Pretty much every Tarot deck out there comes with what is called “the little white book”, a handy reference printed on white paper that includes the meanings of the upright and reversed Tarot cards in the deck. For some people who are brand-spanking new to reading Tarot cards, this little white book is essential to help learn the meanings of the cards.
If you have a more “traditional” Tarot deck, have you ever really looked at some of the meanings in that little white book? Some of them are kind of, um, ridiculous. “You shall travel soon.” “Your enemies are near.” “You will receive a great deal of money.”
What you have to remember is that a lot of these Tarot card meanings are from a loooooooooooooooong time ago. It’s estimated that the oldest Tarot decks date back to around the year 1400, and while the basic energy of the cards is still the same, the language that we use to frame that energy has changed dramatically over the centuries. Whereas travel was a really big fucking deal back in the 15th century, it’s not so much today where people routinely hop on airplanes the way they do skateboards and jet off to the most far-flung locations on the planet.
Like any meaningful spiritual practice, the energy and meanings of the Tarot cards needs to shift as we evolve as a species and a society. The traditional Tarot cards are very, how shall I say it, whitewashed? Euro-centric? Patriarchal? If we’re going to use Tarot and watch it adapt as a beautiful tool for empowerment in this day and age, we’re going to have to find new language to describe the energy of the cards.
One of the best things I ever did as a Tarot reader was to hide the little white book that came with my favorite deck, The Robin Wood Tarot. It was one of those “ah-ha!” moments, actually – I was doing a Tarot reading for a friend over the phone, and she said to me, “Just put the book away and tell me what you see in the cards.” Well, holy hell, for the first few minutes it was sort of like riding a unicycle on a tightrope without a safety net over a pit of ravenous alligators, but once my intuition kicked in, it was easy to trust the images and words that I saw as I looked at the cards.
For beginning readers, or if you’re reading for yourself, by all means, use your little white book! That’s what it’s there for! It’s there to provide you some guidance if you just get hopelessly stuck, or if you’re completely unsure about a card meaning. If you’ve never used a deck of Tarot cards before, or if you’re getting to know a new deck, the little white book is a great resource to help you get comfortable with the cards.
And then you get to a point where you start realizing that the meanings and energy you read in the cards can be completely different than the meaning in the little white book! To me, this is what makes an outstanding Tarot reader – someone who trusts the energy of the cards more than the meanings in the book.
When you’re learning how to read Tarot, it’s important to trust your intuition and put your own personal spin on the meanings of the cards. That’s what is going to make your readings more relevant and meaningful. Of course, I use some of the symbols on the cards as anchors to interpret the energy – in my Robin Wood deck, Pentacles are always for material possessions and physical existence; Swords are always about thoughts and ego; Cups are always about emotions and relationships; and Wands are always about our souls and spirituality. But other than that, it’s important for me to keep my meanings fluid so I can best channel and relay the message coming through the cards!
Have you ever done a Tarot reading “by the book” and found that it was just totally and completely off the mark? Have you ever had a reading done by someone who looked up every single card in the little white book? Share your experiences here with me, I’d love to hear about them!