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How the Tarot Works and Why It’s Not Scary



I have been reading Tarot cards for a very long time and what I have found is that most people misunderstand Tarot cards and how they work. So I wanted to take this opportunity to address the reputation of Tarot cards and how one may actually work with them in non-scary or threatening ways in hopes of dispelling a few myths and ease some anxieties around receiving a reading. Many people do not want to know their future in fear of finding out some very bad news, or they may believe Tarot cards are evil or black magic. I respect that people may not be open to Tarot in regards to these reasons, however my experience (over 20 years of reading Tarot cards) is that the Tarot is not a doom and gloom device, nor is it evil or scary. Tarot can actually be a positive tool of faith, healing and empowerment. The Tarot can help you change your future into what you want it to be, help you to focus on what is important and confirm and validate things happening in your life. Below are a few different theories about how the cards work and what to do if you are getting a Tarot reading for the first time. Hopefully this will result in lessening any fear around Tarot readings and what the cards can truly offer.


Tool of Psychology- One theory as to how Tarot cards work is that the brain makes them work. A question is asked, the cards are shuffled and when the Tarot reader is ready, the cards are laid out in a pattern that tells a story. As the reader conveys this story to the questioner the information connects with the questioner’s own story or question. How this happens is the real mystery, but some Tarot experts believe this is an example of Apophenia – the tendency to take unrelated people or events and find a way to make them relate – such as taking a story told to you through Tarot cards and making them relate to your own life story. This theory can be relevant in understanding how Tarot works, however, it misses the point when revealing what makes Tarot cards powerful. No matter how the brain may interpret the information it receives from a reading, the Tarot provides a visual representation of the questioner’s life events – or what the questioner perceives to be his/her life events. It allows the brain to perceive itself through imagery, symbols, colors and characters represented in the cards. This can then trigger the creative part of the brain to generate new ideas, epiphanies, answers, or options that one had not considered without a visual context. It can also create a sense of validation and a bond of trust between the reader and questioner. The reader can work with the questioner on additional ways to address an issue or develop a desired outcome, based on the readers own interpretation of the cards. In Benebell Wen’s book Holistic Tarot she relays the importance of seeing the Tarot as a diagnostic tool and using the cards as a way of being in control and creating one's own life, verses using it as a tool for just predicting your life and therefore having no control over the outcome. By using the cards to empower the questioner and create ownership of one's future, the fear and anxiety of what the cards may say is greatly reduced and the questioner can feel more empowered to find the answers to his or her own questions. It is an important and powerful way in which to use the Tarot in one’s life.


Spiritual Guide-Another theory for how the cards work is that the Tarot is indeed a tool for the Spirit to communicate with the questioner about his or her question. This theory has gained credence because the Tarot can be accurate in predicting the future – something the psychology theory cannot necessarily explain. This can intimidate some people, because it makes them feel like they are powerless to stop these predicted events. Or perhaps they feel the prophecy foretold to them will become fact because the mere suggestion of this projected future will make it come true. However, the majority of life events, relationships and experiences are not fixed. People have choices. Even the Christian Bible promulgates free will of man. One always has the power to choose how one’s life will go or how they can respond to something that is not in their control. The cards can assist in showing you this and preparing you for it and perhaps even finding a way of avoiding it all together if need be. Tarot cards, like all kinds of divine guidance, never scare, victimize, or antagonize anyone about future events and only seek to help and support one to find the right path for them.


Also on the flip side of the spiritual argument, the Tarot tends to be dogged by religions that believe the idea of fortune telling the future is evil or bad. I am not here to argue any kind of religious dogma with anyone, but in my humble opinion Tarot cards are not bad or evil. Tarot cards have always helped me to connect with guidance, understand myself better, brought me validation and comfort and provided a sense of inner peace. I have found them to be a spiritual tool that has helped me to develop a stronger sense of self. Ultimately it will be to each person what their comfort level is with a Tarot reading, and if it truly is too uncomfortable to try a reading due to anti-Tarot religious beliefs, then I think it is best to respect that and bow out if ever offered a Tarot reading opportunity. However, if you are curious enough and can open yourself up to the idea, then I highly suggest trying a reading to judge for yourself what the experience is like.


Expectations for a Reading- My best suggestion to anyone who is considering getting a Tarot reading, but is nervous to do so, should first find a Tarot reader that you can trust. Ask around to friends or family members that may have received readings and if they can recommend anyone. If that does not work, you can always turn to your friend the Internet for help. Look for a local Tarot reader who is well reviewed and has a strong social media following. This will help build up confidence that you are going to someone who has been trusted by many others. I would also suggest going to a Tarot reader in person instead of over the phone, just so you can see what the experience is like for the first time. This will allow you to ask questions in real time and request that he or her to give you a complete breakdown of his/her process so you can develop a comfort level with it. Remember, it’s ok to be nervous the first time you try it, but after you see what goes into it, most people tend to relax and enjoy the process. If you are nervous about your question then take a few deep breaths and tell the reader what is going on with your situation. Then tell them for the most part what you want to know. The reader can help you formulate the best question to ask the cards so that the best information can come through. Ultimately the reader will shuffle, lay out and then guide you through what the cards are saying. If the reading is not on track with what you were hoping for, ask the reader to give you some alternative cards for suggestions on what you can do to change the course of your path. The reader can then give you those possibilities as well. Be sure to record the reading and/or take a picture of the Tarot spread so you can better review the cards yourself at a later time. You may even want a second opinion if you are not sure the reading worked for you. Remember that the Tarot works by psychological self reflection (what are you perceiving the cards to mean) and subtle spiritual guidance (where are things headed and what can you do about it). Both of these can give you the empowerment to face your issue head on and make changes if you need to make them.

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