What does tarot mean to me?

This is part of a series in which I blog my participation in Beth Maiden’s Alternative Tarot Course over at Little Red Tarot. First up are some basic questions that will help me understand what tarot means to me as I learn how to read the cards. I’d love to hear your answers to any of these questions, too!

I first came across tarot when…

Well, I actually can’t remember. Can’t remember buying my first deck, circa 2000/age 15-ish, nor do I know how I even knew what the deck was before I bought it. I think my earliest memory with it was when I did a Celtic Cross for George Harrison when I heard that he had cancer. (I was a Beatlemaniac when I was a teenager.) It was probably the most clumsily executed Celtic Cross ever performed, but I do remember that the outcome card was the Three of Swords.  😦  Miss you, George! Prior to my first encounter, I must have vaguely known about fortune-telling with cards. But yeah, did not have a lightning-bolt first encounter with the tarot!

The reason I want to learn tarot is…

Welp, I don’t know. Something draws me to it, but I’m not sure what. I like working with the cards and learning about them, so I will just let that desire drive me for now. It occurs to me, though, that since I’m winding down my Ph.D. program, tarot is probably filling in the gap, rushing in so I can have something new to learn as I move into the final stages of a big intellectual project. And I’m cool with that.

Here’s how I feel about learning tarot in three words:

excited, daunted, open

Tarot’s main purpose (for me) is…

to act as a mirror. I think it reflects things back to us about our minds and lives that we already know intuitively but can’t access on a conscious, rational level. Tarot is for showing us our blind spots, which helps guide us along as we go through our lives.

Here are some things I don’t believe about tarot:

While I think tarot has the ability to predict the future in the way the a meteorologist can predict the weather, I think the web of cause and effect is simply to big and too complex to be seen clearly by a single person asking a single question of a single pack of cards. So, I don’t think that the tarot can necessarily predict that six months from now a woman with dark hair will come into your life. That being said, I think tarot is good at identifying forces in one’s life and one’s habitual patterns. When you combine the two, you can get a pretty good idea of how things will turn out with specific situations, particularly in the short term, such as when a new relationship is being set up to fail.

Additionally, I think it’s funny that I put faith in tarot, but I regard the stuff that it’s based on much more skeptically. Traditional things like astrology, numerology, etc. are fun to me, but I’ve never put a lot of serious credence in them. That may change, but for now I’d rather just work with the tarot with an open mind. The notion of “vibrational energies,” to which a lot of people nowadays ascribe the cards’ power, also leaves me a little cold. I don’t need a 100% scientific definition of what people mean when they say “energy,” but it tends to get used in pretty vague and arbitrary ways that make me suspicious. A few weeks ago, I saw a quote on someone’s Instagram that said something like, “Keep your vibrations high! They affect everyone for 18 miles around you.” That’s when I go, “Uhhhhhh……” So, yeah. Jury’s still out on the energy thing.

I think the most important qualities for a tarot reader are:

Compassion for themselves and others, good listening skills, and equanimity, particularly in the face of unpleasant news.

In learning tarot, I hope to…

have fun, use the cards as a tool for making better decisions for myself and working with problems in my life, find friends to bond with over tarot, and maybe one day help others by doing readings.

I think my main challenges will be…

striking a balance between confidence and what we call beginner’s mind. I’m almost 30, I’ve almost completed a Ph.D. program. I’ve got some cred when it comes to learning stuff and mastering new skills. I feel comfortable with the process of learning tarot, and have confidence that if I stick with it and give it the appropriate amount of time and energy, I can gain enough mastery to do readings for others. But I also need to equip myself with humility and a basic sort of curiosity because my confidence could easily turn into arrogance, which will not only make me into an asshole, but hinder my learning and my true goal: to help people.

I’m also in the honeymoon stage of tarot learning. Just like at the beginning of a new relationship, I’m feeling a lot of manic energy (there’s that word again!!!) when it comes to tarot that is at this moment detrimental to my Buddhist studies and my meditation practice. (The desire for every tarot deck in the world–talk about dukkha!!)

But I will try to overcome them by…

bringing humility and equanimity into my practice with tarot. I think I need to start integrating it into my Buddhist practice in a formal way. Lots of people who don’t consider themselves Buddhist already use meditation as part of their tarot toolbox. I need to balance my tarot studies with my Buddhist studies and get in the habit of meditating before I do any readings. Otherwise, it’s just too easy for me to become ungrounded.

Additionally, I need to remember that I take up tarot as an act of service. Even if I’m only reading for myself–even if I only ever read for myself–I’m doing a service to the world by sorting out my own shit and being the best person I can be. If I ever do get the chance to read for others, I need to see myself in a role of humility and service, always.

I am really enjoying the Alternative Tarot Course so far. It’s only $25, which is crazy cheap, and the first week has been worth more than every penny already! Please do check it out if you’d like to learn about tarot in a way that focuses on developing it as a practice that’s significant for you.

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