Q&A: Tarot on Deck

From 2013 archives

Q: What is the right way to take care of a tarot deck? I used to hear all sorts of things all the time at the shop I worked at, especially concerning one’s first deck, “No, I can’t buy my own!  Tarot decks must be given to you!”  Or that they must be wrapped in cloth, never left in the boxes.  Or put ‘to sleep’ with crystals.  Things like that.  Who came up with this stuff??

A: I’m sure there are tons of traditions, superstitions and hard-core beliefs out there about Tarot cards. I have no idea what they are all or where they come from. I tend to be a little skeptical about that part of Tarot because, for me, it hasn’t proven useful.

Let’s look at this rationally for a minute: What are Tarot cards, really? Are they some magical substance forged in the fires of Mount Doom? No. Are they magical, divine, paranormal or in any way other-worldly? No. They are pieces of cardboard with pretty art work printed on them. Period. If there is anything special about the cards, it is the human achievement of their artistic beauty, and the human insight they facilitate.

In “Holistic Tarot“, Benebell Wen makes and excellent point that most great artists treat the tools of their trade with great respect, sometimes with ritual or what appears superstition. I have no problem with that when it is just that…respect, or a means of connecting with one’s craft. In that capacity, the traditions around Tarot cards are magical things. There is no harm in engaging with habit, tradition and ritual to enhance our resonance and sense of connection with our tools and our art. However the tools and their rituals shouldn’t overshadow the our art or our autonomy.

Tarot cards – and all the cloth wrapping, moon bathing, crystal gripping lore that goes with them – are all indeed just tools. It is all just a way to help us connect with our own normal, natural intuition. It is just a way to connect with our own innate inner sense of the mystical and magical. The real magic, the real intuition and real connection to the spiritual is inside you…not inside those bits of ink and paper.

If it shows respect your inner wisdom to outwardly show special deference to the cards, fine. If it makes you feel more connected to readings, use whatever ritual you were taught or feels right. Use it as tool by all means, but not as a matter of blind faith. The leap of faith required for readings is far far more difficult than useing cloth and crystals “because”. The real leap of faith is believing in yourself. Believe in your own ability to know truth when you come across it. Believe in your own ability know the wrong thing when you come across that too.

For example the old superstition that a tarot deck must be received as a gift – Pfffft. If I waited for that, I still wouldn’t have a deck. Give me one good reason not to grab a pack of note cards and draw your own deck. If particulars like that were important, there wouldn’t be many decks. We’d all still be using black and white wood prints of the Marseilles Deck.There is a whole world of beautiful, inspiring decks out there. The very best readers I know all have a collection of decks most (if not all) they purchased for themselves.

I firmly believe that psychics and intuitives of every stripe are all freethinkers of the first order. That trust-your-own-judgement freethinking style would explain why there are so many diverse traditions and beliefs about Tarot decks. Debora Geary describes organizing the witches in her books as being like herding cats. I think tarot readers are the real life version of that. I’m guessing it be nearly impossible to get a thing-for-yourself crowd like this on to follow any unified tradition or ritual anyway.

I agree with Deepak Chopra “Religion is believing in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own”. Dogma is dogma, whether it has to do with religion or tarot cards or whatever. By this definition, readings are, I believe, a deeply spiritual activity. Doing a reading is your own direct experience of truth. Getting a reading is the sitter’s experience. The rest is only important if it helps the experience and makes things better. Otherwise the rest is just window dressing.