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Inherent properties of Tarot cards

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 29 Aug 2004, and now archived in the Forum Library.

swampwitch  29 Aug 2004 
Fresh from the discussion of whether or not to write on the
cards themselves, my ruminations go to the inherent properties
of the cards themselves. As was debated in brief in the previous
thread, I ask,

"Does the magick/divinatory power lie in the Tarot cards or in ourselves as readers/users?"

If the cards are only "props" to divination and Higher Self access, a means to an end, if you will, then what are we doing when we ritualize the cleansing and sealing of a deck after use? While this bit of magick housekeeping has never been my strong suit, I have certainly seen the effects of a contaminated or ill-used deck. (I think my "cycles" of good housekeeping and good Tarot deck keeping are in sync.)

Toward the end of my career as a mainstream psychotherapist, I would frequently say to my patients that I saw myself less as change agent than as "midwife" to the changes that they themselves initiated. This comment alone would generally have an uplifting and motivating effect on them, probably because it was an irreducible Truth.

I take this same stance as a Tarot reader. The magick does not inhere in me, nor merely in the cards, but in the space between--my faith in the cards. As in any other spiritual arena, when one's faith is strong, the effects of one's meditations/spells/prayers are measurable. When one's faith is weak, the effects are nil.

So, I'm putting this out there for folks to respond to.


Alta  29 Aug 2004 
Originally posted by swampwitch
The magick does not inhere in me, nor merely in the cards, but in the space between--my faith in the cards.

Hi swampwitch, You have crystallized a good thought in those words. I know others talk about 'spaces' but that is the first time that I have gotten the concept.
I don't know why the cards, or I Ching, always seems to work, always goes right to the heart of the matter. I guess I thought that it was a way for something to communicate. amyel posted a lovely thought once about seeing a play wherein the audience had to communicate with the actors to tell them what they should be doing. But there was thick distorted plexiglass between, and the actors couldn't hear well or easily see the directions being given. If there are friendly spirits trying to help out, I always saw this as a route. And faith sort of clears the channels. 

Apollonia  29 Aug 2004 
Hi, Swampwitch! I think for me, it's an amalgam of my own intuitive energy plus being mindful of how I treat my deck. In my mind, I liken it to cooking--I can make a great batch of chili in an old iron kettle or a brand new Calfalon one, but either way, if I don't keep my tools and cooking area clean, and if I feel angry or resentful rather than loving and grateful while cooking, the results won't be as good. I feel it's a matter of synergism between person and tools, and therefore a matter of respecting and putting positive energy into the tools you are using, whether you are making supper or performing a reading. 

maria42airam  29 Aug 2004 
Hi, I am new to Tarot so my opinions on the subject should be taken in that light, -but- I am not new to life and I think this question goes beyond Tarot cards.

In my opinion the "power" lies within us, but when we use an object as a conduit for that power, the object becomes a part of us. I remember my grandmother telling me never to leave my hair brush where others to get it because she felt that anything that was that personal could be used to reach us. Our use of Tarot cards to reach into ourselves and into the common "life force" is also very personal.

Haven't you ever been around individuals that make you feel like you need to bathe, not because of any physical aspect, but just because of their philosophies? I've been in meetings where the customer or the project manager is discussing doing things that I consider inappropriate and they do so with such ease that you know in their life anything is "ok" to get what they want. Personally, I believe that is contagious (old adege: "you can tell what someone is by their friends")

Growing up in the Catholic religion, it was very common to have your new home "blessed" by a priest to remove any left over negative power. We might have said that we were asking for God's blessing, but it was common for people to refer to it as a cleansing.

Anyway, I think I've digressed, but to me it's all the same idea. "People" have the power, "things" acquire the power as people use them. Whether it's a Tarot deck, a house, a tool, etc.


Cerulean  29 Aug 2004 
Does the magick/divinatory power lie in the Tarot cards or in ourselves as readers/users?"

"Toward the end of my career as a mainstream psychotherapist, I would frequently say to my patients that I saw myself less as change agent than as "midwife" to the changes that they themselves initiated."

Because of your long experience, it may be you have been both an excellent observer and caretaker that allowed the experience of young growth and change to sprout in others. Your experience is seeing what others could do; perhaps you also modestly understood that your presence and training allowed an attitude that helped foster that change.

The metaphor of a mid-wife is excellent because it involves giving birth--sometimes it it can be an easy process, sometimes it is not naturally easy. An experienced midwife is both caretaker and observer of two fragile lives--what is being born and who is giving birth.

While the seeds of change and insight are probably within
me, sometimes I need an outsider--in the instance of tarot or some new processes, a teacher-- who is both an excellent observer and someone experienced in fostering the birth process of change.

After being my own teacher and student of certain tarot and life changing topics, yes I know the seeds of change are within me. But I can become tired and stressed about other things and not take the time to schedule and cultivate a proper birth process--so I sometimes schedule classes to help foster this change. Maybe in this instance, it's like a 'group therapy' to encourage me and have nice companions along the journey of early change...

This is as far as I've reached in thinking about your insightful question. It pertains to a topic that I had been thinking about--I hope it partially addresses your question. Thank you very much!

Best wishes,


Thirteen  29 Aug 2004 
I think both Maria and Coatl have hit the nail on the head. I especially like the cooking metaphor, because a good pot will "season" with use, and cook better.

If *WE* are the power--then what we touch while empowered is filled with energy. Vice-versa, too. If a divine spark, if you will, makes its way through the tarot to us, then the tarot will have that energy in it. It's rather like a live wire. The wire is used to power the television or computer. It's not the sorce of power, nor its recipient, just the conduit. But you don't want to touch that live wire, do you?

Some wires can naturally carry more juice--meaning that some decks, just out of the box, will give you amazing results. Others, not so, you might have to use them a bit to get them fired up, seasoned. And some are amazing in how they can alter your connection to...whatever it is we're connecting to, like switching from dial-up to broadband, the reading process just goes to a higher level. Check out this story we had on the forum of an old, still live-wire deck:

And Maria's absolutely right that this doesn't just have to do with Tarot. Sacred spaces are the same. Ever been to an old temple or church--or some place like Stonehendge? The older it is, and the longer in continual use, the more you feel whatever energy is there. But the church is just some walls and pretty windows, isn't it? Like the cards are just pretty pictures? Yes, that's all they are. But we, and whatever we connect to when using them, fills them with power. How long that power resides there depends on the tool, how conductive it is, and how much it's used. 

Trogon  29 Aug 2004 
I feel that, for me, a Tarot deck, or crystal ball, or pendulum (yes, I do use all 3 for different things) are simply tools. They are a way of focusing certain energies if you will. I feel that most (if not all)people are born with this ability to sense, hear, or see the things that I do when I'm using one of these tools. It is quickly trained out of most of us as we grow up ("it's just your imagination" ... "'psycics' are evil" ... "Tarot cards are evil" ... "Tarot readers are just scam artists" ... etc, etc ...). So, many of us have to strugle for a long time, sometimes for many years, to reach an adult level of enligtenment and understanding where we can use this inherent ability. In any case, the energy ... the information we receive ... I believe comes from outside us, but we have to become open minded enough to be able to recieve it.

Along with reaching this level of enlightenment, many of us need a tool to focus on... to kind of use as an antenna you might say. So, we use a Tarot deck. We pick one which has artwork which "speaks to us"... in other words, it has images which we either consciously, or subconsciously, know will help our mind to put into words these energies which we're receiving. We shuffle said Tarot deck, then lay out a few cards, seemingly randomly... but how random are these things? By the strictest definition... perhaps very random. My belief is that very few things are completely random - but that may be a topic for another thread. So, here's card #1 and we interpret it, we look at the image and some nuance... some facet of that image "jumps out at us". It jumps out because it matches an idea or feeling which is being, or has already been received regarding the person for whom we are doing the reading.

If it were some "power" within the cards themselves (other than the visual "power" that all art has), then, to my way of thinking, there couldn't be such a plethora of decks out there. If the "power" was in the cards themselves, then only a "real" Tarot deck, made under the right conditions could work. If the ability were in the cards, I wouldn't be able to have 10 different decks which I can use, successfully, for doing Tarot readings.

Tarot decks are simply paper with printing on them. They are not natural objects and hence don't have that same kind of connectedness to the Earth and to life that natural things do... well no more than, say a book or a deck of playing cards does. A book is nothing more than paper and ink... until someone reads it, but the "power" of a book is there because of what the reader imagines as he reads the words. Even the printing in a book is meaningless until someone reads it.

And let us not forget, that there are people who don't need these tools to focus their minds on, in order to receive these messages... this energy. Probably most of the North-American subscribers to A.T. (perhaps many from some other countries as well) are familiar with such people as John Edward and Sylvia Brown. These people are so in touch with these energies that they can receive them at will, without the trappings which I am forced to use - a Tarot deck, crystal ball or pendulum.

On the other hand, I have, on a very few occasions (so far) done "readings" for people without the use of any of my props. The images or sounds or even actual words just "came to me" (for want of a better phrase). These have been just as accurate as my Tarot readings have (for the most part) been. On one occasion, it was frighteningly accurate to the person for whom the messages came through for (again, a topic for another thread - coming soon to a forum near you) - so frightening that she got increadibly angry even though she was confirming, at the same time, everything that had come to me.

Now... all of that was a very long-winded (hopefully not too pompous ;) way of saying this; I firmly believe that these abilities are within us... the "ability" is that of a receiver and interpreter. The "energies" ... the "messages" ... those come from outside us. A Tarot deck (or whatever) is the tool we can use to help us to put things in such a way that we can communicate it to another person. The Tarot decks should be treated with respect, in my opinion, not because of any special mystical power, but rather treated with the same respect that a good book or nice piece of art should be.

However... having said all of that. If smudging your new deck (or a used one), or performing a clearing ritual after a reading makes you feel better about your deck, then by all means do it! There is always the slight chance that I could be wrong. ;)

[edited to add:]

After re-reading this post, I did realize I'd left out one comment I did want to make. None of what I said above, rules out the possibility of a person, or persons, consciously (or unconsciously) imprinting their own ... energies I guess ... onto a Tarot deck. People can (I believe) do that with any physical object. For example, a person might feel so strongly that their deck is too private for anyone else to handle, much less use - then it gets lost and ends up in your hands... and you find you can't use it, or it has a bad "feel" to it... it's imprinted. However, I have not yet purchased a used Tarot deck where this has seemed to be a problem. Then again, I may have run across such an imprinted deck and just not bought it because it "turned me off" so much. Hmmm.... 

Trogon  29 Aug 2004 
Well... I just went back and read the replies posted by Thirteen, Cerulean and Maria. It appears that they were all posting at about the same time I began writing my novel. :D You've all made some excellent points. And, I went back and read that old thread started by Geminilady. (Does anyone know if she's still around? I'd love an update on her experiences with her Witches Tarot - wow! :eek: )

As I said in my edit - I do believe that it is certainly possible for physical objects to pick up or be imprinted with energies under some circumstances. I have a small stone artifact which I found many, many years ago. I have not cleansed it - as I had the very, very strong impression that I was not meant to. It has energies imprinted upon it which are, I believe, meant for me when I have reached a certain stage in my spiritual journey. I felt that on some level as soon as I picked it up, I knew it was extremely special and I knew it was meant for me. A couple of years after that, a person who was a lot more "in touch" than I was at that time, told me that it had belonged to a medicine man and that yes, I was meant to find it and my spirit guides had led me to it. One of these days my spirit guides will tell me I'm ready to receive whatever message or teachings it holds for me. I'm biding my time. :smoker:

So... bringing it back to Tarot... There are undoubtedly some decks floating around, that have been used by very strong (psychicly and/or spiritually strong that is) people. I will not deny the possibility of those decks carrying residual energies, sometimes "positive", sometimes, perhaps, quite negative. For example... I have my mother's old Albano-Waite Tarot (from the '60's). I can do a reading with it for myself, or for my mother, or my sister (my brother and dad have never wanted one ;) ), but I can't get a decent reading using it with anyone else... I end up completely blocked.

But, my original comments still stand. This is because I was speaking about whether or not the ability to do Tarot readings as such, resided within the reader, or the Tarot deck itself. I still stand by my belief that, inherently, a Tarot deck does not carry this ability within itself. So, while the two ideas are intertwined... related to one another, there is still a difference here. 

swampwitch  29 Aug 2004 
Thank you to all who have gotten involved in this discussion. Please allow me to put yet another metaphor out there--

There is the Broadcast and there is the Reception. If there is
malfunction at either end, the message is distorted or lost. So, too, do I believe that my original faith posture on this question is another way of saying there is reciprocal function or malfunction in both Broadcast (Spirit energies, the Universal, the godhead construct of your choosing) and Reception. For Trogon, for instance, if I understood your example, I would say that you were sensitized enough as a Receptor to pick up on the Spiritual Broadcast from that magickal object. Had you been closed to this sort of broadcast (in the psychology biz, we call that "over-defended"), then you would not have known to inquire of the object how it wished to be treated. And even the historically most active spiritual locations do not evoke genuine awe in everyone. Certainly, one can play the part of "spiritual tourist" and make a show of standing there awestruck, but the experience is for show. Without going on about it, I think we all know spiritual impostors and phonies in various spiritual communities. If it is feasible to past and potential threaders here, I would like to interject the dilemma of spiritual phoniness into this discussion of inherent magickal properties, and ask everyone,
"From whatever perspective you hold on where the inherent spiritual properties reside, how do you distinguish falseness, disrespect and phoniness in purported practitioners and followers of the Tarot?" 

Cerulean  29 Aug 2004 
from a dandilion cloud, what I feel seems lovely and yes, true.

I see a child laughing when this happens, this is lovely, and true. How I hear and see a father and mother and another child react, there's usually truth, respect and feeling that is honest. The faces and feeling emanating from seeing this is sincere to me.

I react to that honesty. I feel something similar. I know this is an authentically warm experience.

This is my measurement. By my measure of this positive experience, which can seem limited, flawed and unknown to others, yet deep and sincere for me--I react usually sympathetically to those sincere in tone and voice about their ideas and thoughts in tarot.

I am probably easily fooled. This is just my opinion.

But I don't know anyone here who is false, disrespectful or phony.

My deep respect to you for asking interesting questions,



ReverendDan  30 Aug 2004 
I think I'm with Trogon on this one, although what I believe tends to vary from day to day or depend on the person I'm talking to.

Fundamentally I believe the power is within us, and that we use things like Tarot Cards, Runes, Crystals etc. as tools to focus our minds - I can often barely concentrate enough to focus for more than an hour or so on doing my job, so tapping into the universal force that underlies all existance and using it to divine the unseen (or something!) is a bit of a tall order. But that doesn't mean there isn't anything special about the tools themselves.

In many ways it's a difficult question to answer. Does the ability to knock in nails lie with the hammer or the hammerer? Without the hammerer the hammer is of no use, but on the other hand it's a rare carpenter who can force in nails with their bare fist (but not unknown).

If you completely step away from magic and spirituality, I still believe Tarot Cards have power, if you want to call it that, as the imagery and definitions that go with them can be dealt, applied and interpreted in a way that can make you look at yourself and your actions from a different perspective or in a new light. That takes nothing more than the random draw of the cards and our own mental associations, yet what could be more important?

I know I keep answering questions with another, but here's my last one - if you look into a mirror, is your reflection either in the mirror, or in your eyes, or in your mind? For me it's the same with Tarot, or any oracle. I wish I knew the answer.

Blathering? Me? 

Satori  30 Aug 2004 
This would be a really good question for one of our many deck creators to chime in on.

We who purchase the decks add something to the Universal Mind thru our use and love of the symbols and imagery. But, and this is a little Ortegan of me, it is the deck creator, the one who felt the need to create the spiritual tool who has the responsibility of imbuing it with the 'original magic'. And I would further posit that it is the original paintings, collages, or digital imagery(!) that really houses the spiritual energy and intent placed there by the artist/creator.

Those images, saturated with the spiritual definitions of the creator are really the only magic inherent in the original deck. The act of envisioning the symbols and then painting/animating the deck is where the magic is birthed. Then the deck creator becomes Mother Father and Midwife all at once. And thereafter, using the deck, the creator is working with a truly magical tool. 

Vincent  31 Aug 2004 
Originally posted by swampwitch

"Does the magick/divinatory power lie in the Tarot cards or in ourselves as readers/users?"

Have you thought of asking the Tarot this question?


firemaiden  31 Aug 2004 
This is a fun thread. Remember that wonderful movie, "Like Water for Chocolate"?

The author of that book, Laura Esquival, wrote another book called the Law of Love. It takes place in some time in the far future, when we have learned how read objects -- objects carry within them a memory of all that they have stood witness too, and this witness, like a video tape can be read with the right technology, and re-broadcast. It made for a wonderful novel.

What are the inherent properties of Tarot cards? or of any object?
Paper doesn't hold much of a magnetic charge, I guess...

Objects --

We humans attach our stories and memories to objects, and then they serve as memory triggers for us.

I used to have a closet with a shelf above my head. I would stand on a chair, and investigate the mysterious back of the closet periodically -- the back of the closet was the Mystery! It was the hiding place for those toys which miraculously surived from the fate befalling most other outgrown toys, -- anonymous disappearance into the trashbin, when I wasn't looking... (a cruel fate, isn't it!) Can I begin to tell you how magical that shelf in the closet was?

Could the little stuffed kitty missing one plastic green eye speak? Did she have an energy?

Well, I can't answer that -- but she traveled through time, and was connected to parts of me that I had lost access to - early childhood.

Tarot cards I think are like the lost toys at the top of the closet. They are "witnesses" to what we lived, if we only had the technology to read what they have seen -- they have travelled through time with us, and serve as triggers to unlock pieces of us we have lost access to.

Objects, relics, idols...I like how Tom Robbins in Skinny Legs and All has a can of beans, a sock, a stick, a conch shell and a spoon talking and living adventures as full-fledged characters. :) 

Trogon  31 Aug 2004 
Originally posted by swampwitch
"From whatever perspective you hold on where the inherent spiritual properties reside, how do you distinguish falseness, disrespect and phoniness in purported practitioners and followers of the Tarot?"
Excellent question swampwitch. I sure wish I had a definitive answer...

When I meet people in person... when I shake their hand and can "feel" their presence... sometimes, sometimes I can sense falseness in that person. I can sometimes feel when there is something ... well ... "unbalanced" perhaps in their aura I suppose. Sometimes, with some people, it just eminates from them like body odor. Now... is that the "final judgement" from me, so to speak? No... not at all. First off, I try to not be "judgemental" of people in this way (note that I said "try" - I am far from perfect... that's fer dang sure ;) ). Secondly, I will see what they do, the things they say, the beliefs they hold. These are the things that will go a long way to telling me whether or not the person in someone with whom I can get along, or respect.

Allow me to relate an experience of mine (I'll try to be brief): A few years ago the police department I work for hired a new sergeant (hired from another police agency). This sergeant, by all appearances was an excellent officer, he came with a good recommendation from his former chief, passed our testing process with flying colors and had a lot of training and experience behind him. When I first met this person, I felt almost immediately, a deep falseness to him. His aura felt "oily" to me (it's the best way I can describe it). He did not feel open and honest and caring (which I get with almost all the police officers I'm working with these days). For the first few months, it appeared that he would be okay. But then... other officers started to complain about him (amongst themselves - not to our commanders or the chief). He wasn't doing his work. Even on busy nights, he would sit in the office reading the newspaper and let the other officers do the work. Then, an officer wrote up a proposal for getting 2 people trained by the company that makes our weapons - so they could be professional armorers - this sergeant made some changes to it and turned it in as his own work. When called on it, he backpeddaled very quickly, saying it wasn't intentional. Then he was involved in a training incident in which he ended up endangering the public... and tried to lie his way out of it. Then there was another incident where he was (while in uniform) loudly, verbally abusing a patron of a restaraunt, leaving his patrol car parked in the middle of the street blocking traffic while he did so ... and tried to lie his way out of that. The he threatened another officer ... in front of several civilian witnesses ... and tried to lie his way out of that. To make this a little shorter; his abuses and lies did, eventually, catch up to him and he was fired.

My point with all of this? I detect the charlatain, the cheat, the liar and/or the fraud by two things. What I sense when I meet them face-to-face ... and, most importantly, by their actions, their works, their beliefs. Does this always work? Not necessarily. Sometimes a slimy character will slip under my "radar" so to speak, and I may never "detect" them. And, on the other side, I've felt an uncomfortable, negative-like reaction to a couple of people who've turned out to be really great people.

But... in the realm of Tarot readers and psychics - are they using their talent to defraud people, or to help them? I've got no problem with people asking for and accepting payment for readings, goodness knows, they can be hard work sometimes. But, do they do a reading, then tell the client that there's a serious problem and that they can only be helped with powerful, but very expensive, spells - there's a charlatain and a liar for you. Does the person try to gain power over and manipulate the client into doing something dishonest that will benefit the psychic/Tarot reader? There's a fraud for you.

I know what I have experienced, and I know that I am still seeking more understanding and "enlightenment". I want to believe the best of people, that is for certain. But the truth is there are those people who will try to defraud others, or will lie to everyone around them, just for the sake of it. What is odd to me, is that I believe there are people "out there" who probably have genuine psychic abilities... but chose to misuse them and turn them towards defrauding innocent seekers of truth or those who need spiritual counseling.

Uh... did I end up answering the question somewhere in all of that? 

swampwitch  04 Sep 2004 
It is indeed exciting to ponder what is obviously a koan about where inherent powers reside. Our discussion seems to have expanded into looking at psychic vampirism and sociopathy. While psychic vampires populate the psychotherapy world in alarming numbers, they also populate (and attempt to duck the radar) in the New Age/Occult/Magick community. I'm interested in moving our discussion to the use of the Tarot for detection and protection from psychic "zapsters". Anybody have a story they'd like to share?


Trogon  05 Sep 2004 
Originally posted by swampwitch
It is indeed exciting to ponder what is obviously a koan about where inherent powers reside. Our discussion seems to have expanded into looking at psychic vampirism and sociopathy. While psychic vampires populate the psychotherapy world in alarming numbers, they also populate (and attempt to duck the radar) in the New Age/Occult/Magick community. I'm interested in moving our discussion to the use of the Tarot for detection and protection from psychic "zapsters". Anybody have a story they'd like to share?

Oy! Don't get me started... I'm dealing with one now. I received a mental "note" this morning from my spirit guides. She has tried to curse me... though with some slightly uncertain answers from my pendulum, I don't believe this was a conscious, determined effort... rather more of a "wishing ill" of me. Anyway, fortunately I have fairly protective guides. :D I have said a counter prayer for the curse to be transformed into a blessing to rebound to her. 

swampwitch  05 Sep 2004 

It is quite generous of you to transform the zapster's curse into a blessing--but are you sure it can be done? What you're talking about is healing, but if she breathes fire when you're not looking, you might get burned. Use caution. More to the point, use a good ritual.


The Inherent properties of Tarot cards thread was originally posted on 29 Aug 2004 in the Using Tarot Cards board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the threads in Using Tarot Cards, or read more archived threads.

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