It’s not as woo-woo as you might think. Here’s how I use mine, along with a little perspective around hard science. Stay with me.

Every December, I do a Tarot card reading. Back in 1980, a friend of a friend gifted me with a tiny Ryder Waite deck, which is now so old and well-loved that the deck and the box it inhabits are tattered. That’s a seasoned deck, as they say.

Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash

It’s not as woo-woo as you might think. Here’s how I use mine, along with a little perspective around hard science. Stay with me.

Every December, I do a Tarot card reading. Back in 1980, a friend of a friend gifted me with a tiny Ryder Waite deck, which is now so old and well-loved that the deck and the box it inhabits are tattered. That’s a seasoned deck, as they say.

First, I am not a professional reader. Second, while I did my time in the New Age movement, I left that community years ago. Some of it stays with me, but far too much of it skewed seriously nutball, which is what we’re seeing now. This isn’t that article.

This is about taking an ancient tradition and learning how to use it, not just for play but for occasional serious guidance. It took me years to figure this out, and once I did, the readings were surprisingly useful if not stunningly accurate. However, you have to manage your expectations.

A little background. Back in 2008 I started working with a GI Gurdjieff Fourth Way practitioner. That’s a whole other story, but we started with his doing some Tarot Card readings. I’ve done that kind of thing for fun for years. However his in-depth and detailed approach was enormously appealing. How he read the cards and how he interpreted the material was not only insightful but also educational.

I had one of those readings every December. I made a tape and listened to it.

are a conversation with the self.

They are not predictors of a future so much as indicative of potentials. You can work hard to ensure that your predictions come true and be right about it, or you can hold what the reading says very lightly and live in the question. That’s one of the great and abiding lessons I learned from Lari, whose insights I engaged with for nearly a decade.

Above all I learned that the person doing the reading for you is not responsible for the results of the reading nor what you do with it. If things don’t turn out the way you wanted or expected, that’s on you, not them.

Without going into painful detail, when Lari and I parted ways a few years back, I decided to continue my own readings. My first attempts were clumsy. Then I began to invest in the books that Lari had read. I began to recognize the terminology, and where he’d gotten his in-depth understanding of the planetary influences, the Air-Earth-Fire-Water references. The subtleties began to make a lot more sense. It is an intensely detailed and intuitive kind of work, and not to be taken superficially.

People with superficial knowledge of the Tarot make silly mistakes, like misunderstanding the Death card. It’s a beautiful message of rebirth, unlike the Tower, which means, in my vernacular, the shit’s about to hit the fan.

I’d used the Ryder-Waite deck for years, but was more recently drawn to the beautiful pagan drawings of the Robin Wood Tarot. Those images, while they could use a great deal more diversity, are stunning. Their raw naturalness are part of the appeal.

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The books that I use include: Tarot, Plain and Simple by Anthony Lewis; Tarot, Beyond the Basics by Anthony Lewis; and Introduction to Tarot by Susan Levitt. For my readings and more detailed descriptions put in chart form, the Internet is chock-full of resources. Part of that dense education is understanding the different kinds of cards, what they represent, what the imagery may stand for, the influence the position of the card is on any kind of a reading may mean, what the elements have to do with a card, the planetary guidance. My god. It really is its own science.

What Lari used to do and what I still do now is to create a Zodiac reading. The positions of the cards correspond to Zodiac signs. Astrology is of course a whole other discipline with its own advantages and limitations, but again, this isn’t that article. There is a lot to be said for arcane knowledge and wisdom, as long as you understand and allow for its limitations, which are largely within us. That said, let’s continue.

Last December, having just moved to Oregon and having survived Covid so far, I did a reading. I put that reading on hold, having committed finally to doing an in-depth investigation. I was utterly overwhelmed by the deferred maintenance of my new house, the constant projects one after the other. When I finally got most of that done, this past week I finally pulled the file out and got to work.

My reading, with three additional cards that I pull for specific questions. The central card is the one I pull which dictates the overall thrust, the lower left is about work, the lower right is about relationships.

The detailed work took me four hours. I was simply stunned by what it revealed. I hadn’t looked at it in months, and the reading validated precisely what had already happened, was happening, and why I had a great deal to be excited about.

The reading told me what was likely, but not guaranteed to happen. Here’s what did happen, all of which was clearly indicated:

  1. I would make a huge move and a brand new start. Check.
  2. I would be investing in real estate, a new home, and reestablishing myself. Check.
  3. I would be taking my finances far more seriously and making significant investments, as well as being far more responsible with my funds (such as they are). Check.
  4. That my relationship (with the most recent ex) was limiting, problematic, and that it would END. Check. (see the two sword cards in the two areas regarding relationships and love, Leo and Libra)
  5. This year represented a fresh start as well as putting down solid roots. Check.
  6. Writing, in particular, was going to be not only successful, but a source of achievement. Check.
  7. That the day-to-day “humdrum” would represent a source of great joy. Check.
  8. My body would be able to withstand and heal from illness and injury. Check.

I could go on. As I dug into the multi-layered meanings not only from the card imagery but also from the subtleties such as when a fire-ruled card shows up in a fire position in the Zodiac sign (which increases its strength), I was able to see a lot more of what was going on and why.

That was pure fun. Partly because I now know how to do this, at least for me. Partly because this is a highly intuitive art.

Speaking from decades of being both on the periphery of and deeply engaged with arcane wisdom, and by no means a scholar of or master of any of it, what intrigued me about this exercise was how much of this is more accessible once I let go of any expectation that the Tarot’s job was to predict the future.

Tarot doesn’t predict anything. The cards that I select speak to potentials that exist in me. Whether or not I rise to those potentials or falter in those areas as indicated has nothing to do with the cards and everything to do with my choices.

I think that’s fair to say that any arcane science is there is help us cope. That’s a very different role. All those years that Lari did a reading, when I got to the end of that year and looked back over the reading, listened to the tapes and asked what I had learned, a few key takeaways were consistent:

  1. The clues were all there. That I couldn’t read them isn’t the Tarot’s fault.
  2. The Tarot, for me at least, is a smorgasbord of possibilities and portents.
  3. The Tarot often validated what had happened. You and I are so often focused on what we want, the form we want it, the time frame we want it and all those other limitations that when something does indeed happen, we can be clueless. We can’t see it. When I’ve done this (and still do) that limits what the Tarot can do.

The real clue to this is in the term “arcane.” It means understood by few. I’ve worked with Tarot cards for decades and am only now beginning to have the slightest understanding of what it can do, and what it can’t.

Still, in light of what some folks believe is a more scientific, logical world (ANY world that can elect Trump or vote for him the second time is NOT logical), are these ancient methodologies ridiculous?

Is all this Tarot, Astrology, Numerology and stuff bullshit? I guess it depends, doesn’t it? If you were to challenge me on it, I would have a terrific, rollicking field day with some of the more ludicrous and hugely entertaining religious beliefs that are widespread and protected to the death by their acolytes, by a god they swear considers that life is sacred. A god of pure love unless of course you chew a beef jerky out of desperation on a Friday, and are now doing time in hell. Oh. Wait, that’s changed? As George Carlin once riffed, betcha a lotta guys are doing eternity on a beef jerky rap.

A god of pure love and forgiveness, unless of course you believe in no god or the wrong one. But if you’re not a Methodist (or whatever), you rot and are tortured and burned in hell for all eternity. Really?

Is Tarot stranger than this ?

For starters, let’s discuss Catholicism. Limbo, or Purgatory. And Scientology? Or Mormonism?

And folks think Tarot is weird? Numerology is evil? Astrology is the Devil’s work?

Does this make people stupid? No. What it does mean is that if a belief or way of thinking isn’t YOURS you may think it stupid or weird. In a world where folks are back to believing the world is flat, frankly, I’ll take the Tarot. Because for my part it’s all entertwined anyway, as all of it is intended to help us cope and with any luck at all, get along. Be that as it may, religion is doing a shit job of that right now.

All science today was likely once considered magic, or magick, if you will. The mysteries of the body now named were centuries ago considered humours, vapours and evil spirits. The gods of thunder and lightning are now understood to be electricity and the movement of heat, cold, air and power. I could go on.

That we now have names for these things does not diminish either their power or their mystery.

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

The world of mathematics is full of magic, logic, incredible connections, and a stunning kind of symmetry. Numbers rule our planets, our earth, our understanding of energy and movement and just about everything. Math is genius in its simplicity and unbelievable in its application. Mathematics, attributed to Archimedes, were magic and mystery named, understood and harnessed in a billion billion ways. Math gave us space travel, and the Hubble Telescope, named for my distant cousin, who apparently was a raving asshole. But I digress.

Math is magic named. Better understood. Harnessed.

Which is why sometimes I gotta wonder if the basis of numerology has some real logic to it. But that’s another topic and it’s over my pay grade.

To that, if I may, with a nod of the tam o’ shanter to my fellow gods and goddesses,what you and I refer to as “arcane sciences,” or bullshit, depending on your point of view, could well be eventually identified as some kind of energy influence.

Here’s a way to think about this. This past week there were multiple stories about how science now has proof of a black hole consuming a neutron star.

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Okay. Look. First, that we even know that such things exist is pretty mind-blowing to me. Second, that we now have instruments that can indicate that these events took place, and that they happened billions of years ago, is also pretty impressive.

If this isn’t magic also known as science, kindly I am not sure what is. Math gave us these new instruments that not only can we see the smallest particles but we can hear the sound of a black star’s lunching on a neutron star during a busy day in the Cosmos billions of years ago.

That we can launch a vehicle into space and predict when and where it’s going to land or get close enough to a moon to send us back pics from its vacay is mind-boggling. All math. Science. Pretty magical.

Any perusal of the Hubble Telescope photos isn’t just magic. It’s incredible.

That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me. And even if you didn’t.

We now understand that the microbiome in our gut has far more implications for our health and well-being than we could have possibly imagined:

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That story just underscores for me that we have shit for brains but I digress.

If that’s not magic also known as science, I don’t know what is. When we re-name something with new terms, the thing doesn’t change. We didn’t tame by naming it. It doesn’t become mundane because now we know what a pituitary gland is. It simply allows us better understanding. That may well be the case with some of these lesser-understood sciences, which have been around for a very long time.

The Tarot is for me simply one additional set of perspectives and, for my part, genuinely playful ways to understand my world. After years, I’ve been able to come to a fuller understanding of how to use the cards in a way that serves my purposes. Since I’m not looking for the Staples Easy Button, here’s perfect example of what I did get:

When I saw those two Sword cards in the spread in Leo and Libra, I figured that the re-connection to the ex wasn’t likely to be on solid ground. That didn’t change my willingness to engage with him for the next seven months. Not at all.

I chose to engage, to learn whatever there was to learn, and own the results. I am so damned glad I did.

However when the shit hit the fan, I already knew it was likely. Likely, not guaranteed. I was happy to live in the question, with the possibility that things might turn down a different road. They didn’t. But I wasn’t surprised. That’s the difference.

And one more for the road.

Exploring Numerology taught me that my birth number is 17, which in the Major Arcana is the Star Card:

In numerology you combine the two numbers and get eight, which in the Major Arcana is Strength:

For those of you who read me regularly, this image above is familiar in my life:

The author in Kenya, 2020

And this:

The author with a friend, Julia Hubbel

And this:

The author in Mongolia

So. Do I think there might be something to this stuff?

No idea. But sometimes, it sure makes more sense than believing that an unbaptized baby is floating around Limbo for all eternity until some Pope decides that Limbo no longer exists.

But that’s just me.

And to me, all of it is magick, no matter what we choose to call it.