The Fool’s Journey: Interpreting Symbolism in Tarot and in Life

Image courtesy of Jenn Theodore on Unsplash

Have you ever cracked open a book on interpreting your dreams and been dismayed to find that you disagree with almost every interpretation written? For example, crows might be your favorite bird that’s been significant at several points in your life, but the average crow entry in a dream symbolism book is…disparaging, to put it mildly. This is because like our language, symbols and their interpretation have evolved throughout the years. Using old methods of interpreting your dreams can make about as much sense as trying to use a cookbook written in olde English. In many ways, this can apply to tarot cards (and life) as well.

Think of the last time you bought a pack of tarot cards. Chances are good that you also received a little book with it that went over the most common meanings of the cards, especially if you picked up a deck based on the Rider-Waite tarot. These booklets are supposed to be guides to help you feel comfortable when using the tarot, but for many of us, we get too hung up on what the cards are “supposed to mean” and don’t stop to think about what they mean for us as individuals. This can be especially true if you veer away from “universal” symbols like hearts and flowers and pick up more obscure tarot decks with fiery swans, flayed men, or storms over oak groves. But even in these cases, the book is not necessary for you to make use of the deck. Rather, it is the time you spend getting to know the deck and becoming familiar with the symbols it employs that will serve you better in the end. After all, the tarot deck is just telling you a series of stories, and it is up to you to interpret those stories and apply them to a given situation.

So, is one deck better than another at helping you interpret things? The more symbols a tarot card has on it, the easier it will be for the practitioner to divine a meaning. It is certainly possible to divine the future with a simple, minimalistic card, just as it’s possible to do so without any cards at all. But the cards exist as a focus for yourself and spirits with which to communicate, providing a language accessible to you both. The symbol itself is not important, and by extension, neither is the card. What matters are the symbols you notice and the meanings you ascribe to them.

Symbols are the language the spirits and gods use to communicate with us. Like any language, they can be misunderstood or deliberately twisted to fit the narrative you want, which is why learning discernment and keeping a journal in which you record your observations are invaluable to deepening your interactions with the unseen world.

Consider setting aside a notebook to be your own, personal book of symbols. You can make it freeform, jotting down your associations with things as they come to you, or you can alphabetize it for easy reference. You might even start off with a Word doc in order to make the process more efficient. Write down a host of what you think are some of the most important symbols in your life (favorite animals, colors, even songs or scents) and then do a stream-of-consciousness write out of what comes into your head when you think of that symbol. Rather than consulting dream journals, omen websites, or tarot books when you come across them, then, you’ll be able to refer back to this book for a more personalized look and what’s being conveyed to you.

[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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