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That would seem self-evident. Cards are made of a stiff paper, printed with ink (most in color, some in black and white), and then lightly coated to make them a bit more resistant to dirt and moisture. That's all. They need to be handled with reasonable care, for instance don't leave them outside. Don't let your teething baby play with them. That sort of thing.

However, they are not cards printed with the blood of unicorns and basilisks on parchment made from the wings of Luna moths.

It makes me sad and puzzled to see so many superstitions going around about tarot cards and how to treat them. Newcomers to the practice are especially concerned. Thanks to communities here on LJ and other locations, at least they have somewhere to come and ask about their fears, but not all new readers are on LJ. So, some folks still believe:

1. I cannot buy my own deck of cards. If I do, I _________________________________. (Fill in with one of the following: will have bad luck, will not be able to read with the cards, will damage my chakra/intuitive ability/mojo whatever.)
2. The cards should not ever be ___________________________________________. (Fill in with perfectly reasonable activity taken out of context, such as: touched by someone else, or used without a silk/velvet/magical/whatever cloth under them, used when user is tired or ill, used for more than one reading/one querent without being cleansed through some lengthy and arcane process, put away without being painstakingly reordered as though new from factory, etc.)

Good heavens. It is a wonder that anyone these days ever gets a deck, let alone reads it! Tarot decks are cards. They are a tool, used for arcane but ideally practical purpose. Like any useful object, it is best to treat them with reasonable respect so as not to impair their usefulness.

Like any object through which someone works with (energy, mojo, magick, I don't care what you call it), the intent and belief of the one doing the working comes heavily into play. That to me is the saddest part of all of these limiting beliefs. If you are convinced that a deck you purchased yourself will never read true for you, then it won't. If you believe that you can't read with insight and accuracy unless you meditate, clear yourself of any angry or upset emotions, and take a ritual bath before touching the cards, you likely can't.

Why would anyone choose to limit themselves in this manner?

Some proscriptions are born of practicality and manners. Currently a discussion on one of the tarot forums here on LJ is delineating whether anyone other than the reader should touch a deck, and under what circumstances. The idea that "no one" should touch cards, it seems to be agreed, comes out of the understanding that it is just plain bad form to rifle through a user's tools without permission. The whole grabby "oooh, shiny!" reaction, where a nonuser grabs a deck and fans them out to see the pretty pictures, is a bit weird and leaves some readers feeling uncomfy. But does this somehow damage the cards? Newp! Just do what you feel you need to do to get comfortable with the cards again, and you are good to go.

I also wonder if there isn't a proscription against touching cards and other such tools because of the unfortunate history of persecution linked to arcane and misunderstood practices. Tarot has been around a loooong time, long enough that if the wrong person pulled out a cloth-wrapped bundle that belonged to you and saw that it had fortune-telling witchery cards in it, then (gasp!) a WITCH! Predictably unfortunate results for you, my friend. If this is the case, the warning against allowing anyone to touch cards would serve handily as a way to make sure that cards were kept hidden, and that anyone who might come for a consult would not actually have had the cards in hand, possibly (hopefully?) preventing them from being able to testify with detail and certainty to their content. This is just my curiosity speaking here, of course. If anyone knows of historical references on tarot that explain modern superstitions, I would love it if you would post links or citations below. ETA: The discussion in comments is leading me to believe that I am probably misguided on this last para. The history doesn't suggest this strongly, although I still wonder. Chime in folks! Why fear of or for cards, then?



( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
"Tarot has been around a loooong time, long enough that if the wrong person pulled out a cloth-wrapped bundle that belonged to you and saw that it had fortune-telling witchery cards in it, then (gasp!) a WITCH! Predictably unfortunate results for you, my friend. If this is the case, the warning against allowing anyone to touch cards would serve handily as a way to make sure that cards were kept hidden, and that anyone who might come for a consult would not actually have had the cards in hand, possibly (hopefully?) preventing them from being able to testify with detail and certainty to their content."

I seriously doubt this. The height of the witchcraft persecutions in England was early Modern Europe (rather than medieval era actually, which generally surprises people on yahoo groups lol). The idea of Tarot being really old isn't necessarily untrue, but the idea of it being associated with witchcraft in the persecution era or even later is a bit of romance, I'm afraid. The earliest fortune telling happened with plain old playing cards. If you were found with a Tarot deck in Italy, it meant you were upper crust, not a witch. Cards were expensive (they had to be hand painted pre printing press, and even after they were a luxury); fooling around with them was a pasttime of the wealthy. By the time anybody who could be accused of anything had his or her hands on a deck, the witch scare was over. And in some places, cards in general were illegal or restricted, not because of fortune telling, but because the Church disapproved -- gambling and games led to bad character. The idea that someone caught with a deck of Tarot cards would have been persecuted for possessing them because of a stigma of witchcraft strikes me as highly unlikely. An owner would have been much more likely to be "persecuted" for gambling.

The modern association of the Tarot and the occult is probably the fault of the Golden Dawn. Tarot was a card game, the earliest owners were rich, and the earliest fortune telling with cards was done with simple playing cards anyway. Some insist on all these links to Egypt and such, and all this romantic nonsense about witch cult survivals, and they're welcome to believe it, but there's not a shred of evidence. I think the proscription comes from a new-age tendency to overly mystify and complicate shit for the woo-woo effect, myself. There's probably also a strong line of thinking here derived from a ceremonial magick tradition that considers cards a magickal weapon, part of the magickian's magickal arsenal like cup, wand, pentacle, and therefore to be treated specially. We probably have the Golden Dawn to thank for this as well.
Jan. 11th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
And by "old" in "The idea of Tarot being really old isn't necessarily untrue," I mean early modern Europe (aka Renaissance).
Jan. 11th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
I do agree with a lot of this, don't dispute that tarocci was the original intent of the cards, or that the beginnings of such persecution predates when tarot as a system of divination was likely. But, in the midst of some of the craziness that went on when Church officials were trying to root out witches, and when civil courts were making grabhands and folks' land and holdings, an object that was not inherently evil but could be used for evil purpose, along with completely benign conditions like birthmarks, lefthandedness, etc. were enough to designate one as being suspicious. And there is some overlap of tarot-as-divination and persecution for occult practice, by several hundred years. Even if the cards were designed as a game primarily, and used for (and decried as) gambling, I don't doubt that if you had money or were inconvenient or had pissed off the wrong person, any potentially "questionable" behavior could be seen as grounds. Especially since most actual witch trials were brought by the civil courts, rather than the church (although with church blessing and encouragement).

The way that the designation of "Witch" was declared in practice depended upon where you were. In areas where the Church could seize the property and holdings of people persecuted as witches, you find that those arrested and executed were moneyed, often older widows who had inhereted property. In areas where forfeiture and seizure was not the law, those designated as witches were much more likely to be impoverished, especially spinster women or widows without means who were a drain on the resources of the community. Being upper-crust did not necessarily protect one from the accusation that one practiced witchcraft. In some areas, it put you at greater risk.

Mostly I am wondering whether superstitions about staying private and protecting cards come out of a tradition where practitioners had reason to be paranoid and afraid. I find the idea interesting, since tarot as divination really took off in France and England (as opposed to tarot-as-game, beginning in Italy), and those two locations are also the two areas in Europe where the insanity of witchfinding was most pronounced -- although from what I have read, the popular modern accounts of "millions" killed through witchfinding efforts is vastly overstated. But again, just playing with ideas, and could be totally off base here.

I think though that part of our disagreement is that you and I have a different definition of old. To me, something that has been around since the 1400s is really old, but then I am not a historian and I do realize that for some, that would make this system merely adolescent.
Jan. 11th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
I'm on board with the distinctions between witchcraft persecution varying widely depending on where and when you're talking about, and the fact that having money didn't guarantee safety in such matters, particularly since accusations of witchcraft were officially/"legally" accusations of heresy. I'd be ignoring a great deal of evidence linking the development of the witchcraft trials in e.m. Europe to medieval trials for heresy/devil worship (particularly leveled at Jews). But I guess my overarching point which I didn't do a good job of making is that there is not a shred of evidence linking divination with tarot cards to any persecution; in fact, there is a lot of evidence of tarot cards existing in drawing rooms and parlors, of possession of the cards by priests, other religious officials, and scholars, and of early modern treatises on how the symbolism of the cards was allegorical and could be used to promote morality. There is more evidence to suggest that they were not affiliated with the demonic and occult in any serious way than there is to suggest that they were. I'm also not arguing that cartomancy didn't exist prior to the Victorian era surge of interest in hermetic societies and ceremonial magick stuff, nor am I arguing that highly placed court advisers in medieval Europe didn't sometimes engage in sorcery, astrology, and even demon summoning (cartomancy would have been too "low" for them, I suspect. Angelic communication and astrology was more like it). But I *am* arguing that the there isn't a scrap of evidence to support the idea that the secrecy or taboos surrounding the care and feeding of tarot cards dates back to any era in which people were seriously leveling accusations of witchcraft at one another in any way that was taken seriously by any officials with any power to do anything about it.

I'd be excited to be proven wrong; if there's any real association of Tarot with persecution for witchcraft or heresy I'd love to see it.
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 11th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
"those two locations are also the two areas in Europe where the insanity of witchfinding was most pronounced"

I think you might find Germany beats them both, possibly combined.
Re: also... - annieolaughlin - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: also... - karmazain - Jan. 11th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: also... - annieolaughlin - Jan. 12th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 11th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Agree with you wholeheartedly on the romanticism for woo-woo effect, btw. I am sure there is a lot of that in beliefs now, since it is much more romantic to be gifted a deck, to treat it specially, etc. I find the fear about tarot cards to be puzzling now though. So many people are "out of the broom closet," claim to be proud and unafraid, etc. but seem so downright paranoid of their cards. Even afraid of the cards themselves. I have not heard of anyone afraid of their chalice, or their wand. Just.....weird to me. But maybe folks are and are just less public. I do not practice ceremonial magick and so am ignorant of potential complications there.
(no subject) - karmazain - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karmazain - Jan. 11th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 12th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 12th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 11th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'm not learned in the history of tarot or the "arcane" arts, but I do remember my Catholic upbringing. We were told not to associate with some occult influences. We were given basic, often distorted and simplistic information about them, usually with the goal of scaring us or making them seem distasteful. (Imagine how well that worked out!) They were always presented as wrong and dangerous, less often as tools of the devil. It was more a matter of, our way is the right way, why follow the wrong path or even be tempted?

Looking back, I think that's the important distinction, at least for modern times. The emphasis is not on expelling evil so much as preserving one's purity. Catholics are "right" - they have the truth and the way. All others, even the well-meaning ones, are wrong. We can get good ideas and learn from them, but it has to be seen through the Catholic paradigm. Tarot cards imply a separate paradigm, one that does not require the foundations of Jesus, the holy trinity, salvation through deeds and faith, etc. Even if the cards aren't incompatible with official dogma, why risk the chance that one would come to a different conclusion than the official line?

You can replace "Catholic" with just about any other major religious or social group. The stigmas and superstitions may in part come from an overzealous desire for purity within a larger group.
Jan. 11th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
I think you're onto something here, in that a lot of new-agers come from Xian backgrounds and have managed to hang onto a lot of Xian ideas about morality, ethics, and evil.
Jan. 11th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yep, they have. I have noticed that some new-agers approach their traditions with the same puritanical zealousness that many Xians approach theirs.
(no subject) - karmazain - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 11th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sevenjades - Jan. 11th, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karmazain - Jan. 11th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annieolaughlin - Jan. 12th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 12th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
I don't think I have anything to contribute that hasn't already been said, but thanks so much for the add!

Huzzah for frequent entries that actually interest me :].
Jan. 12th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, just remembered, my life is rather relevent to this entry :x.
I should say, however, that I live in a house with two career psychics (which I am, also), and we even trade off on certain decks from time to time.

Kim uses my Universal Waite deck, I gank her Herbal Tarot, Gus and I switch off between the Guilded and Thoth decks, etc.

Having other people whom I love and trust touching my cards has never presented any problems for me. When I receive them back, I simply shuffle them a few times, feel them out as one would do with any divination tool, and if everything's normal (and it always is), we're back to business as usual.
Jan. 13th, 2008 02:15 am (UTC)
Re: Oh, just remembered, my life is rather relevent to this entry :x.
Agreed. I think the "love and trust" part is the key there. It doesn't feel off when trusted folks touch my tools either, and I feel no serious need to do anything unusual by way of clearing. But then, there are people who I feel like I need to fumigate my house energy-wise if they have even been over. It has taken me a long time to be willing to trust that gut instinct for something as nonspecific as that, but I have leared that those are associations best left to dwindle. If someone like that touched my cards I would probably be a bit more concerned, thankfully this has not happened as yet.
Jan. 13th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
Yay! Thanks for adding me back and coming on over. I look forward to talking about all sort of interesting things with you in the future!
Jan. 13th, 2008 06:41 am (UTC)
Knowing very little about tarot, I'm instead going to make you laugh. :p

From bookofratings.com, on fortune-telling methods:

Tarot: The wonderful thing about tarot is that people have pasted nearly every theme you can imagine onto the archetypes, ranging from Arthurian mythos to anthropomorphic ducks, and covering all the popular religions and many trademarked characters in the process. Tarot decks are like lunchboxes for new-agers. I was sincerely surprised to find out there's no Dukes of Hazzard Tarot.

Also, a few more, cause they're damned hilarious and somewhat relevant to the topic at hand:

Bibliomancy: This is telling your fortune by opening a book and reading a line at random. The key here is choosing the right book. I tried it with Hop on Pop and my fortune is apparently "Eat a snack." Eerily accurate, if not precisely earth-shaking. Bad books for bibliomancy include Carrie, Left Behind, and the collected works of Hunter S. Thompson. Good books include The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, most Nancy Drew mysteries, and any cookbook. ("There are two cups of cake flour in my future!") Pat the Bunny is also nice if you like soothing augury.

Crystallography: This is your classic crystal-ball-into-looking. My copy of The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling lays down a bunch of rules for crystal ball care: "Only you should handle your crystal ball." "Do not allow direct sunlight to fall on the crystal ball." "Wash the crystal ball using vinegar and water." Is it just me or are these just transcribed instructions for vaginal hygiene circa 1953?
Jan. 13th, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
Ok this has me laughing really hard. I'm going to go check out the site where you found these, I love them.

And, if I am completely honest, I covet the Ferret Tarot. Which is utterly ridiculous, yet wonderful. It is every bit as stupid as it sounds. It is a tarot with ink drawings of black and white ferrets.
(no subject) - ex_whitepho - Jan. 15th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC) - Expand
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )