Probably the first choice you make when you start to read Tarot for yourself is what system of Tarot you want to work with. Most people don’t even realize that they have a choice. The Rider Waite Smith is by far the most popular system of Tarot and has been since its creation in the early C20th. But there are other options, which we will explore in this blog. It is important to note that the system you usually coincides with a specific deck, but not always.
The following is a very brief introduction to each system’s history and characteristics. Hopefully, this helps you with your decision of what system may be best for you.
Golden Dawn System
The Golden Dawn system of Tarot was developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late C19th and early C20th. In the interest of keeping this blog brief I would simply describe these systems as being esoteric and psycho-spiritual in nature. The Order came into being at the same time that psychology was starting out as a profession. The Order founders were contemporaries of people like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The systems that came out of the Order as very influenced by psychology and take a Humanist approach. The esoteric origins of the Order connects its systems to other occult practices namely Astrology and Kabbalah. So learning these systems well requires a commitment to learning at least the basics of astrology and Kabbalah. The Order created its own deck which is not very well known. It’s frankly not very pretty but is a good learning tool. The other systems that fall under the Golden Dawn are Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot and the Thoth Tarot. As mentioned the RWS deck is by far the most popular deck and system. When most people think of Tarot they think of the iconic images from this deck. It was created by Arthur Waite and artist Pamela Coleman Smith both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The second system is the Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley and artist Lady Frieda Harris. Crowley was a controversial member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Both Waite and Crowley take their own spin of the Order of the Golden Dawn’s system. Crowley’s system is based on his spiritual philosophy and religious movement called Thelema. There is a very popular belief that these two systems are very different, but since they are both based in the Golden Dawn system I personally feel once you learn one you can easily pick up the other. Most people start by learning the RWS system, since it is so popular most resources on learning Tarot are related to RWS system.
The Continental systems are based in cartomancy practices that go back well before the Golden Dawn. The predecessors of the Golden Dawn who were Occultists of the C18th and C19th took some inspirations from the cartomancy traditions of continental Europe, blending them with occult beliefs with practices like astrology and Kabbalah. These Occultists inspired the Golden Dawn system so therefore the Golden Dawn system has a foundation in the older continental systems. The Tarot de Marseille is an example of a deck that predates the occult esoteric systems that culminated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn system. The Marseille system and other older systems are very similar to traditional fortune-telling and cartomancy practices which lean heavily on numerology and medieval Christian theology and and to some extent neo-platonic philosophy. The system used to read these continental decks is, therefore, similar to reading with playing cards (i.e., traditional cartomancy). There are some other fortune-telling systems like Lenormand, Kipper, and Sibilla that also incorporate playing card divination but are systems of their own. In the continental systems there is more of a focus on predictive readings and third party inquiries (getting a reading to understand what someone else is thinking). The continental tarot systems take a more pragmatic approach to reading the cards and offers answers to real life situations. These systems are not the best for spiritual or psychological inquiries.
One could successfully argue that any approach to reading Tarot is a psychic or intuitive approach. Well I agree with that it is important to note that some people choose not to study any traditional system of Tarot and prefer to read the cards purely based on their own intuition and psychic abilities. I think this is really a more modern New Age approach to divination and card reading. This system tends to lean in the direction of offering spiritual answers, but of all the system it most depends on the reader as there is no tradition underlying their interpretations. This can be just as successful as studying traditional systems. However, I do feel that studying at least one traditional approach before trying to read intuitively is a wise choice, but that is just me. Ultimately, it really depends on the person and their natural psychic abilities. Intuitive readers often have no problem using RWS, Thoth or Tarot de Marseille, oracle decks, non-traditional Tarot decks and hybrid decks that are a mixture of more than one systems (for example there are decks I would describe as oracle/tarot blends).
Choosing Your System…
I really think that the best reader’s have some grounding in one or more traditional systems. Ideally, one would explore all these systems to find the one that is a best fit for you. Your personal style of reading may end up blending more than one system. My preference is to be able to read RWS deck in the RWS system and the continental decks using their system. I find it challenging to read RWS decks with a continental approach and vice-versa. I think to make the most of a deck you need a basic understanding of the system it was created for. I recommend selecting the system that resonates the most with you and learning it well, then branch out to learn other systems. Once you get a basic grounding in all of them you will find your own reading style. Your style may simply be sticking to one system that you like the most or blending approaches. Learning multiple systems is like learning the different dialogues of one language. Also, knowing more than one system allows you to use the system that will best address the question that is presented. If someone is looking for spiritual guidance and you may feel that the Golden Dawn approach is the best for that particular reading. That being said I do believe any one system can address all questions presented. But each system has areas of strength and weakness. Of course the reader plays just as critical a role in the reading as the system. This allows you to be able to pick up any deck and read with it no matter the system.
What system appeals the most to you? Do you want to learn more than one? I offer professional readings with both RWS and continental cartomancy style decks. If you are interested in getting a reading in a one of these systems book a reading with me today!