Tarot and Engaging Magical Thinking

I may be a science student, but every once in a while I find myself itching to do a tarot card reading. I’m sure my colleagues would consider this habit highly irrational, but I find some value in it, though maybe not for the same reasons other readers draw them.

I was introduced to tarot by my stepmother, a very wise, fiercely intelligent lady who’s absolutely brilliant at card readings. I attribute most of her skill to her ability to read people quickly and accurately (by their words, actions, body language). I think she also deduces their current or past problems as well as ways to improve their lives prior to and during the reading. As I understand it, the cards are a means to draw attention to these elements, discuss them, and give advice without appearing too much like Sherlock.

I have only a fraction of my stepmother’s people-reading ability, so I mostly draw cards for myself. If there’s any part of me that actually buys into the magical thinking involved in the tarot, I would most likely accept the power of symbols to represent complex aspects of humanity. I’m no psychologist, but I do think that when many people attach meanings to the same symbol or symbolic image, as with tarot, such symbols can become quite powerful. Consider, for example, the Grim Reaper as Death, or the dove as a symbol of peace, mercy, or forgiveness.

When I see these symbols, I think I connect to some bit of humanity that I intrinsically understand before I can explain it with words. So when I see symbols in tarot cards, I think the same idea follows. I have a question about my life in mind before I start, and the symbols connect back to that. There’s a common rule to tarot that no readings are necessarily wrong. Perhaps this is a justification for the more confusing readings or poorly shuffled decks, but I’d like to think that it’s more likely due to the generally good (and usually a bit vague) advice present on most cards. It can’t hurt to try to improve some area of your life, after all.

Even with the use of a card meaning website or book, I still think that whatever comes to mind when I first turn over a card is probably the most useful interpretation. I feel like the cards kickstart part of my brain that maybe has been muffled by other noise or problems — it’s like another way to motivate myself to address my personal problems and visually keep them in mind for a while.

And who knows? Maybe in the future neurologists and psychologists will map the neurons of the brain engaged by tarot and symbol-reading, and there will be a rational explanation for liking it after all.

(Oh, and these cards? Welcome to Night Vale tarot deck, designed by Hannah Holloway.)


2 thoughts on “Tarot and Engaging Magical Thinking

  1. Jack of Wands February 20, 2016 / 11:48 pm

    I loved this post! It reflects a lot of the way I think about Tarot. (And that deck is stunning, by the way.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cinnia February 21, 2016 / 2:42 pm

      Hey, thank you! It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while now, but been a bit nervous about expressing it in words. And the photo really doesn’t do the colors justice — it’s one of the prettiest decks I’ve ever seen.


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