5 Tarot Myths That Need Busting Like, Yesterday

by Marianne in ,


I know many of my readers are keen tarot enthusiasts, and experienced and even professional readers. We have a whole lot to say to each other! Today's post, though, is for those of you lurking in the wings.

Maybe you stumbled upon my blog by accident, or while doing a little research into a subject you don't know too much about (yet!). Perhaps tarot has just appeared on your radar and you want to learn more, or you've been curious for a long time but haven't yet taken the first step on your tarot journey. 

Image via The Lioness Oracle Tarot

For the newly tarot-curious, the very word “tarot” is evocative, summoning up images of psychic priestesses in their temples, fortune tellers glimpsed through clouds of incense smoke, and secret ceremonies conducted by moonlight.

All of that is seductive and magical, but I know when you're just starting out, it can feel a little unapproachable. The arcane, occult trappings of tarot can be part of its appeal, but from the outside, all those rumours and rules can also feel like impenetrable obstacles!

Over the years, I’ve encountered so many people interested in the art of tarot, who felt that it wasn’t accessible to them because they weren’t psychic enough, or because they hadn’t been initiated into the Secret Psychic Tarot Readers’ Club (we have a secret handshake and everything!).

Sure, I’m the first to admit that one of the most alluring things about tarot is that it has its own mythology and mysticism. But popular culture and occult tradition alike tell a lot of stories about what it means to be a tarot reader, and way too many of those stories suggest that tarot is only available to a certain kind of person, for a particular kind of use.

I’m all for embracing arcane traditions if they make things a little more magical, but all that stuff that holds us back? Let's take a hard pass on that! The gates are open. Tarot is for everyone who chooses to make it their own.

Let's break down some barriers, shall we?

1. Your tarot deck must be a gift

We’ve all heard it said that in order to be a real tarot reader, you must be given your tarot deck as a gift. Over the years, so many aspiring tarot readers have said to me that they’d love to start reading tarot, if only someone would give them a tarot deck.

The origins of this myth are hard to pin down. Many of the occult aspects of tarot as we know it originated with the esoteric society, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, so it may be that this myth was cooked up to reinforce the idea that becoming a tarot reader required initiation and secrecy (the Golden Dawn were definitely big on ceremony!). It's possible, too, that secret initiations were necessary to keep occult practitioners safe at times in history that were less tolerant of alternative spiritual practices.

Fortunately for today's readers, though, this myth is just not true. Just think, if it were, how few tarot readers there would be in the world!

If you want to start reading tarot, I have good news. You don’t need permission. You don’t need initiation. You don’t need to be given your deck as a gift. And don’t let anyone tell you that your deck should be stolen, either – theft really sucks for bookshops, new age stores, and your bestie's carefully cultivated tarot collection, so please don’t do it!

All you need to get started on your tarot journey is an interest in tarot and willingness to get going. Treat yourself to the tarot deck of your choice, and get reading!

2. You can't start reading tarot until you've memorised all the cards

A standard tarot deck contains seventy-eight cards, which is a lot to take in, especially when you’re starting out. So many tarot-curious folks have expressed anxiety to me about how much there is to learn before you can get started, and I know there are plenty of people out there too daunted to even begin. What a pity!

Tarot is a rich, many-layered esoteric tradition, which pulls symbols, ideas, and beliefs from all corners of the Western occult and philosophical canon. From Hermetic philosophy to Kabbalah to numerology to astrology, there’s certainly plenty you can investigate to enrich your understanding of this beautiful discipline.

To begin with, though, all you need to do is shuffle, and pull a card.

Seriously, I mean it! Take out your tarot deck, and draw a card. Look at the image. What feelings does it provoke? What does it remind you of? Are there any colours or symbols that are significant to you? What would it be like to be in the situation on the card? What could you learn from this situation?

If you answered these questions, congratulations! You just read a tarot card. Well done!

When learning tarot, it is important to bury yourself in the books and drink up all you can about the symbolism in the cards. Theory is nothing without practice, though, and so it’s just as important that you give yourself time and space to play with your cards, to respond to them intuitively, through the lens of your own experience and subjectivity. In time, you’ll learn to draw your book learning and your intuitive reading together, thus transforming yourself into a tarot reader extraordinaire.

And as for memorisation, well, it’s a little overrated. Even the most seasoned tarot reader consults the books from time to time, because there’s always more to learn. Let memorising the cards be a natural side effect of your intuitive play with tarot, and not an overwhelming goal that stops you from ever getting started!

Image via the Spirit Speak Tarot Reversed

3. Tarot is only used for telling the future

This myth probably doesn’t need too much busting among the seasoned tarot readers, but if you’re new to tarot, this might be an assumption you’ve inherited. In the popular imagination, tarot readers are psychics, predicting when and where that tall, dark, and handsome stranger is going to come along and sweep you off your feet.

In practice, the turban-wearing, crystal ball-toting tarot fortune tellers are few and far between (although Two Sides Tarot has nothing against a good turban, don’t get me wrong!). There are great readers out there who offer predictive services, but this is certainly not the only way to use a deck of tarot cards.

Many readers – myself included – are more interested in the present than the future. When it comes to the questions and conundrums we all face, we want to know what’s going on under the surface. What extra information can we glean? What perspective should we take? What approach will help us make a good decision? What skills or tools should we use for this or that situation? How can we challenge our perceptions and ignite our creativity and move towards our goals, starting right now?

Sure, a good tarot reading equips us with tools for what’s to come, but I believe that the cards are most useful when we focus our attention on what’s happening now, in the present moment. Chances are, it’s more than you might think!

So, don’t be fooled. A tarot reading doesn’t have to be all about sitting back and waiting for a pre-destined future to come to you. A good tarot reading explores your inner and outer worlds as they are now, so that you can use that information to shape your own future. Knowledge is power, after all!

4. You have to be psychic to read tarot cards

This one is definitely intimidating for beginning tarot readers! Of course, in pop culture, tarot readers have long been associated with mediumship and psychic revelations and, well… a certain kind of spooky knowing. You could be forgiven for thinking you need to have prophetic dreams or communicate with the dead in order to read tarot cards.

Sure, there definitely are some folks out there who feel blessed with The Sight and who have no qualms identifying as psychic. Many of them make great tarot readers.

For a lot of us, though, “psychic” isn’t really a word we throw around. Personally, I don’t believe I’m psychic, but that’s ok, because I’ve found that there are other, even more valuable skills that make a great tarot reader.

For one, a willingness to practice. Tarot is a skill anyone can learn, and like any skill, it takes a little time to learn and a lot of time to master. Any person who picks up a deck of cards, psychic or not, will get the best from this art form if they’re dedicated to honing their craft. Practice, practice, practice!

The next thing that will help you on your tarot journey is intuition. Believe it or not, we’re all intuitive. Maybe some of us have spent more time honing that part of ourselves than others, but everyone has the ability to take information and experience and instinct and use it to make cognitive leaps in understanding about our situations or environments. And like any skill, practice only makes our intuition sharper!

Finally, it’s important to remember what we call ourselves. That is, tarot readers. Tarot is a language of symbols and associations that beginners simply need to learn to read through study and practice. Your tarot skills will grow and flourish if you focus on reading what you can see with your own eyes on the cards in front of you – no Second Sight required!

5. Tarot decks don’t reflect real people’s identities, backgrounds, and lives

This last one is really important!

A look at some of the most popular decks from the last hundred-odd years might lead you to believe that tarot is only representative of certain kinds of people. I.e., slim, able-bodied, gender-conforming, straight, white people.

Like so many types of media, tarot has been historically poor at giving a voice to the truly diverse and often marginalised types of people, relationships, and lived experiences that we actually embody and see in the world around us.

Tarot readers and creators, like people from all walks of life, come from many genders, cultures, sexualities, and ethnic groups, and in all shapes and sizes, and of course, we want to see our true selves represented in the decks we read with. For a long time, though, decks like that were few and far between.

The good news is, this paradigm is slowly changing. When second-wave feminism got hold of tarot in the 1970’s, woman-centered, and queer decks – like the Motherpeace Tarot and Thea’s Tarot – began to appear. Court cards were renamed to reflect family and social relationships, rather than feudal hierarchies, and figures on the cards were liberated from at least some of their traditional and gendered roles.

There was still a ways to go, though, and fortunately, in the last few years, this shift has really picked up in pace and scope! In the midst of tarot’s current renaissance, more artists than ever are creating tarot decks that better represent diverse lives and identities. 

They may not yet comprise the majority of decks on the market, but if you go looking, you can begin to find decks that give voice to people of colour, differently-abled people, gender-diverse and queer people, and roles and relationships that don’t conform to so-called traditional norms. And thank goodness for that! It’s so, so powerful to draw a card and see our own, true stories reflected back to us, whatever they may be.

For help on your quest for truly diverse and representative tarot decks, check out Asali Earthwork’s wonderful labour of love, the Tarot of the QTPOC list. Therein lies goodness! And for broad and inclusive tarot discourse, you really can’t miss Little Red Tarot.

We’ve come a long way, but the world of tarot publishing is by no means perfect, so let’s keep this conversation going! And if you value inclusive and expansive tarot decks and resources, vote with your dollar and support the artists doing this vital work. 

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So, tarot novices, lurkers, and babes who got lost here via google search, take it from me: tarot is for you, if you want it to be! Forget about the rules and restrictions. If you want to embrace this beautiful, intuitive, dynamic, weird art form, you don't need permission. All you need is a deck of cards. Good luck out there!