Understanding Tarot


This is a personal view on the workings (or not) of Tarot. All constructive comments welcome, via the form at the foot of the page.

In the interest of transparency, I've also written some stuff about my background and path to Tarot reading, in case you want to make allowance for any personal bias I may have, details here.

The following quotation comes from The Complete Book of Fortune, a 1994 reprint of what appears to have been an out-of-copyright 19th Century publication. (ISBN 1 85891 117 6)

...we shall content ourselves here with suggesting that in some way, which is a complete mystery even to advanced students of occult science, the vast psychic power that fills all space and time exerts a magnetic influence upon the nervous system and the fingers of the person who shuffles, cuts, chooses or arranges the cards (who thus becomes essentially a medium), and so opens wide - in all its marvellous clarity and significance for those who have eyes to read - the Book of Life and Fate.

For me, this sums up the whole debate. The believer will happily accept the concept of a universal psychic power that flows through everything. And because they believe, no further proof is required.

But the sceptic will indeed require some kind of evidence, regarding the explanation above as all far to woolly and vague. 'vast psychic power?' they say, 'so it must be possible to give me even a tiny bit of proof'.

But it never is - at least, not to date (Dec 2010).

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If you can do this, or know of anyone who can, just click on the link below and scoop up the cash. And can I have 10% please, for pointing you in the right direction in the first place!

Conflict is pointless

Neither side will be able to convince the other, and the argument can go nowhere.

So let's try another approach.

Regardless of its ability or not to provide a rational justification for its existence, can a faith or belief system (including Tarot) provide a practical one?

And here, I think that the 'Believers' and the 'Brights' can find common ground.

As a species, our technical achievements have far outstripped physical development - by about 10,000 years or so.

Although evolved to be hunter-gatherers, we largely no longer find ourselves brandishing spears and dressed in animal skins. And we are required to receive and process vast amounts of data - far more than the original choice to either 'eat it or run away'.

Our lives can lack the former security and certainties of the tribe. Modern society can be bleak, sterile and seem to be increasingly controlled by others.

So it is hardly surprising if we seek mechanisms to help us both make sense of, and get through our lives. Some choose one of the established religious franchises, or a 'pick 'n mix' selection of their own devising. Others invest part of themselves in the fictional worlds of Tolkien, Rowling, Warcraft or Second Life.

And why not? So long as our actions do not harm anyone else, and beliefs are not forced on others by parent, school or state, then who has the right to dictate what we should think, and how we should think it?

So with that mini-rant in mind, here is my own 'take' on understanding Tarot...

Can a Tarot reading predict the future?

Well, even the 'pro' books usually have some kind of warning along the lines of results must be regarded as an indication of what may happen, rather than conclusive proof of what will happen.

Everything I've read or seen personally to date suggests that we have a huge amount of control over our lives. The preparations we make in advance, the attitude we adopt and the level of perseverance shown will all affect an outcome. And whatever goes wrong in life, we don't have to play the role of passive victim.

So can Tarot readings predict the future at all?

I've met one formerly sceptical magician/Tarot reader who now believes that yes, there is indeed really something going on.

Although if the actions of a Questor in the way they handle the cards really do have a significance, should not the same cards come up time and time again? I'm happy to keep an open mind, remaining ready to move away from the 'null hypothesis' as appropriate.

So, cards on the table (pun intended, sorry), do I believe that the cards can predict the future? Well, yes, as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can a Tarot reading influence the future?

Yes, I think it can! Let me quickly offer some evidence for this, before you write me off as a barking idiot.

Many Questors come to a reading with a very strong belief in the process. They will attach great significance to the result, and may well modify their future actions accordingly.

It has been demonstrated very convincingly that we respond to how others think of us and our abilities. To see this in action, a good example would be the Jane Elliott and the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes Experiment.

I give readings based on the actual cards chosen, but use a positive slant.

Rather than just suggesting that their future implies automatic prosperity, I'll phrase it along the lines of 'you have the opportunity to greatly improve your circumstances through taking well thought out action'.

Similarly, a card with a negative meaning can be interpreted as 'a warning to stay focused on the things that matter to you', or to be ready for problems ahead, which you can overcome as I can see that you are a determined and resourceful individual'.

So whilst providing the service I have been booked to perform - namely to interpret the cards according to the established wisdom - I am also seeking to help the Questors in the future as well.

Can a Tarot reading have any other influence?

To an extent, again, yes!

Firstly, in an impersonal world, it is always good to feel special, that someone is taking time over us.

Again, there is evidence to support this - Google the 'Hawthorn Effect' if you want to read more.

The Questor shuffles the cards and cuts to the ones to be read. It is their reading, they are the centre of attention. Sometimes, they just want someone to talk to about themselves.

And secondly, anything which helps to de-stress and relax us must be a good thing. Given sufficient time, a reading can be entertaining, informative (and, I hope,) uplifting.

Thirdly, and for me most importantly, the reading can help make sense of life.

Using Tarot as a cognitive tool

Apart from the sense of occasion that should occur with a Tarot reading, the cards themselves are pretty impressive. A good reading can have a rich and arcane vocabulary, and be packed with powerful metaphors - quests, journeys, fortunes, Queens, Kings and Knights.

You can feel like the Heroine or Hero of your very own fairy tale.

With all this going on, it is not surprising that a Questor will think more deeply about their life in the past, present and future and perhaps reach a conclusion, or achieve a deeper insight. At times, they just 'think aloud', using me as someone to talk at whilst they put their thoughts in order.

The psychologist Edward de Bono suggests combining two random objects or concepts to create a third - it may well be that the different cards as interpreted by the Reader will be fused together by the Questor to arrive at a unique realisation of their own.

Does Tarot work, if so, how?

Please share any (constructive) thoughts on this!

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