Anything can be used for divination; coins, tea leaves, cards, the flight of birds, the spilled entrails of captured enemies. The objects used are a focus for the psychic talent of the seer. Or rather a distractor, so that the everyday consciousness is pre-occupied, and something else can give its opinion.
So why the fuss over tarot cards? Are they the Devil's picture book, an ancient mystical symbol system, or an evolving historical artefact?
This writer inclines towards the latter view. You see, modern would-be occultists have a real barrier to understanding their subject. It's a monster that rears its enchanting head in times of prosperity, and consequent personal freedom. Its latest incarnation is bright, gaudy, simplistic and woolly-minded by turns.
It's called the New Age.
It should be called The Same Old Fraud In A Shiny Suit. Occultism has long been the pastime of the leisured classes. A genuine mystic has a connection to the divine; acquired in a previous incarnation, or learned in a mystery school, or monastery, in this one.
The rest of us have to pick through paperback books, or knock on the doors of the living saints of our familiar religion.
Popular mysticism is a business; a big one, and profitable. Reprinting and re-hashing a mish-mash of old grimoires, Eastern religions, neo-paganism and occult biographies is cheap and easy to do. You can avoid any practical experience of the subject matter as well. There is no ‘down side'!
Except of course the karmic consequences of knowingly wasting peoples’ time and energy with half-truths, bluffs and blinds.
The pitch for tarot cards is that they were created in ancient Eqypt by hierophants to codify their occult knowledge. How inconvenient then that one can trace their development from a plaything of titled ladies in Renaissance times, to the cards used to gip fools in Las Vegas today.
You see, tarot cards originally showed the major virtues and powers in a Renaissance person's life; not for occult reasons, but for the same reason children collect cards today: their amusement. You have the Sun, Moon, Star, Temperance, The Pope, The Emperor, Empress, Hanged Man, Death etc. All very lurid and exotic to modern eyes, but hard facts of life when the cards were made.
Only the wealthy were literate, printing was expensive, coloured pictures (of anything) were something to marvel at and treasure. We take these for granted today; our ancestors did not.
Also, our forebears had to amuse themselves most of the time. Even our great-grandparents played the piano or the fiddle, knew ten formal dances, could sing twenty songs from memory, were keen raconteurs and loved a good joke well told. They had to; there was little other amusement. A young lady who couldn't play the piano, or at least sing, was at a social disadvantage.
Popular occultism and tarot cards should be seen in this light; a pass-the-time, taken a bit too seriously by failed priests, alienated young men and lovelorn young women.
Lively discussion about this subject can be had at the Alt. Tarot Usenet newsgroup, most easily accessed here: http://groups. google.co.uk/group/alt. tarot.
Its FAQ makes for a good read: http://www.tigertom.com/download/tarot-faq-01-01-1998. txt.
The upshot is that there are libraries-full of drivelling, disingenuous, sententious, re-hashed balderdash written about this subject. A case can be made that 90% of *all* occult books are a distraction away from that which they are supposed to point to: the Divine in us, and how we can co-operate with it.
To that end, they are indeed the Devil's work.
The best definition of tarot cards I can paraphrase, from memory, is one by Amado Crowley, a noted English occultist: “They are a computer that can know you". This I take to mean you can use them to help solve knotty personal problems, rather than divine the future.
The paradox of tarot reading is: Does predicting someone's future to them in a spooky setting influence their future actions, regardless of whether the seer is psychic or not?
If you do give readings to others, should you influence someone in this way? If you are a querent, do you want someone else's predictions lurking in the back of your mind, influencing your future actions?
T. O’ Donnell ( http://www.tigertom.com ) is an ecommerce consultant and curmudgeon living in London, UK. His latest project is an ebook on conservatories, available at http://www.ttconservatories.co.uk
Other T. O’ Donnell freeware may be downloaded at http://www.ttfreeware.co.uk