If you read tarot cards, chances are good that sooner or later you’ll encounter someone who harbors a healthy skepticism regarding your practice.
Chances are also good that sooner or later you’ll encounter someone who is openly hostile to your practice.
This is an important distinction to make, because in the first case, you can have a constructive and oftentimes eye-opening discussion that may leave both people walking away with new knowledge and open-mindedness.
In the second case, there is often little chance to have any sort of open discourse or dialogue, and the encounter may turn into something that feels like a personal attack or leaves you on the defensive.
People use tarot cards for a wide variety of reasons. If you are publicly open about your use of the cards, you should be prepared to explain how and why you use them.
When you run into someone who questions your use of the cards with genuine curiosity but also a dose of healthy skepticism, welcome it as a chance to explain your practice as well as an opportunity to establish your thoughts and values surrounding your practice.
Here are a few traps that readers often fall into when they encounter someone who is skeptical or even hostile about use of the tarot:
1. Taking up a defensive position and trying to convert/defend/justify
There’s no reason you should feel the need to convince anyone of the worth and value of your practice. If you are confident in the worth and value of the practice for yourself (and for your clients if you work with others), you don’t need to go on the defensive. This can be difficult if your practice is personally meaningful to you, because you may feel as if it, and as a result you, are being attacked — but that’s usually not the case. Many people are simply curious (and perhaps even a bit scared, given the often derogatory and ridiculous pop culture notions that surround the practice of cartomancy).
It can sometimes happen that you may not really know exactly how to respond to a person’s skeptical questions, and that in and of itself can lead to you feeling defensive. Treat that “not knowing” as an opportunity to further explore your ideas, to eventually reach a place where you can articulate them with clarity and confidence.
2. Saying things you don’t really understand or believe in
There’s a lot of New Age woo-woo surrounding occult practices, and if you don’t know where you stand in terms of the popular opinions around tarot, you may begin saying things you don’t even really understand or believe in. Are the cards powered by supernatural forces or spirits? Are the cards merely an exercise in creating interesting narratives? What’s the point of looking at images, anyways? Where do the messages come from? If you don’t know your own answer to these questions, and aren’t sure where you stand, say so. There are as many explanations for how tarot works as there are readers. Make sure the one you’re espousing is truthful for you, otherwise you’re digging yourself into a hole.
3. Trying to use the cards to “prove” they work
Hard-core skeptics may want you to give them a reading, inviting you to “prove” to them the cards “work”, often to give them the opportunity to tell you all the specific reasons why they don’t. Taking a skeptic up on this invitation may feel tempting if you have seen benefits of the practice of reading cards for yourself and others. However, before you blindly fall into this sort of situation, consider the querent’s motives. A person who is absolutely convinced that the practice of reading cards is ridiculous and without value isn’t likely to be converted by your reading. They don’t need you to provide them with a reading in order to convince them of what they already believe. Once again, if the practice is valid for you, there’s no reason you need to convince anyone else.
And what might the cards have to say about all this? Let’s ask, shall we?
What do the cards have to say in response to tarot skeptics?
7 of Swords – 3 of Pentacles – 4 of Wands
With the 7 of Swords we are looking at someone who is trying to get away with something they know they shouldn’t – looking over their shoulder and tip-toeing away. A lot of skeptics most likely see tarot readers this way – perhaps their hostility comes from the idea that they believe tarot is a complete scam and that the reader is trying to cheat people or get away with something shady without being “found out” – hence this need to push and prod and poke to “break” the reader into admitting that he or she is pulling a fast one.
In the 3 of Pentacles we see three people having a discussion about a practical and tangible project and goal. I often tell people this card is three people who each want something that’s of primary importance to them based on their role in the collective, but it will be impossible to reach an overall end goal if everyone insists solely on their own need or viewpoint. (In this case, the building of a cathedral in which the architect perhaps wants the most aesthetically pleasing or impressive structure, but whose plan may not be easy for builders to build or in line with the religious congregation’s values or image; the builder wants the best and perhaps most costly or easy-to-work-with materials, which may not coincide with the architect’s aesthetic vision or the monk’s budget; and the monk wants the best place for worship and community in line with his religion’s tenets, which may run directly counter to any architectural or technical considerations.)
So you see here a down-to-earth discussion that requires a collaborative effort as well as a bit of conceding on each person’s part, a bit of give-and-take in order to arrive at the overall goal. Here then, the cards show us what could potentially come out of an encounter with a skeptical person. If each person is willing to meet the other where they’re at, some sort of work-around or at least understanding can be found in order to arrive at the overall goal. In the case of a discussion regarding tarot skepticism, this goal may simply be deeper knowledge or understanding about the cards on the part of both people, reader and skeptic.
Finally, we see the 4 of Wands, a card of clear victory where two people appear to be raising bouquets overhead, beyond what appears to be some sort of threshold that looks like a finish line. Fours are also indicative of stability, much like a table or chair with four legs provides stability for the surface. This card indicates that victory can be had if you feel stable about where you’re at in terms of your practice and your stance on it.
If you can recognize perhaps where the skeptic is coming from (how he or she may view you and your practice, re: 7 of Swords) it can help you be less defensive and explain, if you wish to, the concrete ways you’re not that shady character; perhaps even leading to a deeper and more collaborative meeting of the minds (3 of Pentacles); which ultimately can produce a feeling of having had a productive encounter (4 of Wands).
Here are some more thoughts on this topic:
Tarot author and reader Benebell Wen: Is Tarot Reading Bullshit?
Thorn Mooney, The Tarot Skeptic
Tarot Ninja, Tarot Skeptics and How To Talk To Them