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6 Ways Learning Tarot is Learning a New Language

There is so much that you have to keep in mind when you do readings. It’s difficult sometimes to know what to do when, especially when you’re giving your first few readings. Do you consult the book? Do you think of the elements first? The numbers? Why can’t you remember what the Queen of Wands means?

All of this takes practice. It can seem overwhelming.

But Tarot is kind of like learning another language. You have your grammar, your syntax, your rules and exceptions to the rules—and then suddenly, once you know the basics, all of it goes out the window when you’re introduced to slang.

Tarot Deck in Image Tarot Banksy by CooptyLew

6 Ways Learning Tarot is Learning a New Language

Note: I use a lot of grammatical language here. To save spending time on defining these terms, I linked the definitions to the terms where I could. I hope that’s helpful!

1. The most basic understanding of Grammar

The first thing you learn about language is that there are rules that have to be followed in order to construct a cohesive sentence. You know when a sentence isn’t right, even if you don’t know the explicit rules of grammar. It just doesn’t sound right to say, ‘Apples stomach now.’ There’s no preposition to say that the apples are in the stomach, no verb to give any commentary about the action of the apples. Are they going? Existing? Developing? Is the sentence meant to say, ‘I want apples in my stomach’? or ‘The apples are in my stomach now’?

In order for communication to happen, there have to be rules that are followed. Likewise, Tarot is the same way.

You have the rules to reading Tarot, such as the Major and Minor Arcana division, the suits, and the court cards. They’re like your basic grammar structure. They tell you that in every sentence there has to be a subject and a verb and they must agree.

That is the first rule to grammar—your subject and verb must agree. I’ll go into that later on.

2. Subject

The question or consideration in a reading, is the subject. That part is easy. It is the base around which you start to construct your sentence. Who or what are you talking about or making comments on? When you construct a reading, there is a focus to the reading. If it’s a general reading, it’s a focus on the person the reading is for. Therefore, there is a subject. They are the subject of the sentence.

3. Verbs

The definitions of a card are like the verbs to the sentence. They are essential in order to apply an answer to the subject. The subject and the verb have to agree. Many Tarot cards come with sometimes seemingly contradictory meanings within them, and that is because depending on the question, they can refer to different aspects of the card. Thus, the card must be conjugated the same way a verb must be conjugated to make sense with the subject.

4. Vocabulary

Then you have your elements, your numbers, your Kabalistic references, your deities—they’re all your vocabulary. Your speech is going to get more advanced the more you know, and you’ll be able to explain the context of your sentence better when you learn these things.

5. Structure Variation to Give Context

In spreads, the positions of the cards create the more complicated sentences. They’re what tell you that there are adjectives, adverbs, semi-colons, etc. Furthermore, these positions tell you how the sentence fits together using all of these fancy grammatical terms.

When you add complexities into a sentence or variation of sentences, the meaning goes deeper. Likewise, while pulling a card for funsies on your own can give you a definition of the card, it won’t give you the context of that sentence.

For example, consider the word ‘read.’

How did you read that? Was it read so that it sounded like ‘reed?’ or so that it sounded like ‘red?’ You may or may not have noticed that I used the word ‘read’ in two different contexts in the first two sentences of this paragraph to force you to read it two different ways. That’s what the positions of a spread does for you. It gives you the context to let you know how to interpret a card.

7. Fluency

Learning a language is hard, but with practice and regular use, it can become second nature. I studied French, and when I did so, I listened to French podcasts, French music (by the way Zaz is amazing, as is Indilia—go check them out), French radio (well, Canadian radio that is was in French), and even tried my hand at journaling in French. I found that when I was thinking after

I’d been doing any of these things, I was thinking in French. When I didn’t know the word for what I wanted, I would take the long way around to get to completing the thought in French (there’s always ways around. I never learned ‘the way’ in French, and when I wanted to use it, I’d find myself saying ‘the road I take,’ in a seemingly intellectual and thoughtful manner).

This is like Tarot. As you learn it, you’ll call on different vocabularies (such as your elements, numbers, colors, etc.) to complete your sentence. You’ll use the positions of the cards to give you more complex sentences, you’ll use your already stored definitions as verbs, and you’ll always consider your subject.

When we speak, we don’t think about making a complete sentence. We think about what we want to say, and the sentence forms itself. Eventually, when we learn another language, it flows the same way, at which point we’re fluent.

With practice, Tarot will flow like language.

Even if we’re not good speakers, we can still communicate our basic needs. You don’t need to be able to write poetry or read Shakespeare to be fluent in a language. You don’t need to be able to list every word that means ‘tired’ to be fluent. You just need to be able to say, ‘I need a nap,’ or ‘I am tired,’ for people to know what you mean. You don’t need to know how a semicolon works in order to make a complex sentence, or to explain your ideas.

There are different levels of reading. There are those who know the quick definitions and can look at three cards and tell you ‘yeah, your ex was cheating on you,’ or then there are those who completely miss that point and tell you the deeper internal work and messages for each individual card. At the end of the day, what both are saying are true, but they’re using different dialects of the language.

6. Slang

The final way that Tarot is like language is that the rules don’t matter. Slang has proven that over and over again.

Consider the phrase, ‘I can’t even.’ I actually hate that phrase, and all I want to do is shout, ‘finish a sentence?!?’ But the phrase still gets the point across of the speaker. Even though ‘I can’t even’ isn’t a complete sentence or idea, the culture round which it developed gave it meaning.

Or consider the word ‘literally,’ which was literally recently redefined in the dictionary to mean ‘exact’ and ‘figurative,’ thus making its definition its own opposite.

To use an example that I found on yourdictionary.com, the term ‘busted’ which originally meant broken, evolved to caught doing something naughty (nothing to do with broken), and apparently now means ‘ugly’ (which I find quite cruel, and also, I feel old because I didn’t know this).

This example shows that the rules of the word ‘busted’ went out the window in order to make way for new things.

Tarot is always evolving, and thus new ‘rules’ are created and old ones hand in the towel. There are rules, but they are in constant flux, and because of this it’s easiest to just say there are no rules. Tarot, like language, is very personal in how it’s used, and thus, stylistic. You develop your own style and understanding and put it to use. However, the basic rules are always there, such as the subject verb agreement.

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