The Extras

The Extras: Symbolism
By Tabitha Chamberlain

This, I hope is going to turn into a series of articles meant to help newer readers become more comfortable with what I call the extras. Allowing them to add layers to any given reading for more depth. 

Over time you will start to realize that you’re more drawn to certain aspects of these extras than others. Try them all for a bit - finding which one that draws you the most then start to truly study that particular area.

Beginning to learn to read Tarot can be overwhelming. I am personally self-taught, not having a teacher to asked questions of. I can understand and relate to this: You have 78 cards to learn, their reserve meaning, the Court which is hair-pulling frustrating alone, and I’m supposed to be adding other stuff for a “real” reading? Truly any reading that resonates with you is a real reading, added stuff or not.

You just need to be patient with yourself. My own opinion, is if someone says that they know everything about tarot they are either lying or only using one deck with one set meaning. Tarot is a life-long love and learning experience. It takes a while to get there. Once you start to link together the cards with meanings, you’re ready to start to add in the extras.

What is the extra stuff that I keep talking about? Astrology, numerology, elemental dignities, Kabbalahism, Hebrew letter, runes assignment, etc. The stuff that adds depth and more meaning to your readings. Don’t ever feel you need to do this, but it can help you. Especially if you get stuck on what a card is trying to tell you. Yes, even those of us that have been reading for years get stuck occasionally (for me it is generally the Court), most of us will try to use this extra stuff to help shake loose what the reading is trying to get across.

I’m going to start with visual cues as it’s the easiest one to do because it is what YOU see and feel. What speaks to you directly! It can simply be a feeling or a phrase that keeps repeating in your head when you first turn over the cards. 

Visual cues and symbolism are slightly different things, but they are coupled. Visual cues, as I stated already are simply what you see, hear, and feel from looking at the images on the cards. (This works well with oracles decks.) Symbolism has a strong link to actual meaning and references, like the two pillars in both the traditional Rider-Waite’s High Priestess and Hierophant cards. Or the chains in the Devil card.

All tarot decks are rich in symbolism, some decks are simply more traditional and easier to understand than others. Symbols are things that we recognize to trigger a specific meaning for us, even if we don’t realize it. The chains in the Devil? Bondage, literally being chained. Others are not always so literal or clear.

Studying symbolism for the sake of symbolism will help you when reading any deck and with dream interpretations. So a kinda handy thing to learn or at least grasp the basics with. However, we are going to start with something not quite so rigid to jump off with. 

Start with simple things. Look for patterns: is there anything that seems to form a pattern with the cards? Is there a card that starts at a point and seems to telescope out into a cone shape? This may be suggestion that things are growing or being projected out into the world? What about repeating shapes in the readings? What color dominates the readings? What does this color bring to mind for you? Are there themes that keep showing up within the reading?

These are going to be things that are meaningful to you. Someone else may look at the same reading seeing something entirely different. No, this doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. Our own experiences just give us each our own different views. Play off of these differences, it helps expands your thinking.

This extra removes pressure of knowing the meaning with by letting you feel the images and their meaning. This is how intuitive readings also start to develop. Knowing the basic meaning will give you a reading, letting the cards speak to you in their own manner will give you an opportunity to link that reading into a much more meaningful experience both for yourself and those you’re reading for.

Here are two different decks using the same control question to give you some ideas of what to look for when you start to add this layer into your own readings and because I realize not everyone has the same fondness for the Thoth as I do.  

I am presently working two jobs:  one is a part time job that I'm okay with. My full time job I struggle with most of the time for a lot of different reasons. My question: 
What do I need to know about my full time job over the next month?  



1    14 ART- The art of balancing,blending, melding together both physical and mental aspects. Marrying together the elements at hand to bring together a solid foundation. Experienced knowledge coming together as a whole.   

2    0 FOOL- Putting myself out there, willing to start over at the beginning. Learning something new. A readiness to let go of my ideals.  

3    5 of SWORDS (Defeat)- Struggling and disappointment. Stress causing me to feel clipped away or broken in some ways. A need to turn inward to keep myself safe from this stress.    

Now just step back and look at this reading, is there anything that jumps out at you? Anything that seems to be suggestion something other than what the cards are saying?     

For me, the first thing I noticed is the pairing and similarities of the first two cards. Keep in mind I'm looking just for things that jump out at me. Not things we know are representative of actual symbolism. (IE: the Griffin or Phoenix of the Art or the Dog and Runes of the Fool). Look for subtle things. This is what I got, you're most likely to get something else entirely different.     

Art/Fool cards:  Repeating circles:  repetitiveness, going in circles. Being closed off as both figures are within the circle as if trapped. The Art's hands are within the circle focus on within. The Fools are without trying to escape it. 

Yellow:  Determination. Fiery, gain.

Green:  Fresh and new growth. A healthy amount of new thought. 

Five of Swords:  Lines in background:  This is suggesting noise or chaos.   

Swords themselves:  Look at them closely, do you see how the base one is chipped and broken? The whole structure is balanced on this one sword. It's suggesting that I need to reinforce this sword. To make sure that I don't snap or brake under the pressure.   



Case Study Fey 001

 3 of SWORDS- Heartbreak, struggle, feeling branded or trapped.   

2    2 of CHALICES- Finding love and joy. Finding a place that I feel comfortable and welcomed.   

3    5 of SWORDS- Strong grounding that keeps me from moving forward.     

Now at first glance you'll see there is truly nothing that is linking the three individual cards together, unlike the Thoth. So we have to look at each individual card to see if there is something that we need to see:   

3 of Swords:  Ripples in the water:  troubled. ups and downs. wishy washy thinking. Sword on chest:  feeling as if being marked. being stigmatized or ostracized.    

2 of Chalices:  Rocks:  finding solid ground after floating or bouncing around too long. Shared cup:  being offered a lifeline.     

5 of Swords:  Big single sword:  arrogance, using force to get what I want. Stardust:  wish moving towards the future. things looking hopeful (or wishful) in the future.  


I did these two readings, 3 days apart and they basically get to the same point (even with the same end card). If you noticed though most of the similarities come more from the symbols and visual cues than traditional meanings. 


Happy Reading!!! 

Images from The Thoth by Aleister Crowley, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Images from
The Fey Tarot, by Riccardo Minetti and Mara Aghem, published by Lo 

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