Permit me a little latitude (at least in my terminology if not in my attitude, which is in the main sympathetic – and please forgive the unintended limerick) as I examine the demographics of the modern tarot community. Back in the early ’70s social connectivity other than barroom malingering was virtually unheard of beyond one’s local, and in a few cases regional, borders. Outside of urban centers, study was a solo activity and reading the cards for others was the rare exception rather than the rule. My experience in this regard was almost entirely with the esoteric tarot, since the popular version was still the province of the “Ouija board” crowd of teen-age girls who wanted a little more meat on the bone but really weren’t looking to work too hard at it. The astrological pursuit was much more evolved at the time, with courses of study, professional certification, “snail-mail” newsletters, glossy international magazines, profound books, semi-scientific experiments and national conferences, while tarot (at least in the US) was barely out of its “parlor-game, sleep-over” infancy.
Fast-forward to 2011, when I returned to the fold after a considerable time away from contact with kindred spirits. The internet was in full swing and tarot forums (soon to turn into blogs and Facebook groups) were the outlet of choice for those seeking a sense of community. Having come from an astrological background, where many of the recognized “leading lights” were educated males and the approach was much more analytical and psychological than predictive, I was intrigued to realize that the vast majority of tarot practitioners were female. Although I didn’t do a formal study and internet anonymity can defeat any such efforts, it seemed to me that 95% of those interacting socially and intellectually on the forums were female, 4.5% were gay males, and the remaining one-half percent were straight, often married, men like myself. Intuitive interpretation ruled the roost, and knowledge-based analysis of the cards carried a faint whiff of disrepute.
While I’m not trying to start a flame war (uh, “spirited debate”) on the subject, and the nature of the beast does lend itself to the situation as I found it, I was surprised by the unstructured informality (OK, “intellectual sloppiness”) that passed for accepted practice in the realm of tarot divination (before I go any further, let me say that this was not the case with the Lenormand system, which comes with a built-in interpretive baseline that discourages much random improvisation). This apparent lack of rigor may have been due to the fact that many forum posts began with the words “I’m a tarot newbie, but . . . ” which is entirely understandable and a sound reason for people possessing a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience to become involved in the dialogue. What troubles me is the rather off-handed dismissal of anything other than free-association-based interaction with the cards as somehow stifling to the creativity of the process. A tarot-author friend of mine has dubbed this uncritical mindset a “free-for-all,” and I think of it as an “anything goes” mentality: throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. It makes me think of the cavemen at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey flailing away with their clubs.
I certainly don’t believe that reading the cards with skill, sensitivity and style is easy. But I also don’t think one needs to be a psychic powerhouse or divine communicant (or even female) to achieve meaningful results. Anyone with good sense, good instincts and a decent command of language, coupled with a strong story-telling streak and intellectual curiosity (perhaps the buttoned-down academician too, although even I tend to question that one) can fashion worthwhile insights out of their exposure to the cards. Arguably, the fabled “feminine mystique” may have a leg up on empathetic engagement with truth-seekers, but even a cultivated caveman like me stands an equal chance of success with the right attitude and skill set.