Tarot and Play, or Just Start Reading!

tarot and playI’m a children’s librarian, and that means that I seriously value playtime. Play is how we learn, how we prepare for the future, how we practice skills, and how we blow off steam. All sorts in the animal kingdom play, not just humans, and not just juveniles either. We need play, whether that’s jungle gyming or LARPing or fantasy footballing or even, yes, divinationing!

For a long time after I left behind my birth religion, I approached all matters of spirituality in terms of Serious Business. I had to do everything just right, and before I could do that I had to understand everything just right, but the only way to gain deep understanding is through experience and, well, you can see where that left me in terms of actual practice instead of armchair philosophy. This applied to my religious work as well as my Tarot reading which, for me at least, are intertwined.

My first deck and truly my first exposure to the Tarot was the Crowley Thoth Tarot – talk about a rude and bumpy introduction! – and I was intent on reading each card Exactly Right. For years I had no faith in any inherent intuition or creativity on my part and tried to read Tarot like it was one of grandma’s favorite recipes where if you get one thing slightly wrong you’ve brought shame and dishonor on you, your family, and your cow. That of course takes the fun and imaginative parts of reading Tarot and turns them into work. And not the shove up your sleeves and put some elbow grease on it work, but the kind of monotonous busy work that makes you second guess yourself at all angles.

More than a decade after Thoth and several decks later, I try to read Tarot the same way I encourage learning through play at my library. There are countless books and resources to help me understand the cards, sure. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I read multiple sites to interpret spreads even today. But the meaning of cards isn’t resting inert in the pages of books or the lines of someone’s blog. The meaning comes from how I interact with that information and apply it to the cards in front of me, finding the story in the artwork of the cards, and playing – there’s that word again! – around until I can make the cards click together. That’s the meaning that matters. That’s the point. That’s the fun. And that’s also where deep learning is, rather than rote memorization or trying to force yourself into the “right” kind of intuitive to read the cards.

The moral of this story is you will never feel ready. I still don’t feel ready, and I’ve been doing this over a decade! You also have an incredible ability to make even things you’re passionate about feel like dull work. But if you stop approaching this like a pitch-perfect recital and start approaching it as a romp in the woods/marathon Minecraft session/toddler stacking blocks up higher than they are and then gleefully knocking them down in a crash… you might actually start to have some fun. And if you have fun, you might actually learn something.