“What are those?” My grandmother pointed to my set of cards.
I looked at her, excited to tell her. “Tarot cards.”
Her eyes widened and she glared at my mother and father. “Who let her have the Devil’s playthings?”
My mother and father looked at each other. “I bought them for her.” My father spoke.
“And you claim to be a religious man?”
“I don’t see anything wrong with her satisfying her curiosity.”
“It’s a sin! You can lay no claim to this being a religious house if you allow instruments of the Devil within it!” My grandmother suddenly lost her temper.
“But Grandma, they’re fun and pretty.” I argued.
“Get rid of them.” She seethed.
I was once told by my parish priest that the occult was a dark art. Sure, some of it can be, however, the tarot can be used for divination or entertainment. I came from a devoutly Catholic family. Every Sunday, my parents and I attended mass, prayed and went to breakfast afterward. There were prayers before every meal, bible study after school and restricted television watching on the weekends. For my family, Jesus was always someone we were trying to impress.
I took an interest in the tarot when I was fourteen. I saw a fortune teller using a deck when I was at a carnival with some friends the summer before. I was attracted to the designs on them and the way the fortune teller laid them on the table in what I would later learn was called a spread.
I asked my father about the cards a few months later to see if he had any information about them, and he offered to buy me a deck. I didn’t understand how a deck of cards could cause so much turmoil in a family. Because it seemed to be a religious issue, the only person I could think to ask was my parish priest.
“The tarot is a part of the occult, which is demonic. Why, being a good, Catholic girl, would you want to play with something as dangerous as this? Why are you letting Satan tempt you?” Father Burns told me.
Okay, so the tarot is part of the occult, and the occult is demonic, but how can Satan tempt me if I just look at them? I had no idea how to read them. I decided to educate myself.
The tarot originated in Italy in the 14th century. It was used by the Jews for purposes of divination, or telling the future. The deck consists of 22 major arcana cards, cards that resemble the king, queen and jack of a deck of playing cards, which represent life, and 56 minor arcana cards, cards that resemble the numbered cards in a playing card deck, which correspond to the major arcana in some way. Each card has its own meaning.
The deck my father bought for me was the Medieval Scapini Tarot, created by Luigi Scapini. The Scapini Tarot recreates the images of Middle Age Europe through costume, symbolism and setting. Many images on the cards were inspired by Italian Renaissance masterpieces. The cards are complete with gold backgrounds and symbolism that the reader has to interpret that ties this particular deck with the esoteric tradition of the tarot. Because each tarot deck is different, the Scapini deck includes the suits of swords, cups, wands and coins. These suits correspond to the traditional tarot suits of swords, cups, wands and pentacles. Playing cards can also be used as tarot cards. The suits of the tarot correspond to the four suits of a deck of playing cards: spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds.
Occultism has been a part of American culture since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1871, there were an estimated eight to 11 million psychics and occult followers. By 1979, according to Time magazine, and estimated 40,000 “witches” were active in the United States. Today, that figure has quadrupled. Over 300 educational institutions, including universities, offer programs and even degrees on New Age topics. Of these institutions, about 100 in America alone offer courses in witchcraft. According to The Stateman’s Yearbook 2007, In 2000, Illinois had a total population of 12,419,293. Of those, 6,457,000 were Christians and 270,000 were Jewish. The other 5,692,293 were unknown. Those unknowns might be Occultists.
The reason for the high number of occultists in America is the abandonment of orthodox Christianity. It is a fact that wherever Christianity is biblically practiced, occultism is rejected.
People leave the Christian religion for many reasons, some of which include interests in other religions and wrong-doings by the church. However, most leave the religion hesitantly. For example, a man named Jason* left the Catholic Church mostly because of his homosexuality. He simply did not agree with the church’s teachings on not only homosexuality, but women’s ordination and papal infallibility. Jason still has a great respect and love for the Catholic Church, but won’t go back unless he sees a change in the things that he didn’t agree with.
The tarot is studied by occultists and Pagans. Paganism has had a tremendous influence on Christianity. For example, the Catholic baptism of infants was derived from a Pagan ritual. Many Pagan rites were incorporated into Catholicism: the use of incense, genuflections and the practices of facing east for prayer. Sadly, most Christians have either denied or forgotten this.
In biblical evaluations of the tarot, it is stated that the cards ignore man’s sin, it contains a “secret doctrine” that only a few are privy to and that the cards are dangerous when used to control one’s destiny because of the symbolism. The realization is that Tarot cards correctly say that man needs help spiritually.
The four suits of the minor arcana have also been identified with the four symbols of the legend of the Holy Grail: lance (Wand), cup (cup), sword (sword), dish (pentacles). The major arcana also has Catholic symbolism. For example, the hanged man, card number 12, picturing a man hanging upside down from a cross by his ankle, signifies the death and resurrection of Jesus.
For me, Tarot readings were always steeped in the mysterious; carnival readers in dark tents, with black velvet draped over the table and chairs and small crystals hanging from the ceiling.
That’s what I used to think. Now that I realize that carnival Tarot readers are probably only out for money, I searched for what a real Tarot reader looks and acts like. I didn’t find it in any book, so, to find my answer, I visited a “real” Tarot reader.
I visited a website to try to get some information on where to get a good reading. The information told me to stay away from calling 900 numbers, such as Psychic Friends and Miss Cleo, because usually numbers like that employ people who have no reading abilities and they do what is called “cold reading”. Cold Reading is where a reader names a number of people and ideas the person getting the reading may or may not be familiar with in a hope that the person will offer some valuable information to further the reading. Cold Reading has been compared to fishing; the reader just keeps throwing useless information out there until they get something useful. These numbers are usually scams.
When I arrived, I noticed the place I was at looked like a normal house. When I rang the doorbell, a woman in her 40s, clad in a tee-shirt, jeans and fuzzy bunny slippers, answered the door. “Hi.” She greeted me.
“Uh, hi.” She probably guessed that I was taken back by her attire.
She invited me in and instructed me to take a seat at the kitchen table (which, by the way, had a St. Patrick’s Day tablecloth on it.) While she got me a cup of coffee, which was in a cup that said, “world’s greatest mom” on the side, she carried the cards over to the table.
She sat opposite me, taking the cards out of the old sock she kept them in. “Why do you keep them in a sock?” I asked.
“So they can become personalized. It’s believed that if you keep your cards in a personal place, you will bond with the cards, giving you a more accurate reading.” She smiled. “What’s your zodiac sign?”
“Libra.” I replied.
She searched through the cards until she came to the Justice card. She set it aside, separate from the rest. “Why don’t you include that one?”
“This card represents you.” She held up the card she set aside.
“Why does it represent me?”
“Libra stands for law and justice. This card corresponds to that.”
I nodded and she told me to shuffle the cards. I did and handed them back to her. She laid them out in what was described as the “celtic cross” spread. The spread had two cards in the center, one on top of the other, making a cross, four cards in a circle around those cards and four cards stacked running up the side of the circle. The cards that are in and make up the circle detail someone’s issues, obstacles, and past and near futures. The cards that run up the side detail a person’s inner thoughts and feelings and environment, ending with the final outcome prediction to that person’s question.
She was correct in predicting some things in my reading, such as my past relationships and general obstacles. However, she didn’t get many of the future predictions correct, the predictions that she told me would happen within the next month.
As we were sitting down to dinner, my grandmother asked me if I had gotten rid of the cards yet. My parents looked up from their plates and listened intently, wide-eyed, wondering what I would say.
“No.” I said simply.
“Why?” Grandma asked calmly.
“Because Grandma…” and I proceeded to tell her what I had learned about the Tarot. This was something I wanted to pursue, and I didn’t like for anyone to be angry with me, especially her. I always wanted my grandmother to be proud of me.
When I was finished explaining, I expected her to scream and holler, but it never came. “Hmm.” Was all she said, and that was the end of it.
People either read or go for readings of the Tarot because either they’re looking for some interesting fun or they’re turning away from their religion and looking for different spiritual outlets.
I had talked to several different people that all told me that they read the Tarot because it’s “fun,” “interesting,” or “because my family hates it,” but only one person said to me, “I read the Tarot because I like to know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I hate surprises.”
This surprised me. “You really believe that you can see the future through the cards?”
“I don’t believe it, I know it.”
This sent up a red flag for me. This is some insane individual who bases their life off of the Tarot…get away! This is what I instantly thought. However, through my research I’ve learned that most individuals who read the Tarot do it for spiritual purposes and believe what they see in the cards. Because of what is portrayed in the media, I took this person to be absolutely crazy.
Through the research I’ve done, I’ve learned several things about the Tarot and maybe have matured a little while I searched for answers.
“Your grandmother’s leaving.” My father called to me as I rushed down the stairs to say goodbye to her.
“I’ll see you next next month.” She said to me as she kissed me on the forehead.
As I turned to walk away, I heard her call after me, “What you said last night at dinner really made sense.”
I turned to her and smiled. I just wanted her to understand. That was all I wanted.