Tarot Cards: Expectation vs. Reality


The Tarot is thought to have originated in Turkey. During the late 14th to early 15th century, Tarot cards made their way to Europe. Initially, the cards were used by Italian aristocrats to play different games. These games focused on using the arcane esoteric symbols to create poems. It evolved into an early variety of bridge and had no intentions for mysticism. The eventual evolution of divination using the Tarot happened over time.

The Tarot’s evolution into what we know now brought with it many different beliefs and misconceptions. Over the years, I’ve had conversations in regards to the Tarot and every single one of the following topics came up. As with most debates, there were lots of different viewpoints and opinions. So in this post, let’s explore some expectations versus realities of the Tarot.

  1. Expectation: Someone else must buy you your first Tarot deck
    Reality: You can treat yourself to your first deck of cards

This myth seems rooted in myth and no one knows where it comes from. Whomever came up with this adage is lost to history. But with time, it seems this “rule” has been dismissed by the modern Tarot community. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some who still believe and follow this directive. However, it’s nowhere near a steadfast requirement for someone else to buy you your first set of cards.

Coming from someone who had their first deck bought for them, I didn’t seriously start reading the cards for years after – and it was using cards that I bought for myself. The gift deck in question was a mixed media deck featuring angels. I did not find it to be beautiful aesthetically. It didn’t speak to me. I did not feel compelled to pick up the cards. I felt no exchange of energy or vibration. In fact, they made me feel nothing at all. And this came after multiple cleansing, charging, and bonding attempts.

Something to consider about receiving a Tarot deck from someone else is their intentions. Did they buy the deck because they see something in you that can be unlocked through the Tarot? Maybe they see themselves in you and the same thing was discovered through reading the cards. Perhaps it’s just a kind gesture.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, they most likely chose a deck based on their personal taste, impression of you as a practitioner, thoughts about what you need to learn, etc. And while their heart may be in the right place, do you really wish to start your Tarot journey on a path forged by somebody else?

Now that you know that it’s perfectly fine (and even encouraged) to buy your first deck, here are some tips to do so:

-Shop by aesthetic – Here’s where judging a book by its cover is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t like the look of the imagery on the box, you probably will be just as turned off by the cards themselves.

-Shop in person when at all possible – When you’re physically able to see and handle cards in person (most bookstores and metaphysical shops will allow you to open boxes if you ask first) it allows you get a feel for the card coating and ease of handling. This is important for Witches like myself who have incredibly small hands. So much so that I have issues with handling the traditional Rider-Waite deck and anything larger. Over the years I have been able to find a few smaller decks that I can use comfortably. I do use larger decks from time to time, but card size is definitely something I take into account when Tarot shopping.

-If you can’t shop in person, be strategic about where you buy from – Especially in the times we live in, it can be difficult to go out to a brick and mortar location. If you’re shopping behind a screen, look for listings that have lots of photos and reviews. Bonus points for videos!

  1. Expectation: The Tarot tells our future
    Reality: The Tarot helps us create our future

In the world of mysticism, when the Tarot crossed over from parlor games to divination in the late 1700s, it was an instant hit. Borrowing heavily from the Book of Thoth (the Egyptian god of wisdom) the Frenchman Jean-Baptise Alliette published the first guide to Tarot card reading. He assigned meaning to every card and integrated beliefs relating to astrology and the four elements. The Frenchman is also credited with allocating a specific order to the Tarot – both frontwards and backwards – which is still in use today.

So the belief that the cards tell your future is an expectation they don’t really live up to. After all, the assigned definitions for the Tarot was written by a man in the late 1700s. This fact alone kind of takes away from the mysticism surrounding divination usage. However, what the cards can do is correspond to our past and present behaviors. They allow us to become more aware of the role we play in creating our life. And in turn, they help us build our future.

Something else to take into consideration regarding the Tarot and telling one’s future is the saying “You don’t read the cards – the cards read you.” Think about that for a moment. Using the Tarot as a way to connect to your subconscious is an excellent tool to have. The cards are a reflection of us. By approaching the Tarot in this way, pay attention to whether or not you see a difference in your readings.

  1. Expectation: You must read the cards in upright AND reversed positions
    Reality: Read the Tarot as it resonates with you

I’ve written about gatekeepers in the past and the Tarot is no stranger to those who wish to block others from it. One big thing I’ve come across is people who believe that unless you read the cards as they are turned out – upright or reversed – then you’re only reading half of the Tarot. And while reading Tarot cards in reverse can add an entire new depth and layer to your readings, that doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone.

Let’s first take a look at some things that reading the Tarot in reverse can offer. Reading reversals in the Tarot can be used for access to a wider range of correspondence and keywords and in turn lend more clarity to readings. Reversed Tarot cards can also point out things like imbalances, blocked energies, missed opportunities, underlying matters, etc.

Having said that, reading only in the upright has its benefits, too. You may find that reading this way feeds your flow. It could feel more natural to tell a story through the Tarot with all of the images facing up. Another thing to consider is that upright cards can rid you of the stigma that reversed cards mean they’re “bad”. This could lead to more confident readings and in turn more clarity if you’re not “afraid” of what the deck has to say.

At the end of the day, as with all other magickal practices, take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. If it just does not feel right to read reversals, you don’t have to. It does not make you any less of a Tarot reader.

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  1. Expectation: There is only one way to read the cards
    Reality: Interpretations are personal

When first starting out, reading the Tarot can feel extremely overwhelming. I feel like a lot of this has to do with pressure to memorize the meanings and keywords of each and every card. I remember that initial feeling of restriction when I first started my practice – and how much of a turn off it was.

With this in mind, to believe that there is only one way to read and interpret the Tarot is kind of defeating the purpose of reading cards in the first place. As stated above, the cards are a reflection of us at a deeper, subconscious level. Beyond the surface, we have a lot going on and the cards can be used to tap into this secret place inside of us. But because we are all so different, how can there only be one way to read the cards for everyone?

All in all, I would venture to say that there are countless ways to read and interpret the Tarot. The way that resonates with you could hit you instantly or take time to develop. If it’s the latter, trial and error as much as possible until you find your way. And remember – the great thing about starting to read the Tarot is it can allow you to develop your intuition and begin to trust the messages from the Universe sent directly to you.

  1. Expectation: You have to be psychic to work with the Tarot
    Reality: Being psychic is not a prerequisite to read cards

Sure, psychics work with the Tarot. But it’s not a closed club. Dog groomers, bank tellers, lawyers, engineers, painters, secretaries, librarians, delivery drivers – all sorts of people from all walks of life read Tarot. The belief that you have to be psychic is a pretty common question/assumption. Along with this, it’s important to note that not all psychics read the cards. They are not mutually exclusive.

Now, speaking of psychic ability, you may start to notice that your own psychic capabilities starting to flourish naturally after beginning your practice. This could have something to do with our intuition and psychic capacity relying on the left side of the brain. There is more association, imagination, and creativity there. It could also have something to do with the Tarot acting as a trigger or muse for psychic enlightenment.

Dr. Carl Jung noted in a 1933 lecture speaking on the Tarot that cards are “really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism. They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents.” He goes on to say, “The cards combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of mankind.”

If you’re seeking out to develop your psychic powers, you may be onto something by using the Tarot. Do some research into the different kinds of psychic abilities and see if you gravitate towards a specific one. Pair the this with your readings and take it from there.

In conclusion…

The Tarot has the ability to truly change your life. I know it’s changed mine. And once I dropped a few of these misconceptions myself, my practice became so much more satisfying. Hopefully you’ve learned something new and found some inspiration from this post. Now go make magick!

Published by Pie

Pie Ankiewicz is the Resident Witch of Printable Witchcraft and sister-site Candle Cross Coven. She is a seasoned Eclectic Witch whose practice spans over three decades. Residing in Massachusetts, Pie designs printable Book of Shadows and grimoire pages, blogs about the Craft, and teaches others how to pursue being a practitioner.

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