Part self-help, part spiritual guidance, tarot is fast becoming the problem-solver for uncertain times. International tarot expert Alice Grist explains how we can all unlock its powers
Part self-help, part spiritual guidance, tarot is fast becoming the problem-solver for uncertain times
Throughout my life the tarot has guided me: from love and career queries to difficult decisions and parenthood… My relationship with the tarot started when I was 13 years old and I bought my first deck with a book voucher. It has been not only my objective friend, but also my saviour.
In January 2018, aged 39, my husband had a heart attack. During his recuperation, in desperation, I reached for my cards. The Star came out – the card that speaks to your inner ability to turn the worst situation into something much better – and I knew everything would be all right, and that we would come out of this transformed. And that is exactly what happened. This is one piece of tarot magic I’ll never forget.
Tarot can help people get answers and make sense of their lives
Over the years, I have found that the tarot cards have an uncanny ability to empower you, so all those things you want can be found or created. The cards can guide you to become amazingly intuitive and to understand the power you have over your life. They tell it how it is and they don’t pull their punches. If you are happy with your lot and don’t fancy changing, growing or flowing with life, then maybe stop reading now. For the tarot cards are megawatt tools of self-help, self-love and self-growth.
A modern form of divination, the magic of the cards is found not in the paper they are printed on, but in the hearts and minds of the people who hold them. They tap into the ancient intuition that each one of us holds.
People want answers and purpose, to make sense of their lives and feel something magical within themselves. They want to know that everything will be OK; that they will survive, be successful, fall in love, be healthy and happy. Although the tarot cannot directly give you this, it sure can prod you in the right direction, while assisting you to overcome the hurdles that have previously held you back. Tarot cards provide the seeds to build a more spiritually connected life. I highly recommend that you get a deck and start a lifetime journey that will enlighten, empower and very often amaze you.
The main cards to know
The Sun brings power, The Moon change – and Death isn’t what you think. The 78-card deck is divided into two sections. Here’s what they represent
The Major Arcana
There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana. These ‘trump’ cards, made of major characters and life themes, are numbered 0 to 21, usually in roman numerals. The numbers themselves contain meanings that you may find reflect important numbers in your own life. They stretch across all meaningful experiences and speak to individual character and personality.
Some of the Major Arcana cards will remind you of yourself, while others will cause you to recall life events. Some may remind you of characters you’ve encountered in reality or in films and books. As you peruse the Major Arcana, it is good to jot down notes. A few words written down to define each card from your perspective are the start of a real connection with that card.
The Major Arcana contains all of life, so while there are human characters within it, such as The Empress, The Hermit and The Magician, there are bigger subjects such as The World, The Star and Death. These cards are like onions, with layers of meaning. You won’t be able to pierce that vast depth straight away; you’re not supposed to. Aim to think of a handful of things that each card makes you see/feel/recall/understand. The more time you spend with these big characters and themes, the more you’ll discover about yourself. As the ‘archetypes’ of human existence, they reflect all the roles that a person undertakes in life.
The Minor Arcana
The rest of the tarot deck is known as the Minor Arcana. These cards represent the gritty detail of life – they really assist us in getting to grips with our life situation and the minutiae of our emotions, actions and thoughts. They consist of four suits, each containing 14 cards and each representing a different element. The suits are: Wands (fire), Cups (water), Swords (air) and Pentacles – also known as Coins in some decks (earth). Each suit of the Minor Arcana has individual themes and qualities.
Wands (batons) speak to us of growth, creativity, dreams and ambition. They also speak of the fears and furrows that halt our creative endeavours. They are about the passion we need to embrace, control and own as we navigate our way through life.
Cups represent feelings and relationships. Some say they are the suit of love, but they are also the suit of passion, hope, tears and fears.
Swords are representative of choice, decisions and the realm of thought. They are about boundaries as they represent limitations. Swords speak to creating mental clarity and fighting through difficulties towards truth.
Pentacles (coins) represent abundance (or the lack of), money, work and the material world. They show us our attitude towards work, and our ambitions and dreams for our careers. They offer guidance on attracting and manifesting what we desire, and the work that this entails.
The Fool (left); The Magician (right)
The Fool is about breaking rules and crossing boundaries. This card challenges us to live. He reminds us constantly that we must take the leap, often before we are ready, and that rules and limitations will only weigh us down. The Fool asks us to reject overthinking and step into the unknown.
The Magician This represents the ability to take skills, beliefs and dreams and meld them into something you desire. The Magician asks us to recall times when we made amazing things happen. He asks us to dream big and to use what we already have in order to reach where we desire to go to.
The Empress (left); The Emperor (right)
The Empress She is all about the way we nurture our lives, the people in them and the wider community. Compassion, empathy and guidance are within us all to be given out. She keeps her boundaries; she knows when to say no. More importantly, she knows the love that flows when she finds it appropriate to say yes.
The Emperor He is searching for safety and power, and is preoccupied with being on top. He’s an inspiring leader, but his negative side shows we can become so consumed by our goals that we fail and become unwilling. When this occurs, we must take time out to reconnect with what really matters in life.
The Lovers (left); The Hermit (right)
The Lovers This encapsulates love and lust – which can be wonderful or horrible. It focuses on codependency – that unhealthy reliance upon another person to make you happy – and warns that sexual compatibility isn’t the same as mental compatibility. It’s the card of affairs and no-strings sexual connections.
The Hermit insists that we are the expert in our own life and asks us to dig deep inside ourselves and get to know his wisdom through our intuitions and instincts. This card represents a fantastic time for self-discovery and for growth.
Wheel Of Fortune (left); Justice (right)
Wheel Of Fortune People come to the tarot looking for very specific answers: what does my future hold? Should I marry/divorce/have children/travel? This card reminds us that even as we make our plans, they come undone easily. Anything can happen; the only way to be in control is to recognise that control is an illusion.
Justice is about balance. This is a big card, and a huge concept. The Justice card acts as a reminder to release control over other people and what we think of them. It asks us to place faith in things working out as they should.
The Hanged Man (left); Death (right)
The Hanged Man For me, this card is a reminder just to ‘be’ in the situation I am experiencing. So be present where you are: take it all in, learn what you can; then regroup, rejuvenate and await better circumstances. This indicates a great time for working on yourself and the immediate world around you.
The Death Death speaks of endings and beginnings. It is not a card to be afraid of, but rather one to be welcomed. Often in life we cling on to old ways or situations that no longer make us happy. Death can be a welcome friend as she sweeps in and removes these obstacles to our happiness.
Temperance (left); The Devil (right)
Temperance This speaks of patience and taking our sweet time. All kinds of possibilities reside within you. Yet to invoke that potential most powerfully, you must be patient, calm and measured. Do not be pushed or rushed; commit to the long haul. Great things come to those who wait and slowly apply themselves.
The Devil This card reflects our inner turmoil. He is not an evil force waiting to pounce; he is our inner world getting ready to drag us down. This scary card is the one I least like to pull. He tells me that a person is suffering. Yet there is a glimmer of hope, which lies in recognising that all of this is in our power to turn around.
The Tower (left); The Star (right)
The Tower mirrors to us the chaos and drama we sometimes find ourselves mixed up in. It reminds us to keep standing – that you were here before this situation arose and you will be here after it. Provide shelter and support to loved ones who are not naturally as strong as you.
The Star is a turning point, speaking to our ability to make the worst situation better. It asks us to be vulnerable – we cannot pretend any more. In becoming our most honest selves, it promises a happier existence. Not everybody is up for the challenge. If you are, the Star is telling you that it will be OK.
The Moon (left); The Sun (right)
The Moon This reflects the eerie quality of change. Sometimes transformation is full of joy and wonder. Other times, it can leave us reeling as we try to adjust to new ways. The Moon speaks to that in-between space where we are no longer what we were but are not yet at the next level of who we are becoming.
The Sun This card gifts us big doses of power and self-understanding, which can thrust us onwards to great things. It usually shows up when a person needs a reminder of what they can achieve. However, too much time in the Sun can leave us weary and burned out. Getting the balance right is important.
Judgement (left); The World (right);
Judgement When Judgement arises in a spread, I know that events are unfolding that are outside the control of who I’m reading for. It is an awakening: we are called upon to grow, to rise up beyond what we were. Ask yourself, ‘Am I building or destroying?’ as you form your opinions on others and make your moves.
The World This helps us recall our fundamental power. The World asks us to make bold moves, knowing that this is the point of our life. The card arises not for silly choices, but for huge, life-altering things. Every time it shows up, it bellows a reminder that the world is ours and we ought to start believing that.
How to read the cards
To begin, I recommend you flick through the deck. See which cards you like and which you don’t. You will adore some images – they will give you good feelings and hope. Others may make you uncomfortable and unclear. There will probably be a few you have no feelings towards. This is all normal.
Allow connections to form. Ask yourself as you wander through each image: what does this card tell me? Look at every picture and consider what story is being told. Figure that out and you have your base meaning upon which you can layer dozens of variations over time.
The tarot is not a rock-solid predictor. The cards might show us possibility and our highest potential, but we always have free will, so we can take what the tarot says and ignore it. The tarot is often the navigation system we need, a wake-up call that confirms what we know deep down. With continued use, the cards will open up your intuitive side and your natural psychic abilities.
A tarot card spread is the method by which a reader lays out the cards on the table then interprets the meanings. There are many different spreads used by readers. Always begin by shuffling the deck. Questions you may wish to consider as you meet each card include…
- What is my very first feeling when I look at this card?
- Do any words, memories, colours or unexpected thoughts spring to mind?
- As I gaze a little longer, what details do I notice?
- Does this card remind me of anyone I know (or characters from stories/TV/film, etc)?
- Do I like this card or not, and why?
This is an edited extract from The Book of Tarot: A Contemporary Guide to Finding Your Intuition and Reading The Tarot by Alice Grist, which will be published on 2 July by Piatkus, price £12.99. Order a copy for £7.79 (40% off RR P) at whsmith.co.uk by entering code YOUTAROT at checkout UNTIL 12 JULY . Book number: 9780349425023. FOR TERMS & CONDITIONS , GO TO www.whsmith.co.uk/terms.
Nine Of Wands
Tarot expert Alice Grist guides YOU magazine’s Miranda Thompson through the deck’s powers
Pick a card, any card: simply set your intent, ask a question and select a single card from the deck to receive an insightful answer. Don’t expect it to be a clear yes or no; the tarot is tricky like that. Instead, it will give you something to work with and think about.
Miranda asked: ‘Should I move to the countryside?’
The cards said: Nine of Wands. ‘This is a card that is all about engaging with something with childlike joy,’ says Alice. ‘It’s a yes card. If that means you wanting to engage with nature then I see this card as representing a child walking to a blossoming part of her life. If moving to the country is your goal, you’re on the route. If you’re projecting that into the future then you will manifest it. Trust that everything will be taken care of.’
Miranda says: ‘I grew up in the countryside and, while I’m happy in London, I can’t help but think what life might be like somewhere with more fields! I’m glad that this seems to be something that might happen eventually.’
Should I/ – Shouldn’t I?
The Empress (left); The Five Of Swords (right)
Think of a question that involves a choice such as ‘yes or no’, or ‘if I do or if I don’t’. Pull two cards from the top of the deck and lay them face down, one to the left and one to the right. Assign one of these options to each of the cards. Turn the cards over to reveal the answers.
Miranda asked: ‘Should I change my career?’
The cards said…
To stay: The Empress. ‘This is a good card – it’s hugely powerful, potent, expressive and creative,’ says Alice. ‘I think of The Empress as flying through the universe. The answer is quite apparent: there is huge potential for you to stay in your career. It’s empowering, nurturing and a great place to be.’
To change: Five of Swords. ‘This represents moving on and a new beginning,’ says Alice. ‘But you really would be quite vulnerable. This card is saying it would be difficult to cut ties with the people you know and where you are. A move would grant you a new start, but it would be overwhelming.’
Miranda says: ‘Amid all the corona chaos, I was wondering if the hustle of city life was still for me – but I have to say I’m very relieved with this tarot result! I love my job and I’m pleased that tarot thinks it’s a great fit for me too.’
Past – Present – Future
You can perform a basic past, present and future spread, especially if it relates to a specific situation, such as love or health. The first card is placed on the left and symbolises events in the past; the second card is placed in the middle to represent the present; and the third card is placed on the right hand side, for the potential future.
Or you could just throw a situation out to the universe. With no question in mind, but with a need for guidance, you can ask for wisdom and pull three cards. This can bring up all kinds of truth; knowing this will help redirect your thoughts and set you on a better path.
Miranda asked: ‘What’s going to happen after lockdown?’
The cards said…
The past: Queen of Cups.
‘This card is asking us to think how we can offer more love to others,’ says Alice. ‘Although it’s been a challenging time, it’s also brought a lot of good, as we’ve been staying in touch with our loved ones more.’
The present: Six of Wands. ‘This card says, “I can move forward and it’s something I can get over,”’ explains Alice. ‘We’ve faced our inner demons, and those of us who found it difficult are getting ready to ride forward.’
The future: Ace of Swords.
‘This represents a new beginning,’ says Alice. ‘I always think of it as like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. We’re coming out refreshed. People are going to be full of energy and want to grab life. It’s really positive.’
Miranda says: ‘That is a relief! I feel more excited about the future.’
Yes, tarot can change your life
Here’s how these women found answers to their big dilemmas
Siena Dexter, 37
Siena Dexter, 37, runs branding agency ideadolls.com. She lives in London with her partner Kieran, 30, a copywriter
My first tarot reading was when I was 21 and working as a runner for a TV company. Michelle Chaso, the receptionist there, offered me a reading and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I remember feeling fascinated and kept in touch with her – once a year we’d meet for coffee and she would do a reading.
So much of tarot is how you interpret the cards you’re given. They seem to tap into your gut feeling – the cards simply reaffirm it and give you the confidence to act upon it.
That’s true for the reading I had in 2011 when I was unhappy in my career. I was in a well-paid job but felt unfulfilled. Michelle’s reading told me I was not in a good place professionally and that I needed a different direction. The Eight Of Swords – a woman choosing to be bound – came up, as did an upside-down chariot, indicating I wasn’t going anywhere.
I knew that quitting my job would be a huge risk, but after I’d seen these cards, I came away thinking, ‘Let’s do this’. I had no idea what I was going to do for money and took a bar job to make ends meet. But my decision really paid off. After gaining more experience in a large agency, I set up my own branding agency in 2017 and I’ve never looked back.
And I still have readings to help me make important decisions.
Zoë Hughes, 43
Zoë Hughes, 43, is a clinical aromatherapist. She has two children aged 17 and 12 and lives in Devon
Growing up in Dorset, with its rich Romany culture, I’ve always been aware of tarot. When I was 14, I spent my first wages from my Saturday job on a reading – and it led to a lifelong interest.
A large part of my fascination was trying to figure out more about myself. I knew that the man I called ‘Dad’ wasn’t my biological father so it was a confusing time. Plus I was falling in love with girls – not an easy thing in the 1980s – and I hoped that tarot might provide some answers. It did.
I’ve turned to it many times, including when I needed affirmation about my divorce. Some people think tarot is like voodoo, but for me, the cards tell me what I already know but am too afraid to act on. Certainly, when the cards told me that divorcing my wife was the right thing to do, it helped me feel OK with a very difficult decision.
One of the main reasons I believe in it is because of other people’s experiences in relation to my life. My biological father had a reading and the reader knew all about me, even though my father hadn’t seen me for 30 years. She knew my occupation, where I lived and even that I had a postgraduate qualification. Not long after, we met by chance when I was visiting Somerset. It was like looking into a mirror.