The Science Behind Tarot

The Tarot of The Old Path Deck, by Sylvia Gainsford,
a member of The Fellowship of Isis, with the assistance of a coven of 8 witches
[Image Description: The Sun card from The Tarot of The Old Path deck laid face-up on the grass next to a citrine crystal]

All things occult are trending, and tarot has continuously been taking flight, with fresh gusts of wind propelling its utilization from all corners of the earth. Regardless of one’s religion, spiritual practices, or cultural background, tarot is a psychical tool gaining more and more utilization with every passing year. Industry trends in the US report an annual increase of 2.6% growth in the year 2021 alone, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Tarot is used for guidance, like an extra set of eyes giving insight into a situation, connection, conflict, exchange, relationship–any and every setting in our inner and outer worlds can be reflected upon. Within a single deck there is the totality and complexity of the human experience, and our specific place in the cosmos. As more people are benefitting from and taking delight in the addition of tarot to their spiritual practices and routines, let us take a moment to peak into its emergence, and first, its birth.

The Scattered-Seedling Start of Tarot

Tarot has its origins in what we know as the standard sold-at-the-corner-store deck of 52 four-suited playing cards. With time it became a divination tool, much like the way figurines, birds, stones, words on pages, dreams and sounds have been used for prophetic insight and spiritual symbolism across cultures and religions throughout the span of human history. Card games evolved into fate and destiny games, similar to MASH, the who-will-you-marry game played at recess, (where you end up divorced with a Cadillac, a tree-house for shelter, and 23 children).

Despite it’s start as a playful pastime, tarot gradually became fused with more characters, ancient symbols, and religious ideograms specific to the time and place of each deck’s creation. Tarot took shape and was added to by way of whatever existing beliefs, materials and symbols were swimming in the air.

Multiple Independent Discovery is the phenomenon of multiple individuals on earth, completely independent of one another, discovering and/or inventing the same thing, at the same time. This concept is parallel to and much like the origins of tarot. Robert M. Place, in his book, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, eloquently unravels the path of its genesis, and seamlessly reveals that its dawning is not from one particular time or place, but rather an entity in and of itself, being birthed in waves across continents.

Wealthy noblemen, and high members of societies across Italy and France, commissioned artists to create elaborate decks made just for them, based on specific roles and people they live under, amongst, and above. All classes in society used 52 cards of 4 suits and a 5th suit created by their own means, or created for them, but in decades to follow the Renaissance there were tides of lent and periods of scrutiny by the ruling class where many decks were destroyed. The particular deck that was produced and dispersed the most was the Tarot of Marseilles, by French manufacturer Grimaud, which is still the number one, as well as original producer of this deck today.

Today there is an endless array of choice and preference available for us, catering to our precise interests, aesthetic likings, beliefs and cultures. From Gummy Bear Tarot, to Cat Tarot, then all the way to Neoconservative Tarot, really nobody is being left out of the practice of tarot.

Tarot as Therapy–Why It Works

As human beings we have been applying meaning to the world around us, creating stories and symbols to make sense of and connect ourselves to existence, for a very long time. Navigating matters of the heart and spirit–what is right, what is harmful, whether to stay, go, say yes, sit still–has always been on the human experience agenda, and there are endless schools of thought to help steer us into places of emotional, mental and spiritual fulfillment. Tarot is just one of an infinite amount of instruments we have at our fingertips.

Sharing and listening to stories is the way we create meaning in the world, and differentiate between what feels right, and what we are doubtful of. Stories in the world tell us about ourselves, mirroring to us what we are more of, and showing us where we possess all that what we think we do not. Every character we have ever read or heard of, whether fiction or non-fiction, comes with clues as to who we are. In this way, the archetypes and images reflected back to us in tarot reveal where that particular energy lies in ourselves, allowing us to participate, or step away from that force. The same way our favorite childhood stories tell of heroes, and racing rabbits, and generous fairies–all in the name of planting morals in our hearts, oftentimes tarot calls us to rise to our truths, and step up in ways we have been downplaying our abilities. Then other times we draw cards telling us to be humble, to remember a higher purpose, to call upon help.

Then there is the mystical aspect, the mysteriousness of why it is, that in the entire deck of 78 cards, we draw the same 1-3 cards in rotation, sometimes those particular cards even falling out into your lap face-up. While many are understandable skeptical of the validity of tarot, we can liken its positive effects to many researched-based theories. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung explains that archetypes that come up in our dreams and waking world as a collective, circulate and pop up in our culture, from art to politics to world-wide movements, likes and dislikes. Projective tests, used in both the clinical and forensic world today, use images to bring out the unconscious emotions, desires and fears of individuals. Since they are not able to spend time thinking of what to say with their conscious mind, this is the most effective way for the assessor to extract truth from the querent. In this way, tarot reveals to us that which is hard to look at, often times opening the floor for us to confront that which we bury.

I believe that whether we have a tarot deck, a book of poems we received as a gift in the 8th grade, a collection of rocks, a playlist on shuffle, or we get out in a canoe and paddle into the horizon every morning, the world is teeming with tools available for us to listen to, observe and connect to our inner worlds. We are able to navigate by way of spirit, or you can call it intuition, or your inner compass, or whatever you want really, because no matter what the tool, language, activity, the truths that sweep over our lives will continuously reveal themselves to us, no matter how hard we try to shove them into a corner. That being said, as the truth-seekers we are, we might as well enjoy ourselves as we bloom and unfurl from these shadows! I recently received my first deck, as shown above, from my sister and have been using it for 2 months as means of reflection and guidance, and it has been extremely enriching as I embark on new ventures of every kind imaginable. I cannot think of a better time than now for me to have received one of the most delightful tools to draw inspiration and insight from, and I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the wonder I am diving into!

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