An Introduction to Tarot
"This is not about foretelling the future. This is about uncovering what you already know."
— Jessa Crispin, Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life
What is tarot?
Asking "What is tarot?" is like asking "What is art?" There is no single, simple answer. Tarot is many different things to many different people.
- A divination tool, specifically a type of cartomancy (divining from cards)
- A tool for self-reflection and personal, spiritual, and/or religious growth
- An effective device used by therapists
- A vehicle for artistic self-expression
- A symbolic reflection of the human condition in 78 parts
- An academic study with historical, social, and anthropological significance
- A card game that originated in northern Italy
- A deck (or pack) of 78 cards
- All of the above... and more
A deck of tarot cards isn't just for fortune telling. Most tarot readers agree the future isn't written in stone and that's not the point of a tarot reading anyway. Tarot readings are about identifying opportunities, solving problems, and working through changes and challenges.
Tarot as a Tool
Tarot cards reflect different aspects of the human condition. When you have a basic understanding of the meaning of each card and lay them out in a certain way, they begin to tell a story. That story is a "what-if" scenario, the likeliest outcome if things continue as they are.
Tarot can help you weigh the benefits and detriments of a choice, the possible outcomes of a decision, and can reveal things about an issue you hadn't considered. Of course we don't recommend making a decision solely on a card reading, but at the very least, it's a useful tool during your deliberation process.
Learning the tarot is a great way to build confidence in your intuition, your "gut feeling." Only you truly know what's best for you and the tarot helps you reveal what that is. Tarot is an effective tool for anyone looking to increase self-confidence and knowledge of self.
Tarot as TherapyTarot's ability to access the unconscious mind through use of symbols, archetypes, and storytelling is being recognized more and more by healers and therapists. The use of art imagery in psychological therapy has proven highly beneficial, and more and more therapists are using tarot in their practices.
Healers and therapists find that using tarot in sessions prompts people to open up and elaborate more fully about their lives. Like with a Rorschach Test (inkblots), it's the story a person sees in the images that reveal their psychological state and outlook. Tarot combines art and symbolism with storytelling and imagination — you can see how that would be useful to a mental health professional.
James McConnachie's essay, "The Truth About Tarot," is an engaging, well-researched piece on the birth and life of tarot, from courtly card game to a prop for charlatans to an effective healing tool. You can also listen to it.
For a wonderful exploration of the benefits of Tarot in therapy read "Integrating Tarot Readings Into Counselling and Psychotherapy," by I. Semetsky, PhD (from Spirituality and Health International, vol 6(2), 2005).