Maybe you've been reading the cards awhile or perhaps you just started - whatever boat you're in, have you ever stopped to consider why or how the cards work? The truth is, no one can tell you for certain, but I have a few theories which we'll get to in a moment! In fact, I believe all of the following ideas to be contributing factors as to why/how a tarot reading works. This means that there doesn't have to be just one answer and it also means that this is in no way a conclusive list. These theories may ring true for you or you may have your own ideas that explain how tarot works and that is all perfectly acceptable and valid.
So, without further ado, I'll now present you with 4 reasons that may explain why/how tarot works.
1. Help From "Above”
Whether it's "god", our higher self, our ancestors, spirit guides or another voice beyond the veil, many believe that working with tarot is a way of inviting in a connection with otherworldly sources. This may mean that these entities have a means to manipulate the cards we receive and it may also mean that they have a way of delivering messages regarding what those cards mean. When I read, I always call in my own spiritual team to assist. I believe their presence helps aid and guide my session and I make it very clear that the input I receive should only be from those approved sources. I'm not especially concerned about dark entities and I've never had a negative experience, but I think intention setting is important and so I like to add these caveats to my opening meditations.
2. Subconscious Triggers
What we perceive in any given moment is only a fraction of what is happening around us; both in our observable and unobservable environment. Our brains have a way of filtering out the noise (or what it deems unnecessary) and focusing in on what it thinks requires our attention. For this reason, we take in, but aren't consciously aware of a hell of a lot of data. Part of the magic of tarot may lie in its ability to bring back to the surface the stuff you've...stuffed away. Let me provide an example. Let's say you work in a busy environment and there is always lots of chatter going on around you. At any given time, you can probably only effectively focus on one conversation at at time. But, what happens to all that background noise? While you may not be zeroed in on it at the time, are the words stored somewhere? Let's assume they are. Now, you go home and you do a reading for yourself about career. In that reading, you uncover that there may be a new lucrative opportunity available to you very soon. You have no idea what it could be, but the cards are clearly indicating that something may be happening. This could be a message straight from the divine or perhaps a nugget of information that your subconscious picked up on and tucked away. Because your awareness wasn't focused on it, you assume this tarot reading is revealing new information when in fact, it simply triggered a knowing that your subconscious had previously recorded.
3. The Collective Unconscious
The Collective Unconscious, a term coined by Carl Jung, is the idea that we, as a collective, are unconsciously led by archetypes, symbolism and past influences (that of our ancestors) which connect and bind us as a species. This means that our past is inextricably linked with our present as it is with our future. And, if that is the case, then seeing the future may be a natural extension of remembering the past and experiencing the present. Tarot can help us tap into this by utilizing symbols and archetypes that are meaningful to us, and thereby activating our knowing and understanding of these collective records. Think of it in terms of inter-connectivity if that makes it easier. If we can accept that we are all connected then we must be able to access information that is above and beyond what we have personally experienced. This may also explain why we can read for others and not just for ourselves.
4. Quantum Mechanics
Could the answer actually lie in an area of science that we're (while still exploring) already familiar with? While I don't believe that intuition can be properly explained or tested by science at the moment, there may be some connection between what was uncovered during the popular double slit experiment and what cards are revealed in a tarot reading. Similar to Schrödinger's Cat, the double slit experiment suggests that until observed, a thing may occupy any number of states (perhaps multiple at the same "time") and it is not until that thing is observed, by consciousness, that it settles on what it will be. This has suggested to many that consciousness, then in fact, creates reality. I mean, we've heard it for a long time in the spiritual and new age community, and the Seth books were some of the earliest iterations of this idea. So with all this in mind, a card that we cannot see, by this theory, has not decided what card it will be until we, as the observer, turn it over to view it. This may remove the issue of randomness if consciousness has some say in what reality we're about to experience. And as the acting observer, who has asked a pointed question and created intent, might that be enough to manifest the desired result (being the answer to our question)? Like all the theories above this one, I have no proof either way - but it's an interesting thought!
So, how do you think tarot works? If you've got your own theory, I'd love to hear it in the comments! There are no right or wrong answers - simply what we believe. And if we believe it, and it works for us, then that is all that matters in the end.