While the Tarot is a well defined method of divination, not all decks speak the exact same way. I’ve noticed that with one of my decks the Wands cards consistently keep coming up in readings with contexts around ‘work,’ while with a different deck’s Wands come up in ‘relationship’ contexts. So when doing readings with the first deck I know that the Wands have to do with Work, and with the other, relationships. Having spoken to fellow readers about this idea it seems this isn’t an uncommon occurrence and many of my fellow Tarotists have different frameworks of interpretation for each deck in their arsenal. I also find that readers, experienced or newb, need time with a new deck until they get a handle on it’s particular ‘accent,’ and I want to share an idea for a technique for ‘breaking in’ a new deck and it’s particular meanings and interpretations. Hopefully this will be useful for both experienced tarot readers as well as newcomers to the art.
Nearly all decks come with a book describing the iconography and meanings of the cards. This can vary from massive and gorgeous tomes of artwork and references and background information, to the (in-)famous ‘Little White Book,’ which is tiny, cheap and often more difficult to read than the cards themselves. While I personally find having the “LWB” to understand what the creator may have intended with their cards initially useful at first, I also find the cards and I develop our own meanings often far afield from the original intent. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You shouldn’t feel restricted to the original intent of the creator. Once you buy that deck, it’s yours and your relationship with that deck is more important than authorial intent.
So how do you go about learning a given deck’s ‘dialect’? By spending time with it, of course. Immersion is good for learning languages and the subtleties of a new tarot or oracle deck. Doing single card readings every day for yourself is a great practice. I first learned all the cards meanings and how to explain them to others by performing single-card readings to passerby’s to our tarot booth. For the newcomer, it’s a great way to drill the meanings of the cards and practice your delivery. It also lets you focus on one card at a time, discover it’s intricacies and note when and how it comes up. The context when a certain card shows up has a lot to do with what that card’s trying to tell you as well and should be noted.
I’m a visual and rote learner; I remember better when I see things (as opposed to hearing them) and when i write things down. Thus, I recommend making your own Little White Books for your new decks. Acquire (or make!) yourself a small journal and keep it with your new deck. When you discover a new meaning or association for a given card, write it down in that LWB!
What kind of journal should you use?
Well that’s entirely up to you but here are my suggestions: Nothing too big. A5 to A6 size on the ISO scale, 5×8” or smaller for American scales. (See HERE for a breakdown of paper sizes.)
An A6 or 3.5” x 5.5” should be able to fit in the same bag as most tarot decks. You’ll want 48 to 80 pages or so. Designate the first couple pages as an Index then set aside a half-page to a full page for each card in the deck (78 cards, at half a page each is 39 pages. Plus a couple of Index pages and some spares means a 48 page ‘field notebook’ should do you fine.)
Here are some Amazon links to similar journals to what I’ve used:
A 6-pack of A6 line ruled 30 sheet journals.
A pack of basic A5 60 page journals.
Some 3.5×5.5” Field Notebooks.Same as above, but in bright colors.
Now you don’t have to write out long expository delves into each cards meaning. Go make an online blog for that! Instead your LWB should focus on the keywords that come to mind when viewing the card as well as contextual notes about when and how it comes up in your readings. The very act of writing these down helps reinforce their meaning in your memory. Later, when you draw that card again and you reference your LWB journal, you’ll see the contexts and correspondences that have come up with the card previously, further reinforcing what that card means for you. Feel free to add new ones or modify old ones as needed. Your LWB should be a ‘living’ document: constantly changing and updating with experience.