Myths & Misconceptions of Tarot
Whether you’re new to tarot reading, a seasoned professional, or someone who enjoys occasionally having their cards read, it’s likely the misconceptions and rumours surrounding tarot won’t be news to you. With myths that shroud tarot’s origins in uncertainty, the association of tarot with the Devil, and whispered warnings you can only read tarot if you’re a twelfth generation psychic born under an eclipse and sporting a birthmark on your inner left thigh, it’s no wonder this popular, yet mystical practice, has many inching away with a shaky ‘no thanks’. At its heart, tarot is a tool for guidance and clarity, and thankfully, as tarot grows more popular year on year, many are discovering this for themselves. But if you’re curious about what you’ve heard, or are missing all but the birthmark on your inner left thigh and really want to sling cards for a living, here’s the truth about this enigmatic practice.
Tarot’s mysterious origins.
While there is no definitive history surrounding the exact origin of tarot cards, it’s believed they originated as playing cards in Europe, and sometime around 1430 in Italy, the pack of four suits was added to with the 21 cards of the ‘trionfi’ - triumps (what we now call the Major Arcana) along with ‘il matto’ - The Fool. Members of Italian nobility commissioned artists to create cards featuring friends and family, the most notable being the Visconti family of Milan, whose dukes and barons were depicted on decks. With only the wealthy able to afford these expensive, personalised decks, it’s not surprising an air of mystery developed, even though Tarot was nothing more than a parlour game back then. Evidence points to the 17th century for when people turned to tarot for divination, although it was nothing like the Tarot practised today, and it wasn’t until the 18th century when more complex meanings were attached to cards, along with the method of using spreads within a reading.
So while some may whisper of the Romany invented Tarot, what thin evidence exists denies those origins. Romany Gypsies—named after the belief they descended from ancient Egyptians—were believed to have carried the secrets of Tarot as they spread across Europe, but as the playing cards, and subsequent addition of ‘trionfi’ originated before the 18th century, it proved the rumours untrue. Romany specialised in palm reading, and when they did begin to divine with cards, they used the four-suit playing card decks, and not the tarot deck with Triumphs.
Tarot predicts the future.
Tarot is not a form of fortune telling. The cards do not reveal your future. What they do, is shine a light on the present and how your past influences the situation. Tarot brings clarity, highlighting your thought processes and behaviours objectively. They offer answers to your questions, present options, and often suggest potential outcomes, but only based on your current path. Tarot does not declare What Will Happen. We are autonomous beings; we make decisions, and do or don’t take action based on those decisions. Tarot merely brings guidance, so what the cards ‘say’ is not set in stone. Only you control your future. Likewise with the myth that Tarot is Never Wrong. Readers can certainly misinterpret cards, but even if what they read is accurate, if you don’t like the message, you have the power to take action to ensure the outcome won’t happen.
Only psychics can read tarot
Many tarot readers do connect with their psychic gifts when reading. Some are mediums, others use clairvoyance (psychic seeing) or claircognizance (clear knowing), but you do not have to be connected to your psychic gifts to read cards. By studying the cards, learning the traditional meanings, and dedicating yourself to the practice, anyone can read Tarot.
Besides psychics, millions of people use tarot every day; doctors, lawyers, chefs, artists, engineers, musicians. A simple card-a-day draw brings guidance and clarity, even if the seeker needs to read the card’s meaning from the accompanying guide book to understand the message. While professional readers will have studied tarot for years, many individuals simply use their own interpretations or intuition when they read for themselves, so psychic ability isn’t required, just a willingness to contemplate the card and consider the message and how it reflects on the situation.
Tarot is widely used a self-care tool to develop self-awareness, confidence, and intuition. Many only ever read only for themselves, while others choose to have an occasional professional reading to gain deeper insight. If tarot calls to you, answer it! You need nothing more than your curiosity and a willingness to learn.
You can’t read tarot for yourself.
As someone who reads for themselves, I feel the main issue with self-reading is maintaining objectivity. Regardless of whether the reading is amazingly positive, or shines a glaring light on something you’ve been avoiding, some readers may find it difficult to emotionally detach and take an objective stance with the messages of the cards. We’re already bringing biases, hopes, and fears to the table, and as we’re so entrenched in our emotions, it can be tricky to accept what appears. A card-a-day draw is a great way to connect with your deck and yourself, but if there’s an issue weighing on your mind and you decide to go deeper with the cards, you must be wholly open to hearing what you both do and don’t want to hear, and be prepared to take action on those messages.
If you feel you can’t disconnect, then I wouldn’t recommend reading for yourself, simply because you might tie yourself in tighter knots. Besides that, there’s no other reason why you can’t throw down a few cards to ask for clarity on a conundrum.
Tarot is a tool of the Devil.
Tarot originated in Roman Catholic Italy, and if you look at the imagery in a tarot deck, you’ll quickly see how the iconography is heavily influenced by Christianity. Angels, Arcangels, the Pope, church settings; these all appear in the cards. Because of its occult connotations, Catholics have been conditioned to avoid and condone tarot, but with its reflections of history, symbolism, and theology, it’s an important part of the religion’s heritage that shouldn’t be associated with evil.
A tarot deck is 78 pieces of card, printed with ink, and coated in plastic. There’s nothing sinful or devilish about that. Harm only manifests when the person reading the cards chooses to use negative behaviour. Unfortunately, predicting death, illness, ruin, hexes, or possession are common ways in which scam readers scare clients into handing over money, with promises they can rid the client of their bad luck once they pay hundreds, or even thousands. Ethical tarot readers never predict such things, because tarot doesn’t work that way. Yes, they may see a bumpy road ahead; difficult choices over which the client may have to ponder, or a developing situation of which the client may not be aware, but no reader worth their salt will throw their hands to the heavens and foretell of disaster. Malicious readers are the cause of fear, sleepless nights, and empty pockets—this is where the devilish behaviour lies, not in the benign cards themselves.
Some Tarot Cards Are Bad
One of the most common misconceptions about tarot is the much maligned Death card. It’s a familiar movie scene; tarot cards being dealt in a smoky, dark room, candlelight flickering as Madame Fortuna turns over the Death card, gasps, and wails of an impending, unstoppable, and gruesome fate.
Yes, there are cards within the deck that aren’t sunshine and roses, but depending on the client, their question, the issue at hand, and a dozen other factors—including the surrounding cards—the cards are always open to interpretation. Even if tough times do lie ahead, an ethical tarot reader will be able to guide the client into how best they can navigate the potholes, and detail the choices which can be made during that time. The Devil, the Tower, and the 10 of Swords hold prickly messages, but their point is to shine a light on these aspects so the client can take the best action to move forward. Tarot cannot predict death. Yes, perhaps a highly psychic reader, or medium can, but if they’re a genuine, ethical reader, they won’t shriek about incoming demise—or announce they can undo it if you hand over wads of cash.
Poor old Death has the worst rep, but it’s actually quite a positive card which speaks of change and transition. It’s a common card to see when reading for a pregnant woman, depicting her journey from maidenhood to motherhood. I’ve often seen it appear for clients seeking a new direction for their careers, so it’s always a good omen for me when Death appears in this circumstance.
The Tower, with its message of major upheaval is another card that provokes fear. People assume the worst with this card, and with the imagery typically depicting people falling from a burning tower, it’s not surprising. The Tower may predict an unexpected kick up the butt, but the outcome brings positivity. Change can, of course, be painful for some, but in order to move to a better place, an uncomfortable shift is often necessary.
You must be gifted your first deck
This is probably one of the most enduring myths about tarot. It’s possible it stems from centuries ago when folk regarded tarot as a sacred practice passed through maternal lines. Once the initiate was ready to start reading, they would be gifted a deck. Given the scarcity of decks back then, it’s likely the deck was handed down, and if not, the expense and trouble in securing a new deck would have rendered the gift priceless to the point of being sacred. In more recent times, as recently as the 1970s, decks weren’t in abundance either, and with it being the pre-internet era, knowledge was much harder to come by. Being gifted a deck might have been the only way for an eager apprentice to begin their journey.
Nowadays, we don’t have to wait. Thousands of decks are readily available, endless sources of information wait only a few keystrokes away, and the metaphysical sections of bookshops and libraries are no longer relegated to a dark, dusty corner containing only a handful of books.
I would encourage anyone considering buying their first deck to undertake serious research before they buy. Study the images online, watch unboxing videos on YouTube, hop onto tarot forums and get a feel for all the different styles of decks out there. You want to ensure you connect with your deck, (regardless of whether it’s your first of fiftieth), so why wait to be gifted with a deck in which you have no say of style or theme, or one which may not appeal to or click with you in any way?
If you have been gifted a tarot deck, and it resonates with you deeply, then lucky you! But regardless of the deck’s source, the power behind it lies in you; how you connect with the deck and your studies. A deck handed down from a great-great-grandmother is just as potent as a brand new deck in the hands of a dedicated and ethical reader, so if you’re itching to read tarot, go for it!
Were any of these myths or misconceptions new to you? Or are you aware of others not mentioned here? If you’re keen to learn tarot, but not sure where to begin, So You Want To Read Tarot will get you started.
If you want to reach out with your own tarot myths experiences, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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