Most of us remember Venn diagrams from math class. Venn diagrams graphically depict commonalities and differences between a group of individual things.
Venn diagrams have been making a humorous resurgence in internet memes. My favorite is a Venn diagram about bank robbers, preachers and DJs. In a Venn diagram, the commonalities shared by all the individual things are in the center. What do bank robbers, preachers and DJs have in common? They all say, “Put your hands up!”
In a Venn diagram of three or more things there may be commonalities between only two of the things. In this meme, for example, both bank robbers and DJs say, “Get on the floor!” Both preachers and DJs say, “Are you with me?” Both bank robbers and preachers say, “Give me your money!”
What does all this have to do with tarot?
One of the things that is most confusing for tarot students is finding the subtle differences between similar cards. Advanced tarot students grow in their understanding and ability by considering the differences and similarities between cards, and groups of cards.
Tarot cards naturally have certain similarities based on elemental association, and number and rank. For example, all Queens will have something in common. All twos will have something in common. All cards associated with the element of Air will have something in common. When we understand these commonalities, we have an easier time understanding the cards.
Yet, it is important to understand the differences in individual cards. And, sometimes we find similarities between cards that don’t have elements, rank, or number in common.
A good exercise is to look through your deck and pull out cards that you feel have similar interpretations. Then, figure out what these cards and in common, and what is unique to each card.
A good way to do this exercise is with a Venn diagram. For example, some people have a hard time understanding the differences between the Three of Cups and the Four of Wands. Here is how I break out keywords for these two cards in a Venn diagram.
Sometimes cards of the same number have so much in common they become hard to distinguish one from another. Here is a Venn diagram of the Ten of Cups and the Ten of Pentacles.
You can see how helpful it is to parse out the differences and similarities.
Of course, we all have our personal set of tarot keywords, based on the traditions of the decks we use, and our own understanding and experiences with the cards. That’s why this is such a fun and informative process. Newer tarotists can make Venn diagrams based on their research, an on their impressions of the cards. Experienced tarotists can dive more deeply into the cards by using Venn diagrams to catalog the keywords they have developed over time.
Sometimes larger aspects of tarot can also be confusing. For example, there is a lot of crossover between the two masculine elements, Air and Fire. Here is a Venn diagram showing how I see their differences and similarities.
It would be interesting to do a Venn diagram of three circles with the three cards of authority, which are the Empress, Emperor and Hierophant. Then, a Venn diagram of the three clergy, which are the High Priestess, the Hermit and the Hierophant would be fascinating. There is so much we can learn when we compare and contrast cards with each other, and in small groups.
When we understand the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between similar cards we are able to give a more specific and nuanced tarot reading. When we are able to understand the commonalities between cards, we can find strong themes and important points when those cards appear together in a tarot spread. Venn diagrams can be a wonderful tool to help us understand our cards more clearly and become more proficient at giving great readings.