At the time of their creation, long before they took on the role of a powerful, popular tool for divination and contact, tarot cards held a much different meaning in comparison to now. They were the rich man’s playing cards and were custom designed for families holding great wealth, with the means of hiring a painter to adorn cards with the likes of loved ones and friends (Wigington). The trump cards, known as the Major Arcana in regards to their development into a divination practice, were designed to reflect portraits of the buyer’s choosing. Tarot’s ancestry can be traced far back to the late 1300’s, and utilized similar suits to what we can find on modern tarot cards (Wigington).
Each deck consists of the Minor and Major Arcana, the Minor holding 56 cards of four suits, typically being wands, pentacles, cups and swords, or something related. In addition, the Major Arcana boasts 22 individual cards, making up a total of 78 cards per deck. With these general guidelines for structure, artists take up the opportunity to infuse their own personal style and artistic tastes into each deck produced, creating a unique divination tool that holds the potential to resonate with various groups of people. Within this chapter, we will take a closer look at one of these cards, pulled from the Ethereal Visions deck by Matt Hughes. Together, we can learn to dig a little deeper into the symbolism and worlds that lie within the art.
Upon initial glance at The Hermit, we see a ghastly figure, old in age and draped in an illuminated white robe. His beard is long, and he carries both a shining lantern and a wooden staff. Behind him, we see a vast darkness, growing deeper as it moves further away from the lantern. A border of leafy green flora surrounds him, and as we begin to look near the bottom of the card, we see a single skull. What do these images invoke upon first glance? What is the artist trying to convey by piecing them together? The Hermit, a Major Arcana card, is an exciting one to look a bit closer at and analyze, as there is so much to absorb.
The style and images that each artist utilizes works to narrate a deeper meaning, one that is tough to pick up on when you first view it. An interesting thing about tarot is that meaning can be flipped on its head, quite literally, when a card jumps from the deck that is reversed. Upright, The Hermit represents soul-searching, independence and the benefits of trusting your inner voice. Reversed, he tells a different story, one that reflects loneliness, and warns that you are not paying enough mind or attention to your inner, most personal self, thoughts, and feelings. Though it takes practice, with a fine-tuned intuition it is possible to reach these meanings through tarot without an expansive knowledge on the meanings behind each card. Take a moment to research a deck, and immerse yourself in the symbols and figures that make them up. How do they make you feel? What thoughts and emotions are raised upon first glance? What themes are recurring? Tarot is a beneficial tool in receiving messages and insight from the universe and your higher self, and is easily accessible when you take the time to look deeper within both yourself and the deck that calls to you.
Garcia, Julia. “TheHermit.” 2 February, 2022. Private collection.
Wigington, Patti. “Where Did Tarot Cards Come from?” Learn Religions, 6 June 2018, www.learnreligions.com/a-brief-history-of-tarot-2562770. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.