The Skeptical Fool

This weekend I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of Tarot. I read all the posts in the Autostraddle  Fool’s Journey series, which led me to The Little Red Tarot (a fantastic blog) which linked me to other blogs and instagrams and images of tarot decks and well thought out explanations. I found some series that queer the tarot, and explain it through a feminist perspective. I found decks that challenged heteronormative assumptions embedded in the archetypes.

And then I found myself narrowing down the beautiful decks I was looking at in order to purchase one for myself. Looking at etsy for nice boxes to store it in, cloths to do readings on. Did I need a crystal? No but I wanted one anyway.

This is approximately the absolute, definite, last thing I ever thought I would do.

A bit of background.

I was raised Mormon – an oppressive, abusive, traumatically patriarchal cult – and was taught that all witchcraft invited Satan into our home, stripped us of the protection of the Holy Spirit, and meant Satan could pretty much screw up our entire lives. I was allowed to read fantasy but was regularly reminded that that wasn’t real. And once when I was 12, my friend brought a Ouija board to my sleepover and when my parents found out I was grounded from sleepovers FOR. A. YEAR. That is about the worst punishment on earth for a 12 year old girl. They were serious.

I left the Mormon cult when I was 18 and came out as lesbian about 5 years after that. After leaving Mormonism I spent some time exploring other Christian religions. I went to a Lutheran church, I worked for the Methodist campus ministry. I sang for a Universalist Unitarian church for a while. There was a time there when I really believed in the Christian God.

And then I stopped.

I’m really not sure why or what happened. It was a slow and steady thing. But one day I realized I didn’t think anything or anyone was up there.

I’ve identified as an atheist for around a decade now and I’m extremely comfortable in that identity. But at the same time there are many aspects of being a witch that I love and am deeply attracted to. I love the focus on the Divine Feminine. I love the reclamation of femininity as powerful. I love the freedom to interpret things and change things to suit yourself – even as I find that terrifying.

I’ve sort of played with it. I burned the spell candle my friend gave me. I smudged my apartment on New Years Day. I bought Jailbreaking the Goddess, and Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft.

But my skepticism keeps showing through. I argue with myself that scientifically, none of this spell stuff makes any difference except to us and we don’t need spells to change ourselves if we really want to. I argue that there is no greater power out there, even though I like the idea of her being a woman. I argue that modern paganism is an attempt to reboot something that was lost for centuries and can never truly be reclaimed. That I’m fascinated with Egyptian myths too, but I’m not trying to recreate their rituals.

Every time I’ve sort of started to pursue witchcraft, I’ve talked myself out of it.

And then this weekend, I fell down the rabbit hole of tarot.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that this happened when there was a full moon and lunar eclipse and somehow the combination of that meant the horoscopes I read while down the rabbit hole all promised me that a big change would begin or major journey would start in the wake of these events this weekend… or maybe it isn’t? I’m still skeptical, but I’m not sure if I want to be skeptical anymore.

Learning tarot is overwhelming. There are a lot of cards and they have “traditional” meanings but can be interpreted different ways, and different decks sort of say different things, and it all just seems so much.

Yet, there I was with this sudden burning desire to learn everything there is to learn and also buy myself a tarot deck.

Now, I tend to get over zealous about new ideas or projects and then abandon them. Sadly, I have a perfectionist nature so if I can’t do something perfectly immediately after starting I tend to cast them aside. It’s not one of my better traits.

That said, I spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend reading about tarot, doing a full astrology birth chart and making notes of planets and houses, putting books on hold at the library about tarot, and even downloaded a tarot app on my iPad until my deck arrives tomorrow. The more I looked at it, the more fascinated I became.

I think it hits a chord with me in a different way than other witchy things, because it’s all about self reflection. It’s not really about seeing the future, in a fortune teller way. Especially if you’re reading for yourself, there shouldn’t be anything completely out of left field because your interpretation comes from the same brain that holds all your subconscious information.

I can rationalize it to my skeptical, scientific mind this way, by thinking of it as a guide to my own inner dialogue. Just some visual clues to lead me to think through certain things. This, I can do. This I can accept.

And yet, even as I rationalize it to myself, I find myself wondering if maybe there are larger forces out there. Not gods and goddesses looking down on us. But, who says the movement of the moon doesn’t affect humans when it affects the oceans? With celestial bodies traveling at unbelievable speeds around us, can we really say there is no affect from the interaction of those gravity fields?

It sounds ridiculous, on many levels. Why am I trying to rationalize spirituality when everyone says you can’t reduce it to science? Why am I – a staunch atheist – considering the possibility that a card will come up or not in a reading because I personally need to hear something it says?

How do I reconcile my past experiences with religion as an imposition on my life with a new concept of spirituality after so many years spent depending on pure logic? Should I do that? Am I betraying all atheists everywhere? Am I being influenced by the popularity of witchy/tarot arts in the queer communities I am part of? Or is this a piece of me that I’ve been repressing that is finally being allowed out to play?

My tarot deck arrives tomorrow, so there’ll be many more questions, and perhaps a few answers to come.

This will be the journey of the Happy Squirrel – which is a tarot reference to/from a Simpson’s episode and the inherent irony of a cartoon poking fun at tarot and to then have the tarot community embrace that joke to the point that my new deck will come with a Happy Squirrel card in it (symbolizing irony? I think?) seems a pretty good metaphor for my initial mindset about this whole thing.

Do you have any experience with tarot? Witchcraft? Are you struggling to reconcile past religions with current ideas? Do you know what the Happy Squirrel card indicates? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.



2 thoughts on “The Skeptical Fool

  1. Found my way here from a post you made on Twitter. I also come from a religious background where using tarot was basically conspiring with Satan, but I actually discovered the world of tarot through reading Charles Williams’ The Greater Trumps (supreme irony since I was just reading Williams because he was a friend of C. S. Lewis!). The first deck I bought was Shadowscapes by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. I had her Strength card as a background on my computer for years. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for reminding me that tarot is something I’m very interested in and want to learn more about. I’m interested to read more from you and Little Red Tarot and to discover the rest of the tarot blog world!

    1. Hi there and welcome!
      That is so interesting because after a very long time deciding which deck to buy, I also bought the Shadowscapes deck! I love her artwork, and the 2 cards that really won me over were Death and The Hierophant, because after looking at dozens of skeletons and pope-looking-dudes, I LOVED her interpretations of Death as a Phoenix and the Hierophant as basically an Ent.

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