The Philosophy of the Tarot: Random Readings?
by Cathi Bitzer
A very prominent philosopher and practitioner of Chaos Magick once claimed that the Tarot cannot be truly effective as a tool for guidance or prediction. The reason for this, according to this gentleman, is that there are so many of the cards that each drawing is hopelessly random and therefore meaningless. He does however suggest that the problem can be overcome by using only the Major Arcana, thus making the outcome less random. He further suggests looking at each card before shuffling the deck to help the unconscious mind with the drawing. The rationale behind this is the much-publicized fact that the subconscious does not forget. Hence a sensible drawing is more likely, as the subconscious will be aware of which card is in which position. While this is certainly worth testing, how valid is the first claim? Is the Tarot truly too random to be effective?
One fact that cannot be denied is that the Tarot has been around for a very, very long time. Well, in human lifetime terms at least, centuries of existence constitute a long time, right? During these centuries, the Tarot tradition has been refined and evolved to the form it takes today. Generally, a Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, with Major and Minor Arcana, each with its particular contribution to the outcome of a reading. Now the above claim is that accuracy is not possible, because of the sheer number of the cards.
But what about the long-term survival of the Tarot tradition? Certainly if using the cards were completely random and thus mostly inaccurate, it would have been abandoned. Not so. For centuries, closely guarded Tarot reading secrets were passed from generation to generation. It evolved and became so popular that drawing on the wisdom of the Tarot has become daily practice for millions of people from almost every possible spiritual tradition.
One only has to ask an avid Tarot user to know that readers and clients alike have hailed the cards for their accuracy in prediction and their aptness in guidance. In the personal experience of myself and many others, the more a particular deck is used, the more it seems to be “in tune” with its reader, making the readings all the more apt. Surely this would not have been the case if the above claim were true.
So what could lead to such an apparently “inaccurate” view? There could be several things. It could be that the philosopher in question is not very enthusiastic about using the Tarot. This could then lead to not only negative feelings regarding accuracy, but also to a lack of willingness to spend time with the deck to check whether his claim is actually true. I am sure if the gentleman took the time to “make friends” with the cards, his assessment might have been somewhat different.
Antagonism tends to ruin relationships and build resistance. As human beings, we often experience antagonism both towards and from others. This does not make a good basis for friendship or taking time for building a relationship. This could be the case with the philosopher. His antagonism might have led to a mutual resistance between the philosopher and the cards. In the end, he then made a claim that Tarot users are not very likely to agree with.
Another possibility is that the philosopher is simply not very interested in the Tarot as a means of divination. He could be pursuing his spiritual path by other means, and therefore relied on logic alone for his opinion regarding the Tarot. In this case, it is not so much antagonism as a lack of understanding regarding the deeper, spiritual workings of the Tarot. If one views it from this angle, it is very clear why logic suggests inaccuracy; there are so many cards.
For the above reasons, I am sure our Mr. Philosopher has not considered the specific meanings of the cards, or how they interact with each other to influence readings. The Minor Arcana for example can be seen as more specific aspects of the Major Arcana. Like a small society of people, or a family, no card functions entirely on its own. These are elements that a rash and blatant statement like the logic-induced one promoted by the philosopher ignores.
In conclusion therefore, I do not feel that the philosopher is at all accurate in his statement that a deck of 78 cards cannot possibly be useful in divination or guidance matters. In fact, I whole-heartedly disagree. The Tarot is a very useful tool in the hands of those who care about the cards, and those who allow the cards to care about them.
© Cathi Bitzer
Cathi B, as she likes to be known, owns several Tarot and other decks, of which the Vertical Oracle is one. She mostly does readings for herself and for family members and close friends. Her writing efforts include reviews and articles mostly on mystical an self-help topics.