Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card: Step 13 – Symbols

21 ways to read a tarot card image


This week in Step 12 of Mary K. Greer’s book “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card“, we are looking at the role that symbols play in reading tarot. Mary defines a symbol as “the smallest unit of metaphor, consisting of a single object, image or word representing the essence of what it stands for.”

One can say that the tarot itself is a language of symbols and once you learn to understand that language, you can understand the significance of the message of the cards. Moreover, as Mary points out, the value of the symbol lies in our emotional response to that symbol. What I have found over the years as well, is that each person’s emotional response to a symbol may be quite different. For instance, to me a snake represents transformation and change whereas to someone who is fearful of snakes, they can represent something else entirely. When reading for others, it is often a good idea to look at your client’s emotional responses to the symbols as this can add a new level of depth to your readings.

In the apprentice exercises, Mary asks us a series of five questions. Below are the questions, along with my responses for my chosen card, The Seeker.

The Seeker from the Gaian Tarot image

The Seeker from the Gaian Tarot

1. List the symbols appearing on your chosen card, leaving room for notes following each item. Don’t forget colors: white horse green olive wreath, white globe, red robe, etc. You will have mentioned many, if not all of them, in your description in Step 2. Write down what you already know about the “meaning” for each symbol without looking it up anywhere.

Answer: The symbols appearing on my card are as follows:

Butterfly on woman’s coat
Transformation, metamorphosis, change, rebirth.

The boundary between two worlds, sometimes between this world and the underworld. This also symbolizes for me “going with the flow” which may not always be in a straight path.

Walking Stick
Something to lean on when times get tough – help in keeping your stability. Magic (wand or wizard’s staff). Channel for creative energy, creative power or spirit.

Trickster (perhaps a variation of The Fool?), being sly, stealthy. The fox can also a teacher or a guide to the Otherworld.

Birds: symbol of the soul and of freedom. Spirit, soaring, messengers between the worlds, ready to take flight.

Fun, playful, beginning of summer

Blue (color of birds, clothes, bundle and river)
Spirituality, the subconscious, clarity.

White (feather in hair & on bag)
Purity, innocence, reflection

Meeting of two worlds, spiritual ascent, high aspirations, struggle & obstacles before reaching the top, peak experiences, spiritual retreat

Fertility, cultivation, home turf

Creativity, growth

Bundle on stick
Our baggage, traveling lightly

Stability, strength, long-lasting, Tree of Life, the World Tree, connecting the three realms

2. What are the objects used for?

Butterfly: embroidered on woman’s jacket
White feather: decoration on woman’s bag and in her hair
Tree: part of the landscape, located at beginning of river
Mountains: part of the landscape, off far in the distance.
Fox: companion of the woman, perhaps offering encouragement
Birds: flying around the woman
Walking stick: Woman is holding the stick, making the journey easier
River: Separating the landscape in two, leading towards the mountains.
Bundle on stick: Carrying the woman’s belongings.

3. Where have any of these symbols appeared literally, either in relation to your issue or just recently?

Answer:  I was just recently asked to create a butterfly garden presentation for my Master Gardener group.  Butterflies have shown up quite often in my life, both in physical form on my flowers and in my readings.  Also recently purchased a “fox” tarot bag. Went kayaking on a river just the other day.

4. Do any of them remind you of anything else?

To me, rivers always make me think of kayaking and canoeing as I spend a lot of time on local rivers doing just that.  Often, they evoke memories of the kayak camping trips I have taken in the past.  The walking stick reminds me of the wizard Merlin – and of magical power. The swallows remind me of “silliness and fun” as I see them all the time playing and flying about – they always look like they’re having a grand time.

5. Can you see any recurring themes? If so, summarize the significance of each of them.

So many of the symbols in this card remind me of a journey, both physical and spiritual: the winding river, the mountains off in the distance (ascent, reaching the top), the walking stick and the bag & stick over the shoulder.

* * *
The rest of the chapter (the Way of the Adept) goes into much more depth while looking at symbolism: Meaning of Symbols, Amplification, and Major Symbol Groups. There are a lot of goodies in this chapter and it is well worth a careful read as it can change the way you look at your cards.

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