How does tarot work anyway? What are tarot cards, and what is a tarot reading?
Tarot cards originated as a playing card game in Medieval Europe and, somewhere along the line, folks started using it for divination. A tarot deck is comprised of 78 cards divided into 5 suits. There are other card systems out there that are used for divination, but if it doesn’t at least loosely follow the 78 card / 5 suit structure, they’re not tarot decks. So, basically, divination tools > card decks > tarot decks.
Different tarot readers vary widely in their beliefs on how tarot cards actually work. I cannot speak for what other tarot readers believe and so the beliefs and explanations I include here are uniquely my own.
First of all, I don’t believe that tarot cards can actually be used for divination. Nor do I believe there is anything spiritual or mystical about them. These two statements would actually be pretty controversial within the tarot community, in which many people do believe that tarot cards are an effective predictive tool and in which many people do believe that tarot cards have a special spiritual or mystical significance. Some tarot readers keep their decks on their bodies at all time, or keep their decks wrapped in a silk scarf inside of a wooden box. Many tarot readers charge their decks’ energy with crystals under a full moon.
I bought my tarot cards on Amazon and keep them in my purse.
My rationale for this is that I believe in free will and in using tarot for self-empowerment. Free will and self-empowerment are inconsistent with the notion of a predetermined future, destiny or fate. I believe that when a client walks away from a tarot reading it is the decisions she will make that determine what happens next in her life.
So if tarot isn’t a strong predictive tool, then what is it good for?
Tarot is an excellent tool for helping individuals sort out their thoughts and emotions, access their inner wisdom, confront difficult feelings by externalizing them, and be their own spiritual guide. I am finding more and more as I read for different clients that often there is a nagging thought or concern that that person has pushed to the back of her mind because she doesn’t believe that her feelings are valid and views them as a silly distraction, or for some reason just doesn’t want to deal with them. Tarot cards have an incredible ability to locate whatever that nagging thing is and bring it out to the forefront, and help validate and affirm individuals’ feelings and experiences. I am also coming to find that tarot is an inherently feminist practice.
My belief is that tarot works through free association. Everyone has different pre-existing associations with different colors, symbols, archetypes, numbers, images, letters, faces, you name it. Tarot cards are full of varying imagery and symbolism, so when an individual looks at a tarot card, she will necessarily interpret it differently from anyone else because the imagery on the card will trigger those existing associations. In this way we essentially bypass the conscious mind – that thing telling us not to dive deep, not to pay attention to that feeling in our gut, not to trust our intuition, that we should do what everyone else and what society is telling us to do – and instead access our inner wisdom that tells us what we, as individuals, really need, care about and want. And to the extent that you believe in a higher spiritual wisdom or the power of intuition, it is in this process of bypassing that negative voice in our heads and getting through to those underlying associations that we are able to find it.
What this all means is if you sit down for a reading with me I am not going to predict your future. I do not consider myself to be psychic. I am not a fortune teller. I am going to work with you in a down-to-Earth, interactive way to interpret these images (that have been in use for centuries because of their efficacy) in a way that has meaning for you and helps you get at your own inner truth. I frequently give my clients little “homework” assignments, calling on them to spend time meditating on the meaning or imagery of a certain card, or giving them a mantra based on a reading. I often encourage my clients to pull out their phone and take a photograph of certain cards or full readings and to then use that photograph as a reminder of the mindset and energy that they are working on bringing into their lives.
And I am confident my clients would tell you this approach is extremely rewarding. They walk away from my readings in a more mindful, meditative, contemplative state. They enjoy a new sense of calm, empowerment and spiritual equilibrium.
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