Tarot and the Pope
On Friday, April 5 the Catholic Herald reported Pope Francis as saying the following.
“In order to solve their problems many people resort to fortune tellers and tarot cards. But only Jesus saves, and we must bear witness to this! He is the only one.”
I was not raised Catholic, but I was raised to respect each person's religion. My decision to comment on the Holy Father's statement is not meant as disrespect, but simply as food for thought for the many Catholic tarot readers, tarot students and tarot clients I am privileged to know.
I always resent the combining of "fortune tellers" with "tarot readers." Yes, some "fortune tellers" count tarot amongst their tools. But tarot is far more than a tool of "fortune telling." Tarot is a book of spiritual wisdom, an allegory for the human journey, a tool for personal healing, and much more. I am not a "fortune teller," nor are my students or colleagues.
Tarot is born of Catholicism. Perhaps the Pope is unaware of Major Arcana 5, the Hierophant, who was originally named "The Pope." If you look at your trusty Waite Tarot you will see the deck is peppered with Catholic images. The four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, grace the corners of the Wheel of Fortune and the World. Judgment depicts the Christian Judgment Day.
Major Arcana 5, the Hierophant, is often troubling to tarotists. This archetype of religious dogma, doctrine and structure challenges us in the same way the Pope himself challenges us. To be challenged to understand, accept, seek or reject authority is part of our personal and spiritual growth.
I am both disappointed and proud that the Pope mentioned only tarot, disregarding a host of other psychic modalities and professions. Does this mean that, according to the Pope, tarot is bad but astrology is OK? Does the Pope want you to pass by the tarotist and move on to the rune reader? Or has tarot simply outstripped the popularity of all other psychic modalities? Perhaps we tarot evangelists have done our job too well!
The Pope mentions two things in his statement that don't fit well together in my mind, or in my understanding of Catholic doctrine. First, he says that people "resort to…tarot cards" "in order to solve their problems." I do believe that tarot can help us find creative solutions, and this in a number of ways. Tarot can help us connect with our higher self, and with our Higher Power. The tarot images can capture our imagination and our intuition. Tarot does not in and of itself solve our problems. Tarot is a tool to help us find solutions.
There are other tools in our modern world to help us find solutions. Doctors, car mechanics and psychologists all work with us to help us find the solutions we need. Should we assume that these, along with tarot, are also inappropriate?
As a tarot reader, I do not claim to solve people's problems. I offer perspectives; options and possibilities that help my clients solve their own problems. I truly believe that it is our responsibility to use the skills and tools given us by Higher Power to heal ourselves and each other.
The Pope goes on to say that "only Jesus saves." My understanding of "Salvation" from a Christian perspective is not about solving problems in this life as much as it is about assuring an afterlife in the presence of God. Never would I suggest that working with tarot is incompatible with that search for redemption, nor would I say that tarot specifically offers a path to that redemption. Yes, tarot teaches spiritual concepts than can be applied to the Christian path, but it does not try to replace a Christian's personal relationship with their Savior.
I have many Catholic clients. Often we discuss their role in the church. Sometimes the cards suggest they go more often to church, light candles and pray more. I can't see that these suggestions from a tarot reading would be hurtful to a Catholic person! Amongst my clients are a few Catholic priests who see the value in getting a fresh perspective from someone who is objective and spiritual.
For all its majesty and beautiful ritual, the Catholic Church has doctrine that is often a gray area for many of its followers. I remember a mother of five whispering to me that she was no longer a "good Catholic" because she just couldn't have any more children. My understanding, and my assurance to her, was that Catholic doctrine also provides a path for confession, absolution and forgiveness.
While the Pope is believed to be infallible on spiritual matters, I can't imagine that his Holiness is well-versed on every possible topic. Complicating the issue is that "fortune tellers" who use tarot are often more visible than legitimate tarot readers. It is really the fault of the tarot community for allowing our profession to be defined by those who use tarot to defraud, rather than to heal.
I agree with his Holiness that we should avoid fortune tellers. And I am sorry to say that the Pope is one of the many people who have not learned the difference between a fortune teller and a legitimate tarot reader. It is up to the tarot community to do a better job educating the public (and the Pope) about these differences, and about the ways in which tarot is a helpful tool.