Examining the Un-Examined: Tarot

As an agnostic, I’m comfortable – mostly – with the idea that there are things I can’t explain. It saves me a lot of time and effort. I can see where, to some people, that sounds like the classic lazy agnostic stereotype, but in my case, it’s more accurate to describe it as a way to let my brain off the hamster wheel it would otherwise be on. For that matter, it’s not like I decide that any of these things are permanently unexplainable – I try to check back in on the latest advances every so often, especially in physics and cosmology – merely that I cannot explain them at this time. I fully expect that in some future, more advanced and complicated state of ignorance than the one I currently possess, I will be able to explain some of these things to a greater extent than I can in my current state of ignorance.

One of the things I can’t explain is the Tarot. I have theories about it, but I don’t literally believe that it can predict the future. At least, I don’t think I do. It may be more accurate to say that I don’t believe it in my mind – my heart may be entirely another matter, although at this time, I can’t say for sure.

I do regard Tarot decks as a specific art form, one related most closely to painting, but also partaking greatly of a body of legend, ritual and precedent to inform the paintings. And it makes sense to me to ascribe personality to particular Tarot decks, in the same way that one can ascribe personality to works of literature or music – it’s the personality of the creator and of the creation. That much makes sense to me, and I will testify on a stack of Neal Stephenson novels that the four decks I own each have a distinct personality in this sense.

Beyond that? The tarot is a collection of archetypes (or rather, of constellations of archetypes, because each card has a symbolism that goes far beyond any single archetype), and as such, I do find it a useful basis as a prompt for thinking through problems. It provokes thoughts that I might not otherwise reach, forcing me to examine a situation through its lens rather than mine.

Wow, that sounds pat and rationalist, doesn’t it? Almost defensively so, in fact. I can honestly say that when I sit down to interpret a tarot reading, I don’t think of it that way past the initial decision to do the reading. But perhaps that’s not so bad. Perhaps, like a song or a fuck, it’s simply an experience you must surrender rational thought for the duration of, and emerge later with the experience and the wisdom, neither of which can be easily put into words. (Or maybe that’s just another rationalisation, but that way lies the hamster wheel I mentioned above.)

On the basis of all that, I see no conflict between my agnosticism and my tarot use. And were the efficacy of the tarot to be proven, there would even less conflict, for then it would simply be science.

And that’s an examination for another day and another post.