I taught myself how to read tarot cards in college. I went out to Barnes & Noble and got myself the Ryder-Waite deck and earnestly consulted the little book and read for my friends.
I’m the type of girl who never met a dead person she didn’t talk to and I spent much of my teenage years holding seances, (not) moving planchettes towards various letters and numbers, and carting my friends off to all kinds of supposedly haunted spots.
The trips to haunted places have already been well-documented here, so I’ll just say that the seances and other dead-harassing projects went just about as well, which is to say, they went very poorly indeed. Which is no proof one way or another that we survive death, but more a testament to my piss-poor necromancy skills.
The tarot card reading, on the other hand, went surprisingly well. I think I’m about as good as a non-con-artist can get at it and I find that, overall, I’m pretty accurate.
Still, I’d rather know for sure that my grandpa is still around than to be tarot-ly gifted, because, the thing is, the better I get at card-reading, the less I think there’s anything “occult” to it. It doesn’t answer any supernatural mysteries and it doesn’t soothe my anxiety about only having fifty or sixty good years left.
What makes me so good?
Sure, there’s the cold-reading aspect. I’m not intentionally cold-reading the folks I do readings for, but I’m completely sure that I’m doing it subconsciously. I think any member of a group that is in constant regular danger of being victimized can learn how to read even very subtle signals from others in order to anticipate whether or not the conversation is going in a proper direction. Without being aware of it, I can tell when I’m hitting the right marks and modify my reading based on that.
But here’s the other reason: there are only so many things that people care about. As much as we all are lead to believe that we are unique individuals, the truth is that we are not so different. I want to be treated with respect, to be taken seriously, to be paid what I’m worth, to be loved, and to have my loved one’s well-being assured. I bet you do, too.
Seventy-eight cards, all rich in meaning and culturally resonate, are enough to tell the story of anyone’s present circumstances.
Italo Calvino has this book, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, in which the protagonist ends up at a castle that used to be an inn or an inn that used to be a castle, and finds himself at dinner with a table full of fellow travelers, none of whom speak. The host gives them a deck of tarot cards, and, in turn, they lay out the cards in a way that tells a story about themselves.
Calvino is, of course, right. We’re narrative-driven animals and the bits and pieces of things that have meaning to me in particular probably have meaning to the rest of us. Those sacred chunks of story have been honed and tested over thousands of years. We know they resonate. How they’ll resonate to each person is ultimately surprising, but that they’ll resonate is not.
So, I don’t read very often any more, because I find it depressing. My things, whatever they may be–insecurities, deep dark secrets, quiet joys–are important to me and I want to believe unique to me.
I don’t like the idea that I could, say, draw three cards. Let’s say, one for past, one for present, and one for future: the three of swords, the hanged man, and the hermit. I look up at you and say only this much, “The three of swords has to do with heartache and betrayal–this is your past. The hanged man symbolizes great sacrifice and change in perspective–this is your present. The hermit means a withdrawal from the world in order to regroup–this is your future.” It’s bad enough that this could generically apply to all of us. We’ve all had our hearts broken. We all feel that a change in perspective could be interesting. And we’ll all throw up our hands and say, fuck it, in the near future.
No, what I don’t like is that it’s not like I went and actually pulled those cards. I just made it up. And yet, even as I was typing it, I remembered a specific instance of heartache. I knew just what I needed to get perspective on but was avoiding. And, well, I am a hermit. Do you see what I’m saying?
It’s not just that any cards apply to anyone, it’s that every card applies in very specific ways to you.
There’s nothing occult about it. We’re just so damn ordinary.
I have spent much time over the past few weeks feeling quite expendable and insignificant. Of course, that happens to me when I spend too much time focusing on slavery, genocide, and other ills of humanity. But, just as I get myself out of the slump and feel not only that I am capable of saying something clearly but further that I might have something worthwhile to say, you remind me that I might just be insignificant and easily interchanged with anyone else.
At the beginning of the post I was looking forward to asking you to read my cards. And realize that only one person has ever given me a reading (oh the things we [I] do for some physical affection). So allowing, nay asking, you would have been special. But I am now back on solid ground in my refusal of anyone doing any kind of predictive readings of me.
Well, I never really thought of it as predictive exactly. More like, let’s look at the roadmap of your life and see where you might go.
In other words, I can tell you that the road you’re on takes you to Peoria, but I can’t tell you if or when you’ll get there.
I was just thinking what a poor advertisement the three of us kids are for my dad’s line of work. Yes, go into the ministry have your own life filled with witchcraft, drug abuse, and nasty in-laws.
Who wouldn’t go for that?
I never thought of using tarot cards to seduce people… maybe I’ll start reading more frequently!
Okay, so you wouldn’t be predicting my future. But then I’m not sure I understand the cards at all. O course, I don’t mean to suggest that I ever really did. I figure that I can imagine all kinds of places I might go just by sitting quietly and thinking or even sharing drinks with friends in a loud bar. I assumed the cards added an element of accuracy to those musings. And sometimes, we don’t want the more accurate read, unless we can use it to change the future for better, i.e., to avoid the nasty in-laws.
I’d forgotten that one of your current ninety-nine lovers used tarot cards to lure you into his embrace.
Was he accurate?
I am sorry for being a butthead. I wholly support your tarot card reading, really. I am just confused about its value because you seemed to undermine it yourself and I want to find it again, really.
Oh, gosh, I didn’t mean to insinuate that it doesn’t have value. I think it has a great deal of use aesthetically, to try to figure out why you’re responding to the conjunction of cards the way you are.
I just wanted some oracle and it’s not that.