Just about any book, blog, or course you read or take on the tarot is going to tell you to meditate on each card in order to get to know them.
It took me years before I figured out what this meant. To me, meditating was stilling the mind for a while. How could I think about something and still keep my mind still? How could I focus on the many aspects and imagery in each tarot card and contemplate its meaning and still keep my mind still?
The whole concept on meditating actually on anything other than stillness seemed contradictory. And if you’re anything like me, it might seem that way to you too.
But, eventually, I figured it out, at least, my own brand of tarot meditation.
I’m going to be absolutely cliché and recommend that you use a Rider-Waite deck, or a variant of it. This isn’t without reason.
For getting to know say a Marseille style tarot deck, this meditation will only work for the Major Arcana, still leaving you to develop your meanings of the Minor Arcana by other means. If you’re unfamiliar with he Marseille style of tarot decks, the majority of the Minor Arcana are literally just the objects of the suit corresponding to the number. For example, the 8 of Swords is just going to be eight swords. The 3 of Cups is going to be three cups.
Going along with that, the Thoth Tarot and decks based similarly can also contain images in the Minor Arcana like the Marseille decks. Consider the 8 of Disks or the 6 of Wands.
However, on the complete opposite end of it, despite the seemingly simplistic depiction of each card, there is still a vast amount of esoteric symbolism contained within that simplicity. If we look at the 6 of Wands, each of the wands has a different figure at the head of it. The colors within the card hold certain representations. The arrangement of the wands and how they cross will have a specific meaning to it (If you’re interested in this, EsotericMeanings.Com has some great information on the Thoth breakdown. However, this isn’t for our purposes, which is to develop your own meaning and understanding by mediation).
The Rider-Waite Tarot provides scenes for each card, and we are going to use those scenes to do our mediation, which is why I do highly recommend the RW deck itself if you have access to it, or at the very least, a RW-based deck.
You’ll want to record and build on your findings. For me, a journal works perfectly well. I communicate best through a pen. However, I do recognize that not everyone works this way. So, I would suggest using a voice recording device or your phone (though if you use your phone, be sure to stick it on airplane mode), or a camera to recorder yourself. This is just for you. You can share it with the world if you want but for the most part, it’s just for you, so don’t get too startled about recording yourself.
I would, however, avoid typing your findings, at least at first. You can type up your notes or the transcripts of your recording later if you’d like, but to really connect with your findings and what you’re doing, I would use one of the tools above.
This might be a difficult one for some. I personally live on a farm that houses 9 other people, countless birds (chickens, parrots, you know, lots of crowing, squawking birds), oh and did I mention I raise chickens? So that means I also might have (no might about it, I do have) 3 incubators humming and a brooder filled with young chicks, which make their own ‘song’. Finding quiet space is hard for me. If it’s difficult for you, I understand. But try anyway.
Keep in mind too, this exercise is for you to work on one card at a time. Unless you have some super power that allows you to do all 78 cards in an hour, I’d try to spend at least 20-30 minutes on each card, minimum.
I like to do this meditation at a table or desk. I like to have a back on the chair I’m sitting in. You can sit at your altar if you want, if you have one. Or in the middle on the floor. But be comfortable, and in a position in which you can comfortably write/record, and hold the cards, and sit for several minutes to an hour.
A grounding meditation is what I like to do to center myself. If you’re in a chair, make sure your feet are on the floor, flat, your hands are on the arms of the chair or on your knees, not crossed, relaxed, and your back is straight, but relaxed as well. If you’re on the floor, sit in whatever meditative position you feel comfortable.
Breathe in, and as you do, feel your energy stretch down through you, through your feet, rooting down into the ground and into the earth.
Breathe in again, and push the roots further into the ground.
Breathe in, and this time draw the energy up from the earth into you, through your chakras, filling you with stability.
Continue breathing like this for as long as you need, focussing on your breath, concentrating on the energy flow, and grounding. When you’re ready, continue to the next step.
There is a journey that happens with tarot, through the Major Arcana, and an evolution within each suit. I personally don’t think it matters which suit you go to first, but I definitely think that it is imperative that you start with the Major Arcana, with the Fool, and move through it.
However, I also think that it would not go amiss if you wanted to complete all the 1’s together, the 2’s, and so on. So, for example, once you’ve done the Fool, and move on to the Magician, you might then do all the Aces, as they relate to the Magician in different levels. I’ll leave that up to you though.
Really look at it. Observe it, the surroundings of the person depicted in it, the background colors, the scenery, the clothing, the facial expression, the positioning of the hands, the feet, recurring numbers and shapes. Don’t try to draw any connections or interpret, but just look at it.
The goal here is to be able to picture the card in as much detail when you close your eyes.
This is another reason that the Rider-Waite deck is better for these exercises: the depiction of the cards is for the most part pretty good about not putting glyphs and symbols suspended in the air. For example, my beloved Spiral Tarot will put the elemental triangle, an astrological glyph and so on in the sky or hanging out around the figure’s head, while the Rider-Waite depictions, if they’re seen at all, will be on a tapestry, on clothing, carved into something, and so on. The incorporation of symbols in objects will make the next step far easier.
You can hold the card if you wish, that’s up to you. I find sometimes it helps me, sometimes it doesn’t.
Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as the figure in the card. Position yourself in the figure’s position, and look around you. What do you see? Look in the direction that the figure looks in the card. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Try and put yourself in the action of the figure. If you’re in the 5 of Wands, feel the wand in your hand, hear the breath of the other boys. Really picture yourself in this position.
Now, consider yourself the Fool coming across this card. What do you see? What do you hear? How do you feel about what you’re seeing? Are you afraid, Do you want to join in? Do you want to listen?
Consider as many angles as you can about this card. It’s alright if you need to open your eyes and look at the card again and then step back into it.
Record your thoughts, via whatever medium you are most comfortable with listed above.
Write down everything you observed, thought, felt, heard. Don’t try to impose meaning on it. Right now, you are just recording your experience with the card.
There’s no right or wrong way to record this. If you’re writing by hand, it might be bulleted details, or it could be paragraphs.
For as many times as you need to, repeat the exercise, recording as much as you can. Really try to engage your imagination, your critical thinking, your senses. Try and learn as much about the card, learn what’s in the frame of it, and get a sense of it through your experience.
For example, when considering the Fool, you would put yourself in the position of the figure, feel the weight of the stick carrying possessions, consider what might be going through the figure’s mind before stepping off the cliff, the figure’s thoughts and attitude and relationship with the dog, the taste of the mountain air, how cold it might be, where the Fool came from, and so on. Consider why it is that the Fool is looking up but not down, and what might be the ramifications if the figure did look down. Would they still walk forward? What does the rose mean to the figure? What does the posture of the figure mean, how does it make the Fool feel? Is it an openness due to realization of possibilities? Is it taking in a deep breath? Is the Fool singing?
I have found that the repetition of this meditative exercise when I personally am in different moods will give me different answers and observations of the card. Thus, my notes on each card will always expand. I am always gaining new insights and experiences in my own life, and those in tern are giving me different things to consider about each card. This is why Tarot is an on-going teacher.
Go back and read through your notes. What stands out to you? What really rings true to you in your findings and links to the card? It’s alright to dismiss some observations, but know that they still contribute to the card as a whole. The card isn’t at static thing. Your understanding of the card is a reflection of you, the reader. It is an interaction, an ongoing conversation between you and the card.
What themes are recurring in what you observed?
Alright, so this is the part where you get to pull out your resources that are outside you. But first, see what things mean to you. For example, I mentioned earlier that the Thoth deck uses colors significantly. Before looking up what blue represents, why not consider what it means to you. For example, for the longest time the color yellow was associated with sadness for me. I can’t tell you why, but it was. In certain circumstances, it still is. When I was a kid, red was my favorite color, and represented fun, and girls, and not-boys. Now it represents anger to me, and passion, sex (though that could be because it’s the color of Mars, the planet which also rules those characteristics).
Look at the symbols you observed, the themes you noted, and ask yourself what they mean to you. Record this too.
Once you have really spent time with all of these things, then you can go look them up elsewhere. But don’t accept what you read as gospel. Make sure that the answers and definitions you read and accept ring true to you. If it seems counter-intuitive, note that and move on, though keep asking yourself why it’s counter-intuitive and what would make more sense.
The tarot is an art, and I refuse to think of it otherwise. It is a means of interpretation, and it is a means of expression and understanding the human condition in all its states—physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. Art does all of this.
Art is also always evolving, and the artist is always improving, working on the things that others may have thought they’ve mastered. Study any artist, and there will be an evolution of their style. Consider musicians you like that have been making music for decades and how their music has changed with them. Consider authors like Stephen King and how his writing has evolved since the 70’s (I think it was the 70’s when he got his first book published. Might have been early 80’s). None of them stop practicing. None of them stop producing.
Tarot is the same way. A regular study of tarot is only going to improve you as a reader. By tapping in and meditating with the cards, you’re bringing your new experiences with you and adding them to your understanding of the cards.
So do this meditation regularly, once a year, once every couple of years. Do this with each new deck you get to help get to know it. Try this in different moods, on different days, and return to this exercise as you develop your understanding of the tarot, years down the road. Always be open to the new lessons presented within the cards.
One of the biggest lessons of the tarot is that life is a spiral. We complete the lessons only to start again at the beginning, but at a higher level.