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Saturday, 27 September 2014

Ten Things I Used to Believe about Tarot

All I've got to say about a ‘pivotal realisation’ in my tarot life can be summed up as this: Don't believe everything you read.

When I started out with tarot, like most people, I started by reading books. Then I discovered a certain purple website where certain folk dispensed certain advice with great certainty. Being a bit of a swot, I wanted to get everything right, and so I followed all instructions carefully. Here I unveil for you: 

Things I Used to Believe Before I Stopped Believing 

Everything I Read


Bad Advice from Know-It-Alls

1. Throw out the Little White Book. Someone on the purple website said, 'The first thing you should do when you get a new deck is throw out the Little White Book'. Lots of others chimed in to agree. So...I threw out the LWBs for the three decks I owned. The next several decks I bought, I did the same. I began to get pangs of regret after a while, so I put the LWBs in a drawer. (I had to hide them because according to the rules I wasn't supposed to be using them or even keeping them!) I couldn't keep them in the boxes with the decks anyway because...

2. All decks should be kept in a silk bag. I read this, believed it, and dutifully bought silk-lined bags for the first fifteen or so decks I bought. I don't have storage space to keep all those boxes, so I threw the packaging out with the LWB. When the pangs started for that, I began collapsing the boxes flat (if I could -- if I couldn't, I had to throw them out) and keeping them in the drawer under winter clothes. Eventually I realised that I prefer to keep my decks in their original boxes. So I got the flattened boxes out, put the decks back in them, and from then on, kept the boxes. (It was still several years before I dug the LWBs out of the drawer and put them with their respective decks.)

3. There's a right way to cut a deck. When you cut the deck, it should be cut in three from left to right, using the left hand, then restacked middle-right-left. (If you're left handed, use the right hand.) I don't remember where I read this, but I believed it and always cut the cards that way, until someone at a tarot conference asked me why I did it. I didn't know. (I went to my first tarot conference just 10 months after I bought my first deck. To say I throw myself into new interests would not be an understatement.) 

4. Decks must be cleansed, especially second-hand decks. Most of my newbie books suggested I should do a ritual cleansing of a deck or consecrate it in some way. Often the companion book to the deck itself suggested this. (The people on the purple site seemed okay with companion books; it was just LWBs I wasn't allowed to read.) I dutifully tried to do them, even though it felt very silly. It seemed particularly important to know-it-alls that second-hand decks be cleansed to 'remove old energies' from them. I did all sorts of things involving sage smoke and clear crystals and windowsills at the full moon. Finally, I decided to just not do anything to a newly arrived deck and see what happened. It made no discernible difference, and so I stopped doing rituals. So far, the sky has not fallen. 

5. New decks must be 'interviewed'. Know-it-alls seemed to have the idea that cards could talk to you, that cards have a point of view. (These same know-it-alls, confusingly, would also be quick to point out that a deck is just '78 pieces of pretty cardboard, nothing more'. I took this to mean that their knowledge was so deep it allowed for contradictions, kind of like the Bible.) Everyone on the purple site seemed to be interviewing new decks. So, using the spread that everyone else used, I did it, too. It felt stupid and pointless, but I did this with every new deck for years. Until I decided it was stupid and pointless. So I stopped doing it. 

6. Cards must be laid out face down. And then they should be read one at a time, with each new card adding something unexpected and revelatory as it is overturned. Then at the end, you should do a summary based on all the cards put together. I think I may have got this idea from movies, and from images of card layouts having the cards face down, and the fact that cards have highly decorative backs. Over time I realised that I like all the cards to be face up from the beginning of the reading. So I stopped doing that, and my reading style improved very much. 

7. You should keep all the decks you buy because you might like them better someday. To be honest, I didn't keep this belief for long. My natural instinct is to have frequent clear-outs. I am not materialistic by nature: I am quite utilitarian. If something is not useful to me, I have no qualms about getting rid of it. And so, my deck collection is in a state of constant flux, and has been from fairly early on. But even as I was swapping and selling, I had niggling doubts for awhile. What if I did for some unfathomable reason decide my life would not be complete without the Housewives Tarot I traded away? What if Dame Fortune's Wheel went out of print and I could never, ever have one again? But I shrugged it off. I've had so many decks now I'm sure I've forgotten some of them. How important could they have been? I have a core collection which I will never part with. The rest come and go. C'est la vie.

8. You should never, ever consult a companion book during a reading. If you do you are not a real tarot reader and all your rights will be revoked. Of course, I don't whip out companion books while doing a paid consultation, but when I'm doing readings at home for myself, why not look at the book? See what insights the book offers? Because you can't! If you do that, you're just 'parroting what's in a book' or 'rattling off standard meanings' and you are a no-good, very bad person and you have no intuition and probably should take up keeping fish as a hobby and leave the card reading to people who are 'natural witches'. 

9. Readings involve card teaching. Of course, this belief contradicts the previous one, but that seems to be the way of know-it-alls. I picked up this habit doing reading exchanges 'for learning purposes'. I was thus very careful in readings to spend a lot of time explaining meanings of cards and symbols in cards. But at some point I realised that regular folks don't really care about the evolution of Le Bateleur, they just want to know what their chances are of keeping their current job. My readings became more immediate and  relevant to people when I stopped explaining how I'd arrived at an interpretation. To be honest, even readers don't want that kind of reading. (And it encourages 'back seat driving'. ) 

10. Cutting the borders off cards 'frees up' the image and makes them look better. I was totally into the fad of cutting the borders off decks, but at some point I realised that in most cases, the cards just look denuded -- vulnerable -- not quite right. So I stopped doing that, and for a few, bought new, untrimmed decks to replace the ones I'd cut up. I still will take the borders off a deck, sometimes. But not as a matter of course, which was how it was getting for a while there! 

Now, I don't have anything against people believing any of the above. The problem is when you tell people they have to believe them, too. 

I could go on about things I used to believe about tarot  (don't even get me started on LENORMAND!) but ten seems the proper stopping point. I mean, everyone stops there, so that must be the right place to stop.  Right?

(Republished from Blackbirds and Rowanberries)


  1. Interesting post. I'd actually like to get you started on the Lenormand. With the tarot, I've also shed these believes. But your Lenormand list might help me get past some mis-believes. Hope you decide to do a list for that. :)

    1. Hmm, I'll have to think that one over. :)

  2. I'm glad you got past all that. I don't buy into what I don't understand, so by the time I began to understand what people said based on my knowledge of them, I was past paying any attention to them.
    Did you know someone is posting your (credited) spreads there? I'm pretty sure they are yours anyway. Do you post spreads here somewhere, or at facebook?

    1. Most of the spreads I share here are credited from other sources. As long as they mention me and link back to me, I'm okay with that. :) (If you click on 'Spreads' on the right side you can see them. I do something here called 'Share a Spread Sunday' and try to post one every week. When I remember.)

  3. Great post, Carla. You raise some excellent points. I think community-based online resources can hinder Tarot students, which is a real shame because for many new to Tarot, joining such communities is a natural part of the process. Often, a member's knowledge and reliability is unofficially gauged by the number of posts they've published. These aren't reliable stats, so students run the risk of information overload...misinformation overload...opinion overload...or all of the above! That said, there are some well-monitored communities out there dedicated to teaching and learning (hopefully without the dogma).

  4. Hahaha, #6 - I can't believe the people who hobble themselves reading one card at a time. I'm convinced that's a Hollywood tool invented to keep the viewers' attention on one thing at a time and also to build tension before the GREAT REVEAL™ when the reader turns over some scary looking card, gasps dramatically, and we're treated to a close-up of the protagonists' widened eyes.