It seems that many venues of the “mainstream liberal media”, like National Public Radio (NPR) and the New York Times, are devoting more space to woo: dowsing, tarot, talking to the dead, astrology, and so on. Now the MSLM has become a bit savvier about this nonsense. It often claims, as in the NPR “Life Kit” article below, that these things don’t really work through magical methods, but they help you get in tune with your feelings and become psychologically more astute. (Any person with more than a few neurons would ask an astrologer or tarot reader, “How come you’re not rich from forecasting the economy or stock market? And people are getting smarter about that.)
Still NPR, in the article below, walks a fine line between psychology and magic. And if you need psychological support or help in making a decision, there are always friends (preferably women, who are less prescriptive and tend to listen more than do men), or, if you want to pay, there are therapists, who don’t profess any magical abilities.
NPR is funded in part by the government, so it’s our money that funds about 11% of this nonsense. Click on the screenshot below:
First come the caveats (“it doesn’t predict the future”) and then the promise (“it helps you make decisions”). But seriously, is looking at cards that have specific meanings going to be a better way to make a decision than to talk to good people? After all, the cards are just a matter of chance, and there could be considerable confirmation bias involved in having them “help you” to decide what you want, which may not be the best decision.
The caveats (all emphases below are mine):
I didn’t always listen to the readings, but the rituals provided me a space to ruminate on and figure out my own answers to the question that’s being asked of the cards. Years later, along with many others, I’ve returned to the practice as a way of staying grounded during this time of indecision and overwhelm.
As tarot reader and writer Michelle Tea puts it, some people mistakenly come to tarot for a prediction of the future, when it’s really about self-reflection. “If you’re a person that wants to integrate more spirituality into your life or to look at life a bit more philosophically, it’s a great tool to even just pick a daily card.”
Modern tarot, which derives from mid-15th century European playing cards, has rules and structure that often feel inaccessible to newcomers: even if you’ve gotten a reading before, you may be intimidated by the cards, or wondering whether you’re witchy or cool enough to practice tarot yourself.
But what is the “spirituality” you want? Is this a sneaky way of talking about the numinous, or a kind of woo? What you want to integrate into your life is rationality, not spirituality.
And if you get a reading from someone else, well, the chances that you are using them to forecast your life is much higher, as these people are practiced grifters and cold readers, though some may employ a form of therapy. (They are not, of course, trained in therapy.)You can see an actual reading below by the subject of this NPR article (and interview), reader Michelle Tea, who’s touted for “her prescient readings” (see below).
Then things get a bit more numinous as you learn to pick more cards from the pack of 78:
Tea says this is yet another common misconception about tarot. “Tarot is incredibly welcoming for a novice. If I could learn it, really anybody can,” she says. “It’s just about becoming comfortable with the imagery, learning them by heart and understanding how the cards talk to each other so that when you pull a series of cards, you understand how they flow into a type of story.”
The story, of course, is really one you tell yourself; the pretense is that there’s some pattern, a pattern violating the laws of physics, that will guide your life and answer your questions.
And then it gets more numinous yet, with a helpful chart on how to use the cards:
A standard tarot deck has 78 cards divided into two groups, 22 major arcana cards and 56 minor arcana cards. The major arcana showcase big life events, while the minor arcana look at the strokes and speak to our daily lives, though much of this, of course, varies on the reader.
The major arcana are composed of the archetype cards like the sun, the magician and the lovers. They’re often numbered as zero (the fool) to 22 (the world). “When major cards come up in readings, they usually talk about a moment that is really significant,” Tea explains, “like a peak moment in our lives or a significant learning opportunity, a lesson that’s going to be very impactful for us.”
The minor arcana are divided into four elements, similar to traditional playing cards — running from one to 10, followed by face cards. Elements are represented by symbols, which Tea breaks down here. . . .
So the cards begin to assume meanings to guide you. The helpful chart (click to enlarge):
And the tarot can help you!
And now we get to the real woo:
Ask specific questions:
To receive more insightful readings, try to avoid asking big picture questions that cover the span of a year or speak to your general mood.
“If you’re overwhelmed and you want the tarot to reassure you, that’s really not the tarot’s job,” says Tea. “The tarot isn’t here to tell you everything’s going to be okay, but if you’re having a challenging moment, the tarot can help you deal with it.”
You can still, of course, lean on the cards. Rather than asking a muddy question like “Is everything going to be okay?” you can reframe it to “What actions could I take?”
Tarot can also respond to yes or no questions like “Should I leave my job?” Or even day-to-day questions like “How should I talk about splitting chores with my roommates?” If you disagree with the cards, that’s okay, too. As Tea says, “The tarot is a tool for you to be proactive in your own life, and to move into your own destiny with confidence.”
In other words, why use cards at all if it’s fine to disagree with them?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades, what we have here is your taxpayer money going to tout a bunch of bogus card therapy.
You can find a 15-minute conversation between tarot reader Michelle Tea and and NPR Host Janet Lee here. It’s even worse. It turns out that Lee, who co-wrote the article above, isn’t exactly skeptical of tarot, for she says this:
“Today, I keep up with the spiritual practice by giving tarot readings. I spent years practicing on my own before reading for other people, but when I first started, I felt like I wasn’t witchy or spooky enough to learn tarot at all. What convinced me otherwise was a book by writer and tarot reader Michelle Tea.”
And Tea says this:
TEA: And you can also pick cards about just sort of, you know, what should you do with your career, what should you do with your art practice, you know, where should you live? Should you ask that person on a date? Like, tarot also responds wonderfully to all of our sort of petty (laughter) – the petty concerns that feel very important to us as human beings.
“Tarot responds. . . “. In other words, these ancient cards tell us what to do with our lives.
The first line of the blurb for Tea’s Amazon book on tarot is this:
Long before Michelle Tea was winning awards for her poignant memoirs, she was a scrappy misfit on the streets of San Francisco, supporting herself by giving eerily prescient tarot readings.
Prescient means this: “Having or showing knowledge of events before they take place.”
Ah. . . there we have it. Note that in the reading below, there are clearly predictions about the future. As usual, the readings are so ambiguous that they can be construed any way they want. That’s where the cold reading comes in.
It’s clear that the folks who pay or buy cards to engage in this kind of mishigass do want answers, and thus may use a human reader first before they try to deal personally with the cards. But the important questions for us are these:
- Has there been a scientific test of tarot to see if it’s better than no tarot (or fake cards) in helping people with their lives, or better than a therapist or talking to a friend?
- Why is NPR touting this nonsense? If it wants to help people in difficulties, shouldn’t its Life Kit present proper solutions instead of woo?
- Where are the scientific caveats about the usefulness of traditional packs of 78 cards in helping you or predicting the future, whether or not you take specific actions? Why did they not interview any tarot skeptics. The coverage is thus grossly unbalanced.
- And why are places like the NYT or NPR so into this kind of nonsense? Is it a replacement for religion.
Let’s get a reading with Tea, shown in the video below.
If you don’t think she’s using this to prognosticate, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. (I am a monkey’s distant descendant, though.) One thing is for sure: we don’t need no stinking tarot cards in our Life Kit.
h/t: Ginger K.