Think of the various reactions you got when you shared with people that you read or are interested in tarot. On the other hand, think of the times you chose not to share about your practices because of the connotations that might follow. And maybe you'd love to express yourself openly, not just in your closet-altar, but also fashion in out, share with your loved ones something tarot-related that intrigued you recently, or meme the life out of it on your Instagram stories. This post we'll talk about the possible approaches you can take to explaining Tarot to your non-tarot circles.
But first... what do you tell yourself?
Tarot is not a belief system. It's a tool and a language used by people of countless faith, practices, spirituality, and even agnostic or skeptical people! There are people for whom it's a mental health practice and a form of therapy. Modern pagans and witches adopted tarot for meditation and ritual purposes. For some, Tarot is purely entertainment. Authors and novelists who use Tarot for the archetypes and tropes to draft story arcs or to flesh-out their characters from their heads onto paper.
And of course, I know people who do not associate with anything spiritual in particular, but who do believe they've a sixth sense about things and would like to translate the signs they're getting and tap into their intuition for the benefit of others. So before you start clarifying to people whatever intersections they immediately assume with things you do not practice, clarify what is tarot to you personally.
...and, take your time.
You don't have to rush to come up with a one-liner 'excuse' for why you practice Tarot! So, if someone else prompted this question, let them know it's not that simple. Maybe they have time to spare over a cup of tea or coffee, whether now or later! It's also a good idea to educate the above fact about Tarot being a flexible, multi-practice tool for many before you get to yourself.
Can't wait for my physical sample of the Fairy Tale deck!
The Psychology Approach.
Many tarot readers go for a more self-help kind of explanation, feeling like it would make their practice more 'acceptable' if they avoids talking about esoteric things and focus more on their individuality and how Tarot benefits them:
"Tarot cards prompt me to think about things I don't usually think about, which is how I practice mindfulness and awareness."
"Making spreads is like writing in a diary, analytical, therapeutic. I look at things from a new perspective. I feel more open-minded."
"I believe I'm helping people find their own answers through the themes and concepts that the cards portray."
"Cards help me translate what I'm thinking of feeling into visuals, then translate them into words, so I can understand myself better."
"It's like having a constructive discussion with myself, instead of just bubbling inside my own head."
What's important is not to downplay how important Tarot is to you. If the person goes, "Ah, so you don't actually believe in this stuff, it just helps you cope" or something among those lines, and you're not happy with being 'excused' like that, do clarify further. However, you're not here to argue about beliefs, prove anything to someone or fight for someone to accept you. If an individual doesn't respect your lifestyle, nor supports things that make you feel good, then they themlseves have yet to grow.
The Technical Explaining Approach.
This explanation is more of a 'this is how it works'. I reference this post a lot, but I can't lie how quite proud I am of this one. With the development of the Fantôme app, I dipped into tech a little and was delighted by the analogy I made when explaining how Tarot is a communication tool much like a language:
#Tarot cards are a language for communicating and translating between higher guidance and the reader. Like coding language is used to communicate between machine and human.— La Muci Design (@LaMuciDesign) June 30, 2021
I send a message or ask highly specific questions, making sure to word myself as accurately as possible. Then, like an analogue-to-digital signal, I receive an answer through visuals and symbols. The same way Egyptian hieroglyphs are essentially pictures, but also a language, I then interpret the visuals back into my language. It's a bit like two mute people signing, using a visual language when they can't speak and listen directly. A lot of the interpretation is based on context!
The Spiritual Approach.
Whether or not you're in a circle, culture or general environment that is mostly spiritual or religious, you could still tie Tarot to whatever faith or beliefs you practice.
My Buddhist and Hindu friends read for karma, past lives and look into multiple timelines of what could be or could have been, and even address spirits or deities directly. Witchcraft and Paganism is also a lifestyle that intersects with Tarot cards a lot. You can tie it to manifesting, meditation, how you connect with energies around you and how to utilize said flows of energies.
Visual and printed media has had a crude depiction of Tarot every now and then, and can be especially tricky in a Christian or Catholic or otherwise related circle of faith. If you find that your person addresses things like "But isn't that heresy?" or something among those lines, you can patiently explain what is the nature of your conscious channeling. I know Christians who channel messages from their guardian angels or address a specific Saint when asking questions.
And if you don't have a particular belief or lifestyle to tie your practice into, or you choose to separate them, take the time to explain to the person if they're willing to listen and get to know you better. Own it and say it as it is! Don't feel like you can't just directly tell someone that "I am channeling my intuition to see things from a cosmic point of view" or whatever it is you do.
The Practical Approach.
This one combines the Psychological and Spiritual approach in the sense that you just say how Tarot benefits you, but in a more actively rather than passively. What I mean by that is, things like 'growth' and 'analysis' are things that happen or benefit over a period of time. Thus, if you are at work, it doesn't have that sense of immediacy. However, let's say your supervisor at work passes your desk and asks you why are you fiddling with you cards right now:
"I'm feeling stuck and I need to think outside the box."
"I can't stop being anxious about something personal so I'm working on my feelings and focus so I can get back to work."
"I'm feeling overwhelmed at work and I need to take a little break and meditate why that's the case."
"I feel like I could do something differently at work so I'm brainstorming some ideas."
On their own, these sentences sound highly reasonable, beneficial and all-round not a bad thing for a co-worker or superior to hear. So, it happens to be connected to Tarot! This needs not be only be an approach applicable to work life, but it does work best in that environment. Even better, it's best to let people at your current place of occupation, be that school, work volunteering or else, know these things in advance! That you might be seen doing Tarot every now and then because it's beneficial to you, but you know when and how to manage your time.
The People Approach.
Many Tarot readers I know mostly, if not only, do Tarot readings for others. They feel like they're well enough and grateful for life as is, but so many people around them are feeling lost, unguided, or haven't even begun getting to know themselves. These hero-type empaths read Tarot from a genuine, pure desire of wanting to help others.
Alternatively, is Tarot to you a means of connecting with others more than anything? I know it is for me! Reading someone Tarot, or to each other, is a highly intimate, sincere and vulnerable thing to do, and feeling understood can be a highly bonding experience. If Tarot helps you make friends, shakes a party up, makes you feel like you are providing value to others or gets you dates, say so loud and proud.
More often than not, you join a community because of the community. You enjoy the vibes and the kind of people who participate in it, and you made a conscious decision to surround yourself with these people. And if Tarot is something that helps you find these people better, logically, you will continue practicing tarot to be part of the gang!
The Hobby Approach.
At the very end of the day, it's just as appropriate to tell people that you're doing it for fun! Everybody needs a hobby, whether it's dancing salsa, learning French or the esoteric language of Tarot. And as I discussed in this post about collecting Tarot cards, owning and investing continuously into your own Tarot library for the sake of supporting artists or keeping the community growing strong for others, or even just because you're entranced by the craft without actually practicing it, is a noble hobby as any!
I'd like to update this post over time as I come across more interesting ways people approach explaining Tarot to the people around them. I also think educating more people about what something is versus how it's been portrayed due to long term cultural propaganda is always enlightening. Still, clashing with people about our opinions and practices isn't a Tarot-exclusive problem, and not even a belief-specific problem. You might have a falling out with someone because you disagree on politics or workplace-decisions, too. How you handle people who disagree with you is, henceforth, up to you.