An interview with Paul Fenton-Smith
Where did the tarot begin?
The tarot surfaced in its current form in fourteenth century Italy as a game called Tarocci. The French adaptation of the word was Tarot. Modern Italian playing cards still display the symbols of the Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles which are found in tarot cards. Many of the popular tarot packs in use today originated with members of a group called The Golden Dawn, founded in England in 1888 as a secret magical fraternity.
Its members are credited with designing three packs. These are the Thoth deck by Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn deck by Israel Regardie and illustrated by Robert Wang, and the Rider Waite deck, by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman-Smith. The Rider-Waite deck is the most popular of the three as it is simple and accessible.
To most of us the tarot cards are a series of pictures - what are they really?
Each card is a symbol. Instead of having reams of text to make sense of when consulting the tarot, a set of symbols can fit easily onto each card, representing a person, an opportunity, one of life’s challenges, a spiritual lesson or an emotional experience.
In the tarot there’s the major and minor arcana - what does this mean?
Arcana simply means secret or mystery. The minor arcana depicts everyday events in life while the Major Arcana reveals the lessons offered to us behind these events. When read together the minor and major arcana cards can explain why you have been retrenched, what job opportunities lie ahead for you, or the underlying lesson in your new love relationship.
How did you become involved with the tarot?
In 1984 I was employed in a small shop in East Sydney as a palmist, having studied palmistry in Adelaide in 1978. I worked alongside a tarot reader and together we offered readings ten hours a day, six days per week. During winter business was slow, so to pass the time Carlos taught me the Tarot and I taught him palmistry.
What kinds of people come for tarot readings?
People from all walks of life come for tarot readings. Since 1998 I’ve asked each client to complete a form when they arrive for a reading. This form asks for their occupation and I’ve been surprised at the results. I’ve read for teachers, lawyers, university students, artists, police officers, psychologists, nurses and in one day recently I read for three medical doctors.
Some clients treat a tarot reading as though they are seeking the advice of a consultant, before they make their own decisions. Others seek someone who can listen as they explain their current life experiences or someone to confirm what they are feeling about a situation is accurate.
How does the tarot work?
The client shuffles the deck of 78 cards. While concentrating on a specific question the client then selects a number of cards with closed eyes from a pack which is face down using the non-writing hand. The reader places the selected cards into a pattern and explains what they mean. Sometimes the reader tells a story which doesn’t make sense to anyone but the client.
It is surprising how often a client selects the same cards repeatedly when asking a series of questions. This is after the reader has shuffled the deck and asked that they select with closed eyes.
Some readings make more sense long after the reading took place. A client recently arrived for a reading, explaining that she had enjoyed her previous reading with me in 1999. She explained that it didn’t make sense to her at the time, but later events unfolded as predicted.
Is it just about romance and finances?
Love relationship is usually an important question because feeling loved and understood by others is essential to our sense of wellbeing. Readings often encompass more than love and finances with questions around health, travel, spiritual direction, career, family and those creative projects or habits which may lead to a deeper sense of happiness.
What do you enjoy about the tarot?
I enjoy helping clients to make sense of events in their lives, and offering hope when times are bleak. Sometimes a tarot reading offers a reminder that another summer is approaching, when you are knee deep in the snow of winter.