Puzzling out the Tarot

Although I see myself as a bit of a mystic, I’ve never been into tarot, or any sort of divination for that matter. I always figured if we can change the future, then it doesn’t matter what the predicted future is, and if we can’t change it, then the prediction especially doesn’t matter.

If ever a thought of the tarot crossed my mind, it would have been in the same mental classification as astrology, Ouija boards, and fortune cookies. I used a Ouija board once when I was kid, know my astrology sign and will read my horoscope when it’s in front of me (though the horoscope never seemed to have any relation to anything going on in my life), and enjoy fortune cookies, but that was the extent of my interest. Oh, I did read up on the occult since I have always been one to try to get a peek into the secrets of the universe, but charlatans so often dominated the field, that I stuck with more scientific gateways, like particle physics and quantum mechanics. (Yep, I was one of those who read such books for fun.)

I’m still not sure there is anything for me in the tarot, but considering that it is supposed to be a way to get insights into one’s inner being, it’s worth studying for now. And besides, it seems a message from my brother. Admittedly, this collection of tarot cards hadn’t been specifically earmarked for me, but that mass of decks sure struck a chord with me, so it felt as if he meant me to have them.

So here I am, trying to make sense of a massive amount of contradictory information. For example, the card I picked this morning to answer my question of what I needed to know today, was the nine of swords. Swords are supposed to be a bad luck sort of card, without a lot of happiness attached, and the nine of swords especially so. One interpretation talks about fears, vulnerability and inner turmoil and suggests that I learn what the source of those fears are. Another interpretation talks of depression and suffering, scandal and loss.

But swords relate to consciousness at a mental level, and reflect an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and overall attitude. They also point to fears and worries, but don’t necessarily put a whole lot of weight on those fears, because the sword is two-edged, which connotes a balancing act to stay positive.

And nines are about nearing completion, maybe about reaching a plateau, because what looked like the end hasn’t quite arrived.

All that seems positive to me, so instead of the nine of swords telling me I’m depressed and fearful and need to figure out what my trouble is so I can get into a more benign state, my own take on the matter is I’m already there. Or almost. That I’m doing well balancing my fears and staying positive, even though I can do better.

See what I mean about contradictory information?

And this isn’t even taking into consideration the whole ancient elements matter — water, fire, air, earth. According to the most common tarot tradition, swords mean air, but some decks and some scholars indicate that swords are fire. (As you can see, in my own interpretation, I left off any mention of air or fire because the element question muddles an already muddled situation.)

On a different note completely, as I was reading about the elements, I happened to open the book to another page that was defining the “fool” card, and I had to laugh. Apparently, in Italy and Austria, The Fool goes by the name “Mat,” which is an Arabic word meaning “a dead person.” In The Wheel of Time, one of the major characters is a fellow everyone thinks is a fool. I thought he was simply an archetype, but he is definitely one of the major arcana characters from the tarot. Not only is his name “Mat,” but as he says, “I’m usually pretty good at staying alive. I only failed one time that I remember.”

Now I’m going to have to re-reread The Wheel of Time again to look for additional tarot references. As well as to continue puzzling out the tarot itself.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.