I was first introduced to Tarot cards in a serious, occult, way, back in 1977. The situation was a classic initiation. A woman, older than myself, coyly hinting to me that yes, she just might be a witch, and eventually explaining that yes, those funny-looking cards, jammed into one of her wicker baskets, along with the blue and black candles and a silver-handled dagger, weren't just for show or playing hearts.
They were, she said, for "skinning curious cats—and boys."
The witch had several Tarot decks, but the one I had been looking at, called The Aquarian Tarot, was defective, she told me, because "the colors were wrong." I had no idea what might be wrong or right about the colors, but the cards in the Aquarian pack seemed harmless enough. That of course was the problem.
A few days later the witch gave me my first Waite-Smith Tarot, allegedly containing the correct colors, and A. E. Waite's accompanying book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. And off I went on my long career in the dark arts.
It was a definite choice to explore what I imaged to be the dark side. As with many new volunteers into the Devil's occult army, I was fascinated by the things alleged to be "evil" in my former faith, Christianity. If only I had known, against what seemed likely to me in my Tarot novitiate, how much time I would actually have to spend reading the Bible to truly understand Tarot card symbolism, I might have tossed the whole thing.
Eventually, I would come to know that there is no dark side and light side binary—except in bad comic books and movies for kids. Even in Star Wars, George Lucas eventually had Obi-Wan explain: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."
That absolute statement on the evils of dealing from a deck of absolutes, seems either hypocritical or was intended, as many occult declarations are, to be processed only at a certain level of understanding appropriate to the still deficient grasp of things possessed by the newly-minted Daarth Vader, Obi-Wan's former student.
Now, the reason all this starwarage has any relevance to our discussion here, is that a great deal of the debate about Tarot reduces to the question of its absolute or flexible nature. In other words, how multifaceted and multicultural are the points of access, and legitimate access, offered by the old and ever-evolving pack of cards?
One sees this problem or opportunity revealed in the central question concerning occult Tarot cards, that being the issue of the correct "key" that can allegedly explain the symbolism of the Tarot pack. Just expressing the question in those terms, as if there is something like one true key, or set of symbolic correspondences, that must be used to correctly understand Tarot symbolism, will start a real and relevant argument in the various Tarot communities.
While a number of suggested Tarot keys exist, some of them promoted by occult secret societies, who view Tarot as a central symbolic mystery and tool of their belief systems, nobody has ever convincingly explained why any one key should be thought better than another.
Indeed, since the rise of what I have called "cartofeminism", by which I mean the faux-feminist critique of Tarot's occult tradition, that began in the 1980s, the rejection of a "one true Tarot", or any absolute truths to interpreting Tarot symbolism, is the majority view of how one should learn about the cards.
That however raises another question, which asks us what about Tarot is really worth bothering to learn.
Enter the playing-card historians.
Or anyway, enter the people who are playing-card geeks, and who, instead of adopting the arrogant occultist geek-posture ("Tarot cards are for higher things than fortunetelling!"), take the opposite, but related, geekitude about the cards: "Tarot is a card game, and was stolen by occultists, who need to give it back to the gamblers, so balance can be restored to the Force."
Or something like that.
Now, that may sound perfectly ridiculous to you, and you may be wondering why any sane or insightful person should wish to waste a moment of his time studying silly people saying baseless things about playing cards.
But then how to explain Sir Michael Dummett, famous philosopher, late of the planet Earth, and consistent antagonist against what he viewed as a real social danger: yes, those very silly people saying baseless things about Tarot cards, the people and cultures we just said were not worth bothering about.
And yet Dummett spent many years of his life bothering and paying an obsessive amount of attention to them. Why? In part, it was because his posture as a playing-card historian had a secret agenda: Dummett was fighting the evils of Tarot occultism, because he viewed it as a real threat to his Catholic faith!
We shall talk a lot more about all these things, as I add more content to the site.
Tarot FAQ—For many years, starting in 1994, and operating as the daemon, Jess Karlin, I was an unofficial regulator of the Usenet group, alt.tarot, and wrote and maintained the Tarot FAQ for the group. I continued to develop that FAQ on my other Tarot websites. Whereas my original Tarot FAQ was long and on some questions reasonably comprehensive, this new FAQ is intended to be a basic introduction to the questions novices tend to ask.
Rhapsodies of the Bizarre—In 1996, the aforementioned Michael Dummett, along with his partners in crime, Ronald Decker and Thierry DePaulis, published a most infamous book about Tarot cards, called Wicked Pack of Cards. This book allegedly gave the true facts about the origin of occult Tarot, and basically concluded the whole thing was a pack of lies, cooked up by a crew of crooks, crazies and worse—bad scholars! The whole thing seemed a little histrionic to me, so I went on a five-year mission to boldly go where no writer has gone before—and there was a reason for that—to explore the real origin of occult Tarot cards. After learning a whole lot of things, I wrote a book about it, entitled Rhapsodies of the Bizarre, which is among other things a response to critique of occult Tarot offered by Michael Dummett.
Tarot Readings—Yes, I do Tarot readings, and I have done them for 36 years now. Assuming you have had Tarot readings before, my style of reading is different than what you are likely used to. I do not ask you questions. I do not seek to affirm you, or make you feel better. I read cards. And I answer your question. Of course, sometimes, I answer questions you may not have asked, or wanted to ask, as well. The cards go where they will in that respect, so be warned that in seeking an answer, you may also hear the truth. See here for a list of readings and rates.