|I Google Super Witch, and this is what I get. Fitting, I suppose.|
Tarot reading is possibly the most famous form of divination. It is one of the first forms of fortune telling that comes to mind when one thinks of telling the future. I think of crushed velvet chairs and a lace doily covered table and some plump, ageless woman swooning over her patchouli scented incense and telling me how (for $45 every 15 minutes) I’m going to get very wealthy, but then lose it all in a phone hacking scandal involving my multi-quatillion dollar media conglomerate.
Oh wait…that’s not me.
Anyways, there’s something that inevitably comes up when someone talks about reading cards: energy. Just like with our magical tools, herbs, stones, left blinker light, and morning shower, every pagan with a deck of cards and a BuCunningWolf book will tell you that cards have energy. Not just any kind of energy, mind you, but the kind of energy so sensitive that a mere thought or passing touch can completely defile and skew the energy of said cards. Don’t believe me? Let me provide you some examples.
Situation One: Oh! Look! An unknown shiny!
Lady Fluffdumpster is entertaining her friend Silly Susan. Silly Susan notices a deck of seriously oversized cards and picks them up to look through them. Lady Fluffdumpster comes back from the kitchen where she was preparing cucumber and eye of newt finger sandwiches to see Silly Susan bemused over The High Priestess card. Lady Fluffdumpster drops her good Chinet plate, puts her hands to her face, and screams - a la Home Alone - “PUT THOSE DOWN! YOUR ENERGY IS GOING TO SCREW WITH MY DECK!” Silly Susan thinks Lady Fluffdumpster is making an odd sexual advance due to a misunderstanding of the final word and runs from the house in panic.
The Reason: Tarot Energy is Wimpy.
Just as with many magical tools, magical practitioners that freak out over someone touching their cards believe something along the lines of, “I have infused my personal energy into these cards, and if anyone else touches them I’ll have to reinfuse and/or burn the whole damn deck and start over.” That is to say, there is the thought that someone else, by touch (whether they know what the deck is or not) can influence the energetic power inherent in the personalized deck of cards. More on what this may or may not mean later.
Situation Two: What’s that you say?
Spellpopper Moonwench sits down for a super majyckal Tarot reading for her friend Questioning Quentin. Spellpopper gets all her incense smoke going, her crystals all in alignment, her candles lit in every corner of the room, and otherwise sets the scene for some serious future telling. She does some chanting (Ah-say-into-pie, Uppen-baby-uppen die! Get that song out of your head, now! HA!) Just as the first card is about to be laid out, Spellpopper Moonwench’s husbride Lillian Johnson Muggle pops in and says, “Hey [Spellpopper’s Real Name], I’m about to step out to the mall to pick up some sexy lingerie for our dirty Lebanese sex later. Need anything from town while I’m out?” Three things then happen: 1) Questioning Quentin understands why the New Age music Spellpopper Moonwench decided to play was k.d. lang. 2) Spellpopper Moonwench gets Lady Wood. 3) Spellpopper Moonwench becomes completely unfocused on the task at hand, puts her hands to her face - a la Home Alone - and screams “Sweet Melissa Etheridge on a biscuit, I can’t do a reading because I’ll influence the damn cards! AHHHHHHHHHHHHSEXYLINGERIEONMYWIFEAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!”
The Reason: You are a goldfish.
The thinking in situations like this, because who hasn’t been in this exact situation, is that magical practitioners - like the rest of society in 2011 - have barely enough attention span to read to the end of a 140 character tweet, let alone mentally multi-task. If your own train of thought strays from the task of reading the cards, you will influence the energy of the reading, or, if nothing else, your perception of the reading. More on how or why this is later.
Situation Three: I am Allergic to Deck.
Raven Rhiannon Morgan Moonqueen keeps her deck wrapped in 9 layers of white cloth locked in a willow wood box covered in crushed blue velvet. She gives readings on Mondays to the members of her Nighttime Moonblood Menstrual circle. However, each time a reading is given, she has to remove the crushed velvet cloth, unlock the padlock on her cards, and use her BBQ tongs to remove the deck, making sure to keep it at arm’s length. Then, she uses clothespins to grab the edges of the white cloths and slowly unravel them. Finally, she has the querent pull cards on the opposite end of a Bruce-Wayne’s-in-the-first-Batman-movie-sized table to ensure she does not touch, and has trouble even seeing, the cards. In fact, she’d prefer if she couldn’t see the cards, because then there would be no way for her personal energy or preconceived notions to affect the reading.
The Reason: You are the Most Powerful Witch Ever.
Witchy folks out there like to think, like in the first example, that everyone and everything has energy. If you touch my cards, you’ve screwed up the energy, but if I touch my own cards then I won’t be able to read for you, because I’ll influence your energy. In a perfect world, we would use a robotic deck shuffler and one of those extendable arms old people use to get Wheaties off the top shelf, because then nobody would be touching the cards. Thus, we have a conundrum: to touch, or not touch, deck. (Come on…the joke was so good the first time.)
As we’ve seen from these three real life, unembellished examples, Tarot energy is confusing. If I touch my own cards I might affect them, but if you touch them, you’ll also affect them, and if nobody touches them…well…it’s going to be pretty hard to use them. But, oh pretty! Then there’s the mindset of the querent and the reader. They both have to be hyper-focused on the task at hand, except when your system dictates that one or both individuals have to be in a sleepy, relaxed state where nobody is thinking of anything at all. But…why? What is being affected, and what influence do we have on the cards?
There are a couple of theories that one could use. One would be to say that a change in the energy of the cards, either by the reader or a passer-by or the querent, affects the physical deck. My negative thoughts about my job might move the Death and Tower cards up the stack to the tippy top when I’m reading for Innocent Bystander who’s just asking about the weather. Likewise, the querent’s inability to stop thinking about something other than the task at hand can create a confusing reading muddled down by a confusion of the question. (He’s asking about his health, but he’s thinking about Heidi Klum in a bikini, and the reading keeps coming out “Never going to happen unless you get plastic surgery and win the lottery,” which applies to either situation.)
Unfortunately, this kind of logic is easily disproven in a lab setting. While there are studies that have shown, on occasion and under very specific circumstances, that our thoughts can arrange tiny balls in a jar, it has yet to show that we can change the order of cards. If we go through the decks first and look at the order and then present them to a blind reader/querent, I can test 10 Tarot reader/querent combinations doing 10 different readings, and none of them will change the physical order of the cards.
That must leave another causation: perception. My negative mood might not move up the Dreaded Three (The Devil, Death, and The Tower) to the top of the deck, but it might make me perceive the reading differently than I otherwise would have. If someone tells you not to think about zebras or men in thongs or men in thongs riding zebras, what is it you think about? (Other than punching Fire Lyte for giving you that visual.) This would logically conclude that the issue is perception of the information you see in front of you. Another way to think about it is when you buy a new car. You go searching for a really cute car in a neat color that you think nobody else on the block has. After you purchase it, you start realizing every person in your town owns that car in that color, and you feel less like an individual and more like a lemming. (And you rush to put 37 stickers on your hatchback so that it stands out from the rest as The Sticker Car. Yep…that’s you.)
If you feel like life completely sucks, then when you’re reading for someone else you “influence the reading” by doing what psychologists call ‘projecting.’ This means that you project your own ideations, interpretations, influences, and internal monologue onto someone or something else, skewing the person or event into something it isn’t - or, given your idea of reality, something it wasn’t before.
So, if someone asks you about his or her love life, and you were just dumped from a 7-year relationship unexpectedly the night before, you might see a spread differently. If you turn over The Lovers, you might think, “You’ll soon be face to face with a cheating bastard.” If you turn over the Ace of Cups, you might think, “You’ll soon be drowning in wasted time in a floundering relationship.” Suddenly The Tower is a welcome card, because it means you’re getting revenge on Dave The Ex by blowing him to smithereens, and the 7 of Cups means you should go to the strip club and enjoy knocking back a few with the boys. Or girls. Whatever.
However, if we continue to follow this logic, it raises a question: What are we doing when we’re reading the Tarot? We call it reading, after all. The kind of reasoning we’ve been examining does not work in another similar situation. If I’m in a pissy mood, it doesn’t affect me from understanding the sentence, “The dog ran around the yard.” Despite how upset I am, I can easily understand the concrete concepts of a dog, running, a yard, and what it might look like should the three meet. My ‘energy’ doesn’t affect the actual reading of the sentence. My intuition doesn’t necessarily change the concrete facts to mean that the damn dog is running around the yard after being chased by his angry owner for digging up the rose bushes.
Let’s use another analogy. An orchestra. It is a gorgeous fall evening, and you are in the concert hall. You are the first chair violinist and Concert Master, and you are playing your heart out to the crowd. Despite the exposition, the facts are these: there is an orchestra playing music and an audience receiving the sound. However, many things could be happening based on perception. Phil, the heavy metal lover that was dragged along by his girlfriend to the concert, might think the music is terrible. He doesn’t understand why they don’t trade out the string section for 50 long-haired electric guitar players for the most epic thrash session in history and can’t wait to get back to his DVR recording of NASCAR. His perception of the concert has turned it into a negative, droll experience to be avoided at all costs. Minnie, the 87-year-old heiress, on the other hand, finds the entire experience divine and has been to every concert in the area since the age of 4.
There are two realities here: the concert both sucks and amazes. (And, no, one cannot then derive “it is amazing how much it sucks” to err on the side of anti-classical music.) Which is real? Which is correct? Neither. And both.
Neither perception changes the facts of what is going on. There are still audience members perceiving a concert and musicians performing. Through a change in perception, though, two distinct ideas came from the event. Two simultaneous realities. One good. One bad. But, is this different from a Tarot reading or the same? And who is the reader in this analogy? The audience perceiving an event, or the musician? Logic would say musician, the one performing, the one giving the information that is being taken in by the querent (the perceiver). A musician, a professional musician that has worked their entire life to master the clarinet, plays the music on the page with the same skill and ability every time. Middle C is always Middle C, despite the mood of the player or who has touched the clarinet that day. By comparison, that would mean that the number of meanings of the High Priestess card are fixed and should be able to be read by a skillful reader despite the mood of that reader. One’s intuition might merely guide you in how the information applies to the question, much in the way a musician’s intuition guides them into aurally shading a phrase or going a little bit more andante than might otherwise be played.
Again, as with many magical acts, we run into a situation that is not found in any other circumstance. The act is all of the above. It is an experiential situation that is completely influenced by perception, yet also includes fixed definitions that can be read by a skilled reader. It changes and mutates depending on the energy of the person touching it, yet somehow physically remains the same. Which leads right back to the question of, “What are we doing when we read the Tarot?”
Are we reading symbols with fixed meanings that tell a story, much in the same way that letters form words and paragraphs? At some point you have to choose, because diametrical opposition doesn’t work except in chocolate. (You both hate what it does to your hips and love the way it tastes.)
I have this theory… It’s a rather unpopular one and it gets me a ton of hate mail, but it’s still a theory. Many pagans and witches want to be Super Witch. They want to have tons of magical gifts and powers and be psychic and feel energy from everywhere, whether they actually have any gifts or powers or a third eye or get an electrical charge from Thyme. The thing about gifts and supernatural powers, as I understand them, is that they’re supposed to be rare. Just because you read about it in a book, doesn’t mean that you too have the ability to levitate objects. You are not Jean Grey or Pru Halliwell, and it is unethical to claim otherwise.
The Super Witch Theory states that these wannabe super witches want to say - whether they legitimately feel something - they feel a change in the energy of the cards or in themselves or in the kitchen sink…or wherever. Because that’s what is in the book. You know, the BuCunningWolf book on your witchy bookshelf. The books say that either nobody can touch your cards, or you shouldn’t touch your cards, or you can’t have any distractions, or you should have tons of distractions, etc. And because it’s in the book and has a publisher and is something you have to purchase to read, then it must be more factually correct than your own experience. Or it is because the Super Witch at the local Moon Goddess Emporium said that’s how it should feel/be done.
But, let me ask you a question, and pardon the Wanted movie reference. If nobody had ever told you that cards had energy or that your friend picking them up - or whatever - affected the ability to read them using the empirically learned meanings of each of the 78 cards…if you didn’t know that their meanings or positions could be skewed by touch…would you still believe it to be true?
It might be easier to read a book without distractions of loud music or a roommate barging in, but it doesn’t mean it is a thing that cannot be done. One can both be thinking about what to have for dinner tonight and still understand the sentence, “The dog ran around the yard.” The human mind is a complex, brilliant, sophisticated piece of equipment able to do things science cannot comprehend; it is certainly capable of multi-tasking. This is not spellcraft or meditation in the sense that you are forcing your mind to a singular point of focus to expend some ethereal energy to a given goal. You are reading a sentence and applying it to a question. Aren’t you?
Perhaps, as readers, we should be the conductor in the orchestra metaphor. Because, for all of our magical conjectures and designs, there is still a greater ethic that needs to be addressed: honesty. Honesty in the community as to our abilities, honesty when reading for others, and honest in assessing our own abilities and owning up to not being a television quality Super Witch. That is the highest ethic. The conductor in the metaphor ensures that the audience receives a faithful interpretation of the music, while still allowing for the various shades of musicality. If we know that, as highly trained readers we are to check our emotions or perceptions at the door, then it would be unethical - and tantamount to malpractice - to do otherwise. It would be playing to a character type - the Super Witch - rather than performing the task at hand. It is like saying, “Damn the book, the dog didn’t run. He flew.” It is throwing out the definitions for the words/symbols and making up your own and daring anyone to say you can’t.
But, as with many things in religion, I suppose the answer lies with you. For some, it lessens or cheapens the experience if you have to treat the Tarot like a mundane deck of printed cards with set meanings. It takes away from the magical nature of the thing. But, Scarlet - the hostess of a Lakefront Pagan Voice podcast - had a wonderful experiment. She showed that someone who does not claim to have any psychic abilities can still give a successful reading simply by using the tool how it was meant: looking at the cards in front of you and saying what they mean.
Simple. Straightforward. Just like the best magic. And, hey, no messy cleanup afterwards.
Love and Lyte,