuitive solutions are sought.

The Minor Arcana (“Lesser Mystery”) reflects the human experience in the world of matter. It is divided into four suits of ten cards each. In this way, numerological energies are blended with those of the four elements. The suit of Swords represents air; Wands – fire; Cups – water; and, Pentacles symbolise earth.  

The Court Cards – Kings, Queens, Knights (Princes) and Pages (Princesses) in each suit – represent personality traits or the people that inhabit our lives. By blending each element with a ‘modality’ derives astrological correspondences. Modalities render each element as Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable (this is explained in the section on Astrology).

Modern playing cards are a simplification of the Tarot. They have lost much of the profound symbolism of the original, yet reflect some interesting features.

  • Four Suits symbolise the elements and seasons in a year
  • Thirteen cards in each suit correspond to the lunar months in a year
  • Fifty two cards – weeks in a year
  • Three hundred and sixty five pips represent the days in a year.

A Tarot Building Block is a basic unit such as a symbol, number or element. Building blocks – like letters of the alphabet or bricks in a house – are combined to create a new entity. The whole is greater than the mere combination of the individual parts. 

The Building Blocks of the Tarot are as follows:

  • Major Arcana – 22 steps in the life journey; archetypes, sequence numbers, astrological correspondences and visual symbols. 
  • Minor Arcana – 40 cards (14 keywords) consisting of: element, number (numerology) and the artist’s interpretation of the image. 
  • Court Cards – astrological associations created from element, season and modality. (The meanings of astrological signs are also derived from smaller constituent parts – a combination of element, modality, season and ruling planet.) 

The combination and synthesis of the building blocks provides the signification of the card. Understanding how the meaning is derived allows a true comprehension of the cards and precludes learning the cards by rote.

There is a common misconception that the meanings of Tarot cards are predetermined and need to be learned according ‘to the book’. Standardised meanings have developed as a result of generalisation and an ignorance of the fundamental parts that contribute to the cards’ interpretation. 

Tarot card interpretation is a creative process that derives from personal life-experience, taste and predisposition. A building block is like the artist’s basic material. The artist will create a work according to a unique and individual process. Just as two architects would never combine building materials in the same way when designing a house, the derivation of meanings of the cards is highly individual. 

In working with building blocks we are not trying to reduce the Tarot to a facile system, nor do we seek to demystify, simplify or rationalise it. The building blocks are in themselves based in the mystery of all Creation, but are rendered “bite-sized”, making it easier to grasp in the beginning than the more complex combinations. In understanding the component parts, we understand the inherent nature of the Tarot. The understanding of the building blocks themselves gives a firm basis upon which to ground the imagination and psychic ability.

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