"Tarot is a form of therapy, much like psychoanalysis"



The truth about tarot

"Whether divining ancient wisdoms or elevating the art of cold reading, tarot is a form of therapy, much like psychoanalysis"

In The Occult Tradition (2005), the historian David S Katz describes how deeply psychoanalytic theory, and Jung in particular, drank from the well of occult literature. The same combination of therapeutic aims and occult mystery was irresistible to the New Age too. Farley describes the cards as the ‘New Age tool par excellence’, able to shift fluidly from play to fortunetelling to ‘healing’.

Including self-healing. Julie described how she had suffered from anxiety and depression, and how her insight had grown from difficult life experiences. ‘I see my readings as being a form of healing,’ she said, ‘as long as I’m helping people, that is the main thing.’ Later that day, along Glastonbury’s high street, I climbed a set of stairs behind a bookshop, where a sign pointed to tarot readings, offered alongside shamanic balancing with voice/drum/rattles, soul reconnection, healing through creative writing and deep-tissue massage. This was no ordinary tarot, either. The leaflet advertised that the reader was ‘gifted from childhood with great empathy and the facility to connect intuitively with people’, and had ‘developed the ability to actively heal as [they] read’.

Maybe they had. It is easy to sound snobbish instead of skeptical. Lévi wrote of Lenormand that ‘her head was filled with ill-digested erudition’, though he admitted that ‘she was intuitive by instinct, which deceived her rarely’. Skeptics have since said the same of tarot card-readers. It would require a sociological study to be sure, but it is possible that tarot offers a means to practise therapy for people who in some way stand outside formal or orthodox educational systems. It certainly seems to flourish in places such as Brighton and Glastonbury, not Cambridge and Hampstead.

And in a larger sense, the occult pseudo-history of tarot grasps a whisp of truth along with its armfuls of chaff. The cards are not the last survival of an ancient and exotic wisdom tradition. They are not the lost Book of Thoth. They are, however, a fairly unique remnant of the esoteric wisdom traditions of the European Renaissance, and they offer a form of informal, popular, easily accessed therapy. Meditating on the meaning and relevance of the four virtues, of Time, Love and Death, of the Hanged Man, the Angel and the Wheel of Fortune, can be valuable. The same is true, even, of meditating on the Fool.