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Learning Tarot: Minor Arcana and Pips Memorization, Astrological Associations

Standard Disclaimers- whenever I write things like this, it’s both for myself and for the reader. I sometimes get a little over-technical and it’s something I am working on, so, writing things for absolute beginners helps me reign that shit in. Oh and Momma got a potty mouth and a weird sense of humor- so, no harm no foul if this bothers you.

So, two of the most frequent questions I get regarding tarot involve memorization techniques and oddly enough: astrological correspondences and symbolism as it relates to Thelema. I think if you’ve been reading me for a while, you’re pretty clear: Thelema is not my thing.

What is Thelema?


Aleister Crowley developed Thelema sometimes in the wee parts of the 1900s, the primary ethical code being “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” Thelema is actually a transliteration of a Koine Greek noun which simply means “to will” or “want or purpose”. The overall gist of the system would incorporate quite a wide array of different things from both Eastern and Western mysticism.

The reason many people connect Thelema with Tarot is, well, whatever your opinion of Crowley may be, there is absolutely no denying that he had a tremendous impact on the divinatory form. Use of tarot for divination is actually one of the big things in The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It would be for this reason that Crowley would team up with Lady Frieda Harris to come up with the Thoth Tarot.

Crowley believed that he was a prophet- heralding in a new age known as the Aeon of Horus. The story goes that he and his wife had an intense spiritual experience in Egypt which was what inspired him to write the original Book of Law. That would become the basis for Thelema, which if you read the Book of Law its three speakers are Hadit, Nuit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Though Crowley would later state that his use of those particular deities was a literary convenience, if you’re not familiar with Thelema, this may help you to better understand why the Thoth Tarot incorporates quite a few of the things that it does.

The Liber Q…or T? Or…

Believing that the Qabalistic interpretation of the tarot had been lost, or at least moved away from and forgotten or even hidden and taken underground- and recognizing certain parallels within Tarot, one of the founders of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn began to work on that principal. Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers felt that he had an accurate attribution list. He felt that their Qabalistic correspondences were fixed and that there were a fairly complicated amount of astrological correspondences. There’s something of a debate on that front- but, it is generally believed that Mathers created the astrological correspondences based on his research.

This is actually one of the reasons why I tell people: when you come up with something that works, that’s the validation you need. Because, frankly, I agree with the Thelemites on this one: if that’s true, it IS pretty genius. Someone has to come up with the traditions, at some point, right?

Anyway, rather than write out every single piece of symbolism you’ll find, I thought I’d just link to the text here. You can find it via Thelema.org by clicking on this link.

You don’t have to be a Thelemite to find this remarkably useful and as you read- you’ll probably see you’ve already been working with quite a bit of it, anyway. How’s that for some Ruby Slippers, Dot?

giphy

How To Memorize Pip Cards, Minor Arcana AND Reversals

Of course, this works fantastically for the Major Arcana, but, the cards people tend to come to me with the most trouble are the Pips- or, well, the Minor Arcana.

The reason I put it this way is that many of those things you see in the Rider Waite/Colman Smith decks are actually inspired by the Marseille Tarot. There are many, many beautiful Marseille decks out there- and there are some differences, sure: but, if you’re into tarot at all, you cannot tell me that you or someone you know has been tempted by a Marseille deck, yet, intimidated by those pips.

The thing of it is, pips are easy. So’s the Minor Arcana. The key, though, is in finding methods of memorization and understanding that work for you. I have dyscalculia- and a hell of a time with numbers, particularly, mental math. (Which is pretty damn ironic when you think about it.) Though I had been in gifted classes- man, numbers just killed me. Right up until my third grade teacher started using these records: and they were the multiplication tables set to music. To this day, I will often sing those songs in my head when I need to. It’s things like that, which stick with you.

The thing about the pips is really a fascinating backstory- and it’s way too long for me to include here: but, in the 1930s, Paul Marteau, a cardmaker would really bring the use of a number and design system to the front of things. Before this, in cartomancy, you would see mostly only major arcana meanings. Even today, a lot of Marseille readers go with the Majors Only system and there’s nothing wrong with that- but, Le Tarot De Marseille outlines the meanings behind those pips.

Though I am talking about both pips and Minor Arcana: these two decks aren’t the same. The thing is, the problem in getting your head around those, well, it is. Take your time, don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t hate on yourself for needing to revisit your notes or flash cards. Being patient with yourself is important.

A Quick Note on Reversals

There is one question I get more than any other about reading with Marseille and that’s “How in the heck do you tell if it’s reversed?!” Of course, if you don’t read reversals, this isn’t a problem. But, if you do: things get a bit weird here. Of course, some decks are designed to make this easier- but most of them are not. Additionally, some say, go with what you feel. Which is fine, unless you’re working for yourself in which case, you may be a little prone to some bias. SOMETIMES…the position within the reading will alert you to whether or not it should be a reversal- but not always. Still, that’s an important thing to pay attention to and if you’re keeping it simple: will answer your question for you right there.

First of all, the Swords suit. Which way is what? Where there is a crown in the Ace, it’s pretty easy- but when there’s not…not so much.

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Le Tarot Noir

The Batons simply don’t reverse, visually. Some will use a copyright stamp, but that’s also not always reliable. Personally, with the Swords- I just think about what position the sword is, when it’s at the ready. That’d be upright. A downward pointing sword’s at rest, so, there you go.

Ultimately, the thing with the Marseilles is this: unlearn what you’ve already learned about Tarot. You come up with your own way of doing things, in this instance and quite a few others. I VERY rarely advise that, but, with Marseilles: it’s definitely the way to go.

giphy (1)
Stop over-complicating it.

Back to Mnemonics

So, remember the ABC song? I bet you do. This is mnemonics, and, the multiplication table songs my teacher used back in the 3rd grade were, too.

Of course, musical tastes will vary. That’s a big ol’ given. However, you might also consider that using songs you actually enjoy may not be the way to go here. Ever get one of those earworm jingles caught in your head? Whenever I need to memorize a new system of pretty much anything: I will use a combination of both songs I like and songs I do not like, for this very reason. This works particularly well if you want to learn Minor Arcana or Pips and you also want to learn reversals. Now, personally: I learned the reversals with the uprights. Not everyone works that way- but, for me, it established those meanings pretty easily.

Think about the basic keywords for each card, and associate a song with them. With pips, it’s a bit more difficult, I think, because you don’t tend to have a visual- at least, you may not THINK you do. If you allow yourself to see a visual where you think there isn’t one: I bet you will. Maybe that’s just my tendency for pulling images from abstracts, but look at the pips in a similar fashion to a Rorschach blot. That may help you, it may not.

So, let’s try this with…The Six of Swords- first, we’ll use a Rider Waite knock off here. This is the Hanson Roberts deck- by Mary Hanson Roberts.

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Oh, look. Even when there isn’t a cat in my photo, there IS cat hair.

(Victoria, do not make a “man in the boat” dirty joke, do no- you did it. Dammit, Victoria, you went there. Why? Because, baby: I will always go for the man in the boat- which isn’t just me being a pervert- it’s also one way of remembering because…well, one hell of a tension reliever is..yep.)

So- upright, this can mean you’re a bit bummed out. It can also mean you’re recovering from something, or you ought to be. In a practical, no deeper meaning sense, it can also indicate travel- for obvious reasons. Dude’s in a boat, going somewhere. This one’s an easy call because the visual is very clear and it’s typically a very mellow scene.

So, for me- were I learning, I would want to opt for a mellow tune, maybe something a little depressing or restful: cue up some damn shoegaze, right? Careful, though: are you lyrically inclined? I am. The first thing I hear in a song, are the lyrics. My primary partner on the other hand is more of a “mood” type. As you assign your associations take this into account. For me, the Six of Swords upright is going to be:

“Wandering Star”

Please could you stay awhile to share my grief
For it’s such a lovely day
To have to always feel this way
And the time that I will suffer less
Is when I never have to wake

Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever
Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever

… Those who have seen the needles eye, now tread
Like a husk, from which all that was, now has fled
And the masks, that the monsters wear
To feed, upon their prey

Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever
Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever

(always) doubled up inside
Take awhile to shed my grief
(always) doubled up inside
Taunted, cruel…. …

Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever
Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved
The blackness of darkness forever

Granted, some of you may see the “depressed” in this, whereas, frankly, yeah, I do, a little. But, it’s more than that because of the way my head works- so, consider this when you’re forming associations. To me, the title, the lyrics, and the mood are important in that order- so, to me, this hits all the meanings rather neatly. (This is also a song on my “relaxing bath” playlist- so, you get it.)

What about when it’s reversed?

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Going back to the pervert trip: what happens when somebody neglects the man in the boat? And what kinda person does that? See? Plus, oh man, all that dude’s swords fell out of the boat. That just sucks.

The Six of Swords reversed is a little more complicated- but, not really. Okay, so we consider keywords: being sort of delayed, stopped or blocked is a fairly “Well, shit” definition, but, another interpretation is something in its infancy, or early stages- which is hopeful. It can also mean something really not right- inappropriate or even something just kinda shallow.

That’s quite a bit to tuck into a song, isn’t it? Except, it kind of isn’t. When you get delayed or stopped- what happens? A new beginning, usually. Doors closing, opening or some cliche, right? So, it’s fairly simple to parse the whole “Maybe it’s something just getting started or something that’s stuck or blocked”. But what about something inappropriate or shallow?

Again, this one is entirely up to you in terms of how you bridge it but you know what I would do? Opt for a song that is about an ending, a new beginning or, something along those lines but is otherwise raunch monster or kinda vapid.

Now- before you get offended, remember where we’re going with this: but also think about this one- what are the things that get you thinking the most, once you get past being pissed about it? Mmmhmm. That said: uh, content warning on the title, theme, suicidal ideation. If you’re not keen on going there- the song is, well, all jokes about why someone should kill themselves. So, point being: holy SHIT is that inappropriate, and likely, listening to somebody like this is ill advised. Who’s more blocked up than somebody who says this kinda shit to people? I mean, there are other ways you could take it- but, that’s where I go with it. Beyond that: the 6 does tend to be a bit lighter than say the Tower or the actual Death card, so, the poppy weird music reminds me that this is a temporary thing or a stall out that probably needed to happen.

God knows anybody who’s gonna say this kinda shit to someone needs some introspection, right?


I won’t even go into my god awful sense of humor, but, you can do that, too, if it helps. I won’t post the lyrics: but you get the idea.

Reversing the Method

Sometimes, to further solidify this in your mind- it helps to reverse the method and as you’re listening to music: assign it a card. Let’s try it with this one- and we’ll stay in the swords suit for this. 

There is no right answer or wrong answer here, really: save, think about the Swords suit. Now, consider the meanings both upright and reversed.

“Judas”

I’m in love with Judas, Judas
I’m in love with Judas, Judas

[2x]
Judas! Judas! Judas! Judas!
Judas! Judas! Judas! Gaga

When he calls to me I am ready
I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times he betrays me

I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

I’m in love with Judas, Judas
I’m in love with Judas, Judas

Judas! Judas! Judas! Judas!
Judas! Judas! Judas! Gaga

I couldn’t love a man so purely
Even prophets forgave his crooked way
I’ve learned love is like a brick you can
Build a house or sink a dead body

I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

I’m in love with Judas, Judas
I’m in love with Judas, Judas

In the most Biblical sense
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas, kiss me if offenced,
Or wear a condom next time

I wanna love you,
But something’s pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue,
And Judas is the demon I cling to
I cling to

I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
I’m just a Holy Fool, oh, baby, it’s so cruel
But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

I’m in love with Judas, Judas
I’m in love with Judas, Judas

Judas! Judas! Judas! Judas
Judas! Judas! Judas! Gaga

What card does this bring to mind and why?

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