I took to Facebook in a live session talking about how the Tarot has changed my life, and some tips on how to get started.
In February of 2019, on a whim and for no particular reason other than curiosity, I began a habit of drawing a single Tarot card each day, looking at it, reading about it, thinking about how the depiction might apply to my life, and writing down a few notes. To my surprise, this practice has changed my life profoundly, and for the better.
For those who may be interested in trying out a similar practice, here are some recommendations on how to begin.
Get your hands on a Rider Tarot deck. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of varieties of decks out there, and many worthy of consideration for a first deck. I recommend starting with the Rider for several reasons. First of all, the depictions on the cards are evocative. They make it easy to conjure up thoughts or impressions or emotions in response to the cards, and that’s helpful because of the way that we’ll be using them. Since the depictions are distinctive, they may also help you more easily remember the associated meanings that you arrive at for each card.
There are also a lot of resources available that are geared to interpreting the Rider-Waite-Smith card images, as compared to other decks that are available. Also, it’s readily available and you can probably pick up a garden variety Rider deck pretty cheap (maybe around $15, or even less if you shop around). It’s just overall a great starter deck for the novice. You’ll probably want to eventually broaden your horizons and at least look at some other decks, and virtually any deck would be okay for starters, but it’s hard to beat the Rider if you don’t have another particular preference.
Visit Joan Bunning’s website, or buy her book. Learning the Tarot is a marvelous course for the Tarot beginner. It’s easy to read and will take you through the history and tradition of the cards, help you learn the standard accepted meanings (and also how to approach creating your own interpretations), and take you all the way to the basics of creating card spreads and reading for others, if you are so inclined.
The entire course is available online, free of charge, so if you can’t spring for the book, you can get the very same information on the website. I would recommend reading and digesting the first five chapters of the course, and then beginning the daily reading practice described in chapter five.
Of course, there are many, many, other great books and websites on the subject. For me, though, Bunning’s material is perfect for the beginner and will get you off to a great start in understanding and using the Tarot.
Develop your own routine. I hesitate to use the term “ritual” here, because it may have some connotations that put some folks off, but it’s a good idea to create a set routine for yourself around your daily readings that help to reinforce it as a habit, and help you get the most out of the practice. In the beginning, I made a big production of my daily readings, lighting incense, taking time to get into the right frame of mind, shuffling the deck in a certain habitual way, etc. I’m a little less elaborate about it now, but there are a few things that I’ve found to be especially helpful.
First, try to do your daily reading in the same place, at about the same time every day. Whatever sorts of “prelude” activities you’d like to include, use them every day for awhile. This helps to condition your mind to the idea that this is a special time, apart from the rest of your daily activities and obligations. It will help you develop and cultivate mental associations that will bring a spirit of attention and openness to the practice each time you sit down with your deck.
Some people like to ask a question before they cut and draw. For me, it has been most helpful to simply set an intention, such as “what do you have for me today?” I’m not addressing the cards with this intention. I’m addressing my own mind and spirit. “What do you have for me? What do I need to know today? What should I learn right now?”
Really look at the card. Part of the power of the Tarot is its ability to draw forth feelings, ideas and thoughts that might not surface for you otherwise. So it’s great to learn the traditional meanings of the cards, but it’s so much more important to get in touch with your own impressions and intuition. Look at the details of the card. Does the expression or action of any of the characters depicted strike a chord with you? Do you like the card or dislike it? Does it make you feel warm and happy, or contented, or uncomfortable, or confused, or joyful, or irritated, or frightened? Who does the card depict in your life? If you were in the card, what would you be doing or how would you feel? Does the card remind you of anything?
I like to spend a little time scanning my own mind and heart while looking at the card before I take a look at the description from the “little white book” that comes with the deck (or from Joan Bunning’s website or another Tarot site or book). Often, I’ll turn up a card and think “I know exactly what this means for me.” Other times I’ll think “I can’t relate to this at all. It has nothing to do with my life or how I’m feeling today.” Either way, I spend a few minutes mulling it over, and then jot down my impressions.
Keep a journal. This part is so important, because over time you’ll begin to develop your own unique personal catalogue of various card meanings, and also you may begin to see patterns that have meaning in your life or that are somehow useful to you. My practice is to create an Evernote for each season of the year, with room for an entry each day that includes the day of the week and date, the card title, my notes and a picture of the card that I take with my iPad. I also post the card each day to Instagram, and upload it to a “Daily Tarot” album on Flickr, so I can look at the series of cards chronologically from time to time and see if any patterns jump out at me, and think about what they suggest.
Sometimes my notes are nothing more than a few keywords. Other times they may include a detailed description of the card, or maybe a longer narrative about a memory, or what’s going on in my life at the moment and how the card relates to it. The main thing is to be consistent in journaling every day, even if it’s only a few words. The other important thing is to write down whatever it is you’re thinking and feeling, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable to do. The journal is for you, and not something you ever have to share with someone else. The real growth often occurs when we’re feeling most uncomfortable or vulnerable, so it’s helpful to face those sorts of things as directly as we can.
Connect with others. Whether you’re using the Tarot as a tool for personal growth, as a hobbyist or collector, as part of a spiritual practice or just a fun pastime, it’s cool to connect with other people who share the interest. There are lots of communities and websites online where you can find others who are interested in the Tarot. I particularly enjoy the community that has gathered around The Hermit’s Cave, Simon Harrison’s popular Tarot-centric YouTube channel. Google and find the sites, social media and groups that appeal most to you.
Enjoy yourself. You may find, as I did, that the Tarot is a powerful tool for personal development. Or for you it may turn out to be a simple pleasant activity, without a lot of gravity – an interesting diversion. For me, it began as the latter and soon took on a life of its own. There’s really no “right” approach, and nothing to fear from “doing it wrong.” So relax and enjoy and just take in the experience.
And whatever your experience turns out to be, I wish you the best, and I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment here with your own stories, resources, questions and ideas.
Here’s to the journey!
We all know the cliché image of a fortune teller, often in Gypsy garb, turning up cards to predict someone’s future. Many a movie plot is hung on such a scene. For people unfamiliar with the Tarot, this is the image that likely first comes to mind when it is mentioned.
I have come to think of the Tarot in a different way. I think of it as a practice which allows me to bring to the surface issues and ideas that are significant in my life, but may be hidden from my conscious thoughts.
I won’t go into further detail on that at the moment, because I think it’s important first to approach the question posed in the title of this essay. Divination is considered by many to be equivalent to conjuring demons, and by many others to be firmly in the realm of charlatains, the ignorant, the foolish and the superstitious. So its reputation as a vehicle for fortune telling casts a shadow of suspicion on the Tarot. Before we can discuss other uses of the cards at any length, it seems to me that we ought to answer this basic and fundamental question. Can the Tarot be used to predict the future?
First, let me ask a rhetorical question. If you see your child with a shoe untied, and you warn them that they had better tie their shoe, or else they will trip and fall – and they don’t tie the shoe, and they do trip and fall – did you predict the future? Obviously, literally, you did.
More precisely, you observed a set of circumstances, and noticed that a particular outcome was possible (or maybe even likely). There was nothing unnatural or abnormal about this. In fact, most of us do it all of the time. Each time we get in a car, and choose the route to a destination, we’re doing our best to predict the future. Should I avoid 5th Avenue because there may be a train at the crossing this time of day that will delay my arrival? Do I have time to stop for a cup of coffee, or will that make me late to work? How long is the line at the Starbucks drive through? Should I be especially attentive to my driving along this stretch of road, since it’s known for speed traps?
We’re constantly using what we remember and what we observe to make decisions in order to predict (or perhaps to create) the outcomes that we desire. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store, or retirement planning, this sort of activity is such a fundamental part of our normal, everyday lives that we scarcely even notice it.
So we’ve established that we all do our best to predict the future much of the time. We actually accomplish this feat much of the time too, from predicting that when we rotate the faucet on the left the water will get warmer, to predicting that our intended will make a suitable mate. Perhaps there are no guarantees that our predictions will be correct, but an awful lot of the time, they do seem to be.
Let me ask another rhetorical question. If there was a way to obtain additional information that might be relevant to the question at hand, would that change the essential nature of this process of predicting the future? Let’s say that you could add a radio traffic report to the mix during your morning commute, or a GPS device. Would there be anything fundamentally different about the way the process works? Anything weird or spooky or paranormal about the increased accuracy of your predictions then? Of course not. You’re just expanding your view, and making use of information to which you didn’t have access before.
So here’s one final rhetorical question. What sort of information might a deck of cards offer that could possibly assist in this process? Since we’ve already established that we do, indeed, literally (and almost effortlessly) predict the future with varying degrees of accuracy every day, the key to the question at the top of this essay is whether or not the Tarot can reliably add any valuable information to the process.
I suspect that it can.
Remember our cliché Gypsy, telling fortunes in a tent or a creepy shack? Here’s what’s wrong with that picture. It gives the impression that the information we seek belongs to a realm that is apart from the natural world, and apart from us. In fact, the information that we can access through the Tarot, although “extraordinary” in a sense, isn’t unnatural or unusual at all. It’s just information that most of us are unaware of or tend to ignore much of the time.
If you’ve ever had the experience of misplacing an item, looking all over for it in frustration, finally giving up, relaxing about it, and then walking into another room and immediately finding it right there in an obvious place, then you know precisely what it is like to gain insight from the Tarot. Your unconscious mind knew all along where that misplaced item was. After all, you’re the one who placed it there! The knowledge of where you had put the item was with you all of the time. You were just temporarily unable to bring that knowledge to your conscious mind. The harder you tried to remember, and to retrace your steps, the more inaccessible the information became. Once you gave up, relaxed, and your unconscious mind was able to work without interferance, it led you right to the misplaced object.
In the same way, the images and traditions of the Tarot, like so many other such systems from cultures the world over, offer an opportunity to delve into information that is waiting there for us in our unconscious minds. The information isn’t unnatural or apart from us. It doesn’t come from demons or ghosts or the Gypsy. It’s right there inside of us all the time. It’s just that as we go about our ordinary lives, most of us don’t take the time to explore the tools that can help to bring this information to bear on our conscious thoughts and decisions.
Just how it is that the Tarot works to help us access the thoughts and patterns of the unconscious mind is a subject for another article, perhaps. For now, I’ll only say that I have found that it does so in my own experience.
There is also the notion put forth by Carl Jung that there exists a vast “collective unconscious” where unconscious minds of all times and locations meet in some way. I won’t argue that possibility one way or the other, but it’s certainly interesting to consider the storehouse of knowledge and experience that might be waiting should such a notion be true. For me, it’s plenty enough to be able to explore my own puny little personal unconsciousness.
Before we close, I’d like to add one other note about our Gypsy friend. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean to denigrate her, or the many brilliantly skilled real life practitioners of the art of interpreting the Tarot. There are legions of Tarot readers who are gifted, serious, and dedicated to helping others plumb the depths of special knowledge that awaits in the psyche. You’re more likely to find one of these marvelous people at a table in your publc library than in that shack at the edge of town these days though.
So, can the Tarot predict the future? Maybe not like in that movie scene where the Gypsy turns up the Tower card, there’s a dramatic music crescendo, and then a cut to a burning building. But if we accept that we routinely use information available to us to “predict the future,” and also accept that the Tarot can help us uncover another source of useful information, then I believe we have our answer.
What do you think?