Tarot Cards and Me

I feel like this blog has been too serious lately. So, time for a more light-hearted topic!

Growing up, I was always afraid to look at tarot cards. Not that I came in contact with them much, of course, but I’d see them for sale at a local bookstore and stay far, far away. I’d read Frank Peretti and other authors talking about witchcraft and tarot cards and the like, and the demonic influence these things invited. In Peretti, the demons were real and physical, plaguing people and looking for anything they could find to invite themselves into people’s homes.

One of my parents’ friends spoke of confronting a physical demon in her house in the middle of the night, casting it out and concluding that it must have been invited in by her daughter’s rock music. So yes, I stayed far, far away from tarot cards. I did not want to invite any sort of demonic influence or possession!

Once I left my parents’ beliefs, I was still afraid of tarot cards. I knew it was irrational, but these thought patterns can be hard to kick. At the same time, I was fascinated by tarot cards, curious about these things my parents and others like them considered so evil. Finally, a few months ago, I bought a deck of tarot cards. Yes, I really did! The pictures and designs are really pretty, the meanings are fascinating, and the history is interesting.

Yet that first night, as I went to bed knowing there were tarot cards in my bedroom, I was afraid. I knew it was irrational, but I was afraid nonetheless. But nothing happened. Nothing seemed changed. I had brought tarot cards into the house, and yet even after a few days nothing was different. There was no oppressive force, no sudden failure of school or family, no inability to concentrate, not feelings of hatred or anger. Now of course I didn’t expect any of these things – I am an atheist, after all – but my fear of the tarot cards only disappeared as I truly came to see tarot cards as simply pieces of card stock with pictures printed on them, nothing more, nothing less.

I’ve actually learned something from tarot cards that I didn’t expect to learn. You see, it seems to me that the way people tell fortunes with tarot cards is the same way people find pertinent advice for their lives in passages of the Bible. Growing up, I would read a passage of the Bible and it would almost without fail mysteriously seem to relate directly to my life and what I was going through at the time. Clearly the Bible was divine! How else could this happen? Yet after learning the cards, I have read my fortune several times (very badly, I’m sure), and each time I’ve been astonished at how closely it seems to apply to what I’m going through. It’s not that I think either actually work or anything. It’s just that our brains are somehow hardwired to find patterns and applications, and so they do. If you want to argue that this happens because there is something divine or spiritual going on here, you’ve got to argue that it’s going on in both cases, and probably also in the case of the Koran and other religious texts, which I suppose it what my parents do when the link tarot cards and the Koran to demons.

There’s a similar point, too. When I was a Christian, I used to pick one verse and meditate on it, trying to see what I could learn from it that day. And there was always something, something I could work on or some promise I could claim. For me, this helped confirm the divine nature of the Bible. But you can do the same thing with tarot cards. This card, for example, is the page of wands. The wands stand for passion and energy, and pages indicate youth (sometimes foolish, sometimes innocent and idealistic). So a page of wands essentially stands for childlike energy and optimism. It’s easy to see how you could meditate on this – thinking about how you need to approach issues in your life like this, or perhaps thinking about the pros and cons of such childlike optimism as it applies to your life, or perhaps thinking about the fact that this childlike energy can be foolish as well as optimistic. Really, wherever you are in life, you can find some way to apply it and have it mean something to you, something to encourage you throughout the day and help you to better yourself. This is just like how I used to mediate on individual Bible verses.

I’m glad I bought this deck of tarot cards. First, it’s helped me face my fears of demons and face them down (what could be worse than owning a deck of tarot cards, after all?), and second, it’s given me interesting food for thought about religion, patterns, and the human mind. And, if I ever miss having a Bible passage to meditate on, I can always use a tarot card instead!

Note: To those of you who may be pagan, I apologize – I’ve probably butchered this explanation!

You Can Count Me out of Atheist Tribalism
When Demons Are Real
What Makes a Person an "Atheist" Parent?
What Kind of Atheist Parent Are You?
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Interesting! My family was similar in this respect, though for me the big evils were things like Dungeons and Dragons and other games that included magic in them. Which I played anyway, despite still largely believing (at the time) what my parents believed.As a small side comment on the demons being physical thing, this was absolutely something I'm familiar with. My mother liked to talk about one story in particular which, I later found out, was a dead ringer for sleep paralysis:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysisTypically with sleep paralysis the person wakes up, but is still half-dreaming, so that they can't move (we're usually paralyzed when we dream, so that we don't move around) and may have difficulty breathing. Since they're still halfway in a dream state, hallucinations are also very common. It wouldn't surprise me at all if a significant fraction of the alien abduction, demonic attack, and other supernatural encounters came down to sleep paralysis, though I wouldn't venture to guess exactly how many.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11439024525253785948 Grikmeer

    In keeping with the light-heartedness, do you listen to rock music?

  • http://mapofherworld.monochromerainbow.com/ cartographer

    I basically use Tarot cards like that, I'm a Christan but I have a lot of pagan influences in my spirituality and I love tarot cards. I don't see them as telling the future because I don't believe that can be done but I use them to give me different, non linear ways of thinking about my life, what is going on in it and what I want from it.It did take me a long time to be able to use them without guilt though and I don't really talk to my christian friends about it because even in my liberal church they still have hang ups about them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jason – I think you're absolutely right. I really think every sort of religious trance, vision, "miracle," or experience has a scientific explanation. Grikmeer – I am still very rusty on the whole music thing. I do really enjoy the Beatles and similar music, but I'm not sure what exactly counts as rock and what doesn't. So yes, I listen to whatever kind of music (so long as it doesn't have misogynistic lyrics), but I still don't really know artists or styles or anything!That said, my parents didn't think rock music itself was demonic, but rather that the lyrics were bad and potentially let demons in. Christian rock wasn't smiled upon, but it wasn't called demonic. Cartographer – I like your point about thinking about them helping you think about your life in new ways – I can totally see that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    " I think you're absolutely right. I really think every sort of religious trance, vision, "miracle," or experience has a scientific explanation." So do I, Libby, but for entirely different reasons than you do! I believe this because I believe that what we consider supernatural only appears that way because humans have not yet evolved senses that perceive other dimensions, dimensions which as as real as space and time. Let's call it spirit, since so many religions use that term. =)I also believe that you are right about there being just as much meaning in other religious texts, tarot cards, etc. as Christians find in the Bible. But again, I believe that for different reasons than you do. I believe that God really does love all people, and sends encouragement, love, hope, etc. to everyone who is open to it by whatever means.Peace and good will to you, cyber-friend. n_n SS

  • http://lil-ms-drama.livejournal.com/ lil-ms-drama

    You hit this right on the head for me, only it was regarding playing role playing games. Oh, the horrors of D&D.; Of course, the same was said about Tarot cards, but the only real "danger" that came into my life was D&D.; My 1st husband, an atheist when I was still Christian, loved role playing games. I was still convinced that demons would come into our home. Eventually I lightened up and realized that his going to a friends house to play games was his version of a poker night with the boys. Honestly, no big deal.Incidentally, he "converted" me to Atheism, so to speak. LOLI never told my parents this, but two of my most important dating relationships were fortune told by tarot cards to not work out, but still be worth it. Duh! Funny thing is, when I had my palm read I was told I was going to be divorced and be married twice in my life. I found out that it could also mean widowed. At age 30 I was widowed. At 35 I remarried. Coincidence? Definitely. I was also told I was going to have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. My oldest, a boy, is about to turn 5, and I'm incubating my 2nd right now, too small to tell what it is yet. I was also told through palm reading I'd live beyond 70. We'll see about that one. When get depressed about the state of my health, I think of that and hope it's not true.Great post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09779444962182438901 Enigma

    Interesting thought. You're probably right. I mean, belief in anything becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. When looking for meaning anywhere, you can almost always find it. Good for you for facing that fear!! It'll be a while before i reach that point. I still get freaked out by all that supposedly satanic stuff. And like i said, if you are looking for meaning, you'll find it. If you expect awful things to happen because you touched a tarot card, you will interpret everything that happens to you for the next few days through that lens. I watched Harry Potter and a documentary on Wicca this year without any adverse effects… Baby steps right? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Shadowspring – I tend to think that if there is a "spirit dimension" it would be possible to study and test it. Otherwise, it would be completely meaningless (as is anything that can't be studied or tested). But then, you knew I'd disagree. ;-)Lil_ms_drama – Yeah, I totally agree on the whole "coincidences" thing. People have very selective memories and like to find patterns. And so, they do. And yes, Sarah, baby steps. :) And time will help. I've been questioning things a lot longer than you have, so don't feel bad that you still have hangups. :) At least you're moving in the right direction!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Well, Libs, I guess my age gives me more hope that such a study will be possible in the future, just not yet. My lifetime has seen astronomical (heh heh) changes in the possible reach of scientific inquiry. I have great faith (there I go again) that because it does exist as a reality, we will someday have the means to study it.Seriously, when I was in junior high, all I learned about cells were that they had a nucleus, cytoplasm and cell membrane. Some organelles were named but their functions were uncertain. When I was in college the first time, people were talking about the exciting possibility of mapping the human genome. Now that's a done deal, and people are talking about the exciting possibility of genetic repair and nanobot medical interventions. Anything is possible, including new means to observe new dimensions. I see expansive and open-ended opportunity for human discovery. Does that make me a humanist Christian mystic, or just a very bad ex-fundie? =D

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Hey, believe you me, I believe in the potential of science too! However, I wouldn't try to predict what science will and won't discover. I feel like that would be me saying "we're actually all just minions of aliens who are living through our bodies, and someday we'll discover it!" or "there really is a Santa Claus, he's just in another dimension and any year now science will find him!" I'd prefer to stick with what we actually know, through science, than to stake my claim on science discovering something there is no evidence of today in the future.

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/5b20d3b0-9d71-11e0-a6d0-000bcdcb8a73 Fina

    You know, if there ARE any "new dimensions", we can be pretty certain that their effect on us is minimal.Why? Well quite simple, if their effect was significant, we could observe these effects right now. Think of gravity – you do not have to measure or observe the curvature of space directly, you can just observe it's effects.So if there was a "spirit dimension" and it would influence or life significantly, we would have lot's of measurable, observable phenomenons we could not attribute to any known physics. Which we really don't.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Jason Dick–In a lot of cultures, there is a belief in some kind of demon that sits on sleeping people's chests and constricts their breathing–and, yeah, that is a dead ringer for sleep paralysis. I think you are most likely right about interactions with demons being explained by this. I have suffered on and off from sleep paralysis my whole life, since early childhood (I think I've hopefully got it under control, now that I actually treat my migraines.). It is an utterly terrifying experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. If demons fit anywhere into my belief system I can ABSOLUTELY see believing that they were responsible for those episodes–ditto if I were a parent of a child who described such experiences to me.Shadowspring–interesting philosophy. I think I believe something kind of similar. Not necessarily in other "dimensions" but I do believe that our human senses (at this point) only allow us to partially experience the full extent of reality. After all, theoretical physics tells us that time is not linear, yet we experience time in a linear way. Reality is filtered through our limited human perception. Perhaps these limits will keep us from learning all there is to know indefinitely, perhaps not. But the important point here is that just because a person believes in "the unknown" doesn't mean that they have given themselves over to "magical thinking." "Unknown" or even "unknowable" does not equal "supernatural"–it can simply mean that human beings can't understand, or can't understand yet. We are puny little specks in a vast universe who have existed for one moment. Is it that hard to believe that we may not be equipped technologically, neurologically, physiologically etc. to perceive and understand everything about that universe? I have to wonder if the folks who say "if this existed we'd know about it" ever think about that. Because, if not, that seems awfully like a "humans are the center of the universe" attitude for people who often criticize that very same attitude in religious people. In general, I don't see a point in making a distinction between "natural" and "spiritual." I think spiritual IS natural. A lot of the stuff I've read about, especially in quantum physics, seem like science fiction to me–but it's not. It's just that nature really is magical, probably more so than in our wildest dreams.

  • Eric in Korea

    Great post about facing irrational fears! I just wanted to add that Tarot readers are all over Korea. In any shopping area, there's bound to be at least "store" where you can go and have your fortune told by some little old lady for a fee (sometimes several small shops right next to each other). I wonder at what point they adopted this part of European culture. While half of Koreans are nonreligious, it doesn't mean that they are free from irrationality. About a quarter of the population is Christian, and they are aggressive recruiters for the faith. There's also a belief in traditional medicine. I've even heard horror stories about doctors using astrology to explain medical conditions to their patients. Plus, in the workplace, there's a lot of irrational thinking.This is not to put down the people of this country. They've achieved a lot, economically and technologically. But it does show that even fairly nonreligious societies still have their share of magical thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Petticoat Philosopher – My thought is that if there are things we can't perceive with our senses or scientific investigation, then they are for all intents and purposes meaningless (because they apparently don't affect us or alter the world in the slightest, and if they did, they could be tested). My senses are all I have so I choose to trust them. Yes, I know that not everything is known yet, and I'm not afraid of the "unknown." I'm just not going to guess what all might be part of that "unknown." Eric – Good point! There are some Scandinavian countries where more people believe in Leprechauns than believe in God. O_o

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12117442983915295489 Jesse

    I have a lot of interest in Jungian philosophy, particularly the concept of archetypes. So much in the Tarot deck plays off of those themes! Something I have found very helpful in particular has been the classic book "Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. Reading that led me to buy my first deck…I consider it a form a meditation, a way to get in touch with what I'm really thinking or feeling about something, especially when I am having trouble finding my own voice.A deck some of you might get a kick out of is the Housewives Tarot. It's a tongue-in-cheek 50's deck that has some rather amusing insights into traditional gender roles.

  • Anonymous

    I wholeheartedly agree with Jesse. I see the pyschological benefits of looking at Tarot. It get's your mind thinking about your issues and problems in a new light. I, too, used to think that tarot was EVIL. Demons attached to them, santanic, the whole nine yards.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Libby–I wasn't saying that we shouldn't "trust" our senses per se, just that I don't necessarily think they tell the whole story of what's out there. When it comes to whether or not we should trust our senses, I agree with you, I have never found this question particularly important–after all, if we can't trust our senses there's nothing we can do about it and no way to know it. (Questions like this are why I stayed FAR AWAY from epistemology while studying philosophy–BOOOO-RING! :-P) But speculating on what's out there that our senses do not tell us–I do find that worthwhile, just because I think they do inform our reality in little ways and because, sometimes, the discoveries we HAVE made give us pale insight into the disconnect between what we experience and what is–as in the example of physics telling us that the nature of time is not as we experience it.At any rate, I was certainly not trying to imply that you are afraid of the unknown. My point was more that I think the dichotomy of science(or any other discipline) and spirituality is false. I find science to be very spiritual and so have many greater minds than I (including Einstein).I disagree with you though, that anything that can't be tested isn't worth knowing–and maybe I'm misinterpreting you there, because I wouldn't expect someone getting a humanities Ph.D to say that. Because this objection actually has less to do with religion or spirituality than it does with my constant frustration with the popular idea that knowledge that can be gained by the scientific method is the only kind worth having–an idea which denigrates the humanities, which you and I are both students of. So many people have this idea that because work in the humanities is not done in labs, that they must not be as serious or difficult, or that they consist of a wishy-washy collection of navel-gazers spouting of "untested" or "unproven" opinions. I'm sure you've come up against this attitude before and it drives me nuts! lol.Our society is so weird–it respects science way too much and way too little at the same time. :-P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02322056244180901707 Elizabeth Black

    Fascinating post. I'm agnostic (very close to atheist) and I grew up Catholic. Later became evangelical but that didn't last long. Now I'm firmly a freethinker. I never had a problem with tarot cards. For me when I was a kid it was Ouija boards. My mother was a pretty strict Catholic (later turned fundamentalist) and as she was being indoctrinated she tried to do the same to me but I resisted. I was also given pretty free reign to learn which I understand is very unusual. When I was 12 I became fascinated with witchcraft. I found a book of spells, bought in, and practiced them. I have no idea how I found that book and how I was able to sneak it into the house. I used to dress up my mom's Infant of Prague statue with rosaries and ribbons, pretend it was the goddess Hecate, and pray to it. I laugh about it now but boy if my mom ever caught me doing that… I love Tarot cards because they're useful and the art can be beautiful. My favorite decks are my cat deck and my H. R. Giger Baphomet deck. As far as readings go, I think you see what you need to see in them for dealing with current issues in your life. Tarot cards are great for sorting out problems. I did palm readings at a fair and the whole schtick of getting the readings right is an old magician's trick. You look at the age, gender, and general appearance of the person you're reading and make educated guesses. Then you wait for a reaction. For instance, if someone was college aged I'd usually say something about a grandparent, and 9 chances out of 10 I'd strike a nerve. If not, I'd quietly move on to something else. You reflect back to that person what they say to you. Works very well. I think tarot cards, astrology, palm reading, etc., work on a similar principle. You already know the answers you're seeking. The cards, etc. help you to see what's plainly in front of you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Elizabeth – "The cards, etc. help you to see what's plainly in front of you." I completely agree! This is why I like them. They help you evaluate your life in new ways, and think about your problems creatively. They can be very useful!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02322056244180901707 Elizabeth Black

    Libby Anne, I haven't given myself a card reading in a very long time but when I did I was always able to sort through anything that was bothering me. They help you think outside the box. Tarot, astrology, etc., aren't the only tools that do this. You can even use a dictionary. I made up something I called The Dictionary Game where I would ask questions and open the dictionary to a random word and check my answer. Most of the time I was able to get decent answers and it all depended on how I interpreted the words. Some people do the same thing with the Bible. They open it to a "passage of the day" and find meaning in it that they put there themselves. It's certainly not God talking to them. They are solving their own problems – or making things worse for themselves. It's all a matter of perspective.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17500128753102750833 Mommy McD

    I enjoyed your post on Tarot, as a pagan who uses them :).I played a lot of DnD like games (and DnD but we mostly played Palladium and Rifts growing up) with my fundy Christian family. It was something my dad was into, and we didn't believe in the physical manifestations of demons. Our church taught that they were vanquished within the generation of Jesus' disciples. That now mankind's wickedness was all his own.Anyway, my parents never really fretted about fantasy or Tarot or role playing games or video games. We had lots of those things except the cards which were considered idolatry. But when a friend brought over a Ouijii board in high school oh the demon talk came out then! I was surprised by my mom's reaction. Later I found out she was reacting in a knee jerk manner because of her childhood upbringing. I guess now I'm waiting for my kids to grow up and do something innocuous that sends me into a reactionary fit. I hope I don't, but the things we have ingrained are so difficult to work out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Several of you have mentioned D&D.; I never had any experiences with that as I never knew anyone who would even think of playing it. But my parents did believe that it was demonic. We used to listen to Adventures in Odyssey, a kids radio program put out by Focus on the Family, and there was an episode where I kid plays D&D; with his friends and really creepy demon stuff starts happening, I kid you not. Listening to that tape scared the shit out of me! I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near D&D; with a ten foot pole even if I had known someone who played it!