Don’t Be Afraid of the Tarot by Deborah Blake
Ihave been reading tarot professionally for many years, and one of the things that surprised me the most was not how accurate it could be (although that was kind of amazing) but how many people were afraid to have their cards read.
Whenever I sat down with a new client, we would begin by chatting, and a number of times I had people say to me that they were scared of getting bad news or having negative cards turn up in a reading. These folks had genuine trepidation—enough so that some of them had put off getting a reading for years, despite a real longing to have one.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way belittling these fears. Some people do end up getting bad news, and negative cards show up all the time. But contrary to what you might think, none of this is scary and certainly not a reason to avoid getting a tarot reading. If anything, it is the opposite. I’ll tell you why, and hopefully you’ll never be afraid of the tarot again.
One of the concerns people have voiced to me the most often over the years is the fear that a tarot reading will reveal some unanticipated upcoming disaster or catastrophe. I can honestly tell you that in all the readings I have done, that has only happened once. That’s right—once.
Does this mean that only one of the tarot readings I did ever showed bad news? Of course not. What it does mean is that almost every time, the person I was doing the reading for already knew what that bad news was going to be. The readings showed plenty of relationships going wrong, financial situations blowing up, bad choices being made. Sometimes they even showed death. But rarely were any of these things a surprise.
Instead, the tarot cards merely served to confirm what the querents already knew. If someone came to me to ask if a spouse was cheating or if a bad relationship was going to continue to cause pain, somewhere inside, she already knew the answer. Much of the time, a tarot reading serves to confirm the truths you already know on some level or another, acknowledged or not.
That doesn’t mean that the reading is unnecessary or has no value. We often need to have confirmation from an outside source, and the tarot serves that purpose well. But hardly ever is the bad news a surprise.
In fact, I have found that, for most people, having the cards corroborate what they already knew on some gut level gives them the courage to act on that knowledge and move forward in a positive way to create changes or deal with difficult truths. Rather than being upset to discover that their worst fears were true, most people were relieved to know that they were right and could now move forward accordingly. At the very least, they have been able share their burdens, and that alone makes the reading worth it for most people.
The Scary Cards
There are certain cards that people are often afraid will turn up in their reading. Death is the one most commonly mentioned, but also the Devil, the Tower, the Hanged Man, and others are perceived as “bad” cards, and some folks are quite fearful that these cards will appear during a session. It is normal to be leery of the cards, but what most people don’t realize is that there is no such thing as a “bad” tarot card. All the cards I mentioned, plus others often perceived as negative, can have a positive side as well. It is all in how you interpret them.
This isn’t to say that having the Devil or Death cards show up in your reading means that everything is swell, but let’s face it: few people ask for a reading when everything in their life is going smoothly. Although I do sometimes get folks who just want a general idea of what’s coming next, most of my clients come for a reading during a time of crisis or when important decisions have to be made.
In these cases, the cards that people often perceive as negative or scary can serve an important purpose. Usually, they are there as a message from the universe (or whatever name you want to put on it). That message might be a warning, such as “Don’t go down that path!” or “Continuing in the direction you are heading will only lead to unhappiness.” Sometimes they seem like they carry bad news but actually herald the potential for positive change or new opportunities, in which case the message is more likely to be “Pay attention” or “What are you missing?”
Here are a few examples of what some of the seemingly scarier cards might be telling you:
The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man is usually a card about being stuck. Obviously, no one likes that feeling, and it can be frustrating if this card comes up when you are trying to move forward in a situation. But sometimes this card is telling you that this isn’t the right time for change or that you are wasting your energy banging your head against the same old wall in the same old way. If what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you need to look at things differently. Can you try going around instead of through?
Or maybe you’re not addressing the issues that are really holding you back. It’s also possible that you’re stuck because you’re not willing to walk away from a particular person or position; in short, this card may be telling you that you have chosen to remain stuck. If so, you might need to figure out why. Is there something about the situation that makes you feel safe, even though it isn’t optimum? Is it just fear of change? The Hanged Man is often a hint that you need to look closer at whatever the issue is.
Death is probably the card that scares people the most. But in my experience, it rarely means actual death, although of course it can. Much more often, it signifies the death of something: the end of a dream or a relationship or the loss of a job. This almost always feels like bad news, but is it really? After all, the end of one thing is often the beginning of another. One door closing can mean another door opening in a way you might never have expected.
How many of us have suffered through the painful “death” of a relationship we thought at the time was The One, only to discover later that the loss of that person freed us up to be available to someone better? A job crisis might seem like a disaster at first, but sometimes leads us down a new path we might not have taken otherwise.
The Death card usually tells us that whatever the issue is, there is no going back. The answer is final. So the message here is often “Stop trying to fix it; it can’t be saved” and “Accept this reality and move on. Mourn if you need to, but start trying to figure out what good might come of the ending of whatever it was.” Don’t forget—death can often lead to rebirth.
The Devil is another scary card. But it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does. Yes, occasionally it is a warning about a particular person, in which case you probably already knew that keeping that person in your life was a bad idea. If the Devil pops up in a spread where you are asking about someone else’s intentions or affect on your life, this card is probably saying, “Run away! Run away now!”
But just as often, the Devil represents something else. Something more internal. We all have our devils that we fight—bad habits, addictions, patterns of behavior we know don’t work but that we cling to anyway. If the Devil card is representing one of these, the message may be “You can choose to change this” or “Time to walk away from temptation.” There is a reason for the saying “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” We are all afraid of the unknown. The Devil card might be asking, “What are you clinging to because you are comfortable with the devil you know?”
The Tower is never good news when it shows up in a reading, but it is also rarely a surprise. It’s hard not to notice when your life is blowing up all around you. On the other hand, if the Tower shows up in a future position or in reference to a relationship, the message is clear: “This way lies disaster.” It can be a powerful warning, and one which you ignore at your peril.
But the Tower also has a positive side that most people might miss if they’re too busy freaking out. It is never fun when things crash and burn, and the Tower doesn’t signify minor destruction—it’s always huge. But you can’t have progress without change, and sometimes things have to fall apart before you can rebuild them into something even better.
If the disaster has already hit, the Tower may be asking, “What can you build out of the ruins?” or “How can you look at this differently? Maybe there is an upside you’re missing.” If the crisis is still in your future but clearly unavoidable, the Tower card can give you a chance to brace yourself before it hits. In this case, the message might be, “How can I prepare for this better or mitigate the damage?”
No Bad Cards
In truth, there are no bad cards in the tarot. Some cards are more likely than others to herald bad news or make you face tough truths you would really rather have ignored. But hey, if you weren’t ready to face those things, you wouldn’t have gone for a reading in the first place. Not only are these scary cards probably telling you what you already knew, they may contain the seeds for solutions to your issues or suggestions on how to move forward in a more productive and positive way.
To a great extent, the meaning of any card is dependent on where it falls in a reading. I usually use the Celtic Cross spread, which has ten cards. The way I do it, both the sixth card and the last card are indications of future outcomes. The sixth card is either the near future, in which case you may only have time to brace yourself for whatever is coming, or it is a warning to change the path you are on. If the card in that position is one with more negative connotations, it is probably a warning that if you continue with your current behavior, the results are not going to be what you want.
If that last card, which represents the outcome of your current situation (or whatever you were asking about) ends up being one of these “scary” cards, that doesn’t mean that doom is inevitable. Any given tarot reading may be accurate at the moment it is done, if the cards are read by someone with skill, but it is not written in stone. Situations shift, people
change their minds and their attitudes, paths veer in unexpected directions. If you don’t like the answers you get in a reading, perhaps those cards were there to give you the push you needed to make those changes in your own life.
So don’t be afraid. Take the messages the cards are giving you, especially the uncomfortable or frightening ones, and use them to help you find the answers you came for in the first place. And then maybe try getting another reading in a little while, and don’t be surprised if the “scary” cards have been replaced by happier ones because you listened and acted on what you learned.