But How Does It *Work*? Part 1

tiger lily

For the curious and impatient among you, here?s the short answer:



I have a theory...

To be exact, there are as many theories about "how Tarot works" as there are Tarot readers. They can be roughly divided into two schools of thought, which I will call, for convenience?s sake, the "scientific" and the "metaphysical" school.

Both agree on the basic premise that

"In a Tarot reading, a *meaningful* connection between the symbolic content of the cards and the real-life events in the querent?s life (internal or external) becomes evident".

They differ however on the subject of *how* this meaning is derived.

If you take a closer look at the reading process, you?ll see that it falls naturally into two parts: the *selection* of the cards and their *interpretation*. The "scientific" school states that the selection part (i.e. shuffling and drawing the cards) effectively randomizes the cards, so that the ones that turn up do so by pure chance. There is no inherent connection to the life of the querent. Meaning is *created* in the interpretation part, where the mind of the reader looks actively for meaningful connections to life events.

According to this theory, Tarot cards work like a very sophisticated Rorschach (inkblot) test; they are nevertheless a valuable tool, because they force the mind to make unusual connections, thereby enabling the reader/client to look at the problem from a fresh perspective.

The "metaphysical" school is convinced that the cards in a layout do not turn up randomly; they are selected by some force (the Universe/Superconscious/Spirit Guides/etc.) which utilizes them as carriers of specific messages. In other words, meaning is already inherent in the selected cards; it is not created, but *discovered* by the interpreting mind.


You forgot the 'Electromagnetic Aura' theory. They cards spend time in your aura as you study them ("This is a card about deception") and it electrically imprints the cards with that information. You hand the cards to the Querent and they ask a question about being deceived and VOILA! the cards about 'deception' appear - ready for you to interpret!

Of course, what blows this theory out the door is that I can do an accurate reading for you with a deck of unopened cards you just bought off the shelf, sealed and unopened until just before the reading.

**The adjunct to this is that shuffling is not as random as you think; it is really an 'ordering process' and when you shuffle you are actually putting the cards in an order on an unconscious level. **

tiger lily

Hm... I?d say that?s a hybrid between the two theories: it claims that some force (= the aura) determines the selection of the cards; that?s the "metaphysical" part. The selection process is explained in scientific terms (electromagnetic waves).

Reminds me of a "theory" about the workings of astrology: the gravitational forces of the planets were supposedly influencing the personality of the newborn; basically "imprinting" it as the aura is imprinting the cards. See? Now the secret of astrology is finally revealed and "scientifically" proven :D

Another hybrid theory (regarding Tarot) is the "Jung/Collective Unconscious/Archetypes" - theory. It never bothers to explain just *how* the Archetypes or the Unconscious influence the shuffling and ordering of the cards.

(I guess Jung?s theory itself could be considered a hybrid - the scientists always complained that it was too mystical, the spiritualists complained that it was too scientific, so I guess it?s floating somewhere in the middle ;-) )

The "Collective Unconscious" theory begs the question if an accurate reading could be given if the querent had never before exposed to the cards *and* had to shuffle them face down. Because in order to influence the shuffling process, you need (if only subconsciously) to know which card is where.

(I don?t know if it is possible to a) know the exact position of every card and b) controll the the shuffling process, so that not only one, but ten and more cards come up in the intended order, but it can?t be excluded. The mind is an amazing thing, as experiments under hypnosis have shown).


It was partly a relief and partly just odd to see the scientific view so clearly stated, as I feel as if I made this up for myself :)

I'm not sure the two views always have to be diametrically opposed, though. I hold the scientific view, but I am open to finding out that there is more to it than that.

All the very best,