[A snapshot of my personal deck in a Celtic Cross Spread]
We’ve all seen tarot readings depicted in fiction where a tepid patron sits down across the table from a fortune teller, typically draped in some sort of makeshift ceremonial clothing (complete with headdress). The teller drops a series of cards in strategic placement, inevitably setting down a final foreboding card: DEATH. At that point, the protagonist enters the five stages of grief and subsequently goes on quest to prevent their untimely demise. Dramatic, right? Well lucky for you (unless you’re some sort of thrill-seeker), actual tarot readings are much more mundane.
Do tarot card decks really have a Death card? Yes. Is it likely to predict an actual fatality? No. As with every card in the deck, its meaning is primarily symbolic. Death is defined as “a permanent cessation of all vital functions” or “the end of life,” although the key word here is “permanent.” There is no reversing death. Similarly, the Death card is symbolic of irrevocable change. As an example: the “death” of your childhood coincides with the beginning of your adulthood. Unless you’re Peter Pan or somehow phase through a time-warp, you will never again experience childhood once you become an adult. In that respect, Death is viewed as a positive (or at the very least, necessary) card; new beginnings only occur when the things that are have outgrown their usefulness or expire. There are 52 cards in a standard deck, each with their own distinctive meanings and complexities. Death may not even appear if it's not relevant to the answers you are seeking.
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of a tarot reading is not to reveal an inevitable outcome. Rather, it is meant to give you an analysis of the circumstances that led you up to your present situation and give you the most probable outcome based on that information. If the reading is fantastic, it is still your responsibility to ensure it comes to fruition. You can’t expect to land your dream job if you never actually submit an application, regardless of what your reading indicates. Similarly, you can’t expect to avoid a personal catastrophe if you continue to engage in behavior you know to be reckless. Your choices dictate your life and while there will always be certain situations that are beyond your control, you still have the capacity to make choices as to how to respond to them.
Tarot and other forms of divination aren’t exclusive to any one particular belief system. People from all walks of life (theist, atheists and agnostics included) may find themselves getting their cards read at some point. One documentary I watched on the subject (I think it was either Through the Wormhole or The Story of God with Morgan Freeman) featured a scientist who periodically read her own cards. As an atheist, she did not believe her readings held any spiritual significance whatsoever, but they did often help her organize her thoughts and/or consider alternate perspectives she might not have considered. At the very least, she considered it an entertaining pastime.
As I mentioned earlier, real tarot readings are fairly mundane—no different from speaking with a peer counselor or spiritual adviser (and just as with a peer counselor or spiritual adviser, they cannot be used as a substitute for medical, psychiatric or legal advice) . They can, however, assist you in your decision making process.
Topics people typically inquire about through tarot are work and fiance, romantic, platonic or familial relationships, spirituality, and education, among others. As a general rule, an in-depth reading cannot be performed with a “Yes/No” question. “Will I be rich?” is poor phrasing. Of course it's possible you might become rich someday, but that kind of question can’t offer any type of constructive criticism as to how to get yourself there. “How can I achieve financial wealth and stability?” would be an example of proper phrasing because you are acknowledging you have choices to make.
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