There is so much to wonder about the nature of Tarot and Tarot cards. One question that’s really interesting is whether or not the cards are magic in and of themselves, or if they are ‘just cardboard’. Initially I leaned toward the idea that they were just paper and it was our own intuition that created any magic on this end.
But the same people who say this also tell you that you should take particular care of your cards (and not just because we love them and want to keep them clean) which implies that there is something special about them. They’re clearly somehow different from playing cards that we might use for a game of Hearts (I’ve used playing cards for Tarot readings, and while it works, there is always something intangible missing). I love keeping my Tarot decks in lovely wraps and pretty boxes, and I put them in the sun now and then and rest crystals on them. If there’s nothing magic about them, then why all this? And why does it work?
Zuni fetishes are small carved animals made out of various stones like turquoise or jet. They are adorable and beautiful, and you are supposed to treat them with respect because of their connection to the animal they represent. You keep them in a special place and keep them clean. I have some, and I keep them in a little herd on my window sill. If you just chuck them around, you damage their spirit and they become simply organic matter, a kind of hole where magic could gather.
Similarly, in Buddhist practice, there are ‘precious things’ like prayers or books on Dharma that you wrap in special covers and keep on a high shelf to show them respect. You never put your prayers on the floor, and you never step over them. They always go on a little desk, ideally, and you walk around them. It might seem a little over the top, but it creates a reverence and respect for objects, and I think that is what generates magic. That is how we create space and welcome spirit into our daily things.
None of them – fetishes, prayers, or Tarot cards – appear from thin air. Interdependence means that even cardboard is not ‘just’ cardboard. It comes from wood, or if not, something else that is ultimately organic. Plastic feels pretty synthetic, but it comes from oil. The initial energy from the earth is still there, in the stone or the paper that we use to make our tools.
And let’s not forget the deck creators! Those geniuses of art and mysticism who invest their time and skill into creating the imagery we work with. They build the bridge between us and our higher selves. I think their energy stays with the decks they create, interwoven with the characters and symbols they draw, which to me explains why some decks feel so nice and some really don’t. It’s something about vibing with the creator’s energy, and their intention.
When I started to work with the Thoth Tarot, really focusing on it and letting myself become attuned to it, I started to become aware of … something. I mean, I worked with it a lot. For hours every day, and if I wasn’t working with the deck itself, I was studying books about it and reading up on all the modalities and systems that Crowley mixed together so expertly. I would think that I might use a different deck for that day’s reading, and as I tried to choose one, there was this siren song in the back of my head – a little niggle that made me feel kind of guilty, and kind of like I was going to miss something really important if I didn’t use my Thoth deck.
This probably sounds a little weird, and I admit I tend to anthropomorphise things. But I did find this kind of amazing because it was very clear that my cards – that one particular deck – were not ‘just’ anything.
Everything around us still contains some of the elemental energy of its origins. Your coffee table, your floor, your kitchen counter all retain the stardust that they came from, just like you do. Tarot cards, too. What if, as you use one particular deck intensively, your energy starts to intermingle with that residual stardust in your cards? What if you really do develop a rapport? Isn’t that magic?
I’m not saying that I would refuse to let someone hold and shuffle my cards before we did a reading for them. But … I might hesitate to lend someone a deck for a long period of time.
Crowley said that ‘all intentional acts are acts of magic’, which brings us back to how you treat your precious things. Cards, then, are not inherently magical, but there is potential. It’s in the using, the respect you show them, the engagement on an energetic level, that all combine to create something new and unique – for you and for that one particular deck, or between you and for each deck you use. If you treat them like paper, then they’ll remain as they were when you first opened the box. That is why it feels like there is so much clear and joyful potential every time you open a brand new Tarot deck.
It’s alchemy, and like any chemistry experiment, you don’t have to do any mixing. If you let the energy dissipate, then it’s just like ingredients sitting on their respective shelves apart from each other and inert. It’s in the mixing that you get the magic, and like any magic spell, it’s the intention that you set that does the trick.