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How Does Tarot Work?

This post was written by Barbara Moore
on August 19, 2010 | Comments (12)

I cut my tarot teeth on 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. Ever since, I’ve waited for what I thought of as her “sequel” to be published. It has finally happened and is called Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings. Isn’t that title divine? The book is, too. Every word of it is wonderful and the interior design as well as the cover make an altogether creative and magical package.

Toward the end of this book, Rachel poses the question “how does tarot work?” She writes:

The answer to this is very simple: no one knows. People will say various things—the person’s unconscious or “higher self” guides their hands while shuffling, a mysterious force called “synchronicity” causes the cards to come out in a meaningful pattern (the term comes from Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, and really just means coincidence), the gods bring you messages, the devil brings you messages—but nobody can really say for sure. Some critics of tarot claim it’s all meaningless, or rather it’s too meaningful. Since every card means something, they just come up in whatever way they will and our own minds create a pattern or message from them. I have no problem with that. As I said, a tarot reading is not a magic act or a performance. The important thing is not where the message comes from but whether we find any value in it. Personally, my experience tells me that something else is going on, something that more directly shapes the reading, including which cards come out, but in practice I don’t think it matters.

How do you think the tarot works? Do you think it is important to know or at least have an opinion of how it works if you read the cards?

Reader Comments

Written By KatrinaW
on August 19th, 2010 @ 9:22 am

Simply put, Tarot works like a dream. The more aware we are of our dream material, whether through the cards, or directly with our dreams, the message and meaning is the same.

Jung would say that synchronicity is more than coincidence. As an extension of “causality” theory, two or more events or concepts are grouped by “meaning” and are not by accident. In Tarot work, the querent is the source of what is meaningful and makes the connections.

From a modern physics point of view, chaos is actually order that we may not be able to perceive. I would posit that at moments of synchronicity we glimpse the order in the apparent chaos.

Written By Pietra
on August 19th, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

I think that there is a bit of it all and a mix of the querent’s beliefs and our own. I tend to go on a very Jungian line of thought and that satisfies me. However it is clear to me that, sometimes, Divinity meddles. And that is a good thing, because it shows our capacity of listening to Them =)

Written By Ty
on August 19th, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

Gee Barb, my copy of ’78’ is a little worn, but a least it dosen’t have any teethmarks!

On a more serious notes, I beleive the tarot ‘works if you work i; it won’t if you don’t.’

I believe it is a medium for connecting with our higher mind/selves and the divine and for connecting the dots that our concious minds miss. For me, tarot illuminates the ‘hunch’ sometimes- all those subtle clues my subconcious told me meant something but my concious, rational brain could only dismiss as a ‘feeling’. Tarot rings it our where can I see it.

Do I beleive that anyone can do this? Yes- if they really want to and really try. So that eliminates a lot of people-because understanding how it works, making it work, makes you more aware of how much you are in control of your life- or should be in control- and that can be frightening. But, again, the tarot can be a medium to understanding the root of those fears- with the Sword of intellect, comes the Cup of understanding our emotions….

Written By Blackbird "BB"
on August 19th, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

I have pretty strong feelings about this one, so at the risk of posting something I may have posted before here goes….

A few years back, when I was a pretty new Tarot Reader I had a very Mechanistic, As Above so Below view of Tarot; I saw a Tarot spread as in many ways an analog to a Astrological chart. …

Then one night I was sharing a Nightcap with my wife, and I kept noticing this Tarot Deck, (An Universal Waite) Now at the time I maybe owned 20 decks, this deck was not a new deck, or a special deck; and in no way should have held my attention, any more than a spent coffee cup or the ash tray might hold my attention; but time and again my gaze returned to the deck.

So almost out of exasperation, I pulled it out and layed out a Celtic Cross; and all the cards made sense but 2 – 8 of Wands, 10 of Pents Rx; I did not know what it meant, but I took it as a warning and put down my glass so I would have my wits fully about me later;

and yea know it was – come 4am I am racing my wife to the hospital in agony; suffering from what proved to be a case of Pancreatitis;

After that… Well it was clear I had been warned, it was clear Someone had taken it upon themselves to warn me what was coming and used the Tarot to convey that message; from then on it was Impossible to see the Tarot a Mechanical as above so below thing. It was clear I had been Guided, and that I had a guide.

My Favorite Deck has a image of the Princess of Swords, I think of as a portrait of Innana, so I started calling my Guide Innana, she responded to that name and my readings got better, but sharper more challanging; “The Truth Hurts” very often, and Nan is the Princess of Swords, her truth very often cuts, but it cuts one free in the end. I have sense dedicated nearly every reading I have ever done to my Nan, my Princess of Swords; My vision of Innana, and she has rewarded me with some amazing readings.

For me there is no doubt, your Tarot deck is a Phone, who you call, and how they anwser is between you and your guide; but I would say to you; have no doubt you have one, and S/he is waiting for you to call.

Blessings, BB.

BTW: could someone explain to me how you get an avatar pic on your posts? just curious BB.

Written By Barbara Moore
on August 19th, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

These are beautiful answers. Thank you all.

BB, I feel like your line “but I would say to you: have no doubt you have one and s/he is waiting for you call” is meant for me personally.

Divination via blog comments. I think the Divine/our guides will speak to/through us in any way that works.

Written By Barbara Moore
on August 19th, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

PS I don’t know how the pics show up. The IT or Marketing department at Llewellyn set me up, so I don’t know what they did. If I find out, I’ll let you know.

Written By Blackbird "BB"
on August 19th, 2010 @ 10:13 pm

BB, I feel like your line “but I would say to you: have no doubt you have one and s/he is waiting for you call” is meant for me personally.

Divination via blog comments. I think the Divine/our guides will speak to/through us in any way that works.

But of course you know,
In a reading two cards can act like windows, eaching showing the same light from a different angle; while another card can act like a speaker, carrying the voice of the Guitar, and Drum both at once; perhaps something of that here, no?

If your hearing that second voice, pay heed to it! Is all I can say;

As to the other Question, TY, I will be interested in any reply. Blessings, BB.

Written By Blackbird "BB"
on August 19th, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

“Divination via blog comments. I think the Divine/our guides will speak to/through us in any way that works.”
On a 2nd Reading I think I understand you better, and yes; LOL, they (our guides) can be quite sneaky at times no? Blessings again Bb.

Written By Harmonia
on August 22nd, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

The way Tarot works with me is what I used to call Pops! Certain cards just hit me right in the face and its not just a thought, but more like inspirations! Not quite a vision, but an intervision! Its kind of hard to explain to someone else. But what ever works for you, when it happens, you Know it!!! I LOVE my PoPs! Even ones to take more as a warning, That feeling is great to feel within yourself! The tarot has shown me how to develope my, I KNOW WITHOUT KNOWING!

Written By Charles
on August 26th, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

I am surprised that this question comes up so often amongst experienced tarot readers, and none of them ever come up with the obvious: if you want to know how tarot works, ask the cards to tell you. I’ve actually done this, I formed the question “How does Tarot work?” in my mind and laid out a spread. I will not describe the answer I got, I’m not sure I COULD describe it. Try it. You may be surprised at the answer. I’m sure it will not be the same answer I got.

Written By Barbara Moore
on August 27th, 2010 @ 8:07 am

Charles, that’s a great idea…. Rachel Pollack advocates such readings, particularly in Tarot Wisdom. In fact, she may have actually done this very reading. I’ll have to check.


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