Understanding Tarot

Tamar Lalenya is an intuitive Tarot reader who lives and works in Los Angeles. She offers readings and classes and has recently acted as the Tarot adviser for director Terrence Malick’s new film Knight of Cups starring Christian Bale.

I’m dying to know more about the cards. What’s your favorite deck?

The deck I’m using now is called the Rider Waite Deck. It was created by occultist Arthur Edward Waite and artist Pamela Coleman Smith more than a hundred years ago. It’s one of the more popular decks in use. The earliest documented existence of Tarot cards was in Fourteenth Century Italy where they started out as a card game called Tarocchi.

Tarot cards are similar to normal playing cards. Both decks have four suits but with Tarot the Hearts, Spades, Diamonds, and Clubs of a normal playing deck are changed into
Cups, Swords, Pentacles, and Wands. A fifth suit was added to the Tarot deck called the Major Arcana consisting of twenty-two cards, for a total of seventy-eight cards in a standard Tarot deck. It is believed that Tarot has been used for divinatory purposes since the time of ancient Egypt.

Getting back to the Rider Waite deck, it was influenced by many of the newer Occult groups that emerged in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. Those newer groups worked on reorganizing ancient wisdom and the keys to ancient knowledge, and as a result of their work the cards of the Rider-Waite deck were created with much more esoteric symbolism than previous Tarot decks had seen.

It has also some Astrology symbolism?

Yes, astrology, mystery schools, Kabbalistic symbols, alchemy, magick. In the drawings on the cards, everything symbolizes something. They operate as a trigger to your intuition.

How does one interpret the symbols that are in the cards?

The cards contain archetypal images that have to do with primordial psychological processes which constantly recur in the course of history and are part of the collective unconscious. That’s how they trigger your intuition. I don’t rely solely on the classic definition of the cards. I also use my intuition when reading them. There are many factors which go into reading the cards. There is also a significance on where the cards are placed in the spread in terms of timing.

Do the archetypes in the Tarot relate at all to Jungian psychological Archetypes?

They do. When Jung encountered the cards he saw in the images some of the same archetypal principles that he had been discovering incarnated into characters in the cards, such as: The Mother (The Empress), The Father ( The Emperor), The Shadow (The Devil), etc.

The first card in the Major Arcana is named The Fool and if we start from that card and go through the twenty-two Major Arcana cards in succession, this is referred to as “The Fool’s Journey.”


 In an allegorical sense “The Fool” represents each of us on our journey through the different stages of life, and all of the other Trumps represent a person or an event we encounter along the way.

Basically, it’s a journey to enlightenment. I still think that babies are enlightened, but as we grow older we are conditioned by society and it is necessary in terms of psychological individuation to break down the old structures so that we can see the authentic self underneath and rebuild.

Take for instance The Tower card, this is one that people may find frightening. In this card we see a tower being struck by lightening and people jumping out or falling from the tower in shock. This card, though it may look disastrous, represents new beginnings, with the destruction of old concepts or “towers” we have built up as being a part of ourselves or our ways of thinking, we make way for new thoughts and ideas to form.


So whatever turmoil might suddenly destroy our foundation or what we’ve held onto as being the truth, we can take comfort in knowing that once the storm ends and the dust settles, this experience is ultimately for our higher good and represents something (possibly shocking) that we have to go through so we can you get to the other side and see things in a different light. All of our experiences in life, both good and bad, are a necessary part of being human. Without going through these experiences there’s no way to achieve Enlightenment.

I see, and so you can give advice to deal with the specific problem, but what if you see something ominous in a spread how would you deal with it?

It depends on where the cards are in the spread. For instance, it may show a negative influence coming into your life. But in some books it’s the opposite—it could be something good coming into your life. The point is there are no accidents; you get the cards you’re supposed to get, at the time you’re supposed to get them.

Did you have a teacher?

No, I’m self taught. Though, my mother did have a tarot deck and she did readings for her friends. When I was five years old she told me the meanings of the cards but I didn’t remember this until recently.

I picked up a deck of cards about eleven years ago on my own and felt that instantly I could do this and so I started studying. I’m still studying because every single thing in these cards has a meaning. For instance, looking at The Empress card one can look at the colors, the fruit on her dress, the number of stars, the wheat, etc., and get deeper and deeper meaning from all of these symbols.


You can actually start doing Tarot without having any knowledge of the classical meanings. Just looking at the pictures and using your intuition is actually a valid way to come up with answers. One doesn’t need to know the classical meanings. When I started doing the Tarot, the message in my mind that was just trust. Trust your intuition and trust the cards. Sometimes I have no idea what I have said, but then people will come back after a reading and tell me that it had happened. I trust that we’re meeting at this point in time and space for a reason. Before doing a reading I do a little meditation and ask for the highest guidance and for the ability to provide clarity for my clients.

Can anybody learn to read Tarot ?

Yes! The best advice I can give is to look at the cards and then write down on a page whatever it is that comes to mind. Just go with whatever you think it means without looking up the meaning in a book. Just let your imagination fly. You’ll find it’s almost therapeutic.

When doing readings for people, you’re often just helping bring that which the person already knows subconsciously to the surface/conscious mind. As readers, we start the work with the cards but what we continue to pull out comes from you.


Interview and Photos of Tamar Lalenya by Angie Gray for Psychic Gloss Magazine