Do Tarot cards have a darker side?

Tarot is widely recognised as a superb tool through which querents can gain insight into themselves and the roles they play in certain situations. It was even used by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, as a means through which to diagnose mental and emotional problems. People seek out the services of Tarot readers on a daily basis, seeking insight into a huge range of problems, such as career, money and relationship matters.

However, there are a large number of people who are denying themselves the benefits of a Tarot reading because they are scared of the arcane and occult associations attached to the cards. Some are even put off by the imagery of the cards themselves. So do Tarot cards have a darker side?

Aleister Crowley

The Tarot first came to notoriety through the works of Aleister Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley, the self-proclaimed ‘Wickedest Man in the World’ had a long-standing fascination with the world of the occult and wrote several books on the subject. His investigations led him to renounce virtually every form of religion in favour of his own maxim: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

There’s no doubt that Crowley was involved in drug-use and sexual experimentation, but whether or not he was – as some claim – a bona fide agent of the Devil is up for debate.

Crowley’s involvement with the Tarot came about after a meeting with a chemist, Julian L Baker. After a discussion about alchemy, the two became firm friends and Baker introduced Crowley to the occult group, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Because the Order fiercely guarded its secrecy, there were many assumptions made about what went on behind its doors – particularly when it was revealed that Crowley was involved. However, the Order was simply a group of thinkers who were dedicated to the psychic, philosophical and spiritual development of mankind. One of the methods they had uncovered was the Tarot.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The Tarot had already been in use for thousands of years, but the Order put its stamp on the cards, interpreting ancient Jewish texts and adapting the cards to suit its investigative needs. Crowley was particularly intrigued with this method of fortune telling and wanted to publish a book on the subject. Unfortunately for him, the Order refused him permission, preferring to guard their discoveries. But Crowley went ahead anyway, publishing a book that gave a slightly different overview of the facts about the Tarot and creating an almost indelible association between the deck and the world of dark magic. He even went so far as to publish his own version of the deck, which is still used by some of his followers.

However, regardless of their history, the cards have no malign intent whatsoever; they are inanimate objects, incapable of anything of the sort. Instead, they are simply tools through which a reader can appeal to a querent’s subconscious to gain insight into the way that person truly feels about a given subject. Other than that, they are simply pieces of card.

Scary artwork and scary cards

What can put people off is the artwork. Many decks come with arcane-looking designs and pictures but, like the cards, that’s all they are. What’s true to say is that the pictures are packed with symbolism, so that the ‘message’ they have to offer a querent is a multi-layered and intelligent one. As a result, many of the designs look abstract, surreal and have a dream-like quality to them, which some people can find off-putting. However, there are also certain cards that people are frightened by, such as the Death card. Let’s take a look at the main culprits and check out their true meanings.

● The Death card. It’s the one that everybody fears – and yet most people do so without really understanding it. The assumption is that it means a literal, physical death, while in fact the truth is far less dramatic. The Death card indicates a transition or transformation, which usually involves the death of an old habit or way of thinking. It might mean the end of a relationship or a career change but it rarely, if ever, signifies that someone’s about to keel over! The Tarot is concerned with giving spiritual insight, not predicting the future or announcing when it’s time to ring the undertaker.

● The Devil card. With its forbidding artwork and satanic subject matter, it’s easy to see why many associate this card with some sort of black magic. However, the Devil card signifies something very different. In drawing this card, the querent is being told that they are somehow constrained in a situation. It might be that they have created their own emotional restraints or they are shackles imposed by others, but the Tarot suggests that you look deep within yourself to find the way to free yourself. Most of our problems are self-created and we have the ability to solve them.

● The Tower card shows a tall tower being ravaged by a storm. It’s got flames, lightning and even people falling from its battlements; all the right ingredients for a sleepless night. However, like all the Tarot cards, the Tower is symbolic of something. In this case, it’s the destruction of the status quo and the advice is not to try and cling to it, but to roll with any changes that come your way.

● The Three of Swords. This card shows a heart impaled by three swords –which might have you interpreting it as a prediction of cardiac arrest. However, the symbolism is suggesting that the querent is still suffering the effects of an old emotional wound and, in order to move on with his or her life, that wound must be addressed and dealt with.

● The Ten of Swords. It’s not one of the most cheerful-looking cards in the deck, unless a body run through by ten swords is your kind of thing! But, once again, the meaning is much more benign than its depiction. The Ten of Swords is advising you that not everything around you is as it seems, and that someone is not to be trusted. While it might not be a pleasant revelation, it has nothing to do with murder or death. No matter what symbols are used and how traumatic the imagery may be, tarot cards are there to help you develop self-awareness, not send you running for an exorcist.


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