Group Behavior: A Tool for Learning and Teaching Tarot
I am happy to be teaching a rare, live and in-person tarot class series at Dream Angels coming up in May. It’s an advanced class, and I will be assisted by my good friend and colleague, Mary Ellen Collins.
For the first class of four, which will be held on May 11, our topic will be the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana.
When I used to teach beginner classes I would always cover the Majors in the first class, and the Minors in the second. Even now, working with one-on-one tarot mentoring, I like to start with the Majors.
I once had a respected teacher who advocated starting with the Minors instead. He reasoned that he could cover forty cards (four suits Ace through Ten) and give the students a handle on more than half the deck in the first class.
I understand that strategy, but I am not interested in teaching anyone to “learn tarot fast”. There are plenty of popular teachers who claim to do exactly that. I’ve worked with some of their students, however, and find evidence that it is possible to study tarot fast and shallow, or slow and deep, but not both.
So, what will Mary Ellen and I do with the Major Arcana, two hours and a room full of students who already have a basic concept of the cards?
First, we’ll discuss the differences between the Major and Minor cards. I bristle against the common wisdom that suggests that Major and Minor cards behave differently on the tarot table.
I’ve heard teachers and students alike suggest that Major cards always speak of spiritual things, while Minor cards speak only of the mundane.
I’ve heard people say that Major cards always refer to the things you can’t change, and Minor cards refer to the things over which we can have influence.
One of the things I strive to teach is that the cards speak to each of us in the way we can hear them. I don’t doubt that some people, at some times, may experience the Majors and Minors in the ways described above. However, I find any general rule that limits the voices of the cards didactic and unhelpful. Let’s not make our tarot journey more arduous by intentionally closing our minds to any way the cards could possibly speak, or any subject they might tackle.
How, then, can we teach the concept of “Greater Secrets” versus “Lesser Secrets”, or Majors versus Minors?
For me, the concept of greater and lesser secrets becomes relevant when we talk about the lessons and archetypes of tarot, rather than its interpretations.
One mistake I think many tarotists make is to see tarot only as a tool of divination, or a fortune-telling device.
Ironically, when we neglect to study tarot as a book of spiritual lessons, archetypes, meditation and magick, we limit our ability to interpret the cards in the process of divining wisdom.
When I teach the Major Arcana, I ask that my students consider the life lessons, or “path lessons” that we learn from each card.
Just like memorizing Bible verses in Sunday School, there is value in simply studying a card to embrace its lesson.
I think the twenty-two greater secrets are in fact the lessons of each of those cards, rather than their divinatory meanings.
The Minor Arcana cards teach lessons as well. The is, however, something unique, greater and “major” about the archetypal journey of the Fool, and the lessons, characters and experiences he encounters in the twenty-one numbered Major cards. The story these cards tell very clearly gives us an allegory for life on planet Earth that is just as pertinent now as it was when the cards were first designed five hundred years ago, or when Eden Gray first coined the term “The Fool’s Journey” almost fifty years ago.
Most tarot students have a basic idea of the journey of the Fool. In this class, I will teach that they must understand themselves each as the Fool, and the twenty-one numbered cards as the lessons they have learned, are learning, and need to learn in life.
If you’ve read my book “Tarot Tour Guide” (new edition will be available this autumn), then you know that I see the Fool’s Journey through the twenty-one numbered cards as divided into three sections. I see the first section of seven cards, Magician through Chariot, as the lessons of the material world. That is, things we must learn to live well on the planet.
I see the second section, Chariot through Temperance, as the lessons of emotional balance. That is, what we must learn to find inner peace and emotional wellbeing.
I see the final section, Devil through World, as the lessons that lead us to our spiritual enlightenment.
When the individual cards appear in a spread, those lessons may or may not be pertinent in that particular reading. Major Arcana cards have key words and interpretations that do not necessarily reflect their lessons in every context.
In the process of divination, any card might deliver any message, spiritual, mundane or both. But the twenty-two Major cards are “Greater Secrets” because, in twenty-two short lessons, they teach us everything we need to know about life.
While we often talk about the elemental associations of the suits of the Minor Arcana, we often don’t think about the elemental associations of each Major Arcana card. Adding that elemental and astrological perspective is another way to give us a deeper understanding of the Majors.
When we understand the Fool as Uranian Air and the Magician as Mecurian Air, we see the subtle similarities and difference between those two cards which both speak of beginning and initiation.
When we understand the Lovers and the Star as Air, we find new options for ways we might interpret these cards in readings. When we understand the Chariot as water, we find a level of compassion in the Hero that we might not have seen before. When we see the Hierophant as Earth we see the paradox of his limitations more clearly. When we see the Emperor as Fire, we understand his ability to wage war.
I’ve discussed two ways of grouping the Majors together to increase our understanding of them; by element, and chronologically broken into three sets of seven. There are an infinite number of ways to group Major Arcana cards with each other, and we learn new things each time we do.
You may try grouping your Majors by symbols, color, attire or similarities and differences. You’ll notice that you find new depth in cards as you assign them to different groups.
When you create a group of cards, consider what the cards have in common, and how they differ. How the unifying energy of the group expressed in each individual card? What determines the differences between the cards?
For example, when I group the Hermit with the Hierophant and the Magician, I see education. Perhaps the Magician is the bachelor’s degree; the Hierophant is the master’s degree, and the Hermit is the doctoral degree.
When I take the Hermit and group it with the High Priestess and the Moon, I see our eternal quest for spiritual wisdom and psychic knowledge.
When I group the Hermit with the High Priestess and the Hierophant, I see the clergy of the tarot.
When we consider small groupings of tarot cards, we find many aspects of each card’s personality. Then, if we ever see that particular group of cards appear together in a single spread, we may receive additional insight by interpreting the group, as well as interpreting the individual cards.
I think that Major Arcana cards reveal information about themselves when we put them in small groups, just as people do. You learn a lot about a person when you know the people they associate with, the clubs they belong to, and the places they frequent. When we are with different groups of people, or in different environments, we may act in different ways specific to the goal of the group. The same is true for tarot cards!
Once we have tarot cards arranged in small groups, the logical exercise is to pull one card at random from each group to create a tarot reading that gives information about the department of life to which the group is related.
When I teach tarot, I have neither intention nor ability to teach another person to read the way I read. Tarot is an intensely personal thing. The cards speak to each of us in unique ways. My job as a teacher is simply to create the environment in which students can begin to understand how the cards speak to them.
For the first class in this series at Dream Angels, one of my primary teaching tools will be grouping the Major Arcana to see what we can learn about the individual cards.
If you would like to attend the class at Dream Angels, please call Angela at (561) 745-9355. If you would like to study privately with me, or are interested in other tarot learning opportunities with me, please call or text me at 561-655-1160, or send me an email.