A lot of superstition surrounds the tarot… but is there any truth to these tarot rules?
By Darren Shill & Rebecca Bell
Superstition and ritual creep into so many areas of life, so it’s no shock that tarot reading provides a particularly rich field for inventiveness. Given tarot’s esoteric nature, it would be weird if it was any other way. But with many rumours swirling around the tarot — the most recent being that you must steal your cards or be cursed — we thought we’d take a closer look at the folk tales… and discover which ones are just hearsay.
As tarot is such a mystical practice, there is a rich tapestry of tradition surrounding the cards — and while some practices go back centuries, other people prefer to create their own traditions. There are ways that I bless the cards, store my decks, or even read the tarot that may be different to you, and I’m sure we are both as right as each other. However, there’s a line between practices like interviewing your tarot deck, and superstitions that are more unhelpful and restrictive. These apparently hardline do’s and don’ts may get in the way of how you experience the tarot — and some even harm the tarot industry itself.
So let’s pick up that figurative sledge hammer and start swinging at the most damaging of tarot myths!
“Your deck must be bought by someone else”
No one’s ever bought me a deck. I’m not looking for pity — I’m happy buying my own decks, thanks! — but my point is that despite no-one ever buying me a deck, I’ve managed to read tarot perfectly well for the last 30 years. Which stands against the persistent rumour that if you buy your own deck you invite bad luck.
Sometimes a deck just calls to you, and shouldn’t you take that as a sign? So often, the tarot tells us to keep our eyes open for connections, and that doesn’t just mean with other people. Particularly with your first deck, which you’ll hopefully spend a lot of time working with, it can make sense to choose something with the right essence for your personality and spiritual path.
Having said that, a tarot deck is a wonderful gift. How many presents provide a lifetime of portable prophesy and self-analysis? Not to mention stunning artwork, and the opportunity to dive into beautifully profound symbolism. So yes, please go buy that wonderful friend a tarot deck! But with respect to how well the deck works, it will make no difference whether you buy them the cards, or if they buy the deck themselves. Why would it? Not only is it a bit baffling, I can honestly say from own experience, and from the experience of many others, it just is not true!
Like many readers I am genuinely interested where this myth started. Some say it came to be in the ’70s when card readers were still in the closet about tarot. To hide any embarrassment about enjoying the craft, if a guest spotted a tarot deck on their book shelf, the person would shrug and say “I got it as a gift.” Remember, people haven’t always been fond of witchy, occult things! For a long time, being outed as a magical practioner invited persecution from your neighbours — and this is still the case in many parts of the world.
Others theorise that this myth came about far more naturally, out of a sense of community. Budding tarot readers would, after all, need someone to show them the ropes — and information about tarot was not always so easy to come by. It could be that what started as a community-lead tradition of fledgling readers being gifted decks by older mentors has now morphed into a persistent superstition. Either way, if that deck on the shelf really calls out to you, pick it up! Just make sure you pay for it first…
“You should steal your first tarot deck”
Excuse me? Steal your first deck? This is a worse evolution of the idea that someone must gift you your deck. At least gifting has a nice sentiment! How this particular myth came about is a mystery, but we have had reports from some of our good retail friends that this has been happening. One shop reported they can’t leave copies of the Cosmic Slumber Tarot out as it is the most stolen deck in their store!
Again, it’s difficult to track down the origin of this relatively new superstition. It could be a TikTok trend, or possibly playground hearsay. But if anyone tries to sell you on this idea, don’t heed their words! Stealing a deck is definitely a bad thing to do. Not only will it imbue your deck with negative energy (if that’s something you’re worried about), there are very real consequences to theft.
The tarot industry is still small, and decks are mostly created by independent artists and authors. The creation of a deck is often a labour of love, with the proceeds going back to the creators in the form of royalties. An uptick in deck thefts will only hurt those creators — not to mention those sticky-fingered tarot thieves themselves. Fact: getting bared from your favourite occult book store is never a good thing!
“No one else can touch your deck”
Barring a remote reading, how can you really do a reading for someone without them touching the cards? The fact is that the cards will be handled many times by many people, one would hope, so someone touching the cards is unlikely to be something the cards are sensitive about.
If you feel that someone might impart an impression on the cards when touching them, remember that the next person you read for will give them a proper shuffle too so anything that has gone before will be wiped clean. Of course, there are many cleansing rituals you can do to remove bad energy from your deck.
I recognise that there are times when the cards do not feel right — and you don’t always have time for a full cleansing ritual. Maybe you have just done a very intense reading, or something did not sit right with the last person who handled the cards… Then there is a very simple way of re-aligning the deck’s energy whilst on the go: knock on the back of the deck three times, visualising the old, unnecessary energy being expelled from the cards as you do. That’s it. I’ve seen many readers do this at festivals, while I was there selling the Luna Sol Tarot. An old-hand at tarot picks up the sample deck, and gives it a quick knock on the back before they shuffle through the cards. This is more about not picking up the energy from previous handlers of the deck, but it’s the same concept.
“The fate the tarot reveals is unavoidable”
We know the story: someone sits down in front of a fortune teller, only to have them turn over The Tower, The Hanged Man, or Death. “Oh no,” the tarot reader says, “no this isn’t good, not good at all…”
Movies and books have done a lot to muddy our perception of tarot. If the cards predict the future, how can we avoid our fate — especially if what the cards tell us is bad? Despite many works of fiction that use tarot for dramatic effect, showing the hapless person trying desperately to change the future while falling into the very traps tarot warned about, in reality that’s just not how divination works.
Ask any tarot reader about this, and most will tell you that what the cards reveal is based on current circumstances and is usually quite avoidable, whatever the movies might say. Yes, there will be times when the same card pops up in multiple readings. When that happens, it’s worth considering whether there is a message that you may not be listening to, rather than a super-powered road block of the gods. Did you really pay attention to your last reading, or did you just brush off what you didn’t want to hear?
Tarot can be startingly accurate, but this speaks to the now. This isn’t to say that the tarot definitely can’t divine the future — the fate within the cards can indeed come to pass — but rather that our perception of how tarot works may need refinement. If you think of your reading as delivering a possible outcome of events given the current situation, then you can always take a different path. When using the tarot for divination this is kind of the point: tarot offers us the chance to weigh up potential outcomes and react accordingly.
And remember, divination is just part of what tarot can provide. For many people, tarot is a means of self-analysis. It’s an opportunity to delve deeper within yourself, to reflect on what being you really means, and to assess how you fit in the world. But if you would like to hear about the tall, dark stranger you’ll meet tomorrow — no judgement!
“If I damage my tarot cards I will be cursed”
This might be a strange one to address but I have certainly heard it said and believe it is an important idea to refute. No, damaging your cards will certainly not curse you. Best not give ideas like this headspace!
The worst that could happen is that damaged cards no longer work as well. You might see that on a mystical level, or a more mundane one — if you spill blackcurrant juice down the back of The Hermit, it’s going to be an easy card to spot while shuffling! But whether you relate to the cards as a psychological tool or as a means to access the Akashic Records, getting yourself in the right frame of mind to read the cards is important. Thus, treating them with respect could certainly help your reading. It will not, however, bring you better fortune.
Debunking myths in action!
With Darren’s sage wisdom taken to heart, Rebecca (our in-house tarot beginner, now about a year in) offers a bit of a case study to show that, really, you can relax a bit around your tarot cards. We promise.*
I broke “rules” one and two: that you can’t buy your own deck, and that you should steal your deck. I had a reading from a friend and thought it was time I get myself a deck! My own mother told me “you have to get it as a gift.” But being a rebel, I ventured into the wilds of the internet and ordered a Rider-Waite-Smith deck (it was all that was available back in my uni days… and it was affordable.) From there I received my deck and proceeded to do readings for myself each week — but I wasn’t gelling with the deck and the guide book was frankly dull, printed on a tiny book stapled together. So I gave up…
…until Darren kindly re-ignited the magic and mystery of tarot with a reading! This time, I chose carefully and picked up the White Numen: A Sacred Animal Tarot, which was much more in keeping with my slightly gothic perception of life. From then on, I have been learning and got myself a copy of Mystical Medleys to appease my sarcastic comedy side (because sometimes you’ve got to laugh at yourself in a crisis.) I am looking forward to trying out oracle decks next!
I also broke “rule” three: no-one else can touch your deck. Although my decks are mostly only handled by me, my friends occasionally want to take a peek inside the gorgeously illustrated boxes on my bookshelf. You can’t blame them, with Liminal 11 deck boxes! I hear the clap of the magnetic closure, and then they are shuffling away looking though the artwork. I don’t mind, and it hasn’t done anything but bring joy to my friends as they flip though — and offered me some good insight into what to get them for Christmas!
While I can’t really hold up myself as a good example for the class, all I can say is that I have gone against plenty of tarot myths and, honestly? I seem fine. I suggest you do tarot the way in the way that feels right. If you love a bit of superstition, then keep your deck under lock and key. But if tarot for you feels messier, more sociable, and more engaging, then go ahead and use your cards lots with friends, and feel free to buy decks for yourself, for your friends… for whoever you want!
*Cannot be held responsible for future spiritual backlash!!!
when i’m with my friend who does readings, sometimes she’ll pass the cards to me to shuffle because she says my energy helps purify it. i don’t know if this is common practice elsewhere but that’s how she likes to do it.