Reading the Tarot Beyond the Canon

Over the centuries, cartomancers have developed long lists of meanings they attribute to each Tarot card, thus establishing the modern canon. Indeed, as we read the Tarot, we position ourselves as part of an ancient tradition that gives legitimacy to what we do. However, as historians and social scientists have repeatedly argued, traditions are reinvented at every step of the way. Each time we honor a custom, we also tweak it a little–often without even noticing. The cumulative result of this process is that, unbeknownst to us, most traditions are constantly changing.

For example, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, we may add a new dish to our repertoire or invite a new friend, or perhaps even meet with our family on Zoom. There are myriad ways in which each Thanksgiving is a little different from the previous one; some of the changes we incorporate may go on to create a new habit.

How does this apply to the Tarot? Consider the way you used to do your readings when you first started: each time you pulled a card, you would probably consult your handbook—the canon. Yet, as you gained more confidence, you most likely developed new ways of interpreting your cards. Reading after reading, each card became a sensation, a vibration, a feeling, and a nuanced range of meanings that, while inspired by received knowledge, is unique to you and your inner worlds.  

This is a process of psychic development; it is also the stage in which you are becoming so intimate with the Tarot that you are establishing your own tradition. The connection you develop with your Tarot deck is exactly how the canon has emerged, coalescing from the individual experiences of those who practiced cartomancy before you.

Just like any tradition, the canon of the Tarot is highly dynamic. And, just like any tradition, it has a discursive quality that allows for a diversity of perspectives. Ultimately, the experience of the Tarot is deeply personal, and the best approach is the one for which you develop an affinity. Do not be afraid to diverge from the canon; if you allow your style to emerge organically, you will take your readings to the next level.

If you are interested in this topic, you may want to read about how I became a Tarot reader.

Image by Jen Theodore via Unsplash