We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do You Believe In Tarot?
When asked if she wanted a tarot reading, a friend replied laughing, "Oh, I don't believe in that."  I haven't been able to stop thinking about that response.  What exactly does she not believe in?  I wish I had thought to ask, but her response was so very commonplace that I just breezed right past it.  I wish I had thought to probe the statement further because I really am curious what it is that people think constitutes "belief" in tarot.  To me, tarot either works or it doesn't.  There really isn't much belief involved there.  Having read tarot thousands of times, I have seen it work with enough reliability that I don't have to believe.  Is belief a prerequisite to getting a reading?  It probably helps, but I don't think it's necessary. In fact, a predisposed belief in tarot may skew the results in such a way that the querant may not be able to critically examine the reading and authentically extract genuine benefit. Then again, maybe I am confusing "belief" with "blind faith."  A simple belief that tarot works probably isn't detrimental whereas blind faith can be, well, blind.

But the idea of believing in or not believing in tarot seems novel to me.  It's like asking if one believes in symbolism or art or history.  Does one believe in deriving personal meaning from a painting, a poem, a piece of music? It's not something one believes or doesn't, it's something one either does or not.  I know there are people who view art but do not personalize the experience.  They see it either as appealing or not but don't necessarily apply any significance to their own lives or thought process.  But if you asked them, "Do you believe in art?" I am quite certain they would look at you puzzled and ask, "What do you mean? Do I believe in that painting over there?  Of course I do, it exists.  Just like this chair I am sitting in or the vase of flowers on that table."  That is how I view tarot.  It just is.  It doesn't require a belief to exist, but one can either derive meaning from the cards or not. 

Do you believe tarot images are archetypal? A quick study of symbolism and art from varied cultures will soon persuade you they are.  Do you believe tarot can tell your future?  In the hands of an intuitive reader these cards, whether the reader be a novice or well seasoned,  just might.  Do you believe in the subconscious, the intuition, or do you ignore those in favor of concrete facts and evidence of proof?  I daresay give your intuition a chance and you will get all the facts and proof you need. 

Oh, I get it now!  I know what you don't believe in.  You don't believe in the woo-woo, the psychic predictive fortune-telling, destiny revealing practice of reading tarot.  Well, that's ok.  Lots of tarot readers don't either.  Instead, I would ask if you believe in gaining insight and help with sorting out the confusion of making a decision where no one "right" way is clearly revealed?  Do you believe in plumbing the depths of mind and soul to unearth revelations and create new paths for your self to trod?  Because tarot can assist with that, too.  When you say you don't "believe" in "that stuff" are you, like so many, lumping tarot in with all the charlatans, snake oil salesmen, frauds and thieves that dupe naive people out of their hard-earned money?  Or are you simply saying that in order for a reading to have any significance to you, you would first have to believe in the tarot's ability to be relevant to your life?  Because if it is the latter, you have a point. 

Tarot is not for everyone, to be sure.  But I suspect it could be for a lot more people if they only knew that they don't have to believe in supernatural woo-woo to gain their money's worth from a reading.  They don't have to suspend their disbelief either.  They can, and I hope they do, critically examine the cards, what the reader explains, how the interpretation relates or doesn't relate to their situation, to themselves.  I hope they come as a bit of a skeptic and raise one eyebrow toward the reader.  I beg of you, do not check your critical thinking skills at the door.  An involved and questioning querent is essential to deriving the most value from any tarot reading.  If you want to know why the reader ascribed a certain meaning to a particular card, ask them.  Bring your own intuition to the table.  Try the reader's intuition on for size but if it pinches and pulls, don't wear it.  Use your own.  It fits you like a glove.  If she says this card means this and only this, challenge her, politely, of course.  You don't have to discard your own perceptions and accept those of someone else.  Not if you want a rewarding reading.    And would it help if I told you there is even a card or two in the deck that symbolizes the positive trait of critical thinking?  There is, in fact, an entire suit devoted to the thought processes of the mind.  Check your brain at the door to a reading? Never!

To tarot or not to tarot may be the question, but it's not whether to believe or not in tarot.  It's not a religion, it's not a faith.  It is more closely aligned with art than science.  It is a practice, a discipline, an exercise.  It is not, however, a belief.  At least, I don't believe so.


  1. Absolutely right, Ginny!! When you take the woo-woo away, people see tarot in a very different way. An example is my brother. He's an scientist and quite an skeptic, but he was curious about his sister being a tarot reader. When he saw my attitude towards tarot as a counsellor and an a tool of intuition, he became really curious and now he's learning about tarot himself. I think more people would develop an interest in tarot if we showed it more as a personal tool to explore ourselves and less as a "magical belief"

  2. Dear Ginny,

    Brilliant post. I appreciate the depth and breadth of your article. Most of us Tarot folks have heard that comment at one time of another. You definitely covered most of the thoughts that have run through my mind.

    I'd like to add a couple of ideas to expand the dimensions of this topic on "belief."

    If someone comes from a fundamentalist religious perspective, to say to a friend "I don't believe in Tarot." could be a polite way of saying, "I'll be damned if I entertain the possibility of developing a relationship with Tarot cards for they are the work of the Devil." In this case, I absolutely respect my friend's boundary and we gladly change the subject.

    "Seeing is believing" as the saying goes. To experience Tarot first hand is the threshold for most people to step into acknowledging that there might be something useful about the cards. We are experienced based, sensory-grounded, beings in our perceptions and have an easier time relating to something if we have gone through it or experienced it ourselves in some way. E.g. the taste of ice cream. Easier to try than to describe.

    My last contribution is from Jungian Psychology. In “Psychological Types” Jung (1971/1921) describes four basic functions of consciousness: intuition, sensation, feeling, and thinking. I’m over simplifying here, but the point I’m making in this post is that of these four types, only the feeling and thinking types develop belief systems, based on judgment. Thinkers are analytical in their approach, while feelers have confirming opinions of “like or dislike” without needing to know why. Intuitives and sensation types collect information and tend to take their experience on face value without the necessity of establishing a belief system. Most of us are various combinations of these four functions. Basically, some folks need beliefs while others do not. Thus belief itself is relative.

    Keep up the great work!!

  3. Most of my regulars know I walk a fine line with the "woo-woo." I embrace it and am fascinated with it and never fail to be amazed by the supernatural and psychic moments experienced while reading tarot. It's just that I don't think the cards are necessary for those things to happen. That being so, the cards themselves are not "woo-woo" and I wish more people knew that. So many of my tarot friends and clients are brilliant, rational, well-educated people with all sorts of letters after their names. I'm so glad that tarot is showing itself to be a useful tool to those who might not otherwise delve into new-agey stuff.

    I did consider the "other beliefs" rationale, too, Katrina. "I don't believe in that stuff" could certainly be a statement that means, "I believe in other stuff that precludes tarot." Which is why I don't probe the person who says it. For whatever reason, they've made their boundary clear. No trespassing here. And what you say about the personality types makes perfect sense, too. There are many people who have no need or desire for adopting any particular belief system. Those types are exactly the ones who may hold some assumptions about tarot being part of a belief system that they want no part of and it is that presumption I am challenging. You don't have to "believe" in order for tarot to be of value to you.

    Andre -- YES! Tarot certainly does make more sense than it should. Absolutely. What a wonderful commentary. :)

  4. Lovely writing, too!

  5. Thank you for this article. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. A thoughtful and positive piece. I've long thought of Tarot and similar beliefs in terms of the "six impossible things" quote.

    Whether (occult entities and relations) exist or not is immaterial, said a wise man: "by doing certain things, certain things happen. That is all we know and wll we need to know."

  7. Thank you for your comment, Steve. I know there are a lot of tarot readers who do ascribe a certain source to the information they receive during readings, but for many of us, we don't have a concrete idea where it comes from. We only know that we have derived great benefit from the practice and have seen that benefit given to our clients as well. As you said, maybe that is all we need to know.

  8. Well said!

    I get a kick out of the people who think it's to tell the future. I use it for clarification, etc. To see BEYOND the obvious. Not to predict.

  9. Well BrambleRose, I do think tarot can be used to predict. But it's just one use of many.


Please do not post links. Your comment will be deleted. Thank you.