I’ve been seeing a lot of coming out stories lately, where people relate the reactions of others to learning that they read Tarot. Reactions seem to range from “cool, I’ve always wondered about those” to “those are Satan’s cards and you’re going straight to hell.” Also common is an expression of surprise that “someone like you could believe in that sort of nonsense.” I suspect that sometimes this latter opinion may also go unexpressed.
So, having written earlier about Christians and the Tarot, I figured maybe I might also address my friends of the intellectual bent.
If you’ve already made up your mind that the practice of reading Tarot is a bunch of worthless nonsense, you can go sit in the corner with the Christians who think it’s the work of the devil. If you’re at all curious though, about how a literate, intelligent, reasoning skeptic might find value in the practice, please read on.
Why Read Tarot?
There are a lot of reasons that people take an interest in the Tarot beyond the use of the cards to gain insight or information, but in this post I’d like to focus specifically on the Tarot reading itself, and why I find it to be of value.
Simply put, a card reading has an uncanny way of bringing to light information that might otherwise remain hidden from us. Sometimes this information can be helpful, if not crucial, in solving problems, making decisions, and otherwise guiding our actions and our lives.
The adjective “uncanny” was chosen carefully. Even those who refuse to accept anything smacking of the “mystic” or “spooky” often find that card readings present them with powerful, extraordinary truths.
But how can we trust the validity of information gleaned from random arrangements of pieces of cardboard? How could such a silly operation possibly offer anything worthwhile?
Accessing the Unconscious
The unconscious mind is a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom. Everything that we have experienced, whether consciously acknowledged or not, is recorded there. Much of the information may be of little practical use, but some of it can be of great value. The problem is that it can be difficult for our conscious minds to access the information when we most need it.
I like to use the example of a misplaced object. Have you ever wandered around your home looking for reading glasses or car keys? Part of what makes such situations so frustrating is that we had the object in our own hand, and we watched as we placed it on the table or desktop or wherever. It’s right there in the open for anyone to see, but now we can’t find it.
When we eventually do find it, we might chide ourselves for wasting so much time with the matter, as we “knew all along” where it was.
Well, it turns out that we know a lot of things, “all along.” What the Tarot cards can do, at least the way I approach them, is to bring those things out into the open where they might be of use to us.
That’s what the cards do. Here’s how they do it.
Dredging Up and Jarring Loose
There’s no readily available searchable index of the mind. As a practical matter, we can’t just “focus our attention” on a situation and draw forth all of the relevant information our mind has to offer. At least most of us can’t, most of the time.
When we throw down a Tarot card, it jars things loose. We have a question, or a position in a spread that is meant to convey an idea of some sort, and we introduce a random, evocative image as a stimulus. Our mind goes about doing what it does, trying to explain the connection in the midst of the randomness. Odd bits get dredged up. Sometimes it’s mundane. Sometimes it’s interesting. Sometimes you strike gold.
It really is pretty much as simple as that. The knowledge of the symbols and traditions related to the cards is helpful, because it adds to the depth of associations that can be drawn. The rituals involved in making the environment as conducive as possible to the process can also add more richness and meaning. Good sense, right judgment, compassion, empathy, intuition, basic counseling skills – all of these have a role to play in creating a positive Tarot experience. The magic, though, is in throwing down the random stimulus and letting loose the mind’s creative powers.
Truth is Where You Find It
If someone were to ask me whether or not I “believe in the cards” I would say that I believe they can be useful.
I know for sure that they have helped me to better understand myself, the people around me, and the world in which we live. They have helped me make better decisions. They have helped me to be healthier, happier, kinder, and to live with more integrity.
Is the information that we get from the cards valid? Is it credible? Reliable? “True?”
If you’re looking for measurement, of the “what percentage of Tarot readers correctly predicted 9/11” variety, you’re unlikely to find it. There is precious little legitimate research that has been done with the cards, and most of the information out there is either anecdotal, or intentionally skewed to debunk.
For me, if something is useful, and is not harmful, that is plenty enough. I’ve found that the Tarot cards, as I use them, pass this test.
Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment.