Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Hmmm

tarot-cards

(Photo: Obak/Shutterstock)

The Truth Is Somewhere in the Tarot Cards

• January 07, 2014 • 8:00 AM

(Photo: Obak/Shutterstock)

When descriptions are vague and wide-ranging enough, we tend to think they’re true.

For a fan of magic and mystical make-believe like me, New Year’s Day seems like an especially poignant time for psychic evaluation. There are the resolutions and the self-reckoning, the not-unpopular belief that one’s New Year’s Eve is a harbinger of the year to come, and the general hope that this year will be better than the last. There isn’t any scientific reason for why anything should change when the clock strikes midnight at the very beginning of a new year, but symbolically, it feels like there should be. If only on this day, the whole year stretches out in front of you, wide-open with the possibility of unprecedented good fortune. This is why I think New Year’s Day is the best (and most receptive) time of year for a Tarot reading, a card game said to use divination to reveal hidden information about ourselves and our futures: our capacity to believe is probably just a little higher than average.

The person I do Tarot with is my best friend Rylee, who lives in Minneapolis. Normally, when we read each other’s cards, we do this best-friend thing we also do whenever we’re trying to soothe each other’s hurt or confused feelings about something, like a work or family problem or mixed messages from a guy: we gently shape the available information to fit what we know the other wants to hear. I think of this like a friendship-induced version of the Forer effect, which is the theory that people consider personality descriptions that are vague and general enough to be true for nearly everybody to be specifically accurate descriptions of themselves. Similarly, while I don’t believe Tarot magic is “real,” it always seems right.

To be more “scientific” about it, I decided to write down the results of my reading in undeniable print, knowing that my hearing is much more selective than my vision. Because I live in New York, the reading was done over Skype. So if you want to, you could blame any of the following Tarot inaccuracies on distance/psychic transmission issues. That is fine with me, and I support it.

A typical Tarot reading starts with the reader asking the querent (or subject) to cut the deck. (In my case, Rylee does it for me.) Then, if following the traditional Celtic Cross spread, as we do here, the reader draws a series of 10 cards, describing each card’s symbolic meaning(s) as well as how it is or can be applied to the querent’s life. Each card represents a different facet of the querent’s life; these, along with the corresponding cards drawn, are listed below.

1. The general environment at the time: For this card, Rylee drew … The Devil, an inauspicious start. This card’s meaning is listed as follows: ravage, violence, force, vehemence, extraordinary efforts, fatality, and that which is predestined. Rylee tells me this means that I’m not constrained by my fate, though I may sometimes believe I’m trapped. This sounds pretty good to me. We mostly ignore the ravage and violence.

2. Obstacles: the Seven of Wands, which is said to mean valor, discussion, intelligence, negotiation, competition. It also means success, or having the higher vantage point. Rylee’s interpretation is that I tend to see myself as an abnormal outsider with a need for control, which is not that nice of a thing to say. Apparently I am to remember that everyone is a weird anxious human, not just me.

3. My ideal: The Three of Pentacles means trade, skilled labor, nobility, aristocracy, renown, and glory. I have a book coming out pretty soon so this seems like good news. It’s also probably fair to say that nobility is one of my ideals, even if I’d never have thought to put it on my top-10 goal list. Why not aim higher?

4. What I have to work with: Rylee draws the Five of Wands, said to mean imitation, strenuous competition, gold, gain, and opulence. I have barely any gold, so we’re a little stuck here. We agree, though, that I am competitive, and that I also sometimes mock people.

5. My past, or 2013: The Magician, said to mean skill, diplomacy, sickness, pain, disaster, and self-confidence, is drawn here. Most of these I could not care less about having in my past—though 2013 wasn’t nearly so bad as that makes it sound—but I will be sorry to see self-confidence go. “I don’t know,” Rylee says, after a moment of thought. “I’m just making shit up.”

6. The life current I’m moving through: The Eight of Pentacles is purported to mean work, employment, commission, skill, craft, and business. This is a very career-heavy reading for me, one that makes me seem a bigger workaholic than I am.

7. Me, my attitude: The man pictured on the Ten of Wands card does not look happy to be carrying so many wands. I say, “It’s probably true I don’t have a great attitude,” and Rylee says, “Yeah,” even though she was not supposed to agree with me. This card signifies oppression, fortune, gain, and disguise. This is a seemingly incongruous range of definitions. Rylee says it means that I’m uncomfortable, but like fortune (nice clothes).

8. Influences: The Nine of Wands means strength in opposition, but also delay, suspension, adjournment. This one puzzles Rylee, so I take it into my own hands: I’m anticipating something (always), but I can conquer literally everything. This is great news, and I’m glad the cards let me know.

9. Hopes and fears: Here Rylee draws the King of Pentacles, meaning valor, intelligence, business, being somewhat lethargic, and sometimes (though, if we’re being realistic, probably not in this case) mathematical gifts. I’m getting so much intelligence and business today and I guess I can’t complain but I swear there are things I care about besides work. Rylee says it means that I want to be brave but I am lethargic about it, which, again, is rude.

10. What will come (2014): The Queen of Wands. This card means life, animation; the Queen’s personality corresponds to that of a King, but more magnetic. (I am not sure how to take that.) It means friendly, loving, charismatic, honorable, and … bossy. This sounds mostly like I will be the same next year as I was this year, but with any hope, a little bit cooler.

What this experiment taught me is that I am less capable of objectivity than Rylee believes me to be. I love Tarot! I can’t help it. Right away I was letting her cut out half of a card’s possible meanings and not even caring. But that’s also how the game is set up: the interpretations are plentiful and sometimes contradictory, so if it isn’t true that all of them make sense for your life, some of them probably do. Thanks to our silly brains, many (if not most) of us will pay much more attention to these. I am a victim of the Forer effect and a person who likes to hear her best friend describe her. I am a sucker through and through. The good news is that none of this is going to keep me from becoming a popular queen sometime in 2014. Happy New Year.

Katie Heaney
Katie Heaney is a writer and an editor at BuzzFeed and author of Never Have I Ever. Follow her on Twitter @KTHeaney.

More From Katie Heaney

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.