I have often heard this question mentioned one way or another when people talk about the pip cards for beginner’s advice. Going on to elaborate the necessity of some type of formal learning to be able to grasp the pips. When I began reading tarot I used to feel the same trepidation, but in general, not just for the pip cards. My thoughts were, “What will turn up in the cards and will I be able to see/read it?”
As for the pips or minors in the Marseille or non pictorial tradition, what to do with them? To be frank and direct, begin with experiencing them, with gesturing their function as tools and how each is held and what each does to us, to our bodies, and to others around us.* Meaning and significations by the book only offer one side of the coin, and often hinging on someone else’s point of view, opinion, and occult definition. For me, this is flat and insufficient, I value the vision that is sharpened through seeing things as they are derived from my own head, my own eyes, and my own experience. Now, I will not disparage book learning as it has the potential to lead down interesting avenues, and it can also help generate ideas when approaching the tarot. I myself have read several books, and I enjoy doing so on occasions, especially when the book brings something new to the table, fresh perspectives besides rote meanings.
In reading the pips, before books, my first advice is to experience them. Understanding the pips through the lived or gestured experience vivifies your perspective and approach, it enlivens your words and attunes your vision to what it is you are seeing.
For example, the suit of cups features well, cups. You hold one, a cup, you drink from one. It is an intimate experience wherein this object that carries liquid into your body, serves as an intermediary that satiates. Given the intimate nature of the cup, you can start to see what is suggestive about the object and how it interacts with us, and most importantly you can start peering into what the cup/s have to say in relation to the question when these pop up in a reading. Cups hold liquid you carry into your body, water, wine, juice, it satiates, it enlivens, it loosens, it inebriates, and nourishes. They can also warm the heart or body if it is tea or coffee. They affect you both emotionally and physically. I glean here satisfaction, pleasure, company, entertainment, the heart and it’s desires, close relationships, family, love, what we hold close to our bodies, what moves our emotions and passions. Also, let’s not forget that Jesus turned water into wine to the enjoyment of all at the wedding.
What to do with the pips is simple, you experience them, you gesture them, you acknowledge and see their function. Look at the tools of the minors, Cups, Coins, Swords, Batons, see the tools, their function, and how one interacts with each. Essentially, the pips hinge on function and how we experience them. There are no hidden meanings besides the ones you as the reader determine.
Here is a suggestion, if you have a Tarot de Marseille or non pictorial Tarot deck lying around unused:
- Take it out and lay out the pips, whether by suit or all mixed together is up to you.
- Spread out, in whatever shape pleases you, see what you see.
- Look at what arises.
- Pose questions, made up or real, no need to shuffle just single out three cards at random. This is a game.
- See how they talk and contextualize your questions.
For example, how would a sword and cup interact, if cups deal with what is close to us and swords are held far from us and serve on occasions as a weapon that divides? Or how would a baton and sword interact? Both are held at arms length, both are long and can strike things, one can be a cane or a pillar, while the other can tip the war in its favor.
An alternative suggestion would be to lay out one suit, and formulate a hypothetical task or a project, like creating a painting or completing a business project. Imagine the process and how the process plays out through each of the cards progressively. The project can be cooking, cleaning, building a house, choices abound. As you see the process of completing said task play out, the tensions and movement, the minors will acquire nuance and depth because you are nearing them to your self, to your experience.
At its most basic, wands and swords together denote heavy strife, perhaps work contentions, exhaustion around a pesky problem, and enemies. Wands and coins denote resources and how one exerts and disposes the self in the production of more resources, or in the protection of held riches. In addition, dedication, compromise, determination. Nonetheless, remember, these are brief and not meant to be taken as TRUTH. There is no one TRUTH, and much less in reading the Tarot. There are truths, and these are found as we experience the cards, as we see them for what they are and how their images can contextualize our questions. Moreover, tarot is a malleable tool, one we use, we experience, we engage with, with our eyes open and our vision unclouded, and in so doing unveiling the many truths it can afford, imparting what we seek to know at the moment of asking.
Also, providing options, here is a brief list of recommended books:
- Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading by Camelia Elias
- The Open Reading by Yoav Ben-Dov
- En Terex It: Encounters Around Tarot Volume 1 by Enrique Enriquez (Hoping to add Volume II to my collection soon)
Take courage and play with the pips, despite their unpopularity the minors are piquant, cheeky, and surprisingly insightful in their directness. It is a rhyme of forms much akin to poetry.
*Please, no hazardous play with swords.