But in this Biddy Tarot Podcast episode, I want to throw that idea out the window.
That's why I invited the author of the best-selling book, Tarot Plain and Simple, Tony Louis, to join me to talk about how to simplify the Tarot and use this powerful tool in our everyday lives.
Tony is a down-to-earth Tarot reader, astrologer and psychiatrist (yes – you read that right!) who has decades of experience helping people connect to their inner wisdom and subconscious mind.
In this episode, Tony and I discuss:
- How Tony found deep meaning from his own life in the Tarot cards, and learned to read with his heart
- The origins of Tarot and how it has evolved through time
- The sacred simplicity of the symbols in the Tarot cards
- The little-known connection between Tarot and Astrology
- Tony’s tips for starting out with your very first Tarot deck
Let's do it…
- Tarot Plain and Simple (Amazon)
- Tarot Beyond the Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Meanings Behind the Cards (Amazon)
- Click here to subscribe to the Biddy Tarot Podcast, so you'll never miss an episode!
- Did you love this podcast? Then leave a 5 Star Review on iTunes! (Here's how)
Brigit: You’re listening to the Biddy Tarot Podcast, and this is Episode 6: Tarot Plain and Simple with Tony Louis
Welcome to the Biddy Tarot podcast, where you will learn how to connect more deeply with your intuition and live an empowered and enlightened life with the Tarot cards as your guide.
Listen as Brigit and her guests share their very best tips and strategies to help you read Tarot with confidence.
And now, here is your host Brigit Esselmont.
Brigit: Hello and welcome!
What is it with us humans? We seem to want to over-complicate things, and make things a lot harder than they need to be!
And, unfortunately, Tarot is no exception. In fact, many people seem to make out that Tarot is this complex, mysterious thing that we could never possibly understand unless we know every esoteric system that governs it and we have studied it for years and years, if not decades.
But today, we're going to throw that idea out the window and instead celebrate Tarot for its simplicity, and not complexity.And I've invited the perfect person to help us do this!
He is the best-selling author of the book, Tarot Plain and Simple, and more recently, Tarot Beyond the Basics. He's also a very talented Astrologer and, believe it or not, a Psychiatrist.
So, let's welcome Tony Louis.
Interview with Tony Louis
Brigit: Welcome to the podcast.
Tony Louis: Thank you for inviting me.
Brigit: Oh, it’s my pleasure.It is so good to have you here, especially since you’re a strong advocate for keeping Tarot plain and simple.
Because like I said in the introduction, it’s just something that gets so over-complicated, isn’t it?
So, that’s what we’re going to have a chat today about, is how do we make Tarot plain and simple without it having to get into that really complex space.
But before we get into that, I would love to hear about what brought you into Tarot. How did you get connected with Tarot in the first place?
Tony Louis: It’s a bit of a long story, so let me try to make it brief.
I came to Tarot through Astrology partly; and probably partly through Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis. I had been interested in Astrology since I was very young – maybe 10 or 11 years old. And in studying Astrology, and learning the symbolism of Astrology, and attending workshops and lectures, I would meet people who were also into Tarot, which I knew very little about.
And so that was my introduction – seeing people I knew who were interested in Astrology, who were also working with the Tarot cards.
And at the same time, because of my interest in Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, I was very interested in symbolism, and how symbols play out in the human mind – which is of course what Tarot is about, as I see it.
Brigit: Yeah, absolutely.
Tony Louis: And so, I think what happened is I played a little with Tarot years and years ago and didn’t get very far with it.
I didn’t really connect with the cards. I think I had – the original deck I had I got – this shows you how old I am – as I told you I’m retired now so I just turned 70 this year…
Brigit: Oh, beautiful.
Tony Louis: ….this was in the early 1970s. I bought a deck which was one of the Marseille decks. I think it was called the Classic Tarot deck by US Game System.
And I bought a book by Eden Gray – one of her classic books – and played with the cards, and didn’t find them all that useful at the time.
So I decided to start reading more, and this will get into the plain and simple parts. So much of the literature at the time was very abstract and would say you had to learn the Hebrew Alphabet, and how each Hebrew letter was connected to the cards; learn the Kabbalah and how each of the Sephirot of the Kabbalah was connected to the cards.
So I tried to do all this and it just seemed so abstract, and got me further and further away from being able to actually read the cards.
It was an interesting theoretical exercise, but it wasn’t practical or hands-on, down-to-earth.
So finally I decided – this is a process that went over many years – that all these theories were all well and good and interesting, historically and theoretically, but if I wanted to learn the cards I just had to work with them.
So I began to do a lot of readings. Whenever I had a chance I would do a reading, either for myself or friends or family. And I kept a notebook. I think for a period of several years, every reading I did I recorded in the notebook, and then I would follow up to see what happened or how it played out. And I think that’s what taught me – it was really the cards themselves taught me as I worked with them, made notes on them, what I thought – went back and revised what was in my notebook and said, “Oh, I didn’t understand that three months ago, but now it makes perfect sense – what this symbol means here.”
And so it finally dawned on me that it’s really a symbolic system, and that the most important thing is to look at the cards and look at the images, and open yourself to how they impress you, what they trigger in your mind, what reactions you have.
Especially, feelings or ideas or connections that come up kind of spontaneously in the context of the reading and what you see in the cards. And so The Tarot Plain and Simple book was really written over a period of years, and it was basically my notes to myself based on all the readings. I decided to put it all together in a form that made sense to me, and then I sent it off to Llewellyn, and they liked it, so they published it.
But it was really my struggle to make sense of these complex, theoretical systems, and what was useful, and to really simplify it in my own mind so I could use it.
Brigit: I resonate with your story on so many different levels – I can remember the feeling that I had also when I was trying to learn Tarot, and you are looking at these ridiculously complex systems that sit behind Tarot, and I’m not saying that they’re not legitimate, they absolutely are. I know that people who study Kabbalah alongside Tarot get so much out of it, but if you’re just starting out with Tarot and you’re suddenly reading about Hebrew letters and what they mean, and you’ve got no idea about that until you’ve come across Tarot, it just makes everything so complicated.
I also found that what would happen was my rational mind would kick into gear trying to absorb all this information, compartmentalize it, and like you said, it just took me so far away from just actually connecting with the cards and…
Tony Louis: Yeah, exactly.
I think using the theoretical systems, it is interesting theoretically, but you’re triggering more your rational mind and not leaving open your intuitive mind, or your symbolic mind if we can use that term.
Brigit: So tell me a little bit more about using symbols in a way that simplifies the way that you might work with the Tarot.
Tony Louis: Okay.Let me go back to Astrology, because Astrology is basically a symbolic system.
We have the planets floating around in the Heavens, but what Astrology does is it takes each of the planets and says: They may scientifically be these celestial spheres that are in orbits around the Sun, but if we look at the relationships between the planets, and view them as symbols – or I guess as the ancients did as Gods really, mythological beings – that you are seeing a play being acted out with these characters.
So Astrology then becomes looking at a chart of a map of the Heavens, and saying, you can look at it as a map or as a scientific endeavour, but you can also look at it as a set of symbols and try to relate those symbols to your life.
For instance – Venus, the Goddess of Love. If Venus is active at a certain time in your chart, emotions and relationships will be important in your life.It is that kind of thinking. It is a non-scientific, symbolic or poetic way of interpreting things.
I think the Tarot is very similar. In fact, many of the symbols in the Tarot come from Astrology, because the creators of the original cards were probably all Astrologers as well. They were heavily into reconstructing or re-discovering Greek and Roman Mythology, which is really closely linked to the Astrology.
I think what makes humans really human is their capacity to use symbols; unlike other animals, we can think symbolically. I think that’s what makes us unique as creatures on Earth.
Brigit: Yeah. You know what’s really fascinating with symbols and symbolism is you can have one symbol that takes on so many different meanings for different people. And even just the one symbol can elicit a whole raft of memories, or stories, or meanings. There’s so much behind just the one symbol, and yet it can bearticulated and expressed, in just this one little thing.
I think it’s quite amazing.
Tony Louis: Yeah, and it’s very much like dream interpretation in a Psychiatrists office.
Someone will come in with a personal problem and they will report a dream, and it will be kind of irrational – not make a lot of sense – and will be these strange symbols.
And as you talk with the client and try to unravel the dream, and see what associations the person has to the symbols in their dream, all of a sudden this whole story unfolds that, if it goes well, it sort of reveals what are the issues that are going on in a person’s life at this time.
Which is very much what the Tarot does, I think.
You’re confronted with a set of symbols on the card, and as you talk about them with the client, they fill out; they connect at various events or feelings or relationships in a person’s life; and you construct this story that makes a great deal of sense and is very helpful and therapeutic.
Brigit: I think what’s also interesting, say with symbolism, is there’s this balance between a Collective Consciousness or a collective meaning of what a symbol means, versus a more individualized, personal meaning.
Do you think that one is more important than the other? Or how do they work, hand-in-hand?
Tony Louis: Well, I think – and I guess here I take a Jungian approach – that there are certain Universal symbols or archetypes, and that many of these are depicted on the Tarot cards.
But they are Universal which means they’re generalized, and they really don’t have impact or take on meaning until they’re personalized. So I think that all symbols are both.
They are Universal in the sense that they point to experiences any human being can have or has had; but you may have had an experience in a different way that I have.
Death is a good example. We have all experienced loss and death in our lives, and so that’s a Universal symbol. But for you it could be the death of a parent, or the death of a pet; for me it could be the death of a spouse, or the death of a child. It is really quite individual. And so there is a Universality that we can all relate to; and then there’s what specifically does this Universal symbol point to or connect within our particular lives.
See I think that’s really how the cards – at least as I see it – work. I don’t see them as sort of mystical, magical things. I see it as sets of symbols that are Universal that we can all connect to, and that as we connect them and make a story out of them – because we connect them with each other and with our lives – they flesh out some important issue that we need to be dealing with at the time.
Tony Louis: Because that’s what’s on our mind.So that’s what we talk about.
Brigit: Yes, and you can often have the one card that will come up in multiple readings but, say as the Tarot reader, you’re noticing different things each time.
I’m always surprised. I don’t know how long I’ve been reading the cards now – about 18 years – and I will still look at a card and go: What is that? I’ve never seen that before.Or my eyes are focusing on something.
Tony Louis: Or some detail in the card – yeah.
Brigit: Yeah, and then that takes on its whole meaning for that moment in time in that reading.
I think it’s quite fascinating.
Tony Louis: Yeah, but I think what happens is that as you talk to the client and you get a sort of a picture or a framework as to what’s going on, then your mind is trying to see something that otherwise it might not see.
So there might be some little detail in a card that stands out because there’s a context for it.
Tony Louis: And that detail may open up a Pandora’s Box of meanings that are important.
Brigit: Yeah, and I think that contrast against your personal interpretation of the card – what your intuiting or sensing or picking up as your looking at say the imagery – versus the traditional meaning; because I know a lot of people that I speak to are like, “Well, I’m seeing this completely different thing in the card, and I go and look it up in the book and it’s something completely different to what the book says. I’m wrong.”
And they have this complete freak out that they’re heading in the wrong direction. I’m like, “No way. You’re so on track.”
Tony Louis: Yeah.
Brigit: So in that sense what place do you think more traditional or book meanings have when reading Tarot?
Tony Louis: That’s a good question.
What is a traditional meaning?
The Tarot really is a product of the Renaissance. The first decks came out in the early 1400s. Prior to that there were other cards, but the Tarot itself as we know it is a 15th Century creation.
The people who created it were from Northern Italy, and they were well versed in Mythology and religion – Christianity in particular. So that I think it’s a Roman-Greek-Mythological-Christian set of symbols that are in the cards.
And I don’t think it really was used as we use it today ‘til about the 1700s in France, and then Etteilla published his books and made it very popular. He had a set of meanings that he thought were traditional because he actually went and interviewed all the Tarot readers in Paris at the time – speaking of Paris – and wrote down how they were interpreting the cards. So he came up with a traditional – at least a state-of-the-art –set of meanings for the mid-1700s.
The Golden Dawn, which I think had the most influence in the past century, was at the end of the 1800s, and they decided to take Etteilla’s meanings and pick and choose what they liked that fit into their system, and their system was really based on the Kabbalah and Astrology. So they discarded meanings that didn’t fit their Kabbalah and Astrology interpretations, but kept the ones that did.
And that became a second set of what we might call “traditional meanings.”
So I think that traditional meanings are useful in that they show how the cards were used for divination, particularly in these two periods in history – the mid-1700s – mid-to-late 1700s – and then the late 1800s.
There were many, many people using them, so there was a community aspect, sort of a general consensus that that was what the cards meant; but the consensus changed over 100, 150 years.
So I think the traditional meanings are useful and interesting because they’re the history, the basis where we started, but I don’t think they’re the truth – that they’re the one true meaning of the cards.
They’re useful, helpful, historical meanings of the cards, but the cards really mean what they mean at the time of the reading.
It’s like that line from Alice in Wonderland: “Words mean exactly what I want them to mean, neither more nor less.”That’s a paraphrase. That’s not exactly it.
In a particular reading, a card may mean the opposite of the traditional meaning, given the context and surrounding cards. And so I don’t think there’s any way to say that there’s one true meaning for the card.
Brigit: Whereas it’s so interesting to see, particularly with beginner Tarot readers – or you know when you are just starting out – it is kind of this obsession to make sure you’ve got the right meaning; and yet, as you start to explore the Tarot even more, you realise there’s no right meaning. Or, as you say, the meaning is the meaning at that point in time.
Yeah, and I guess in that sense something that a lot of people get confused with is, if there are so many different meanings, which one’s the right one?And how do you may sense of all of these different meanings?
But I suppose it’s about bringing it back to that place of simplicity again, and really just connecting in with the imagery and what is standing out to you at that point in time.
Do you agree?
Tony Louis: Yeah, I think I do agree.
It really has to do with the context – meaning that when they seek a reading.Unless you’re just doing it for entertainment, but if people seriously want a reading because something is on their mind, I find those are the best readings.
If someone is not too serious about it, then it is going to be much harder to read the cards.
If somebody comes to you, or wants a reading because they have some pressing issue, and they really would like some clarity about it, I find those readings are usually very clear and much easier to do because the cards that come up seem to relate to their personal concerns in a very direct way. And the sequence of cards tells a story that they can relate to.
And what I do is, I don’t say, “This is what the card means,” I say, “You know, traditionally this card is often interpreted this way. The impressions I have, given the cards around it and what you’re saying, is that it might mean this. What do you think?”
I always invite the person I’m reading for to participate in the reading, and help me develop with them a meaning for the card at that moment in time.
That meaning may or may not match one of the books, but it certainly matches what’s on the person’s mind.
Brigit: I really think that marks quite a shift in approach with reading Tarot, because I think a lot of the general public perception of Tarot is that: You go to Tarot reader – Tarot reader tells you answers – you be quiet and listen – and then you leave with all your answers.
Tony Louis: That is I think a Hollywood view.
And I don’t know if you had Miss Cleo. You’re in Australia, right?
We had this woman, Miss Cleo, who was advertising Tarot readings years ago. And she would come on TV and say “Miss Cleo knows the cards know all.”
And she would start flipping cards and giving a sample reading in her ad: “Well the tall dark stranger is coming into your life. And he is going to give you a certain amount of money, and then he will take you on a trip – on a cruise – to Mexico.”
And I don’t think that’s reading. It’s interesting, but I don’t see how you could do that from the cards – be that specific.
Brigit: Yeah, it’s certainly a type of style, I suppose you could say.
Tony Louis: Yeah.
Brigit: But look, often times – I know that there are readers who do legitimately read in that way – but it’s usually because they are drawing more from a Psychic ability or Clairvoyant and so on.
Tony Louis: Right, I think that the readers who are , they’re drawing more on their intuition and Psychic ability than on the cards.
Whereas I think for you and I, and I know quite a few Tarot readers really play in this space, it’s more about like a co-creative experience. So where it’s not so much, “I’m the Tarot reader, I’ve got all the answers,” but more as Tarot reader as facilitator, or as the person who holds the space so that the client can then use the Tarot to really explore what’s going on within them.
Tony Louis: Yeah, and I think that’s my bias partly because I come from Psychiatry.
So my view is, as a Psychiatrist, if someone comes to see me: Let’s figure out what’s going on in your life and help you see things more clearly, so you can decide what you’re going to do about it.
I’m not going to tell you what to do. I mean, let’s work on this together and try to get as clear as we can as to what the issues are, what might be holding you back or getting in the way, so you can live a more effective or happier life for yourself.
And that’s how I see the Tarot as well. I can’t tell you how to live your life, but I can work with you to get some clarity on what you might be struggling with.
Brigit: Yeah, absolutely.
It is so much more empowering that way. It really accepts Free Will and accountability in one’s life; and also the fact that we have this ability – every single person – has the ability to create the kind of life that they want. It is just about making the right choices around that; versus, you know, “This will happen to you. Too bad!”
Tony Louis: Right!
And then there are the unscrupulous readers who will say, “You have a curse on you, and if you give me a certain amount of money I will remove the curse.”
I think that’s really bad for the field.
Brigit: Absolutely – yeah. I agree.
So, let’s say you were having a chat with someone who is completely new to Tarot, that just got their deck of Rider-Waite cards from Amazon – just yesterday in the mail – and they’re about to start using them.What would be your top two or three tips?
And how do you start with Tarot in a way that keeps it plain and simple?
Tony Louis: Well what I think I would suggest is first they just look through the deck and get a sense of what the cards look like, and what cards appeal to them, what cards they don’t like, what cards might seem frightening to them, and just sort of meditate or think about why is that. Why does that this set of cards seem so calming and soothing; and this set of cards seem disturbing? Why do I like these so much, and don’t like these others?
Then I think I would ask them to do a little bit of study or theorizing – but very simple – like thinking about the four suits as related to the four elements, which I think is a very useful concept. Fire, Earth, Air, and Water – and the fields that the elements relate to, and thinking that the cards in those suits may point to issues in those same areas – like Wands for enterprise and creativity and adventure and so on; and Cups for emotions and relationships.
So there is some general, theoretical framework, but not a really complicated one.
The Major cards as being sort of major lessons or important in the sense of more seriously focused; and the Minor cards being more mundanely focused.
Having some broad concepts like that.
And then I think a useful method is to, first of all, get to know the cards. There are 78 of them, so it takes a while to look at each card and just talk to yourself, or to somebody else about them – describe the card. Not have a meaning, but just say:
- What do I see on the card?
- What’s happening in this card?
- Who is in there?
- Who are the key characters?
- If there’s more than one, what are they doing?
- What are they looking at?
- How are they dressed?
- How do the colours in the card strike me?
Just to get a feel for each card and how the artist– depending on your deck, because each deck is quite different, and the artists see things differently – how does the artist portray this scene? And how does that scene strike you?
So I think it’s hard to do a reading if you’re not familiar with the cards.
Having gained familiarity with the cards, I think I would next say: Let’s pick two cards and put them next to each other – make up a story.
Any kind of story – it doesn’t have to be a true story – a fairy tale. Card 1 – Card 2:
- What’s happening in Card 1?
- What’s happening in Card 2?
- Is there some way you can relate them to each other?
- Did something happen in Card A that had a result in Card B?
- Or is the person in Card A meditating on Card B?
Just make up some connection.
Practice in that way so you get a feel for – because I think Tarot readings are really creating stories.
Stories are very important to human development, to human mind. We think in stories. You know, we spend a lot of time reading novels, watching TV, going to movies. Stories are very important for telling us who we are and what we think about.And I think the Tarot cards tell us stories.
I mean that would be my approach to it.
When you do a reading, you really have a story that’s unfolding. The people in the cards have feelings, emotions, motivations – they can do sneaky things, or helpful things – or they can be gullible or dishonest. How does all this fit together to make a sort of a sensible plot line?
And then, if you have a client, how does this story you’ve created with the cards, relate to the client’s life?
If it’s a good reading, usually the story that’s unfolding in the cards relates very directly. People say, “Oh yeah, that’s my friend Joe. That’s my husband. That’s my son. That’s my daughter. She does that all the time to me.”
So there’s this interplay between the cards and the person you’re reading for. And one reflects the other. The story in the cards amplifies or focusses on a particular aspect of the person’s life that they can then elaborate on, and gain some empowerment from, and clarity from.
Brigit: Yeah, I think the story element in Tarot, and also in all aspects of life, is so incredibly important.It seems to be what helps us understand things. And, again, it is kind of like the symbolism, in that you can have one simple symbol with such deep meaning.
So, similar with stories, we can have a reasonably simple story that carries so much more meaning behind it – that we don’t necessarily have to articulate into lots and lots of words.
Tony Louis: Right.
And if you think about children, we read children children’s stories, fairy tales, The Brothers Grimm’s’ Tales. And they want to hear the same story over and over and over, because it contains some deep or symbolic meaning to them. It helps them deal with some issue in their own life that they are not going to say talk about scientifically or theoretically. They are going to talk about Hansel and Gretel and the Wicked Witch who wants to push them into the oven. Well, clearly that must relate to some fear or concern they have in their own life. They just want to hear that story over and over again – The Three Little Pigs or Red Riding Hood….
Brigit: I have a four and a six year old daughter, so….yep.
I am very familiar with reading the same stories over and over!
Tony Louis: But I think that the Tarot cards are basically ways of writing fairy tales.
If you write a good one it really resonates with the person and helps them get a sense of, or taps into something important, some emotional matter that is important in their life.
Brigit: Yeah – wonderful.
Tony, it’s been such a joy to speak with you about Tarot. I just really resonate again with the way that you view the Tarot, and the way that you break it down and unpack it.
And certainly know, for those listening to this podcast, if you are hearing Tony and going, “Ah yes, everything’s clicking,” then I absolutely would recommend Tarot Plain and Simple.
It’s a book that I got a huge amount out of, and I only read it recently. I think, Tony, you’ve just done such a good at describing what Tarot is, and describing how to use the cards, again, in a way that is very simple and uncomplicated. And I like also the way that you presented your Tarot card meanings in how you experienced the cards, it doesn’t necessarily mean how everyone else must experience them.Just really just good tangible, practical interpretations of the cards.
So, I would highly recommend your book. I think you’ve done a really great job.
I’m yet to read Tarot Beyond the Basics, but I bet that is just as good a read as well.
So, where can people find out more about you?
I know that you’re retired and probably enjoying the happy life now, but if people want to connect with you in any way, is there a place that they can find you?
Tony Louis: I have a blog on WordPress.
If they do Tony Louis WordPress – if they Google that, they should find it.
Brigit: Alright, wonderful.
I think we’ll include that in the show notes as well so you will get a direct link to there.
Your books are obviously available in Amazon, and I think I’ve seen them in a few local New Age stores. So you’ve certainly got a lot of presence around the world, which is wonderful.
Are there any closing comments that you want to make before we wrap it up?
Tony Louis: No.I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you, and thank you for the kind words about the book.
You mentioned the meanings – as I said, the meanings in that book are from my notes over several years of readings. And I only put in meanings that actually occurred.
So, that’s how I decided what the cards meant to me, is if I did a reading and a particular meaning showed up, especially repeatedly, then I – when I do readings, certainly that’s important – so, “This I’m going to put in the book.”
Brigit: I think it’s a wonderful technique, because that’s what anybody could do.
Effectively, anyone learning to read Tarot could be writing their own book. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go and publish it, but just that act of engaging with the cards, doing readings, keeping notes of how you’ve seen those cards play out, and then writing your own book.
Tony Louis: And then, reviewing readings is crucial.
Tony Louis: Reviewing, because you don’t remember until you go back and go, “Oh, these cards came up and then three, four months later I talked to the person. This is what happened. How did I miss that? It’s so obvious in retrospect, how did I not see it?”
Brigit: Yeah, it’s wonderful.
Excellent – well Tony it’s been an absolute pleasure having you here, and I thank you very, very much.
And if you loved this podcast episode, then I would love for you to also leave a 5-star review on iTunes, and subscribe to get the latest podcasts.
I am SO looking forward to being part of your journey with the Tarot, so until next time, I’m sending you lots of love and support.