The tarot often shows up in movies, television shows, song lyrics, and novels. It has, in recent years, shown up in the scene of crimes, theatrical works, museum gift shops, and video games. Many of these instances (except perhaps, creative drama or thoughtful television), perpetuate a rather outdated view of tarot; a view that limits tarot to the realm of the occult, or mystical, or perhaps simply, the frivolous. Characters who use tarot are often involved in darker arts or religious practices, or they might be immature emotionally, asking questions that prove shallowness and gullibility.
These portrayals miss the point. Sure, there are those who believe the tarot is a form of direct and unmistakeable communication with the divine, those who use tarot out of selfishness or the desire to have power over others, and those who limit their use of cards to focus on rather trivial issues in their personal lives. But there are also those who see the cards as a way of looking within, in a quest to know themselves more deeply, become better people, and ultimately to help improve the world they live in.
It is this latter group that I believe is pushing the popularity of tarot today. When it comes down to it, all else aside, I use tarot because it offers me another view - I can find insight in a book, or a film, in a comment made by a friend ... and tarot is not much different. Every card begs a response, can provoke contemplation, and can inspire insight, through interaction with it. Simply put, the tarot makes me think.
If we approach the tarot forgetting - or just putting aside - all we have seen in such portrayals, we will find something much like a book, a very good book. Certainly, it is not difficult to see that we learn about ourselves through the books we read. As we reflect on the characters, we often see how their qualities also exist within us. When we empathize with them, we learn about our own response to the world. When we read about places or events, we find what makes us tick - we find dreams and fears. With the tarot, the plot is our own, and the characters key to our own story.
Today, the benefits of tarot used as a tool of self-discovery are becoming clear. It is being used by counselors and therapists, and indeed, many tarot readers - or consultants - are being turned to in a similar capacity. Clients often look for deeper insight about their lives, and ideas for making positive change. They are turning to the cards in a very proactive way, not with the excited hand-wringing so often seen in media portrayals.
I do sometimes like to think of tarot in the way it is presented in the 1998 movie The Red Violin
. It is a lush movie in which a housekeeper in seventeenth century Italy reads a few cards for the young married woman she works for. She slowly turns the cards over throughout the movie, each card mysteriously pointing to a future period for the younger woman. The cards tell beautiful and evocative stories, that take the woman's spirit through several lifetimes of joy and sadness.
Although this depiction focuses largely on fortune-telling, it also speaks of the simplicity of turning to the cards for direct answers or guidance, which is indeed something we can do today, without any intention of predicting the future. The tarot used today can prove to be highly practical, while satisfying a need to call upon the intuitive, spiritual, or psychological, as well.
Photo: scene from The Red Violin
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021