Tarot: Myths and Misconceptions

There are a few things I know a lot about. Tarot is one of them. It never ceases to amaze me that even today there are many myths, misconceptions and general scepticism surrounding the subject, so I’m hoping here to bring tarot out of its gypsy clad, incense covered closet.

I’ve been reading tarot cards for fifteen years, and one thing hasn’t changed in all that time. When I tell people I read tarot cards I will get one of two reactions- “Oh I don’t believe in that stuff,” and “Can you do me?”.

The first group amuse me. These are the people who very often follow up their statement of disbelief with the question, “what if it tells you something bad?” The second group are sometimes harder to deal with as they often assume that tarot readers walk around with their cards (which a lot do) and are ready to do free readings for strangers at the drop of a hat (which a lot aren’t). They can sometimes get quite persistent. Quite frankly, this is bad manners on the same sort of level as asking a total stranger how much money they earn. I highly recommend you don’t do it.

One of the main myths surrounding tarot is that it can predict someone’s death. It can’t. You may get a reading from an exceptional reader who can psychically pick that sort of information up but these sorts of readers are so rare as to be virtually non-existent. In and of themselves tarot cards can only tell you what you already know at some level.

There are many forms of divination: oracles, I Ching, runes, omens, to name but a few, but tarot cards are different in that their main usefulness comes not from their ability to predict the future but from their ability to allow the reader to examine themselves.

Tarots strength lies in it symbolism. In its ability to speak to our subconscious and bring out those things we try to keep hidden from ourselves. I describe it as being able to give you the long view- for example, we sometimes get so close to our own situations that it is as if we have a newspaper pressed up close to our face- all we see are dots and blurs- tarot allows you to pull the metaphorical newspaper away so that you can see the whole picture again. The beauty of this is that symbols are deeply personal. A crow can mean three different things to three different people yet at the same time still retain enough universal meaning to be relevant.

One of my favourite misconceptions is that the actual cards themselves are in some way mystical or magical or need to be treated with some kind of special deference. They are pretty pictures printed on cardboard. Sometimes good quality cardboard sometimes rather cheap and nasty cardboard but, at the end of the day, cardboard none the less. It’s the images that are special. And tarot is not the only thing that uses the power of imagery; its just codified into a system that can be learnt with tarot.

My least favourite misconception is the one where tarot is the tool of the devil and that they are evil and will somehow turn any user evil. Seriously, does this even need refuting anymore? I won’t start because then I’ll end up ranting, suffice it to say that the sort of people who say this are the sort that I choose not to waste my time with.

The last thing I wanted to cover was readers and readings. Readers are people too. You have your good, bad and ugly in tarot readers like you do anywhere else. And tarot readings can vary in price from $5 to $150 (generally if your paying more than that your reader should be some kind of celebrity or you are being ripped off). A few general guidelines:

  • If you are getting a reading and feel uncomfortable, pressured or like nothing the reader is saying makes sense, get up, walk out and don’t pay.
  • If a reader tells you that you have a curse and must pay $XXX to get rid of it get up, walk out, don’t pay and call the police. This is illegal and it gives decent readers a bad name.
  • A good reader will reiterate to you that no future is set in stone. Anything about the future that you don’t like can be changed. To my mind, this is the point of tarot reading- to see if you are on track to getting where you want to be and if you aren’t, doing something different to get there. Any reader who is convinced that such and such event will happen and nothing can change it probably isn’t worth going back to.
  • A good tarot reading will leave you feeling better and more optimistic about your future than when you walked in. If it doesn’t then chances are you need to find a better reader.

There are probably more myths and misconceptions, but I think I’ve covered the main ones. If there’s something about tarot cards or readings you would like to know feel free to ask. I’m happy to answer any and all questions- except the “will you read for me?” question. The answer to that is no- but I can steer you in the direction of good people who will.

Originally Published on Rusty Lime 3rd May 2008

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