Are Tarot cards witchcraft? This is a fairly common question for people who really don’t know a lot about either Tarot or witchcraft.
Usually, there are two types of people who might be interested in this question.
First, there are the Christians who might be interested in learning about the Tarot but are scared of it in some way because of its associations with witchcraft, magic, and the occult at large.
Second, there are the people who have no qualms about witchcraft but are nevertheless unsure of where Tarot fits into the world of witchcraft. Do all witches use Tarot? Is there something special about the way witches practice Tarot?
To answer these questions, however, we need to first get clear on (1) what exactly is witchcraft and (2) what do we mean by Tarot?
What is witchcraft?
The first thing people often associate with witchcraft is the modern neopagan religion of Wicca.
Wicca was introduced to the British public in 1954 by Gerald Gardner. Prior to this, it had been developed as a private religious practice by Gardner and others for a number of decades.
Wicca is essentially a syncretic religion, meaning that was patched together from an assemblage of different traditions but does not itself lay claim to any direct ancestral lineage.
Wicca as a religion was founded on the witch-cult hypothesis, which is the now-discredited idea that the accused witches of early modern witch trials in Europe were practitioners of an ancient, underground pagan religion that worshipped the “Horned God” as a fertility god. The practitioners of such ancient paganism were supposedly said to have also engaged in worship for seasonal “witches Sabbaths.”
The witch-cult hypothesis was popularized by British Egyptologist, Margaret Murray, who wrote about it extensively in her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921).
Gerald Garnder was influenced by Murray and believed he was simply recreating this ancient witch-cult paganism and picking up the religion where it left off.
However, modern scholars now agree that the accused witches of witch trials were not in fact practitioners of some ancient, pre-Christian form of paganism, but rather, confessed to things such as devil worship and witch sabbaths under the duress of torture.
This doesn’t necessarily make Wicca any less valid as a religion. It just makes that its historical claims about having an ancient lineage are not grounded in fact.
Wicca is now one of the fastest-growing neo-religions in the modern Western world. For good reason. For those who grew up in a Christian culture but no longer find its message relevant in the 21st century, Wicca (as well as other forms of neopaganism such as Heathenism) are extremely attractive.
These are the types of spiritual practices often shared among a growing segment who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”
Traditions forms of witchcraft
In indigenous cultures, the term “witch” is often used to refer to a person who taps into supernatural forces in order to cause harm to the innocent. In other cultures, witchcraft is more or less a form of shamanism.
In most cases, cultures that have the concept of witchcraft are often cultures that live in a magical worldview of some kind.
New Age Witchcraft
“Witches” might be defined as “those are practice witchcraft” where witchcraft is understood to be the practice or “craft” of using magic to achieve one’s ends.
It is important to realize that not all Wiccans practice witchcraft, and not all witches are Wiccan.
Wicca is essentially a religion. Some Wiccans may or may not engage in the magical practice of witchcraft.
There are an endless variety of non-Wiccan witches.
A common form is what is called eclectic or solo witchcraft, which is essentially a modern witch who borrows this or that from various pagan traditions in a syncretic mishmash of beliefs and practices that is unique to them as an individual.
The modern eclectic witch might engage in the following kinds of magical practice:
- Divination uses Tarot cards, oracle cards, pendulums, runes, etc
- Herbal or kitchen magic
- Various kinds of “spellwork,” either for protection or attack
- Creation of person “grimoires,” or “shadowbooks” that are essentially personal recipe books for spellwork
- Energy work like reiki
- Uses of talismans or amulet for magical protection
- Ritual practice
- Ancestor worship
- Worship or veneration of nature
- Worship or veneration of a pantheon of gods, goddesses, and demigods
- Chakra work
- New Thought or “Law of attraction” type manifestation work
Given its individualistic and eclectic flavor, not all witches will engage in all of these practices. Everyone will have their own unique approach.
It should be noted that modern New Age witchcraft often intersects with what is called the Western Esoteric Tradition or the Western Hermetic Tradition.
Although many people believe that the Western Esoteric Tradition and neopaganism are distinct conceptual approaches to the occult, I have argued at length that they can be usually blended together into what I call Western Esoteric Paganism.
But as you can see, modern neopagan witchcraft does not often have any kind of cohesiveness as a religion. It is highly syncretic, stitched together by practitioners dipping their toes into various traditions and taking away what they like.
A brief historical note on the term “white witch”
Often you will hear people describe themselves as “white witches.” These people say they only practice “white magic,” which is magic done for the good of humanity, and never for selfish purposes.
Those who use witchcraft and magic for selfish, egotistical purposes are said to be practicing “black magic” which is also sometimes called the “left-hand path.”
However, it’s important to decolonize our language because the term “black magic” was used by early Christian missionaries to describe the indigenous spiritual practices of so-called “savage heathens.”
And can anyone guess why it was called “black” magic? Yup, it’s because of racism!
Thus, it’s extremely important to recognize that in the Western world the magical practices we consider “black magic” are often just “normal, everyday magic” to indigenous folks or folks colonized by Christians.
This is not to say there is no difference between those who do magic exclusively for selfish purposes and those who hold themselves to an ethical standard. But the language of “white” vs “black” magic is steeped in racism and colonizer-thinking.
Atheopaganism or secular witchcraft
I want to briefly mention the concept of atheopaganism or non-theistic witchcraft.
Modern neopaganism is a big umbrella and the beliefs of people who associate with paganism or witchcraft are extremely diverse.
On the one end of the spectrum you have theists and polytheists or various kinds, or people who believe strongly in the existence of supernatural forces and entities.
Wicca itself is famous for its dualistic theology where essentially you have a masculine Horned God and a feminine Goddess of some kind.
Other forms of witchcraft might involve full-on polytheism of various stripes.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can find non-theists of various kinds who engage in paganistic practices.
Often atheopaganism involves some kind of veneration or appreciation of Nature, and adherence to seasonal celebrations. Non-theistic pagans might involve ritual in their practice but usually this is spun in psychological rather than supernatural terms.
Going back to our main topic, Tarot and witchcraft, it is important to note that Tarot, along with astrology, is by far and away one of the most popular “tools” of witchcraft, regardless of where you are on the spectrum of witchcraft.
What are Tarot cards?
Tarot cards came into existence in the early 1400s as playing cards that were created for Italian royalty. They remained as a playing card game for several centuries until the 1700s when they first started being used for occult purposes, especially divination and fortune-telling.
Since then, the Tarot has come to mean many different things to many different people.
At its core Tarot consists of 78 cards broken up into 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. In modern terms, it has become associated with psychic and fortune-telling although many occultists do not feel predicting the future is essential to Tarot practice.
It is important to realize that there are many different ways to approach the Tarot.
On one end of the spectrum, there are supernatural or psychic approaches that rely on beliefs involving the supernatural.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are purely secular approaches to the Tarot that focus on its potential as a tool for reflection, introspection, and psychoanalysis.
The secular approaches to the Tarot are often influenced by Carl Jung and his concept of archetypes. In this approach, the esoteric symbolism of the Tarot is said to reflect the major archetypal structure of the collective human consciousness, particularly of Western civilization.
Are Tarot cards witchcraft?
Ok, not that we have given the context for what is meant by “Tarot” and “witchcraft,” we can now answer the question: Are Tarot cards witchcraft?
The short answer is that while Tarot cards are a popular tool of witchcraft they are not exclusively the domain of witches. Many non-witches also read Tarot cards.
The long answer is every Tarot card reader approaches the Tarot in their own unique way and every witch incorporates the Tarot into their practice slightly differently. And when you include the atheopagans and nontheistic witches along with the secular approaches to the Tarot, we can see that there really is no clear answer to the question: Are Tarot cards witchcraft?
Do some witches use Tarot cards? Yes.
Do all witches use Tarot cards? No.
Do you have to be a witch to be interested in the Tarot? No.
Do you have to believe in magic and the supernatural to read Tarot? No.
I have already answered at length the question of whether Tarot cards are supernatural.
As we can see there is no clear-cut answer to the question of whether Tarot cards are witchcraft, for what one person might consider “witchcraft” another person might simply consider thinking that Nature is nice and should be venerated.
Furthermore, one might think that witchcraft involves belief in magic but definitions of “magic” vary from person to person and many of them don’t necessarily involve anything spooky or supernatural.
In fact, many people define magic simply as the art of using one’s willpower to affect change, which may or may not involve supernatural forces depending on your beliefs about the nature of “The Will” and whether it entails an immaterial consciousness or not.
But speaking to any particular Christian who might be reading this: if you are interested in the Tarot but are worried that it might be “witchcraft,” let me assure you that it’s perfectly valid to take a purely psychological approach to the Tarot that sees it as essentially a psychological tool for self-reflection, story-telling, and creativity.
Many psychologists even use the Tarot in their secular therapy.
However, be warned: the Tarot nevertheless carries with it the association of the occult, the esoteric, and all flavors of paganism, and dabbling in the Tarot will likely cause many Christians to be concerned you are “opening yourself up to the Devil.”
Personally, I think this is bullshit, mostly because all the Devil wants is for you to be a free-thinker and not be afraid to seek knowledge, two values I think are highly honorable and worth celebrating.
I have written at length about whether Christianity is compatible with the occult or whether it’s possible to be a Christian pagan.
The answer to both these questions is a resounding yes: Christian paganism and Christian occultism is in fact a coherent approach to spirituality. While it might be seen as heretical by mainstream Christianity, the entire history of Christianity is one long story of one Christian group calling the other heretics.
So if you find yourself being called a Christian heretic, you are in good company.
Natural vs Supernatural: On the Limits of Tarot
Tarot and the Occult: Still Growing in 2021