Psychology and Paganism (part 3): Tarot reading

I was 16-years-old in a Waldenbooks when I bought my first Tarot deck. It was a Rider-Waite deck and came with a tiny little instruction book with card meanings and the how to do the classic Celtic cross spread. I tried my best to do readings for myself and some friends, and it eventually was packed away. I don’t remember throwing it out, but it’s since been lost to the ether.

So when I started on this new journey, I needed a new deck and picked up this deck and book combo by Josephine Ellershaw. I can only say I was drawn to the beautiful illustrations and the fact that it said “easy” and my time is divided between many things. I needed easy. I have to say, the book is straightforward and I’ve been really happy with it, and the deck looks gorgeous and feels right.

I have been following her suggestion to practice on myself while keeping a Tarot diary. I still refer back to the descriptions in the book, and have only done two spreads (beyond the occasional 3-card, and a daily 1-card). I keep the deck wrapped in a cloth along with a smoky quartz.

I have to admit that after so many years devoted to science, this is one activity that definitely activates cognitive dissonance. What known physical property could possibly influence what card will end up where in a shuffled deck? How could events yet to come impact what card I draw and in what order? How can a piece of laminated cardboard with a beautiful picture be anything more than just that? (A post on Carl Jung, archetypes, and Tarot is forthcoming!)

So what have I found doing my daily one card draws? Each morning when I got to my office on campus, I shuffled and cut the deck, and drew one card to place in my tarot card holder. I kept a record for 10 days, and started to see patterns emerging.

Day 1: Queen of cups

Day 2: King of cups

Day 3: Three of cups

Day 4: Eight of cups

(I started to get worried. Why so many cups?! And yes, I had shuffled my deck multiple times before beginning this process)

Day 5: King of pentacles

Day 6: Seven of pentacles

(Uh oh. Are we going to do this again?)

Day 7: The Empress

Day 8: The Hanging Man

Day 9: Wheel of Fortune

Day 10: King of Swords

Taking a look back, using both the book referenced above and so I could see at least one other description, I realized that yes, I started this process during a time when I was feeling overwhelmed, with a lot of negative emotion. The beginning of every semester brings with it feelings of inadequacy (imposter syndrome runs rampant in academia) and I was allowing myself to wallow in it a bit. Around the time the pentacles appeared, a new opportunity arose, a project that I may not be approved for but one that gave me new hope that I can do what I need to do to prove myself (a constant struggle for tenure-track professors). A rough couple of days followed, with me once again questioning myself and where my life is going, and then finally, a day of confidence that I am in the right place for me at the right time, as long as I stay focused, do the work, and believe in my intellectual abilities.

So, was the tarot showing me this, a physical representation of the energy that was going on in and around me? Or, was I instead influenced by the cards a la Barnum effect? Or did I see a card indicating an emotional day and then subconsciously made that happen, vs. a card indicating that I have the ability to manifest what I want in life and therefore went into my day with increased confidence?

To be completely honest, it is easier for me to believe it is the third possibility. I know from the research, and life experience, how powerful our subconscious mind can be, influencing our emotions, our decisions, or opinions, in ways we don’t realize, with inputs we aren’t aware are affecting us. Advertising is built on this very concept.

But I am going to keep going. I will continue to explore tarot, add to my altar, explore crystals, herbs, and oils, while simultaneously taking a deep dive into the available empirical psychological research. And I will continue to share here what I find as I travel both paths.