“The word “symbol” is derived from the ancient Greek symballein, meaning to throw together.  Its figurative use originated in the custom of breaking a clay tablet to mark the conclusion of a contract or agreement: each party to the agreement would be given one of the broken pieces, so that when they reconvened the pieces could be fitted together like a jigsaw.  The pieces, each of which identified one of the people involved, were known as symbola, so that a symbol not only represents something else but also hints at a missing “something”, an invisible part that is needed to achieve completion or wholeness.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, the symbol carries the sense of joining things together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, as shades of meaning accrue to produce a complex idea.”
In this way, a symbol is not just a sign with an obvious visible meaning, such as a stop sign by a road.  A symbol represents ideas and even emotions which can be far greater than they first appear; it can be a shorthand version of complex notions.  We build up the layers of these symbols that surround us through our lives and we develop our own responses to them.

So it is that symbols do not have intrinsic meaning - they are imbued with the meanings that society and individuals assign to them.  The symbols of tarot come with a great many ideas, simple and complex, and you will already have encountered the majority of them even if you have never looked at tarot before.  These symbols are part of an ongoing language with which you are already familiar, which you can use for communicating with the querent, and which you can also make your own: the meanings that you come to assign to these symbols and the tarot cards can become as individual as you are, and make your readings truly yours, whilst also tapping into the generally accepted meanings and the wealth of experience and understanding these carry.

Remember, the GLOSSARY OF SYMBOLS is for your exploration - the inclusion of these symbols by an artist creating a deck does not necessarily mean the artist was thinking about these particular symbolic ideas.  The glossary is for your consideration as you read the cards, helping you connect with them.

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From The Complete Encyclopedia of Signs and Symbols: