Cardboard, Ink and Magic

The forum conversations used to go something like this:

Question: Do tarot cards have “personalities?”
Answer: Nope, they’re just tools made of cardboard and ink. The human qualities they seem to exhibit are those we project onto them. The formal word for it is “anthropomorphizing” but, put more simply, it’s a type of animism with roots in ancient religion. In that sense, reading the cards can be a shamanistic experience.

Question: Do tarot cards “talk” to us?
Answer: Again, not as such; see above. Their messages originate on a higher plane (Collective Unconscious, astral, divine, etc.) and arrive via our subconscious, so we’re really explaining to ourselves (and to our sitters, if applicable) the subliminal insights we receive.

Question: Do tarot cards possess “magic?”
Answer: Not really, the magic is in the diviner, not in the tools, and is invoked through interaction with the images. The greater the skill of the artist in imparting intelligence and feeling to the pictures, the greater the sense of “presence” they convey. The more resourceful the reader is in employing the artist’s vision to best effect and the degree to which the deck resonates with his or her personal approach, the greater the “magical” quality of the reading. The storyteller’s art has much to do with the atmosphere of this presentation. I expanded on this last observation in an earlier post:

Question: Should I let sitters handle my cards?
Answer: Not if you’re really squeamish about it, but letting them shuffle and cut can create a sense of “communion” between the querent and the cards that forges a subconscious link (call it “subconscious induction”) between the two, imparting order to the sequence that results in a meaningful narrative.

Question: Do I need to “cleanse” my decks of negative energies between readings?
Answer: Some do, many don’t. Realistically, cardboard and ink don’t “capture” psychic forces, so any centering or grounding should be performed on oneself, not on the tools. It may also be prudent to “clear” the reading space in some way.

Question: Do tarot cards invariably tell the truth?
Answer: There is usually a kernel of truth in every reading, but the reader may not have the experience or sensitivity to correctly interpret it. Reading the cards can be like peeling an onion; meaning can exist on more than one level –  practical, psychological, and spiritual – and getting to it can be a convoluted process involving input and validation from the sitter. In marksman’s terms, it suggests “zeroing in” on the bull’s-eye; it can take a few “shots” to find the mark.

Question: Why aren’t my predictions always accurate?
Answer: You’re expecting too much from them. Tarot is good at identifying upcoming  possibilities and tendencies and even assessing their probability of occurrence, but the future is too elastic for the exact nature and timing of specific events to be nailed down with precision. The sitter’s active engagement with the insights received through the reading will ideally alter the course of any prediction for the better.

Question: How does the tarot “work?”
Answer: There is no single answer to this, but the understanding of its operation falls into two main camps. The intuitive perspective is that free-association from the images yields imaginative impressions that can be digested for hints of the truth; call it the “power of suggestion.” The analytical position is that a wealth of accumulated knowledge and experience resides in the reader’s memory from prior learning and practice, and it can be tapped and translated into relevant insights based on the meanings inherent in the cards appearing in the spread. The reality seems to lie somewhere to either side of the midpoint, depending on one’s personal style.

2 thoughts on “Cardboard, Ink and Magic

  1. Good post. As to accuracy, I would add 3 points: Framing the question in a meaningful manner; 2. Using a spread (or reading technique) that elicits a meaningful answer; 3. Practice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When reading for others, I don’t usually ask for a specific question (something I picked up from Eden Gray back in 1972), at most just a general “life area,” and let the cards speak their piece. Getting the right spread for the occasion is certainly important, and is the reason I’ve created over 100 of them. I used the Celtic Cross (not Waite’s version, my own adaptation) for everything for over 40 years; it’s kind of a “Swiss Army Knife” layout but sometimes includes too much information.


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