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The Portal Tarot

New to Tarot in general, or The Portal Tarot in particular? Read on!

Looking for a guide to learning and using The Portal Tarot? Follow this link!

The Portal Tarot Tuckbox, front and back, and cards!

The Portal Tarot Tuckbox, front and back, and cards!

What is a Tarot Deck?

Originally--and still, in much of the world--the Tarot deck is just a different deck of playing cards. Compared to the more common 52-card poker deck, these Tarot (or Tarocco, or Tarock, or many other names, depending on the origin) decks usually have more cards, including an additional suit of named cards, but themselves vary widely in exact contents. They have existed as gaming cards for hundreds of years, since at least the 15th century.

However, in about the 18th century, some people began using them for divination. The 78-card Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck (named after the publisher, the designer, and the artist) 10-year-old-me found on a dusty shelf in my dad’s office came with a tiny booklet that tried to explain, in brief, the concepts of occult Tarot and a summary of each card, and was my first introduction to such things; I imagine a similar story is true of many people of my generation, since that particular deck has been one of the most popular of the last 100 years, even though it is far from the only option. There are dozens of Tarot decks available today, each following a similar formula but presenting their own unique take on it.

This sort of Tarot deck, meant for esoteric use, has four suits of 14 cards each, collectively called the Minor Arcana, and a fifth, 22-card suit called the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins, in The Portal Tarot) are similar to the suits of a poker deck, but with an additional face card each. The Major Arcana consist of the cards you’ve probably seen talked about in popular media: Death, The Tower, The Fool, and so on. Depending on where you get your information, each of these 78 cards has many possible interpretations, all of which can be given greater nuance by being ‘read’ in connection with other cards that are drawn alongside them in arrangements called ‘spreads’ (or ‘throws,’ sometimes).

While I have always been skeptical of claims about supernatural fortune-telling, I found myself drawn to the art, symbolism, and interpretation of the Tarot the same way I was drawn into role playing, writing, and creative work in general. Even without attaching occult significance to them, the cards offer prompts that help us reflect on our selves, our stories, and our shared world. I find value in that, as it supports both personal growth and creative endeavors.

How do I use a Tarot deck?

The short answer is: Ask a question (or suggest a topic), draw some cards (probably three), and consider what those cards might mean in that particular context (or, if you’re on TV/wanting to spook your friends, just look scared and refuse to tell them anything, and then leave quickly).

The longer answer is: Any one of a million ways, but the specifics depend heavily on your personal reasons for using them! For a quick overview of a few basic ways to get started, you can see my quickstart guide to the Tarot.

What makes The Portal Tarot unique?

The Portal Tarot: The Apprentice (so subtitled in a hopeful gesture, because my goal is to someday make more decks with varied contents; read below for more on that!) is the deck of cards I wish I’d first stumbled across when I was a kid. In this hopefully-first-in-a-line-of-decks Tarot, the 22 Major Arcana have beautiful full-color illustrations, and the 56 Minor Arcana have explanatory text on them, so you don’t have to look up their meanings while learning the cards!

Samples of each Minor Arcana suit, the Major Arcana, and the card backs.

Samples of each Minor Arcana suit, the Major Arcana, and the card backs.

The problem I had with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, as a youth, was that I could not read the cards with any reasonable speed. With 78 cards to learn and only a tiny, onionskin-paper booklet and very limited 90s-level internet access to help, I never learned enough about the symbology of the cards to work from memory. Trying to interpret a spread was laborious and slow and frustrating.

With that in mind, I created The Portal Tarot: The Apprentice to assist people like me: interested, creative types, probably into either spiritual interpretations for guidance and self-reflection, and/or writing and role-playing and fantasy fiction, but not relishing trying to memorize a few hundred years’ worth of symbolic analysis all in one go.

Of course, The Portal Tarot is definitely not the same in content as the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, or any other Tarot out there. Over the years, I’ve developed my own interpretations of the cards, and I tweaked them further while working on this deck, which is themed to reflect the fantasy fiction you see in popular stories and role playing games. The Major Arcana has been altered in imagery and, thus, symbolic meaning, and the four Minor Arcana (at least in current form, with text instead of art) have been written to fit into what I think of as miniature ‘journeys’ of their own, each showing the struggles and triumphs of one part of life. For more details, see my Tarot Quickstart Guide.

A side note: As of this writing, in April of 2019, my goal in the future is to offer at least two alternatives to The Portal Tarot: The Apprentice. The most obvious is a deck that is fully illustrated, with each of the 56 Minor Arcana illustrated in full color, which would let experienced users bend their minds to further symbolic analysis—The Apprentice version is excellent, but I’m sure many users will wish to graduate from text to art over time! I’d also like to create one or more alternate decks focused more completely on use in role playing games; these would probably have more text, or a mixture of text and art. Whether or not any of these decks get made is a function of time and expense, so if the Kickstarter for The Portal Tarot: The Apprentice goes especially well, and/or it funds and then the deck is popular enough afterwards, I will hopefully be able to afford the time and art they require!

Left: One of the 22 fully-illustrated Major Arcana. Right: One of the 56 Minor Arcana, with explanatory text.

Left: One of the 22 fully-illustrated Major Arcana. Right: One of the 56 Minor Arcana, with explanatory text.