February 22, 2024
Ask Astrology

Reading Tarot Cards for Skeptics

Tarot and oracle cards are powerful tools for exploring your inner development, getting an insight about people and situations in your life, and critical thinking.  Since the 1990s decks have been published in staggering abundance and there are hundreds in print and currently available through online and traditional retail outlets. Thousands more can be found through online used items resellers, bricks and mortar new age shops, and used bookstores. They have found their way, though rarely, into psychological practice and high art gallery presentations.  More often than not they will appear at some point in the story of a fantasy TV series or movie.

Doing a reading for yourself, getting a reading for yourself, or doing readings for others is and should be, a sacred process. This article, and others I write on this subject, will explore the very serious and helpful process of using tarot and oracle cards, both personally and professionally.  I have been reading cards professionally since 1992 and have done thousands of readings. Over the period of my professional work, scholarly study, and personal use, I have learned many forms of knowledge about the cards and their use that I want to share with you.

Believing in the Cards, or Not?

I am a skeptical person by nature; rarely taking anything or anyone at face value. Over my life journey, I have also received professional training to improve my skeptical acumen; I have a PhD in English and used to teach critical thinking classes.  When I started my undergraduate degree, I was a double major in history and philosophy and one of my favorite courses was on Skepticism taught by Dr. Paul Ziff.  To this day, I remember his class, and oddly, that he was a huge fan of Bjorn Borg, the tennis player.

While it is true that I am a natural and trained skeptic, I am also imaginative and a fan of fantasy storytelling embraced and reinforced by love of superhero comics, which I read voraciously starting at 9 years old. I have found many great truths in my comic books and my philosophy texts; no medium holds a monopoly on the truth.

I bought my first tarot deck in 1989 during the summer after I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in History and before I started my Masters in English.  The deck, the Mythic Tarot, used Greek Mythology as the basis for the card images and descriptions.  Each suit followed a mythic story and the Major Arcana were made up mostly of the Greek pantheon. I always had a natural curiosity about what was deemed by others as “occult”.

My first approach to learning and studying the cards was skeptical and academic.  I was at the high-water mark of my atheism, which worked well as a theory-of-the-world throughout my academic career and somewhat beyond it.  The cards were designed with archetypical images and could be used psychologically. Only later in my life journey did I find my own spiritual awakening that leads me to view and use the cards more spiritually.

Even before I had my spiritual awakening, the cards were useful and powerful, so there is no “belief” in them that is required to make them work effectively. When I read publicly, one of the most common comments I hear from someone who feels the need to speak up about the cards when they see what I do is, “well, I don’t believe in them.” My response is usually, “that’s okay, your belief in them is not necessary to make them work for you.”

Flavors of Skeptics

Someone who fears tarot and oracle cards or who claims they are the tool of “evil” believe in them aplenty, too much in a certain way, actually. It is a misnomer to say that you “believe in” or “don’t believe in the cards”.  You can look at the cards, pick them up, or ignore them, but what people believe or do not believe is related to the cards, not about the cards themselves.

I actually meet very few true skeptics, the hardcore kind; and here’s how I tell the difference between a full-on skeptic and a skeptical person. When I do readings, I spread the cards out in front of the client and I ask them 5 or 10 questions. After each question, I direct them to pick a card from the deck.  A true skeptic would pick the top card after each question.  There is no need to search for a card; in terms of randomness theory, picking a card where you cannot see the image and do not know the sequence of the cards is “equally” random no matter how you choose, so why not simply choose from the top-down, or bottom-up.

A skeptical person may not “believe” anything spiritual can happen, but it is very likely that they hope something will, but they have their doubts.  The person that says, I am a skeptic, but takes time to find a card by rooting around in the deck is really a skeptical person, but not a Skeptic (with a capital S). Skeptics are fun to read for and I always hope to give a reading to one when I am reading in public.

Reading for the Skeptic

The process for reading for a skeptic is no different than reading for anyone else.  They can ask a question, choose a category (romance, career, family, and so on), or just be open to the experience. Skepticism is not denial or an unwillingness to have an experience, but rather the extreme willingness to “give it a go” but with an intensely questioning mind about how it works and what the reader claims he or she can do or what the cards “can do”.

Readings for skeptics are fun experiences for me because they generally ask very good questions if they are not trying to be snotty about the experience (I do get those people too).  Their skepticism is often associated with their choice of profession.  I happen to read at a bar in Durham, NC near an elite university, Duke. Mostly graduate students frequent the bar and I get to work with engineering, philosophy, and psychology students regularly. These people will usually qualify their “I am a skeptic” statement with a follow up sharing that they are an engineer or scientist and clearly not a believer in “spiritual things”.

If they are willing to give the reading experience a go, I tell them that the cards can be experienced in purely psychological terms; they are cards with drawings depicting archetypical experience from human existence sequenced in a certain way to give a framework for each card’s meaning. The reading, done with a “spread” of the cards, tells them a narrative story “on the fly”. There is no need for them to be spiritual or be converted to a spiritual path for the reading to be effective.

Almost always the reading is effective.  Mostly it is effective because tarot and oracle card decks are extremely well-designed, both structurally and artistically.  They embody common themes of human experience in imaginative and creative ways, which even a skeptic can appreciate.