Tarot as a Spiritual Practice

The Hermit

I spent much of my teenage and younger adult years with just a small handful of spiritual practices, with prayer and scripture reading at the heart of those. These were both referenced continually at church and there was some encouragement at various points in my life to be accountable for reading and praying on a particular schedule. Prayer was thanking and asking Heavenly Father for blessings and scripture was reading the words of men who talked with Him. I got a lot out of both of those practices in the past and continue to use them, but not in the same way that I used to.

There is something powerful in the countercurrent spiritual practices that I have witnessed in Mormon feminist circles. I have seen and participated in women blessing women, women re-interpreting scripture, and recognizing the sanctity of hard conversations and working through our prejudices individually and collectively. In these moments, I have seen women claim their own authority to reflect and connect with the divine in the ways that they themselves have devised. Several of my most powerful spiritual experiences have been with spiritual practices that were forbidden in LDS circles. These experiences left me craving a more creative approach to spiritual formation and self-reflection as I began to realize that there were more ways to connect to God and community than what had been presented in my religious education.

I first encountered tarot at a Mormon feminist retreat. Someone I had (and still have) a lot of respect for was doing readings for others. She read my cards that summer, the following summer, and the one after that. The readings were insightful and gave me some solid guidance, but I didn’t understand what it was all about. I felt ministered to during these encounters with tarot and I liked that it was about a dialogue between me and the person who was interpreting the cards.

A year and a half ago, I bought my own deck of tarot cards. I’ve been through periods of time where I have read my own cards 4-5 times a week or just occasionally. I don’t believe in divination and I don’t see my reading of tarot is an attempt to predict the future, but rather as a way to understand and reflect on different aspects of the many stories that are taking shape in my life. I start from the premise that all of the cards represent things that I may feel or experience. When I pull cards from the deck and spend time with those cards, I am asking myself to speak to and reflect on those specific feelings or experiences. Sometimes it is obvious to me how the themes of a card are related to my life and sometimes it takes more time to put my thoughts and ideas together.

More than any other spiritual practice I have engaged in, tarot reading draws on my ability to observe visual details and create connections and stories from those details. I am an art historian and have spent the last two decades learning to read images. The visual nature of this spiritual practice is appealing to me and I have felt empowered to read the individual cards and establish the boundaries and patterns of my own spiritual practice without a person or institution telling me that I have to read the cards in a particular way or that a certain schedule of reading is “ideal”. I give myself permission to define my own spiritual practice in a way that works best for me.

This practice has helped me feel aware of and connected to myself and my story, to God, and to my various communities. I can read the cards on my own, or take on the role of facilitating readings and self-reflection for others, which I see as an act of love and spiritual mentoring.

What spiritual practices have you modified or developed to best meet your needs and draw on your strengths?

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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2 Responses

  1. Laura Pennock says:

    I LOVE this commentary!! I have a collection of half a dozen tarot cards. Some of them I love only for the images as they don’t speak to me in other ways. A couple of others I use regularly for readings. I am currently deep in a Tower period in my life; interestingly “predicted” by a reading just before the crisis that began that period took shape. I have chosen each deck for its art work and each is beautiful in it’s own way.

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