What do you think of when you hear the words “tarot” or “oracles”? Crazy old cat ladies slamming weathered playing cards on a table, predicting doom for the gullible who flock to their doors? Charlatans in dimly lit rooms with crystal balls and hookah smoke, ready to exploit the memory of your dear dead Auntie May in order to free you of your hard-earned money?
Yeah, I get it.
Kat and I cut our teeth reading cards in the heart of the Bible Belt, and we’ve gotten our share of odd looks. Once, when we read for our waitress at the IHOP in Elizabethtown, KY, an elderly couple scrawled the following message on their ticket (in lieu of a tip): “If you’re afraid, run! God will protect you.”
Lots of misconceptions out there about divination, card readings, and mysticism in general. You may have heard some of them.
I can’t speak for all readers, but I can address a few of the common myths we’ve encountered as we built our tarot practice.
- Divination is evil and linked to Satan worship. This was a particularly common one in the Heartland. Now, based on your religious framework, your mileage may vary on this one. I mean, if you are part of an ultra-conservative evangelical Christian sect, you probably have trouble with divination, just like you have trouble with other things like women working outside the home and dancing and other wicked activities. But if you’re just an average everyday person, you really don’t have to worry about tarot being satanic. Yes, there is a Devil card in most tarot decks, but we don’t worship it. We just use it to warn our clients that maybe, they’re heading down the wrong path.
- I’m scared to get my cards read because what if you see something horrible?? First of all, a reading is never set in stone. Most of us agree that human beings have free will and that our lives are the result of choices we make along the way. Fate is a really heavy word that should be used sparingly–like lugubrious or millieu. Our lives are not out of our control. Think of a reading like a road sign. Yes, there may be a huge monstrous pothole half a mile in front of you. Wouldn’t you rather know now, so you can either prepare for it or choose another, safer course?
- What if the reader tells me I’m cursed? Let me say this here and now. If anybody ever does a reading for you and tells you that (a) there is a curse on you and (b) for X amount of dollars, they can remove if, run do not walk out of that place. If you’d already paid for the reading, chalk it up as a lesson learned. No reputable reader is going to scare you into paying to have a curse removed. That’s Item Number One in the Charlatan Playbook, and it gives us all a bad name.
- I’m going to a card reader, and they’re going to fix my problems. Nope, wrong answer. Another misconception we would all be well-advised to correct. Just for the record, no card reader is going to “fix” you. No doctor is going to heal you. No psychiatrist is going to cure you. Read this, and read this well–all healing, all curing, all growth and change come from within you. Your reader, your doctor, your shrink–we’re all here to guide you using the skills and tools we have at our disposal. But you are responsible for your own life, your own health, and your own growth. This is both terrifying and electrifyingly empowering.
- I’m not psychic, so I could never read my own cards. Darn! You have to be psychic to read cards? Then what have I been doing for the last twenty years? Cuz I am not particularly psychic. What I am is open to my own intuition and to the insight the cards offer. The cards are a tool, nothing more, to help the reader and the client gain insight through symbolism, intuition, and common sense. Anyone can learn to read the tarot. Like the kid who takes piano lessons, you may not become Beethoven, but you can still learn to play a tune.
- I read a book about tarot, and I don’t have time to learn all the cards, their meanings, the Kabbalah, the esoteric histories, omg, my head’s gonna explode! As much as I’d love to let you think I’m a genius with a deep mysterious well of esoteric knowledge even Nostradamus would lust after, it just ain’t so. There are as many ways to read the tarot as there are tarot cards and tarot decks. Some readers are highly intuitive, others are systematic, others are truly psychic and basically use the cards as prompts (or props, in some cases). Getting back to our piano metaphor, you don’t have to learn Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Symphony to play the piano. You can get by very well with show tunes and classic pop songs. Or you can compose your own.
- OMG, what if I get the Death card???? Couple of things here. First, the Death card does not mean literal death. It means change. And secondly, you think you aren’t going to die? Um, as far as I know, every person on the planet is going to die eventually. Dying is not the problem. It’s how you live that matters, and you’re not going to have any kind of life worth having if you spend all your time avoiding everything that reminds you of your own mortality.
- Readers have all the answers. Nope, nope, nuppers. Readers do not have a direct link to the future, and any reader who tells you they can 100% guarantee a reading is lying. When I do a reading, I always preface it by saying, “I have no idea what I’m talking about.” Because I don’t. The message is for the client, not for me. I’m taking my knowledge of the cards, my storytelling ability, my intuition, and getting out of the way. One of the reasons I never remember what I tell people in readings is because I’m not there. I look at the cards, I start talking, and I trust that it will make sense to the client. I trust that there is a message desperately trying to reach my client, and synchronicity and luck and quantum whatever all worked together to put those word in my mouth at just the right time and place. The message belongs to them, not me. It’s honestly none of my business what my cards want you to know. I’m just a voice the universe is using to get your attention. What you do with that message is your own business.
If there’s anything I want to underscore, it’s this: readings are messages, road maps, guidelines. The cards are tools, like a GPS app or video game cheat sheet. In some ways, they are much less mysterious and awe-inspiring than that smart phone you’re glued to.
But, like your smartphone, with a little practice and some common sense, the cards can be just as useful.