Why tarot?

I thought as a bit of an introduction to myself and this blog, I’d take a bit of time and explain why I enjoy working with Tarot so much, and perhaps dispel a few misconceptions along the way!

I was first drawn to the cards as a sort-of-angsty teenager, probably more interested in the “fortune telling” cliche than anything else. I was (and still am) immensely drawn to mystery and magic, and rather liked the idea of getting answers to all my questions from some unknowable but wise source. Granted, my concerns in those days were pretty limited to romance, and what I was going to study at university, but there was also something else that drew me in. The tactile quality of shuffling a deck of cards, perhaps, or the intriguing symbolism I didn’t yet understand. Perhaps it wasn’t any of those things, and I was just a teenager, bored in a small town, and drawn to the little new age store with its incense, obligatory crystals, silver jewelry and posters of wise sayings from Native American Indians.

I remember looking through the decks on the shelf, and noticing that one, the Connolly deck, had a set of accompanying texts: Tarot for the Apprentice, the Journeyman, and the Master. I was rather intrigued, and thought the stained glass artwork was interesting enough. I bought the deck and the Apprentice book (I had an after school job at the Warehouse), and took them home.

Now I’m older and have met a community of tarot enthusiasts online, I know that most people tend to slag the Connolly deck. The images are derivative, many say. Others don’t like the deck because some cards, like Death and the Devil, had been changed to Materialism and Transition:

The Connolly Tarot

The Connolly Tarot

Perhaps so, but sixteen year old me didn’t know that this “softening” of the potent symbolism was anything so terrible. The cards felt friendly to me, and part of me liked the way the cards acknowledged what I thought at the time was the “true meaning” of the two most emotive cards in the deck.

As for the Apprentice book itself, well, it was unlike anything I’d ever come across, with a step by step method for internalising the meaning of the suits, the numbers, courts and Major Arcana. I dutifully held cards up to my third eye while visualising keywords, or words in Hebrew that meant little to me. I bought a crystal, and cleansed the deck somehow, because that was what the book said I should do.

It was all pretty “new agey”, in any case. And while I felt a little embarrassed while I was doing it (and hoped no one would come into the lounge and find me, cards spread out and holding things up to my head), something also felt right too. I was entering vastly unknown territory, and I liked how it was so different to anything I’d experienced in my sixteen years of life. I spent ages going through the cards, getting to know them intimately, dutifully following the book, and eventually was “let loose” on a Celtic Cross spread.

I can’t remember whether that first spread made any sense to me at all, but I do remember that period in my life, sitting cross-legged on my bed, laying out cards in a Celtic Cross. It always took so long to write everything out in my notebook that half the time the reading just wound up being a listing of card positions and meanings. I was slowly learning how to interpret how meanings could change, depending on their position in the spread, but I now know the Celtic Cross is a huge spread – too huge for a beginner. I should have started with some one-, two-, and three-card readings instead. But I was determined. I stuck with that Celtic Cross.

High school finished, and I went overseas on a summer exchange to Italy. Tarot definitely took a back seat to exploring a new culture and a new language, though I did manage to pick up a deck of Major Arcana cards, from a beautiful paper-maker in Florence:

Tarocchi - Gli Arcani Maggiori - Firenze 1800 - Ed. Papier Arti e Mestieri - Firenze - Italy 2000

Tarocchi – Gli Arcani Maggiori – Firenze 1800 – Ed. Papier Arti e Mestieri – Firenze – Italy 2000

I never used the cards for anything, but the love was obviously still there.


Fast forward quite a few years. University, first jobs, my first real relationship, and then three years overseas had all kept me pretty busy. I occasionally messed around with other decks (I discovered – and fell in love with – the infamous Thoth deck from a friend at the hostel in my first year at Otago), but other things were always distracting me. Then three years ago I found myself smack-dab in a happy, loving relationship, with a good job, living in a town I loved, in a cute house with a couple of cats to boot.

And that’s when tarot started calling again. I finally took the plunge and joined up with Aeclectic Tarot, a forum that I’d read for years, but never participated in. I actually started having conversations with people who I’d previously just followed with awe. I even started taking part in reading exchanges with other AT-ers. I got good feedback, and enjoyed the progress I made as I read and studied the cards.

And that’s pretty much where I am now. I’ve realised that over the years most of the ‘airy fairy’ aspect of Tarot has worn away (been sloughed off over the years). I still carry that crystal around with me, but more out of nostalgia than anything else. Instead, tarot for me has become something other than a practice in “fortune telling”, or connecting with a mysterious unknown. It feels to me like… like I’ve learned a new language, or a new process, a new way of joining dots I never realised were there. The outcomes still definitely have their uncanny side (such as when certain cards repeat themselves over time – even if you try using different decks), but I strongly believe most of the magic happens in my own brain, or in that space between two people as you work through the meanings of the cards together.

Sometimes the cards tell a story. Other times they are symbolic. Occasionally they are blatant and obvious. But they always seem to have a relevance to the situation, question, or people involved.

I am not an occultist, psychic, or healer, and make no claims to secret knowledge. I read the New Scientist, work in IT, review computer games, love photography, reading and knitting. In my younger years I went to bible school at the Presbyterian church, and would now probably describe myself as Agnostic. Tarot for me is not a religious experience, a way to communicate with the dead, God, or any other supernatural being. I don’t presume to know why Tarot works, but find it fulfilling in so many ways. The cards are (usually) beautiful to look at, mini works of art in their own right. They often present me with an objective view of my question, though the onus is always on me to understand and make sense of what they’re saying.

They provide a tactile, visual experience, crossed with an intellectual, textual one. And yes, while certain spreads include a position for future outcomes, the emphasis is always on taking personal responsibility for making sure that outcome does or doesn’t eventuate. And I like that. The cards are tools for me to understand myself, the way I interact with others, and the world around me.

It’s fascinating stuff.

Connolly Tarot Deck
By Eileen Connolly, Peter Paul Connolly
Copyright © 1990 U.S. Games Systems
ASIN: B002C78A9C

One thought on “Why tarot?

  1. The One Deck Wonder | Herself's Tarot Notebook

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