A dummy’s guide to tarot

December 1, 2020 — by Joann Zhang
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Photo by Joann Zhang

Life is full of important choices: Coke or Pepsi? Shower or bath? Football or basketball?

In a world with so many paths, only one thing is certain: Showers are definitely superior to baths. 

But to choose between big decisions without getting a stomach ache, sometimes we need a little extra guidance from the supernatural. Meet Lionel, my tarot deck. Tarot decks contain different cards with different meanings and advice, and are a form of divination, or fortune-telling. Lionel has given countless sage counsels on matters from college applications (Cornell or Penn?) to the love lives (Jacob or Jesse?) of my friends and I. For daily wisdom, I pull a card from Lionel in the morning, and I find that the wisdom inside it is much-needed. More time-consuming readings can forecast themes in your life for the next few months, like disaster (the Tower Card) or love (Two of Cups Card). 

Whether you believe a tarot deck’s magic comes from actual spiritual power or human psychology and interpretation of cards, there’s no denying that tarot divination can help even the most indecisive make a choice. 

For example, I’ve lately been feeling very panicked and fearful for no apparent reason when I try to meditate. Google provided no helpful answers; but Lionel did. I pulled the Knight of Cups and King of Cups cards, which told me to get in touch with my emotions and intuition and subconscious, and stay firm, balanced, and calm. So I kept meditating, stayed attentive and present with my emotions. Lo and behold, a couple weeks later, anxiety had become something that I could stay with and acknowledge, like a fly on my shoulder. 

If you want to purchase a tarot deck, chances are you’re a bit of a mess (it’s OK), so let me guide you through the process. Lionel is a classic Rider-Waite tarot deck, perfect for beginners, and can be found on Amazon for a mere $13.99: a serious steal. However, if you’re an extreme cheapskate or artistically gifted (or both), you can make your own deck by looking up the name and art of each card. 

Before using your deck, I recommend clearing it of unwanted “energy” so that it gives true answers. You can smudge (which cleans with the smoke of dried white sage), burn incense around your deck, or leave your deck submerged in salt. 

Now that you’ve named and cleansed your deck, it’s time to choose a card. Choose a question to ask the deck (will my teacher let me turn in my project a week late?), and shuffle the deck until a card jumps out. More advanced tarot-ers can spread out the cards and pick one, but having to choose a card to make another choice? Nothing but pain.

Flip over the card(s) that have fallen out while shuffling and look up the meanings online or in the guidebook. For cards that are upside-down, look for the “reversed” meaning in the guidebook or website. For example, the Chariot card means “action, willpower, success” when it’s right-side-up, but reversed, means “lack of direction.”

If the cards are bad (i.e., drawing the Death card when asking about your love life), never fear! The cards only show the outcome of your current path; you can always change your future by changing how you’re currently dealing with a situation.

All tarot does is give you the power to make better ones and remind you of the supreme power you have over yourself and your life. If you wanted to turn in your very late project and receive a scathing “submission comment” on Canvas, you could, but you probably shouldn’t. If you wanted to take a bath, you could, but you definitely shouldn’t. Tarot can inform you of the destination of a path, but you have to take the steps.