Do You Have to “Believe in Tarot” to “Do Tarot”?

I don’t know about you, but one of the questions I most dread being asked is “what do you believe?”

I’m a pagan and quite often I call myself a witch, but not in public, and not without ambivalence (whole other blog post!)

I’m a polytheist, influenced by Buddhism, I love the God and the Goddess and my gods and goddesses, and I do fairies, angels, dragons, elementals, ritual, magic, healing, reiki, astrology, reincarnation, meditation journeys, spirit guides, messages from the Universe, and above all, I do Tarot.

I’m wide eyed and naïve, and I love pretty things, unicorns, rainbows, cute fluffy animals, dolls and spooky experiences. I like to be scared , I cry during films, and I like happy endings. I like to take a leap of fate, follow a whim, wish upon a star and see where it takes me. (The Fool)

I’m also agnostic. I believe that scientific evidence really is more reliable than anecdotal evidence – though science isn’t value-neutral either. I am a big fan of modern medicine and totally believe I would not be alive without it. I like to stay on the fence and weigh up the evidence. (Justice)

I’m political and pragmatic. I’m interested in what things do, in what a belief produces when you go with it. I see things in terms of psychology as a reflex action. I have difficulty “believing believing” in anything. I believe that knowledge is power and it’s all about what we do with it. I also believe there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there. I’m a chatterbox and I love to debate and chew things over with people. (The Magician)

I like things I can see, hear, smell, feel, touch. I like things that are repeatable, falsifiable. I like things I can rely on not to slide away from me or trip me up. I like shared realities that are solid and comforting. I like maps, I like schedules, I like guidebooks. I like people who are loyal, honest and responsible. (The Emperor)

I’m a rebel and a dreamer. I like solitude and silences. I believe that truth is stranger than fiction, and that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in anybody’s philosophy. I don’t like being pinned down, and I like to speculate and leave things mysterious and open-ended. Sometimes, the truth is in the spaces between words, sometimes you just have to feel your way. (The High Priestess)

I’ve been hurt, I’ve got my issues, I’ve been disillusioned and I’ve seen that the world isn’t always kind. My love of nature and history has shown me that cruelty and pain are a part of the world we live in. Sometimes this is deliberate, sometimes not: as Dr Who puts it, “Hunger looks very much like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery.”

Life is full of bear-traps and injustice (The Devil) and our own vulnerabilities trip us up over and over again. In real life the good guys don’t always win (5 of Swords, 7 of Swords, 10 of Swords) and sometimes we just have to pick ourselves up and start again (The Tower)

So any knowledge framework has to, for me, be realistic about the parts of life that break my heart and make me angry. For this reason I also appreciate films that are sad and scary (but they have to have at least a hopeful ending – The Star) and I can have a bit of a dark sense of humour at times, because it helps me cope with my worst fears and sorrows.

I dream of a world where people are safe and nurtured and appreciated and loved for who they are. Where nobody is haunted by old guilt and shame, where people don’t have to compete or do each other down because there is room for everyone and our collective awesomeness just makes everyone shine brighter. Where we direct our energies into love for the broken world and into trying to make it just that bit more beautiful and kinder every day (The Empress)

I’m a bundle of contradictions; and so are loads of us. I’ve done the die-hard atheist thing; I was miserable. I’ve tried to do the simple faith method; I twisted my mind up in pretzels and got alienated from my own thinking. Neither are true to who I am.

And this is precisely why I love Tarot! Whatever I am feeling, whoever I am, whatever I am going through, there is a card or combination of cards in the Tarot that describes it. Tarot doesn’t assume that we are just one thing, that we are cardboard cut-outs. Tarot lets us be all that we are. Tarot helps us hold the contradictions in ourselves and our lives and find a balance between them (Temperance) Tarot also just works fine for those of us who work within this tension of belief and not-belief; it really isn’t necessary to have a firm position to benefit from using the cards.

How does it work? I don’t know. There are a lot of different possibilities. Let’s have a look at a few of them.

Well it could be that the cards, the deck do have a kind of magical power of their own; but most people who read them as Tarot see them as tools. That having been said, due to the different images and interpretations of the author and writer, different decks do produce very different effects when you work with them. It’s almost like they are personalities who “talk to you”. Work with them a lot, and you soon get a feeling for what deck you want to use for which reading; they aren’t interchangeable.

(That having been said, you don’t have to have any kind of deck to do Tarot; if you know the language, you could just scribble the names on paper and pick them out of a hat. If you don’t mind having the Minors and court cards only, you could just use regular playing cards. But where’s the fun in that?)

But generally speaking, as our good teacher and mentor Raven says, “YOU are your own tool”. The cards just help you access what is within you – your intuition. I believe we know far far more than we ever consciously admit to ourselves. We get so much in our head, thinking and thinking, but the images in Tarot can speak deeper and provide concepts and a framework through the spread that will help us talk it all through and find a way forward.

So are they just random, the cards that come up? Why do they often seem so uncannily appropriate, and why do the same cards keep appearing?

Killjoys will say that it’s just the patterns our brains are programmed to notice (oh, hush now!) Well it could be; but I like to think that the same energy patterns that affect the world from macrocosm to microcosm also can affect the fall of the the cards. Maybe these, along with our own energies and the pattern set up by the question we are concentrating on will attract the cards that most show what we need to know.

Likewise, if we believe in messages from the Otherworld, from our deities, guides, angels and ancestors, then there is no reason why they should not use the cards to tell us things. Possibly, they influence the fall of the cards – why not? Just because we can’t see how they would do it, doesn’t mean they can’t. The more I find out about science, the more reality is so weird that I’m happy to admit I’m confounded by it all.

But even if it is completely random, even if we are not tuning into anything except what is within our own minds – possibly influenced by other beings, possibly just contacting other parts of ourselves – that makes Tarot awesome enough. In our minds we have everything we’ve ever learned, felt and experienced.

All those amazing movies, comics, songs, books, TV shows? They are in there too! One really lovely thought about being a geek is that we get to carry our passions around inside us, always; they give us wisdom, and when something touches us in some way it sinks into our subconscious and ferments away happily, to come out in dreams and art and Tarot and helps us know things we didn’t know we knew (The Moon).

It goes without saying, anyway, that you should always exercise common sense and good judgement when consulting the cards. The future isn’t fixed, and all the cards can do is suggest to you the best way to proceed. The Death card may suggest that you look for alternative employment if you’re not happy in your place of work, and that you’ll find a complete change of direction. It’s not an invitation to stride into your place of work wearing a skull mask and mow your boss down with a scythe before heading off to hide out in the hills. (But, come to think of it…)

Be careful too, and if you are reading for someone else, be sensitive. Tarot can reach into some pretty dark places. I don’t believe that the Tarot is capable of exposing you to demonic influences (though grounding and shielding is always a good idea if you are going to open up your intuition) But I do believe that most of us have areas where “here be dragons,” and that if you have skeletons, demons and dragons lurking, Tarot will show you where those are. Self-care is important if you are poking around in the psyche. If you need something light and comforting sometimes better to tell the reader and the cards (or yourself) that beforehand.

Not everyone who is into Tarot even uses the cards, either! There are some really beautiful decks out there. Tarot was originally designed as a game, and some decks are games as well as divinations systems – for example, I’ve just ordered this:

It’s worth collecting Tarot cards and reading about them even if you never actually read for any reason other than just for fun.

So do you have to believe in Tarot to do Tarot? Nope. Not in the least! 🙂 It makes it more fun, more effective, and more exciting, I think, to have a little faith in the cards. I’ve certainly had some uncanny insights and experiences using them. But the most important thing of all is to be kind, be sensible, be sensitive, be responsible, and however you do Tarot, do it YOUR way. Enjoy the journey.


Happy Taroting, people. Be safe, be happy. Love and strangeness, GeekGirl Christina


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