“If you would be a real seeker after truth,” says Rene Descartes, “it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” I’ve been reading Tarot for 40 years, and I couldn’t count the number of times people have had a great reading that floors them with how it relates to their real life, and then they ask me whether I believe in Tarot cards. The question might have been less surprising if the reading hadn’t been so on point, but my response is perhaps as strange as my practice. It isn’t “I don’t know,” so much as I don’t find it necessary to answer the question in any concrete way.
This is a good time to remember the White Queen asking Alice to believe the impossible, and when Alice said she couldn’t, the White Queen answered that Alice simply hadn’t had enough practice. The Queen said when she was younger she always practiced believing the impossible for half an hour a day, and sometimes she believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. This is the reverse of the Descartes point of view, but I believe the one requires the other. (If this boggles you, never mind. Rene wouldn’t like it either.)
On the practical side, and I am a practical person, I can’t see how Tarot works and yet somehow it does. I sit down to open communication with somebody I’ve never seen before and the cards fall so that I can begin speaking, and communication happens. I simply describe what the cards picture according to their positions, and somehow it makes sense and the dialogue ensues.
How much of this is some psychology subconscious to both of us I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to say. But I know it has to start somewhere inside my own head, and start it does. For 40 years Tarot has seldom failed me and I do believe it will continue to work.
To work at what? Not at helping me see what people are like, though it does, but at helping people see what they are like themselves, to see into themselves. People that could never discuss intimate subjects face-to-face with a stranger, or even with a friend, can
discuss it with the Tarot cards just because they are esoteric. Tarot cards are something beyond us all and therefore invite openness and self discovery. This is very real, and very believable, no matter where it comes from.
So perhaps I’m nothing but a counselor with a magic trick, a way of refocusing the attention with misdirection, so I can draw a person out of themselves. It feels like a dangerous kind of power, and I guard myself carefully to do no harm. That’s why I take no money. And when they ask me “do I believe in Tarot?” I give the same answer I’ve been giving for 40 years: “absolutely yes and no.”
Because I’m a practical person, I have come to terms with having to believe the impossible, which for me means having to believe two completely inconsistent things at the very same time. The Tarot is true, the Tarot is not true. It is useful, it is reliable, it is beautiful, it is entertaining, it is not to be understood.
The High Priestess card is from the Alice In Wonderland Tarot deck.
The illustration is by Sir John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novella “Through the Looking-Glass.”
The Four of Cups card is from the Alice Tarot deck.
The Magician card is from the Wonderland Tarot deck.