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(That and other stories I allude to here, can be read in more detail in this long spiritual memoir – which is kind of outdated but still relevant.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