T is for tarot

I saw my first tarot deck—at least the first one I remember—when I was about seven years old. My mother had brought me along while she ran some errands, one of which was to a store called Cloud 9. Cloud 9 was one of those stores with an ever-changing stock of small gifts, knickknacks, tchotchkes, and so on, and on that day we were there, they were selling tarot cards. The sealed box was in a display case, with no sample cards to be seen, so it wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been, and yet I still felt an instant attraction. Not so my mother, who flatly told me no when I said I wanted it. I’ve never figured out if she was disturbed by their being tarot cards, or she just meant she’d had enough of a tired child wanting tarot cards, a new toy, ice cream, or anything else that afternoon.

Fast forward to college: a new state, a new school, and new friends, one of whom owned a tarot deck and could do readings. By this point, I’d already taught myself a fair chunk of astrology, so it wasn’t like I was totally unfamiliar with the occult, but this was my first exposure to divination. Like that deck back in my childhood, it was instant like. But suspecting my parents wouldn’t approve (it was clear they were waiting for me to outgrow the astrology; adding tarot probably wasn’t going to help any), it took me another two years to work up the courage to buy a deck of my own. I waited until I was living in my first apartment, and I ordered it from the Science Fiction Book Club, because I didn’t know where to look for one locally.

A favorite card: the Ace of Pentacles from the Robin Wood Tarot.
A favorite card: the Ace of Pentacles from the Robin Wood Tarot.

I could wish that that first deck hadn’t been my first. The Major Arcana didn’t do a thing for me artwise, and the Minor Arcana was unhelpfully traditional, with pip cards instead of scene cards. Like most beginners, every reading involved laboriously looking up each card in the accompanying book; unlike many beginners, I couldn’t move past that stage because my intuition refused to have anything to do with that deck and all learning just slid right off my brain. Despite all this, tarot has turned out to be one of my life-long interests. Skip to the present day: my tarot books have overflowed the bookcase I dedicated to them, and the decks themselves are piled high under tables and on shelves.

My thoughts tend to scatter when I try to explain why the tarot has stuck with me (or I’ve stuck with it) all these years. The art helps, of course; I find divination itself fascinating, but the tarot (and oracle cards) do have an advantage in the aesthetics department. The tarot is another way for me to exercise my (also life-long) love of the four elements. Different readers may disagree as to which element goes with which suit, but the popular assignment of wands/fire, cups/water, swords/air, and pentacles/earth is fine with me. And then there’s their sheer versatility: sure, you can use them for divination, but they also work for magic, artistic inspiration (both visual and verbal), psychological exploration, and even card games, if you want to take them back to their origins. They’ve been one of the most useful things I’ve encountered in my life, which is perhaps what I dimly recognized way back when, staring at that little box in the glass case at Cloud 9.

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