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Do Tarot Card Readings Work: Science or Pseudoscience?

An interest in God, meta-physics, and religion dominated Tessa's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.

There's nothing magical about Tarot cards. They can, however, be an excellent psychological tool.

There's nothing magical about Tarot cards. They can, however, be an excellent psychological tool.

Can a Tarot Card Reading Be Accurate?

Tarot cards can be accurate if we understand the symbolism of the cards, and if we have some command of our unrecognised senses.

If you’ve ever been in a difficult situation and didn’t know which decision to make, then you’ve probably wondered if a free online tarot card reading can help you. The answer is no. On the other hand, if you are familiar with the cards and lay out the spread yourself, the answers can be revealing. Likewise, if you go to a card tarot card reader, the same information may be forthcoming.

This article explains when a tarot card reading can be helpful and why tarot card predictions of the future don’t work.

Tarot cards to not predict the future. They use human projection and archetypes to figure out what is going on inside.

Tarot cards to not predict the future. They use human projection and archetypes to figure out what is going on inside.

History and Evolution of Tarot Cards

At the end of the 19th century, as science became fashionable, superstitions began to be examined in a new light. Psychology was in fashion. Reading tarot card spreads had evolved over about 600 years, and during that time, probably through a process of trial and error, they had become a fairly accurate rendition of the archetypes of the human unconscious mind.

While Carl Jung first wrote about archetypes in 1919 and the Rider Wait Tarot Card, portraying the archetypes, was commissioned by Edward Waite in 1909, another term had been in use for at least some two decades. The term was 'primal images.'

Edward Waite commissioned the artwork instructing Pamela Colman Smith as to what he wanted. What he wanted was a pack with primal images, aka archetypes.

arot cards all have illustrations that visually show us the situations in our own lives.

arot cards all have illustrations that visually show us the situations in our own lives.

Tarot Reveals the Unconscious Mind Like the Rorschach Ink Blot Test

Psychiatrists and psychologists use the Rorschach ink blot test to determine what is going on deep inside. That's because nobody has ever found a way of determining what's in our unconscious minds. It's hidden from us.

When we select an ink blot picture, we do it without any conscious reason, so our unconscious minds are at work. According to those who use these cards, this is an indication of what is going on deep inside us.

Just as the Rorschach ink blot test uses images to appeal to the emotions of those viewing them, so the illustrations of the Rider-Waite tarot cards can do the same thing.

The fundamental difference is that the viewer can see the Rorschach ink blot cards while the viewer cannot see the tarot cards he chooses.

And here is the fundamental difference between science and not-yet-science. We don't know how it is possible to select images that reveal our deep inner thoughts when we can't actually see the images.

When we select the right images, regardless of whether we can see them or not, then the cards work. When we cannot, then they do not work.

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Is it possible to select images without seeing them? I think so. Sufficient work in the parapsychology has been done (JB Rhine at Duke University) to accept that some people do have a propensity for selection the right cards without there being a feasible explanation for it.

Learning the Tarot Cards Meanings and Interpretations

About the Rorschach Ink Blot Test

Briefly, this is a set of ten cards that comprise ink blots in different shapes. The patient is asked what they think those shapes are (I'm always tempted to say 'ink blots.'). While there is some controversy as to whether the responses of patients accurately determine what they are thinking, it is generally accepted that the patient will project their deepest fears, desires, etc. onto the shapes.

We project what we believe or think on to other things...

We project what we believe or think on to other things...

How Do Tarot Cards Work When You Can't See Them?

It's understandable that we wil project our concerns onto what we see. We've known that about human beings for a long time.

But how do we project what we feel onto something we don't see?

The answer to this is dependent on what we believe (and what we believe may or may not be true).

JB Rhine of Duke University used cards in his experimentation and research in parapsychology. A person would be asked to guess the correct card in someone's hands. There were people who were able to get a score that was outside of coincidence because they 'guessed' correctly so many times.

I have seen the same thing when I worked as a casino dealer. There was one punter who literally cleaned out the casino profits because he made so much money 'guessing' what was coming next.

In that case, tarot cards could be a powerful tool to establish what is going on inside us at a very deep inner level.

Rorschach Inkblot Test

Tarot: The Supernatural Belief Systems vs Cold Readings

Generally a tarot card reader will ask you, the tarot card querent (questioner), to lay out the cards in a certain pattern - facing down.

It is believed that your energy (life force, eletricity, knowledge) transfers to the cards and then influences the cards to bring up exactly the right card to indicate what is going on in your life.

It is believed that by dealing the cards upside down, the conscious mind cannot interfere with any undesireable contents of the unconscious mind.

The tarot card reader then turns the cards right side up and begins to interpret the different archetypes for the querent.

Generally the tarot card reader will ask for further information from the querent in order to add context to what the archetypes indicate. Some would regard this as cold reading. Cold reading is a technique used to interpret a person's "body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc"

This information can then be used to influence whatever the cards say. In that way, virtually any card or any spread will appear to be correct.

The mystic within us.

The mystic within us.

Tarot: Celtic Cross Spread

The Celtic Cross Spread (illustration above) in the most popular spread. In it, the first are will represent you (the querent). The second card would be an indication of forces that work for you and against you. The third card deals with the root of the issue that you are facing, and it progresses down to the last card which tells you the outcome of your question.

From experience, mostly the kind of cards that come up bear no relationship to the question, and it takes a lot of imagination to figure it out. In short, I don’t believe the system works – except for a very few people who have some sort of extrasensory ability we don't yet understand.

For the most part, I think the answers have more to do with cold reading than anything else.

By Understanding What Is Not Real, You Can Interpret What You're Seeing More Clearly

Different Types of Tarot Card Spreads

There are many different types of spreads that readers use in order to determine the answer to various friends. A spread that is specifically for relationships might have a card allocated to whether the relationship will work or not while a spread that is meant for careers might cater to a question involving a pay increase.

Here are some examples of tarot card spreads.

  1. Three card spread
  2. True love spread
  3. Career path spread
  4. Spiritual guidance spread
  5. Success spread

The Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana

Tarot is divided into two distinct packs. The major arcana consists of twenty two cards and the minor arcana consists of fifty six cards. Each of the cards in the major arcana represents an archetype and each of the cards in the minor arcana represents the daily events of our lives. Sometimes only the cards of the major arcana are used for a spread.

A good book on tarot card meanings will present a variety of meanings dependent on the question asked.

A good book on tarot card meanings will present a variety of meanings dependent on the question asked.

Doing Tarot Readings Yourself

If you're a believer that you can accurately select the cards you need to determine what is going on in your very confused unconscious mind without looking at them, there is no need to deal the cards face up.

Far from believing that dealing the cards face up will confuse the unconscious mind, I believe that they are more likely to be accurate if they are dealt face up and we can select those cards we gravitate towards.

I also think it's perfectly okay to design your own spread and to figure out the questions ahead of time.

So, for example, you will designate the first card to be the answer to the big question in your life, the second card to be about some of the detail, the third card to be what sort of action you should take, and the forth card to be the most likely outcome.

Designing Your Own Tarot Card Spread

So here's an example of designing your own spread. For this particular spread, you would have designed the questions up front, and you will always use this list of questions for this particular spread. Be very clear and specific in your questions.

You will spread the twelve cards - face up- in front of you. Then you will chose the four cards that you gravitate towards. Put them in the order of favorite to non-favorite.

Then use a tarot card book to interpret the answers to your questions. I have used several of these books in my life and good ones will give you a variety of interpretations dependent on the type of questions asked.

Basic Tarot Card Spreads

How Tarot Helps with Confused Feelings

Sometimes we have feelings we can't quite pin down.

This is where tarot is useful. So if we spread them, those cards we gravitate towards are the ones that best explain how we are feeling.

This is projection working to make our reality more clear to us. Dreams do much the same thing.

It is, of course, not necessary to use Rider-Wait tarot cards. I prefer others because I love art, and some of the decks out there are beyond stunning.

There are things that we don't understand that do exist. Because there are, and we cannot differentiate when it's true or not because we can't measure it, tarot card readings are not always accepted.

There are things that we don't understand that do exist. Because there are, and we cannot differentiate when it's true or not because we can't measure it, tarot card readings are not always accepted.

Do Online Tarot Card Readings Work?

Absolutely not.

A tarot card reading is not magic.

It is a method of projecting one's unconscious knowledge and feelings into a card. While we can do that if the cards are in front of us and we can actually see the cards, that is not so in any online reading.

Keep a Record of Your Tarot Card Readings

Just as we forget our dreams, so it is easy to forget the truths a tarot card reading can reveal to us. We are so into what we want to know that a great many of us conveniently forget what we don't want to know.

I therefore believe it's important to keep a note of all tarot card readings, and to be detailed in what was said.

This is particularly so if we're doing readings on a weekly basis. We may chose the same cards repeatedly (and that's revealing within itself), and then we may start selecting different cards, and that means we are perceiving our situations differently.

Tarot cards work through subconscious projection.

Tarot cards work through subconscious projection.

Can Tarot Cards Foretell the Future

I think cold readings and lucky guesses are responsible for a great many 'accurate' predictions about the future.

I don't think the future can be predicated.

Just so that I'm not dishonest there, the first time someone read tarot cards for me, she told me my fiance was going to die. He was dead less than a year later.

I think, however, we can determine likely outcomes if we are very clear about existing situations and have a clear idea of how our actions can influence those situations.

Gilded Tarot Cards - My Very Best!

Selecting a Tarot Card Pack

I have, through the years, owned many different tarot card packs. Initially, I started with the Rider Waite design, but as time went on, I just fell madly in love with some other designs.

I also happen to believe that the more one has a love and familiarity with the cards, the more one will make meaningful selections when trying to obtain clarity about situations.

Although all the tarot cards deal with different archetypes, it may be best to start with the Rider Waite design, just so that when others are using them, you know what each illustration represents.

So good luck with your new tool to finding out everything you thought you didn't know but actually do. There's a lot in your unconscious mind, and you don't need someone else to tell you what it is!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger


Tessa Schlesinger (author) on September 04, 2019:

As I explained, it's a cold reading. You do not possess super powers, and I can give you a 100% guarantee you would be wrong in everything you said to me. I know that because I went through a lot of these people at one time. They all spoke nonsense. No exceptions.

Lionrhod from Orlando, FL on September 02, 2019:

Oh my dear the amount of misrepresentation you are spreading.

Lets just start with this... you as the person having the reading do not interpret the cards.

I've worked as a reader for over 3 decades now.

Yes there are some folks that read the signs and signals that folks give off...and sometimes you can't be as blind to that as you might want.

I do the entire reading with my face down to the cards, And then only look up and if needed offer advice to help their hearts. Nope this shit isn't fake in any way.

And have sometimes tokd them stuff that came out of the blue, That was totally on point,Long story, but yeah its real.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on July 22, 2019:

Probably cold reading more than anything else. I can 'read' someone within five minutes of meeting them. Everything tells me something about them. Their syntax when they talk. They accent. The way they hold their body. The exact words they use. The way they reason. The expression in their eys. Their body movement. You name it - it tells me something. A few well placed questions, and I more or less can tell them that I'm psychic! I'm not. :)

Sharlee on July 21, 2019:

I enjoyed this article. Very interesting, I have had my cads read several times, and found my readings to be very on point.

bm-boy on July 03, 2019:

wow, what a nice post and article.Thanks for your content.

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