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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Can a Christian Read Tarot Cards? Can an Intelligent Person?

A tarot card. 
The Three Wise Men. Source.
The Prophetess Anna by Rembrandt
Soccer fan. 

"Save Send Delete" tells the true story of my debate about God, and my relationship, with a celebrity atheist. In the book, I do my best to present the case for my own Christian belief.

I'm a pretty vanilla Christian. I don't handle snakes; I don't believe that Jesus was tutored by Buddhists or Egyptians or Space Aliens. I usually agree with the majority views expressed by American Catholics in opinion polls.

But I read tarot cards.

Is that … normal? Can Christians do that?

Is that … evil? Don't tarot cards … channel Satan?

Is that … stupid? You've got a PhD! How can you mess with anything as silly as tarot cards?

I'll answer these questions in this blog post.

***

Exodus 22:18, in the King James Bible, states, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Pretty straightforward, no?

Actually there are some really interesting discussions of this verse. One is at the Straight Dope website here. Another is at the Religious Tolerance website here.

The Bible condemns those who claim to use magical powers to turn people against God and to harm others. Are there such people? Yes. There were in biblical times. They killed children (Deuteronomy 18:10.) There are such people today. They kill albino children in Tanzania in order to gain magical power. Is real magic involved? No. Evil is. Killing children with the stated purpose of gaining magical power is a bad thing.

In any case, Christians and Jews don't follow Exodus 22:18 literally. There are people who identify as witches among us, and we aren't killing them. We aren't even lobbying the state to make witchcraft a capital offense.

What about the Witch Craze that swept Europe between 1480 and 1750? Isn't that proof that Christians are duty bound to burn witches?

I don't think so. If Christians and Jews had to kill witches, they would have been doing so before 1480, and after 1750.

Something happened during those years.

What?

The best answer I know of is in Lyndal Roper's book "Witch Craze."

The Reformation broke society up and sparked the catastrophic Thirty Years War. Unusually cold weather, the "Little Ice Age," damaged crops.

When things go badly, people scapegoat the vulnerable. Poor, isolated, post-menopausal women were no longer part of the cycle of fertility.

Hungry and anxious people's fears of loss of stability and fertility were reflected in accusations against witches: Witches spoiled crops; witches made cows go dry; witches stole babies.

From a review of "Witch Craze":

"It is nearly always a young, fertile mother who holds an older, marginal woman responsible for harming her child … in the psychologically tense atmosphere created by material scarcity – a dead child, a blighted flock – it becomes easy to imagine that you see the envy of a non-mothering woman at work … 'Witchcraft accusations were a hall of mirrors where neighbors saw their own fear and greed in the shape of the witch.'" (Read the full review here.)

I don't think of the witch craze when I attend Catholic mass.

When do I think of Roper's grim conclusions? When I read the International Movie Database discussion boards and the subject of any aging actress – any actress over age 25 – comes up.

The venom, the abuse, the pure hate that internet posters spew against women who have lost the bloom of youth chills my blood. Angelina Jolie, Andie MacDowell, Rachel McAdams, Julia Roberts, Lindsay Lohan – all these very beautiful movie stars are saggy and baggy withered prunes, showing their age, ready for the rest home, according to the ageist wasps on the IMDB discussion boards. Every shadow under every eye, every bulge under every designer gown, is picked apart for hours. They don't burn women at the stake; they burn them with words.

It's our animal nature. We admire the young, the strong, the vital, the fertile. We disdain the weak, the elderly, the poor, the lonely, the barren, the strange.

The Judeo-Christian tradition doesn't teach us to hate aging women, the poor or the vulnerable.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is remarkable among world faiths in the unrelenting emphasis it places on taking care of those we are tempted to cast aside: widows, orphans, strangers, the poor and vulnerable. See Exodus 22:22, Exodus 23:6, Leviticus 19:10, Leviticus 25:25, 35, 39, Deuteronomy 10:18, James 1:27, Luke 21:1-4. These verses just go on and on. There's a compilation here. People rant against the "angry" Biblical God. That God had a special concern for widows, orphans, the poor, and strangers.

***

Deuteronomy 18:10-13 advises against burning one's son or daughter and interpreting omens. I hope never to burn anyone's son or daughter. Is interpreting omens, i.e. tarot cards, unambiguously condemned in the Bible? Is all prophecy condemned?

No. In Jeremiah 27, there is a clash of prophets. Jeremiah approves some, and condemns others. Similarly, Jesus, in Matthew 7:15-20, advises judging prophets by the consequences of their prophecy. "Judge a tree by its fruit."

Three of the most famous and beloved Biblical characters were themselves interpreters of omens: the Three Wise Men, Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They followed a star to Bethlehem to discover the baby Jesus. In fact, as is the case in traditional Slavic households, their initials – KMB – are chalked on the beam of my ceiling. I got the chalk in a Catholic church, on the feast of the Epiphany, from a Polish-American priest.

The Bible celebrates the three wise MEN and male prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Does it just dislike prophetESSES?

No. Anna, a prophetess, is celebrated in Luke 2:36-38.

***

All right, all right, all well and good! Let's not quibble over bible verses! Aren't you, in using tarot cards, giving the cards power that properly belongs to God alone?

Is reading tarot cards an act of idolatry? Do I think that tarot cards in and of themselves are capable of deciding fates, conjuring love, cursing enemies?

If I thought that, then, yes, by all means, use of tarot cards would very much be against the Judeo-Christian tradition and utterly sinful.

People commit that very sin – that sin of idolatry – every day. And they do it without tarot cards.

"My team has a big game so I am wearing their colors so they will win."

"If I could buy this one car / house / dress / appliance I would be happy."

"Something that I wanted to happen in my life didn't happen … or something I didn't want in my life happened … and so I stopped believing in God."

That's idolatry, folks. That's assigning a person or an event or a thing power that it does not have.

In fact, the belief that tarot cards or Ouija boards can "channel Satan" is itself idolatry.

Google "Ouija board satanic" and find thousands of websites discussing this question.

You know what I think Ouija Boards are? I think that they are pieces of cardboard. They have no more power and no less power than any other piece of cardboard.

Some think that Satan needs a piece of cardboard to enter the world. Oh, ho, ho, are they naïve. All Satan needs to enter this world is one person's ego.

Similarly, tarot cards have no magic power. They are just pieces of paper.

Some people are lost and confused and tempted to give away their power. They become fanatical Christians or cult members or followers of some guru or soccer fans – not because of any real conviction, but as part of trying to escape from inner turmoil by finding some authority outside themselves. They surrender their agency to this outside authority.

I don't think people in that state should mess with tarot cards, or gurus, or cults, or political movements or soccer teams. I think it will be a while before they can be mature Christians. God wants us, as full persons, to choose him, not to collapse on to him as an escape from the vexations, temptations, and confusions of being a full human being. To paraphrase the Mother Abbess in "The Sound of Music," "Christianity is not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live."

I don't do readings for people who are giving their power to the cards.

***

All right, then! But aren't you an idiot for believing in tarot cards? Why would someone who was smart enough to get a PhD mess with something so dumb!

Here's why. Two reasons.

First, I'm fascinated by tarot cards in the same way that I am fascinated by all expressive culture, from cave paintings to Hollywood films.

A tarot deck is an attempt to create a vocabulary to talk about the entirety of human experience in 78 pictures that can be held in the palm of the hand. Tarot decks are priceless reflections of the human mind. What do we value? What do we fear? What do we celebrate? What do we resist? How do we interpret love, temptation, affliction, hope?

There are countless tarot decks, with new ones appearing every day. There is the Baseball Tarot, the Tarot of the Pirates, the Gummy Bear Tarot, the Prairie Tarot.

Each deck re-interprets huge, human themes with its own twist. Think about it – if you had to draw a picture that communicated Love or Justice or Death or Satisfaction or Despair, a picture that could fit on a little card, that reflected your culture and your consciousness but that could be understood by, and move, thousands of strangers, what picture would you draw? It's this process of constantly emerging reinterpretations of the basic themes that captivates me.

There are at least two Russian-themed Tarot decks in which the Devil card is Joseph Stalin.

In the Housewives Tarot, Death is not a skeleton on a Pale Horse, but an expired jar of mayonnaise surrounded by flies and wilted lettuce.

In the Tarot of the White Cats, the Fool is a dog. In the Vanessa Tarot, the Fool is a hitchhiker. In the Whimsical Tarot, the Fool is the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Each one of these cards says something unique about our understanding of the Fool, and yet something similar to every other Fool card. It's like a symphony of meaning – variation, theme, variation, theme.

There are at least two Russian-themed Tarot decks in  which the Devil card is Joseph Stalin. 
In the brilliantly witty Housewives Tarot, Death is not a skeleton on a pale horse, but an expired jar of mayonnaise. 
In the Tarot of the White Cats, the  Fool is a dog. In the Vanessa Tarot, the Fool is a hitchhiker. 
Here's another reason I read cards.

When I read cards for other people, I *always* discover something that I would not have discovered using any other tool. I've read Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Atheists. I've read people I've known for years, and relative strangers. And I always discover something during these readings that I would never otherwise even guess at.

I'm a big fan of objective truth, and that is the objective, measurable, quantifiable, verifiable and replicable truth.

Tarot cards are comparable to microscopes, to telephone directories, or to the librarians working the reference desk of my university library. Tarot cards are tools, comparable to other tools, that provide me with information I access in no other way.

***

Skeptic Michael Shermer has criticized tarot. He says that tarot readers say general things and those being read apply what works best for them and don't pay attention to anything said that doesn't apply to them.

I think that's a fair criticism.

OTOH, I've been reading long enough to have experienced beyond-chance events where the cards say something very specific that is reflective of reality.

Can this be proven?

I don't think so. The cards are pregnant with symbolism that can be interpreted in numerous ways. Look at the High Priestess card, above. That little picture is chock full of images harkening back to Ancient Egypt's Hathor, Solomon's Temple, Greek myth, the Talmud, The Apocalypse, and Freud. One of those symbols might feel powerful to a person getting a tarot card reading. How do you "prove" that moment wrong? It's too imprecise. If the querent found something clarifying, inspirational, or educational in that image, that's the proof of the efficacy of tarot.

Do I think that that is all that happens during a tarot reading? People making what they choose of highly symbolic, vaguely spooky pictures?

I don't know. But I know this. I am dyslexic. I am a teacher. I think about how people think. I write about this in "Save Send Delete." I write about my own thought processes, and how they lead me to believe in the Judeo-Christian God.

As a dyslexic, I had to, like a surgeon, dissect my own thought processes so I could get to the point where I could read written words. I had to do that all over again to figure out how I could write a dissertation.

I know that neither I nor anyone else is close to delineating all the ways that we acquire and process knowledge. I know that sometimes I know things and yet I have no way of knowing how I know them. I can say that my querents have used tarot cards to access knowledge that they weren't accessing in other ways, knowledge that has proven useful to them.

***

I was working with a student who had racked up regular court appearances and close calls. She was doing everything she could to undermine her own future. She had zero charm and if I thought about her at all, my thought was, "Better her inevitable incarceration than roaming the streets."

NOTHING I had done in my months of work with this girl, nothing in my professional bag of tricks, had had any impact. If anything, she hated me more each day that I was professional, nose-to-the-grindstone and by-the-book.

Late one day, we found ourselves, atypically, alone together. She knew I read cards and asked for a reading.

Strangely enough, she selected one card from the deck, and turned it upside down, and asked me to read it that way.

I said to her, "This card represents an ending, a death, giving up, being overwhelmed by negative forces or despair, and you turned it upside down before asking me to read it for you. You are acknowledging that you have been making negative choices for your life, and by turning this card upside down, you are choosing to overturn your previous, negative choices, and to set out on a new path. You are acknowledging that the bad will still be present, at least for a time, but you are determined to forge that new, positive path, even in the presence of the rubble of past mistakes. Look here: it's been a long, dark night. Before you is the dawn."

Her face took on a look I had never previously seen. She looked, suddenly, human.

She nodded fervently. "I can do it," she said. "I can make new, positive choices."

This anecdote takes us to the heart of the question. Tarot is a tool people use to explore their inner selves. The inner self is a formidable landscape. Credentialed authorities – priests, therapists – insist that we require their direction. Without it, disaster.

I respect their anxiety. But if the soul's formation is sound, the tool in the hand is used for good.

***

My review of Brian Crick's new minimalist deck, the Celestial Stick People Tarot, can be found here.


The Queen of Swords from Brian Crick's minimalist Tarot deck. Crick insists that there is no magic in Tarot; creating the deck was a "design problem." It is minimalist because, Crick says, querents bring their own thoughts to the images on the cards. 
***
If you'd like to win a free one-hour Tarot reading by me, tell five friends about "Save Send Delete" and have them send me an email saying that they found out about the book from you. I'll select one such person at random before the end of July and give that winner a free, one-hour reading on the question of your choice, with the deck of your choice. 

9 comments:

  1. Hello Danusha, There is a picture of the three wise men in the above blog post. They were astrologers. And have you ever thought who it was that star led them to? I never thought about it till it was pointed out to me.

    Matthew records that: "After Jesus had been born in Beth′le‧hem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, look! astrologers from eastern parts came to Jerusalem,  saying: “Where is the one born king of the Jews? For we saw his star [when we were] in the east, and we have come to do him obeisance. ”  At hearing this King Herod was agitated, and all Jerusalem along with him;  and on gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him: “In Beth′le‧hem of Ju‧de′a; for this is how it has been written through the prophet, ‘And you, O Beth′le‧hem of the land of Judah, are by no means the most insignificant [city] among the governors of Judah; for out of you will come forth a governing one, who will shepherd my people, Israel.’””

    That star directed them straight to Herod, who wanted to have Jesus killed. And many Jewish children died because of it. So who sent that star or conjunction in the stars, or whatever it was they saw?

    God’s Law to the Israelites prohibited any form of spiritism, saying: “There should not be found in you . . . anyone who employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium or a professional foreteller of events or anyone who inquires of the dead.”—Deuteronomy 18:10, 11.

    Christians in the first century cleansed themselves of any connection with spiritism, and today we do the same.

    So, no I would stay well away from tarot card readings, and advise everyone to steer well clear of anything associated with the occult.

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    1. 1 Corinthians 12 - The chapter on spiritual gifts. I find that tarot is thick with archetypes, just as dream interpretation is (a gift fully endorsed in both testaments). The point is to not give the power to the cards, but to Christ. I gave up tarot when I returned to the church from being Pagan. Mainly, this was because tarot held for me a call back to something not Christian. That was years ago. Now that my faith in Christ has matured, I can look back and address things like tarot without the temptation of turning from Christ.

      For the Christians wanting to try their hand at tarot, I recommend a few boundaries to the act. Pray before and after, out loud. While you do the readings, pray silently. Make it clear that the cards do not hold the power, but God/Christ do. Then when you read the cards let god reveal the truths. Also, be careful when choosing what deck to use. A lot of decks hold very non-christian themes. Find one that is more based in Christianity, or one that's neutral, based in archetypal images instead of pagan characters.

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    2. K. Medeiros, excellent post. Thank you!

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  2. I mentioned to an atheist friend that some would damn me to hell forever for having anything to do with Tarot cards. He wrote back, "The good thing about atheists is they can only damn you to a miserable existence on earth."

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  3. Good entry! Your blog is probably one of the better ones I've ever seen! It is good to see this place is finally getting the attention that it totally deserves! Keep up the fantastic work.

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  4. Danusha ~ I have been seriously considering procuring several Tarot decks and allow one to present itself to me for use for my own personal spiritual growth and daily life decisions and confirmation on my daily direction. You have given me the proverbial frosting on my argumentation cake over this issue. I was on the verge of getting onto amazon but felt like I needed one more confirmation, if it would present, and this presented to me. Thank you for posting this article!

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    1. You are very welcome. Please post an update after you get the decks.

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  5. Hi Danusha, you have a very interesting article here as I thought the same thing. I'm a Christian and though I have to admit the occult (astrology and tarot) I find extremely interesting. I even have my own tarot deck (Clamp X-1999) version. But I guess I feel too strongly about not f****ing around with the occult so I mainly use the cards for inspiration as the art is beautiful on some cards. And it'd be fun to make my own as a character in a story uses them. Tarot is interesting, I'm not going to lie, I just would never dabble in it. Like in astrology, I love the meaning and symbology in both mediums and is fascinating and a bit scary, as my zodiac (eastern and western) is pretty right on. I'm Capricorn, (The Devil (interesting), and snake.

    I do like this article very much and I'm not the one to judge other Christians and advise others who come across this article to not judge people on what they like. humans are complicated creatures and it makes me sad to think of it but I understand why there's so many Atheists out there. I mean it's so easy to pull out scriptures to judge people upon. and I honestly don't believe everything in the bible word for word. I never got why the astrologers (magi) never were condemned as they were the ones who "divined" where Jesus was and were warned not to go back to Herrod. :/

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    1. Lillian, thank you for that thoughtful reply!

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