The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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“The Possibilities of Tarot”
 by Linda Hadley, Main Line Life, July 25, 2001  

In the right hands, and with the correct mind set, the Tarot can be a powerful tool for showing the world of opportunities that the future holds. What the Tarot cannot do, says Carolyn Guss, The Tarot Muse, is predict that future.

“The cards are a symbolic language that will show possibilities,” Guss explains. “The way I read them, they do not predict.” Additionally, according to Guss, “The Tarot doesn’t tell you what to do, it shows you things.”

That said, Guss, an Ardmore resident and certified professional Tarot reader and instructor since 1990 who has been seriously working with the cards since 1983, assures, “No reputable reader is going to say the cards take away your free will.”

Guss believes that a brief overview of the roots of Tarot is important to understanding the art of the cards. The history of Tarot is as mysterious as the art itself. The cards did not arise magically from the mist, rather they evolved over a period of centuries. Guss affirms that the first known deck was created in 15th-century Italy as a wedding gift. “The earliest decks had nothing to do with fortune-telling,” she explains. “They were used for playing a game [tarocchi, similar to bridge] or possibly as flash cards for teaching.”

The limited knowledge of the evolution of Tarot suggests that it was not until the 1700s that the cards were used for telling fortunes. In the 18th century, a French wigmaker got into the act by creating a Tarot deck that allegedly came from Egypt.

While the deck is not a forerunner to the playing card deck, it did make a significant contribution to the composition of the modern playing card configuration. “The Tarot is responsible for introducing the queen into the deck,” Guss says. The Tarot deck contains a page, knight, queen, and king, whereas earlier decks were wholly masculine, with a page, knight, and king.

The Tarot deck contains 78 cards, 22 of them the major arcana that represent the greater mysteries. Guss explains [that] some readers use only those 22 cards because “using the major arcana gets right to the heart of the matter. By using the whole deck,” she adds, “you get a more complete picture.”

The four suits of the Tarot represent the elements and humors. Cups, the water element, represent the emotions, feelings, and creativity. Wands, the fire element, are spirit; while air, as represented by Swords, is the suit of logic. Pentacles, also called disks or coins, are the earth suit, governing material matters.

In preparation for a reading, Guss creates a small altar containing each of the four elements, a figural representation of the male or female for whom the reading will be done, and adds a selection of charms, crystals, stones, or other small tokens that she senses will be appropriate.

Unlike the Tarot reading as depicted by Hollywood, where the turn of the Hanged Man brings chilling music and concerned, furtive looks, Guss says that each card has more than one meaning and should be interpreted in context of the entire spread that has turned up. For example, the Lovers—also called the brothers in some decks—is not necessarily, Guss says, about love. “It is not a card of romance,” she explains. “It can represent the alchemical marriage, the male and female and their connection with the divine. The lovers card is a card of choice. It could be the choice of who to let in and who to keep out.”

Asked how she handles a situation where the cards are indicating bad news, Guss responds, “as honestly as possible. You have to assume that people are coming to you with some idea of what’s going on in their lives.”

She adds, “In a difficult situation, I suggest pulling more cards to look at a picture. I don’t like to leave on a difficult card. I try to pick a clarification card. It could be the next one or two cards or the next major arcana card. What I don’t do is keep doing a reading until you get the cards you like.”

Guss says that her clients are “mostly women and some men,” and represent all levels, from New Age believers, artists, and yoga teachers to mothers, business people, and college students.

She believes that “Women are more ‘magical’ than men—that is, more willing to suspend disbelief and “to accept that the symbols on the cards mean something.”

She has clients who check in occasionally for “a tune up.” Others want a more extensive reading when they are at a crossroads in their lives. If a client appears to be becoming too dependent on the Tarot—requesting a reading before making any move—Guss says she stops them. “It has become addictive.” She says she screens clients during initial telephone calls in order to gain a sense of what the person expects from the reading.

For the serious querent or client, the cards can open the way to inner wisdom which, Guss says, is the “strongest resource in answering your questions and guiding your life.”

For the client who misunderstands the power of the Tarot, asking instead, Guss explains, questions about the sex of an unborn child or the date of a wedding for which there is yet to be a prospective groom; or advice on whether or not to exit an unhappy domestic situation or quit a boring job, the Tarot Muse says, “I can’t help them. I won’t take their money. It demeans the cards and they have been good friends.”