Tarot and Religion
Presumably, if you’re reading this book, you already have some idea of what Tarot is – but a lot of the information out there on this subject is based on misunderstanding, conjecture, the lies of con-artists, and the half-truths of religious zealots.
Oops. I said it. Far-Right Conservatives will never forgive me! Or … well, no: unless one of you tells them, they’ll never hear of it – this is the sort of book they tend to ban automatically, without ever actually bothering to read, so I’m safe. Unless someone rats me out – just remember, though, the reaction will probably not be to laud your honesty, but will most likely be to demand what the heck you were doing reading it!
Sorry. I really shouldn’t make jokes about such people – fundamentalist views are not at all funny, and they do immense amounts of harm – from denying gay rights, to sponsoring the politics of hate. It’s especially upsetting in light of the fact that I’m a Christian.
::: sigh :::
I’ve encountered a ton of people who claim that “Tarot is un-Christian” without knowing anything about Tarot. Nearly all of these people, also, upon hearing that I read Tarot, and without knowing anything more about me, declare that I am not a Christian, either.(Oddly enough, these exact same people seem to feel that it’s ok to hate and consign to hell everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they do – and that this bizarre notion is somehow in keeping with Christianity – which leads me to believe they don’t actually know much about Christianity, either!)
In any case, whether or not I’m a Christian isn’t for anyone else to say. Christ may declare I’m no Christian, if he chooses, but no human being has that right. After the third or fourth time someone told me I was un-Christian, I began to get mad! I asked the one who’d taken it upon himself to declare me ‘un-saved’ how he dealt with the inevitable troubles of his life. His haughty reply was that he took all his troubles to the Lord! I nodded and asked “How does he answer?”
You’d have thought I’d just grown a second head topped with horns, full of eyes, and with 666 prominently branded on the forehead! He blustered something about how the Lord answers in his own way, and that it’s sacrilegious to ask him to speak through a deck of cards!
I asked “Why?” and then, before he could bluster anything in reply, I asked if Gideon had not asked God to speak by wetting a sheep-skin – and then, when God gave him the answer he’d asked for, had he not insisted the Lord give him the opposite sign on the next night? I asked how the Magi had known to seek out the new-born Christ, why the Israelites had been convinced that God would make his will known through cast lots, why the government had used that method to select draftees for the Military, why so many Christians watched the evening news and took the events of the day as signs, and whether he, himself had ever asked God for a special sign … I didn’t continue, because the dude had already left in a fury. Apparently, any argument that wasn’t his, wasn’t worth listening to. Or, equally likely, his “sound-bite” understanding of scripture amounted to the ‘Cliff-Notes’ version of the Bible.
Still, this is an important point: if we ask questions through Tarot, who does the answers? How does Tarot work?
Tarot is a means of asking the questions that are most important to you, and receiving not a “yes” or “no” but a complex tapestry of answers. It is not anti-religious, atheistic, anti-christian, witchcraft, magic, or even true divination – it is, rather, a tool for meditation, and a form of prayer! As such, it can fit within the bounds of any religion, or belief system. And, in case you’re wondering – no, it is not without dangers!
I’m a Christian. I practice Tarot as a part of my faith. It can just as easily be suited to Judaism, Buddhism, Wicca, Animism, Shinto, or Hinduism – though not Islam, as the Koran specifically forbids any form of divination. The Judeo-Christian Bible does NOT forbid it: it DOES forbid the casting of curses, and warns against the practices of charlatans.
Tarot can even be practiced by Atheists – though I believe that’s an inherently dangerous thing to do. The reason has to do with the various theories about how Tarot works; there are probably about as many such theories as there are Tarot Readers – but in this section, we’ll look at the three most influential ones.
Theory 1: Tarot is a sort of Rorschach
This theory holds that the cards are random, and the ‘answers’ are imposed by the reader’s unconscious. This theory is popular among atheists and agnostics – and, since very few of these people actually practice Tarot, it’s really a theory of skeptics. The danger of this view is, what if it’s wrong? If the cards are not random, the questions are being answered by something – and if you’re just tossing those questions out into the ether you are giving anything permission to manipulate the cards! ‘Anything’ can range from ignorant readers, and con-artist readers, to something much worse!
Ignorant readers, genuinely trying to read the cards, will tend to attribute any cards that don’t make sense to something hidden and mysterious, and will twist the cards to match reality as best they can. This kind of reader asks a lot of questions like “Is there someone new in your life?” or “Have you recently taken up something new?” Such questions are a dead give-away – they indicate the reader is scrounging for reality to twist the meanings of the cards to match. It’s not that it’s being done in bad faith, or as a cheat, but simply that the reader doesn’t know what he’s doing. Such a reading is always going to be worse than useless – especially for an unwary querent: one who considers Tarot infallible. This sort of querent likely also reads the horoscope in the paper every day, twisting what is read to match what actually happens. As for the Reader, he or she may have learned the meanings of the cards, and the routine of reading – but without any fundamental understanding, the Tarot is just random … and this sort of Reader doesn’t know that!
Con-artists are worse: they slowly pronounce the meanings of the cards, watching the client carefully for cues in body language, expression, or, even better, verbal exclamations. This sort of reader may or may not know the actual agreed meanings of the cards – regardless, they will eventually twist meanings to something the client wants to hear, or something the client is afraid to hear. The reading usually ends at an indeterminate point, with the client just aching to know more …
The reader will be delighted to provide more – for another $20! This is called “Cold-Reading” – and someone good at it can determine all sorts of things without any sort of verbal disclosure by the client! All that is required is careful observation, some knowledge of basic psychology, and charisma enough to be believable.
Consider a typical scenario: a young couple comes in, just all over each other … there’s an engagement ring on the girl’s finger, but not a very nice one … the young man is dressed in worn jeans with little traces of grease on them, and has calloused hands, and the young woman has a bit of a bulge to her belly, but an otherwise nice figure.
The Cold-Reader will be able to tell them that they are recently engaged (they’re kids, everything in their lives is recent,) and that money has been a problem (well, sure, the guy probably works in a garage – or does his own maintenance, rather than paying another to do it, as most of us do, and that ring wasn’t the nicest around!) Hard times are coming, especially when a new arrival comes into their lives (even if that wasn’t a baby-bump, there’s a better than even chance that pregnancy is on its way), but there’s a chance that things may get much better …
“Oh … that was the last card of the spread … we can do another, but, I’m afraid that’s another reading, so …”
And the young couple coughs up another hard-earned $20 to this fraud!
Ignorant Readers, and Con-Artists are not as bad as it can get, though: a naive, superstitious, or gullible reader, together with a querent that can be described in any of those ways, is a particularly bad combination – either because one or both will insist that Tarot be used to decide on actions (which it never should) – or because naiveté and superstition leaves them open to Spiritual Attack.
Yes, I mean by Demons. Be patient. We’ll come to that.
Theory 2: Tarot relies on benign spirits. This theory of Tarot happens to be the most prevalent one – and, to my mind, the most dangerous one.The cards are selected and manipulated by these spirits, so the theory goes, who are influenced by the powers of the reader, or general benevolence toward either the reader or the querent.
Look, I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell the people who subscribe to this theory that they’re wrong. All I can do is say what I believe: there are dangers to using Tarot in this manner. I believe that many of the ideas this theory is based on are in error – specifically, the ideas that there are benign spirits able to influence human lives, that their services are freely offered, or that any human being has power to compel their truthful answers.
That there are spirits is something that most Human beings will have to admit to. Virtually every religion or belief system including Wicca, Paganism, Animism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, all posit the existence of spirits, both evil and benign– but each sees them in very different ways, and has a different idea of their abilities.
Wicca, Paganism, and Animist traditions have about as many different varieties of thought as there are practitioners, but, in general they recognize both benign and malevolent spirits. They believe that people can influence these spirits, summon them, question them, dismiss them, or ward them at will. Many people subscribing to these faiths believe they have a ‘Guardian Spirit’, ‘Spirit Guide’, or ‘Familiar Spirit’, and that they are protected by these guardians, when they reach out for spirit guidance. Most of these religions also admit the existence of evil spirits – or, at the very least, mischievous ones – who prey on the foolishness, or weaknesses of mankind.
Islam posits the existence of “Djinn” or “Jinn” (the genie of Arabic folk-tales) who, along with Angels and Men, comprise the three sapient creations of God. While the Jinn, like men, have free will, and can be kindly, wicked, or neutral toward mankind, Angels are said to have no free will at all, living entirely to execute the will of God. Some practitioners of Islam believe that every person has a Jinn appointed to bear them company throughout their lives, some of these being evil, and whispering temptations, while others labor for the betterment of the person they shadow. Islam has a very strong prohibition against practitioners of Astrology, Divination, Fortune Telling, Palmistry, Magic, and Witchcraft. Tarot itself didn’t exist when the Koran was being written – but this prohibition must be considered to apply to it, as well as the other activities mentioned.
In Judeo-Christian thought, some scholars claim the prohibition is there, just as it is in Islam. Nevertheless, if you recall the arguments I threw at the guy who claimed I wasn’t a Christian, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the prohibition was nowhere near as cut and dried – and anyone who has read the Old Testament should know precisely how cut and dried the Jews of that time could make their laws! In any case, among Christians and Jews, there are considered to be only two sorts of spirits: Angels, and the Fallen, usually called ‘Demons’. Angels, as in Islam, are said to serve only the will of God, without exercising free will of their own (there’s a fine distinction between having Free Will, and exercising it) – and would, therefore, only be able to influence a human life at God’s direction (so there’s little point in asking questions of them!) Like the other religions mentioned, many Jews and Christians believe that they are accompanied through life by a “Guardian Angel”, who is charged to protect them from physical and spiritual danger which is not part of God’s Plan – an important point, because, like all Angels, Guardians must follow the will of God. If danger finds us that is a part of the Plan, a Guardian Angel is helpless to prevent it. They are equally helpless, it should be noted, to protect us from the consequences of our own choices – which is why suicide is both possible, and considered to be sinful. Guardian Angels are not allowed to thwart man’s free will: if someone chooses to address spirits for guidance, a Guardian Angel will be helpless to prevent the consequences.
The Fallen, in contrast, can act of their own accord, having Free Will just as men do. According to some scholars, the original nature of their rebellion against God is that they chose to exercise the Free Will that these scholars believe all Angels possess – thereby putting their own desires before those of God. They, therefore, can influence human lives – but, many Christian dogmatists say, only if invited to do so. It’s an important point, to which we will return in a moment.
A third possible class of spirits, (accepted by some, but not most, Christians) are hinted at in the book of Genesis, and specifically mentioned in the Book of Daniel, and the Apocryphal Books of Enoch: these are the Grigori (Greek for the “Watchers” – literally “they who keep watch”.) Similar to the Jinn of Islamic thought, the Watchers were said to be a sort of Earthbound Angel – Earthbound, in the sense that all of their powers were bound to the material world of Earth. Also like the Jinn, they can be both evil and good – and that is about as much as we know of them. The Books of Enoch hint that these beings were given Free Will, and were set upon Earth to watch and wait for mankind to be ready to learn certain forms of lore, or skills – but that some of them became enamored of the beauty of human women, and forsook their charge to marry them. Of this union came children known as the Nephilim, described in Genesis as Giants, and Heroes. As for the Watchers, themselves, we are told that, of those that rebelled, all, or at least the most dangerous, were captured and bound in specific places by the archangels. (Raphael is the only archangel specifically mentioned by name in this regard.)
Whether Demon or Watcher, Jinn, or anonymous Spirit, inviting the advice or counsel of such creatures, deliberately, opens a door to them – a door that is most difficult to close! Therein lies the danger – by any or all of these religious points of view – of just tossing the questions out there for anything to answer! Consider what I said earlier: that Tarot is essentially a form of prayer – would you utter a prayer without “addressing” it? (We often aren’t specific in our prayers – but we know who we wish to send them to, and that counts as an address!) Regardless of who or what you worship, would you willingly open a door to spirits of evil-will?
I’m sorry if this is trending to the dark and scary – but this is the heart of many people’s objections to Tarot – and it is well-founded! If it is your intention to learn to read, you must be aware of these concerns, and should be able to address them, for your own safety and peace of mind, and to inform your clients, or querents. If you are not prepared to deal with such questions, you really ought not to learn Tarot!
Theory 3: Tarot questions can be directed to God, who answers by manipulating the cards. Obviously, this is the theory I subscribe to – and it’s pretty much the only theory of Tarot that can get you around the prohibitions in Christianity against contacting spirits! As for the jerks who want to claim that it’s still prohibited, I’ll demand that they answer me this one question: where in the scriptures is there a prohibition against asking guidance of God?
They can bluster all they like – there is no such prohibition! The same is true of every other religion that I know of (leaving Islam out of it – I’ve no wish to offend its practitioners, and the prohibition is pretty well spelled-out in the Koran, as is the accepted forms of prayer.)
It doesn’t matter whether you revere Yahweh, God, the Father of Christ, the Great Spirit, the Creative Force, the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Life – I believe each of these is one aspect of a being who created the Universe, established our place in it, and gifts us with love and guidance. When I shuffle the cards, on behalf of myself, or another, I address a plea to this being that he will answer the questions we ask, or let the cards display nonsense, if that is his will – but that he will prevent any unclean spirit from influencing the result. Approached in this manner, with reverence, I see no reason why reading Tarot, or being read for, should be considered sinful, wicked, profane, or pose any more spiritual danger than praying. By the same token, approaching Tarot frivolously, blindly, irreverently, or, worst of all, addressing your questions deliberately to whatever spirits happen to be listening, is one of the most spiritually dangerous things a human being can do – the direct equivalent of playing with Ouija Boards, holding Séances, Channeling, or Invoking Demons!
Assume for a moment that Demons are real – that there are Spirits of Evil, motivated by spite, or hatred of humanity – a belief shared by the vast majority of the human race. Why don’t such creatures constantly make themselves known? If they hate us, and fear nothing we can do, why don’t they just appear at will to terrorize us? Why do they not desecrate places of worship, assault us in our sleep, plague our lives with all of their powers, or possess anyone they like? Why don’t they tear down our leaders – especially our Spiritual Leaders?
Simply put, because it is forbidden. Theologians of every sort have considered this question, and they generally concur that there is some sort of prohibition, even if the exact limits of that law aren’t clear to us. Many believe that it is not so much that God issued instructions – demons have already disobeyed God, so why should they obey in this? Instead, such scholars argue, it is part of the way the Universe works, like gravity. Gravity is not a written ordinance, but rather part of the nature of the universe. We can see its effects, and deduce how it works … in a similar way, we can see that demons are not constantly interfering directly in the lives of people, and deduce that this is a part of their nature. Spirits of evil may be able to whisper their influence, but they cannot manifest themselves, or their powers, in our lives without our permission. An evil spirit can do a person no harm without an invitation.
Poltergeist phenomena, possession, and other paranormal activities almost always occur in the vicinity of a troubled child. Children, innocent, and easily confused between make-believe and reality, are prime targets for Demons, and can sometimes be convinced to issue an invitation … Are you lonely? Misunderstood? Need a friend? You need only invite me in!
Many Christian scholars will point out that this law works both ways: one must accept Christ, and invite the Holy Spirit. Many say that it’s as if God established not only Mankind’s right to exercise free will – but made it a requirement that we do so. The trouble is, we can invite or accept spirits, without necessarily knowing what we’re accepting – which is precisely why it’s so dangerous to just toss the questions out for anything to reply to: because it constitutes an invitation.
Once invited, evil will quite literally raise all the hell it can – with the aim of terrifying everyone nearby, of breaking their belief in anything merciful, or causing them to despair of anything good in the world. It’s long been the teaching of the Catholic Church that possession isn’t considered sinful for the person experiencing it, even if it is occasioned by weakness – it is, rather, the manipulation of a person by a dark spirit, as a means of attacking everyone within reach of that person.
There’s another, and far more subtle form of attack, however: quiet demonstrations, lies, leading people astray, convincing them, slowly, to abandon their ideas of morality and ethics …
It’s generally seen in cults. Charles Manson. Jim Jones. David Koresh. Marshall Applewhite. Nobody can say with any certainty what allowed these men to take such control over peoples lives that they were willing to hand over their spouses and children for the sexual pleasures of the cult leader – or, in the case of Applewhite, permit themselves to be castrated – and then end their lives at the leader’s direction. Two, at least, Manson, and Applewhite, were paranoid schizophrenics, and the instructions they gave their followers may have been defined only by their own inner madness. Jones and Koresh were different, though: neither was insane, each declared himself to be a religious authority. Perhaps their charisma alone allowed them to gather a following, and their own hunger for ever-increasing power led them down the path they followed. The pattern is awfully similar, though, in each of these cases – and the result is precisely what a malevolent spirit might wish for: lives ruined, innocence lost, genuine worship tainted or defiled, then death.
There are three points I’d like to make:
1)If all this discussion of evil spirits has totally freaked you out – good! It’s nothing to be ashamed of: these aren’t topics that most people have ever given lots of thought to. I can tell you, the first time I had this discussion with someone, it left me pretty seriously rattled for a time. Still, if you aren’t prepared to think of such things, and take them seriously, you really should not learn to read Tarot!
2)If you’re very young (say, under 30) you can learn the tarot spreads, and the meanings of the cards, but I’d caution you against attempting readings. It’s not so much a question of your age, but your experience: often, the most useful meanings that can be drawn from a card during a reading, or the connections between cards and positions, require a degree of life experience you most likely don’t have, yet.
3)If your main motivation is to read for yourself, you may be seriously disappointed: many competent Tarot readers, myself included, find it extremely difficult to get a useful reading for ourselves! I can have another read for me, and it’ll be fine, but when I try to read for myself, the reading is usually a hash of gobbledegook! No one really knows why … perhaps we’re too close to our own issues, and can’t achieve the detachment necessary for a good reading.
4)If you think the foregoing discussion was totally bogus – or, worse, if you’re drooling at the thought of demanding answers of spirits – I beg of you, put this book down, and leave Tarot alone! Perhaps you have the right to mess up your own life – but you have no right to mess up the lives of people who come to you for counsel!
If you do choose to continue, the next thing we need to discuss is how to practice Tarot.
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