Tarot’s Most Interesting Question: Should You Believe?

If you’ve read cards for any length of time, you’ve no doubt encountered a few friendly skeptics. They’ll approach gingerly, not wanting to insult you, but eventually arrive at their question: you don’t–I mean–do you really… believe in all this?

It’s a fair concern. Popular imagery connects Tarot cards with snake oil charlatans, East Village hucksters, and the easily confused. And let’s be honest. That imagery is not altogether wrong. Incomplete, but accurate a lot of the time. Of course, just because there are quacks in the world doesn’t make all doctors untrustworthy, and the same is true for Tarot readers.

So how do you answer? You could gab on insufferably about the inner mysteries and your secret esoteric order, and that might make you feel better. But let’s really consider the question for a moment. Do you believe in Tarot? Should you?

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Involuntary Belief

The question implies a choice to believe. Some say you can’t choose your beliefs. Your beliefs are a result of evidence. By this reasoning, you only believe in what you’ve witnessed or measured. The problem is, if you witness or measure something, you don’t have to believe in it.

People talk about belief in Santa Claus, but nobody talks about belief in trees. If there’s clear evidence that trees exist, why don’t more people believe in them? Because belief in something requires you to make an assumption, or to take somebody else’s word for it. You don’t have to take somebody’s word that trees exist. You can see them, touch them, climb them, and eat their fruit.

This is what Joseph Campbell touched upon when he said “I don’t have to have faith. I have experience.” What you’ve experienced requires no belief.

Voluntary Belief

Others say you can choose to believe. It requires commitment and devotion to an idea. This is like making the conscious decision to love your long term partner, choosing them every day, rather than passively falling in love. You deliberately embrace a supposed truth, and act accordingly. The belief becomes part of your framework for dealing with life, and helps build your reality.

This presents a powerful opportunity. Beliefs inform words and actions, which shape your reality. If you can choose your beliefs, you can choose your reality. Usually we start with the beliefs. Whether we choose them or choose to keep those from our cultural programming, our reality takes shape around them. By reverse engineering the usual process, you can first design the reality you want to experience, then determine which beliefs will support such a reality, and believe those.

It can’t possibly be so simple. But what if it is? You don’t have to be precious about personal beliefs. You can use them strategically. If this seems cynical, consider that every day people are choosing to believe thought patterns that lay the groundwork for hate, destruction, violence, and entitlement. You can do the opposite.

Harnessing the Power of Belief

Have a listen to Sadhguru, who says that “learning to create our minds the way we want is the basis of creating the world the way we want.” The world is yours to create if you master the four tools of the magician: the coin, the sword, the cup and the baton.

“Once all these four dimensions of you–your physical body, your mind, your emotion, and the fundamental life energies–are organized in one direction, once you are like this, anything that you wish happens without you lifting a little finger.”

Choosing belief opens the mind. It is a vulnerable, counter-intellectual space that requires a controlled and focused mind in combination with an open heart.

“Faith works only for those people who are simple minded. Thinking people, people who are too much thinking, for them it never works. A childlike person who has a simple faith in his god or his temple or whatever, he goes to the temple and says ‘Shiva, I want a house. I don’t know how. You must make it for me.’

“Now in his mind, there are no negative thoughts: ‘will it happen, will it not happen? Is it possible, is it not possible?’ These things are completely removed by the simple act of faith. Now he believes Shiva will do it for him, and it will happen.

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“So is Shiva going to come and build you a house? No. I want you to understand, God will not lift his little finger for you.”

It is not God that accomplishes miracles. It is the internal mechanism of faith, which opens up pathways of possibility previously closed by rationale. Faith unleashes mysterious and powerful forces from within you.

But with the power to create also comes the power to hobble your own potential. “The moment you say ‘not possible,’ you are also saying ‘I don’t want it.’ So on one level you’re creating a desire that you want something, and on another level you’re saying ‘I don’t want it.’”

Two Minds: How to Believe Without Believing

How can you not have faith, like Joseph Campbell, and yet have faith like Sadhguru? Here you must have two minds. One is the incredulous mind of the skeptic, which remains unshakeable in its commitment to reason and trusts only the most excellent source–firsthand experience.

The other is a childlike openness to possibility, depicted in the Tarot as the unnumbered arcanum, Le Mat, sometimes called card zero, or The Fool.

You’ll find that these two modalities, incredulousness and openness, are not mutually exclusive. The farther you take them, the more they become alike, until at last, you arrive at a revelation.

Tarot depicts enlightenment, or the full knowledge of everything, in it’s final card: arcanum XXI: The World. As a picture of the knowledge of everything, it’s the opposite of The Fool, who knows nothing. But The World and The Fool share a mysterious kinship. They are almost identical in their essences. Knowledge of everything and knowledge of nothing are the same.

But don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anybody’s word for it. Find out for yourself. Scrutinize everything and be open to everything. Get your internal house in order, and watch the magic unfold.

And when somebody asks you if they should believe in Tarot, tell them no. The Tarot is a tool. If you need to dig, you use a shovel. You don’t have to believe in a shovel–if it works, you use it. So it is with a deck of cards.

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