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This blog describes my journey with the tarot. Here you can find articles, spreads, deck reviews, tarot fiction, practice readings, exercises or get readings (see tabs above).

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Freitag, 11. Januar 2013

Learning the language of Tarot

Image: The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum - this stone inscribed with basically the same text in three different scripts provided the key to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The other day it occurred to me that learning to read the tarot is a lot like learning a foreign language. Fortunately that's something I've always been good at. I started with English, Latin and later French in secondary school, learned Spanish later and am able to understand a little Dutch, Italian, Finnish and other languages. I love how they are related, how you can see parallels between languages that have common roots. I've always enjoyed that.

Also, in language learning, books will only get you so far. You can learn the basics but you need to get immersed and develop a "feeling" for the language. In English, half of the time I know something is wrong but it would take me a while to come up with an explanation as to why it is wrong. It just sounds odd. 

That is something that comes with practice and experience and I think the same goes for tarot reading. Sometimes you just "know" which aspect of a card is relevant in a particular reading. It just feels right. However, sometimes I find it hard to trust my first impulse as I'm very much in my head and have a strong inner censor (very much a swords person in that respect). 

When I started studying the tarot, I mostly relied on books. They were very useful and insightful books, especially those by the late Hajo Banzhaf, a German tarot expert who had a wonderful way of explaining things and had a very scientific, down-to-earth, no-mumbo-jumbo approach to the tarot I can very much relate to. But most of the time there was no common thread running through my readings at that time, they were a bit like patchwork quoting bits from the books about card meaning but I wasn't able to weave a story so to speak. Pretty much like when you're starting out learning a language. You manage to produce phrases, sentences, communicate the general idea but you could probably not sustain a real conversation and you lack a certain idiomatic level. It takes a lot of experience and practice to really become fluent and spontaneous. Now, after a journey of more than 20 years with the tarot I suppose I'm relatively fluent and know my idioms. But like a language, you need to keep practicing the tarot. If you don't use it regularly, you'll forget so much so quickly. (Like my French!)

These days I have a totally new language learning experience. I'm learning a language for which there are no books. It's my 21-month-old son's personal language. I can only rely on context, close observation and trial and error. It's not easy but it's fun as it feels great when you have finally worked out what he wants to express. Some words and expressions are pretty obvious of course, others take a while to work out like "kee kee" for horse (don't ask why). A while ago he started saying "ohne das" (="without that"). For example at the breakfast table..."ohne Butter" (="without butter"). So I didn't butter his bread. There were wild protests. After some time I had worked out that what sounded like "ohne" (without) was actually an odd way of pronouncing "und" (="and"). Sometimes tarot reading is like that, too. A card comes up in a context where you can make no sense of it and it takes you quite a while to work it out. Often I find that it happens when I have too firm ideas about what a card means. I need to "unlearn" parts of it and see that my first assumptions about the card were wrong, change them or add new aspects. And that is fun.

 As my understanding of the cards broadens, it becomes easier to read and more interesting at the same time. Just like using a foreign language becomes more and more enjoyable and more effortless the more practice and experience you have. 

The good news for those of you who have always hated foreign languages at school is that tarot is a lot more intuitive and has your right brain hemisphere involved much more than classic foreign language learning. Sure, you have to know your vocabulary and some "grammar", too but the imagery helps you a great deal, it's a bit like a cheat slip in a vocabulary test. It's a lot easier to understand the "grammar" and logic of this language as it works on the basis of images and pictures that we can link to experiences and events in our own lives. 

And once you're relatively fluent, it's such a useful and enjoyable tool that can enrich your life in so many ways. So it's well worth studying. 


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