Do You Have To Believe in Tarot For It To Work?

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I have often heard people tell me, “Oh, but I don’t believe┬áin the tarot.” I’ve heard that almost as much as I’ve had people ask me: “But how does tarot work?”

The idea that one has to believe in the tarot in order for it to work puts it on the same level as either 1) religion or 2) chicanery.

The idea that tarot either does or does not work implies that it sometimes can go right and sometimes can go wrong, much like a car or a computer, running smooth on some days and broken down on others.

In my opinion, there’s nothing inherent in the deck in which to necessarily believe. I think the declaration from people that they “don’t believe” in the cards comes from not understanding what the cards are about and how they can be used, and perhaps fearing them for that same reason. It’s a way to dismiss the cards as insignificant, unimportant, unworthy of faith, silly; and as such, reassuringly impotent, unintimidating, docile, unthreatening. We know that ignorance breeds fear. And doesn’t organized religion often require a firm belief in its tenets so as to keep the faithful in line (controlled, manageable, unempowered)?

Tarot doesn’t ask anyone to believe anything. It simply exists and is available as a tool, as a mirror, to those who wish to consult it.

There’s no need to associate belief with tarot. There’s nothing to believe in.

As far as how it “works,” that’s another story. When I asked that very question to my tarot teacher Enrique Enriquez, his immediate response was: “Who said it works?”

This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because obviously those of us who have a tarot practice wouldn’t spend time with the cards like we do if we weren’t getting some benefit. So I’m not dismissing the cards here as saying they have no use or no purpose. But the idea of them either “working” or not working is a loaded question.

I appealed to some of my friends and colleagues for an answer; if you haven’t read “Five Tarot Experts Explain How Tarot Works,” I encourage you to have a look.

It’s important to take the multiple layers of mysterious, imposed potency off of the cards. It’s important for readers to stop insisting that other people agree with them that the cards are useful, special, magical. Tarot is not a religion, it’s a practice. Tarot cards are not imbued with super powers. They don’t either work or not work.

What makes them so special, then? Why are people afraid of them? Why do people sometimes dismiss them, fear them, belittle them, or impose otherworldly powers upon them? Why do those of us who use them keep coming back to them, despite all the misunderstanding?

Well, let’s ask the cards themselves.

  1. What’s the most misunderstood aspect of tarot?
  2. What’s at the core of a tarot reading?
  3. What’s the best way to sum up the cards?

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In the 8 of Cups we see someone actively walking away from a set-up that seemed nearly perfect, but something was missing. No matter how hard this person tried to make things work, to fit the square peg into the round hole, it simply wasn’t going to ever be the way the seeker, the person walking away in the image, wanted it or needed it to be. As such, he or she is walking away from something that he or she invested heart and soul in, but is now letting go of. This person understands, even if it’s hard to acknowledge, that it makes no sense to keep devoting energy, time, heart, and soul to something that is clearly never going to change.

In my interpretation the most misunderstood aspect of tarot, then, according to this card, is that it isn’t about having all the answers tied up with a pretty bow and presented to you in a perfect gift box. It’s about seeking the answers and being honest about what you receive, and knowing when to take action, even if it hurts to do so, because it furthers your personal growth. It’s about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to give up, knowing when to let go. (In fact, I’d say this flies right in the face of the pop-culture notion of tarot as providing neat and accurate “hits” or predictions that give querents the answers and outcomes they desire, or, on the other extreme, cards that foretell of terrifying and unavoidable doom. Both of these concepts remove agency from the seeker. Tarot doesn’t show you what you want, it shows you what you need.)

At the core of a tarot reading is speed, and news. The 8 of Wands is about getting a message fast, about events moving at lightning speed, and about not having enough time to fully digest and comprehend everything that’s swirling around you. At its core, tarot goes straight to the heart of the matter before you even realize what’s happening. You either learn how to dance with this, or you resist it, or you try to rationalize your way out of it, or you try to control it. But at its core, it’s like a speeding bullet. You either consciously ride the fast current of the river, or you get swept up in it and carried away.

The best way to sum up the cards is the 4 of Swords – total silence and stillness. I’ve often had people tell me, after their first-ever reading, that they think “everyone” should have a reading, because it “puts you in touch with your inner self.” Let’s get quiet, and still, and listen, and stop. That’s what the cards can do for us. They can give us respite, a place to be silent and reflect, a place to recuperate and to regenerate, a place to completely stop and focus.

Your thoughts?

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Raising Up a Fire to Call Me Back Home the

According to the Mayan Calendar, yesterday, the 31st of July, 2017 was the Day of 10 Owls, also known as 10 Ak’Bal. Since this might not say much to most of you, here’s a little explanation: for the Mayans, the Divine Calendar  — also known as the Tzolk'in— was composed of 13 rounds of 20 days each, for a total of 260 days; each day was determined by the particular combination of two inter-locking cycles, one consisting of numbers which runs 13 days, the other cycle consisted of images and lasted 20 days. Now, much like our tarot cards, each number and image was assigned a particular set of meanings. By decoding both, the Mayans would get the information necessary to make the best out of the day.

As yesterday was 10 Ak’bal, that particular day was about Personifying A Private World. Meaning it was about embodying our private world. Now, I’ve been doing some daily readings with the Thoth deck while taking the Tzolk'in into consideration (which you can follow here or here. The cards that came out yesterday were the Princess of Disks and the 7 of Cups and what they had to say was,

'Today's about personifying a private world. Look after yourself; it's about time you cleaned everything that's messing with you.'

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Of course there’s a lot more that could be said about these two cards. In the 7 of Cups we can see all the slime that is dripping from the walls and the cups filling and infecting everything. In a way, it almost looks like things have gone stale and can’t be endured anymore. Which make the need to act all the more pressing.

But the interesting part is what came next. About 30 minutes later, I got a call from my landlord urging me to go quickly to the check my room where I perform my readings as there was some kind of fire in the bar located on the ground floor of my building. Apparently, black smoke had been coming out of the bar for hours and it was be necessary to open doors for the firemen and to check if everything was in order. Nothing came out of it, but that didn’t stop the local news media to hover around trying to get every little dirty detail out of it.

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Truth and dare

Still, it forced me to look once again at the place that I rented more than three years ago with the purpose of establishing a practice in my home city. While this never really took off — specially with me being away for all of  the last year in East Timor — I’ve always resisted the urge to pass it, since I felt such a positive vibe in the place and it was so superbly located I grew attached to it. So it remained… not really abandoned and not really being used.

This also came to mind as I’ve been following Camelia Elias's latest series of tarot prompts, this one about the house. [You might notice how Camelia is a favorite here at Maelstromtarot. She is. In a way, she’s also the precursor of this whole journey as we all met at a Camelia Elias event]. As I was waiting for all the commotion to end and finally re-enter my room, I sat at the coffee reading her prompts and thinking about what to do with the space.

Guided by her first prompt, my first action was to determine where did the local spirit of my room resided in order to thank him for calling me into action. To this I decided to engage one of my all-time favorite decks and also one I haven’t used in years, the Tarot of the Siddhe by the talented Emily Carding.

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The answer was simple: ‘I stand in a place of gatherings. I am by the door, hovering. Protecting it and kindling the fire.’

The implications were clear: the spirit of the place could be found at that bar that caught fire. It did make some sense, as both the bar and my reading room are in the same building. Also according to the cards, the fire was his own doing, marking all of this as a definite call for action.

Should I stay or should I go?

Sometimes, the best questions come from popular culture. The Clash’s song perfectly echoed what I was thinking about: was it worth it to cling to a good vibe and a promise of what was to be? or was it better to just cut my losses and all attachments to the place and be on my way?

Truth be told, I was leaning more to the second answer. After all, the place was in limbo for about 18 months now, and with a new relocation just looming over the horizon, it would most probably remain there for at least another year. Letting it go seemed like the logical thing to do. The spirits, however, had other ideas:

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Things were bleak right now and reaching for that sunny spot there seemed almost like a mirage. Such was the situation, which was accurately portrayed in the Dancer Eight. I also couldn't help noticing the parallel with the 7 of Cups card I drew earlier for the daily remind. Talk about stagnation. And yet… even so I was invited to go beyond all of this and remain at that spot. 'This is a power spot', the cards say. 'Here you will end up channeling the power to move you straight to the sky. Besides, what's the alternative? Trying to figure out how to wrestle with dragons? Well, good luck with that! You will end up bargaining for what is here freely given.' 

'Fair enough', I said. When magic calls, one should answer. No ifs. No buts. Just saying yes will suffice.

I do!

Only one thing to do then: clean the whole place clean and put the show on the road. Offerings of thanks were made to both the local spirits and the ones that were guarding the place. Incenses were lighten and prayers were done. And in the end, a final question, 'How can I honor this place and the ones that inhabit it?'

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'Reside in harmony with this place; do not let go of this connection.'

Good, powerful magic is always simple. Even when it looks complex. If I want something out of it, I must give something of myself. The more present I am here, the more I use it for the gift of sight, the better it will be for the both of us. Talk about stating the obvious! Didn't it called me into coming back? What else should I be expecting?

As I lit the final candle and turned off the lights, a final message appeared. What was also a candle became something more; something greater. And the most appropriate seal imaginable.

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The Following Day, 11 K'an

For the Mayans, the day would always start at sunrise and would go on until the following sunrise. So even though I'm finishing this post at about 3:30 am of the 2nd of August, the corresponding Mayan day is still 11 K'an, which is about Owning a Public World. The cards that came out for this day were The Fool and the Ace of Swords and they spoke about going that extra mile to break through all those boundaries that wouldn't let us move forward. In a way, it does seem about right that tonight's the night when I post this.

🌞