Skip to: site menu | section menu | main content

Currently viewing: Home » How Does The Tarot Work?
Home » How Does The Tarot Work?

How Does The Tarot Work?

That's one difficult thing to ask. And would you believe that there's really very little written on this question, which I would have believed to be quite crucial to any discussion on the Occult.

I mean... the idea is that we have 78 (or less, or more) coloured bits of cardboard and from them we can work out the future. It DOES sound a bit odd. Why don't we get the same results without the cards or with pages out of the newspaper? It's just accepted that the Tarot works, and that's that.

To be fair, one must point out that in the hands of a good reader the cards DO yield satisfactory results and most people find it easier to simply let the matter drop. Quite frankly, there's a lot of material on how the cards work and the various meanings, but so little on what actually goes on when we lay out the cards.

I think that it is quite crucial to begin looking and understanding this aspect first of all, and then you can make up your own mind as to how you want to deal with the cards. As far as the Tarot is concerned, you'll HAVE to make up your own mind on LOTS of things because intuition is such a huge part of the Tarot. You may as well begin early :)

There are different theories as to how the Tarot works. One of them says that time is not linear but spatial. And then there's the archetypes...

In practical terms, the "spatial time" idea means that we're used to imagining time as a line: that is, as a straight road type thing on which we travel. We can't go back, we can't stay still, we can only move forward, and quite blindly at that. Tomorrow is always in front of us, yesterday is always behind us.

We can imagine Time (and life itself, which is how we tend to relate to time) as sitting in the last carriage of a train. We have no control of the train, we cannot see where the engineer is taking us, we can't go backwards.

The Tarot helps us to see time SPATIALLY. Imagine we're no longer on the train, but standing by an open window, overlooking some sort of panorama. We can look up, down, backward, sideways, we can look anywhere we want. Time becomes this frozen moment, like a slice out of the universe, where all that will ever happen and all that has ever happened is happening right this very minute. There you are at six years of age, skinning a knee, there you are at fifty scratching your nose. It's all there in front of us and all we have to do is look out the window and we can see it all happening.

If you look at the last paragraph, you can see that I said that the Tarot HELPS US to see time spatially. The idea is that Time is spatial, whether we can see it or not, the Tarot just helps us to tap into it.

All that sounds pretty cool, but why does it only work with a Tarot deck or some sort of dandy divination tool? (Try to see into time using your beer-mat collection. In 99.99999999% of cases, you'll find that it doesn't quite work, and here's why):

The illustrations on the cards (well, on the Major Arcana, at any rate) are of what we call "archetypes". They are figures that somehow or other remind us of things deep inside ourselves. We see a picture of a mother and, depending on how archetypal the figure depicted is, we are reminded (for better or for worse) of our own mother. One picture represents all the mothers of the world, the picture has struck a chord in there somewhere and we relate to it automatically, in much the same way that wartime propaganda affects us. Because the Tarot has a few centuries under its belt, and because it has (according to some) crossed a few continents, the archetypes in the Tarot are very refined. We've kept them for centuries. They are images so deeply ensconsced in our minds that we don't even realize that they are there.

In this way, concentrating on the Tarot allows the reader to enter into his own mind, a sort of re-entering the womb if you like, and to see things in a different manner. Because these archetypes have always existed, we can see the future interaction between them and also what has happened in the past. To choose a crass example, "good will always fight evil", or "the king will always have to guard his crown against the stranger" and all that sort of thing.

So the Tarot works because it prods our mind into places that it wouldn't be likely to go normally. Not bad places or good places, just different places to the usual. And from there we can get a different viewpoint on things.

The thing that bears out this spatial time theory for me is that the future, and oddly enough, the past are rooted in the present. The future is born out of the present: If you have a habit of drinking yourself to sleep and going to work early the next morning, it's pretty obvious that sooner or later you're probably going to have trouble at work. Or your performance will suffer at the very least. But the past? Surely the past is fixed and cannot be changed? Well, it sort of can, and here's why.

Say you always thought your grandfather was cruel to you when you were a small child. He was always grumpy, yelled a lot. Never showed you any love at all. You've grown up to hate your grandfather. And then, years later someone mentions that all that time he was ill with say, cancer. You were a kid, no-one wanted to freak you out, so no-one told you. So it turns out that your grand-dad wasn't a bastard, he was just in a lot of pain all the time and worried sick about dying, so it sort of affected his behaviour, but he loved you very much all the same. There you go, the past has changed. You start to remember the time he took you to the park and was OK to you, little incidents take on new meanings. Bad memories are replaced by good ones and the past over a = period of weeks starts to change without you even noticing.

It happens to whole countries, really. People's perceptions of the past change, great leaders become out-and-out villains, people derided as madmen and fools become the unsung heroes. Allies become traitors and sinners become saints. The present has changed the past and the future and feeds off both of them in an endless cycle.