A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: tarot

09 August 2005
I agree completely with your comments on tarot.

I have had more readings than anyone else I know and have seen more psychics and clairvoyants than I care to remember. Due to my own naivety and stupidity, I have spent thousands of pounds [£] on this belief system and ruined aspects of my life and relationships in the process. Not only is tarot a fallacy and cannot predict the future, it is a dangerous tool if you let it get under your skin. Keep up the good work, I wish there were more people like you on the Internet rebuffing this idiocy.

Kind regards,
Mary Thomas, Staffordshire, UK

reply: Even though tarot, astrology, Ouija boards, and other such nonsense are idiotic from the point of view of what is actually known about how the world works, they are worth studying if only to learn more about how the mind works. By investigating this nonsense I've gained a world of knowledge about confirmation bias, cold reading, magical thinking, shoehorning, subjective validation, and a host of other cognitive illusions.

30 May 1998
…regarding tarot cards -- I have a deck and have done readings for fun, and been astounded by the results. M.A.s, M.S.W.s, R.N.s, M.D.s, and PhDs, despite being told that the cards have no power and neither do I, still manage to make the cards fit their lives, no matter the mental contortions necessary. Or, they just refuse to have their cards read, for fear of evil spirits or some undefined connection with Satan. I suppose the joke's on me, for having thought an education necessarily created a more critical mind.

Your dictionary is a wonderful thing. Many thanks for having created it (my jaw literally dropped open while reading the firewalking entry).

What a great job you've done on this dictionary! It has taken me several days to read through it, and I will be back.

I must agree with a recurring theme of yours - how fervently people want to believe even the lamest crap you can imagine. Years ago, I used to read tarot cards. I always told people that these were just pieces of paper and that this was just a party trick. It didn't matter. I was informed repeatedly that I did not have to be a believer myself for the spirits to channel through me. I could not convince them that I was a fake. I finally quit bringing my cards to Halloween parties because people refused to NOT believe in me.

Keep up the good work.
Leslie Steach

18 Apr 1998
If you're interested in (an attempt at) a critical history of occult tarot for use as a reference, check out A Wicked Pack of Cards by Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1996).

The lords/ladies/servants titles are not seen on the more popular tarot decks today.  The agriculture/warriors/clergy/commerce attributions are also somewhat out of line with the notions popular among most tarot practitioners today.

Suits in playing cards most likely antedate tarot.  It's probably not accurate to say that today's 52-card deck was derived from tarot.  (See Decker/Depaulis/Dummett, preface p. ix.)

Although exact details of the origin of tarot are not available, it most likely originated in Italy around the early 1400s.  Cartomancy in western Europe doesn't appear to have been popular until long after that; tarot was mainly a game for some time before it was popular for fortune-telling. (See Decker/Depaulis/Dummett, p. 47.)

Cards can be used as a projective test--as an ambiguous stimulus.  Our minds often languish in iterative thought patterns, and a tool of divination can be used as a jolt to suggest other approaches to the matter at hand, as suggested by the I Ching's subtitle ("The Book of Changes").  Of course, many users of divination tools don't see it this way at all, and instead impute fantastic powers to their tools.
Tom Ace

reply: I don't doubt that cards, sticks or ink blots can be used as a projective test. Nor do I doubt that such items could be used to jolt the imagination. I just think there are better ways to go about the task of understanding and stimulating ourselves.


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