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Forget the foreboding fortune-telling scenes on the big and small screens: Tarot isn’t solely about being the bearer of bad news. Interpreting the colorfully-illustrated cards can also inspire self-awareness and clarity, even for those who aren’t enthusiasts for all things woo-woo.
“Traditionally, it used to be a predictive tool. Now tarot is used for personal development, spiritual connection, and gaining greater awareness between the universe and the self,” says Melinda Lee Holm, a Los Angeles-based high priestess and tarot practitioner who frequently works with music industry insiders and whose clients include Dhani and Olivia Harrison, Dita Von Teese, and GZA. (Her husband happens to be Paul McCartney’s go-to tour DJ, producer Chris Holmes).
What is Tarot and How Does it Work?
Cartomancy is typically associated with psychics and Satanism, but not all tarot readers claim to have a third eye, nor is it rooted in “evil.” Today’s tarot descends from tarocchini, a card game similar to bridge born in the 15th century in Northern Italy. The Renaissance-era game was favored among nobles, and the intricate illustrations and symbology were inspired by Catholicism (which in turn borrowed a thing or two from the pagans). It eventually made its way to France, where it was called tarot.
It wasn’t until the 1700s when tarot was used for divination and its faux history of ancient Egyptian origins was born. Eighteenth-century occultist and Protestant pastor Antoine Court de Gébelin interpreted the playing cards as holding esoteric knowledge from the Book of Thoth, thus sparking ties to the mysticism.
Tarot card decks consist of two parts: The Major Arcana, which has 22 trump cards, each depicting a symbolic scene with one or more characters; and the Minor Arcana, which contains 56 cards divided into four suits and is similar to your common playing cards.
“The tarot deck is based on ancient archetypes of basic humanness that we have,” explains Holm. “Interacting with and learning the language of tarot can help us understand ourselves and each other. If we understand these universal things about ourselves, you recognize that everyone goes through these things and that brings us to common ground. It makes us more compassionate.”
Holm points out that tarot “meets you where you’re at. I find that with the cards, they present to you ideas and concepts that challenge you,” and it can be similar to the benefits of therapy, Holm continues.
In fact, renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung also saw tarot’s benefits. Tarot historian and author Mary K. Greer writes, “Jung believed a person could use ‘an intuitive method’ to understand — through tarot’s reflecting the collective unconscious into a ‘cloud of cognition’ — the meaning in a present, prevailing condition.”
What Are the Best Tarot Products?
Tarot cards are readily available these days, but those who prefer to leave it to the pros can consult a tarot practitioner like Holm (who also offers virtual appointments). If someone else is drawing your cards, Holm says that you “should always come away with something to do. After all, why are you paying $100 to $200 if you’re not [learning] anything from it? It’s a way to continue to develop your higher self.”
She continues: “If you are starting out, and you get a tarot deck and it’s just not connecting with you or feeling heavy, it’s okay to get a new [one]. This process and practice is for personal development.”
This year in particular has primed us all for a bit of soul-searching — and since many cities are facing another round of pandemic lockdowns, why not spend that extra time finding ourselves in a pack of tarot cards? That’s why we’ve rounded up the best tarot products, plus some of Holm’s suggestions.
Read on below for some of the top tarot card decks and accessories.
1. Melinda Lee Holm Elemental Power Tarot Deck
Holm is “all about the elements” in her own practice, which is why she created her first Elemental Power Tarot deck that launched this year alongside her line of beauty products. The cards interpret the elements of fire, water, air, earth, and spirit and the deck includes a 64-page book that provides users with “actionable guidance.”
2. Smith-Waite Tarot Deck
Available from California-based boutique Caspar Curiosities, the Smith-Waite tarot was illustrated by artist Pamela Colman Smith in 1909 under the direction of British-American poet and mystic, Arthur E. Waite. This 80-card set is a reproduction of the original deck and comes in a commemorative tin.
3. Aleister Crowley Book of Thoth Tarot Deck
This tarot deck was painted by artist Lady Frieda Harris and created by notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, who spellbound no shortage of musicians (David Bowie and Ozzy Osbourne name-checked him, Jimmy Page previously owned his former home, and he appears on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band). Crowley pulled from science, philosophy, astrology, and other disciplines in his interpretation of the tarot, which has an accompanying book penned by the black magic novelist.
4. Tarot Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
Holm says author Rachel Pollack’s 504-page Tarot Wisdom is “a really nice reference source” for those seeking to understand the basics. “She goes through historical meanings for every card and compares different decks. It’s a well-rounded take, and mostly based on the Smith-Waite deck,” notes Holm.
5. Tarot: No Questions Asked by Theresa Reed
Another recommendation from Holm, the recently released Tarot: No Questions Asked book by Theresa Reed offers “exercises for intuitive reading,” she says. The approximately 300-page book is filled with practical guidance on becoming a more confident tarot reader using workbooks and strategies for developing your “sixth sense.”
6. Melinda Lee Holm Energy Setting Spray
Holm’s room spray is infused with frankincense, ginger, palo santo, which is meant to help users set their intentions and refresh any space with positive energy.
7. Selenite Cleansing Crystal
Holm often keeps her cards with a stick or wand of selenite, which is thought to cleanse energy and remove negativity. (Fun fact: selenite is a variety of the mineral gypsum, which was discovered on Mars by NASA in 2011).
8. Whispering Winds Shop Organic White Sage Bundle
Native Americans traditionally burned dried sage to clear negative energy, and the practice is also commonly used by tarot readers after sessions. This reservation-grown organic white sage smudge stick measures about four to five inches and is sustainably harvested by Whispering Winds, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribe member-owned Etsy shop.
9. Mini Palo Santo Sticks
Many tarot practitioners, including Holm, burn sticks of palo santo after each reading to clear energy. It’s often burned after sage smudge sticks. The wood comes from a sacred tree that’s native to South America, where indigenous cultures for centuries have burned it in traditional healing ceremonies. This three-pack of palo santo comes from L.A.-based jeweler J. Southern Studio, which also offers adornments, candles, and ritual kits.
10. Tarot Spread Cloth
This 22-inch square cloth features a printed tarot spread guide on sturdy cotton. It’s available in several designs and can be used to wrap up and store your deck, and as a bandana or home decor, if you’re into that.