Friends who want to get started with tarot usually have a lot of questions - and I love that, because it expresses an intention to practice magic mindfully, respectfully, and safely. With tarot being an ancient art that has been practiced through the centuries, many people understandably want to know how to correctly participate in this tradition of magic and wisdom.
The idea of tradition enduring through hundreds of years is beautiful, but the actual traditions need examining in a world that has dramatically changed over those same centuries. We must see if these practices still make sense in the context of today’s modern, more inclusive world. Here are four tarot myths we can retire in order to make the art more relevant today!
The Myth: I have to be gifted my tarot cards
The Reason: One of the common questions I get asked by friends interested in tarot is whether they have to wait for someone to gift them a tarot deck before they can begin. This stems from an old belief that your tarot cards have to be gifted to you, like through being initiated or chosen by a more experienced practitioner before you can set on your tarot journey.
The Counterargument: Historically, this may have been a protective measure in the olden times, back when coming out as a tarot reader could literally mean being put on trial and executed for dabbling in the occult. Also, tarot decks used to be really expensive because they were painted by hand, card by card! Sometimes there was just no way to obtain them other than inheriting them from a teacher, or commissioning them yourself from an artist for an exorbitant price.
If these are the reasons, then such measures are less relevant now in an empowered 21st century when tarot can be practiced affordably, safely, and independently.
Frankly, the idea that you have to be deemed “worthy” by someone before you can practice tarot sounds a little like gatekeeping. Bakara Wintner said in her book WTF is Tarot? that even little kids who have never seen crystals in their lives can pick out intuitively what they’re used for. Everyone is born magic. You don’t need to be initiated into magic, not when magic is your birthright.
The Myth: No one else should touch your tarot cards
The Reason: Some people believe that sharing a tarot deck will muddle up its energies. Allowing more than one person to touch a tarot deck makes it impure, which could mess up future readings. The cards might also transfer energy from person to person, particularly after a negative reading.
The Counterargument: Of course, if we’re talking about a deck that’s a very private, personal item to you, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want anyone to touch it. And that’s fine! But as a general thing, tarot cards don’t lose any of their effectiveness because of people touching them.
Personally, I love letting friends and clients touch my tarot decks (provided that they handle the cards with care!). When I do a reading, I ask them to shuffle and draw freely: “Here, say hello to the cards, let them know who you are and tell them your intentions.”
Tarot cards have enough of a rep for being "scary", "forbidden", and "evil". Allowing people to touch, explore, and even outright marvel at tarot decks goes a long way towards removing the stigma that surrounds tarot. Making the cards accessible normalises the art and the people who practice it. Wintner writes further: “As long as the tarot is shrouded in shadow and mystery, it is not being used to its full capacity.”
If you’re worried about energy transfer concerns, you can always cleanse a deck to clear it of any negative vibes after a particularly heavy reading. It’s recommended that you cleanse your deck regularly anyway, regardless of whether you share it or you are its sole user.
The Myth: Your cards must always be wrapped in silk
The Reason: Witchcraft is all about using natural materials. If we go by the belief that potent magic resides in nature, it follows that items made from natural materials have stronger magical properties than items made from synthetic materials made in a lab. This is why in magic work, items made from glass, metal, wood, and natural fibers like silk are preferable to items made from plastic or polyester.
Traditional readers believe that tarot cards should be stored in silk to prevent the energy of the cards from leaching out when not in use.
The Counterargument: Cards on the table (pun intended!) - silk is expensive. And if you have multiple tarot decks, it might be unreasonable to ask that you keep each and every deck wrapped in silk.
Instead, many decks nowadays come in thoughtful, attractive, and eco-friendly boxes. Tarot deck creators are becoming more creative with their packaging, and there's no harm in keeping your deck in the meticulously-designed box that it came in.
If you prefer to make your own packaging, several tarot readers make their own boxes out of wood, or sew pouches from various textiles (not necessarily silk). The important thing is that you keep your cards protected from physical damage and treat them with respect.
As for whether the magic of the cards will drain out of them: imagine that the message of the Universe is water flowing from the tap, and the tarot is the cup. The cup is merely a tool to collect the water and convey it to your lips for drinking. The water doesn’t come from the cup, and neither does it linger there.
Just as the cards aren’t any less effective for other people touching them, they aren’t any less wise for not being wrapped in silk. The wisdom of the universe lies in the cosmos and in you; the tarot is only a conduit.
The Myth: Your first deck should always be the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck
The traditional images created by Rider, Waite, and Smith in 1910 have persisted through the centuries, and the symbolism in these images will form the fundamentals of your tarot knowledge. For this reason, many tarot practitioners stand by the belief that a newbie’s first deck should always be the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot.
While I am a big advocate of laying a firm foundation by starting with the basic Rider-Waite-Smith images, I also wholeheartedly believe that you should have nothing in your home that doesn’t spark a happy and meaningful connection with you.
Simply put, if you don’t feel a strong connection to the RWS decks available to you, you’re at perfect liberty to find a deck that you do vibe with and learn tarot another way!
Many tarot books and websites discuss the RWS cards and include free images. You don’t need to buy a deck you won’t love to learn the tarot. In fact, I’d much rather recommend you find a tarot writer or blogger whose interpretations of the tarot resonate with you, rather than trying to shoehorn your beliefs and experiences into a single definition.
Here’s the secret:
Every reader’s practice is unique, and if you visit different blogs, books, and advisers, the responses you’ll get to these myths will vary. But here’s the common thread that binds wise women and men of old to the magic folk of today.
The magic doesn’t come from the cards. It comes from you.
You are the secret, mystical, powerful piece of the puzzle that makes the wisdom of the tarot come alive. Think of The Magician: he is able to use all four symbols of the Minor Arcana to create something out of nothing, but even in the absence of one suit or another, he is still able to make magic. That ability lies in the person of the Magician, not in his tools. Without a skilled reader, the cards may as well be a 78-piece set of pretty bookmarks.
Your cards aren’t any less effective if you bought them yourself, if you keep them in a cardboard box, if you let a few dozen clients handle them at an event, or if you learned from a tarot deck designed by an indie artist rather than Pamela Coleman Smith. What really matters at the end of the day is that you treat your cards with respect and you use them in service of the highest good.
Go forth and journey with the tarot today, Magician. The magic lies in you.