WHAT IS THE TAROT FOR? Montreal Edition, Part One

In April, I spoke at Readers Studio and began my talk with a printed list titled “What Is The Tarot For?” in which I tried to enumerate all the ways people have used the Tarot, without regard to validity, morality, seriousness, or any other criterion by which one use would be considered valid, and not another. After the event I published that here.

In September I was invited to the first Tarot Love and Light Festival in Montreal, with a group of wonderful teachers. I was asked to give two talks, and thought why not use the list I had made for Readers Studio? So I dutifully printed up 100 copies, carried them in my suitcase, and then when I arrived at the event discovered I’d left it back at the Air B & B.

After a few minutes of panic, I decided my subconscious had decided I needed to do it fresh. So, since I was not speaking until after lunch I took the time to make up a new list. Some of the same things are on it, but some are new, and some have more detail. Because I was doing on the spot, it is in no particular order. And it ends with a simple reading anyone can do to examine their own relationship to the cards.

Here is the list (with occasional notes). Because it is fairly long, partly due to the notes, and partly to fresh ideas, I am publishing it in two parts.


Playing games–this is the oldest use of the cards that we know. The game for which they were made (in Italy, in the early 15th century) is a trick-taking game, the ancestor of bridge and others, called variously Il Trionfii, Tarocchi, and les Tarots. But there are other games one can play with Tarot cards. I myself created a game called Creation that combines qualities of bridge, poker–and magic.

Predicting the future. This is probably the most famous use. Many assume it’s the only use, or at least the only way to do readings. But of course it’s not.

Scamming people. This involves fake readings, usually in which the reader claims to discover some evil magician has cast a spell on the person having the reading. “Luckily,” the reader will assure the mark that she or he can lift, cancel, or destroy the spell, but of course this will cost money. Usually it’s a small amount at first, then more when the evil spell turns out to be stronger than “expected.” People have been known to pay tens of thousands of dollars to scammers.

A slightly less virulent form of scamming is cold readings, in which the reader uses various tricks to seemingly reveal deep secrets the client has not consciously shared

A tool to spur psychic talents. Just because scammers can fake psychic readings doesn’t mean no one does them for real. For some people the pictures on the cards trigger psychic connections.

Art. From its earliest days, the Tarot has been an art form all its own, and a great many talented artists have used it as a showcase for their work. This use of the Tarot has exploded in recent years, largely due to crowd fund-raising campaigns allowing talented artists to reach a public without having to satisfy a publisher.

A mirror of the self. Many people read the cards this way, not to predict, or answer questions, but to gain insight into who they are.

A way for different selves to talk to each other. From my experience with friends, and my reading, I am more and more convinced that so-called “multiple personality disorder” is not a mental illness but a reality for certain people. And all of us have different sides of ourselves that may seem at odds, or at least cut off, from each other. The Tarot can be used as a way to reveal these different sides and have them talk to each other.

If the Tarot can be a mirror, it also can be a fun house mirror. That is, we can exaggerate aspects of ourselves to see them in a clearer light.

Dream interpretation–this is one of my favorite things to do with the cards. Some people use a set spread to understand dreams, with questions such as “What does this dream tell me? What action do I need to take?” etc. My own approach comes from Gail Fairfield’s brilliant book, Choice-Centered Tarot. This is to write down the dream, separate it into distinct parts (“1. I am walking down a dark street. 2. I hear someone call my name, etc.”) then draw a card for each thing you’ve written down. The card is not meant to explain the dream, or tell you what to do, but to enter more deeply into it and discover its meaning for yourself.

Poetry. Curiously, the oldest known use for Tarot cards beyond playing a game involved poetry. This poetry was not philosophical, or magical, as our modern viewpoint might expect, but rather satirical. That is, in a salon someone might read a selection of poems using the titles of the trump cards, what today we call the Major Arcana. But the poems would really be witty jabs at specific members of the court.

Today, many poets, such as Timothy Liu, have used the Tarot in more serious ways. Several collections of Tarot poems have been published, including one by myself, Fortune’s Lover. https://www.amazon.com/Fortunes-Lover-Book-Tarot-Poems/dp/0979420849/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539100723&sr=8-1&keywords=Fortune%27s+Lover%2C+Rachel+Pollack

Story-telling. This is another of my favorite uses. I have several times taken a group of cards at random and seen what story they suggested. Caitlin Matthews and I once edited a collection of such stories, called Tarot Tales. A number of the stories in my book, The Tarot Of Perfection, were done this way. Other people do readings to explore a story already underway. For example, you could do a Celtic Cross reading for one of the characters in your story, or ask such questions as “What does this character desire? What is the risk? What unexpected obstacle will arise?” Or even, “What secret is this character hiding?”

end of Part One.

Published in: on October 9, 2018 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://rachelpollack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/what-is-the-tarot-for-montreal-edition-part-one/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: