Tarot Myths and Misconceptions
Tarot cards have long been associated with fortune-telling, phony storefront psychics, and rip-off artists who take advantage of vulnerable people. This is part of what gives tarot a bad rap. However, most people are unaware that tarot has many more important uses other than mere fortune-telling. In fact, tarot cards don't have anything to do with fortune-telling. Fortune-telling implies that the future is set in stone and cannot be changed.
However, when you use tarot as a tool for self-reflection, you are guided to the best course of action in any situation. But the choice is always yours. The future is always changing, and you have the power to make different choices at any time.
Working with tarot cards can help you discover your true self. The cards can give you deep insight about yourself and your personal situation. This is possible because the cards always reflect your subjective experience.
There are many myths and misconceptions regarding the use of tarot cards; including the origins of the tarot cards. One of the most popular myths about the origins of the tarot cards is their association with the Romany.
Some other popular misconceptions in tarot concern the imagery and symbolism on the tarot cards. Many people are confused and mislead by tarot imagery and symbolism. Some of the images on tarot cards can seem intimidating, shocking, and even disturbing. This is because the meanings of the images are taken literally. For instance, the Death Card is seen as meaning the literal death of a person.
In truth, the cards simply represent different aspects of the human psyche and human experience. There are no “good” or “evil” tarot cards. They simply represent different aspects of your subjective experience.
1. Tarot Symbols Are Often Misunderstood
One of the most misunderstood symbols in tarot is the suit of pentacles. Most people commonly and mistakenly believe the pentacle is a symbol of evil.
But did you know that the pentacle used to be a symbol of the Catholic church?
The adoption of the pentacle as a symbol of evil is a relatively modern concept, dating back only to about the latter part of the 20th century. (Yikes! Does this mean the members of Motley Crue are good Christians?!)
In the 19th century, Roman Catholic Priest Eliphas Levi was the first to adapt the inverted pentagram as a symbol of “evil”. This was most likely due to misinterpretation of symbols. It later became associated with evil, and subsequently rejected by Christianity in the 20th century.
One of the possible reasons for the misinterpretation of the symbol could be that the pentacles or coins as they are known is some decks represent material wealth and abundance. Material wealth is usually seen as being selfish and sometimes even sinful in some Christian religions. In its extreme form followers are told to renounce all material goods in favor of the spiritual.
Some ardent followers will even point to passages in the Bible as "proof" that material wealth is sinful and against God.
For example, Matthew 19:24 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”.
This passage, like many others, are often misinterpreted. It is taken literally to mean you are being sinful if you have material goods and will not be able to enter Heaven.
In truth it refers to a needle-eye gate which was one of many gates into the walled city of Jerusalem. Not a sewing needle, as some might envision it. (It would be really hard for a camel to go through the eye of a sewing needle!).
Since the gates were very narrow, camels had to unload their baggage before being able to enter. The passage is simply saying it might be very difficult for people with a lot of wealth to be humble enough to let go of their worldly possessions and acknowledge that all their material wealth is spiritual in nature and comes from the grace of God.
This is in fact exactly what is depicted in the suit of pentacles in a tarot deck. In tarot, material wealth is depicted as being a gift from God.
2. Tarot Cards Can Be Used for Self-Discovery
Some mental health professionals are now using tarot cards in their practice to uncover subconscious material with their clients.
Traditional methods of uncovering subconscious material are the Rorschach (inkblot test) and TAT (thematic apperception test). With these traditional test models, the client projects his/her subconscious material onto the picture or inkblot presented. And the picture/inkblot only has the meaning that is projected onto them by the client.
The difference with using tarot cards as a projective technique, is that tarot cards have their own ‘meaningfulness’ emanating from their own side. Each tarot card represents a different aspect of the human psyche. The cards that show up in a reading will always mirror the client’s subjective experience.
You might be questioning whether the cards are random or not. This is a common question. Aren’t we just picking any card at random?
We are not just picking any card at random. Tarot card are spiritual in nature and require trust in Higher Consciousness. Therefore, it is considered ‘sacred’ or ‘empowered’ randomness.
You cannot pick the wrong cards. The law of attraction always ensures that you will pick the cards most relevant to your situation.
In other words, you are subconsciously choosing the right cards for your situation. And the cards you pick will always reflect your subjective experience.
3. There Are Differing Opinions on the Origins of Tarot
The origins of the tarot cards are a mystery.
Most historians have traced the origins of tarot cards to the 14th -15th century Italy. It is believed that artist Bonifacio Bembo hand painted a set of overly large beautifully decorated cards for the Visconti family of Milan.
The cards were unnamed and unnumbered. Originally the cards were used for an Italian game called ‘Tarocchi’. It was later called ‘Trionfi’, which in English means ‘trumps’. The traditional tarot deck has 22 trump cards.
Tarot cards did not originate with the Romany. The cards may have become associated with the Romany because the Romany appeared in Europe around the same time that the cards were introduced. It’s possible that the Romany came across the cards in their travels and may have used them at some point.
They did not bring the cards with them from Egypt as some believe. This may be how they first became associated with tarot. However, historians claim that no connection to the Romany has ever been found. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Romany began using tarot cards.
In contrast, there are some historians who believe the origin of tarot cards go much further back than the 14th or 15th century. Perhaps even thousands of years. They attribute this to the fact that many of the tarot cards depict Egyptian symbolism.
In fact, Samuel Roberts, author of The Gypsies, claims that there is proof that tarot cards originated in Egypt due to the religious symbolism on the cards. There are even some claims that tarot cards are buried in the pyramids.
Allegedly, there are 78 movable gold plates with tarot symbolism engraved on them. The symbolism depicts images of man and his relationship with the universe. Images that are remarkably like tarot symbolism.
4. The Fool or the Joker: Which Came First?
Perhaps the Fool is not such a fool. After all, the Fool is the only one of the 78 tarot cards who found a way to live on as a Joker in a regular (standard) deck of playing cards. According to some historians on the subject, anyways.
However, there is some controversy as to which came first—a regular standard deck of playing cards or tarot cards?
One school of thought contends that the Fool is the ancestor of the Joker and that Joker cards started appearing around 1860. Some depicted clowns and jesters, which are similar to the Fool card in tarot. The Joker was introduced as a wild card during the Civil War in the United States.
Other historians claim that standard playing cards originated in China, and might have been invented during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century AD.
This of course would make the standard playing cards much older than tarot cards. Which would mean the Fool descended from the Joker, rather than the other way around.
So, again. Who came first, the Joker or the Fool?
Either way, it looks like the Fool and Joker cards stand out in a unique way from the other cards.
5. Court Cards Have Been Linked to Personality Traits
There are 16 Court cards in a traditional tarot card deck. In tarot card readings, these 16 Court cards represent people involved in the situation, or someone that is significantly impacting your life in some way. Or they can represent your own qualities.
Interestingly, the 16 Court cards also correlate to the 16 personality types described in the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator personality test (MBTI). The Myers-Brigg is a test given by psychologists to determine personality type. You can take the test yourself here.
The 16 Court cards depict all the different personality types described in the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator. Each personality type is represented by one of the tarot Court cards.
The MBTI measures personality traits such as extroversion/introversion, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving.
These traits correspond precisely to the four suits in tarot:
- Wands = Intuition
- Cups = Feeling
- Swords = Thinking
- Pentacles = Sensation
As an example, the Knight of Swords would represent an extroverted personality type. The Page of Cups would represent someone with an introverted personality.
This is another tool that can be used by psychotherapists with their clients.
One way to work with the court cards is to have the client pick out the Court card they are attracted to. Again, this has a lot to do with the law of attraction. The client is attracted to the card that will teach them something about themselves.
This can work in one of two ways. One is the card that is chosen can represent qualities and traits that the client possesses. The therapist can then discuss with the client how the personality traits relate to them.
The other way this tool works is that the client may chose a card with traits and qualities that are opposite of their own personality. This is their shadow side, which represents the parts of themselves that they have disowned.
Discussing with the client the parts of their personality that they have disowned can help bring the client to wholeness. Integrating outer personality traits with hidden disowned parts of oneself leads to wholeness.
We must own all parts of ourselves to be whole and complete. In this way, the tarot cards can be of great assistance on the path to wholeness.
Tarot Court Cards & MBTI Personality Types
|Personality Type||Tarot Court Card|
King of Wands
King of Cups
King of Swords
King of Pentacles
Queen of Wands
Queen of Cups
Queen of Swords
Queen of Pentacles
Knight of Wands
Knight of Cups
Knight of Swords
Knight of Pentacles
Page of Wands
Page of Cups
Page of Swords
Page of Pentalcles
6. Experiments Using the Tarot: The Law of Attraction vs. Randomness
Jungian psychologist, Dr. Arthur Rosengarten and colleagues conducted an experiment with tarot cards to discover whether the cards were being picked at random or not.
They chose the subject of domestic violence to conduct the experiment. 13 male perpetrators and 13 female victims were chosen for the experiment. The participants were not couples, and they were chosen at random.
It was acknowledged that the experiment was a bit unorthodox and most likely could not be measured on an empirical scientific basis. It also was not a large sample.
Despite these observations, they discovered what they consider to be significant findings.
Out of 156 possibilities (including reversed cards), certain cards kept showing up repeatedly for each group in the study. Not only did the same cards show up, they were also in the same card positions.
The intention of this study was to discover if the tarot could reveal certain meaningful underlying group trends that are consistent in the personalities of perpetrators and victims.
Some of the significant findings in the abused women’s group were the Knights card, which appeared five times in the ‘obstacle’ position (twice in pentacles, twice in wands, and once in cups).
The Eight of Swords appeared five times total, including twice in ‘future effect.'
For the male offender group, the Seven of Wands appeared five times in the ‘outcome’ position, and was in the Reversed position three of those times.
The King of Cups appeared four times in the ‘past effect’ position. The Hermit card appeared three times in ‘present situation,' one time in 'past cause,' and one time in 'foundation' positions.
Could it be just a coincidence that these same cards kept showing up in the same positions? Or is the law of attraction at work here?
Since the tarot cards are spiritual in nature, perhaps there is a Higher Order at work here. What do you think about this? Is it just coincidence or the law of attraction?
- "A Brief History of the Joker Card". Bicycle. www.bicyclecards.com
- Colavito,Jason. "Did Hermes Deposit Tarot Cards in the Great Pyramid?". Jason Colavito. June 11, 2015. www.jasoncolavito.com
- "The Eye of a Needle". Catholic Daily Reflections. August 17, 2021. www.catholicdailyreflections.com
- Haymond,Bryee. "The Ancient Pentagram-A Christian Symbol". Temple Study. Feb.4,2008. www.templestudy.com
- Pollack,Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. London: Harper Collins, 1997.
- Rosengarten, Arthur. Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility. St.Paul,MN: Paragon House, 2000.
- TarotX. "Tarot Court Cards and the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator". TarotX. March 13, 2020. www.tarotx.net
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Charlotte Allison