Psychoactive Tarot

Every once in a while on the tarot forums, someone asks whether it’s helpful (or even wise) to attempt reading the cards while under the influence of psychoactive “substances,” whether drugs or alcohol. The thrust of the question usually revolves around the perceived loosening of cognitive strictures that may create a more fluid intuitive climate for visual free-association. The usual outcome of this debate is a “hung jury,” with some participants feeling that the practice “primes” them to be more open to psychic influences, while other, usually older, contributors don’t see the need for it. As a child of the ’60s, I know a bit about the subject. While in the US military in Europe, I once tried to play a game of chess while in an augmented state of consciousness. At the best of times I was a halfway-decent player, but the mental rigor of the game did not favor any compromise in acuity of thought. Needless to say, I failed miserably, checkmated in only a handful of moves.

As a part-time professional reader, I would no more think of trying to read for a paying client while “high” than I would climb a ladder or drive a car in the same condition. “Getting loose” in order to free the imagination for a more inspired experience is one thing, but the mental sloppiness this invites is counter-productive to good technique (especially when meditation or other “centering” practice undertaken before a session will bring you to the same state of emotional attunement). I like to be “on my game” whenever I read the cards, not just in paying situations. It’s a matter of respect for the tradition and of honoring the human covenant that inheres in attempting to navigate the depths of another person’s subconscious via the art of divination. If my sitters are going to let down their guard and invite me into their psyche, I don’t want to blunder around in it like an elephant blissfully wallowing in a mud-hole. By the same token, a drunk or stoned sitter is most likely in no condition to appreciate any nuances that may arise during the course of a reading. Finely-honed observations will almost certainly be wasted on the incoherent.

The classic case of “fast-and-loose” reading  occurs at parties, whether the reader is an informal volunteer or a hired performer. This is almost invariably a “for entertainment only” scenario, where nobody is much interested in probing the remote reaches of their private universe. Party-goers often have no clear goal in mind when they sit for a reading. They may be vaguely curious about hearing their “fortune” as depicted in the cards, and perhaps more immediately concerned about whether they’re going to leave the party with someone for extended frivolities, but they don’t have the patience (or the time, given that these reading are typically brief) for a comprehensive analysis of their past, present and future. Since I’m not much of a “run-and-gun” reader, if the subject happens to come up at a social gathering, I’m more inclined to suggest a private session at some later time. Not that a glass of wine or a beer will blunt my intuitive faculties to the point of incompetence, I just don’t like the sideshow feel of being part of the night’s entertainment.

3 thoughts on “Psychoactive Tarot

  1. Generally, a number of books I have seen advocate abstinence both from intoxicants and intercourse prior to Tarot readings, much like ritual purity is required for ceremonies or practices in various religions. However, I can think of one 19th or early 20th century Tarot book in which having a glass of brandy was recommended as a way of soothing one’s nerves and opening oneself up to a greater intuitive state!

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