Tarot Myths – Part One

Like most esoteric subjects, there is a multitude of myths that surround the Tarot. These myths serve as a way for Tarot practitioners to keep the unwashed masses away from their favourite tool, or as a way for extremely religious people to attempt to frighten people away from something they feel is evil, or just as a fun way to make something mysterious seem more down to earth. Unfortunately, these myths can also cause people to avoid the Tarot, even though it may be a tool that they are interested in or would find extremely helpful. With that in mind, I’d like to explore some of the myths associated with obtaining and storing a Tarot deck, and a few myths that deal with Tarot readings.

You must receive your first/all Tarot deck(s) as a gift – I believe the reasoning behind this myth has to do with the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But, as we all know, this is far from the case. If you feel you are ready to begin studying Tarot, by all means, buy a deck for yourself. Not only will you get a deck whose imagery suits you, but you won’t be left waiting for your friends and family to pick up on your hints. Related to this is the myth that you get more powerful readings from a stolen deck–absolute rubbish! That is the perfect way to disrupt your subconscious, who knows you have done wrong. I suspect readings from stolen decks are likely to be poor indeed.

You must store your deck in black silk within an oak box – Tarot decks were once very precious and rare. Early decks, from the 14th century, were hand painted. Today, decks are mass produced and printed on card stock. In terms of keeping your deck in good condition, there is no need to wrap it up and tuck it away in a special box, although I would make an exception for fragile self-published decks. However, there is more to this myth than just keeping your deck in one piece (or rather, 78 pieces). The black silk is supposed to keep any negative psychic vibrations from infecting your deck, and the oak box acts to reinforce this. Personally, I’m not worried about stray vibrations from my husband or cat attacking my deck. I store my decks either in the box they came in, or in a cloth bag. I want them to be protected enough that they will last a long time, but I don’t want them locked away from the world, psychically or otherwise.

You must sleep with a new deck under your pillow for a week/month in order to attune it to you – Supposedly, if you don’t do this, your deck just won’t work properly for you. While spending time with your new deck is a great way to learn its symbolism, all those images aren’t going to flow into your head during your sleep. Spend time looking at the cards and thinking about the meanings rather than napping on the deck.

You should only have one Tarot deck, otherwise none of them will provide proper readings – My goodness! If this is true, then I’m in trouble. My personal collection is quite small compared to some collectors, numbering about 15 decks. Some decks I have because I happen to like the imagery (The Robin Wood Tarot and the Steele Wizard Tarot for example), others I have in order to cover the different Tarot traditions (The Universal Waite to cover the Rider-Waite-Smith system, the Thoth Tarot to cover that system, and the Tarot de Marseille for that tradition.) I don’t recommend that beginners attempt to cover all the traditions right away–it is best to pick one, the Rider-Waite-Smith being the best choice, and work with it until you feel comfortable. Do feel free to buy two or more decks, but be sure to give each deck its fair share of attention before moving onto the next. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the way each artist depicts the symbolism, and this could lead to poor readings. (So the myth is partly true!)

You should never read the Tarot for yourself – Again, if this is true, I’m in trouble. Reading for yourself is the best way to get experience with the cards. Do a daily card pull to learn your new deck, and feel free to ask for advice about situations when you need it. Keep in mind, though, that reading for yourself can be a struggle because it is difficult to distance yourself from the situation you are reading about. You may not like what the cards say, and will feel tempted to keep pulling cards until you get the message you want. Resist this urge! Take a step back and look at what the cards are saying, not what you want them to say. Also, don’t rely on the cards to make all your decisions for you. They are meant to provide guidance, and a suggestion of what may happen. They aren’t meant to rule and plan your life.

You can only do one or two readings a year for yourself – This is related to the myth above, and is far from true. However, it is best to refrain from doing to many large spreads (like horoscope or Tree of Life spreads), especially if they essentially present the same information. Not only is it a waste of time, but it plays into your desire to get the cards to say what you want them to say.

Never let anyone else touch your Tarot decks – Assuming you believe the myth that you can’t read Tarot for yourself, then you are only reading for others. But, how satisfying is the experience for either of you if they are unable to touch the deck? By keeping them from shuffling, you are not allowing the person you are reading for to really connect with the cards; the reading won’t feel real to them. By allowing the other person to shuffle, you allow them to become personally invested in the reading–they feel as if they had some impact on which cards appeared in the spread. This will make the reading easy for you, as you will find it easier to engage them in a discussion of the meaning of the reading.

Never read Tarot for money – While I personally have never read Tarot for money, I don’t see anything wrong with being a professional Tarot reader. Reading Tarot cards well is a difficult skill to develop, and those that are capable should be allowed to make a living. However, I don’t like to see Tarot readers exploiting people. I am annoyed by expensive Tarot hotlines that attempt to keep customers on the phone in order to rack up charges, or that insist you call back again and again for more information. I am furious when I read about Tarot readers who tell their clients they are cursed and must pay hundreds of dollars to have the curse removed. Mildly disappointing to me are inexperienced readers charging too much for their services, or supposed celebrity readers charging an arm and a leg.

You must have some sort of Tarot certification to be a legitimate reader – I read Tarot (successfully) for years before I even knew there was such a thing as Tarot certifications. While having a certification can be a great selling point if you are looking to become a professional Tarot reader, it is far from necessary. Certification courses do help provide a thorough understanding of how to read the Tarot, but they are often extremely expensive and contain material that can be found in books and online. However, if you learn best within a structured framework, then certification course may be the right answer for you. But there is, of course, the question of who is certifying the certifiers.

You must be psychic in order to read Tarot – This myth is a big problem for me, mostly because I don’t believe that anyone is truly psychic (at least not in the read-someone’s-mind-like-a-book way). Reading Tarot is skill that you can learn by studying the cards. You can read books to help you learn the card meanings, or you can just look at the pictures and talk about what you see. The images on Tarot cards contain symbols that mean something to all of us because we share a culture, not because we can psychically read each other. I will admit though, that if you are an empathic person (that is, able to pick up on the emotions of others) you are likely to provide more satisfying readings than someone who is very self contained. But this has more to do with your people skills than psychic ability.