In Which I Discuss Being a Christian and Also Using Tarot and Oracle Cards

There once was a gal who read tarot
Who was also on path, straight and narrow
Some folks they a-hurried, and wrote her, so worried
That God would smite her with His arrow

(a morning spread with two tarot decks and 3 oracle decks)

Note: comments are turned off for my depth year posts. Please email me if you’d like to talk 🙂

As I write through the depth year, there will be references to and drawings of tarot and oracle cards. If you are a Christian this will probably disturb you and you might write to me (as people have in the past) concerned because you think I am messing with the occult and opening up doors for Satan to take control of my life. I’m not sure whether this post will convince you otherwise, but it will clarify my own thoughts about it and also keep me from having to answer this question numerous times. 

So, this is kind of a long story.

Even though I have been a Christian for almost 23 of my 51 years and am a Jew by birth, I do have a history with what can only be called “paganism lite”, which began when I was about 9. My mother owned that 70s classic, The Modern Witch’s Spellbook, and used 

a literal death spell
involving a spider 
and a pin
to try
to get rid of
my first stepfather 

(That and other stories I allude to here, can be read in more detail in this long spiritual memoir – which is kind of outdated but still relevant.

I grew up in the 80s in wacky Southern California, where “alternative spiritualities” were a thing long before they went mainstream, and in my very early 20s I stuck my big toe into their murky waters just a bit. I read The Mists of Avalon, watched Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell discuss “the power of myth” and became immersed in woman-focused woo during my first pregnancy – when of course, I was manifesting the Mother Goddess. My first experience with tarot was in that Natural Mother phase; I had the round Motherpeace feminist deck, but neither the deck nor tarot itself gripped me at the time. Oddly, I still have two handmade tarot cards that I don’t remember making. I also had a friend who practiced a kind of nouveau Norse paganism. She read runes and I was present at her ritual where a sacred circle was drawn and the four elements were invoked.

I think the reason that none of this really “took” for me was because I had read a lot about Orthodox Judaism in my late teen years, and even while I was into paganism lite, I had a fantasy of becoming an observant Jew. A lot of my Jewish influence ran towards the liberal reform variety (meaning that the people might even be atheists, but involved with Jewishness for the sake of community and identity) but I knew instinctively that this God of the Jews in all His power was the only God – if indeed there was a God at all.

Fast forward a few years, and I was dramatically converted to Christianity one night – after having sworn my entire life that I would never be a Christian. For maybe a decade I stayed away from a lot of things (including my lifelong interest in psychology and personality) that might possibly be outside the pale of reformed theology. I was even one of those people who wouldn’t let my kids read Harry Potter (but I think that was more peer pressure from all my online friends who wouldn’t, rather than a deep conviction against it – and eventually I gave in and they have all read it numerous times) We also had this really cool paper mache mask that I think was a giraffe, but my husband made me get rid of it because he thought it looked like a devil goat. 

At some point in my 40s (which were a pretty miserable time for me) I realized that the world God had created was a lot more mysterious than most Christians are willing to admit. That doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t true or that there are other ways to be saved than through the work of Christ (I am a full-on Five Point Calvinist). But it does mean that the Bible doesn’t tell us a lot of things about the world or about ourselves apart from the story of sin and salvation. Now yes, I know that is the most important thing there is to know, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t A WHOLE LOT that technically doesn’t fit into that category, and I was sick and tired of the various forms of legalism that tried to shove it all under a tacky Christian-themed rug. 

In about 2013 (thanks mostly to Mockingbird Ministries) I finally internalized that I wasn’t saved by my works and was, in fact, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This was a huge relief because I had always struggled to keep my weirdness in check around other Christians. There had long been small cracks in my Christian facade and they were getting bigger – in fact a few pieces had already come out. Thankfully God knows about that Japanese thing where they put broken stuff together using gold. After He did that with me, I felt free again, and able to be myself and also be a Christian. 

(a drawing from my manually typewritten journal)

Note: I hate anything that is a Christian hybrid with anything else, or which redefines Christian words to mean something other than their proper orthodox meaning. So I don’t like authors like Richard Rohr who, I think, are reinterpreting Christianity to fit into non-Christian philosophies. I take my Christianity straight and my non-Christianity straight. I also hate things which are technically theologically correct but which boil down to self-improvement techniques. I also take my self-improvement straight and don’t want it mixed with my Christianity, because that dilutes the law/gospel distinction. 

That said:

After being glued together by God, the first disapproved-by-most-Christians thing I got into was Buddhist ideas, usually interpreted by Western practitioners (not Buddhism lite, since these were serious practitioners). I had already been reading writer and zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg for years, but in 2015 I branched out and started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tara Brach, Sylvia Boorstein, Toni Bernhard and others. Thankfully I did have one other Christian friend (a PCA minister) who was way more deeply into Asian Buddhism than I will probably ever be – so I wasn’t totally alone. Then in early 2017, I discovered Jordan Peterson, and he reignited my lost love for psychology and personality, and all the deep things which are real but difficult to articulate. 

This is where tarot and oracle cards enter the picture.

(temperance card from the illuminated tarot)

I heard Jordan talking about archetypes (as Joseph Campbell had so many years before on PBS) and somehow came across a deck by Caroline Myss called Archetype cards. In trying to understand myself, I had been identifying what I called my alter-egos for years, and I always thought they were something like archetypes, so this was interesting and something I related to – how I could have different aspects of my personality that may be somewhat “universal”. And even though I am a creative person and somewhat “artistic”, I don’t consider myself to be imaginative and I have always had difficulty with visual “symbolism”, so I liked these cards because they didn’t have a lot of that. But they were kind of limiting and not very nuanced to use them alone.

Also, the collector in me is rarely happy with one of anything, so I started looking for some other cards that didn’t have stupid looking art or an overly “you are magical” feel – which honestly, most tarot cards do. I found The Byzantine Tarot first, which I liked because it had Christian symbolism and art inspired by early mosaics. 

This is a good time to break in and say how and why I USE these cards. The main complaint I’ve heard from Christians is that using the cards equals practicing divination, or calling up spirits or something like that. I’m not well versed in the history of tarot cards, but using them for some kind of ouija board fortune telling is a very recent development (before that they were just, well, card games) and I use them in my journaling practice as a kind of prompt. It helps me to think outside the box about my life.

I do not assume that God is “giving me a word” in these cards in any type of prophetic sense. But I also do not assume that He would never speak to me through them, like he regularly does through books we read, music we hear, people we talk to, or experiences we deem “providential”.

This is also a good time to give a brief overview of what a tarot deck IS. It is a deck of 78 cards, with 22 “major arcana” and 56 “minor arcana”. The major arcana are more overtly “archetypal”, with cards like The Empress (mother archetype, nature and the good and bad side of that), the Tower (having foundations crumble and so descent into the underworld – in Jordan Peterson terms) and The Moon (the shadow, dreams, intuition). The minor arcana come in four suits just like modern playing cards – cups, swords, coins (or pentacles) and wands (or staffs) – which correspond to the hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs we all know. There are 10 numbered cards and four court cards in each suit, and each suit also corresponds to an element – cups/water, swords/air, coins/earth and wands/fire.

(king of cups from the crow tarot)

Simplified:

Cups correspond to emotion, relationships, intuition 

Swords to thoughts, power, conflict and truth

Coins to the physical world and money

Wands to creativity, ideas, passions

I’m not going to go into that in any more detail; this isn’t a post about tarot cards themselves. But in my almost 3 years of working with them, I have seen that with all their diversity, they correspond well to the human condition. I especially like that I have to dig a little bit sometimes to see how I might find myself in a particular card – It’s easy to see myself in The Empress, I mean being the archetypal mother has been my life for almost 30 years. But the Knight of Swords????

At first I absolutely did not get the symbolism in the pictures. I would look at the cards and they wouldn’t mean anything to me until I read the book description – as I said, I am not very visual or imaginative or versed in the symbolic language of art and literature. Plus the numbers themselves have certain connotations – for example the aces are about beginnings or opportunities, fives have an instability element and tens are the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. It’s easy for us modern Christians to dismiss things like “numerology” as occultish, but the Bible itself is full of numbers that have some symbolic meaning. Three, seven and 666 come to mind. So while the tarot numbers aren’t prophetic in a God sense, they make sense when thinking of how life is. We all face opportunities, instability and the ending and beginning of things.

Over the past three years I have acquired a LOT of different decks, and I don’t think I would have come to understand the cards if I had stopped at one deck or one guidebook. I have also gotten a few decks that aren’t technically tarot cards, which are called oracle decks. I have a few decks that are based on the iching, one that is based on the phases of the moon, an archetype deck (which I ADORE) that is different from my original one, plus a deck based on Jewish mysticism (which despite my Jewishness, I really do not like).

I have a morning routine/ritual which consists of my cafe latte, my two favorite devotionals (Nailed It and The Mockingbird Devotional) and a three-card reading which usually consists of an iching card, a tarot card, and an archetype card. If I have time and if the reading really stands out to me, I will write a bit about it in my journal or on the typewriter. Sometimes I draw the cards with ink and watercolor, which is good because I want the practice but can have a hard time thinking of what to draw. It’s also fun to see how even copying something, “my style” comes through.

(the fool from tarot de maria celia)

I don’t know if I would have thought to do a depth year if I hadn’t seen how much understanding I developed with regular (but not excessive) time with the cards. One day, maybe 6 months ago, I drew the cards and had my own interpretation of them BEFORE I opened the books. I did not realize that was happening.

Anyway, circling back to being a Christian and using tarot cards, I think this is a Romans 14 issue. I know that these are just decks of cards that, for me as an introspective person, somehow captures the complicated nature of being human. They are more open ended than the mostly boring and limited kind of journal prompts you see in books or online. They don’t scare me, I don’t believe they are evil or linked to Satan, and my conscience is clear about using them. I’m not saying that no one uses them in a way that is occultish, of course they do. But like any other inanimate thing they have no “power”. Just as a statue of an idol is really NOTHING, so a Christian may eat meat that has been sacrificed to it. The meat has not been contaminated, it’s still just meat. 

The flip side of that is, of course, that I AM NOT suggesting that you should just throw aside what your conscience says about tarot cards, or about reading books by Buddhists, or even about watching a television show like Buffy which I love, but which might disturb you because it’s full of vampires and demons. I don’t think your concerns are silly or something you should “get over”. Romans 14:23 says, “If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning”. But the same chapter says in verse 22, “You (here meaning me) may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God”. I never would have thought to even write this post if I hadn’t had at least five people express concern to me about it. What I hope is that we can “accept each other as Christ has accepted (us); then God will be glorified”.

The Depths of a Year 2020

(I have found that communicating in the public forums of social media and blog comments do not foster depth of communication for me, so comments are turned off. I would be happy to talk to you via email though.)

This year is dedicated to the memory of Ehren Starks, whose music broke me open in a new way in 2014. Providentially, one of his albums is titled The Depths of a Year

Thanks also to The Anadromist, whose videos have helped to reconnect me to the more human, less cynical part of myself that I thought I had lost, but thankfully it was just misplaced. The depth year is a way for me to return to living in time in a less mediated and less propagandized way.

There once was a gal, middle aged
Who from life had become disengaged
But she’ll see what life brings, doing everyday things
‘Stead of being online and outraged (see Depth Year Alphabetica below, letter L for Limericks)

Believe it or not, beginning a new personal-development scheme wasn’t even on my mind when I stumbled across the idea of a Depth Year. I had kind of unofficially sworn off personal development altogether – though I admit, I was kind of bored just living my life without playing lab rat for my controlling Inner Behaviourist (she and I have a kind of Stockholm Syndrome relationship). But I was also discouraged and exhausted from what she told me were my many failures in running previous self-improvement mazes. All I wanted to do was guzzle cocaine water from my feeder bottle and lay in the corner of my cage. 

Then I came out of my narcotic haze and remembered I wasn’t a rat, and that honestly, even though I have indeed failed sometimes in my lifelong quest for a “somewhat better life now” (my definition of which will become more defined as I write through the year) there have been some surprising (to me haha) successes as I have jumped onto a few “intentional living” bandwagons over the past half-decade. I have imperfectly but noticeably integrated into my life: 

  • What I thought was minimalism but which I now consider to be more Swedish death cleaning
  • mindful awareness
  • intermittent fasting and 
  • being “disconnected” from the media propaganda machine and social media circus.  

That doesn’t mean that there is no longer any need for serious tinkering with my life and/or personality and/or psyche. I have certainly NOT “arrived” as an enlightened being and I never expect to do so. But now that I am 51, I am ready to stop identifying so strongly with my failures and my many negative qualities. I really have learned some things over the years which have stuck, and my FAILED personal engineering experiments taught me a lot. Habits and skills that eluded me for decades have finally developed a bit, often in ways I didn’t expect or envision. 

Stephen Covey writes about the Personal Integrity Account, which is where you either deposit or withdraw from your trust in yourself. My PIA is overdrawn and has been for years, and you know depressing and scary it is when any of your accounts (tangible or intangible) get low – and it feels more so as I get older. But with my newfound Early Crone wisdom I can see that many withdrawals of the past came from my own unhealthy tendency to make plans and/or goals that work against my real temperament, which was just stupid. I unconsciously set myself up to fail. 

I also have been too tied to results rather than process, and too motivated by the desire to create a persona that was intelligent/interesting/talented/creative enough so that I felt like I was a worthy human by my general impressiveness-to-others factor. That persona has crashed and burned, and providentially I have kind of Phoenixed out of there. But Phoenix Me limps, is blind in one eye, and my left wing is immobile and featherless. So I have had to pare down to the bare essentials of who I really am and what I want to do with my time.

From one of my 2016 zines

Enter the Depth Year.

I was looking at something totally unrelated when I came across the Depth Year idea. I guess it originated with this article, which points out how we can be like crows collecting baubles, even though that appears to be a myth. Anyway, we flit from one interest to another, never delving deeply into any of them, and often spending a lot of money in the process and accumulating “stuff” that doesn’t really enhance our lives.  

(That isn’t fully true of me, there are several things I do in depth and have for many years. But I do get obsessions and interests that fade away and/or I overspend on and overconsume new (and not necessarily improved) information about my established pastimes).

So, at first I thought a Depth Year would just be mostly about my creative-type pursuits. But as I was using the alphabet as a scaffold to brainstorm my possible depth year, I saw that “depth” conjured up not only hobbies and interests I had neglected or abandoned, but also some important time-bound tasks (meaning that my death draws ever nearer) and life changes that I have been unable or unwilling to make but for which I now feel “ready”, and also things that would be called “inner work”.

Depth Year Alphabetica (also my blog topics for the year)

A: Attitude, mine & Acrylic paintings in small Bible

B: Bookbinding for Etsy, bedtime reading & Bible copywork

C: Christian Focus Sundays

D: Death planning, delayed gratification & differentiating myself from those I admire

E: Exercise and eating, sustainable

F: Finances & Frugality

G: Guitar & gifts, handmade

H: Handlettering & Household management

I: Integration & congruence, personal

J: Journal signatures, bind completed from late 2017-2019

K: Kids, steward a learning/creative practice

L: Lunar Tracking, Limericks & Library curation

M: Minimum maintenance

N: Noble Eightfold Path Lite and Path of the Superior Person

O: Outside

P: Prayer beads and cards, make & piano 

Q: Questions, live the

R: Raw meals, repair what is broken & replace beloved children’s books

S: Snail Mail

T: Temperance

U: Uncomfortable feelings/situations, face & Undone projects, complete

V: Vitamins/supplements, video skills & vanity

W: Win/win, waiting on the Lord, wu wei/work clean & watercolor projects from Ana Calderon books

X: eXcavate through books/courses etc. that I already own

Y: “Yesterday’s” photos of the past, print

Z: Zine, at least one in 2020

I am flooded with relief as I look forward to a year where a lot of my decisions are kind of pre-made, within delineated boundaries that I have intentionally chosen. Decision-making on a day-to-day level is exhausting and I don’t necessarily trust myself to make “good choices” in the moment. I am still very much ruled by impulse. I also like that about half the things in my Alphabetica are more “practices” which don’t have “products” attached to them, and therefore don’t need to have hands-on time “penciled in” to a to-do list or schedule.

one of my blog posts about “productivity”

And yes, yes (my inner productivity junkie is poking me) a year is enough time to make “progress” without having to fit too much of anything into any one day or week – which for me is a trigger to rebel and say screw the whole damned plan. It was pleasantly surprising to see how far I had gotten into my two devotionals (The Mockingbird Devotional and Nailed It) just by reading one devotional each (most days) with my cafe latte. At the same time, getting through one-third of two devotionals in about four months is not very impressive in our get-more-done-in-less-time culture. But it really is a “deeper” experience for me, not rushing through the books in order to move on to the next one. I notice more in the text and think about it longer. That feels nourishing after 20+ “internet years” of shoveling “information” down my gullet so fast that it can’t be digested.

I keep thinking of the cliche, Hindsight is 2020, because this is 2020 and hindsight is part of depth. In hindsight, I see that the neurotic side of my intelligence has led to me thinking and overthinking everything to DEATH. That keeps me from enjoying things and is so bad for my nervous system. Mary Pipher wrote in her book Another Country that people are least alike in their thinking and most alike in their feelings. I do believe my thinking-focus and the attendant emotional repression developed as a necessary coping mechanism – but it has outlived its usefulness and has led me into ever more isolation from other people and from life.

I put up barriers between myself and others (in my younger years mostly) by starting unnecessary and potentially divisive debates with people about my pet subjects (of which there are many haha). Social media made that way too easy, of course. I used “intellectualism” (ironically I now admit to never really having an impressively developed intellect anyway, despite a fairly high IQ) as a way to protect myself from my wounds, my shadow, my vulnerability and from love. I have missed out on a lot in human terms because of being so head-focused. So hopefully my depth year will be an organically evolving time of living life rather than overthinking about it. If I drew a caricature of myself to show my “imbalances”, I would have this huge head which could no longer be supported by my small and neglected body (body of course representing the totality of my humanness and not my level of fitness or the beauty of my physique).

What I am discovering as I get older is that life itself is way more interesting than the IDEAS I have always had about life. Ideas for their own sake are starting to bore me and can never encompass what life really is. For me, living is somehow more enjoyable and more profound AND paradoxically, I am also more “effective” (in the ways most important to me) when I am just Hanging Out In Life (making and drinking my coffee, cleaning the kitchen, interacting with the actual humans in my life, learning things – basically tending to only what is within my circle of influence) instead of focusing overmuch on the philosophical “meaning of life” as put into words and/or on What Life and People Should Be Like In Order To Best Please ME.

Here are some quotes that have stood out to me recently, which hint at what I am trying to get at with my depth year:

“Notice the way God does things; then fall into line. Don’t fight the ways of God, for who can straighten what He has made crooked?” 

  • Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

This means that I am tired of bumping into reality. Reality always kicks my butt. I am ready to work with and not against: the human condition, my personality and all that entails, and the people in my life as they are and the circumstances of my life as they are.

“You have strayed from the path of the superior person. Reflect on your inner state and your external situation to determine how and why this digression has occurred. When you identify it, gather all your inner reserves to turn back to the path of light and abundant life. You will never be sorry for having strayed from the path or for returning to it. However, if you fail to turn back, you will sincerely regret it.”  

  • Hexagram 24:5 The i ching workbook by Wu Wei. Interestingly, Wu Wei is not a person but an idea which means “natural action, or action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort”. 

Of course, as a Christian, I know I have strayed from the path of the superior person – that’s why I need a savior. I have made an idol of personal development and like every idol, it really hasn’t delivered despite all my sacrifices – and I don’t have any more hearts to rip out and throw down into the pit. And I know from His word that the true God has prepared in advance good works that I should do (Ephesians 2:10) – so I am going to assume that I will indeed do them, despite all my faults, without struggle or excessive effort (this doesn’t mean that nothing will be hard…I’m sure I will elaborate on this as I write throughout the year). It’s an odd thing to say – don’t regret straying from the path – but straying from the path is what reminds you that you prefer to be on the path.

“In Zen we speak of living in vow. This means we attend wholeheartedly to the activities of daily life. When it is time to get up, we just get up. When it is time to wash the dishes, we wash the dishes…living in vow…is to carry out your routine with no sense of attempting to satisfy your individual desires. Under all circumstances, beyond your likes and dislikes, you have to carry on…the changes that occur through spiritual practice are not really your business. If you make them your business, you will try to change your life directly. If you try to change your life directly, no matter how long you work at it, you will not satisfy yourself. So, if you truly want to change your life, you should just form the routine of doing small things, day by day”. 

  • You Have to Say Something by Katagiri Roshi

And finally: “Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not created in the image of God for nothing.”

  • Robert Farrar Capon

I don’t yet understand how these ideas will play into a depth year or maybe a deeper experience of life as a whole. I do know that I am overthinking this post haha forgetting that I have a whole year (at least) to flesh them out in writing. Stay tuned if you want to “live the questions” (Depth Year Alphabetica, Letter Q) with me during 2020.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  • Rainer Maria Rilke