It’s possible to be both skeptical and spiritual.
This is something I realised recently, when I came across this great blog…and, although of course I can work that out for myself, it’s bloody nice that someone has dedicated a whole website to the intersection of skepticism and spiritualism. It’s funny how weird I feel about the word skeptical – actively choosing not to adopt it to describe myself, fearing it made me sound like one of those who ‘don’t believe it unless they can see it.’ I ain’t.
Still, friends are often surprised to discover that I’m into tarot – presumably because it’s seen as ‘witchy’, divinatory, esoterical, not-connected-to-reality, crazy, weird or whatever. So I spent some time today working out what I personally believe about tarot (and life) and why I practice it.
Here are some things I don’t believe in
* God, goddesses/gods, angels, devils (though I respect and enjoy what I consider to be their mythologies)
* ‘Magic’ divination – i.e. that there is *something* making the cards/pendulum/stones/etc fall/swing/appear where they do.
* Heaven, hell, reincarnation, an afterlife.
And here are some things I do believe in:
* A human consciousness – that we experience life on many different levels and can understand things through instinct and intuition as well as through empirical knowledge.
* A connection to each other and to our world, however big or small that world is.
* That we have and exude energies, which others can pick up on.
* Self-determination – that we (and only we) have the power to change our own lives and selves.
* Free will.
* Community power – that collective action can change the world.
* Luck, coincidence, that sometimes stuff happens, and the meaning of that stuff lies in our reaction to it.
* That life is symbolic…but what allows us to see symbols and patterns comes from within ourselves.
* That when we die, we die, but our spirit ‘lives’ on in the impact we had on the world.
For me, tarot is all about the second list and not much about the first.
It’s about living life consciously, taking responsibility for myself, challenging myself, looking deeper, seeing opportunities. We usually know more than we think we do. When I blogged recently about The High Priestess, I saw her standing at the gateway to our subconscious, a translator, one to help us delve into our subconscious…and make sense of what we find there. In this sense, The High Priestess is not only an incredible card in itself, but a card which represents all of tarot.
Tarot works with a number of my brain’s many ‘gears’. The analytical gear in which I’m examining my own behaviour or the behaviour of others, the intuitive gear, where I’m picking up something subtle in a situation or person, the seeker gear where I’m looking for new ideas, perspectives and opportunities, and the philosophical gear, where I’m theorising about the nature of existence, human nature and all that jazz.
Reading the cards
When I draw tarot cards and place them in a spread, I’m thinking hard about an issue or situation. I’m usually a little sick of turning it over and over in my mind, and am looking for an external ‘prod’, something to give me a fresh perspective or challenge my thinking. And the cards rarely disappoint. The type, and strength, or my reaction to a card can often tell me everything I need to know, and if I find myself flipping cards round, or bending them to fit the message I want to read…well, that can be another little clue.
Then there are the amazing readings in which everything makes perfect sense…it’s wonderful what a sense of confidence and satisfaction that can give, like a warm conversation with a good friend. This is the way in which I use tarot for myself.
Then there’s reading for other people, including friends, which is a whole different kettle of fish. Here, I don’t find anything at all wrong with ‘making them fit’…this is a good way to get to the real juice and really address what’s happening. Imagine you’re reading for someone and you get, say, the Ten of Cups in a ‘you, right now’ position. So you’re all like ‘hmm, so right now, you’re feeling totally fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, secure and at a real high point’…and your querent is like ‘umm…no…but actually when I look at the cutesy family on this card I see everything my parents want for me…and I’m trying to live up to it and it’s making me miserable’. Hokay! So the card didn’t actually fit the meaning you usually associate with it, but it did take the querent and thus the reading off onto a deeper level, where you found some root issues started to come out, and the querent started to face up to things they hadn’t really addressed before. Job’s a good’un.
Whilst for me it’s not about actually divining the future, tarot can help us to see possible futures by highlighting elements of our behaviour and making suggestions for beneficial actions. You can walk away from a reading which doesn’t include an ‘outcome’ or ‘future’ card with a clear idea of where you’re headed – what’ll happen if you keep on like you are, or what you are damn well gonna MAKE happen. And when I use a spread which does include an ‘outcome’/’future’ card, I’m almost certainly reading it as a bit of friendly advice. Recently I wondered about doing away with these cards completely – just omitting them from readings/spreads…but then I found that I really missed that conclusive moment and the insights it, not gives, but provokes.
I like readings to be conversational.
That’s why I want more practice at face-to-face readings. You’re bringing in all that intuitive stuff, the energy-feeling, the reactions and the re-reactions. You get things started by suggesting what the cards may be saying…and then let the querent pull you up on some of those, you listen to their response, you find yourselves getting to the heart of the question, you bring in the cards again to bring fresh perspectives on this, and you talk, you really talk, and you help the querent get themselves to a place where they’ve really figured something out.
Some of the most incredible conversations I’ve had have been prompted by tarot readings.
I’ve found the cards have simply added extra dimensions to a discussion I’d’ve been wanting to have with a friend anyway. I’ve also experienced seriously unethical, ‘conflict-of-interest’ tarot, where I’ve been read for by a person who shouldn’t have been anywhere near me at all, and I’ve later found myself feeling sick about the guidance we found for me, prompted by the cards. So whilst I talk quite flippantly about tarot sometimes, I take it pretty seriously. With or without the ‘magic’ element, the cards are a powerful little tool.
So there are my thoughts on tarot. I’m sure there’s plenty more and if I asked myself tomorrow I’d come up with entirely different ideas, but there you go. I’ll round this very post off with a couple of links to places where skepticism and tarot collide in a beautiful, useful, thought-provoking way:
SynTAROTis – a blog by Martie Groenewald which is full of ACE ideas for brainstorming, problem-solving, self-exploration and so on, some great spreads here.
The Spiritual Skeptic – a whole dynamic website including tarot, dreams, religion and more by KeriLynne Engel, written from the point of view of ‘spiritual skepticism’, nicely defined as ‘living mindfully and connecting with your inner self’.
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.