This content was published: February 19, 2019. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Beyond Fortune-Telling: Reading Tarot for Self-Knowledge and Personal Development.
Claire Burgess, Community Education
Most people know of Tarot as the deck of illustrated cards used by fortune-tellers, lumping it into a category with crystal balls and Ouija boards as something of either supreme psychic magic or questionable accuracy. By some, it’s dismissed as a charlatan’s trick, and by others, it’s revered as an ancient mystical artifact holding the secrets to life. And the truth is that Tarot might be all of these things—depending on who’s shuffling the deck. But for me, and for the many people who use Tarot in their everyday lives, Tarot is an essential reflective tool, a comforting companion, and an unlimited channel to self-knowledge and personal development.
Tarot, in my view, isn’t a crystal ball that tells the future. Instead, it’s a practical (which is not to say it isn’t magical) tool for self-discovery, healing, and empowerment. When we pull Tarot cards and read them, what we’re really doing, on some level, is reflecting on our lives and how they match up with our desires. In doing so, we incorporate our personal mythologies, our stories of self, and all the data from our pasts in order to help us understand the present. From this vantage point, we can then see our likely trajectory based on our habits and patterns, our strengths and weaknesses, our action and inaction, our decisions. The Tarot helps us access these insights so we can decide to change, grow, accelerate, pause—whatever it takes to shift our paths for our betterment.
That’s why Tarot has earned a reputation for fortune-telling: because it works. Tarot tells the future because it guides us to our own agency. It equips us with self-knowledge and a bunch of reality checks and wake-up calls. It empowers us in the present to enact the future we desire.
One of the ways that the Tarot achieves this is by encouraging reflection, and the other is by reconnecting us to our intuition—a skill inherent in all of us, but one that we’ve been taught so thoroughly to ignore. The Tarot does this, I think, by speaking to us in the language of intuition, a tongue of symbols and images, archetypes and narrative, colors and numbers, and all the other elements of tarot which speak to us individually and collectively. But it’s not necessary to be a 9th Level High Priestess (no, really—I made that up) in order to read and understand the cards, and that’s because, aside from the arcane glyphs and the mythological references, what the Tarot really does is show us a story we already know: the story of ourselves. We just haven’t read that story closely enough yet.
So, maybe Tarot can be used to tell the future, but reading to know our fates is, in truth, not using the Tarot to its full capacity. Sure, we can cast some cards and get an idea of what will happen tomorrow. But more powerful and far more useful than that is pulling cards to get an idea of how we, ourselves, are causing those events of tomorrow—or, better yet, how we can heal our negative patterns and shift our behaviors in order to effect the futures we want to see. So Tarot’s most magical ability is not in telling us the future. It’s in helping us create it.
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Claire Burgess (they/she) is a professional tarot reader, tarot teacher, writer, podcaster, and artist, among other things. They teach two tarot classes at PCC’s Cascade campus: the in-depth 4-week course “Tarot: the Art & Skill of Intuitive Reading,” and the 1-day introductory workshop “The Mysterious Tarot.”