It’s in the cards!

The magical world of Tarot: how it works and how it doesn’t

Lena Orlova, Contributor 

J.K. Rowling must have had a deck of tarot cards handy when she populated Harry’s world of wizardry. All manner of creatures are represented in the cards: hermits, mermaids, nymphs, kings, witches, priestesses and dementors. The cards create a narrative of their world. There are dozens of artistic renditions in the tarot section at Banyen Books. On the way to buy self-help books it’s fun to stop to flip through a deck. Draw a card. See your future. 

Origins of tarot cards remain as elusive as the way they work. They once intersected the standard 52-card deck, but with additional trump cards. In the Industrial Revolution, the game was picked up by occult circles across England and France by gypsies in travelling caravans. Some say they may have come from as far as Egypt. Others claim that the cards possess the ancient knowledge of humanity. 

The deck splits into minor and major arcana. Minor arcana is similar to the standard deck. It has four suits of its own: cups, wands, swords, and pentacles. Each suit has ten cards, from one to ten, along with Page, Knight, Queen, and King. The major arcana doesn’t have suits or an apparent political hierarchy. They are numbered from one to 22 in Roman Numerals, and each has its own character, like the Hermit, the Fool, the Devil, and even planetary objects like the Moon and the Sun. 

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t predict the future. Well, at least, not exactly. They act more like guiding posts, not time machines. A reading is a qualitative, dynamic relationship between the cards and the reader. The reader contemplates on the draw of each card, their successions, and relative positions to each other. The reader views the situation of her life through the symbolism of the cards; she finds herself a new perspective. Readings can be done based on specific questions or remain open. While there isn’t one correct interpretation, there are ones that make the more sense than others. You may have an aha moment, feeling like this is exactly the information you need. The woodland nymph with an aura of purple flowers does signify your need to realize your potential in your work life. The Death card is telling you that you are about to experience a great transformation. Wow! You take away something.  

This sounds wishy-washy to some, like a voodoo tactic to rip off customers. Many will tell you to let the tarots lie in mysterious rooms of alleyway of psychics that charge $40 for a read. Ignore it. Just walk past, don’t go in and waste your money. Some argue that tarot readings come true because of the psychological process known as self-fulfilling prophecy. The reader sees what they expect in the cards, then subconsciously makes decisions in order to fulfill the outcome seen in the cards. It’s a play on human behaviour. Nothing out of the ordinary. 

Still, tarot readings do remain a popular instrument of reading for psychics and those with eclectic interests (like me!). As my friend told me once, whether you believe it or not, it’s fun to try.  

Out of ideas for a Halloween costume this year? Ask the cards! 

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