If You Don't Believe In Tarot,
Then Why Does It Scare You?
This article, written in 2015, was originally published in Witch Magazine. This is an edited and abridged version, which reflects a shift in my own outlook.
In my deepening forays into Tarot, into what makes me tick, and where Tarot and I interconnect, I’ve come up with a few questions over these past few weeks about the nature of what it is that I work with.
I’ve been looking at my life and where I have been less than honest with myself about what drives me, and what holds me back: about being a Tarot reader; about the how Tarot has been reflected back at me over the years, and what it says about how Tarot is often viewed, and where that has activated my own shit around worthiness, doing what I love, and the ambivalence I feel when I do what I love.
So these are my own personal musings on Tarot. They’re my tribute to what isn’t easily put to one side, and what keeps asking me for my attention, whether through my own creeping thoughts and questions, or the thoughts and questions of others.
Three enquiries; three responses. Enquiry #1:
If you don't believe in Tarot, why does it scare you?
A fair number of people I’ve met have this approach-avoid relationship with Tarot. It’s one of the reasons why I appreciate Tarot so much: it reflects our ambivalence towards the unknown – that is, our unconscious.
I believe that Tarot has the capacity to scare people because it works. And, in the right hands, it works really well.
Tarot uses imagery to tap into the not-so-easily-tappable. How? By being non-verbal. It mainlines into that right-brain part of you that has a more familiar relationship with the unconscious, while you, as a left-brain-orientated creature, tend to prefer to live in a world that gives meaning to what is formless.
You probably feel far more comfortable this way. If so, you probably feel far less comfortable when things stop making sense – moreso when you stop making sense to yourself; when your feelings, thoughts, behaviours deviate from the set patterns you want them to conform to.
Ergo: Tarot holds the potential to confront you with what you’re hiding from yourself.
If Tarot doesn’t work for you — it's because you don’t want it to work. If it scares you, it's because it does work.
Why is Astrology taken more seriously than Tarot?
My short - somewhat off-the-cuff - answer: because the masculine aspect of all of us is still taken more seriously.
An Astrologer friend of mine in a conversation a little while back referred to astrology as a pseudo-science, and I see where they’re coming from. Astrology has trumped up its masculinity in order to be acceptable when, in reality, it, and Tarot (and many other things besides) can be defined very simply and in the same terms: as without, so within.
You can add all the angles, aspects, degrees you want. You can find a trine at x degree, with planets sitting in Houses 4 and 8. You can quincunx and sextile to your heart’s content.
I, on the other hand, have three cards sitting next to each other, with no angles or houses, and no reproducible results – unlike a birth chart, clients will never get the same reading; there is no baseline to refer to.
Astrology - Tarot. One is Yang-orientated; the other is Yin-orientated. One talks to the left brain; the other talks to the right. Neither is wrong because of it. Both are valid.
One is valued over the other because one is associated with a patriarchal mind-bent. One is devalued because it is associated with a non-patriarchal, non-mind bent. More’s the pity. We are richer for both. Yet we resist the one that thrusts us into the (seemingly) chaotic, formless, metaphor-rich world of the Yin, or feminine.
And the feminine is still not taken seriously. She is so not taken seriously that she is ignored. Turn up the feminine heat, and she’s derided, scorned, and belittled. Turn the heat up even further, and she’s trolled and attacked. Further still, she is killed.
So, perhaps she’s a little more serious than we think after all.
Which brings me to my final question …
Why is Tarot frequently treated as a dirty little secret?
This question may well be more mine than anything else – but I don’t think so.
It’s mine insofar as I have been rejected for doing what I do, not least by some of the people who society tells us should love us the most: family. My mother was both drawn to Tarot and scorning of it. She always believed that I had inherited my fey qualities from her side of the family, and she told me this with no small amount of pride. (Even if I'm not sure that I'm fey.)
However, my interest in the unconscious, and the fact that I could see motives, emotions, and fears that she’d rather I didn’t, elicited a different response. In one beautifully truthful moment, she said that I was to say nothing to her about what I saw, because it would mean she would have to change. I admired her tremendously for that, and I still do.
In the past, Tarot was my dirty secret - though I've come out of the closet since then. But for others, it still remains something they cannot share. And why? Maybe because it works. There’s a reason we Tarot readers are called ‘seers’. And not everyone wants us to see.
All of these questions have one thing in common: the unconscious – specifically our resistance to it.
I come from the school of thought that resistance to the unconscious can be an entirely healthy thing. There’s little point in trying to see what we’re not ready to see. There’s a reason why we protect ourselves against the truth; it has saved us from the devastation of the reality of our circumstances time and time again.
However, I also believe there comes a time when that resistance remains for its own sake — a dictator who clings to power even after being deposed.
I work in that space where there is the push-pull between the old and the new. I recognise and empathise with the struggles that we have letting go of the past, while also acknowledging that our very clinging to the past is what creates pain in the present. We keep playing to the same old script, but the scenery has moved on. We want others to act the same way they always have, even though their actions brought us suffering. We want to be the same, even though being the same has become unbearable.
If you don’t think Tarot works, why does it scare you?
Well - why wouldn’t it? Tarot is the call of Soul. And the Soul asks for what we seldom want to give willingly: our surrender to change.