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

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It’s in the Cards  
Ardmore resident Carolyn Guss is passionate about the Tarot  
 by Kathryn Levy Feldman, “Arts & Leisure,” Main Line Life, August 13, 1998


She has been interpreting the cards and teaching the technique professionally since 1990 (at Main Line School Night and elsewhere) and while she doesn’t consider herself a renowned collector, she has nonetheless accumulated 30 decks of Tarot cards, some of which are rare and unusual. An accomplished artist, the images of the Tarot have also served as inspiration for Guss’ powerful surrealistic collages.

For Guss, the journey to enlightenment began when she was 15 and her sister gave her a deck of Tarot cards. “It was the hippie era and she was sharing some of it with me,” she said with a laugh. Although Guss was immediately intrigued by the imagery on the cards, it wasn’t until 1982, when she enrolled in a Tarot class, that her natural inclination to read the cards surfaced. The instructor encouraged her to continue her study and she began a private apprenticeship under his tutelage. “The study of Tarot opened a huge door in my life,” she said. “I loved the cards, not only for their beauty but also for [their] intuitive power.”

According to Guss, Tarot tells the seeker what they already know. “There are some who use Tarot to predict the future,” she said. “I am not one of them. I see it more as a tool to access one’s intuition. I believe that consulting the Tarot is a way of allowing the subconscious to speak.” Guss believes that all are born with incredible intuitive capacities which are put aside during maturity. Tapping into the Tarot is a means through which people can restore their innate intuitive abilities.

According to Guss, “Tarot is a word without an etymology. No one really knows what it means or where it comes from.” The first documented deck was given in the 1500s as an Italian wedding gift. There has always been an aura of mystery surrounding the cards, yet Guss emphasizes that the cards themselves are not magical. The pictures on the Tarot deck speak to the mind’s primary language of symbols and somehow trigger connections that are buried deep within the subconscious.

A Tarot deck generally contains 78 cards, 52 of which correspond to a traditional playing card deck and 22 of which represent are what are known as the major arcana, or archetypal energies of the Tarot. “They are the heavy hitters,” Guss said. The 52 cards are arranged in four suits, with 10 cards in a suit, much like a traditional deck of cards. [However, Tarot contains 16 face or “court cards,” as opposed to the 12 in a regular card deck.] “The suit of clubs corresponds in Tarot to wands, hearts to cups, spades to swords, and diamonds to pentacles,” Guss said. “In fact the four suits of Tarot are the same as those found in an Italian playing card deck.”

While the history of Tarot itself is a bit clouded, according to Guss, the medium contains elements of the medieval Italian and French traditions as well as the influences of the Near and Far East. “Some believe that as Christianity took hold in Europe, elements of pagan religions were recorded on cards that were literally passed from one traveler to another,” Guss explained. “Thus the mélange of influences.”

The Tarot deck that Guss’ sister gave her is what is known as the classic Rider-Waite Tarot deck, first published in 1909. Since then, there has been a plethora of decks to hit the market, ranging from the surreal (Guss has a first edition Universal Dalí Tarot, created by the artist in memory of his wife, Gala, who was a Tarot reader) to the post-modern. Among the decks in her collection is a recent addition called the Po-Mo Tarot, in which the classical figure of the Empress is interpreted as Mom. “Literally anyone can create a Tarot deck, but not everyone can get it published,” Guss said, laughing. As long as the deck consists of the proper number of cards, divided into the prescribed categories, an artist is free to interpret the image associated with each card.

For example, Guss’ collection includes an Aquarian Tarot deck, in which the pictures are very stylized 70s Art Deco images; a feminist Tarot consisting of round cards on which the images are predominantly female; the Voyager Tarot, using collaged images; and the William Blake Tarot, based on Blake’s art and poetry. “There are literally hundreds of Tarot decks on the market,” Guss explained, “I offer my clients a choice of decks for personal readings because each deck speaks to a person in a different manner. It is helpful to forge a connection with a deck for a meaningful reading. A good reading resembles a ‘conversation’ between the reader’s and the querent’s psyches,” Guss elaborated. “It can be like the dream state made tangible.”

Many Tarot readers make their own decks, a practice which Guss has not pursued. “I don’t want to be locked into creating a deck” she explained. “I am more interested in creating art work based on Tarot.”  Guss’ mostly surrealistic collages are based on her interpretations of various Tarot cards. I truly am passionate about Tarot,” Guss said with a laugh. “It inspires almost everything I do.”

Guss teaches a course, “Tuning into the Tarot,” at Main Line School Night each autumn. In addition, she is available for private and group readings at 610-658-3252.