Taking Tarot into the 21st Century and Beyond
“For Tarot to evolve on any meaningful scale into the 21st century (and beyond) it must have a stronger application emphasis, utility, and accessibility; that is, it must speak compellingly to people’s lives. In this regard clinical usage would seem a natural context for a technique which, as we shall see, offers so many psychological opportunities and benefits.” (Arthur Rosengarten, Tarot and Psychology, p. 22)
If you haven’t noticed, Tarot reading is a worldwide phenomenon. It has exploded in popularity with hundreds, if not thousands of decks being sold all over the internet and in real life, all bursting with creativity, diversity, and a modern push for inclusivity. The Tarot is seen in popular Netflix shows. It’s in movies. Its images are instantly recognizable all over the world.
Morever, social media is filled with instagram posts and youtube channels and content creators dedicated to all things Tarot. There are hundreds of books on everything you could imagine related to Tarot and cartomancy in general. People are doing readings on themselves and their friends and seeking professional readings for everything from love advice to spiritual enlightenment.
The Tarot industry as a whole is seeing continued economic growth, especially in 2021 when quarantine has so many of us turning inwards to find solace in a dark time. Part of what’s driving this growth is a cross-cultural recognition that the practice of Tarot reading goes far beyond cheap parlor tricks and into the realms of self-help, mental health, and spirituality, with a rich occult tradition going back at least two centuries.
In a time when mental health services are becoming increasingly unavailable and the world seems to be on fire, literally and figuratively, is it any surprise that people everywhere are turning to the occult to find a sense of peace and resolve? This includes witchcraft, astrology, and many other related ideas.
While no competent Tarot professional would legally call themselves mental health practitioners, I think we would be naive to think that people aren’t using Tarot as a kind of proxy for therapeutic self-help. This includes reading for yourselves or seeking readings from professional readers.
This fact speaks to the broader phenomenon of witchcraft and the occult. People are using these sacred tools to get their souls repaired. To heal from trauma. To recover from bad relationships. To find insight into their future. To make sense of the past. To get advice. These are all functions that relate to the healing of mind, body, and spirit.
Tarot and Therapy
Is Tarot reading just as efficacious as seeing a real therapist? Probably not. I don’t have the numbers. But a $20 tarot deck sure is cheaper. And it connects you to a broader community of magickal practictioners.
But more importantly, they’re really two separate things and serve two different, but interrelated purposes. Furthermore, in virtue of its connections to mysticism and esoteric spirituality, the Tarot has within itself a self-growth capacity that might be hard to replicate in a professional therapeutic setting. And similarly, benefitting from the expertise of trained therapists and psychologists carries healing potential not replicable by people without such training.
But what about people for whom therapy is not even an option, for perhaps economic reasons or otherwise?
Should we be concerned about young people especially seeking to heal their minds through the Tarot? Not necessarily. It does not worry me anymore than any other form of spirituality.
With that said, we should be cautious of readers and psychics who prey on the vulnerable through charlatanism. It’s not a totally unheard of phenomenon. But it seems to me the Tarot community for the most part is focused on psychological and spiritual growth.
Growing popularity of witchcraft and occult practice
Witchcraft and the occult has exploded in popularity in the Western world because it offers something that traditional, organized religion is increasingly having trouble providing: a sense of relevance, free from dogma and evangelical tendencies, not to mention the increasing association between evangelical Christianity and pernicious forms of religious fundamentalism.
Although there are certainly paths of tradition in witchcraft and esotericism, there’s nothing stopping you from just diving into an eclectic pathway and discovering your own methods towards truth. As a strong individualist, I am deeply empathetic towards this viewpoint.
Now, atheists and skeptics are likely to be laughing at this point, thinking all this is nonsense and a waste of time. They can talk all they want of trying to find an atheistic spirituality, but from what I’ve seen these forms of spiritual are just borrowed from theistic spirituality. Often it just amounts to a materialist downloading some mindfulness app and trying to meditate once in awhile, or feeling wonder at Nature.
For many people, however, that is not enough. They need a connection to something bigger. To something that goes beyond the material world. They need a connection to spirits, gods, or whatever else might be out there. And all this needs to come packaged in a way that is accessible and can be actually put into practice in daily life. Witchcraft and magick accomplishes this in a way that is surprisingly satisfactory in the modern age.
When the World is burning from environmental apocalypse, it seems like a pretty good idea that take solace in spiritual and religious paths that emphasize a divine connection with Nature.
Why people are drawn to the Tarot
The Tarot is a method of accessibility. It allows you to connect to that broader world through a simple set of 78 cards. Its beauty is in its simplicity, which itself hides a surprising complexity. With hundreds if not thousands of different decks out there, artists have given many different interpretations of the Tarot, but they all are trying to get at a universal truth. That is the beauty of Tarot: many eclectic paths all grasping towards the same truth but getting there via totally via paths.
I don’t think this is just a fad. The trend of people using the Tarot for health, healing, and growth is not going away. Nor should it. It is a real and viable, ethical grounded pathway towards spiritual well-being and practical success, something that is increasingly needed in this ever fucked-up world. For those of us who are into the Tarot and other esoteric mysteries, what we can best do is seek to learn and expand our knowledge, listening to our hearts. If we listen closely, surely we will find wisdom.