I should preface this by saying, I grew up with orthodox religious dogma having been so seamlessly woven into my spiritual ideologies that I didn’t even realize the extent of my indoctrination until I was not-so-subtly confronted with hell as a very “real” consequence to my reading of the cards.
Many who have “strayed” from more traditional spiritual practices and into those with particularly negative connotations have experienced the moment when they have to look the fear of damnation in the face and dissect it until it no longer has power over them.
The process to freedom from religious teachings that utilize fear-mongering tactics to keep people obedient can be a difficult and lengthy undertaking. So, to anyone who has ever been made to feel guilty for practicing divination, I hope you can grant yourself the patience and kindness you need along whatever path you choose to walk.
A Life-Changing Discovery
My spiritual journey has been a reflective road of both the existential and the self. I cannot recount the exact moment I was officially introduced to the practice of tarot, but I do remember scrolling through Google and feeling like I was looking into something forbidden.
I think maybe it was the card-slinging community on YouTube that made the first introductions, in specific the channel of professional card reader, Kelly-Ann Maddox, comes to mind. It was a space filled with people of belief, be it in something higher, something within, something without, or all of these combined.
Card reading was tied to the Law of Attraction, occult, witchcraft, religion, etcetera, whatever people needed it to be for them was the manner in which it functioned. The contents of the cards were ripe with imaginative interpretations influenced by the creativity and vision of their artists and writers. Not at all like what tarot was portrayed to be in Hollywood films or certain religious texts.
A Bad Rap
In my college thesis project, Modern Bruja, I researched in-depth the damage inflicted onto tarot by numerous biblical mentions that prohibit divination and other similar forms of magic. Along with Hollywood’s theatrical depiction of it as a precise, and unalterable prediction of life, love and death or the tool of a trickster used for fraudulent financial gain.
“Let no one be found among you … who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…” —Deuteronomy 18:10-12
“Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him.” —2 Kings 17:17
“When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?” —Isaiah 8:19
(If you’re interested in more of my research, argument, and conclusion, check out my thesis project post.)
All this led to a battle between my curiosity and my fear – spoiler alert, my curiosity won out. The first deck I bought I made sure was void of what still brought me unease at the time like the Death and Devil cards of the major arcana, and pentacles, one of the traditional Suits of the minor arcana.
Despite the internal struggle, still, I chose what would make me happy.
Heavenly Highs, Hellish Lows
My first tarot deck showed me what an incredible work of art decks were and the constructive tools for self-reflection that they can be, but they also revealed how isolating spirituality outside of a major religion could also be.
To suddenly find that no one around you understood what you were doing, in this case tarot, as a valid extension of your spirituality after having identified with a widely recognized major religion, is a hard reality to wrap your head around in the beginning.
The power and respect afforded to some sects of religion when little to none is granted to others is a line that becomes sourly apparent unlike before (as can be said about any experience wherein you are no longer in the majority). But the indifference was nowhere near as grueling as the criticism.
As I said, oftentimes you don’t realize the deep levels of indoctrination until you’re confronted with the full force of its deception and shame. I was told something to the effect that my loved ones may find themselves in heaven without me, the cause of my ethereal absence being that I “meddled” with things I ought not to have (a.k.a. the tarot).
I. WAS. TERRIFIED.
I had never been faced with the idea of hellfire as a consequence before, and no matter how low-key it was of a warning; I knew exactly what they meant. This led me into a tarot-hiatus that lasted a couple months.
A new deck I had bought was left stored away in its cardboard shipping box, a pentacle necklace ended up buried in the trash, and I hid any evidence of my divinatory explorations from everyone – including myself.
Fear Not, Be Free
Even though I was left feeling scared, eventually that turned into an anger that empowered me. I was angry at how effectively religion had been used like a weapon against me. I was angry that it had been disguised as care. I was angry that it worked on me like a curse of shame.
I understood that tarot was not my enemy, but fundamental religious dogma was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So, I decided that I would never be made to feel that fear again by anyone or anything over a deck of cards (or any other practice or way of being alternate to what is normative for that matter).
Now, I am an avid tarot and oracle reader and proud owner of a growing deck collection. I recently received my ninth with the arrival of the True Black Tarot I’d been waiting on excitedly after pre-ordering it. It’s absolutely stunning by the way.
Tarot is so much more sophisticated, intricate and fun than most people know because the stigma that surrounds it doesn’t lend itself to immediate consideration as legitimate and worthy of exploration. In actuality it is a gallery of art in a compact size, a meditative tool filled with symbolism and story, and an intuitive connection to the inexplicably magickal.