While on the train home last night, my iPhone (also known as my book, music machine and general time wasting device) had died and I was left scrounging around my bag for something to busy myself with. I took out the pack of brand new tarot cards, also serving as part of a New Year’s Resolution to “Learn More Things”, that I had recently purchased on Amazon and idly flipped through them. A woman sitting across from me took note of my Weird Subway Behavior (yo, at least I wan’t cutting my fingernails), and asked if I was indeed handling a deck of Tarot cards. They’re slightly larger than normal playing cards, and mine have adorable stars on the back. I told her that they were, that I was just a beginner, and that I really didn't consider myself to have any mystical skills. She asked if I believed in Psychics. Then if I believed in Mediums. And finally, if I watched the show GIRLS.
According to “the rules” of Tarot, you’re actually not supposed to buy your deck for yourself. This is something a few people have mentioned to me, but what kind of awkward pandering am I supposed to do in order to get someone to buy me Tarot cards? This gets down to the bottom of everything, being: none of my friends are quite sure why I've taken up Tarot cards.
Like I said to the Woman On The Train, I definitely don’t completely believe in Psychics. Successful bullshitting is easier, more powerful. And although I love outer space, I am amused by Astrology, not really a true believer of it. (Now even more so after my personalized Susan Miller app told me that this coming month I’m “about to jump on [my] skateboard and be busy every second.”)
Come on, Susan.
So what about Tarot finds me using Amazon Prime to purchase a pack of Rider-Waites, to look to the Internet for lessons and to beg friends to let me “read them”?
So far I've found that Tarot is 50% storytelling, 30% improvisation, 20% magic.
The magic part is the basis. You have to believe in the magic—well, at least just a bit. I can’t “read” you with your skepticism all interfering with my vibes. (Okay, that wasn't completely earnest, but I’m learning!) The rest, the reason why I find Tarot so otherwise fascinating and fun to practice, is the interpretation aspect. Each card has a certain meaning, one that sticks to the essence of the pictorial, and the themes of card.
For example, The Fool (see above) represents a beginning:
The Fool travels he knows not where. So filled with visions, questions, wonder and excitement is he, that he doesn't see the cliff he is likely to fall over…The Fool is the card of infinite possibilities. The bag on the staff indicates that he has all he needs to do or be anything he wants, he has only to stop and unpack. He is on his way to a brand new beginning.
But that’s only the card’s base meaning. More than that, how does it relate to the question the person asked? How does it connect to the cards surrounding it? Tarot requires the reader to weave a story from the cards by recognizing their opposite and reinforcement pairs, and creating an appropriate narrative for who they are reading. It also has to be fluid and on-the-spot. It’s utterly exhausting.
Even though Tarot is often seen as a party trick—meaning it appears to be a fun activity to do in a group setting, everyone trying to figure out each others’ futures—you might want to adapt a more private setting. Sitting around my coffee table with some friends, including a college mate and her current girlfriend, we happened to pull this card for her reading:
Do I even need to explain what that means? Now how do you go about interpreting that in front the two people whose relationship is the one in question? Not that either of them didn’t understand fully after seeing the three sharp swords stabbing through the universal sign of love. Ouch.
I’ll never join an improv troupe and will most likely never prepare a stand up routine, but I sometimes imagine that Tarot feels like a more intimate version of those performances. It also can act as therapy. One card always represents the “basis” of the person being read. Sometimes telling people things they might already know about themselves is exactly what they need to hear. A reinforcement of sorts. (And, no, you cannot have a prescription for Lithium.)
One of the best things I’ve learned while exploring Tarot is that you can never really have a “bad” reading. Will stuff make you uncomfortable if it feels a little too accurate? Maybe. Can you read into something negatively? Perhaps, and that’s on you. But even the card often considered the worst, Death, isn't even what you thought it would be:
Death is one of the most powerful cards in the Tarot. Humans naturally fear the unknown, and so Death is our greatest fear since it is the greatest unknown. It has been said many times by many readers: the Death card is not a card of death—it is a card of transformation.
So, like, can I read you?