Tarot "Rules" and Misconceptions
Anything that has been around for decades, if not centuries, is bound to carry with it traditions of history and ideas about it’s best use. Tarot is no exception and through the years, all sorts of folks have applied their best practices to this particular form of divination. With that in mind, this article is less about dispelling myths, but rather a way for me to express my thoughts on ideas that have been passed down through the years and to offer some explanation as to why or why not they apply to my daily practice.
The first thing to remember is tarot, even with all it’s form and structure, is still an evolving, free-flowing entity. Thousands of people have learnt their creative energies to come up with modern takes on classic components. Tarot is personal, it is your own and it is what you make of it. So take what works, edit the salvageable and throw out the rest. Rules are meant to be broken but they’re also intended to encourage ritual which breeds habit which can, for many readers, be a very useful part of their practice (more on this later).
So let’s waste no more time and get right into some of the common rules and conceptions that exist; I bet you’ve already heard of a few!
#1: A Deck Should Be Gifted, Not Bought: I hear this one still from time-to-time. Perhaps this is my own conception but I find it tends to come from people who are more prone to superstition. They’re the same folks who say you should only purchase a new deck once a year, no more, if you must purchase one at all. I actually think this rule is just plain bad advice. If you’re new to tarot, spending a decent amount of time researching the topic is highly recommended. Heck, I wrote a whole article about it! Gifted decks are wonderful things and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from buying one for me (*wink wink*). However, for the new student who really needs to be able to grasp key concepts, I really encourage that you spend time understanding the different types available and selecting one you feel and think will work best for you. Also, let’s get real, who wants to wait around for someone to hand them a tarot deck? If I did that, I would have never even gotten started! The whole gift idea is way too passive for my liking. If you want something, make like the Knight of Wands and go out there and get it! Full speed ahead!
#2: Never Ask the Same Question Twice: Rules are meant to be broken but for this piece of advice, I actually think there is a fair deal of merit to it. Asking the same deck of cards the same question over and over in the same sitting won’t create bad “mojo”, bad karma or back luck and you aren’t going to piss your deck off. With that being said, I think what will happen is you will start to create a lack of confidence in yourself which will potentially carry over into every read you do. Asking the same question twice has everything to do with the level of trust you have with yourself and your own intuition. By discarding a reading and immediately asking the same question again, what you’re saying to yourself (programming, if you want to think of it that way) is “I don’t trust my instinct, I’m not able to adequately interpret cards, I can’t do this.” I always say that it’s better to misinterpret altogether than to continually ask. If you misinterpret but still trusted yourself in that process, then you can grow from the experience and be better for it. If you’re keeping a journal, you’ll be able to go back and reflect on the hits and misses and for the misses, make notes about what did transpire and how you could have approached that reading differently. I believe asking the same question over and over creates an uncertain and ill-trusting energy. And whenever we do this, we’re flexing our intuitive muscle and telling it: “hey, you’re not that strong!”. Guess what? If that’s the message it’s receiving, that’s what it will ultimately believe! Go into a reading open and trusting, and even if that means you don’t like the outcome or it didn’t pan out; don’t sweat it! Believe in yourself; that is the only rule that need apply!
#3: Never Read for Yourself: I think this rule must be based in the idea that a self-read is a biased-read and there is, of course, some level of truth to this. If I am incredibly attached to a particular situation, I might be hesitate to do a reading for myself on that topic. This is because I may be heavily invested in a particular outcome and may feel blocked if I see something contrary. If though, I am confident I can remove myself from the outcome I desire and the message in the cards, then I might give it a whirl. But this is a special situation and certainly not all questions will be so controversial. For the majority of reads, especially daily or general ones, reading for yourself is an excellent exercise and if you’re starting out then you can’t always rely on friends or family for practice! It doesn’t have to be for purely divination purposes either. Tarot is an excellent way to “speak” with yourself and your unconscious on an emotional or spiritual level. You’ll probably be surprised at just how deeply you can connect to your own psyche once those intuitive juices start flowing.
#4: A Happy Deck is a Deck Dressed in Silk: This is one of those rules that I first heard when I was 10 years old and got my first deck. Surprisingly, I still hear it every so often to this day. I think this is one of those rules that we can just go ahead and throw right out the proverbial window. Your deck is your deck and how you dress it should be entirely based on your aesthetics and your beliefs on the best way to care for it. If you want to use a poly-blend scarf; go for it! If you want to knit a colourful bag; awesome! If you want to buy your deck a box or *gasp* keep it in it’s original one; more power to you! Your deck, your energy, your choices. If you feel good about those choices, that is all that matters. Personally, I keep the decks that I use the most in bags of various fabrics and colours that I think match in style. My Wizards deck has a blue and gold motif and so I keep it in a metallic gold drawstring bag. As far as silk goes, I stay far away from it because of how it’s derived. You’ll also never see me with anything leather or suede for the same principal applies). At the end of the day, if it feels good for you, do it. Your deck will be happy and balanced if you are and that’s the bottom line.
#5: You Need to be "psychic" to Read: This is true only in the sense that everyone is psychic to some degree. So if this is a rule, then guess what, you apply! The great thing about tarot is even if you think you have not an intuitive bone in your body, tarot it is a tool that will assist you in developing these abilities. Even if you never become a full blow psychic-medium (and let’s assume you won’t), tarot can be wonderfully insightful and easy for anyone to read who is willing to put in the time and practice. We aren’t all born with the ability to play piano, and some of us take to it easier than others, but we all have the ability to learn and it’s really up to you how far to take it. The truth is, no matter where you’re at in your intuitive development, sky’s the limit!
There you have it. 5 common rules and conceptions that plague the tarot community and possibly stop those from ever getting started. I didn’t even touch on the belief that tarot is the “devil’s tool” because I like to think we’ve gotten past that one by now. However, if we’re still stuck there then let me say this: tarot is no more the “devil’s tool” than the spatula in your kitchen. Tools are just that and they are also neutral. It’s what we do with those tools that frame their use. Working from the light, as we are, means we have nothing to fear. Fear is in the mind of the beholder and often holds us back. And remember, the feeling of fear is often scarier than the thing we think we’re afraid of.
So get out there and break some rules! But while you’re at it, make some too! Rules can be a more rigid word for “rituals” and rituals are wildly useful when it comes to tarot practice. This might mean using a particular alter cloth, lighting candles, or placing a handful of crystals on the table you’re working at. Rituals help to get us into the “right” frame of mind. They are a way of saying to the universe: “OK, I was just doing the dishes but now I’m laying out my cloth and setting up my incense and my energy is shifting during this process, simply for the act of doing it.”
I encourage you to find what works for you and similarly what doesn’t and don’t pay much heed to the rules of others. Like I stated at the beginning, tarot is a personal practice and you’re going to get out of it whatever you put in. That means that whatever rules you believe are the rules which apply and whatever rules you apply become the ritual to a very magickal and unique practice. Let’s make it an enjoyable one!