30 Days of Tarot — Day 15: How much emphasis do you put on the text-book meanings for cards, and how much stress do you place on the “feeling” you get from cards through their artwork/symbolism/etc. (aka reading intuitively)? Do you do both, or one or the other?
When I first started taking tarot seriously, I thought the textbook meanings were immutable and without error. After all, tarot as cartomancy has been around a few hundred years. Surely what was frivolous, errant, and contrary has been beaten out of it by now. Right?
I was a very stringent “Waite knows all the things!” person. Until I delved into why Crowley made the changes he did and the methods by which he and Lady Harris came to the designs of the Thoth. I mistook novelty decks as “RWS in drag” and ignored the accompanying “novelty” meanings until I encountered the pagan and neowiccan decks. Their reinterpretations of very Christian cards such as the Hierophant and Last Judgement confronted me with my own biases. Further conversations with friends about tarot decks and personal symbolism finally opened my eyes to just how not-concrete the business of tarot reading is. Each deck creator (and reader) has their own set of meanings to apply to their cards. It may be just a rewording of Waite, it may be something connected to the current tarot celebrities, or it may be the creator’s own personal understanding placed in black and white.
For a good while I used a derivation of Waite’s meanings for all my tarot decks except for the Thoth. After realizing the wealth I was ignoring, I started using the deck creator’s meanings with the proper deck. The Bosch’s visual creepiness now made perfect sense and was no longer out of place. The Fey Tarot was no longer sugarcoated frivolousness but a very serious deck that spoke gently. Each deck now read differently from each other, so much so that instead of being interchangeable between Querents and queries, they now had relative strengths and weaknesses for different categories of queries.
Taking the included meanings seriously also allowed me to take the artwork seriously. My five non-Thoth decks are no longer “RWS in drag”, but independent works. Ms. Smith’s Death is conquering and unrelenting. Ciro Marchetti’s Death is unemotional but not cruel. Atanassov’s Death is matter of fact and final. Lee Bradford’s Death is very emotional and openly grieving. Mara Aghem’s Death is gentle and somber as she brings a game to an end. They are all Death, but all different expressions of Death. And that shift in visual adjectives and adverbs influences the interpretation that I give to the Querent.
As far as which has priority, the text or the art, that depends on the Querent, the query, and which cards hit the table. I would say on average it is a 80/20 split between text and art. Sometimes something on the card will strike me as more important than what the book says, and sometimes the book overrides the contrary meaning of the art. It’s not a hard rule. Though, to finally answer the question, I would say the textbook meanings form the frame of the answer, and the artwork inspires what is draped over that frame to embellish it.