PBS touts tarot

August 25, 2022 • 10:45 am

The nextavenue site is actually an arm of the Public Broadcasting Service, 15% (or more) of which is funded by the taxpayers via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s targeted to older adults. As its site says:

Next Avenue is a nonprofit, digital journalism publication produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT). As public media’s first and only national publication for older adults, we are dedicated to covering the issues that matter most as we age.

And this logo is at the bottom of today’s article, which is about something that doesn’t matter more when we age:

This part-government sponsorship means that taxpayers like me are funding what nextavenue puts out. And what it has put out is a piece promoting the virtues of tarot cards (National Public Radio has done the same thing.) The free article is below; click the screenshot to read.

Of course PBS can’t just say that tarot cards flat-out can predict the future, for its listeners and readers are more sophisticated than that. Still, the article says that prediction is part of what tarot can do—but there’s so much more!

As it turns out, tarot is not just for prediction but to stimulate your mind and explore possibilities you haven’t realized. In other words, as all these articles about tarot in the liberal press maintain, it can be a device for getting you to think about your life and ponder future behaviors. It’s psychology, Jake! I wonder why more psychologists haven’t hit on tarot cards as a professional aid!

I’ll be brief and just quote some of the article’s waffling. This part is straight-out prediction:

People can read tarot cards for themselves or work with an experienced tarot reader. Beginning by focusing on a question is a good idea, even something simple like “What will this week be like?” Then draw a single card and see what it might tell you.

Remember, you have to pay tarot card readers, sometimes a lot, and often they want you to come back. If these people are not trained in therapy, and tell you what they’re doing, then they’re clearly taking money under false pretenses. But that’s the American way! Here’s one reader:

Nancy Antenucci is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based tarot reader in her sixties, founder of the Twin Cities Tarot Collective and the author of two books, “Psychic Tarot” and “Tarot Rituals.” She sees tarot cards as being a language of imagery.

Sonia Choquette said that we should call intuition ‘pattern recognition,'” Antenucci says. “I totally agree with that. When you’re seeing the cards, all those pictures together, it opens up different patterns. What you’re doing is recognizing the patterns of something.”

While decks usually come with guidebooks to help users understand the potential meanings of each card, Antenucci encourages people to go with their instincts when they pull specific cards. “Every picture is going to strike every person differently, so there’s a lot that can happen across a whole spectrum of personalities,” she says.

That could be called “confirmation bias.” You read things the way you want them to be. But I digress. . . .

Imagine a deck focused on weather conditions across the four seasons. One person might pull a snowstorm card and be delighted — they love winter and snowstorms. But someone who hates winter is going to have a decidedly different visceral reaction. Neither is wrong; each reflects the person drawing the card.

“The biggest misconception is that tarot is only used for prediction,” Antenucci says. “It’s also used for brainstorming, or storytelling, or writing or prompts.”

Here we see the usual excuse: it can be used for prediction, but the cards can also prompt you to tell stories or call up other ideas.  But if is to do that, shouldn’t we stop using the traditional decks used for prediction and make new decks with drawings and words inspired by modern psychology? What about Rorshach cards?

Here are Sonia Chouette’s fees, by the way. As far as I know, no therapist charges $1200 an hour.

Further on in the piece, an artist weighs in saying that the cards “can help people see things differently,” and that her drawing students get suggestions inspired by the teacher’s own part-time vocation as a tarot reader.

I won’t go on further. In short, what we see is a taxpayer-funded venue touting the supernatural, but partly hiding it under a bushel labeled “psychology.”

When I read stuff like this, I do wonder whether people attracted by tarot, crystals, and other things have a deep need for the supernatural, one that in other people is satisfied by religion. I often hear people with “belief in belief” argue that religion isn’t vanishing in America, but is simply being diverted into religion-like endeavors, like reading tarot cards. Or being woke.  While some of that may be true, I still think that the data show America becoming increasingly secular over time, so that one fine day, when my atoms have become clay, the U.S. will have the religiosity of Scandinavia—hardly any at all.

But grifters gotta grift, so we’ll always have tarot, psychics, and other scammers.

h/t: Ginger K.

26 thoughts on “PBS touts tarot

  1. Might that need itself be related to evolution? Could it be that the roots of consciousness evolved for a million years (homo erectus, control of fire, etc.) in a world we thought filled with magical powers, and though the last 300 years of science have corrected that misperception, the deep structures of our consciousness are not so easily changed and persist with their old needs? (I have no idea, but since I’m online here with a premier evolutionary biologist and his friends, just curious to see if the experts would consider this a possibility or shoot it down pronto 😊)

  2. “a deep need for the supernatural”. Indeed, because life is scary, unpredictable, full of suffering and loss, and bodily death is certain. Religion, ‘faith’, and supernatural/magical thinking are coping mechanisms that many people have used throughout our species’ history and today to help them deal with existential anxiety and terror.

    1. And also to persecute and kill those who don’t share the same way of supernatural thinking. You can deal with these things without religion, and thus without religion’s bad side effects.

      1. I agree that it is possible to live without the consolations of faith or magical thinking, which are quite empty without good reason to believe that they are true. And what is utterly shameful is making a buck off of people’s gullibility and vulnerability.

  3. “I often hear people with “belief in belief” argue that religion isn’t vanishing in America, but is simply being diverted into religion-like endeavors…” As I’ve pointed out before, the syndicated, late night radio program “Coast to Coast” specializes in solemn discussions of angels, past lives, UFOs, communication with the dead, telepathy, alien abductions, and every kind of bullshit under the moon (except Nessie, at which the program inexplicably draws a line). Its listenership, once over 10 million, has declined since 2013 to below 3 million. Beside the alien abductions, “Coast” at least once included Stephen F. Cohen on the statesmanship of Vladimir Putin, and Bret Weinstein on ivermectin.

    1. (except Nessie, at which the program inexplicably draws a line).

      They probably knew my aunt, who “saw Nessie, absolutely certainly” when she lived at Lochend, a literal stone’s throw from Loch Ness’s cold and unwelcoming waters.

  4. Twelve hundred dollars? Twelve hundred dollars?? What the hell! However, the 877 number is toll free. She does say that ‘life is not a solo journey’ and that there is a ‘divine support system‘ to which we can connect. So it’s not all bad news.

    1. Guy walking through the midway at a county fair sees a fortune-teller’s booth. Sign says, “Two questions, $20”. He pays his money, walks in, sits down with the psychic at her little table.

      “Don’t you think 20 bucks is pretty expensive for two questions?” he asks her.

      “Not really,” she replies. Pause. “Now, what’s your second question?”

  5. What’s ironic is, according to QI, Wikipedia, and Britannica, tarot cards were originally just a slightly fancy deck of cards used for particular games starting in about the 1400s, with the “Major Arcana” being some form of trump suit (no relation). The nonsense with fortune telling didn’t begin until 1780 or so in France, though of course, woo-meisters and woo consumers have “retconned” their story to make them a supposedly ancient fortune-telling device. So, forget even the “Rorschach cards”, why not just use a regular old Bicycle deck to tell fortunes? And if you’re going to play high-stakes blackjack without counting cards, and the cards say you’re going to lose money, at least you know they’re making a prediction that is almost certainly correct.

  6. Foolishness, of course. Over the years, I’ve watched PBS less and less. Oh how I wish for the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour again. But, alas, the cards tell me that it’s not to be.

  7. The most cynical tagline for a company/agency/institution:

    Corporation for Public Broadcasting
    A private corporation funded by the American People.

    So sly.

    1) if you are funded by taxes, even in part, you are not private;
    2) “funded” sounds voluntary and ‘nice’, and moreover because of pledge drives etc., people think “voluntary giving” is what the tagline means by “funded.”

    Ayn Rand is the most outspoken denunciator of the combine of Government + ideas. She clarified it as ‘establishing a legal orthodoxy.’ [paraphrase]

    Indeed, the positions of “Public Broadcasting” are ever-present in the background radiation of American culture and education. Like musak.

    A while back, I claimed in comments on this website that PBS, NPR, and CPB were left-wing through and through, and the responses to me stretched from astonishment to outright scorn and name-calling. A liberal audience thinks the CPB Orthodoxy is mild and neutral, while the cohort (it is barely aware of) Middle American, knows it to be way-Leftie.

    Ayn Rand’s project subsumes the pertinent plank in its platform: Government ought not have even the slightest involvement in the marketplace of ideas.

      1. I am not complaining that PBS is biased. “Private Corporations” that provide news, ideas, and entertainment have a right to be biased. Advocates. This is called the marketplace of ideas.*

        I am complaining that Government ought not get involved with ideas. Worldviews. Religion. Cultural ideology. For Gov, with its monopoly to exercise force, to create an orthodoxy of truth is the opposite of free speech, the opposite of freedom. The root of totalitarianism.

        *[I am complaining that PBS, NPR, and CPB are not private corporations.]

        1. Your statement “I claimed in comments on this website that PBS, NPR, and CPB were left-wing through and through” is what elicited my question. I am asking which, if any, news sources you consider to be unbiased, leaning neither left nor right.

  8. “But grifters gotta grift, so we’ll always have tarot, psychics, and other scammers.”
    I couldn’t agree more with that incontrovertible truth about human nature (yes, even the cards told me that’s true).

  9. Well tarot cards are cultural artifacts and can be appreciated on that level. I have a couple packs that are reprints from original 14th & 15th century packs and they are very beautiful simply considered as aesthetic objects. Doing research on their history and iconography has been very interesting. As someone else pointed out they weren’t originally designed for occultic practice. Much less telling the future. For that you need the I Ching! (cue the ominous zither music)

    ps How sure are we that psychology itself is not just woo?

    1. Well, those assertions of psychology that can be tested are not just woo. Or are you dismissing the whole discipline as woo?

      For sure there are claims of psychology that stand up far, far better than do the predictions of tarot cards (if they were made blind).

  10. “When I read stuff like this, I do wonder whether people attracted by tarot, crystals, and other things have a deep need for the supernatural, one that in other people is satisfied by religion”

    I have also asked myself a similar question. I am curious about the mental traits that explain why some people are more drawn to the supernatural or occult. It seems that the personality trait openness to experience is a good predictor of unusual and paranormal beliefs and it is also correlated with how easy it is to hypnotize a person. Insofar as personality is heritable, this means that some people have a greater genetic predisposition to develop an interest in the supernatural.

  11. I’ve enjoyed the services of a tarot card reader or two, but purely as entertainment. If I’m in New Orleans, hell yeah I’ll spend 20 bucks to have my fortune told by a spooky dude in the French Quarter. Of course, the readers were very clear that things were just for fun.

    A few people in my life have mentioned that their “psychic” or tarot card reader is their therapist, and paid accordingly. The best ones (not the pure grifters ala John Edwards) are just really good at reading people and giving advice and they know that they’re not actually psychic. If they want to dress that up with extra scarves and patchouli incense, well, there’s worse forms of therapy out there.

      1. I have every problem with them. If there were a hell, and I don’t think there is, John Edwards (the guy with a TV show who claims to be able to talk to dead people) would surely burn in it for exploiting others in times of grief.

        My overall point is that adults with a mature understanding of reality can get good service from people who’ve learned that sometimes, you gotta dress therapy up in a fortune teller’s costume to make it palatable to people who need help and are driven, for whatever reason, to seek it in tarot cards. There are lots of bad actors ready to exploit those in need out there, but that’s true of every form of “legitimate” therapy as well, and psychiatry, too. Best to evaluate on a case-by-case basis and condemn exploitation and abuse, whomever it comes from.

  12. Speaking as an old woman, the article could be read as a satire mocking gullible foolish older women, in the guise of “centering” their creative/psychological life experience. Opposite of “unleashing the potential of older Americans” in my view. All women subjects in this article, and of course we can’t publish this without the word “menopause” and let’s make that a bold pull-quote. And let’s toss in some artist woo woo goofs while we are at it. Any teacher who pulls out a tarot deck as a teaching aid in an art class should be put on probation. Embarrassing article for nextavenue and shamless promoting of that pricey charlatan.

  13. Since I collect historic playing cards and tarots (reproductions there going back to the 15th cen) and the game of tarot being turned into occult device only since around 1800 and ALL the meanings assigned to the cards have been arbitrarily made up by various pundits with no actual tradition existing, if they let me leave a comment to that effect I’ll do so.

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